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What's Happening in Space Policy June 16-20, 2014

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Jun-2014 (Updated: 15-Jun-2014 05:02 PM)

Here is our list of upcoming space policy related events for the week of June 16-20, 2014 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate both are in session this week.

During the Week

Inside the Beltway, perhaps the most interesting event will be Senate debate on a "minibus" appropriations bill that bundles the bill that funds NASA and NOAA (Commerce-Justice-Science or CJS), the bill that funds FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (Transportation-HUD or T-HUD), and the Agriculture bill.  The Hill newspaper reports that's the plan and the Senate did begin debate on the motion to proceed to the CJS bill last week, a procedural step.   Those three bills were bundled together in FY2012, too. 

It's hard to remember the last time the Senate took up the CJS appropriations bill so early in the year.  Typically the Senate turns to such bills after the August recess.   It is amazing to see how much progress is being made on appropriations bills on both sides of Capitol Hill this year thanks to the Ryan-Murray budget agreement reached last December that set the spending limits for FY2014 and FY2015.  It's never over till the fat lady sings, of course, but one kernel of optimism for those three bills, at least, is that the House already has passed two (CJS and T-HUD) and begun debate on the third (Agriculture) though it is not the Majority Leader's schedule for the coming week.  Instead the House will be debating the defense appropriations bill, which was reported from committee on Friday (H.R. 4870, H. Rept. 113-473).

Outside the Beltway, the third International Space Station Research and Development Conference in Chicago should be interesting.   Organized by the American Astronautical Society (AAS) in cooperation with NASA and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the conference has a very impressive agenda.  AAS sometimes offers webcasts of key sessions of its conferences; we're checking to see if they are providing webcasts this time and will add the information to our calendar item for that event if the answer is yes.

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

Monday, June 16

Monday-Friday, June 16-20

Tuesday-Thursday, June 17-19

Wednesday, June 18

Wednesday-Thursday, June 18-19

Friday, June 20

NASA Ready to Launch Replacement OCO Satellite for Measuring Atmospheric CO2

Len Ly
Posted: 13-Jun-2014 (Updated: 13-Jun-2014 01:29 PM)

NASA plans to launch next month its first spacecraft dedicated to measuring Earth’s atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), the leading human-produced greenhouse gas driving climate change, the agency announced on Thursday.

Called the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2), it replaces the nearly identical OCO, which was lost during a rocket launch failure in 2009.

OCO-2 will carry one instrument with three high-resolution spectrometers that will allow scientists to use light-analyzing processes to estimate concentrations of CO2 and oxygen. The satellite will take measurements over Earth’s sunlit hemisphere, capturing hundreds of thousands of measurements daily from the ground directly below, over oceans, and targeted sites as it passes overhead.

“Climate change is the challenge of our generation,” said Betsy Edwards, OCO-2 program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington, one of the panelists at the press conference. “OCO-2 will provide new insight into where and how CO2 is moving in and out of the atmosphere…and it’s going to be an unprecedented level of coverage and resolution.”

The carbon cycle -- how the planet breathes -- remains largely a mystery.  Much of what is known about the role of CO2 comes from ground-based observations at Mauna Loa in Hawaii dating back to 1956, said Mike Gunson, OCO-2 project scientist at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, which manages the mission.   Satellites like OCO-2 can provide a global view.

Atmospheric CO2 is at its highest level in at least the past 800,000 years and nearly 40 billion tons is released annually by human activities such as fossil fuel burning according to the agency.

“Half of what we release is being absorbed by the plants or the oceans, but it is variable from year to year and understanding that variability is really crucial,” Gunson said. “CO2 is very stable and there are few loss processes, if any, once it is in the atmosphere.”

Gunson and his JPL colleagues OCO-2 project manager Ralph Basilio and OCO-2 deputy project scientist Annmarie Eldering were also members of the panel.

With the loss of the original OCO spacecraft, “we didn’t even have one problem to solve,” Basilio said as he described the heartbreak then and the excitement now to complete unfinished business.

The team will see their second chance lift off on a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket on July 1 at 2:56 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California if the schedule remains on track.

