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Launch of the replacement Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO-2) will be delayed at least into mid-2014 while NASA finds a new launch vehicle and fixes a problem in the spacecraft reaction wheel assemblies.
After two launch failures with Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Taurus XL solid-fuel rocket, NASA has decided to try to launch its replacement on another vehicle. Possibilities include the Pegasus XL, Falcon 9, Delta II and Atlas V, according to Jim Norman, director of launch services at NASA headquarters.
NASA pulled OCO-2 off the Taurus XL because company and government failure review boards were unable to pinpoint the precise cause for the back-to-back mishaps, Norman says. “We don’t have a root cause, so we just felt it was too high-risk to continue,” he says.
The agency and Orbital Sciences signed a bilateral contract modification Feb. 2 that terminates Orbital’s task order to launch OCO-2 under its NASA Launch Services II (NLS-II) contract. The action does not end Orbital’s NLS-II contract, which gives NASA different launch options under a “catalogue” approach.
The U.S. space agency has released a new request for launch service proposals that includes the OCO-2 mission, along with the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite and the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS-1). Once one is awarded, NASA anticipates the normal 27-month turnaround time before launch of OCO-2, which was originally scheduled to fly in February 2013. That slipped to July 2014 because of the reaction wheel issues, NASA says.
“There will be an impact to the original OCO-2 launch-readiness date of February 2013,” the agency says. “However, we do not yet know how severe the impact will be.”
The initial OCO spacecraft, which was designed to produce global maps of carbon dioxide sources and sinks for climate-change studies, was lost on Feb. 24, 2009. The Taurus XL fairing protecting it during the early phases of ascent failed to separate as planned, and pulled the spacecraft into the South Pacific.
After that mishap, Orbital Sciences engineers modified the fairing-separation mechanism on the Taurus XL from a system using hot gas generated by pyrotechnics to a cold-gas system driven by bottled nitrogen, and made other risk-mitigation changes. But the new design also failed to separate the fairing on the Taurus XL that launched NASA’s $424 million Glory mission on March 4, 2011, sending it to a Pacific splashdown as well.
An Orbital spokesman said that while the cold-gas separation mechanism has worked on subsequent launches of the company’s Minotaur rocket, he was not prepared to comment on whether the company will rebid the OCO-2 launch. Orbital Sciences also provides the spacecraft bus for the OCO-2 mission, based on its LEOStar-2 design.
Under the NLS contracts, NASA will be refunded about 25% of the cost of the OCO-1 launch. By terminating the OCO-2 mission order a month after the Glory failure, the government will be paid back half of what it had spent for that work, according to Norman.
While specific contract figures are proprietary, NLS launches in the Taurus XL class under the catalogue in effect when OCO-1 was lost fell into the $30-75 million range. Since then the contract range has been raised to $22-114 million, NASA says.
Earth scientists still have a source of global carbon data in Japan’s Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite “Ibuki,” which was launched in 2009. But the Japanese orbiter returns “more than a factor of 100 fewer observations” during an orbit, and with limited coverage over the oceans, according to NASA. Delays in receiving ocean data from OCO-2 will hamper research, since oceans are an important sink for carbon dioxide.
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Boeing’s Crew Space Transportation vehicle, the CST-100, will climb to orbit aboard the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket through a series of unpiloted and piloted test flights planned for 2015-16, officials from the two companies announced Aug. 4.
A series of three test flights with the Atlas V and the seven-person CST-100 capsule are planned for 2015; with sufficient funding from NASA’s Commercial Crew Development program, Boeing could be ready to begin transporting astronauts to the International Space Station aboard the re-usable capsule in the first quarter of 2016 with all-NASA crews, says John Elbon, Boeing vice president and program manager of the company’s Houston-based Commercial Crew Program.
Boeing becomes the third of four companies developing a crew transportation service under the $270 million NASA CCDev-2 initiative announced earlier this year to select Centennial, Colo.-based ULA and the Atlas V for the launch component. The Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser lifting body space plane and the Blue Origin capsule are the others.
Space Exploration Technologies Corp., has naturally chosen its own Falcon 9 for crewed as well as cargo versions of its Dragon capsule.
“This is the quickest way to close the gap and get U.S. crews flying again,” Elbon told reporters during a briefing. “It’s an affordable approach that will leave NASA funding to develop capabilities for exploration beyond low Earth orbit.”
With the retirement of the long-running space shuttle program last month, NASA must rely on Russia’s venerable Soyuz for the transportation of astronauts to and from the space station until U.S. commercial providers are available.
Elbon and George Sowers, ULA vice president of business development, laid out a flight test schedule that would follow a 2014 pad abort demonstration of the CST-100. Unpiloted flight tests would follow with an orbital systems checkout in the first quarter of 2015 and an abort demonstration at maximum dynamic pressure in mid-2015. The CST-100, crewed with Boeing test pilots, would attempt a rendezvous with the space station in late 2015. With sufficient develop funds, Boeing would be ready to launch its first NASA crews to the orbiting science laboratory in the first quarter of 2016.
