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Exclusive: SpaceX, Boeing design risks threaten new delays for U.S. space program

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SEATTLE (Reuters) – NASA has warned SpaceX and Boeing Co of design and safety concerns for their competing astronaut launch systems, according to industry sources and a new government report, threatening the U.S. bid to revive its human spaceflight program later this year.

A long zip line provides a fast escape route for astronauts and crew in case of an emergency at Launch Complex 41 in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S., January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Eric M. Johnson

NASA is paying SpaceX $2.6 billion and Boeing $4.2 billion to build rocket and capsule launch systems to return astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil for the first time since America’s Space Shuttle program went dark in 2011.

Just ahead of the first scheduled un-manned test flight slated for March 2 under NASA’s multibillion-dollar Commercial Crew Program, NASA’s safety advisory panel cited four “key risk items” in its 2018 annual report earlier this month.

For Boeing, they include the capsule’s structural vulnerability when the heat shield is deployed. For SpaceX, the report mentioned the redesign of a SpaceX rocket canister following a 2016 explosion and its “load and go” process of fueling the rocket with the crew already inside the capsule. “Parachute performance” remained an issue for both companies.

“There are serious challenges to the current launch schedules for both SpaceX and Boeing,” the report said.

For an interactive version of this story, click tmsnrt.rs/2V6pXyN

Two people with direct knowledge of the program told Reuters that the space agency’s concerns go beyond the four items listed, and include a risk ledger that as of early February contained 30 to 35 lingering technical concerns each for SpaceX and Boeing. Reuters could not verify what all of the nearly three dozen items are. But the sources familiar with the matter said the companies must address “most” of those concerns before flying astronauts and, eventually, tourists to space.

The NASA risk database is updated routinely during the course of NASA’s stringent certification process, which includes data collection, tests and collaboration with SpaceX and Boeing, the people said. The Boeing and SpaceX systems have already been delayed several times in recent years, which is common in this sector given the complexity of building multibillion-dollar spacecraft capable of shedding earth’s gravity.

NASA spokesman Joshua Finch deferred all technical questions on Boeing and SpaceX systems to the companies, citing confidentiality, but said: “Flying safely always takes precedence over schedule.”

Boeing spokesman Josh Barrett said the company “closed out” the capsule’s structural vulnerability risk when it completed its structural test program in January. While Boeing is working through a number of other issues, they “are not driving any major architectural system changes.”

“Our numbers show we are exceeding NASA’s safety requirements,” said Barrett.

SpaceX spokesman James Gleeson said the company, working with NASA, has developed “one of the safest, most-advanced human spaceflight systems ever built.”

“There is nothing more important to SpaceX than safely flying crew,” said Gleeson, calling it “core to our company’s long-term goal of enabling access for people who dream of flying to space.”

Founded by Tesla Inc Chief Executive Elon Musk, SpaceX has cut the cost of rocket launches with its pioneering reusable rocket technology, while Boeing traces its space business back to the first U.S. human space missions of the 1960s and is also the world’s largest planemaker.

The clock is ticking. The U.S. has been paying Russia about $80 million per ticket for a ride to the International Space Station, a $100 billion orbital research laboratory that flies about 250 miles (402 km) above Earth.

There are no seats available for U.S. crew on the Russia spacecraft after 2019 given production schedules and other factors. NASA said last week it was considering paying for two more seats to the space station for this fall and spring 2020 to ensure U.S. access.

The NASA plan for extra seats came a week after its safety panel said Congress should come up with a “mitigation plan” in case delays threaten U.S. access to the space station – echoing earlier concerns from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

NASA is set to conduct a flight readiness review on Friday for SpaceX’s mission without a crew on March 2. NASA will decide whether to approve the test flight without a crew, while SpaceX addresses the issues raised for a human mission.

PARACHUTE WEAKNESSES

Three people familiar with the project say the U.S. space agency has identified some design discrepancies between earlier SpaceX capsules designed to haul cargo to the International Space Station, and a newer version designed to carry humans.

Some of the risks – such as those identified in the designs of the enormous parachutes that deploy when the capsule plummets back to Earth at supersonic speeds – are uncommon given how close SpaceX is to test flights, two of the people said.

