A media report says that one of NASA’s commercial cargo spacecraft will delay its first launch by about half a year.
Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser will see its first mission to the International Space Station no later than December, a five-month delay from August, according to Ars Technica (Opens in a new tab).
Dream Chaser’s shuttle-shaped flight into space will be a new United Launch Alliance booster called Vulcan, which is designed to land on a traditional runway at the end of each mission. Sierra Space confirmed in the report that it plans to launch it in the last quarter of this year, but gave no details of the delay besides.
“We will remain as flexible as possible until Sierra Space is ready to fly,” a ULA spokesperson told Ars Technica March 24, adding that the certification job the spacecraft is supposed to fly could instead go with a simulated “block.”
Related: Dream Chaser space plane aims to deliver US military cargo within 3 hours
However, Vulcan is also facing development issues of its own before flying the two certification missions. Before Dream Chaser, Astrobotic’s lunar lander is supposed to fly on the “Cert.1” mission in May. But an anomaly also occurred during testing on the upper stage of Vulcan.
said Tony Bruno, CEO of United Launch Alliance on Twitter yesterday (Opens in a new tab) (March 30) that the Centaur V’s upper stage experienced an anomaly during a qualification test the day before, and answered several questions in the Twitter thread.
Bruno said no one was hurt in the test at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, and described the work as “extreme structural load testing of the various worst possible conditions.” He added that the company is not yet ready to speculate on what happened on the first day of the investigation. When asked if it would affect launch dates, he only said that all other preparation activities are still ongoing.
“This is why we meticulously and rigorously exercised all possible conditions on the ground prior to flight. The investigation is ongoing. Vulcan will fly when it is completed,” he stressed.
ULA wants to fly on two certification missions before operational missions, especially for the US Army, which require a high level of flight reliability for their security payloads.
In the meantime, the situation will leave NASA with one type of operational rocket that powers cargo vehicles: the SpaceX Falcon 9. That rocket sends SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft and soon, Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft into orbit as well. (The Russian Progress spacecraft also supplies the ISS, but mostly for the needs of the Russian crew or to deliver fuel; NASA uses its commercial cargo for the American sector’s experiments, equipment, and supplies.)
Cygnus used to fly on an Antares 230 rocket, but this arrangement is no longer possible. Antares used Russian engines, and those engines are no longer available after Russia sparked an internationally condemned war in Ukraine in February 2022, which severed most space ties with the country, with the exception of the International Space Station.
Around 2025 or so, Cygnus will switch to Antares 330 with Firefly Aerospace engines instead of the Russian ones, waiting for the missile to be ready to fly.
Elizabeth Howell is co-author of “Why am I taller (Opens in a new tab)? (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book on space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @employee (Opens in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @employee (Opens in a new tab) or Facebook (Opens in a new tab).
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