Today’s Tidbits: November 11, 2017

Today’s Tidbits: November 11, 2017

Here are our tidbits for November 11, 2017:  OA-8 launch scrubbed when airplane violates restricted area; JPSS-1 launch on track for Tuesday, but weather is iffy; J.R. Thompson passes away.  And happy Veterans Day to all of our veterans.  Thank you for your service.

Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

OA-8 Launch Scrubbed When Airplane Violates Restricted Area

Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket, with the OA-8 Cygnus spacecraft onboard, Nov. 10, 2017 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Orbital ATK’s eighth cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS), OA-8, was enjoying a perfect countdown this morning until about 1 minute before launch when an airplane violated restricted airspace near the launch pad.

The launch was scheduled for 7:37 am ET from Wallops Island, VA.  It had a 5 minute launch window.  All was well and a range safety officer had just reconfirmed that the range was green — everything was OK — when suddenly a voice on the loop announced “we have an aircraft in the hazard area.”  Attempts to contact the pilot by radio were unsuccessful.  A range violation meant the launch had to be scrubbed for the day.

Orbital ATK later said that it was a small plane flying at 500 feet altitude just 6 miles offshore.

The launch has been rescheduled for Sunday morning at 7:14 am ET. The weather is 90 percent favorable. NASA TV coverage begins at 6:45 am ET.  The Cygnus spacecraft filled with 7,400 pounds of supplies, equipment and scientific experiments will arrive at the ISS two days after launch.

Today’s incident brought to mind a similar launch abort on October 27, 2014.  Orbital Sciences Corporation’s  (before it was Orbital ATK) third ISS cargo flight, Orb-3, also had a perfect countdown when a boat was detected in the hazard area and the launch had to be aborted.  The launch was rescheduled for the next day, October 28.  It lifted off on time, but exploded 15 seconds later because of a first stage failure.  Orbital ATK has since changed the type of engine used for Antares, so that certainly is not expected to happen again.

The 2014 boat intrusion spawned a Twitter account @WaywardBoat, which in turn spawned the @WaywardPlane account after an airplane encroachment into the hazard area off Cape Canaveral, FL scuttled the Atlas V launch of a DOD satellite, SBIRS GEO 3, in January 2017.  The accounts provide some levity, although they are surely of little comfort to the launch teams and their customers.

At yesterday’s pre-launch press briefing for OA-8, a question was asked about how to ward off boats.  NASA Wallops test director John Dickerson explained that they had four fixed wing aircraft, one helicopter and 4 or 5 surface vessels strategically located to keep the area clear.  Apparently that was not enough.

Space News reporter Jeff Foust tweeted from a post-scrub press conference that Wallops Fight Facility Director Bill Wrobel said they would work even more closely with the FAA to notify pilots to avoid the airspace.

JPSS-1 Getting Ready for Tuesday’s Launch, But Weather Iffy

Illustration of NOAA’s JPSS-1 satellite. Credit: NOAA/NESDIS website.

Meanwhile, on the West Coast at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA, the United Launch Alliance (ULA) is getting ready to launch NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System-1 (JPSS-1) satellite on Tuesday.  The launch had been scheduled for November 10, but was delayed to November 14 because ULA needed to replace a battery on the Delta II rocket.

JPSS-1 is the first of a new series of polar-orbiting weather satellites.  It has significantly better capabilities that the veteran POES series, although NOAA is already using an experimental NASA satellite, Suomi-NPP, that was built to test the new instruments for JPSS-1.  Suomi-NPP was launched in 2011 and is still performing well.  That will give NOAA two new-generation satellites, with another, JPSS-2, expected in 2021.   NOAA plans to build two more (JPSS-3 and -4) although the FY2018 Trump budget request did not include sufficient funding to proceed with them on the planned scheduled.  Congress is still debating how much funding to provide.

The launch is currently scheduled for 4:47 am ET on Tuesday (1:47 am local time at the launch site), but ULA said today that the weather forecast is only 30 percent favorable.  Two pre-launch briefings will take place tomorrow (Sunday) at 4:00 pm and 5:30 pm ET.  The briefings and the launch will be broadcast on NASA TV.

J.R. Thompson Passes Away

J.R. Thompson. Credit: NASA History Office website.

James R. Thompson, Jr., or J.R. as almost everyone called him, passed away on Tuesday. He was 81.

J.R. was a much admired engineer and manager who spent most of his career at NASA and at Orbital Sciences Corporation (now Orbital ATK).   According to NASA’s history office website and an obituary in [], he began his aerospace career at Pratt & Whitney in 1960, and joined NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in 1963. In 1983, he left NASA to join Princeton University as Deputy Director of Technical Operations at its Plasma Physics Laboratory.  Following the 1986 space shuttle Challenger tragedy, he took a furlough from Princeton to help investigate the failure and later that year rejoined NASA as Director of MSFC.

He remained in that position until 1989, then moved to NASA Headquarters to serve as Deputy Administrator from 1989-1991.

In 1991, he left NASA to join Orbital Sciences. He was Chief Technical Officer from 1991-1993; Executive Vice President and General Manager, Launch Systems Group, 1993-1999; President and COO, 1999-2011; and a Senior Advisor from 2011 until he retired in 2013.

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