Average Class Space Missions Face Rocket Launch Concerns, Report Says

The next generation of NASA remote sensing satellites and space science probe could be loaded by rising launch expenses and delays as the agency incorporate new medium lift rockets, according to a Government responsibility Office report released Monday. The doubt surrounds 12 to 14 science missions through 2020 that have not yet received launch vehicle assignments, the government watchdog report said. NASA is finishing its use of the Delta 2 rocket, a workhorse launcher that has deliver almost 60 percent of the agency's scientific satellites to space since 1998. NASA is shifting future average class missions to SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and the Taurus 2 launcher being developed by Orbital Sciences Corp. The GAO found both vehicles supply the same market as the Delta 2 and have like costs.

But the Falcon 9 and Taurus 2 are not certified to launch NASA's most costly and important science missions. United Launch Alliance has three more NASA missions on its Delta 2 obvious. Parts for producing five more Delta 2 rockets are also accessible, but there are high costs of alter and maintaining launch pads to host any additional flights, according to the GAO. The report addressed NASA's efforts to support the enduring Delta 2 flights and the agency's medium class launch plan. "NASA is taking an suitable approach to help ensure the success of the remaining Delta 2 missions by sufficiently addressing workforce, support, and launch infrastructure risks," the details said. "Nevertheless, an reasonable and reliable medium launch capability is dangerous to NASA meeting its scientific goals."

Most of the medium class missions in NASA's portfolio are Earth scrutiny satellites, which need polar orbit launches from West Coast sites at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., or Kodiak Launch multifaceted in Alaska. Neither company has an ready West Coast launch site. SpaceX plans to construct a Falcon 9 start pad at Vandenberg, and Orbital is still evaluating potential sites for polar Taurus 2 missions. The first NASA decision point is predictable in the next few months. NASA must choose on a launch vehicle for three Earth observation satellites in 2011. The missions are owing for liftoff in 2014 and 2015. NASA is predictable to settle on a rocket for the Soil Moisture Active and Passive, or SMAP, satellite by March. Other civil space missions planned for launch by 2015 and still lacking a launch vehicle assignment include the ice-mapping ICESat 2 spacecraft and the first member of NOAA's restore polar orbiting weather satellite fleet.

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