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Mar 25 2020

Ascension and Progenitor Programs Suspending Operations

Today I made the decision to suspend our rocketry programs for a full review and reassessment on all levels (design, administration, operations, vehicle integration, etc) over the next two months, at least. This move is especially difficult because we started this year out so strong, putting a probe into orbit and once again sending a kerbal up into space after a 5 month hiatus of crewed flight. This month we were also due to launch the first Progeny Mk7-B rocket and begin testing booster recovery and re-use. However despite the increasing momentum we seem to be surpassing our capacity to manage the increasing complexity of our missions and run the risk of compromising safety.

Initial review of the recent kerbed mission has found out why the rocket did not travel as high as planned – it was 53kg heavier than expected. We don’t have a scale that can measure a rocket after it’s been fully assembled. We know the mass of a rocket because we know the mass of all the individual parts plus the mass of the fuels and the mass of the crew. At some point in this mission improper mass figures were given to the mission design team, or proper ones were given but then failed to be updated when changes were made to the rocket’s assembly. We’re still working down the fault chain to identify all the reasons why this mass discrepancy occurred.

Although this was a relatively minor mistake that did not lead to any actual issues with the mission itself, ignoring it could lead to larger mistakes that in turn lead to disastrous consequences. I don’t feel that it is enough to recognize the issue and say “we’ll get it fixed” as we also continue to move on with operations that may already be compromised. Shutting everything down will allow us to go back to missions and vessels already in progress of being deployed to ensure that they are properly put together.

This decision is also influenced by the recent shut down of the Genesis program, which allowed us to identify and rectify numerous issues that had creeped their way into the program over the years. While we haven’t yet lost a pilot in Genesis due to maintenance or operational errors, there have been numerous close calls and the margins for crewed rocket flight are even tighter, not to mention how much more expensive it is to lose a rocket and unkerbed payload in flight.

This shut down will affect launches and construction only at this time. Engine testing on our static stands will continue and Wernher von Kerman’s team over at R&D also remain unaffected, so some things will continue to move forward. The Progeny Mk7-B that was recently assembled will receive another thorough inspection, mission plans for it and future Mk7-B flights will undergo full reviews. The recent Ascension Mk1 flight will continue to be analyzed and a report published. The upcoming Ascension Mk1 and Mk2 missions are all undergoing the same review scrutiny and we will also be taking another look at what we need to accomplish between now and the late-2021 launch of the first Extremis mission. Crew training will be suspended so our astronauts can be involved in the review aspects oriented towards their mission preparations – we expect training exercises to resume prior to the operational suspension being lifted.

Lead Engineer Simon and Flight Director Lanalye are both in agreement with me on this decision and we are confident that this will work to ensure we finish this year as strong as we started.

– Drew Kerman
Founder, Operations Director

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