Edwards thanked NASA’s Japanese partners, who she said reached out and invited NASA to participate in analyzing data from their Greenhouse gases Observing SATellite (GOSAT) after the OCO mishap.

The original OCO cost roughly $275 million compared to $465 million for its replacement, Edwards said.  She cited the launch vehicle change (from a Taurus-XL to a Delta II), program delays, reengineering changes and inflation for the cost hike.

OCO-2, which has a design life of two years but sufficient fuel to last beyond that, will lead a line of five other international Earth-monitoring satellites known as the A-Train constellation. Every 16 days the spacecraft will observe the same spot on the globe to help give scientists seasonal as well as annual patterns.

NASA was planning to use OCO-2 spare parts to build OCO-3 and attach it to the International Space Station in late 2016, but budget constraints forced the agency to put that idea on hold.  “We hope to get back to OCO-3,” Edwards said, “but right now the budget doesn’t allow.”

For FY2015, NASA is seeking $21 million to operate OCO-2. The cost is part of the $4,972 million the agency is requesting for its science account, of which $1,770 million is for earth science.  The House-passed FY2015 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill would cut that amount slightly, to $1,750 million, while the Senate Appropriations Committee recommended a significant increase to $1,832 million largely because it wants to transfer two NOAA satellite programs to NASA.

Ostapenko: Failed Bearing Doomed May 2014 Proton Launch

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Jun-2014 (Updated: 12-Jun-2014 09:55 PM)

The head of Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, says that the investigation into the failure of a Proton rocket last month concluded that it was caused by a failed bearing.  

Russia's official Itar-Tass news agency reports that according to Roscosmos Director Oleg Ostapenko the cause of the May 16 (May 15 Eastern Daylight Time) accident was a failed bearing in the turbo pump of the steering engine.  Ostapenko reportedly said that the conclusion was in line with preliminary findings made shortly after the failure. 

The date for the next Proton launch was not announced, but Russia usually recovers from such launch accidents quite quickly.

The Ekspress AM-4R communications satellite and its Briz-M upper stage were lost because of the accident and presumably burned up in the atmosphere.  The satellite was a replacement for the Ekspress AM-4 satellite that also was lost in a Proton launch failure in 2011.  These failures are part of an increasingly longer list of Russian launch vehicle failures since December 2010 that has resulted in high level Russian political attention to the state of the Russian space industry and associated changes in the structure of that industry as well as leadership of Roscosmos and the Khrunichev State Research and Production Center, which manufactures Proton.

Russia announced last year that it would completely revamp its space industry because of the rocket failures.  It created a United Rocket and Space Corporation (ORKK) headed by Igor Komarov.   Komarov said earlier this week that ORKK does not have the authority or resources to carry out a complete audit of all of the Russian space industry, but overall the enterprises seem stable, although not all can afford to carry out modernization efforts.

NASA Holding Firm on First SLS/Orion Flight for 2017, But Challenges Remain

Marcia S. Smith and Len Ly
Posted: 11-Jun-2014 (Updated: 11-Jun-2014 11:24 PM)

NASA officials provided an update today on the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft.  They conveyed optimism about the progress of SLS, Orion and associated ground systems and the ability to meet the goal of a 2017 first SLS/Orion launch.  Under questioning, however, it became clear that achieving that schedule will be a challenge.

SLS and Orion are being designed primarily to take astronauts beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) – to an asteroid by 2025 and to orbit (but not land on) Mars in the 2030s.  By law, they must also be able to service the International Space Station (ISS), which is located in LEO.

The first launch of a test version of Orion, called EFT-1, is scheduled for December 4, 2014.  It will launch on a Delta IV rocket and make two orbits of the Earth to test heat shield technology.   The first Orion launch aboard an SLS, designated EM-1, is scheduled for 2017.  Neither the 2014 nor 2017 flights will carry crews.  The first crewed flight of Orion aboard an SLS, EM-2, is anticipated in 2021.

NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Dan Dumbacher, who has announced his retirement, told a meeting of the Space Transportation Association (STA) that EFT-1 remains on schedule.   NASA does not want the test to slip much beyond that date to ensure there is adequate time to factor resulting data into the final design of Orion.

