Latest News

Falcon 9 Launch Slips to No Earlier Than Wednesday

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

The first COTS launch of SpaceX's Falcon 9 and its Dragon spacecraft will slip to Wednesday at least according to NASA.

The delay is due to discovery of a 3-inch long crack in the engine nozzle on the Falcon 9's second stage. The company is considering its options -- repairing it or getting a replacement from California -- and NASA promised more information about the launch schedule when it's available.

"Sputnik Moment is Back" Says President Obama

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 06-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

It's not a rallying cry for the space program, but President Obama invoked the impact that the 1957 launch of Sputnik had on the United States in a speech today about the U.S. economy and workforce.

"In 1957, just before this college opened, the Soviet Union beat us into space by launching a satellite known as Sputnik. And that was a wake-up call that caused the United States to boost our investment in innovation and education -- particularly in math and science. And as a result, once we put our minds to it, once we got focused, once we got unified, not only did we surpass the Soviets, we developed new American technologies, industries, and jobs.

"So 50 years later, our generation's Sputnik moment is back. This is our moment. If the recession has taught us anything, it's that we cannot go back to an economy that's driven by too much spending, too much borrowing, running up credit cards, taking out a lot of home equity loans, paper profits that are built on financial speculation. We've got to rebuild on a new and stronger foundation for economic growth.

"We need to do what America has always been known for: building, innovating, educating, making things. We don't want to be a nation that simply buys and consumes products from other countries. We want to create and sell products all over the world that are stamped with three simple words: "Made In America." That's our goal."

He made the speech at the Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The White House said the President chose that venue because Forsyth exemplifies "not just how America came to lead the world in the 20th Century, but how it can regain that status unambiguously," pointing to the community college's success in granting degrees in fields needed for 21st Century industries.

UPDATE: Setback for Russia's GLONASS System

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

UPDATE: This is updated with further details from RIA Novosti.

Russia's GLONASS navigation satellite system suffered a setback today when three satellites were lost in a failure of their Proton launch vehicle.

The GLONASS satellites are launched in groups of three. What caused the Proton to fail is under investigation, but Russia's Itar-TASS news agency quoted an unnamed Russian aerospace industry official as saying "The rocket's engine gave a much bigger impetus than planned, and the orbiting unit separated at an altitude much higher than the designated one."

The Voice of Russia website downplayed the effect of the loss on the satellite system, which is conceptually analogous to the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS). Like GPS, 24 operational satellites are needed for a fully functioning system. For many years, Russia could not maintain that number, but it recently became a governmental priority. Although Voice of Russia reports that there are 26 GLONASS satellites in orbit including "two in reserve," Aviation Week points out that "two are spares and the other four are not operational." Thus the constellation is still short of the 24 needed for global, three-dimensional coverage.

Russian news agency RIA Novosti added that the satellites fell into the Pacific Ocean 15,000 kilometers north of Honolulu. That news source says that three of the on-orbit GLONASS satellites are not functional, rather than four as reported by Aviation Week. It does confirm that the three lost today were intended to complete the operational network.

Events of Interest: Week of December 6-10, 2010

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

The folllowing events may of interest in the coming week. For more details, see our calendar on the right menu or click the links below.

During the Week

Congress passed a second Continuing Resolution (CR) last week to keep the government operating until December 18, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reportedly has said that his plan is for the Senate to adjourn by December 17. In these last remaining two weeks of the 111th Congress, it will either pass an omnibus funding bill to keep government agencies operating for the rest of FY2011 or kick the can down the road again with another CR. It is anyone's guess as to which path it will be, as Congress wrangles with associated issues such as extending unemployment benefits and the "Bush era" tax cuts. Anything can happen in the crazy days at the end of a Congress, especially when the party in power of one of the chambers is about to change. We will try to keep you apprised of any actions that would affect space activities.

Meanwhile, we can all hope that the commercial sector will move a step forward this week with a successful launch of Falcon 9 and the Dragon spacecraft on Tuesday as part of NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.

Monday, December 6

  • NASA pre-launch teleconference for the Falcon 9 COTS launch, 1:30 pm EST, NASA TV

Tuesday, December 7

  • Scheduled launch of Falcon 9: window is open from 9:03 am to 12:22 pm EST. NASA TV will cover the launch from the T-5 minute hold.