The timing of deployment of the SpaceX parachutes and the interaction of the parachutes themselves have raised concerns about parachute performance, and potentially whether they will be able to slow down the capsule enough to ensure the crew’s safety, two people said.

SpaceX has completed 17 parachute tests for the Commercial Crew Program so far, with an additional 10 tests planned prior to Crew Dragon’s second demonstration mission, Gleeson said. He also said its parachute systems are designed with redundancy so the vehicle can still safely splashdown in the event that one parachute fails.

NASA’s safety panel said in its report that SpaceX may be required to re-design its parachute system. A re-design would likely trigger more testing and potentially weeks or months of extra delays, two of the people said.

NASA also found design problems with the system that helps orient SpaceX’s capsule in an upright position once it lands in the ocean, raising the risk of taking on excessive amounts of water, according to two industry sources and confirmed by a NASA official.

SpaceX’s Gleeson said Crew Dragon’s outer shell is water-resistant, and the spacecraft itself is buoyant and does not pose a risk to crew members after splashdown.

RISK OF MORE DELAYS

NASA announced earlier this month that SpaceX was now targeting March 2 instead of Feb. 23 for its un-crewed Crew Dragon test flight, with its astronaut flight planned for July. NASA explained the delay by citing vague concerns for both contractors, such as the need to complete hardware testing and other work.

NASA said Boeing’s un-crewed Starliner would fly “no earlier” than April, with the crewed mission currently slated for August. This is the schedule now at risk, according to the NASA report.

The challenges in front of Boeing include last year’s failure during a test of its launch-abort engines, which spilled caustic fuel on the test stand, Boeing’s Barrett said. The accident was caused by faulty valves which Boeing has re-designed and re-ordered from the supplier, though the new valves must be re-tested, Barrett said.

The test flights are also part of collecting the data needed to close out some risk items, NASA said.

“SpaceX and Boeing both have challenges, both comparable, from a safety perspective,” said one U.S. government source.

Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Additional reporting by Tracy Rucinski in Washington and Joey Roulette in Orlando, Florida; Editing by Edward Tobin

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Ottawa’s not-for-profit book publisher provides Ottawa authors with hardcover printing

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Are you a writer in Ottawa seeking to become a self-published author? It has now become much easier to put your work up for sale and exceed your book sales target.

In previous times, authors were only able to publish their work traditionally and this process had many restrictions. Now with self-publishing, it is very easy for writers to get their work in front of their readers without spending lots of time and money.

Even with self-publishing, it is still important to choose the right platform as many authors who are in a haste to publish, easily fall victim by investing in the wrong platform and overlooking the key principles of success.

Despite how popular self-publishing has become amongst aspiring authors, only a handful of self-published books achieve high sales. In fact, only less than 1 per cent of most self-published books are really good and less than 5 per cent can pass as decent. 

Now, with professional guidance, self-publishing platforms like AgoraPublishing.com stand out from the rest particularly because of their commitment to ensuring that your work is of top quality, allowing it to attain mass marketability effortlessly.

Based out of Ottawa, Agora Publishing is a not-for-profit book publishing agency that has over the years supported self-published authors to achieve their book sales target. The agency has been in operation for over 20 years, consistently serving writers all around the globe who seek to take advantage of their numerous full-service options which are not provided by other competing platforms like Lulu or CreateSpace.

Unlike other comparative services that are driven by for-profit ethics, Agora Publishing pays critical attention to the quality and readiness of the writer’s manuscript, copy editing, book cover design and other areas of the book production and marketing process. They also provide professional hardcover printing services, which is a rarity for most self-publishing platform who only focus on producing digital copies.

While digital media has disrupted other industries such as news publishing and the entertainment business, a lot of readers still love to own physical books. According to a 2019 report by the Association of American Publishers, of almost $26 billion made from book sales in the U.S., book print made up over 90 per cent ($22.6 billion) of sales revenue compared to $2.04 billion for ebooks. These figures include genres such as trade, education as well as fiction and points to the fact that hardcover books are still very relevant.

“I think the e-book bubble has burst somewhat, sales are flattening off, I think the physical object is very appealing. Publishers are producing incredibly gorgeous books, so the cover designs are often gorgeous, they’re beautiful objects,” said Meryl Halls, managing director of the Booksellers’ Association in the U.K. in CNBC report.

