Monday, July 06, 2015

And the Beat Goes On...

          By Brian Orlotti

On Sunday June 28th, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on a resupply mission (dubbed CRS-7) to the International Space Station (ISS) broke apart two minutes after liftoff. Reactions to the failure have varied, but SpaceX's partners remain confident in the company's ability to recover and press on.

Stephanie Schierholz from the NASA office of communications hosts a post-launch briefing on the status of the SpaceX CRS-7 resupply mission on June 28th. The briefing included statements from SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell, NASA associate administrator William H. (Bill) Gerstenmaier, NASA ISS manager Michael Suffredini and Pam Underwood, the FAA's deputy division manager in the office of commercial space transportation. The participants each gave quick statements and then responded to questions from the reporters in attendance. Screen shot and video c/o NASA.

The failure of CRS-7 will have a negligible impact on ISS operations. A Russian Progress spacecraft launched on July 3rd and docked with the ISS on July 5th, delivering 2,381 kgs of supplies including food, water, oxygen, fuel and scientific equipment.

In addition, a Japanese HTV-1 cargo spacecraft will visit the space station in August. According to NASA, the international docking adapter (meant to provide a standardized docking interface for commercial spacecraft) that was destroyed has a backup that will be sent up on a future flight. NASA has also stated that a December-scheduled ISS resupply flight to be flown on an Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft may be moved up.

After the CRS-7 launch failure, NASA issued this statement:
We are disappointed in the loss of the latest SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. However, the astronauts are safe aboard the station and have sufficient supplies for the next several months. We will work closely with SpaceX to understand what happened, fix the problem and return to flight. The commercial cargo program was designed to accommodate loss of cargo vehicles. We will continue operation of the station in a safe and effective way as we continue to use it as our test bed for preparing for longer duration missions farther into the solar system. 
SpaceX has demonstrated extraordinary capabilities in its first six cargo resupply missions to the station, and we know they can replicate that success. We will work with and support SpaceX to assess what happened, understand the specifics of the failure and correct it to move forward. This is a reminder that spaceflight is an incredible challenge, but we learn from each success and each setback. Today's launch attempt will not deter us from our ambitious human spaceflight program.
Although SpaceX has received no immediate criticism from NASA or its other clients, the failure of the CRS-7 mission comes at an important time for the company. In May, SpaceX was certified by the US Air Force to launch military satellites, breaking a monopoly held by United Launch Alliance. Whether the US Air Force's confidence in SpaceX has been affected by the CRS-7 failure remains a question mark. 

Despite their setback, SpaceX's launch manifest remains full and support for the company remains high, as shown in a statement by Space Frontier Foundation chairman Jeff Feige:
Today, our thoughts go out to the hard working team at SpaceX. It’s important to see this event as yet another learning experience for the commercial space industry that will only increase the probability of SpaceX’s success with the Falcon 9 in the future. Space is hard, incredibly hard, just as aviation and ocean voyages were in their infancies, but with the unwavering determination of companies like SpaceX and the NewSpace community, I have no doubt we will overcome the inevitable setbacks only to return stronger and even more determined.
Brian Orlotti.
The coming months will prove if SpaceX can keep the faith.

Brian Orlotti is a network operations centre analyst at Shomi, a Canadian provider of on-demand internet streaming media and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

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