Ars Technica New Zealand
Here's why NASA's chief of human spaceflight resigned—and why it matters - Ars Technica
Loverro was ardently trying to fulfill his 2024 Moon landing mandate.
Enlarge/ Doug Loverro was hired by NASA to land humans on the Moon by 2024. 166 with 83 posters participating On Tuesday, NASA announced that its chief of human spaceflight, Doug Loverro, had resigned after just six months of working at the space agency. This news, coming just eight days before NASA's first launch of humans in nine years, has rocked the civil aerospace community and kicked up a flurry of rumors. This post will attempt to assess what we know, and what we don't know, about his departure and what it means for the space agency's human spaceflight programs moving forward. Why did Doug Loverro resign? He made an error during the procurement process of the Human Landing System, during which NASA selected bids from Blue Origin, Dynetics, and SpaceX to build lunar landers as part of the Artemis Program. In his resignation letter to employees on Tuesday, Loverro admitted he made a "mistake" earlier this year. Multiple sources have suggested that he violated the Procurement Integrity Act. It's worth noting that on March 25, 2020, NASA's inspector general announced an audit of "NASAs acquisition strategy for the Artemis missions to include landing astronauts on the Moon by 2024." It seems plausible that this audit may have involved some action taken by Loverro. So what did he do? Neither Loverro nor NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine are speaking directly on this question, but we can make some educated guesses. Loverro's number one job when he was hired to replace Bill Gerstenmaier was to get humans to the Moon in 2024. Full stop. That was his remit and he took it seriously. Loverro was also known to like "integrated launch," which means that he wanted to launch a complete lunar lander on a single rocket, rather than pieces of the lander on commercial rockets, to be assembled in orbit around the Moon. He judged this approach to be too complicated. Andhere we're saying the quiet part out loudthe reality is that none of the three Human Landing System contractors selected by NASA are likely to be ready by 2024. Traditionally, at least, 4.5 years is just far too short of a time to design, develop, test, and build a deep-space vehicle that must go down to the Moon's surface and back. So Loverro was under the gun to get humans on the Moon by 2024, he had concerns about most of the bids, and he favored integrated launch. This means Loverro likely favored the design of Boeing's bid for a Human Landing System, which entailed launching an integrated lander on a "commercial" Space Launch System rocket. It seems reasonable to assume that Loverro may have been pushing Boeing to come up with a more competitive bid. (After the awards were given to Blue Origin, Dynetics, and SpaceX, the agency's "source selection statement" indicated that Boeing's bid did not make it past a preliminary round of consideration). When the inspector general found out about this, it likely precipitated Loverro's resignation. How did the inspector general find out about this? That's a very good question. What might Boeing's reaction have been to not winning a lunar lander contract? That's a very good question. What were Loverro's true motivations? Everyone I've spoken to believes that Loverro's motivations were pure in the sense that he was legitimately trying to get NASA to the Moon in 2024. But as one source said late Tuesday, "Speeding in good faith is still speeding." It does not appear that Loverro favored one contractor over another for political or financial reasons. Rather, it seems that Loverro truly believed that launching an integrated lander on the SLS rocket was the only path that had any chance of putting NASA astronauts on the surface by 2024. Does this affect the SpaceX Crew Dragon launch? Probably not. In Associate Administrator Steve Jurczyk and in Loverro's deputy, Ken Bowersox, NASA has the leadership it needs to give the Crew Dragon mission final approval. In fact, if Commercial Crew Program Manager Kathy Lueders signs off on the mission, that will carry a lot of weight. We'll know more after Thursday's Flight Readiness Review meeting for this launch, of course. But right now, people close to the mission remain relatively confident that the launch continues to track toward its original May 27 date. This is a testament to the hard work by NASA and SpaceX. So Loverro's departure has nothing to do with SpaceX? It seems notat least directly. What does this mean for Artemis? This is a tougher question. The program is already racing for time, so any delays to moving forward with the lunar lander contracts would set Artemis back further. As of Tuesday, no protestsBoeing and the other bidder who did not receive a contract, Vivace Corp, had a right to object to NASA's final decisionhad been filed since the lander awards were announced on April 30. Work is continuing with the three winning bidders. That's a positive for NASA, but it's going to need a lot more funding in the coming years to make Artemis a reality, and that's where Congress comes in. So where will Congress come in? It is not clear what role, if any, Congress may have played in the departure of Loverro. However, the chair of a House subcommittee that oversees NASA, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, tweeted on Tuesday, "I am deeply concerned over this sudden resignation, especially eight days before the first scheduled launch of US astronauts on US soil in almost a decade. Under this Administration, weve seen a pattern of abrupt departures that have disrupted our efforts at human space flight." Based upon her previous comments and her role in authoring HR 5666, Horn appears to favor Boeing's plan for an integrated lunar lander launched on a commercial SLS rocket. Boeing has other allies, too, particularly in the US Senate where Sen. Richard Shelby chairs the Appropriations Committee. It seems clear that Bridenstine is going to have a lot of questions to answer when he goes to Capitol Hill to seek funding for Artemiswhenever that occurs in this era of COVID-19 and virtual meetings. Is there any animosity between Bridenstine and Loverro? There does not appear to be. People at NASA headquarters seem to be pretty shaken up by Loverro's sudden departure. These were not crocodile tears. What do you think will happen? We are only seeing part of the picture here. Ultimately, the White House and Congress are going to demand answers for this, and Boeing's anger at being left out of the Human Landing System awards may drive some of the response. It would not surprise me to see Boeing receive some kind of landing system award in the future to smooth all of this over. One thing is sure: Jim Bridenstine's already difficult job as the head of NASA has just gotten more difficult. Perhaps he is facing a Kobayashi Maru test?
