Latest News

Soyuz Lifts Off from Kourou With Galileo Sats

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 21-Oct-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

The Soyuz rocket lifted off on time from Kourou this morning at 6:30 am EDT.

This is the first launch of Russia's Soyuz rocket from the French launch site on the coast of South America. Its payload today is the first two Galileo satellites for Europe's navigation satellite system. Galileo will be similar to the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) and will be interoperable with it and Russia's system, GLONASS.

Europe's Galileo Launch Rescheduled for Friday at 6:30 am EDT

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 21-Oct-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The launch of Europe's first two Galileo navigation satellites has been rescheduled to tomorrow morning, Friday, October 21, at 6:30 am EDT.

The launch was postponed this morning because of a leak during fueling.

The precise launch time tomorrow is 06:30:26 EDT. This is the first time Russia's Soyuz rocket will be launched from France's launch site in Kourou, French Guiana.

ROSAT Reentry Window Narrows

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Oct-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

The expected reentry of Germany's ROentgen SATellite (ROSAT) has been narrowed to October 22-23 according to the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

DLR's website notes that the time of reentry will further narrow as the date approaches, but "even one day before re-entry, the estimate will only be accurate to within plus/minus five hours."

The German-US-UK x-ray astronomy satellite could reenter anywhere between 53 degrees North latitude and 53 degrees South latitude.

Private Sector Witnesses Headline House Committee Hearing on Commercial Crew

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Oct-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee today released the witness list for its hearing next week on commercial crew.

The October 26 hearing is entitled NASA's Commercial Crew Development Program: Accomplishments and Challenges and will begin at 10:00 am in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building. The witnesses are:

Panel One

Mr. John Elbon, Vice President and General Manger, Space Exploration Division, The Boeing Company
Mr. Steve Lindsey, Director, Space Exploration, Sierra Nevada Space Systems
Mr. Elon Musk, CEO and CTO, Space Exploration Technologies
Mr. Charles Precourt, Vice President and General Manager, ATK Space Launch Systems
Mr. George Sowers, Vice President, Business Development and Advanced Programs, United Launch Alliance

Panel Two

Mr. Bill Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, NASA

UPDATE: Europe's Galileo Launch Scrubbed for Today

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Oct-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: reports at 5:26 am EDT October 20 that the launch has been scrubbed for today "after an anomaly during fueling of the Soyuz rocket's third stage," citing the French space agency CNES. ESA issued a press release at 5:36 am EDT confirming the launch has been scrubbed and saying that a new launch date will be announced later today.

At 6:34 am EDT tomorrow, Europe will launch two verification satellites for its Galileo navigation satellite system. The pair will be boosted into orbit by Russia's Soyuz launch vehicle, the first such launch from the French launch site in Kourou, French Guiana.

Europe is heralding both events.

Galileo is a joint program between the European Union and the European Space Agency (ESA). Like the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS), a total of 24 satellites are needed for the system to provide global three-dimensional (latitude, longitude, altitude) coverage, so this launch is only a first step. These two satellites are In-Orbit Validation (IOV) versions. Galileo is designed to be interoperable with GPS and Russia's navigation satellite system, GLONASS.

A joint Russian-European agreement to launch Soyuz rockets from Kourou was signed in 2003. For Europe, Soyuz provides a medium-class launch vehicle to be paired with Europe's large Ariane V and small Vega launch vehicles so a full range of launch services can be offered. The Vega rocket is expected to make its first flight very soon. Europe's launches are conducted by the European company Arianespace, of which the French space agency is a 34 percent shareholder.

For Russia, Kourou offers a land-based launch site that is advantageous for placing satellites into equatorial and low inclination orbits. Kourou is located at 5 degrees North latitude, very close to the equator on the northern coast of South America. A low latitude launch site means that less fuel is needed to place a satellite into an equatorial orbit. That in turn means the satellite can weigh more than if it were launched an on equivalent rocket further North or South. By comparison, Russia's most southern land-based launch facility, Baikonur (which it leases from Kazakhstan) is at 46 degrees North latitude. ESA notes that the Soyuz payload capability to geostationary transfer orbit from Kourou is almost twice that of a launch from Baikonur: 3 metric tons versus 1.7 metric tons.