He also said that EM-1 remains on track for 2017 and a slide presented by SLS program manager Todd May had a caption “ready to launch in 2017.”  Nonetheless, there have been rumors that it may slip to 2018.  At a Senate Appropriations hearing in May, for example, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said that the launch will be in fiscal year 2018, which runs from October 1, 2017-September 30, 2018.  Only the first three months of that window are in calendar year 2017.

Apparently the potential delays are due to Orion, not SLS.  In response to questions, Dumbacher said things were going well with SLS and ground systems, but there are “challenges” with Orion.  He cited “standard” hardware development and supply chain challenges coupled with budget issues in FY2013 that required the program to “power back” because of sequestration and furloughs during the government shutdown last year as all impacting the Orion hardware development schedule.  The Orion team is “working that,” he said, along with integration with the European service module that the European Space Agency is providing.  The bottom line was that all three elements – SLS, Orion and ground systems – need to be ready at the same time and that is when EM-1 will take place.

Separately, Dumbacher refuted rumors that EM-2, like EM-1, may not carry a crew:  “Despite what some people might want to say in the blogosphere [EM-2] will be crewed.  There’s word out there we’re not going to fly crew until EM-3.  Don’t believe it.”

DigitalGlobe Wins Permission To Sell Higher Resolution Imagery

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Jun-2014 (Updated: 11-Jun-2014 05:55 PM)

Commercial satellite imagery company DigitalGlobe announced today that it has received permission from the U.S. government to collect and sell satellite imagery with greater resolution than allowed in the past.  The company has been seeking a change to the resolution restriction for quite some time.

Under the new limits, DigitalGlobe can collect and sell imagery as sharp as 0.25 meters (m) instead of 0.50 m.  Until now, if the satellite could image the Earth with greater accuracy, the company had to degrade the data so it had only the allowable resolution.  (Resolution is essentially the ability to "see" an object on Earth.)   Beginning immediately, it may sell the imagery from its existing satellites at its "native" resolution.   DigitalGlobe, after its merger with competitor GeoEye in 2013, operates a fleet of five high-resolution imaging satellites, two of which can provide better than 0.50 m resolution with their panchromatic (black and white) sensors:  GeoEye-1 (0.41 m) and WorldView-2 (0.46 m). 

The WorldView-3 satellite is scheduled for launch in August 2014.  It will have 0.31 m resolution.  Six months after it is operational, DigitalGlobe will be allowed to offer imagery with that resolution for sale to commercial customers.

DigitalGlobe CEO Jeffrey Tanber thanked Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker as well as the Departments of Defense and State and the Intelligence Community for making this "forward-leaning change to our nation's policy."

DigitalGlobe also operates Ikonos, QuickBird, WorldView-1 and GeoEye-1.   Another satellite, GeoEye-2, also with 0.31 m resolution, is under construction.

The U.S. government has steadily relaxed image resolution limits for commercial imaging satellites since commercial satellite remote sensing was first envisioned in the 1980s.  NOAA, which is part of the Department of Commerce, is responsible for licensing commercial remote sensing satellites under the 1992 Land Remote Sensing Policy Act, which replaced the 1984 Land-Remote Sensing Commercialization Act.  The resolution limits reflect a tension between those who want to restrict availability of the very best imagery to those involved in protecting U.S. national security and those who want to make such data widely available for multiple uses and to more easily enable sharing with other countries.

First Crewed Dragon Flight to Orbit Will Carry NASA Astronauts

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Jun-2014 (Updated: 10-Jun-2014 11:40 PM)

SpaceX Founder and Chief Designer Elon Musk said in an interview this evening that the version of the Dragon spacecraft designed to take humans into space initially will be tested in an automated mode, but the first time it carries people, they will be NASA astronauts.

Dragon was the center of attention at a SpaceX event tonight in Washington, DC.   The company unveiled this version of the spacecraft -- Dragon V2 -- on May 29 at an event in California.  Now it is D.C.'s turn to see, touch, and sit in the vehicle.   It will be on display through tomorrow (June 11) at the Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.

