Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Orb-1 Pre-Game Show

Click the arrow to watch the science briefing on YouTube. Video source: NASA.

UPDATE January 8, 2014 7:45 AM EST — Orbital Sciences just announced the launch has been postponed until tomorrow.

Early this morning the Antares launch team decided to scrub today's launch attempt due to an unusually high level of space radiation that exceeded by a considerable margin the constraints imposed on the mission to ensure the rocket's electronic systems are not impacted by a harsh radiation environment. The solar flux activity that occurred late yesterday afternoon has had the result of increasing the level of radiation beyond what the Antares engineering team was monitoring earlier in the day. Overnight, Orbital engineers who are experts in the field ran numerous models to ensure that all possibilities to preserve the launch were examined. However, due to significantly elevated flux levels, the Antares team decided to postpone the launch to spend the day further examining the potential effects of the space radiation on the rocket's avionics suite.

Today, in consultation with NASA and outside experts in the field of "space weather," Orbital will continue to monitor the levels of space radiation with a goal of setting a new launch date as soon as possible. If we are able to launch on Thursday, the launch targeted launch time would be 1:10 p.m. (EST), with Cygnus arriving at the ISS Sunday morning, January 12.

UPDATE January 8, 2014 7:30 PM EST — Orbital says they'll try again tomorrow.

Following a comprehensive review of data related to the radiation environment in space, further reviews and modeling of the rocket's avionics systems, and the forecast for favorable terrestrial weather conditions at the Wallops Island launch facility, the Antares launch team has decided to proceed forward with a launch attempt of the Orbital-1 CRS mission to the International Space Station tomorrow, January 9 pending overnight close-out of all remaining pre-launch reviews and tests. Upon a deeper examination of the current space weather environment, Orbital's engineering team, in consultation with NASA, has determined that the risk to launch success is within acceptable limits established at the outset of the Antares program.

Tomorrow's target launch time is 1:07 p.m. (EST), which would allow the Cygnus spacecraft to rendezvous and berth with the International Space Station early Sunday morning, January 12.

It's not launching from Cape Canaveral, but today's launch of the Orbital Sciences Cygnus dubbed Orb-1 from Wallops, Virginia is another significant step in the early history of NewSpace.

On Monday, SpaceX launched a commercial communications satellite from Cape Canaveral. Nothing to do with NASA, other than that Falcon 9 rocket was developed in part using seed money funding from NASA during both the Bush and Obama administrations.

As I wrote in March 2013, President Bush's Aldridge Commission in June 2004 concluded that the United States needed to create a robust space industry:

The Commission finds that sustaining the long-term exploration of the solar system requires a robust space industry that will contribute to national economic growth, produce new products through the creation of new knowledge, and lead the world in invention and innovation. The space industry will become a national treasure.

This would be accomplished by cash incentives and competition “to encourage entrepreneurs and risk-takers to undertake major space missions.”

Here we are ten years later, and two American companies are delivering cargo to the International Space Station. It's the first time in the history of the U.S. space program that we've had redundancy in our flight vehicles. The SpaceX Dragon is scheduled to launch in late February from Cape Canaveral.

The above video is a media event about the science experiments shipping on the Cygnus, but some of the discussion is about how the Space Coast-based non-profit CASIS finds customers to fly on Cygnus and Dragon to do microgravity research on the ISS. Some are funded by NASA, some receive private sector funding, some are self-funded.

It's further proof that a new economy is growing here in the U.S. based on the ability to deliver people and cargo to low Earth orbit.

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