After Saturday's aborted launch attempt of the Falcon 9, a second attempt on 22 May was carried out successfully. The vehicle launched at 0744 GMT from Cape Canaveral in Florida. Now in orbit the Dragon spacecraft will be conducting several tests on its chase to rendezvous with the International Space Station. The biggest test of the craft will be the safe rendezvous, approach and docking with the station. If all goes well the Dragon craft will be captured by the stations robotic arm and dock with the station on 25 May. The craft is carrying non-essential cargo for the station and once successfully docked this will be unloaded. Under the current schedule the Dragon will remain docked with the ISS until 31 May. Once undocked the craft is planned to be deorbited over the Pacific Ocean and conduct a controlled re-entry, parachute descent and then splash down 300 miles of the the western coast of Southern California and then be recovered. If all the tests of the spacecraft are successful this will clear the way for SpaceX to start commercial re-supply missions to the Space Station under a contract with NASA. The first of these missions is currently planned for August this year.
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In an emailed answer to Hyperbola's question about NASA Launch Services (NLS) vehicle certification requirements and crew transport the US space agency says: "NLS is only applicable to NASA payloads, not crew. You should not infer any relationship between NLS and commercial crew."
Yet for high profile "class A" missions, such as JWST, to be launched on a "category three" low risk launch vehicle NASA's certification requirements ask for a 14 consecutive successful flight history - go here for related launch policy directive documentation
United Launch Alliances' Delta IV doesn't have that, Space Exploration Technologies' (SpaceX) Falcon 9 won't have that until 2013 at least, Orbital Sciences' Taurus II never will because it only has eight commercial resupply missions manifested and so only the ULA Atlas V has an adequate launch history - is this what the final report of the Review of US human space flight plans was referring too with its mystery booster?
Sorry, I hear you say, but that is for payloads, not crew. So are you saying that crews will ride on rockets with a lesser launch history than payloads? And if it is greater, well at least you have until 2016 for those commercial crew programme vehicles but NASA administrator Charles Bolden's hopes of something sooner seem a bit dashed
Is this situation what Bolden was referring to yesterday in the Senate hearing when he said that SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft was a cheaper longer term option and that instead Orion was the choice for an International Space Station escape capsule three year's hence?
credit: spacepolicyonline.com / caption: the schedule slide that will come to haunt Obama's flexible path
In a president George W. Bush-like moment NASA administrator Charles Bolden is reported to have said: "it is the uneasiest thing we could do". Uneasiest? Don't you mean it is one of the hardest things you could do?
And Bolden might not want to admit it but his allegedly executable non-Constellation programme is ultimately, in capabilities terms, just as challenging and probably unexecutable as Bush's Constellation in technology and funding
Why? We now know that president Barack Obama's plan for NASA is to work towards a 2025 asteroid rendezvous and a mid-2030s Mars mission that would not land. Constellation had Mars as an aspiration but its goal was to begin Moon missions from 2018 with a landing soon after and the slow build up of a permanent lunar base from the early 2020s
Surely they are very different? Look again
Despite the grandiose visit to Kennedy Space Center (KSC) president Barack Obama's space plan is still being divisive even with the announcements of a 2025 asteroid goal and a 2035 mission to orbit, but not land on, Mars
In the video above Buzz Aldrin says he wish he could have spoken to his ex-Apollo astronaut colleagues before they sent a letter condemning Obama's plan
Florida Today lists a series of reactions from notable people here, as does NASAWatch with its report here; qouting media organisations including Time magazine and Fox News. Below SpaceX's founder Elon Musk tells Bloomberg tv NASA's Constellation programme was uneconomic. Here the Orlando Sentinel reports that Musk spoke to Obama during his KSC visit. You can find here Musk's long statement endorsing Obama's plan
While Utah Senator Orrin Hatch continues to take issue with the Obama plan. Hatch met with NASA administrator Charles Bolden and was not at all happy with the outcome
One has to wonder what on Earth (pun intended) president Barack Obama, his administration and the NASA management team think will be accomplished with a 1h 55min chin wag between "senior officials, space leaders, academic experts, industry leaders and others" about the future of US space exploration
Public relations disaster is one accomplishment that this blogger can envisage. If everyone comes out of the conference (see timing below - all times in Eastern Daylight Time) declaring the Obama plan a fantastic vision the event will be criticised as a White House whitewash and if a single individual speaks out against it, the reports will be of a divided conference
Hyperbola suspects the outcome will be far far worse
We are told Obama will have some "private time" with politicians attending the event. Anything other than the president's ageement to a wish list of space transportation projects is going to see those politicians attack the new space plan. And it won't stop there, academics will likely go on the record to say they don't agree with all or parts of the plan while industry will simply brief journalists, off the record, about why the plan doesn't make sense
It is not obvious at what point the media get to question the president and, or his conference participants but I would imagine that certain politicians and corporations are already on the phone to Florida based and national media. Is it a conference or is it Obama's last space stand?