The basic Soyuz rocket design dates back to the early 1960s; Russia has several versions in service today. The version being launched from Kourou is part of the Soyuz-2 series and uses a Fregat upper stage. It is designated VS01 by Arianespace. The failure of a slightly different version of the Soyuz (Soyuz U) in August that was taking a Progress cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station attracted a lot of headlines, but the Soyuz has quite a good track record over its multi-decade history.

Although launching from Kourou is particularly advantageous for equatorial launches, the Galileo satellites actually are headed for a fairly high inclination orbit, 54.7 degrees, but the mass of the two satellites does not require use of an Ariane V.

The launch will be webcast live

NPP Launch Slips Another Day

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Oct-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

NASA has delayed the launch of the NPP satellite another day. The current schedule is to launch on October 28.

The agency said the delay will allow "time to complete the necessary engineering review before the payload fairing is installed around the spacecraft."

The National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project (NPP) is a NASA earth science mission that will also serve an operational role for NOAA's polar-orbiting weather satellite system.

The launch window that day is 2:48:01 - 2:57:11 PDT (5:48:01-5:57:11 EDT).

Commercial Crew Next Up for HSS&T Hearing

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Oct-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The House Science, Space and Technology (HSS&T) Committee's next space-related hearing will be held next week. The topic is the commercial crew program.

The hearing is on Wednesday, October 26, at 10:00 am in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building. The witnesses have not been publicly announced, but the precise title of the hearing is NASA's Commercial Crew Development Program: Accomplishments and Challenges.

This will be the committee's sixth hearing this year on issues affecting the human spaceflight program. In March, it held a hearing reviewing NASA's exploration program in transition. In May, it looked at commercial cargo issues and in July at NASA's Space Launch System. In September, the committee heard from Neil Armstrong, Gene Cernan, Mike Griffin and Maria Zuber about the past, present and future of human spaceflight, and last week held a hearing on lessons learned from Russia's Soyuz launch failure for operations of the ISS.

ROSAT Reentry Prediction Updated

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Oct-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

The German Aerospace Center (DLR) has updated its prediction for when the ROSAT satellite will reenter.

The German-US-UK ROentgen SATellite (ROSAT) will make an uncontrolled reentry between October 21 and 24. This is a slightly narrower time window than the last prediction, which lasted until October 25. The x-ray astronomy satellite was launched in 1990 and does not have its own propulsion system.

DLR estimates that 30 individual pieces of the satellite could survive the heat of reentry, including its 1.7 ton main mirror. The debris could fall anywhere between 53 degrees North latitude and 53 degrees South latitude, bearing in mind that 70 percent of the Earth's surface is covered with water so the threat to populated areas is less than one might imagine.

NASA Advisory Committees Hopeful, Cautious About Commercial Resupply Services

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Oct-2011 (Updated: 17-Jul-2012 11:09 AM)

Two NASA advisory committees that spent one day reviewing progress on the development of Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) for the International Space Station (ISS) expressed some reservations, but generally appeared cautiously optimistic about the effort.

Joe Dyer and Tom Stafford, chairs of NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel and the ISS Advisory Committee, respectively, testified to a House Science, Space and Technology subcommittee last week on a related topic. Stafford told the subcommittee that the report of their joint one-day review was attached to his testimony as an appendix. The appendix is not yet posted on the committee's website, but has obtained a copy.

The report summarizes a joint public meeting of the two advisory committees held on September 9, 2011 in which committee members commented on what they learned at an August 9 "fact finding" meeting that was not open to the public. At the August meeting, the two committees were briefed by SpaceX and Orbital about the status of their CRS systems. Stafford and Dyer emphasized at the September meeting that they had only one day to review the companies' plans and progress, so the review was not comprehensive, and they were calling themselves a "Review Team" for this exercise.

