First Commercial Flights to ISS Slide Toward 2020


by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Early in the classic police comedy, The Naked Gun, Lt. Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) is at the hospital with partner Ed Hocken (George Kennedy) visiting the critically wounded Officer Nordberg (O.J. Simpson), who had been shot and left for dead by a group of heroin smuggling thugs.

“Doctors say that Nordberg has a 50/50 chance of living, though there’s only a 10 percent chance of that,” Ed tells Frank.

A similar scene played out Wednesday morning during the House Space Subcommittee’s hearing on the progress of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Only it wasn’t nearly as funny.

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Zuma Blame Game Begins

In the wake of the apparently unsuccessful launch of the secret Zuma payload, there is still some confusion about what exactly happened and who is to blame.

The top secret satellite for an unidentified government agency is believed to have burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere after failing to separate from the second stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster.

However, SpaceX officials say that the Falcon 9 booster performed exactly as planned, so the company is not responsible for any failure that might have occurred.

That would appear to point the finger at Northrop Grumman, which provided the satellite and the adapter that connected it to booster. The company had declined to comment, saying it doesn’t comment on classified missions.

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Falcon Heavy Static Fire Postponed

Falcon Heavy on the launch pad (Credit: SpaceX)

There’s an unconfirmed report that the Falcon Heavy static fire scheduled for today has been postponed. No new date set. Updates as we get them.

Science & Technology Experiments Returned on Dragon

Dragon capsule after recovery. (Credit: SpaceX)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — SpaceX’s Dragon cargo spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on Saturday, Jan. 13, west of Baja California, with approximately 4,100 pounds of NASA cargo, science and technology demonstration samples from the International Space Station.

The Dragon spacecraft will be taken by ship to Long Beach, California, where some cargo will be removed immediately for return to NASA. Dragon then will be prepared for a return trip to SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas, for final processing.

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Commercial Crew Schedule Margins at Risk as Much Work Remains


by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s uninterrupted access to the International Space Station (ISS) could be at risk due to continued schedule slips by commercial crew providers Boeing and SpaceX, the NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) said last week.

“Based on the quantity, significance, and associated uncertainty of work remaining for both commercial providers, the Panel believes there is a very real possibility of future schedule slips that could easily consume all remaining margin,” ASAP said in its annual report. [Full Report]

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House Space Subcommittee Hearing On Commercial Crew Status Scheduled


House Subcommittee on Space Hearing

An Update on NASA Commercial Crew Systems Development

Date: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 – 10:00am
Location: 2318 Rayburn House Office Building
Subcommittees: Subcommittee on Space (115th Congress)

Hearing Purpose

The purpose of the hearing is to examine the development of the NASA’s two  commercial crew systems, being built by Boeing and SpaceX, to service the International Space Station

Witnesses:

  • Mr. William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Directorate, NASA
  • Mr. John Mulholland, vice president and program manager, Commercial Programs, Boeing Space Exploration
  • Dr. Hans Koenigsmann, vice president, Build and Flight Reliability, SpaceX
  • Ms. Cristina Chaplain, director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management, U.S. Government Accountability Office
  • Dr. Patricia Sanders, chair, NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel

Dragon Splashes Down, Falcon Heavy Static Fire Rescheduled for Monday

Dragon departs the International Space Station on Jan. 13, 2018. (Credit: NASA TV)

SpaceX’s Dragon resupply ship splashed down in the Pacific Ocean this morning with 4,078.6 lbs (1,850 kg) of experiments and technology from the International Space Station. The vehicle spent nearly a month at the station.

Meanwhile, SpaceX has rescheduled Falcon Heavy’s static fire for Monday. The six-hour window runs from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. EST (2100 to 0300 UTC). The heavy-lift booster’s 27 first stage engines will be fired for up to 15 seconds.

NASA Commercial Crew Flights Slip Slide Toward 2019

Astronauts Bob Behnken and Eric Boe evaluate Crew Dragon controls. (Credit: NASA)

Crucial flight tests for NASA’s two commercial crew vehicles are slipping ever closer to 2019. The space agency released the following updated schedules for Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Dragon 2 vehicles today:

Targeted Test Flight Dates

Boeing Orbital Flight Test (uncrewed): August 2018
Boeing Crew Flight Test (crewed): November 2018
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 1 (uncrewed): August 2018
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 2 (crewed): December 2018

Boeing’s schedule has not changed from the previous update. SpaceX’s demonstration flights have slipped from April and August to August and December, respectively. No reasons have been given for the slips.

A reliable source tells Parabolic Arc that SpaceX experienced a delay several months ago due to issues with Dragon 2’s environmental control and life support system (ECLSS). The problem was estimated to delay the first demonstration flight about six months. At about that same time, the schedule for that first uncrewed flight slipped from February to April.

A SpaceX spokeswoman would not comment for the record on this report.

SpaceShipTwo Glides, SpaceX Scrubs, Delta IV & 3 Other Launches Pending

SpaceShipTwo Unity on the runway after its seventh glide flight. (Credit; Virgin Galactic)

A busy day in space, so let’s get right to it:

SpaceShipTwo Flies: Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity performed its seven glide flight this morning in Mojave. The flight appeared to go as planned based on what I could see from the ground and Virgin Galactic’s tweets; the space plane landed and rolled to a stop on runway 30. The pilots were Mark Stucky and Michael Masucci.

This is the seventh glide flight for Unity and the 37th glide test for the SpaceShipTwo program. Its predecessor, Enterprise, flew 30 glide and three powered flights before it broke up during its fourth powered flight on Oct. 31, 2014.

Virgin Galactic officials have said today’s test should be the final glide flight for Unity. If all went well, the next test will be powered.

