SpaceX now plans to launch a test of an important astronaut safety system from Kennedy Space Center instead of California.
The second test of a Dragon capsule’s launch abort system will lift off from KSC’s historic pad 39A atop a Falcon 9 rocket.
The timing of the “in-flight abort” test is unknown, especially after the first failed Falcon 9 launch on Sunday, more than two minutes after a liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The test was once planned this fall from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. But under a revised agreement with NASA, it has been shifted to occur after SpaceX launches a Crew Dragon prototype on an unmanned orbital test flight, possibly by late 2016.
The change allows with Dragon returning from that orbital test flight to be used for the in-flight abort test.
That is preferable because that Dragon will be more like the Dragon astronauts are supposed to fly to the International Space Station than the model used in the first abort test on May 6, which fired its own thrusters to launch without a rocket from Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 40.
The in-flight abort test, again flown without people on board, aims to demonstrate the Dragon’s ability to move a crew away from a failing rocket as it flies through peak aerodynamic stress, then parachute to a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.
The launch escape system is designed to save astronauts from the type of malfunction that caused the Falcon 9 to break apart last Sunday, destroying an unmanned Dragon and its ISS cargo. Falcon 9s have flown successfully 18 times.
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program last year awarded SpaceX and Boeing contracts worth up to $2.6 billion and $4.2 billion, respectively, to start flying four-person crews to the space station by late 2017.
After a crewed test flight, the contracts guarantee each company at least two missions to and from the ISS.
SpaceX plans to launch astronauts from pad 39A at KSC. Boeing’s CST-100 capsule will fly atop United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Cape launches continue
SpaceX’s launch failure last Sunday means Falcon 9 rockets will likely be grounded for months while the cause is investigated, but that doesn’t mean an end to launch activity at Cape Canaveral.
United Launch Alliance could showcase its two main rockets, the Atlas V and Delta IV, within a week of each other this month, if schedules hold.
An Atlas V is targeting a July 15 liftoff from Launch Complex 41 with the 10th in a series of a dozen Global Positioning System satellites. The rocket has flown 54 times without a major failure.
A Delta IV is scheduled to fly July 22 with a military communications satellite called WGS-7. The Delta IV has flown 29 times.
Another Atlas V is expected to launch in August.
The Navy communications satellite it will carry, called MUOS-4, recently was shipped from California to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station by a C-5 Galaxy aircraft.
Built by Lockheed Martin, the third Mobile User Objective System satellite launched in January. The four-spacecraft network is expected to be operational by the end of the year.
Pluto mania builds
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, launched from Cape Canaveral more than nine years ago, is less than two weeks from the first flyby of the dwarf planet at the far end of our solar system.
Mission managers last week decided against a final correction to the spacecraft’s path through the Pluto system, where it will make its closest in encounter to Pluto on July 14.
Because New Horizons is traveling at 30,800 mph, the flight team searched for any obstacles that might pose a hazard to the spacecraft. The last opportunity to shift its trajectory was on July 4.
“We are ‘go’ for the best of our planned Pluto encounter trajectories,” said Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, the mission’s principal investigator.
“As a scientist I’m a bit disappointed that we didn’t spot additional moons to study, but as a New Horizons team member I am much more relieved that we didn’t find something that could harm the spacecraft,” says John Spencer, also of SwRI, who leads the hazard analysis team. “New Horizons already has six amazing objects to analyze in this incredible system.”
Wednesday marks the fourth anniversary of the final space shuttle mission’s launch from Kennedy Space Center.
A four-person crew led by Chris Ferguson blasted off in Atlantis at 11:29 a.m. from launch pad 39A to start a 13-day mission, labeled STS-135, to the International Space Station.
Atlantis is now the centerpiece of a $100 million exhibit at the KSC Visitor Complex. SpaceX has leased pad 39A and is renovating it to support future launches of astronauts in Dragon capsules. Ferguson is part of a Boeing team readying CST-100 capsules to fly crews from next door at Launch Complex 41.
Whenever Boeing or SpaceX is ready to fly crews, they will end the gap in launches of astronauts from U.S. soil that began four years ago this month.
Happy Fourth from space
NASA astronaut Scott Kelly wished Americans a happy Independence Day from the International Space Station.
The retired Navy captain, now about a quarter of the way through a planned yearlong mission aboard the ISS, might have seen more fireworks shows than anyone.
“Hopefully the timing will be right and I’ll be able to look down and see little specks of light over the United States on the evening of the Fourth of July,” Kelly told NASA TV. “We’ll have to see how orbital mechanics and such works out.”
Quelle: Florida Today