The afternoon to save exploration in full
13:30h NASA tv begins President Barack Obama KSC visit coverage
14:25h President Obama speech in Operations & Checkout building
15:45h Conference overview
with NASA admininstrator Charles Bolden, Norman Augustine, John Holdren
16:25h Conference breakout sessions
- increasing access to and utilization of the International Space Station
- jumpstarting the new technologies to take us beyond
- expanding our reach into the Solar System
- harnessing space to expand economic opportunity
17:40h Conference wrap-up with Bolden and breakout session moderators
The 15:45h conference overview and 16:25h breakout sessions will all take place in the Operations & Checkout building
credit: Orbtial / caption:
Orbital Sciences released the latest concept image of its Taurus II rocket launch site (being built at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility aka the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport) during its presentation at the Space Foundation's 26th National Space Symposium. Previously Orbital had published the image below in its Taurus II user's guide
credit: Orbital Sciences / caption: the Taurus II launch site as shown in the rocket's user's guide
One wonders if the telecon was called simply to rebuff NASAWatch and others latest claims about what is going on behind closed doors. Certainly one US journalist got to ask about those NASAWatch Shuttle lives-on claims and NASA administrator Charles Bolden was happy to shoot down those theories. Theories about a future that members of Congress intend to shape themselves, so the outcome is anyone's guess
Or was it called to put into the public domain a bit of background for the forthcoming 15 April space summit that president Barack Obama will attend? This mystery event, which had one space state politician putting a letter asking for any info on the summit into the public domain, is going to see discussion groups apparently - with politicians, academics, scientists, industry executives. Has no one at the White House watched the Congressional hearings?
The politicians will attack Bolden's Plan A, the academics and scientists will argue over what the priorities will be, and probably attack Plan A as well, and the discussion will come to no outcome whatsoever. Why should it when Plan A has actually managed to achieve the one notable thing the Obama administration has singularly failed too, create a bi-partisan legislative effort?
It will be interesting to see what reaction Bolden gets at the next Congressional hearing to his comments yesterday that "in terms of NASA planning, as a programme, Constellation is dead"
Athena Launch Vehicles
Athena to fill Critical Niche in Affordable Rockets - Available for Launch in 2012
Denver, March 25, 2010 - Lockheed Martin Corporation (NYSE: LMT) and Alliant Techsystems (NYSE: ATK), have entered into a strategic teaming agreement to offer launch services utilizing upgraded and modernized Athena rockets. These vehicles, based on the flight-proven Athena I and II, are designed to provide reliable access to space for small payloads to a wide range of orbits. Lockheed Martin will provide mission management, payload integration, and launch operations, and ATK will provide integrated vehicle propulsion, launch vehicle structures, booster integration and launch site operations.
credit: spacepolicyonline.com / caption: Garver's presentation click on it for a large version in this browser window
So according to NASA administrator Charles Bolden in the Congressional hearing yesterday the US will get back to the Moon before the Chinese - but will they?
As the Constellation programme progressed it was always interesting to dig around for the latest multi-program integrated milestone schedule that would occasionally be available officially or unofficially on the web somewhere. That helpful document showed graphically, in every sense, the inevitable slips of an under funded Moon return programme
Earlier this month NASA deputy administrator Lori Beth Garver gave us a new milestone schedule to scrutinise - even if it has the word notional across it - when she gave a presentation at the American Astronautical Society's Goddard Memorial Symposium (held 9-11 March)
Garver's powerpoint (one assumes) slides - shown in this blog care of a new website called spacepolicyonline.com - show an Obama space plan timeline and a version of the Constellation programme schedule
Looking at the slide above (and Garver's second slide - see extended blog portion - that shows a Constellation timeline) the question that comes to Hyperbola's mind is, if Constellation was an exploration programme that was unexecutable with the available budget why is the Obama plan any more executable?