Jumping the gun

If you saw the news earlier this week, it might have sounded like that SpaceX’s plan to fly a Dragon Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) mission to the ISS this fall was a done deal. “The Hawthorne, Calif.-based private rocket maker said Monday its Dragon capsule will launch on Nov. 30 on a cargo test run to the orbiting outpost,” the AP reported. “California-based rocket maker SpaceX will send a resupply spacecraft to the International Space Station in November,” Wired UK reported. Done deal, right?

Not quite. As SpaceX itself stated in an updated posted on its web site Monday, “NASA has agreed in principle” to allow SpaceX to combine its planned “C2″ and “C3″ COTS flights into a single mission that would launch on November 30. However, NASA hasn’t given a final approval for the combined mission, as it evaluates SpaceX’s plans to carry secondary payloads (including two ORBCOMM communications satellites) on that mission. “NASA will grant formal approval for the combined COTS missions pending resolution of any potential risks associated with these secondary payloads,” SpaceX said in its update.

If all that sounds familiar, it should. Last month, at a press conference after the final shuttle landing, NASA associate administrator Bill Gerstenmaier said the agency “technically had agreed” to combine the C2 and C3 COTS flights but had yet to give formal approval—effectively the same situation as today. That statement came right after an Aviation Week week article that reported on plans for the combined C2/C3 mission with a November 30 launch. That AvWeek article said that plan depended on how SpaceX would handle the secondary satellite deployment.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything new in the latest SpaceX update. The company says it carried out a “wet dress rehearsal” of the Falcon 9 that will launch Dragon on the C2/C3 mission last week, erecting the launch vehicle (minus Dragon) on the pad and fueling it. The update also includes some photos of the Dragon that will fly that mission, as well as components for the following Falcon 9 launch, intended for the first operational cargo mission to the ISS next year.

2 comments to Jumping the gun

  • Coastal Ron

    Sometimes one needs to be a careful reader to make sure they understand what’s really happening, especially if you get your news from the general new sites. This applies to everybody, not just SpaceX and NASA.

    I see the takeaway as SpaceX doing everything they need to do to make C2/C3 a go, and NASA waiting to see if they can actually do it. NASA really has not incentive to take risks at this point, so the whole onus is on SpaceX.

    For a number of reason, I would give the likelihood of a successful C2/C3 mission and completion of all COTS milestones about a 50% chance of happening. Lots they’re doing right, but lots of little things that could be out of their control that could go wrong.

  • NASA has been saying that same non-committal answer since December. Anything else would require them to make a *decision*.

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