The capsule can accommodate seven people.   Though it seems cozy by most standards, the interior is more spacious than Russia's Soyuz spacecraft, which is currently used to transport International Space Station (ISS) crews.  When asked about the cost for a Dragon capsule, Musk replied it was about $60 million, and the total cost including launch is $140 million.  SpaceX has said for many years that the price to NASA for a Dragon flight is $140 million.  When asked if that is the price or the cost, Musk said it was the cost.  He pointed out that if NASA uses all seven seats, that calculates out to $20 million a seat, much less than what Russia charges for a seat on Soyuz (in the $60-70 million range).  However, NASA is not planning to use all seven seats.  The ISS was designed to accommodate only seven crew members in total -- three launched by Russia and four by the United States.  Presumably NASA would use any extra volume for cargo.

Musk confirmed that Dragon can remain in orbit for many months and hence could also serve as an ISS "lifeboat."  Even when the space shuttle was flying, only Russia's Soyuz spacecraft could remain on orbit for six months at a time and perform the lifeboat function, remaining attached to ISS as an escape route for the crew in case of an emergency.  Musk actually said this evening that Dragon can remain on orbit indefinitely whether or not it is attached to the ISS.  Soyuz's lifetime is limited by how long its fuel can withstand the cold.  Russia decided long ago that six months was as long as Soyuz should stay in orbit and be expected to safely return crews to Earth.

Some of the companies competing for the commercial crew contract have indicated that initial orbital crewed flights may involve one crewperson from the company and another from NASA.   Musk said tonight that SpaceX has no astronauts and the first crewed flight would be with NASA astronauts only.  When asked when the first crewed flight would take place, therefore, Musk said that was NASA's call since it is the customer.  He said little training is needed to fly aboard Dragon since it is entirely automated, including docking. 

SpaceX's current version of Dragon, used for cargo flights to the ISS, berths with ISS rather than docks.   In berthing, Dragon flies close to the ISS and then the ISS crew uses Canadarm2 to grapple Dragon and maneuver it onto a docking port.  The reverse is done at the end of the mission.  Berthing therefore requires a crew to be aboard.  That is not a desirable situation for crewed flights, which may be sent to the ISS when it is unoccupied or if a crew is evacuating the ISS.  Therefore this version of  Dragon must be able to dock and undock instead, where no human intervention from the ISS side of the docking ring is required.

Unlike the cargo version of Dragon, which splashes down in the ocean, the Dragon V2 will return to land using parachutes and propulsive landing systems. The goal is to land at Cape Canaveral, FL, but Musk said initial landings may be at White Sands, NM until they are certain of the spacecraft's landing precision.

Senate Continues Work on Its Version of New NASA Authorization Bill

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Jun-2014 (Updated: 10-Jun-2014 10:45 PM)

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is continuing to work on a NASA authorization bill although its version may be for more than just one year.

The House passed a one-year NASA authorization bill (H.R. 4412) yesterday, meaning that its funding recommendations cover only FY2014, which is already in progress.  Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) said during floor debate that she wished the committee had been able to agree on a multi-year bill.

Last year the Senate committee approved a three-year bill on a party line vote.  A Senate aide confirmed to that the committee continues to work on that bill and its multi-year time span remains an important feature.

NASA’s authorizations are under the purview of the Senate Commerce Committee and the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.   Each committee approved bills last year, but intense disagreements between Republicans and Democrats over top-level funding caps – based on budget resolutions independently passed by the House and Senate using entirely different assumptions – resulted in the bills being approved on party line votes and they did not progress past the committees.

Following the Ryan-Murray budget agreement for FY2014 and FY2015 reached in December, budget tensions have eased, opening the door to greater bipartisan agreement as evidenced by the House bill.

The Senate committee similarly may be able to reach bipartisan agreement on budget matters now and the main issues will be in the policy arena.  One key will be whether the goal is for a two-year bill or if the committee pushes for maintaining the three-year time horizon.    A two-year bill would be for FY2014 and FY2015, the years covered by the Ryan-Murray agreement.  A three-year bill would take the budget recommendations into FY2016, which is unknown territory.

The sequester will return in FY2016 unless Congress again changes the law.  That may depend on the outcome of the November elections.  Currently the House is controlled by Republicans and the Senate by Democrats.   The House is expected to remain in Republican hands, but the Senate is up in the air.  If Republicans also gain control of the Senate, the Republican Party may fight for deeper government spending cuts and the sequester may be upheld. 

