SpaceX worked into Thursday evening on preparations for a static fire test, with no indication the test itself took place.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted Thursday evening that the company was dealing with “some challenges” on the pad associated with its plan to cool the rocket’s liquid oxygen propellant, making it denser and increasing its performance.
Falcon 9 is vertical on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral. Working towards static fire. Deep cryo liquid oxygen presenting some challenges.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 18, 2015
SpaceX had planned to launch the upgraded Falcon 9 as soon as Saturday, a schedule in question after the delays in the static fire test.
Neither SpaceX nor Orbcomm, the customer of the upcoming launch, provided an update on the outcome of the static fire test by dawn Friday.
However, Orbcomm indicated mid-morning Friday they have not given up on launching before Christmas.
.@SpaceX Falcon 9 is still vertical. Aiming for static fire today and launch a few days after static fire complete https://t.co/RxUN8rccVy
— ORBCOMM (@ORBCOMM_Inc) December 18, 2015
Congress is set to vote on the fiscal year 2016 omnibus spending bill today. The House is scheduled to vote this morning on the $1.1 trillion bill that funds the federal government, and the Senate is expected to take up the measure this afternoon. House leaders of both parties spent much of Thursday lining up support for the bill. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who helped insert language into the spending bill suspending restrictions on use of the RD-180 rocket engine, said Thursday he would vote against the overall bill because it does not restrict the entry of Syrian refugees into the country. [The Hill / Roll Call / Politico]
Aerojet Rocketdyne said Thursday it completed a key design review of its AR1 engine that keeps the program on track for completion in 2019. The review, similar to a preliminary design review, clears the way for further development of the large hydrocarbon rocket engine, with full-scale engine testing planned for 2017. Aerojet Rocketdyne is developing the AR1 as a potential replacement for the Russian-built RD-180 engine on United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5, but the leading contender is the BE-4 engine under development by Blue Origin that ULA would use on its new Vulcan launch vehicle. [SpaceNews]
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Thursday’s successful launch of two Galileo spacecraft should allow the navigation system to provide initial services by late next year. the launch means there will be nine fully operational Galileo spacecraft in orbit by late 2016, as well as three other spacecraft that can provide some, but not all, Galileo services. That will allow the European Commission to start initial services while the rest of the 30-satellite constellation is launched over the next five years. [SpaceNews]
Lockheed Martin shipped the InSight spacecraft to its California launch site as questions remain about its launch date. Lockheed Martin flew the spacecraft Wednesday from its Colorado factory to Vandenberg Air Force Base, where it will be prepared for launch on an Atlas 5. That launch, according to a JPL press release, is on a “tight schedule” for launch between March 4 and March 30. However, Jim Green, head of NASA’s planetary sciences division, said at the American Geophysical Union meeting earlier this week that the launch would not take place before March 18, and that the launch window could extend into early April. [NASA/JPL / Twitter @alexwitze]
The European Space Agency and Arianespace signed a contract this week for the launch of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. An Ariane 5 will launch the telescope in October 2018, sending the spacecraft to the Earth-Sun L-2 Lagrange point 1.5 million kilometers away. ESA is providing the launch as part of its contributions to JWST in exchange for a share of the observing time. [ESA]
NASA and Virginia officials showed off repairs to a commercial launch pad at Wallops Thursday. The pad, damaged in last October’s Antares launch failure, is now fully repaired, at a cost of $15 million. Orbital ATK plans to resume launches of its Antares rocket, using a new first stage rocket engine, in the late spring of 2016. The company plans to perform a hot fire test of the new Antares first stage on that pad in March. [Baltimore Sun]
A study concludes Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Dream Chaser spacecraft could land safely at the airport in Huntsville, Alabama. The study found that Dream Chaser, a lifting body vehicle that has a skid rather than a wheel for its nose landing gear, would not damage the runway at Huntsville International Airport if it landed there. The work was part of an effort to see if the airport could host landings of Dream Chaser, should Sierra Nevada develop it. That study, though, warned that Dream Chaser landings would create sonic booms heard across three states, which may require an environmental assessment to measure its impacts. [Huntsville Times]
A space education center and museum named after one of the Challenger astronauts will close next year. The Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka Space Center, located at Hawaii’s Kona International Airport, will close at the end of March as part of airport renovations. The center said that while the state’s transportation department offered to build a new facility for the center, it could not afford the costs of the move and operating in a larger building. The center is looking to find homes for the artifacts it has on display, and will return some items, like the spacesuit worn by Fred Haise on the Apollo 13 mission, to NASA. [West Hawaii Today]
Stephen Hawking may help unveil Virgin Galactic’s new SpaceShipTwo in February. Richard Branson said Thursday that Hawking has agreed to appear at the unveiling of the second SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle in February “if he is feeling well enough.” Hawking has a free ticket for a future SpaceShipTwo flight, which Branson said is the only free ticket Virgin Galactic has provided. “He has long been an inspirational for all the team, as well as an enthusiastic advocate for our goals of democratizing access to space for the benefit of life on earth,” Branson said Hawking. [Virgin]
Beware of Space-Based Spoilers
While you’re waiting in line to see the new Star Wars movie, don’t feel bad for the crew on the International Space Station: they might see the film before you. “I am told that ‘Star Wars’ will be waiting for us up there,” said Tim Peake shortly before his launch to the station earlier this week. The station has a high-definition projection system that astronauts have used for watching movies. Station commander Scott Kelly tweeted yesterday to suggest they hadn’t yet watched the movie, waiting for it to be uplinked for the ground. “Patience we must have, padawans!” [collectSPACE / Twitter @StationCDRKelly]