NASA anticipates that both companies will begin offering cargo services to the ISS next year.

The Review Team expressed concern that the schedules are success oriented, with SpaceX anticipating the next launch of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft in November, and Orbital planning the first flight of its Taurus II rocket and Cygnus spacecraft in February 2012. (The launch date for Falcon/Dragon is expected to slip because of changes to the crew rotation schedule for the ISS necessitated by a Russian launch failure in August.) They commented that SpaceX's plan to combine their second and third test flights and include two Orbcomm satellites "appears to be very aggressive mission planning."

Regarding safety, the Review Team said it could not "unequivocally endorse" the companies' safety efforts because it did not have time for a thorough review, but from what the members did learn, there were no "indications of significant systemic failings of ... safety efforts." However, they were concerned about "the perceived responsibility in the event of a catastrophic failure." Discussions with the ISS Program Office about who is responsible for safety and mission assurance "seemed somewhat casual," the report says, concluding that "Written ground-rules and assumptions need to be well documented." Similarly, it said that formal rules need to be written about who has go-no go authority for each phase of flight.

SpaceX and Orbital are using very different approaches to design and verification, the Review Team noted, and both "can be made to work with a performance-based contract."

The Review Team expressed concern about SpaceX's software presentation, calling it "unsettling" because the company's "software chief said he didn't worry about errors because 'there were no mistakes in the software.' In the Review Team's experience, this is unlikely." Later, the Review Team commented that while Orbital "generates the confidence of a company that has 'been there, done that,'" SpaceX is "entrepreneurial; their thinking is a fresh approach ... [with] the potential to deliver at lower cost with innovations." However, they cautioned that SpaceX's software comments were "very disturbing and presented a lack of insight and sophistication on what can go wrong in this business."

The report also stressed that attention is needed to cultural differences between the companies and NASA. It commented that the two companies "could pay more attention .... in a more formal manner" to cultural differences, and NASA personnel "have an excellent opportunity to be alert to cultural issues ... and it is not clear that they are effectively trained to recognize their role and execute against it." All three organizations need to establish a "good 'tone at the top,'" the Review Team noted.

Transparency within NASA and between NASA and the companies regarding issues and challenges was strongly encouraged by the Review Team.

Stafford said at the September meeting that a transcript would be made available, but one is not yet posted on the websites of either advisory committee. One comment made by Dyer at the end of the September meeting, but not reflected in the report, is that "if we could put these two companies in a blender, we'd have it just right." Absent that, "transparency will help get us to the right place," he said.

Obama Administration "Strongly Supports" CJS and T-HUD Senate Bills

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Oct-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

The Senate is beginning debate on the "minibus" appropriations bill, H.R. 2112, that combines the bills for Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS), and Transportation-HUD (T-HUD). The Obama Administration said today that it "strongly supports" passage of the bill.

The CJS bill includes NASA and NOAA. In its Statement of Administration Policy (SAP), the Administration supported the Senate Appropriations Committee's actions. For NOAA's Joint Polar Satellite System, which would receive $920 million instead of the $1.07 billion requested, the SAP notes that it is less than what is needed to maintain the current launch date of 2017 for JPSS-1 and "encourages" the Senate not to cut any further.

For NASA, the SAP "appreciates" support for the Space Launch System, Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, and James Webb Space Telescope. Although the committee significantly cut funding for space technology, the SAP simply "urges" the full Senate to provide that level of funding ($637 million instead of the $1.02 billion requested). Similarly for commercial crew, which would be cut from $850 million to $500 million, the SAP "encourages" the Senate to provide sufficient funding to prevent delays in the program.

The FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation is not mentioned in the T-HUD part of the SAP. Its FY2012 request of $26.5 million was cut in half by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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