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UPDATE: Air Force X-37B Launched

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 21-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE (April 23, 2010): The X-37B was successfully launched at 19:52 EDT (23:52 GMT) yesterday, April 22.

ORIGINAL STORY (April 21, 2010): The Air Force's experimental X-37B spaceplane is on the pad at Cape Canaveral, FL ready for launch tomorrow evening on an Atlas 5, according to Some call it a spaceplane, some call it a mini-shuttle, and its classified mission adds an air of suspense and mystery.

The program started as a NASA effort to build a crew taxi for the International Space Station. Cancelled after President Bush announced the Vision for Space Exploration in 2004, it was transferred to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and then to the Air Force. In a media teleconference yesterday, Gary Payton, Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for Space Programs said that the mission duration is still up in the air: "In all honesty, we don't know when it's coming back." The spaceplace will land at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA or Edwards Air Force Base, CA when it does return, and Payton emphasized that what they want to learn from the program is as much about what happens on the ground as in space.

"And then probably the most important demonstration is again on the ground. Once we get the bird back, see what it really takes to turn this bird around and get it ready to go fly again, to learn payload change-out on the ground, to learn how much it really costs to do this turn-around on the ground with these new technologies on the X37 itself.

"So it's as much a ground experiment in low cost O&M, ops and maintenance, the low cost ops and maintenance on the ground as it is an on-orbit experiment with the vehicle itself."

What it will do on orbit is still closely held, but Payton offered these comments:

"Like in many of our space launches, not all of them but many of them, the actual on-orbit activities we do classify. So we're doing that in this case for the actual experimental payloads that are on orbit with the X37. But again, our top priority is demonstrating the vehicle itself with its autonomous flight control systems, new generation of silica tile, and a wealth of other new technologies that are sort of one generation beyond the shuttle."

Oberg: Commercial Space Taxis May Not Be as Hard To Build As You Think

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 21-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Jim Oberg has an interesting take on MSNBC today on why commercial space taxis may be easier to build than many people think. He points out that with the decision to use Orion technology to build a Crew Return Vehicle, for example, the commercial taxis will not have to be designed with an on-orbit dwell time of six months as do Russia's Soyuz. spacecraft. They have a relatively simple and straightfoward mission and, he argues, the spacecraft could be "spartan" from a comfort perspective -- like food.

Surely not everyone will agree with Oberg. He suggests that the spacecraft would only have to be capable of independent flight for 24 hours, with a maximum emergency flight time of 48 hours. One can certainly imagine contingencies that would take more time than that to resolve. Perhaps Oberg's most provocative suggestion is that sometimes failure might indeed be an option: "There should be no compromise when it comes to reducing the risk of crew injury or death. But the risks of mission failure should most definitely be re-evaluated under these new circumstances. Failure may sometimes be an option."

UPDATE 2: Shuttle Lands Safely

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE 2: The shuttle landed safe and sound.

UPDATE: The weather improved and the shuttle was given the "go" to land at KSC at 9:08 am EDT this morning.

ORIGINAL STORY: SHUTTLE STILL TRYING TO GET HOME. NASA managers had to delay Discovery's landing once more this morning because of bad weather at Kennedy Space Center (KSC). They passed on the first landing opportunity, but hope STS-131 will be able to land at KSC at the second landing opportunity at 9:08 am EDT. The deorbit burn would take place at 7:56 am. Otherwise, the shuttle will land at Edwards Air Force Base. Follow the shuttle's progress at NASA's space shuttle website.

Shuttle Currently Set to Land at 7:34 am EDT Tuesday

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

NASA is targeting 7:34 am EDT Tuesday for landing Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-131) according to NASA's space shuttle website. Landing was postponed on Monday due to bad weather at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), FL. A second opportunity for landing at KSC would be 9:08 am EDT. Three other landing opportunities are avaiilable at Edwards Air Force Base, CA if bad weather in Florida persists.

