One of NASA’s commercial cargo spacecraft will delay its first launch by nearly six months, according to a media report.
Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser will see its first mission in the international space station December at the earliest, five months later than August, according to Ars-Technica (opens in a new tab).
The shuttle-shaped Dream Chaser’s journey to space will be a new booster of United Launch Alliance called Vulcan, and it’s designed to land on a conventional runway at the end of each mission. Sierra Space confirmed in the report that it plans to launch in the fourth quarter of this year, but didn’t provide any details on the delay other than that.
“We will remain flexible for as long as we can to get Sierra Space ready to fly,” a ULA spokesperson told Ars Technica on March 24, adding that the certification mission the spacecraft is supposed to be on flying could instead use a “mass simulator.”
Related: Dream Chaser space plane aims to deliver US military cargo in 3 hours
Vulcan, however, also faces its own development issues before completing the two certification missions. Before Dream Catcher, he’s supposed to pilot Astrobotic’s lunar lander on a “Cert. 1” mission in May. But an anomaly during the tests on the upper stage of Vulcan has also just occurred.
Tony Bruno, CEO of United Launch Alliance, said on Twitter yesterday (opens in a new tab) (March 30) that the Centaur V upper stage suffered an anomaly during qualification testing the day before, and answered several questions in a Twitter thread.
No one was injured during testing at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Bruno said, and described the work as “an extreme structural load test of various worst possible conditions.” He added that the company was not yet ready to speculate on what happened on the first day of an investigation. When asked if this would affect launch dates, he only replied that all other prep activities were still ongoing.
“That’s why we thoroughly and rigorously exercise all possible conditions on the ground before the flight. The investigation is ongoing. Vulcan will fly once completed,” he said.
ULA wants to perform both certification missions before operational missions, especially for the US military, which requires a high level of flight reliability for its security payloads.
In the meantime, the situation will leave NASA with only one type of operational rocket that supplies cargo vehicles: SpaceX Falcon 9. This rocket sends SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft and soon, Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft also in orbit. (The Russian Progress spacecraft also supplies the ISS, but primarily for Russian crew needs or to deliver fuel; NASA uses its commercial cargo for US segment experiments, equipment, and supplies.)
Cygnus was flying on the Antares 230 rocket, but this arrangement is no longer possible. Antares used Russian engines, and those engines are no longer available after Russia launched an internationally condemned campaign. war in ukraine in February 2022, which severed most space relations with the country, except for the ISS.
Around 2025 or so, Cygnus will upgrade to Antares 330 using engines made by Firefly Aerospace instead of Russian engines, until the rocket is ready to fly.
Elizabeth Howell is co-author of “Why am I taller (opens in a new tab)?” (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book on space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace (opens in a new tab). Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab) Or Facebook (opens in a new tab).