No timetable for Senate action is set, but the ball is in their court.

NASA Authorization Bill Easily Passes the House - UPDATED

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Jun-2014 (Updated: 10-Jun-2014 11:33 AM)

UPDATE, June 10, 2014:  This article was updated with the names of the two members who voted against the bill and a link to the Congressional Record page where the full roster of votes is available.

ORIGINAL STORY, June 9, 2014: The House passed the 2014 NASA Authorization Act, H.R. 4412, today under a legislative procedure called suspension of the rules.  No amendments are allowed under that procedure, which is used for bills expected to be non-controversial.  The bill passed by a vote of 401-2. 

The chairmen and ranking members of the full House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee and its Space Subcommittee were the main speakers:  Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-MS), and Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD).   The only other speakers were committee members Randy Weber (R-TX) and Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR).

Bipartisanship was the order of the day, although all three Democrats noted how far the two sides had come since last year when sharp political divisions on an earlier version of the bill resulted in tense party-line votes in committee.   Much of the rancor was because Republicans were working under strict budget limits adopted by the House for FY2014 while Democrats rejected those limits.   In December, the Ryan-Murray budget agreement for FY2014 and FY2015 eased those limits, which has enabled significantly greater cooperation between the two parties on many issues this year, including authorization and appropriations legislation.

Much of today’s discussion focused on the need for the long-term human spaceflight plan required by the bill – a Human Exploration Roadmap.  That provision is strongly supported by both Republicans and Democrats.   The report released last week by the National Research Council on the future of the human exploration program was repeatedly cited as the type of plan they are hoping to get from NASA.

Not surprisingly, Republicans continued their criticism of President Obama’s cancellation of the Constellation program and the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) he proposed to replace it.   However, Democrats did not come to the defense of ARM and just as enthusiastically supported the need for a new roadmap.

Palazzo said the human spaceflight program has been “adrift” since Constellation ended and the country “can’t keep changing our program of record every time there’s a new President.”   The bill does not require that NASA reinstate lunar surface missions to its human exploration plan, but Palazzo noted that the NRC report pointed to the “significant contributions” such missions could provide for the longer term goal of human landings on Mars.

Republicans and Democrats agreed it was “not a perfect bill,” but they supported it because there was broad agreement on so many topics.  Palazzo said he would continue to raise concerns about certain issues, however, including “distractions” like ARM and the need for adequate funding for the Space Launch System (SLS).

The funding recommendations in the bill are only for FY2014, which is already underway so are not very important.   Edwards said she would have preferred a multi-year authorization, but this bill is “foundational” and provides important policy guidance.

The two "nay" votes were cast by Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) and Mark Sanford (R-SC).  Thirty members did not vote.  A full roster of the votes is printed in the Congressional Record

The final version of the bill as reported from committee is available on the Library of Congress THOMAS website, but not the accompanying report.  (The report number is there, H. Rept. 113-470, but it does not link to anything yet.)

The next step is Senate action.   Like the House SS&T committee, last year the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee approved a bill on a party line vote.  There has been no committee action this year.

House Appropriators Support RD-180 Replacement, Want More EELV Info - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Jun-2014 (Updated: 10-Jun-2014 12:05 PM)

UPDATE, June 10, 2014:   The committee approved the bill today with no changes to the space provisions.

ORIGINAL STORY, June 9, 2014:  The House Appropriations Committee supports adding $220 million to begin development of a U.S. liquid rocket engine to replace the Russian RD-180s currently used for the Atlas V rocket in its draft FY2015 defense bill.  The committee also directs the Air Force to provide more information about changes in the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program.  

Those recommendations are included in the committee's draft bill and report on the FY2015 defense budget request, which are posted on the committee's website. The defense subcommittee approved the draft on May 30.  Full committee markup is scheduled for tomorrow (Tuesday, June 10).

