Welcome to the big leagues

The news this week was that the first SpaceX Dragon flight to the International Space Station would be delayed from Feb. 7 to March 20, possibly later. Bill Harwood reports issues with the rendezvous profile, electromagnetic interference, and flight software. The delay will help the engineers resolve some issues, which is why you have simulations and system integration tests.

“There’s a great deal of work ahead before everything is closed out and ready to go,” said Alan Lindenmoyer, manager of the commercial cargo program a NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “As we both are proceeding toward the launch, SpaceX concluded that they just wanted to take some extra time to do additional testing to make sure this vehicle is as ready to go as it can possibly be, at least to the same level that they were for the previous launch.”

NASA is providing help with trajectory analysis and flight control, which makes sense. It’s in our best interest to get this off the ground, the sooner the better.

Also delayed is the Orbital Sciences commercial cargo vehicle, Cygnus. What was the Taurus 2 rocket is now called Antares (anti-Ares? Heh.), and its hold-down test has slipped from February to late March, possibly April. Their problem right now is not the rocket but the launchpad additions at Wallops Island.

I don’t wish this kind of frustration on anyone; we need these commercial endeavors, because we’re sure as hell not going to get SLS off the ground soon. But NASA’s flight schedule ALWAYS slipped to the right, and we caught hell for it. It’s not easy making sure 3 million parts made by the lowest bidder all work correctly. So cut ’em some slack – I’d rather SpaceX take their time and do it right than rush and have a year-long investigation of the debris field.

Side note: I had forgotten we launched out of Wallops Island, but the higher latitude makes some sense if you’re going to ISS. Wallops just had a successful launch of the Terrier-Improved Malemute suborbital sounding rocket January 11th. Terrier refers to the first stage, Malemute the second. Both are solid fuel systems. One of the delays in prepping the Antares launch pad is certification of all the pressure vessels needed for the liquid fuel. I gather that most of what’s been launched out of Wallops – Little Joe, Black Brant, sounding rockets – have been solid fuel.