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Antares Failure: Damage Not Too Bad, Identifying Likely Cause Days Not Weeks Away

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Oct-2014 (Updated: 29-Oct-2014 11:31 PM)

Orbital Sciences Corporation said today that an initial survey of the Antares launch pad and surrounding areas at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, VA shows that the damage is not as bad as initially feared.  Also today, Orbital's President said it should be days, not weeks, before investigators can identify a "handful" of likely causes though finding the root cause will take longer.

Orbital's Antares rocket with a Cygnus spacecraft full of more than 5,000 pounds of experiments, equipment and supplies for the International Space Station (ISS) failed seconds after liftoff from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at Wallops last night.   No one was injured.

David Thompson, Orbital's Chairman, President, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and one of the company's founders, held a telephone conference call with investors and financial analysts to discuss the failure this afternoon.  The company's stock was down almost 17 percent.  Orbital is in the midst of a merger with ATK.  When asked if he was considering a delay in the shareholder vote with regard to the merger, Thompson said it is too early to tell.

"Too early to tell" was an oft-repeated theme throughout the teleconference as Thompson and Orbital Vice Chairman and Chief Financial Officer Garrett Pierce provided what information they could about the failure and attempts to ascertain its cause.  Thompson said he thought it would take only days, not weeks, to narrow the list of potential causes to a few, although it would take longer to determine the root cause. Based on past experience, he anticipates that the next Antares launch, currently scheduled for April, will be delayed.  "I think a reasonable best-case estimate would bound that at three months but it could certainly be considerably longer than that depending on what we find in the review. I would hope it would be not more than a year," he said.

Although Thompson cautioned that first impressions are not always the correct ones in accidents like this, there is a widespread assumption that the rocket's first stage engines were at least part of the cause considering how early in the launch the failure occurred.   Antares is powered by two NK33 engines built by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and imported to the United States for refurbishment by Aerojet and redesignated AJ26.  Orbital has been considering replacing the AJ26s with a different engine in about two years because they "have presented us with some serious technical and supply challenges in the past," he said, adding that the accident may accelerate those plans:  "I certainly think we can shorten that interval, but at this point I don't know by how much."  The company has not revealed what alternative engine it has selected.

Thompson said the launch complex "was spared from any major damage" and the Antares assembly building and Cygnus spacecraft processing facilities "were not affected ... in any way."  The company issued a press statement later in the day reaffirming that based on an aerial survey and an on-site preliminary visit, serious damage was avoided, but the full extent of repairs or how long they will take will not be known until a more detailed inspection is conducted.  

NASA posted an aerial view of the damaged area on its website.  NASA Wallops Director Bill Wrobel expressed confidence that "we will rebound stronger than ever."  NASA said there was damage at the MARS facility to the transporter erector launcher and lightning suppression rods.  A sounding rocket launcher adjacent to the pad and buildings nearest the pad suffered the greatest damage, NASA said, and support buildings have broken windows and imploded doors.  Environmental damage appears to be contained within the southern third of Wallops Island.  No hazardous substances were detected in air samples at the Wallops mainland area, the Highway 175 causeway, or nearby Chincoteague Island.  The Coast Guard and Virginia Marine Resources Commission have not observed any obvious signs of water pollution.  Anyone who finds debris is warned not to touch it and to call 757-824-1295.

Aerial view of damaged Antares launch site at Wallops Flight Facility, VA, October 29, 2014.  Photo Credit: NASA/Terry Zaperach

Thompson and Pierce said insurance would cover the cost of launch site repairs to its facilities as well as the loss of near-term receivables that the company would have collected if the launch had been a success.  The company still plans to submit a bid for NASA's follow-on Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) 2 contract.  Yesterday's launch was part of the original CRS contract under which Orbital was awarded a $1.9 billion contract to deliver 20 tons of cargo to the ISS by 2016.

An Accident Investigation Board (AIB) led by Orbital and including NASA, MARS, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will determine the cause of the accident and recommend corrective actions.  Orbital's Dave Steffy, Senior Vice President and Chief Engineer of the Advanced Programs Group, is chairing the AIB.

The loss of the spacecraft is not expected to affect ISS operations.  None of the cargo on this third operational Orbital mission to the ISS, Orb-3, was critical and a Russian Progress cargo spacecraft docked with the ISS this morning on a regularly scheduled flight bringing fuel, water, air, oxygen, food and other supplies.

