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By | March 19, 2007

      SpacerX Sees DemoFligbht2 Launch Close At Hand

      SpaceX expects to launch DemoFligbht2 soon, with liftoff tentatively set for 4 p.m. PT today.

      Last week, “We had a very successful static fire yesterday that proceeded smoothly with no aborts,” SpaceX reported.

      An initial review of data showed the rocket functioned almost perfectly, according to SpaceX. The only remaining concern is that the GPS portion of the guidance system showed an anomaly about 15 minutes after the static fire.

      Falcon 1 is designed to achieve its target orbit purely on inertial navigation, so the GPS, while helpful for improving orbit insertion accuracy, is not flight critical.

      SpaceX staffers are analyzing the GPS and making sure that the GPS problem does not hint at some larger issue.

      There will be a total of 12 cameras looking at the rocket on launch day, including two thermal imaging and two vehicle cams, so no shortage of visual data is expected.

      Looking ahead to other launches, “There is nothing significant that we can think of to improve the vehicles under construction for the [Department of Defense] and Malaysian satellite launches later this year,” according to the company.

      “Therefore, no matter what happens, [it is not expected there will] be a significant delay in their approximate end of summer and mid fall launch dates.”

      On a separate note, SpaceX announced it has made tremendous progress with the Falcon 9 development.

      Spacecraft Arrives At Vandenberg For April 25 Launch

      The NASA Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) spacecraft arrived at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., for a targeted April 25 launch aboard a Pegasus XL rocket.

      That AIM spacecraft will fly three instruments designed to study polar mesospheric clouds located at the edge of space, 50 miles above the Earth’s surface in the coldest part of the atmosphere.

      The primary goal is to explain why these clouds form and what caused them to become brighter and more numerous and appear at lower latitudes in recent years.

      AIM data results will provide the basis for the study of long-term variability in the mesospheric climate and its relationship to global climate change.

      Mating of the three stages of the Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL is underway at Vandenberg.

      The AIM spacecraft now joins the Pegasus rocket at the facility. AIM will undergo a series of readiness tests to verify its state of health, and the instruments will be cleaned and calibrated. Technicians also will partially deploy the craft’s solar arrays for illumination testing.

      AIM is scheduled to be mated to the Pegasus XL during the second week of April, after which final inspections will be conducted.

      Approximately one week later, after the test team performs a launch countdown rehearsal and flight simulation, the payload fairing will be installed around the spacecraft.

      Two days before launch, the Pegasus rocket with the AIM spacecraft will be transported to the Vandenberg runway where it will be attached beneath the Orbital Sciences L-1011 carrier aircraft.

      NASA’s Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., is managing the AIM launch, and Orbital Sciences Corp. [ORB] is conducting launch services.

      AIM is the seventh Small Explorers mission under NASA’s Explorer Program. The program provides frequent flight opportunities for world-class scientific investigations from space within heliophysics and astrophysics.

      The Explorers Program Office at Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., manages this NASA-funded mission. The Center for Atmospheric Sciences at Hampton University, Hampton, Va., leads the mission. The Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, built two of the spacecraft’s three instruments, manages the mission and will control the satellite after launch. The Space Dynamics Laboratory of Utah State University, Logan, built the third instrument. Orbital Sciences Corp. [ORB], Dulles, Va., designed, manufactured and tested the AIM spacecraft.

      Atlantis May Need Another Fuel Tank, Delaying Flight

      NASA this week will hold a major technical review of whether it might be feasible to finish repairs fairly soon on the hail-damaged external fuel tank of Space Shuttle Atlantis, or whether it might be better to use another fuel tank, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said.

      Meanwhile, “We’re pressing ahead with near-term repairs on the tank,” he said.

      But the review will answer whether “it would be quicker and easier to swap the tank out” with another tank, “and then repair this [damaged] tank at greater leisure,” he explained.

      “So the question is not whether or not the tank can be repaired if it can,” he continued. “The question is whether it should be repaired while it’s attached to the shuttle.”

      While Atlantis was slated to launch March 15 or so, and made it to the launch pad, the flight had to be scrubbed when a strong storm passed over the shuttle and hail inflicted hundreds of hits on the external fuel tank and its foam insulation.

      That meant Atlantis had to be rolled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center for repairs, and the launch was set tentatively for late April, depending on what sort of damage technicians discovered during the inspection.

      Griffin was asked by Space & Missile Defense Report whether a late April launch would be possible if a decision is made to use another fuel tank.

      It won’t, Griffin said. Rather, liftoff would be later than late April, “because the next tank doesn’t even arrive [at Kennedy Space Center] until like May 3rd or something.”

      While he said it is unclear in that case just when the launch window might be, “there is a window of some kind every month.”

      No Major Delays In Shuttle Launches

      Griffin also said the Atlantis launch delay doesn’t imperil the schedule for space shuttle launches, which are to continue until the shuttle fleet is retired in 2010.

      While it would be desirable to have five shuttle launches this year, four would be fine, too, he said.

      He is “pretty optimistic” that five launches are possible this year, noting that “we did three [shuttle launches] in the last six months of last year. Even if we fly [Atlantis] in late April, I think we still could get five in. And if we get four in, that’s fine. We don’t have to get five in for this year. In fact at the start of the year, we said four or five flights.”

      Griffin discounted concerns expressed by some observers that the shuttle fleet retirement at the end of 2010 might come and go without major task completed that only the shuttles can do, such as hoisting huge structural components into orbit to be added to the International Space Station.

      “We’re not in jeopardy of pushing out beyond 2010 at this point, or reaching 2010 and not being finished,” he said. “We’re doing fine.”

      But later, in a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee commerce and related agencies subcommittee, the chairman asked about the issue.

      Griffin said that he believes the space shuttle missions on the schedule will be accomplished by the 2010 deadline.

      When Griffin was asked whether NASA has any scenario to keep the shuttle flying after 2010 if all the shuttle missions on the schedule aren’t completed by then, he said, “I do not” have such a plan. “We do not envision a scenario [where the shuttles would fly] after 2010,” he said.

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