UPDATE: Virgin Galactic has posted a description of today’s flight here.

SpaceX Scrubs: SpaceX scrubbed a static fire of the Falcon Heavy booster for the second time in as many days at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The company planned a 12- to 15-second firing of the 27 first stage engines of the heavy-lift rocket. No reason has been given for the scrub. Reports indicate that a third attempt is set for Friday. If the same schedule is maintained, the six-hour test window will open at 1 p.m. EST.

Delta IV Launch Set: United Launch Alliance is planning to launch a Delta IV booster with the NROL 47 reconnaissance satellite from Vandenberg this afternoon. The original launch time was set for 1 p.m. PST, but ULA says it is working a technical issue that will delay the launch until later. No new time as been set yet. The launch was scrubbed on Wednesday due to high winds.

Webcast available at  www.ulalaunch.com and  www.youtube.com/unitedlaunchalliance

UPDATE: Liftoff is now planned for 1:55 p.m. PST. Webcast commentary will start at 1:30 p.m. PST.
UPDATE 2: Liftoff now at 2:05 p.m. PST.

Chinese & Indian Launches Scheduled: A Chinese Long March 3B rocket will launch two Beidou navigation satellites at approximately 2300 GMT (6 p.m. EST) today. The flight will be conducted from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center.

India’s PSLV booster will launch the Cartosat 2F remote sensing satellite from Satish Dhawan Space Center on Friday at 0358 GMT (10:58 p.m. EST on Thursday, Jan. 11). It will be the first PSLV launch since August when a failure of the payload shroud to separate doomed an IRNSS-1H navigation satellite to a fiery destruction.

A Long March 2D rocket is set to launch an unidentified satellite from Jiuquan on Saturday at approximately 0710 GMT (2:10 a.m. EST). This will be China’s third launch of the new year.

Report: Zuma Payload a Total Loss

Falcon 9 first stage comes in for a landing after launching the Zuma payload. (Credit: SpaceX)

UPDATE: Here’s an outtake from a story in the Wall Street Journal:

Lawmakers and congressional staffers from the Senate and the House have been briefed about the botched mission, some of the officials said. The secret payload—code-named Zuma and launched from Florida on board a Falcon 9 rocket—is believed to have plummeted back into the atmosphere, they said, because it didn’t separate as planned from the upper part of the rocket.

Once the engine powering the rocket’s expendable second stage stops firing, whatever it is carrying is supposed to separate and proceed on its own trajectory. If a satellite isn’t set free at the right time or is damaged upon release, it can be dragged back toward earth.

The lack of details about what occurred means that some possible alternate sequence of events other than a failed separation may have been the culprit.

ORIGINAL POST

Here’s a report from CNBC saying the secret U.S. government Zuma satellite launched on Sunday was a total loss:

Dow Jones reported Monday evening that lawmakers had been briefed about the apparent destruction of the secretive payload — code-named Zuma — citing industry and government officials.

The payload was suspected to have burned up in the atmosphere after failing to separate perfectly from the upper part of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, the report said.

According to Dow Jones, the absence of official word on the incident means that there could have been another chain of events.

SpaceX has said the Falcon 9 booster functioned nominally. Satellite builder Northrop Grumman has declined to comment on the classified spacecraft, which may have been worth billions of dollars. The identity of the government agency that ordered the satellite is unknown.

SpaceX said the Zuma launch was delayed from December due to a problem with the payload shroud. During the launch webcast on Sunday, the company said the payload shroud had separated as planned.

Read the full story.

SpaceX Launches Zuma But Satellite Fate Unknown; Falcon Heavy Rolled Out for Static Fire

Falcon 9 first stage launches Zuma spacecraft (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

SpaceX launched a secret U.S. military satellite code named Zuma into space on Sunday evening. The company successfully landed the first stage of the Falcon 9 back at Cape Canaveral.

However, exactly what happened to the mysterious satellite remains a mystery nearly 24 hours after the launch. SpaceX says an analysis of data indicate the Falcon 9’s second stage performed nominally.

However, there are unconfirmed rumors that the satellite was lost. Rumors include the spacecraft being dead on orbit after separation from Falcon 9’s second stage, or re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere still attached to the stage.

Northrop Grumman, which built the spacecraft, is not commenting on the flight. The identity of the government agency the spacecraft was built for is not known. So, nobody from the government has confirmed whether the launch succeeded or not.

Meanwhile, SpaceX rolled out the first Falcon Heavy booster to Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center today. The company plans to conduct a brief static test of the rocket’s 27 first-stage engines for the first time. The rocket is set to make its maiden flight later this month from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

A Preview of Commercial Crew Activities for 2018


WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA and industry partners, Boeing and SpaceX, are targeting the return of human spaceflight from Florida’s Space Coast in 2018. Both companies are scheduled to begin flight tests to prove the space systems meet NASA’s requirements for certification in the coming year.

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Zuma Launch Delayed to SUnday

Update: Launch now delayed 24 hours by weather constraints. Sunday, Jan. 7 at 8 p.m.

SpaceX has delayed the launch of the Zuma payload until Saturday, Jan. 6. The two hour launch window opens at 8 p.m. EST.

Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic Eye Human Spaceflights in 2018

New Shepard booster fires its engine just over the landing pad. (Credit: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

While Boeing and SpaceX move toward flying astronauts to the International Space Station this year, there are two other companies working on restoring the ability to launch people into space from U.S. soil.

Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic aren’t attempting anything as ambitious as orbital flight. Their aim is to fly short suborbital hops that will give tourists and scientists several minutes of microgravity to float around and conduct experiments in.

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