This week at Cape Canaveral saw the scrubbed launch of a United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket with its GPS satellite payload, private space firm SpaceX set a new date for the possible inaugural launch of its Falcon 9 rocket and the Cape marked a number of historic milestones.
Multiple Scrubs delay Delta IV launch of GPS IIF Satellite
The U.S. Air Force attempted to launch the first of its GPS IIF satellites atop a United Launch Alliance, (ULA) Delta IV rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. However numerous technical issues caused the launch to be repeatedly pushed back.
A technical issue forced a one-day delay of the launch from Thursday, May 20 to Friday, May 21. Then as the launch proceeded on Friday an issue with the spacecraft's telemetry cropped up and the launch was postponed until Sunday, May 23. The problem that caused the launch to slip to Friday was a malfunctioning swing arm component which had to be replaced. Then as the launch was proceeding Friday night a problem with spacecraft telemetry was detected that scrubbed the launch for that evening. Mission managers however could not clear the issue and the launch slipped to Monday, May 24.
This launch will mark a couple of important milestones or 'firsts.' It will be the first time that a GPS satellite will launch on a Delta IV rocket and it will also be the first GPS IIF satellite to be sent into orbit. When the GPS IIF satellite launches, it will be the first in a series of 12 planned Boeing-built satellites which are designed to maintain and upgrade the GPS fleet. To incorporate these next-generation satellites into the current fleet is expected to cost some $1.6 billion.
Falcon 9 placeholder date reset to May 28
Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has selected May 28, 2010 as the new placeholder date for the inaugural launch of its Falcon 9 rocket. The Hawthorne, CA-based company has yet to establish a firm launch date for the new rocket and the placeholder positions it has set have been repeatedly pushed back. When it does take place, the Falcon 9 will launch from Cape Canaveral's Space Launch Complex, (SLC) 40.
SpaceX holds a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to launch some 12 of these new rockets. Three of these missions will be test flights with the remaining nine being cargo-carrying missions to the International Space Station. The rocket is set to launch a prototype of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft. Although this vehicle will initially deliver cargo to orbit, it is also planned to have a man-rated version to launch astronauts.
Currently the Falcon 9 is pending launch approval by the U.S. Air Force for its flight termination hardware to be cleared. The rocket will be fitted with an explosive if, as with many first-time rocket flights, something goes wrong with the rocket it can be destroyed before threatening lives.
However, this is not the only issue affecting the launch of the Falcon 9; it is being squeezed into a busy time frame. The U.S. Air Force's 45th Space Wing needs about two days to convert the range to handle a new mission. With the launch and landing of space shuttle Atlantis and the launch of a Delta IV rocket, SpaceX has been hard pressed to find an open day to launch.
This Week in Cape History
May 18, 1969: Apollo 10 lifted off from Launch Complex 39B. It was the first mission to take off from NASA's Launch Complex 39B and the fourth manned mission of the American Apollo space program. For all intents and purposes this was a rehearsal for the first lunar landing. The crew of Apollo 10, Tom Stafford, Eugene Cernan and John Young did everything but land. Stafford and Cernan took the Lunar Module down to about 8 miles of the lunar surface before returning to the Command Module.
May 19, 1996: Space shuttle Endeavour launched from Kennedy Space Center on mission STS-77. STS-77 conducted micro-gravity research in the SPACEHAB module located in Endeavour's payload bay. During the ten-day mission the crew deployed and retrieved the Spartan-207/IAE (Inflatable Antenna Experiment) satellite and conducted numerous other experiments.
May 19, 2000: NASA launched the space shuttle Atlantis on mission STS-101 to the International Space Station. The shuttle and its crew delivered supplies, installed and tested equipment and boosted the space station's orbit from 230 miles to 250 miles. This mission marked the first used of the so-called 'glass cockpit.' Although not widely known, STS-101 would foreshadow the loss of Columbia when it was discovered that tiles had been damaged and had allowed some super-hot gases to enter the spacecraft.
May 20, 1978: Pioneer Venus Orbiter lifted off onboard a Atlas-Centaur rocket toward its December rendezvous with our sister planet 32 years ago this week. It would enter into orbit around Venus some seven months later. Built by the Hughes Aircraft Company the spacecraft carried a suite of sensors to study the planet.