Russian Cargo Ship Docks with ISS

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Oct-2014 (Updated: 29-Oct-2014 10:07 AM)

Cargo launches to the International Space Station (ISS) usually are so routine that they barely get mentioned in the news, but the docking of a Russian Progress spacecraft this morning (October 29) is noteworthy following the failure of a U.S. Antares rocket last night.   If nothing else, the Progress docking demonstrates that there are several ways to get cargo to the ISS and while the Antares failure is disappointing, it is not a showstopper for ISS operations.

Russian Progress spacecraft have resupplied space stations since the 1970s.  Developed initially to support the Soviet Union's Salyut and Mir space stations, today they routinely take cargo to the ISS.  Progress M-25M launched at 4:09 am Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) this morning and docked with ISS at 9:08 am EDT.  It is carrying 1,940 pounds of propellant, 48 pounds of oxygen, 57 pounds of air, 926 pounds of water, and 2,822 pounds of supplies.

Orbital Sciences Corporation's Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft would have delivered another 5,050 pounds of supplies, experiments and equipment on its third operational ISS cargo run if the launch had been a success.

Orbital's commercial cargo competitor, SpaceX, just ended its fourth operational cargo mission to the ISS and another is scheduled for launch on December 9.   SpaceX's Dragon not only takes cargo to the ISS, but also returns cargo to Earth.  It is the only ISS cargo spacecraft designed to survive reentry through Earth's atmosphere and splash down in the ocean.

Japan also launches cargo spacecraft to the ISS designated HTV for H-II Transfer Vehicle (H-II is the name of the rocket that launches it).  The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has launched four HTVs already and the next is scheduled for early 2015.  

Europe developed the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) to deliver cargo, but no more ATV launches are planned.  The final ATV mission, ATV-5, is currently docked to the ISS.

In short, as NASA officials made clear last night, Antares was not carrying any cargo that was "absolutely critical" for ISS operations and the 6-person ISS crew is fine.  The impact of the Antares failure is more likely to be financial in terms of who pays to build a replacement rocket and spacecraft, not to mention the cargo.  Orbital's Frank Culbertson said last night that the company had "some" insurance for the launch, but was not specific about how much.  He said the cost of the Antares and Cygnus was approximately $200 million.  Costs will also be incurred for the investigation into the accident, making any needed changes to the rocket, and cleaning up the debris.  Orbital provides cargo services to NASA under a fixed price contract ($1.9 billion to deliver 20 tons to the ISS through 2016), which may mean that the company will have to cover all those costs, but last night NASA's ISS program manager Mike Suffredini was vague about that issue.  He said the contract was set up for such contingencies and NASA would work with Orbital to get the hardware replaced.

Orbital Sciences Corporation's Antares Rocket Crashes Moments After Liftoff - Updated

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Oct-2014 (Updated: 28-Oct-2014 11:11 PM)

This article is updated throughout.

Orbital Sciences Corporation's Antares rocket crashed moments after liftoff at 6:22 pm Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) today, October 28, 2014, from Wallops Island, VA.  The rocket was carrying a Cygnus spacecraft loaded with supplies, experiments and equipment for the International Space Station (ISS) on Orbital's third operational cargo mission to the ISS, Orb-3.

No one was injured and it appears that damage was confined to the southern portion of NASA's Wallops Flight Facility near the launch pad.  Orbital launches Antares from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at Wallops.

During a press conference following the explosion, Orbital Vice President (and former astronaut) Frank Culbertson and three NASA officials stressed that it is too early to know what went wrong or how much damage was sustained to the launch pad and surrounding facilities.  Orbital will lead the investigation and analysis has begun already, but an inspection of the damaged areas and debris field must wait until daybreak.  NASA Wallops Director Bill Wrobel stressed that people should not touch any debris that is found and instead should call 757-824-1295 to report it.

Videos of the accident are posted on YouTube from various vantage points, including this one that shows the failure as it happens.

Culbertson said that the failure began about 10-12 seconds after liftoff and range safety officials issued a destruct command about 20 seconds after liftoff.  The exact timing and sequence of events is not yet known, however.  Orbital will analyze telemetry and imagery as part of its investigation. 

The message from Culbertson, NASA Human Exploration and Operations Associate Administrator Bill Gerstenmaier, and NASA ISS program manager Mike Suffredini is that the cause of the accident will be determined, the problem fixed, and Antares will fly again.  Gerstenmaier also said that "no cargo that was absolutely critical was lost" and the ISS crew is not in any danger.  Suffredini also stressed that the ISS crew has sufficient supplies to last through next March and, in any case, there are other cargo spacecraft capable of taking supplies to them including a Russian Progress spacecraft that will be launched tomorrow.  So while everyone is disappointed about the failure and the loss of what was aboard, it will not have a significant impact on the crew's welfare or activities.

