Today’s Tidbits: November 14, 2018

Today’s Tidbits: November 14, 2018

Here are’s tidbits for November 14, 2018: NG-10 ISS cargo launch delayed; climate change hearings to kick off 116th Congress; SpaceX Falcon 9 gets highest NASA LSP rating.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

NG-10 ISS Cargo Launch Delayed

Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket with Cygnus spacecraft on the launch pad at Wallops Flight Facility, VA, November 14, 2018. Credit: NASA

No need to get up early tomorrow (Thursday) morning to watch the Northrop Grumman-10 (NG-10) cargo launch to the International Space Station (ISS).  The launch was scheduled for 4:49 am ET from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the coast of Virginia.

Inclement weather has forced a one-day postponement, however.  By the time mission managers had to make a decision this morning, the probability of violating launch weather rules was 90 percent, meaning just a 10 percent chance the mission could launch.  At a pre-launch mission status briefing today, Doug Voss, deputy chief of the Range and Mission Management Office at Wallops, said the bad weather posed dangers to boats and aircraft that support the launch, too.

The launch was rescheduled for Friday, November 16, at 4:23 am ET.  It will be the 10th launch in this series of Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) missions originally awarded to Orbital Sciences Corporation. It merged with ATK and became Orbital ATK, which then was acquired by Northrop Grumman and is now Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems.  This is the first launch to carry an “NG” rather than Orb or OA designation.  The Antares rocket will launch a Cyngus spacecraft filled with 7,400 pounds of supplies, equipment and experiments to the ISS.

Hours later, Russia will launch its next cargo mission to ISS — Progress MS-10 — from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.   Cygnus will arrive at the ISS on Sunday morning about 4:30 am ET.  Progress MS-10 will dock just 19 hours later.

The ISS is a busy place right now.  The next crew launch, Soyuz MS-11, is scheduled for December 3 and a SpaceX cargo mission on December 4.  Assuming Soyuz MS-11 successfully reaches ISS, the three current ISS crew members will return to Earth in their Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft on December 20.

Climate Change Hearings to Kick Off 116th Congress

The top Democrats (Ranking Members) on three House committees today announced that they will hold climate change hearings as soon as the 116th Congress convenes in January when Democrats will be in control.  Committee assignments have not been made yet, but the three are expected to take the reins of their respective committees.

The three are Rep. Eddie Bernie Johnson (D-TX), Ranking Member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee; Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Committee.

In a press release, the three said they plan to “hit the ground running immediately with a series of hearings early in the next Congress on how best to combat this growing global crisis.” [Click the link in the tweet to read more.]  The hearings will take place over two days, but other details were not announced.

On election night when it was clear Democrats would control the House, Johnson issued a statement expressing her interest in chairing the House SS&T Committee.  One of the three priorities she listed was to “[a]ddress the challenge of climate change, starting with acknowledging it is real, seeking to understand what climate science is telling us, and working to understand the ways we can mitigate it.”  Johnson is a strong defender of NASA’s Earth science program.

Climate change will be a hot topic for Democrats in the next Congress. As reported by Politico, “youth activists, flanked by Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, flooded House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office” yesterday urging action on climate change.  []  Pelosi said she was “inspired by the energy and activism” of the group and is recommending reinstatement of a select committee to address “the climate crisis.” Such a committee existed when Democrats last controlled the House.  It is not clear how many of her fellow Democrats agree on the need for a separate committee when these three committees already have jurisdiction.

SpaceX Falcon 9 Gets Top NASA LSP Rating

NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP) has awarded SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket its top rating, Category 3, meaning the rocket now can be used for NASA’s most expensive and complex scientific missions.  In a November 8 statement, SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell called it a “major achievement” and “another key milestone in our close partnership with NASA.”

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Launch Complex 39A, Kennedy Space Center, FL, April 12, 2017. Credit: SpaceX

NASA uses four categories, A, B, C, and D to designate a mission’s risk tolerance.  Class A missions are the most expensive and designed to have the lowest risk; Class D are the most risky and least expensive.   Rockets that receive a Category 3 rating may be used for Class A and B missions.

LSP rates rockets for use in launching robotic missions only, not those intended to launch people.  Thus the Category 3 rating is unrelated to certifying the Falcon 9 for commercial crew missions.

NASA spokeswoman Cheryl Warner explained via email that “the requirements, the standards, and the overall processes” for robotic and crewed missions are “distinct.” The LSP certification is for the rocket only.  The Commercial Crew Program (CCP) certifies the entire system — the rocket and the spacecraft. In SpaceX’s case, that is the Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket and the Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Under its commercial crew contract with NASA, SpaceX will launch seven Falcon 9 Block 5 missions before using it for crews. NASA will use “the flight data from those seven missions, combined with all the other flight testing, ground testing and analysis in order to certify the Crew Dragon/Falcon 9 for CCP missions.”

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