South Korea Announces Date for Next Launch

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

South Korea's Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has chosen June 9 as the date for the next launch of the country's KSLV-1 (or Naro-1) rocket according to the Yonhap News Service. The first launch attempt failed last year when the second stage fairing did not separate properly. The rocket's first stage is built by Russia; the second stage by South Korea. The June 9 launch from the Naro Space Center, about 500 kilometers south of Seoul, is designed to place a scientific satellite into orbit. The launch window runs through June 19.

Shuttle Landing Delayed by Weather

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

NASA has waved off the shuttle landing for the first opportunity this morning because of poor weather conditions, but is still hoping that it can land during the second opportunity at 10:23 am EDT. The deorbit burn would take place at 9:17 am if the weather looks like it will cooperate. If not, there are two landing opportunities at Kennedy Space Center tomorrow, and three at Edwards Air Force Base.

Events of Interest: Week of April 19-23, 2010

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The following events may be of interest in the coming week. For further information, check our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. Times, dates and witnesses for congressional hearings are subject to change; check the relevant committee's website for up to date information.

Monday, Apr. 19

  • STS-131 (Discovery) landing scheduled for 8:48 am EDT at Kennedy Space Center, weather permitting

Tuesday-Wednesday, Apr. 20-21

  • NASA Advisory Council (NAC) Science Committee, NASA/Goddard.
    • Apr. 20, 8:30 am -5:00 pm
    • Apr. 21, 8:30 am -3:00 pm

Wednesday, Apr. 21

Thursday, Apr. 22

  • Senate Appropriations CJS Subcommittee Hearing on NASA's FY2011 Budget Request, 192 Dirksen Senate Office Building, 10:00 am
  • NAC Technology and Innovation Committee, NASA Headquarters, 8:30am -4:30 pm

Shuttle Set to Land Tomorrow Morning, Weather Could be a Problem

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Space Shuttle Discovery undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) yesterday and is preparing for landing at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) tomorrow, Monday, at 8:48 am EDT. The seven member crew of STS-131 delivered seven tons of equipment and supplies to the ISS during the 10 days it was docked there. The weather forecast for KSC tomorrow morning is iffy, however. There are two landing opportunities at KSC in the morning, and two more Tuesday morning. The shuttle also could be diverted to Edwards Air Force Base, CA if necessary, with three landing opportunities there on Tuesday.

Only three more shuttle flights are scheduled:

  • STS-132, Atlantis, scheduled for May 14, 2010
  • STS-134, Endeavour, scheduled for July 29, 2010
  • STS-133, Discovery, scheduled for Sept. 16, 2010

STS-134 will launch a scientific experiment called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS). It is still undergoing final testing in Europe, where it was built, and some issues have arisen that could delay its launch.

NPR's Science Friday and the Obama Speech

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

National Public Radio (NPR) devoted its Science Friday show to reaction to the President's speech about NASA's future. The guests were Elon Musk of SpaceX, Bill Adkins of Adkins Strategies, and Howard McCurdy of American University (currently a Visiting Professor at the University of Washington). A tape of the program is available at Science Friday's website.

Reaction to President Obama's Speech

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Having spent the day returning from covering the President's speech in Florida, we are just catching up on reaction to it. Rather than reinvent the wheel, here are links to Jeff Foust's roundup of congressional and other statements on and to Keith Cowing's on NASAWatch.

Based on a quick read, it looks as though the speech did not change the dynamics of the debate very much among those who have been commenting on it all along. Still to be heard from, though, are key congressional players like the chairs of the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees that fund NASA (Rep. Alan Mollohan and Sen. Barbara Mikulski), the ranking member of the House appropriations subcommittee (Rep. Frank Wolf), and the chair of the House Science and Technology Committee (Rep. Bart Gordon) and its Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee (Rep. Gabrielle Giffords). Sen. Mikulski will hold a hearing on NASA this coming week (April 22).

Events of Interest 

Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »


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