Wednesday, December 8

  • Space Transportation Association breakfast with NASA Associate Administrator Chris Scolese, 8:00 am EST, 2325 Rayburn House Office Building (contact to register)
  • FAA Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) meeting via teleconference, 11:00 am EST

SpaceX Static Fire Test Successful

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

The static fire test of SpaceX's Falcon 9 succeeded this morning on the third try. The goal was firing the engines at full thrust for 2 seconds, which the company said on its Twitter account (SpaceXer) was accomplished. See photos of all nine engines firing at

Second SpaceX Static Fire Test Aborted; Third Attempt Possible Today

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

SpaceX tried again this morning, Saturday, to conduct a static fire test of the Falcon 9 rocket in advance of a scheduled orbital launch next week. The first attempt was aborted yesterday at T-1.1 seconds because of high chamber pressure in one of the nine Merlin engines that power Falcon 9. The test this morning was aborted at 9:30 am; SpaceX engineers are troubleshooting the problem and may try again later today according to, which is covering the test live. The window is open until 3:00 pm.

The orbital launch, scheduled for December 7, is part of NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program to assist SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp develop launch vehicles and spacecraft to service the International Space Station (ISS). NASA has a pre-launch press conference scheduled for Monday at 1:30 pm EST that will be carried on NASATV.

X-37B Lands in California, Next Mission in the Spring

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 03-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

The Air Force's X-37B spaceplane returned from its seven month journey in orbit today, landing autonomously at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA early this morning. An Air Force press release said only that it "conducted on-orbit experiments for 220 days during its maiden voyage."

Launched on April 22, the mission was shrouded in secrecy from the beginning. The X-37 began as a NASA program to build a spaceplane to service the International Space Station (ISS). NASA cancelled it once President Bush's Vision for Space Exploration was announced and it was transferred to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and then to the Air Force where it received a new, classified mission as X-37B.

The Air Force said today that the program will now move into a "refurbishment" phase and the next X-37B mission will be launched next spring.

NASAWatch has a link to some post-landing photos posted on

Shuttle Discovery's Launch Will Wait Till February

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 03-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Space shuttle Discovery's final launch will not take place until at least February 3, 2011, NASA announced today. Engineers still need more time to assess cracks in two stringers on the External Tank that were discovered after the STS-133 launch was delayed a month ago because of a different problem. That problem -- a gas leak -- was fixed fairly easily, but the cracks are proving tougher.

If the STS-133 launch gets the final go ahead for February 3, the scheduled time is 1:34 am EST. That would in turn slip the next launch, STS-134, to April 1.

STS-134 is the last scheduled mission for Endeavour and for the space shuttle program as a whole, but the 2010 NASA Authorization Act calls for one more launch, STS-135, as long as it is safe. STS-135 is also referred to as the "Launch-on-Need" mission. At a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, a NASA official and the President's Science Adviser assured the subcommittee that they intend to fly STS-135 as long as it is safe and Congress does not make drastic cuts to the agency's FY2011 budget request on which congressional action is pending.

Falcon 9 Static Test Scrubbed for Today

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 03-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

A static fire test of SpaceX's Falcon 9 launch vehicle was scrubbed today; another attempt may be tried tomorrow. has a detailed chronology of today's attempt.

Deficit Commission Recommendations Fail To Get Sufficient Votes

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 03-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

President Obama's deficit commission voted 11-7 in favor of the panel's recommendations according to The Hill newspaper, but the vote was a failure under the commission's bylaws. For the report to be forwarded to Congress for action, 14 of the 18 commissioners needed to vote in favor of the report. Commission co-chairman Erkine Bowles remains optimistic that major portions of it will factor into congressional debate over the FY2012 budget, however, according to the National Journal (subscription required).

The publication quotes Bowles as saying that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) "said that 85 percent of what we proposed is going to be in his budget; it doesn't get any better than that." Ryan is expected to chair the House Budget Committee next year and is a member of the commission, but did not support the report.

The commission's recommendations were released on Wednesday. They do not directly affect NASA or NOAA space programs, but could have a profound indirect effect since the commission calls for significant cuts to discretionary spending. NASA and NOAA both are encompassed in that part of the federal budget.

Events of Interest

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


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