The first stage of the Antares, which was operating at the time of the accident, is powered by two AJ26 engines.  The AJ26 is a refurbished Russian NK33 engine built over 40 years ago.  The engines were imported to the United States and refurbished by Aerojet Rocketdyne.  When asked why Orbital chose to use such an old design, Culbertson said that the engines were extensively tested and are "rugged and robust."  These engines showed no signs of anomalies during that testing, he said, adding that is it not yet known if the engines were at fault.

Cygnus was carrying 5,050 pounds of experiments, spare parts, and other supplies to the 6-person ISS crew as well as a few commercial payloads.  Suffredini said the crew was notified immediately about the accident, but they were watching it in any case.  Culbertson said the cost of the rocket and spacecraft was about $200 million and that Orbital carried "some" insurance for the launch, but was not specific about the amount.  Orbital conducts these launches under a Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA.  When asked if the company would have to pay to refly the mission under that contract, Suffredini answered only vaguely that the contract was set up for such contingencies and NASA would work with Orbital to get the hardware replaced.

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), who chairs the Science and Space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, issued a statement that while there will be "setbacks," "our commercial space ventures will ultimately be successful."

Reps. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Steve Palazzo (R-MS), chairmen of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and its Space Subcommittee respectively, said they add their "disappointment to the thousands in the space community who worked tirelessly" in support of the launch, are relieved there were no reported fatalities, and "anticipate learning more ... in the near future."

Orbital is one of two U.S. companies that provide ISS cargo services for NASA.   SpaceX is the other and one of its Dragon spacecraft just returned from the ISS on Saturday.  The next SpaceX launch is scheduled for December 9.  Suffredini said that NASA may make some small adjustments to the cargo manifest for the SpaceX launch to compensate for the loss of equipment on this flight.   Orbital and SpaceX developed their "commercial cargo" space transportation systems as public-private partnerships with NASA where the government and the companies both put money into the project.  Both companies' systems are now operational and the services are provided to NASA as a commercial service.

In addition to the two U.S. companies and Russia, Japan also sends cargo spacecraft to the ISS.  Europe has in the past, but its final cargo spacecraft, ATV-5, is currently docked to the ISS.  The United States, Russia, Japan, Europe and Canada are all partners in the ISS program.

Orb-3 Launch Scrubbed Due to Boat

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Oct-2014 (Updated: 27-Oct-2014 09:43 PM)

The weather was perfect, the rocket was perfect, the spacecraft was perfect, but the launch of Orbital Sciences Corporation's Orb-3 cargo mission to the International Space Station was scrubbed this evening because a boat was in restricted waters off the launch site at Wallops Island, VA.

Waters off any of the U.S. launch sites are restricted during launches to protect people and property from debris in case of an accident.  Apparently the operators of this one did not heed notices that the area was restricted.

There was only a 10-minute launch window and the boat was not clear of the range in time.

The next launch opportunity is tomorrow, October 28, at 6:22 pm Eastern Daylight Time.

Note: the new launch time has been updated.

What's Happening in Space Policy October 27 - November 7, 2014

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Oct-2014 (Updated: 26-Oct-2014 11:01 PM)

Here is our list of space policy related events coming up in the next TWO weeks, October 27-November 7, 2014, and any insight we can offer about them.   Congress returns on November 12.

During the Weeks

This issue covers the next TWO weeks, and certainly the most interesting event in that time period is November 4 -- election day in the United States.   More on that in our next issue, but put it on your calendar and GET OUT AND VOTE!

In the nearer term, Orbital Sciences Corporation will launch its next cargo mission, Orb-3, to the International Space Station tomorrow (October 27) from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, VA.   The launch at 6:45 pm ET may be visible along the east coast (weather permitting).  Orbital has a map showing where to look on its website.  NASA TV will provide coverage beginning at 5:45 pm ET.  A post-launch press conference is scheduled for approximately 90 minutes after launch.