Beyond Netflix and Spotify, what subscriptions are worth keeping in quarantine? - Ars Technica
Outside of Netflix, Amazon, and Disney+, we cling to gaming, music, and meal-kit perks.
Enlarge/ Would not recommend this keyboard setup given our impulse control. 39 with 35 posters participating Two seismic forces combined in the spring of 2020 and caused us all to reevaluate our choices: the COVID-19 pandemic... and the last decade's slow, inevitable march toward the disappearance of ownership. We no longer own records; we subscribe to Spotify or Apple Music. We don't purchase DVDs; we pay Netflix, Disney, or Amazon a monthly fee and save some shelf space. Google Stadia would like you to stream games in exchange for a recurring payment. Apple will let you take the same approach to your phone, and it's not hard to imagine a future where you skip having a car in the garage and instead pay regularly for access to an autonomous chariot that only shows up when you need it. (We can all agree to blame Adobe, which shifted from Creative Suite to Creative Cloud seven years ago this month.) While there's never a bad time to assess your monthly subscriptions and trim the fat (read: that magazine your parents once gifted you but... wait, I pay how much annually for Sports Illustrated now?!), entering the third month of sheltering at home feels like an apt moment to potentially save a few bucks. At the same time, comfort of any kind now comes at a premium, and maybe watching your dog rip into a Bark Box will genuinely make you feel better. There's a service for almost everything these days (like martial arts films? Try Hi-Yah!), and some feel almost mandatory (a TV/film service like Netflix or Disney+, music streaming from Spotify or Apple). So beyond the obvious, what services remain worth clinging to at the moment? Can we interest you in David Attenborough talking about ants? What about light? Maybe the ocean, instead? Docs for the curious streamer I'm a big ol' documentary nerdso although in theory I subscribe to CuriosityStream ($12/year introductory offer) for the kids and they do watch it pretty frequently, I'm the biggest consumer in the house by far. The quality of the documentaries varies, but there are tons of them, and these films rotate through the service on a regular basis. On the top end, you'll get plenty of nature documentaries voiced over by Sir David Attenborough and their equivalents in space, science, and history. You'll also get stuff produced by outfits you never heard of, featuring interviews with academics who clearly have no idea what to do with a camera pointed at them. (Even these titles have a charm of their own.) On the bottom end, there are some heavy-on-the-animation shorts that aren't all that greatbut they're the exceptions, not the rule. If you're into British televisionparticularly older British televisionAcorn (~$6/month) is also a good niche buy. My parents watch far more of Acorn than I do, but they absolutely swear by it.Jim Salter, Technology Reporter Enlarge/ Here's Vagabon at SXSW in simpler times (2017... though she does have a new Sirius XMU session episode available on demand). The subscription sound Ever since my last few years of undergrad, live music has been a staple of my life. I'd travel from Syracuse to every neighboring campus with decent concert bookers and make the trek to New York City a few times a year. And from there, I ended up living (and regularly reviewing concerts) in San Francisco, New Orleans, and Austin. I've probably averaged at least one concert a month since 2007, if not a little more. So when SXSW was canceled, losing the chance to see six, seven, eight different bands a day stung. The subscriptions keeping me sane ever since all do it sonically. Music discovery in 2020 remains a hellish experiencea lot of music press has been slashed or shuttered, music blogs have sputtered, and most digital services seem happy to rely on algorithms that surface more of what you already know and do so in puzzling ways (what do Hurray for the Riff Raff and Angel Olsen have in common, Spotify? Just that they're acts with women singers?). So although radio isn't perfect in a post-WOXY world, I find Sirius XM ($8.25/month for the first year) offers enough variety and enough of a human touch to keep pace with my curiosity. Its app can be a bit frustratingwhy can I only get the last two episodes of Carles' short-form audio think