Agorapublishing.com stands out from other self-publishing platforms and has become a great option for writers who want to self-publish high quality and mass marketable books in Ottawa in both digital and print formats.

The agency provides a host of professional community-driven services which include ISBN registration, book cover design, the book’s internal graphic design and typesetting, copy editing or substantive editing, book website design, author news blog design, search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), the writing of informative promotional articles, distribution, printing, and many more.

Even with a captivating manuscript, having a below-par book cover can contribute to a dent in sales. Some new authors try to save cost by patronizing cheap homemade book covers that look inferior and this can drastically affect sales as readers still “judge a book by its cover”—especially cheap-looking books.

Nonetheless, platforms such as AgoraPublishing.com seek to serve writers in Ottawa with free professional consultation and advice on the readiness of their manuscript for production and a hands-on approach to ensuring that writers are provided with a high level of service at all levels of the production process. This way, your book goes through rigorous quality checks to ensure that only the best is made available to the public.

Agora Publishing has built a successful roadmap for its authors which includes their book production and marketing strategies. Their team of professionals work with authors to print highly durable and beautiful hardcover books with quality prints to attract the attention of book buyers.

Racing into the world of self-publishing can hit you with a cruel reality, therefore the only chance for success is having proper planning and preparation. AgoraPublishing.com provides Ottawa writers with expert services, handling the entire process for you to ensure your book attains the desired success almost instantly.

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Book Self-Publishing: AgoraPublishing.com is the best choice for Ottawa authors

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For writers in Ottawa, it is now easier than ever to put your work up for sale by becoming a self-published author. Unlike traditional publishing, self-publishing makes it very easy for writers to get their work in front of their readers without spending lots of time and money.

However, for many self-published authors who are in a haste to publish, they easily fall victim by overlooking key principles of success, leading to the failure of their books in achieving the desired sell-out rate.

Quite a large number of authors who are new to self-publishing get so many basic things wrong. Now, with professional guidance, self-publishing platforms like AgoraPublishing.com stand out from the rest particularly because of their commitment to ensuring that your work is of top quality, allowing it to attain mass marketability effortlessly.

Unlike other self-publishing platforms (CreateSpace, Lulu etc.), Agorapublishing.com is a great option for writers who want to self-publish high quality and mass marketable books in Ottawa.

Published authors earn money through book sales by receiving royalties—a percentage of the book’s retail price. The obvious way a published author makes money is through book sales. In traditional publishing, you could expect to receive around 8 to 15 per cent royalty on each book sale depending on your status as an author, the publisher, or your target market.

However, authors in Ottawa are choosing to self-publish with Agora Publishing as they can earn much more money from royalties. When you self-publish your book, you can earn much more in royalties.

One of the most common reasons for poor sales for Ottawa authors is being in a haste to self-publish a book without adequate planning. Some upcoming authors share the misconception that having a book means it’s go-to-market ready. But there must be adequate planning, enough promotion, a considerable amount of followership, amongst others.

Racing into the world of self-publishing can hit you with a cruel reality, therefore the only chance for success is having proper planning and preparation. Professional services like AgoraPublishing.com provides Ottawa writers with expert services, handling the entire process for you to ensure your book meets the highest standards. This way, you are certain that your work would attain success almost instantly.

Irrespective of how captivating your book might be, to capture the attention of readers, there needs to be some form of marketing. However, a lot of self-publishers make the mistake of assuming that once they’ve acquired the services of a publicist, listed it on Amazon and made social media posts, it is enough marketing.

Contrary to that belief, getting your book as much attention as needed requires you to exhaust every available marketing options at your disposal. AgoraPublishing.com provides professional marketing services to Ottawa authors and this makes it possible for their books to achieve a high number of sales.

For most traditional publishers in Ottawa, they tend to prioritize authors who have already created a specific niche. This leaves aspiring and relatively unknown authors with nothing more to do than wait in line before their book gets any sort of attention. Self-publishing is a much appealing option because no one is excluded or given preferential treatment; anyone has the potential to become a best-selling author. If you have good material, you can publish your book with professional guidance from Agora Publishing.

If you are worried about your book getting rejected by traditional publishers in Ottawa, self-publication with Agora Publishing is the best option for writers. It doesn’t matter how controversial your content is, opting to self-publish gets your work into the marketplace faster.