The American Astronautical Society (AAS) will hold its annual Wernher von Braun symposium in Huntsville, AL from October 27-30 (the 27th is a welcome reception and the 30th is a tour of the United Launch Alliance production facility in nearby Decatur, AL).  Three "Washington Perspectives" are on the schedule:  on October 28 by Cristina Chaplain of the Government Accountability Office; and on October 29 by Dick Obermann, minority staff director of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, at 8:00 am Central Time, and by Kate Kronmiller of Orbital Sciences Corporation at noon CT.  Lots of other very interesting discussions on tap as well.  There is no indication on the agenda if any of the event will be webcast.

On November 6, Mark Sirangelo of Sierra Nevada's Space Systems Division will talk to the Washington Space Business Roundtable.  Between Sierra Nevada's lawsuit over NASA's award of the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts to Boeing and SpaceX (and not Sierra Nevada), and the company's non-NASA plans for its Dream Chaser spacecraft, it should be particularly interesting.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday evening are listed below. 

Monday, October 27

  • Orb-3 cargo launch to ISS, Wallops Island, VA, 6:45 pm ET (NASA TV coverage begins 5:45 pm ET), post-launch press conference approximately 90 minutes after launch.

Monday-Thursday, October 27-30

Tuesday-Thursday, October 28-29

Wednesday, October 29

Monday, November 3

Monday-Tuesday, November 3-4

Tuesday, November 4

Wednesday-Thursday, November 5-6

Thursday, November 6

Elon Musk: Lipstick or a Colony on Mars?

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Oct-2014 (Updated: 24-Oct-2014 11:10 PM)

In a wide-ranging “one-on-one” interview today at MIT, Elon Musk easily transitioned from technical to philosophical discussions about rockets, Mars exploration, Tesla cars, and hyperloops.  From asking rhetorically whether buying lipstick is more important than colonizing Mars, to insisting that bringing Mars resources back to Earth is unrealistic even if it was cocaine, it was an entertaining exchange.

Musk’s interview by MIT aeronautics and astronautics department head Jaime Perarie was part of the department’s three-day centennial celebration that featured lectures and panel discussions by illustrious aerospace professionals, including many astronauts and MIT professor Dava Newman, recently nominated to be NASA Deputy Administrator.

Musk’s hour-and-a-half long session was split roughly 50-50 between questions from Perarie and from audience members, many of them students.  He made many quotable comments, including the fact that SpaceX will try to land a Falcon 9 first stage on a floating platform as soon as the next flight, but at least sometime in the next 12 months, with the goal of reflying that stage as a demonstration of reusability.

Among the highlights of the space-related portions of the session are the following:


  • SpaceX plans to land a Falcon 9 first stage on a floating platform within the next 12 months, perhaps on the next flight.   Musk said they have soft-landed the Falcon 9 first stage in the ocean twice: “it sat there for several seconds, tipped over and exploded.”  The next step is to land it on a floating platform being built in Louisiana.   SpaceX may attempt it on the next Falcon 9 launch to the International Space Station (ISS) – currently scheduled for December 9 – but Musk said there was at best a 50 percent chance of success.  Nonetheless, he added, there are 12 more Falcon 9 flights in the next 12 months and he thinks there’s an 80-90 percent chance of success over that period of time and that first stage will refly.  “We’re close” to demonstrating reusability, he said.
  • He has no plans for reusing the Falcon 9 second stage, however.  For full reusability, he is focusing on next generation vehicles using liquid methane and oxygen – his Raptor design – which will be reusable all the way to Mars.  He expects test flights of such a system in 5-6 years.

Propulsive Landing

  • The penalty for propulsive landing is low, he said.  One can use less mass if a parachute or water landing is employed, but that negatively impacts reusability.   The key is propulsive landing with precision.   That is needed to land on the Moon or Mars, too.
  • In a more humorous moment, he commented that in science fiction aliens land on Earth propulsively, not by splashing down in the ocean or with parachutes.  “Would be weird to see them landing in the ocean,” he remarked with a smile.

Why SpaceX?

  • Asked if it was true that he created SpaceX because he, himself, wants to fly in space, Musk said no, if that was all he wanted he could buy a ticket on Russia’s Soyuz as others have done.  He said that before he started SpaceX he wanted to send a small greenhouse to Mars to get people excited about sending people to Mars in an effort to increase NASA’s budget.  But he concluded what was really needed was better rockets so it was not a matter of sending people to Mars once and never doing it again.  His goal is to advance rocket technology to send many people to Mars so a self-sustaining colony can be established.

Why Colonize Mars?

