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SpaceX Space Station Launch Stalled Again by Software

Satellite Technology

Satellite Technology Feature Article

May 03, 2012

SpaceX Space Station Launch Stalled Again by Software

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

SpaceX (News - Alert) says a May 7 launch attempt for its International Space Station (ISS) supply demo "appears unlikely." Delays once again are being attributed to software issues, a recurring theme over the past 12 to 18 months.

In a brief, non-detailed email issued yesterday, SpaceX Communications Director Kirstin Brost Grantham said "SpaceX is continuing to work through the software assurance process with NASA," and the company would issue a statement as soon as a new launce target date is set.  

If SpaceX can't make a May 7 launch of its COTS 2/3 flight, the company would have one more shot on May 10 before space station operations shift to preparing for a new three-man crew launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome on May 13. It isn't clear if the company is prepared to double-down on a May 10 date since it would have to hit an "instantaneous" launch time on May 10 with a flawless checkout of the Dragon spacecraft in orbit before getting one shot at a rendezvous and berthing on May 13.

If SpaceX doesn't try to thread a schedule needed on May 10, a new launch date might not be possible until late June. Scheduling gets more complicated due to other launches out of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, with a pair of National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) launches scheduled for June.   NRO launches big, expensive "spy" satellites, so Air Force planners are unlikely to cut corners for a NASA commercial demonstration flight.

SpaceX's troubles with software go back to an August 2011 meeting between the company and NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP). In a "Summary of Findings" document describing the August 9, 2011 meeting at NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC), ASAP said the SpaceX development and test schedule "seems highly compressed" with the company's software presentation described as "unsettling" to the review team.

"There was no Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) accredited capability or process, and the (SpaceX) software chief said he didn't worry about errors because 'there were no mistakes in the software,'" the document states, with ASAP going on to say "In the Review Team's experience, this is unlikely."

After a targeted end-of-2011 launch date, COTS 2/3 was pushed back to February 2012 where software assurance issues turned up as one of the factors for a pushback to April 30 which then slide to May 7 and now awaits another new date on the calendar. 

Edited by Carrie Schmelkin

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