Image credit: Barbara David

The NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel’s Annual Report for 2023 is just out and about for your reading critique.

ASAP was established by Congress in 1968 to provide advice and make recommendations to the NASA Administrator, as well as Congress, on safety matters.

There are some fascinating “wait-a-minute” takeaways to ponder.

“Make, manage, or buy?”

One of those eye-catchers is that NASA should try to figure out how it implements “make, manage, or buy” decisions on future programs or projects.

The ASAP reports notes that NASA is no longer the sole driver or customer for human space flight capabilities and related technology, nor is it the sole organization creating demand.

Image credit: ASAP

“NASA, however, still has a critical role and responsibility in the space sector, and the Agency’s decisions, opinions, and direction have weight and merit in the industry and across the globe,” the report adds.

Therefore, NASA must anticipate risks that otherwise might go unknown or unforeseen.

Image credit: NASA

Top down, bottoms-up

The space agency’s major human spaceflight endeavor, the aspiring Artemis “reboot the Moon” program was also eyed by the ASAP.

“NASA should manage Artemis as an integrated program with top-down alignment, and designate a Program Manager endowed with authority, responsibility, and accountability, along with a robust bottoms-up, collaborative feedback process for both Systems Engineering and Integration (SE&I) and risk management.”

Deorbiting the beast

Another flagged concern regards the deorbit plans for dumping the big beast of a Earth orbiting megatonnage, the International Space Station (ISS).

Image credit: Roscosmos

While discussions about ISS are ongoing between NASA and the Russian Space Agency to make the controlled deorbit plan more robust, “the ASAP reiterates its concern first stated in 2012, about the lack of a well-defined, fully funded controlled reentry and deorbit plan for the ISS that is available on a timeline that supports the planned ISS retirement. Furthermore, the Panel recognizes that the ISS partners are operating at risk, today, without the capability to deal with a contingency situation that would lead to a deorbit.

Risk to public safety

“The risk to public safety and space sustainability,” the report points out, “is increasing every year as the orbital altitudes in and around the ISS continue to become more densely populated by satellites, increasing the likelihood that an unplanned emergency ISS deorbit would also impact other resident space objects.”

NASA should define an executable and appropriately budgeted deorbit plan, the report adds, “that includes implementation on a timeline to deliver a controlled reentry capability to the ISS as soon as practicable — to be in place for the need of a controlled deorbit in event of an emergency as well as in place before the retirement of the ISS — to ensure that the station is able to be deorbited safely.”

Image credit: Roscosmos

NASA response

In a response to the ASAP by NASA leadership, the space agency has made progress toward solicitation of a U.S. Deorbit Vehicle to serve as the nominal ISS deorbit capability to be used in conjunction with Russian thrusters.

NASA is still coordinating with Russia’s Roscosmos on sustaining ISS operations until nominal deorbit and providing contingency deorbit capability with existing Progress and Service Module thrusters.

For a full look at the report — NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel’s Annual Report for 2023 – go to:


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