For self-published authors in Ottawa, they have more control over their work and choose any country, through any channel, and in any format (print, eBook, or audio) they want it sold. With help from Agora Publishing, authors can decide where and when to sell the book and the best way to promote it to reach a global audience.

Nonetheless, even with a perfect manuscript, having a below-par book cover can contribute to a dent in sales. For some new authors—in a bid to save cost—they tend to patronize homemade book covers that carry an inferior look. This can drastically affect sales as readers and book buyers do “judge a book by its cover”, especially terribly cheap-looking book covers.

Another quality check for any book that more often than not fails is the book description. Having a book description that is two-sentence long doesn’t qualify either does a lengthy preview of the first chapter.

Nonetheless, platforms such as AgoraPublishing.com provides Ottawa authors with unprecedented quality control and checks on all books to ensure that only the best is made available to the public.


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Book Self-Publishing: AgoraPublishing.com provides quality control that Amazon’s KDP lacks

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Many of today’s best-selling writers have chosen the path of self-publishing to become authors, bypassing traditional publishing. However, getting a highly successful self-published book can be quite a difficult task.

Technology has opened up new possibilities in the book publishing industry, changing the way publishers communicate with authors. Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) has adopted a more digital experience for customer interaction, but there is a tendency to overlook the fact that self-publishing platforms such as AgoraPublishing.com provide much better quality control.

While the implementation of chatbots for customer interaction seems like a fascinating idea, human interaction is still the most preferred choice of communication. Verbal communication is faster, easier, and more effective than typing messages back and forth.

According to the Harvard Business Review, “Humans generally speak at 125-175 words per minute and can listen at a rate of up to 450 words per minute. In contrast, the average typist does 38-40 words per minute — and that’s on a full-fledged keyboard, not on a mobile phone.”

The success of a book is attributed to the level of planning, preparation and the amount of hard work put into it before it is launched into the market. For authors, even after hitting the shelves, there is still the need to diligently follow up on book sales and revise your plan wherever necessary.

While the idea of using a chatbot for customer communication might sound very progressive, the most preferred choice for authors remains human interaction and there are various reasons for that.

In the younger generations, many people are getting accustomed to the use of automated forms of customer service through mediums such as chatbots. However, human interaction is overall still the most preferred choice.

When trying to solve a customer service issue, 83 per cent of consumers would rather talk to a human than lay complaints via digital channels, according to research from Accenture Strategy. Despite the ability for Amazon’s KDP chatbot to respond to queries much faster or provide similar answers, it simply cannot provide the same feeling and assurance that speaking to a human at Agora Publishing provides.

Additionally, Agora Publishing provides offline accessibility while Amazon’s KDP chatbot requires internet connection before it can be accessed. Therefore, you would need to either download the app or visit their website to initiate a conversation with the chatbot or access the knowledge base content. This isn’t very reliable as in the event of poor internet connectivity, human-based customer service would always provide the authors with the required support.

Robots would always be robots; and while Amazon’s KDP chatbot is built on a framework loaded with different algorithms and scripts, no amount of programming would be enough to replace a human’s distinct ability to read subtle details from a person’s mood or language.

For example, if an author contacts a publisher and becomes agitated due to poor sales during the first few days of publishing, even the most sophisticated chatbot would never be able to replicate the warm, calm and empathetic response that a customer service representative would provide.

Additionally, in the cases of delayed publishing, having a conversation with an actual person who can provide a detailed explanation and subsequently apologize for the delays can be much more soothing to the customer than interacting with a chatbot.

Amazon’s KDP chatbot is capable of providing authors with basic help on some common issues, but unlike Agora Publishing, they are incapable of resolving every challenge that authors often need assistance solving.

For example, if an author needs help deciding what name would be best for a biography a deceased loved one and has questions about the cover design, royalty rates and marketing techniques. All of these multiple questions would come sequentially with each question and answer leading to the next. A chatbot would be unable to handle this kind of complexity due to the multiple requests being made by the author.

In conclusion, while technology has made self-publishing much easier than before, a human agent is still the most effective way to communicate with publishers. They can sympathize with an author wherever necessary before proceeding to provide detailed responses to every query.

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