U.S. dependence on Russian engines for one of the two rockets used to launch most U.S. national security satellites is getting a lot of attention as U.S.-Russian relationships remain strained due to events in Ukraine.  Lockheed Martin's decision to use Russian engines for its Atlas V rocket dates back to the 1990s and was approved by DOD initially with the requirement that the company build a co-production facility in the United States where the engines could be provided independently of Russia in case geopolitical circumstances changed.  That requirement was later waived by the government, with the company buying extra engines to stockpile instead.   Today, a Lockheed Martin-Boeing joint venture, United Launch Alliance (ULA), builds both Atlas V and Boeing's Delta IV.  ULA says it has a two-year supply of RD-180s, but it would take longer than that to develop a U.S.-built replacement creating the conundrum now being faced by the U.S. government.

The House passed the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in May, which includes $220 million to begin development of a U.S. engine to replace the RD-180.   That is an authorization bill, though, not an appropriation.  (Authorization bills set policy and recommend funding levels, but do not actually provide money.  Only appropriations bills provide money).  Winning support from House appropriators is a key step, though not the only one.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has not acted on its version of the bill so it is too early to tell if it will follow the lead of the Senate's DOD authorization committee.   The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) recommended $100 million for FY2015 rather than $220 million for this purpose when it approved its version of the NDAA in May.  Senator John McCain (R-AZ) included language in the committee-approved NDAA prohibiting the purchase of any more RD-180 engines after the current block buy contract is completed, although waivers are permitted in certain circumstances.  Even if the Senate Appropriations Committee does agree with SASC, there is quite a difference in the dollar amount between the House and Senate that would have to be negotiated.

Apart from the RD-180 issue, the House Appropriations Committee's draft bill and report highlight these other space-related recommendations:

  • Cuts the FY2015 EELV procurement request of $1.346 billion for three launches and infrastructure by $35 million.
  • Rescinds $118.7 million of FY2014 EELV funding.
  • Directs the Secretary of the Air Force to notify Congress of "each change to the EELV acquisition plan and schedule as compared to the plan and schedule" in the FY2015 budget submission "including the national security rationale for the change, the impact on the EELV block buy contract and launch manifest, the impact on the change in opportunities for competition for certified EELV launch providers, and the costs or savings associated with the change."
  • Cuts the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) and associated ground system request of $309.5 million by $10 million.
  • Provides $212.6 million for the GPS III operational ground control segment, the same as the request.
  • Adds $30 million to the $57 million requested for advance procurement of the GPS IIII space segment to allow for acquiring two satellites per year instead of one.
  • Provides the full request of $156.7 million for the Military GPS User Equipment program.
  • Provides the full request of $32.9 million for the GPS Space Modernization Initiative, but directs that $20 million be used to study "technological maturation, including the use of an alternative digital GPS payload, and risk reduction consistent with the GPS enterprise analysis of alternatives."
  • Directs the Secretary of Defense to consider upgrading existing communications terminals to accelerate the fielding of the full capability of the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), a Navy satellite communications program.

Full committee markup is at 9:30 am ET tomorrow morning. 

Orbital Delays Orb-2 Mission Again as Engine Test Failure Investigation Continues

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Jun-2014 (Updated: 09-Jun-2014 11:45 AM)

Orbital Sciences Corporation announced today that it is again delaying the launch of Orb-2, its second operational cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS), while it continues to investigate the failure of an AJ-26 rocket engine during a test at Stennis Space Center.

Orb-2 was originally scheduled for May 6, but was initially delayed when SpaceX had to postpone one of its ISS cargo missions.   The two companies are competitors in the ISS cargo resupply business.  NASA and its international partners manage a dizzying array of missions taking crew and/or cargo to the ISS plus occasional spacewalks and a delay in any one activity can have a domino effect on the others.

Orbital was working towards a June 10 launch date when the engine test failed on May 22.   It postponed the launch to no earlier than (NET) June 17 and now it is NET July 1.   Orbital's announcement stressed that July 1 is just a planning date, not an official launch date.

AJ-26 engines are Russian NK-33 engines built more than four decades ago.  They are imported to the United States and refurbished by Aerojet Rocketdyne and redesignated AJ-26.   The engine that failed on May 22 is intended to be used in a launch next year and was undergoing a routine acceptance test after refurbishment.  

The engines are used to power Orbital's Antares rocket, which sends the Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the ISS.  These launches takes place from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on the coast of Virginia. 

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