Boeing selected the Atlas V 412 version, which is the core rocket configured with a single solid-rocket booster and a dual engine Centaur upper stage, for the test and demonstration phase. Operations are planned for Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
Boeing completed an evaluation process in late July that included assessments of the SpaceX Falcon 9 and the ATK/Astrium Liberty rocket that would combine first and second stages from the U.S. and European partnership, as well as ULA’s Atlas V.
The final selection was based on performance, reliability and cost, Elbon says. The Atlas V has scored 26 consecutive launch successes for national security, NASA and commercial payloads.
Nonetheless, Boeing intends to host a second launch component competition for operations beyond the 2015-16 test activities, Elbon said.
On July 18, ULA and NASA announced an unfunded Space Act Agreement to start qualifying the Atlas V as a human-rated spacecraft for CCDev-2 participants. The effort includes a “part-by-part” assessment of the rocket, a probabilistic risk assessment of spacecraft safety and a systems requirement review.
ULA also is working on an Emergency Detection System (EDS) as part of the initiative with $6.7 million in federal stimulus funding the company received under the 2010 CCDev-1 program. The EDS in combination with pad escape systems, also in development, should make a significant contribution to matching NASA’s human rating requirements, according to Elbon and Sowers.
ULA was formed in 2006 as a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin to produce the Delta IV as well as the Atlas V under the U. S. Air Force Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program.
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About 30 NASA engineers from across the agency will work with counterparts from United Launch Alliance (ULA) under a new agreement to begin qualifying the Atlas V rocket as a human-rated launch vehicle for private spacecraft being developed under the second round of the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev-2) effort.
Under a space act agreement (SAA), NASA and ULA will spend 6-9 months going though the Atlas V “part by part” to ensure it meets the human-rating requirements NASA has released in draft form. ULA also will continue work on the Emergency Detection System (EDS) it started developing with $6.7 million in federal stimulus funding under last year’s CCDev-1 program. Each party will pay for its own work under the unfunded SAA.
“The modifications required for Atlas V are pretty minimal,” George Sowers, ULA vice president for business development, said in a press teleconference July 18. “Probably the major one from the launch vehicle standpoint is the addition of this Emergency Detection System.”
Under development for both Atlas V and Delta IV, which is in the running to launch the Lockheed Martin Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, the EDS is a vehicle health-monitoring system designed to detect an imminent launch-vehicle failure and alert the crew riding atop it of the need to abort.
Companies developing two of the four CCDev-2 human spacecraft — the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser lifting-body spaceplane and the Blue Origins capsule — have selected Atlas V as their preferred launcher, and Boeing is considering it for its CST-100 capsule. All three designs include launch-abort systems. In combination with the EDS and pad-escape systems also in development, the Atlas V should meet NASA’s human-certification requirements, Sowers says.
“I personally don’t foresee any additional redundancy requirements,” he says. “The Atlas V is currently single-fault tolerant in most of the active failure modes, but a detailed assessment of that down through all the different parts and failure modes is part of what we’re trying to accomplish during this SAA.”
Sowers says ULA already is working with Sierra Nevada and Blue Origins, using those companies’ CCDev-2 funding as well as its own, to adapt the EDS to their vehicles. Under the SAA with NASA, the company will develop hazard analyses to fly humans on the Atlas V, develop a probabilistic risk assessment of the vehicle’s safety and conduct a systems requirement review.
Full-scale certification of the vehicle as safe for flight will be conducted at the system level of launch and crew vehicles, according to Ed Mango, NASA’s commercial crew program manager. Mango says the agency hopes to have at least one commercial crew vehicle ready to fly — either on an Atlas V or the Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Falcon 9 — by “mid-decade.”
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An experimental robotic space plane was launched into orbit atop a massive Atlas V rocket Saturday for a classified Air Force mission that could last up to nine months.
The 19-story Atlas V and the space plane, dubbed the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, blasted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 5:46 p.m. Eastern time.
The unmanned X-37B, which resembles a miniature space shuttle, is about 29 feet long with a wingspan of about 15 feet. The spacecraft draws solar power for energy using unfolding panels.
While the Air Force has said the space plane is designed to stay in orbit for 270 days, it hasn’t said much about the overall mission. It has said only that the vehicle provides a way to test new technologies in outer space, such as satellite sensors and other components.
The Air Force had initially planned on launching the X-37B on Friday, but didn’t because of poor weather.
Saturday’s launch marked the second time that the Air Force has put an X-37B into orbit. The first was launched from Cape Canaveral last April, and 224 days later, it made a fully automated landing on a 15,000-foot-long airstrip at Vandenberg Air Force Base, northwest of Santa Barbara.
The X-37B vehicles were built by Boeing Co. in Huntington Beach. Engineering work was done at the company’s facilities in Huntington Beach and Seal Beach. Components also came from Boeing’s satellite-making plant in El Segundo.
- Los Angeles Times