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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.
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.
UPDATE: This is updated with further details from RIA Novosti.
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 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.
Tuesday, December 7
Wednesday, December 8
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 http://twitpic.com/3cv29u.
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 SpaceflightNow.com, 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.
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.
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.
A static fire test of SpaceX's Falcon 9 launch vehicle was scrubbed today; another attempt may be tried tomorrow. Spaceflightnow.com has a detailed chronology of today's attempt.
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.
Events of Interest