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The damage and repair of TDRS-M creates complicated scheduling problems

Because of the launch delay caused by the accident that damaged the antenna of NASA’s TDRS-M communication satellite, requiring its replacement, the agency is now faced with a cascading series of scheduling problems.

They are now aiming for an August 10 launch of TDRS-M on a ULA Atlas 5. This will then force a delay in the August 12 launch of a Dragon capsule to ISS to August 14, which can’t be delayed past August 16 because of a scheduled Russian spacewalk on ISS that must happen on August 17 because it involves the release of two satellites. Making things even more complicated is Dragon’s cargo, which includes mice for a rodent experiment. If it doesn’t occur before August 16, the mice will then have to be replaced with fresh mice, causing further delays.

There is then even the chance that these scheduling problems might impact SpaceX’s scheduled August 28’s launch of the X-37B, as well as ULA’s scheduled August 31 launch of surveillance satellite.

One additional tidbit: This Dragon will be the last unused cargo capsule. All future SpaceX cargo missions will use previously flown capsules.

I should add that these scheduling issues illustrate starkly the growing need for more launch sites. There is money to be made here, fulfilling this need.

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  • Diane Wilson

    So what can be done about adding launch sites? Where, in what time frame, at what cost?

    SpaceX has been working near Brownsville, but that’s been ongoing for a while and apparently won’t be finished for another while.

    There are numerous abandoned pads on Merritt Island. Can these be refurbished and upgraded at reasonable cost, or are the bottlenecks at Canaveral in other areas, so that more pads in Florida wouldn’t help? Isn’t automated range and abort management supposed to come along soon and ease the time-between-launch constraints at Canveral?

    Wallops Island? Vandenberg (is that polar only? Are there missions that could use polar, but haven’t for whatever reason?) Kodiak Spaceport in Alaska? (Too close to Russia and N. Korea, possibly) Does a spaceport really have to be on a coast? (Kodiak, Baikonur, for examples)

    Who would be willing to pay for this? The Air Force, possibly. Blue Origin? Where are they planning to launch New Glenn?

  • Diane Wilson,

    To address your thoughts and answer your questions:

    1. SpaceX is a company that recognizes the need and the potential profit from more spaceports, which is why they are building one.

    2. More launchpads in Florida doesn’t really solve the problem, because of range issues. And yes, automated range and abort management is helping, but it can’t do enough if you need to launch daily.

    3. Wallops Island is an option, but it also has limited facilities and is far north, which reduces payload capacity.

    4. Vandenberg’s location prevents most low inclination orbits, as this would have the rocket fly over the U.S.

    5. Kodiak’s limitation is, like Wallops, its high latitude. Its nearness to Russia is not a big deal.

    6. Private companies should pay for this. They stand to make money from it. Why should the taxpayer foot the bill?

    7. Blue Origin has a lease to launch in Florida. They presently have not announced plans to create their own launch facility anywhere else.

  • Diane Wilson

    Robert, thank you for your answers.

    Re: Air Force funding launch sites, I was listening to another podcast on military space ( ) that suggested that part of the Air Force response to anti-satellite attacks in future conflicts would need to be the ability to launch large numbers of replacements, rapidly. If true, this might be a reason for some government funding. Otherwise, I agree, the government doesn’t need to be in the launch business. Given the snafu caused by August launch rescheduling (now confirmed), I expect that a private enterprise would be far more responsive to these problems.

  • Edward

    There is an update to the article:

    UPDATE: After close of business on Wednesday, NASA announced an additional 10 day slip to TDRS-M, with a new request submitted for 20 August 2017 in a launch window that day of 07:56 – 08:36 EDT. It is unclear at this point if the requested 28 July MDR will now slip as well or if it will remain on its requested day.

    This may help the CRS-12 launch, but may disrupt other, later, Eastern Range launches.

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