ISS Cargo Delivery Flight Schedules Slide to the Right

Artist's conception of Orbital Sciences Corporation's Cygnus freighter approaching the International Space Station. (Credit: OSC)

SpaceX’s and Orbital Sciences Corporation’s schedules for COTS flights are sliding into 2012, according to an internal NASA manifest quoted by Space News:

Launches of Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Taurus 2 and Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s Falcon 9 rockets, which until recently were scheduled for this year, are now expected to push into January and February, respectively, according to an internal NASA manifest. A second Taurus 2 flight, this one carrying Orbital’s Cygnus cargo module for the first time, is still officially scheduled for February, but the NASA manifest indicates a May launch date.

Both the Falcon 9 and Taurus 2, developed with funding assistance from NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, are expected to begin making regular cargo runs to the space station starting in 2012. But the rockets and their associated cargo capsules first must successfully complete a series of COTS flight demonstrations intended to convince NASA and its space station partners that the new vehicles can safely do the job.

SpaceX is working through two issues: an August failure of a Soyuz rocket that has pushed the arrival of a crew trained to berth the Dragon capsule to ISS until the end of December; and obtaining approval to combine two Dragon demo flights into one. NASA has tentatively approved the plan to fly Dragon directly to the space station on its next flight; the international partners have not given their assent yet.

Although SpaceX would like to fly as early as Dec. 19, the NASA manifest shows the flight taking place in December after a Russian Progress freighter docks in the station in late January.

Orbital is dealing with delays in certifying its new launch complex at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia. It also needs to integrate its AJ-26 engines into the first stage and conduct a hold-down test on the launch pad.

Orbital plans a risk demonstration flight of its new Taurus II rocket with a dummy payload. If all goes well, it will fly its Cygnus freighter on a flight demonstration mission to the space station. NASA’s manifest has these flights scheduled for January and May, respectively.

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