  • People focus on the problems here on Earth, he said, but some small amount of money – less than one percent of our resources -- should be spent on establishing colonies on Mars and making humanity a multi-planet species.   It’s a matter of priorities, he continued.  It is less important than health care, for example, but more important than cosmetics.  “I’m in favor of cosmetics … but lipstick or a colony on Mars?” he asked with a grin, followed by laughter from the audience.

International Cooperation or Competition?

  • Asked if colonies on Mars will be international or American, Musk said he hopes there will be many colonies on Mars.   He favors competition, not cooperation.  If governments all must work “in lockstep” as they do with the International Space Station, he said, “things do not go fast.”  Instead, he favors “positive” competition like in the Olympics where people compete “hard” but the net result is good.

Space Resources Will be Used in Space Not on Earth

  • Musk made clear that he thinks that space resources will be used in space, not brought back to Earth.  “Even if you had crack cocaine in pre-packaged pallets” on Mars, it would not make sense to bring it back to Earth, he said.

One Way Trips to Mars

  • Musk humorously asked if that meant “one way and you die” or “one way and you’re resupplied,” but more seriously commented that spaceships are expensive and they must be returned to Earth regardless of whether the people want to come back.
  • As for MarsOne’s concept of using SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rockets, Musk said that if they want to buy them, he will sell them, but he doesn’t think they have the money for even one and, in any case, the Dragon, with an interior volume of an SUV, is not large enough to accommodate people for such long trips.  He recommends waiting for next generation technology.


  • “I’m a huge fan of NASA,” Musk said.  He is impressed with what the agency is doing in human spaceflight today considering all the constraints it must work under.  If NASA continues to expand on its support of competitive commercial space, that will have the most positive impact on the future of space development, in his view.
  • Asked what would happen to his plans if NASA reached Mars using its Space Launch System (SLS) before SpaceX gets there, Musk said that would be great, but as far as he knows, he is the only one trying to develop systems to send lots of people to Mars to establish a colony there.  He is focused on developing better rocket technology.   It would be “cool” to send one mission to Mars, but what will change humanity is sending large numbers of people.  “I don’t see anyone” out there other than SpaceX trying to do that; “not to say we’ll be successful, but I don’t see anyone else trying.”

Other topics included space elevators (he’s skeptical, but happy to be proved wrong), artificial intelligence (which he referred to as “summoning a demon”), hyperloop systems (he offered technical advice to a student who tried to build one as a senior project), and his Tesla cars.  The entire session is available on MIT’s website.

Google Executive Alan Eustace Breaks Baumgartner's Parachute Record

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Oct-2014 (Updated: 24-Oct-2014 06:22 PM)

Google executive Alan Eustace set a new skydiving altitude record today, beating a record set just two years ago by Felix Baumgartner.  Without the capsule or the publicity associated with Baumgartner's dive, Eustace ascended to 135,890 feet according to the New York Times.

Baumgartner set his altitude record of 127,852 feet in October 2012 amid great fanfare sponsored by Red Bull.  He rode inside a capsule up to the release altitude, transmitting live audio and video until he stepped out of the capsule for his parachute descent to Earth.

Like Baumgarnter, Eustace wore a specially designed "spacesuit" for his trip into the stratosphere.  Eustace's suit, developed by a team led by Paragon Space Development Corporation, is dubbed "StratEx" for Stratosphere Explorer.  Protected only by the suit, Eustace "dangled" under the balloon for the two-hour ascent, then released himself and returned to land in just 15 minutes, breaking the sound barrier as he travelled up to 822 miles per hour according to the New York Times account.  He landed 70 miles from his origination point near Roswell, NM.

The 57-year old Eustace chose to conduct his jump in secrecy and even declined support from his employer so it would not become a marketing effort according to the NYTimes story.  He is Google's Senior Vice President, Knowledge.

Alan Eustace.  Photo Credit:  Google Website


China Launches Lunar Sample Return Test - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-Oct-2014 (Updated: 24-Oct-2014 12:16 AM)

UPDATE:  This article is updated throughout. 

China's Xinhua news service confirmed that a spacecraft to test technologies for returning a lunar sample to Earth was launched this afternoon, October 23 Eastern Daylight Time (Friday, October 24, local time in China).

Xinhua tweeted (@XHNews) at approximately 2:00 pm EDT: "#BREAKING  China launches an experimental return spacecraft that will orbit the moon and return to Earth."

Approximately one hour later, Xinhua issued another tweet that the spacecraft had entered the expected orbit and provided a photo of the launch.