pieces on Hipster Runoff Blog Radio?but if I'm not driving much these days, it's nice to get that same thoughtfully curated mix on demand at home, too. To that end, I'd also shout out a "subscription" (or membership, donation, whatever) to local radio. New Orleans' community radio station, WWOZ, just dug into its archives to put together two weeks of past Jazz Fest performances, including rare and historic sets like Ella Fitzgerald dueting with Stevie Wonder in 1977 or Bruce Springsteen at the first fest post-Katrina. And in Austin, contributing to KUTX comes with the added benefit of supporting the NPR affiliate's news arm, KUT. Because if I'm stuck home with no SXSW, I'd like to stay on top of how this virus plays out in my neighborhood.Nathan Mattise, Features Editor
NASA is counting on a lot of unproven rockets for its Artemis plan - Ars Technica
Notably, the space agency seems to have taken an upgraded SLS off the table.
Enlarge/ It's still not clear how NASA will get its lunar lander to the Moon. 109 with 44 posters participating On Thursday, NASA announced awards to begin final design and initial development of landers to carry humans down to the Moona big step for the Artemis Program. Building these landers to reach the lunar surface by 2024 is a big challenge, as it leaves a little more than four years to design, build, test, and fly these complex vehicles. After all, it took Grumman more than six years to build the Lunar Module in the 1960s, and the company had done some preparatory work before NASA issued its first contracts. But assuming at least one of the three lander concepts is ready to go by 2024Blue Origin's Blue Moon lander, Dynetics' landing system, or SpaceX's Starshipthere remains the question of how to get it to the Moon. NASA has not settled upon a final architecture for the Artemis III mission to land on the Moon in 2024, and a choice of four rockets remains. It is noteworthy that none of these rockets has yet taken flight. In fact, for its human program, NASA has eschewed the most powerful rocket currently in existence, the Falcon Heavy, as well as the Delta IV Heavy booster, which already has launched NASA's deep-space Orion spacecraft to an altitude of 5,800km. Instead, the space agency is counting on at least two new rockets to complete development and make successful test flights before the Moon missions. That certainly seems possible, but far from guaranteed. After all, the commonly cited space-is-hard cliché also happens to be true. Here's a look at the rockets NASA proposes to use, and their status. Vulcan-Centaur
- Earliest possible launch date: Spring 2021
- Potentially used to lift Dynetics lander or elements of Blue Moon lander
- Initial capacity of 13 tons to lunar orbit
- Earliest possible launch date: Late 2021
- Used for Orion, potentially Blue Moon and Dynetics landers
- Capacity of 26 tons to lunar orbit
- Boeing completed the core stage of NASA's SLS rocket in January 2020.
- The rocket was loaded onto the agency's Pegasus barge Wednesday.
- It was a pretty day in southern Louisiana.
- The core stage of NASA's SLS rocket rolls out of the factory at Michoud Assembly Facility.
- The workforce at the Louisiana-based facility looks happy.
- The core stage is complete.
- A view of the core stage as Boeing installed RS-25 engines in late 2019.
- A closer view of four RS-25 engines attached to the rocket.
- Earliest possible launch date: Late 2021
- Potentially used to launch elements of Blue Moon lander
- Capacity of 10 or 11 tons to lunar orbit
- Earliest possible launch date: ¯\_()_/¯
- Used to launch Starship
- Capacity of ~40 tons to lunar orbit
- SpaceX has rapidly grown its Starship production facilities over the last six months. Here's a view from the east side.
- And an annotated image showing approximate completion dates.
- Closer up, Starship MK1 rises between the two new, completed tents.
- There's another, perhaps temporary, tent in the foreground.
- A view of work being done on the third tent. Hard to tell from this, but it will stand taller to accommodate nose cone work.
- A comparison of the SN nose cone, left, versus MK1. The newer build is much, much smoother.
- Moving a barrel out of its production tent.
- The new windbreak is about 140 feet tall, approximately 30 feet taller than the original one.
- Just a shot of some of that Big Texas Sky.
- One final view from the east side, including tracking radars.