Launch of lunar sample return test spacecraft as precursor to Chang'e-5, October 24, 2014 local time in China (October 23 Eastern Daylight Time).
Photo credit:  Xinhua

Chinese English language news sources have reported on the upcoming launch for quite some time, but provided few details.  Unofficial Chinese space program analysts and the amateur radio community have provided more information.  An amateur radio payload, 4M-LXS, built by LuxSpace, is included on the spacecraft.  AMSAT-UK reports that the first telemetry from the JT65B beacon on the satellite was received in Brazil at 19:18 GMT (3:18 pm EDT).  It is encouraging radio amateurs to receive and report on the signals.

The launch took place from China's Xichang Satellite Launch Center using a Long March 3C rocket.  Jonathan McDowell of Jonathan's Space Report tweeted (@planet4589) late on Thursday EDT that the launch had taken place at 18:00 GMT (2:00 pm October 23 EDT, or 2:00 am October 24 Beijing time) into a 209 x 413000 kilometer circumlunar trajectory.

This mission is a precursor to the Chang'e-5 spacecraft scheduled for launch in 2017.  This precursor mission is expected to last 196 hours and return to land on Earth.  Xinhua revealed shortly after launch that the intended landing site is in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

China has not provided an official designation for the mission.  Even the news items issued by Xinhua in the hours after the launch do not refer to the spacecraft by name, saying only that it is a precursor to Chang'e-5.   Some analysts of the Chinese space program refer to it as Chang'e-5-T1, but the origin of that designation is unclear.  McDowell reports in his Stop Press edition that the name is "Chang'e wu hao feixing shiyan qi" or CE-5 Flight Test Device.

October 27 Confirmed as Orb-3 Launch Date

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Oct-2014 (Updated: 22-Oct-2014 06:56 PM)

NASA and Orbital Sciences Corporation have confirmed the October 27, 2014 launch date for Orbital's Orb-3 cargo mission to the International Space Station  (ISS).  The launch date was dependent on whether a tracking station on Bermuda withstood Hurricane Gonzalo.   Inspectors have determined it will be ready for the launch next week.

This is Orbital's third operational cargo mission to the ISS under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA.  Orbital launches its Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on the coast of Virginia. The Bermuda tracking station is required for such launches.

Launch is scheduled for 6:45 pm Eastern Daylight Time on October 27.

Orbital announced that it has named this Cygnus spacecraft after the late Deke Slayton.  Slayton was one of first seven astronauts selected for America's human spaceflight program in 1959 -- the Mercury 7 -- but an irregular heartbeat kept him grounded until he was cleared to fly the very last Apollo mission --  the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. After leaving NASA, he became one of the early commercial space launch entrepreneurs, heading a company named Space Services that developed the Conestoga 1 rocket, which in 1982 because the first privately funded rocket to reach space.

Top House Committee Republicans Press NASA for Answers on SLS, Orion, CCtCAP

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Oct-2014 (Updated: 22-Oct-2014 03:15 PM)

The chairmen of the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) committee and its Space Subcommittee sent a letter to NASA yesterday (October 21) asking the agency to respond to previous inquiries from the committee regarding the Space Launch System (SLS), Orion, the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts and other matters to which NASA has not yet replied.

In yesterday's letter, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Steve Palazzo (R-MS) repeated their requests for updated information on NASA's plans for launching SLS and Orion.  Their original letter on August 27 stemmed from NASA's announcement that day that it was committing to a November 2018 launch readiness date for SLS, almost a year longer than expected.  That letter requested a response by September 10, 2014, but the committee said it still has not received answers to its questions.

As for CCtCAP, yesterday's letter notes that Space Subcommittee staff "reached out" to NASA the day the CCtCAP decision was announced, requesting a briefing and the source selection statement.  The letter explains that the committee understood it could not have such a briefing until after NASA briefed the offerors, but those briefings are now completed.  Although Sierra Nevada Corporation is protesting the awards to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the committee's letter notes that the statute governing the bid protest process does not authorize "the withholding of any document or information from Congress or an executive agency."  In addition, the committee states that NASA is proceeding with the contracts despite the protest and details of the source selection document were released to the press.  "We assume the Administration will submit a budget proposal to Congress in the next few months that will include funding for the CCtCAP program," the letter continues, and Congress's "ability to evaluate this budget request may be challenged by NASA's uncooperative position."

The letter also presses NASA to provide previously requested data on NASA's treatment of potential termination liability obligations across the agency.

This letter asks for a NASA response by October 28, 2014.

Events of Interest  

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