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NASA delaying space station resupply awaiting SpaceX launch plans

NASA expects to delay its next shipment of equipment and supplies to the International Space Station because SpaceX has not yet determined a launch date.

After successful return-to-flight launches in December from Cape Canaveral and last week from California, SpaceX had two launches coming up next, but neither has been set yet.

That includes the commercial resupply run to the space station that NASA had tentatively expected in early February. SpaceX is one of two contractors that NASA is relying on to send up thousands of pounds of materials every two or three months, and bring back trash and other Earthbound materials from the six astronauts orbiting in the space station. SpaceX’s contract is worth $1.6 billion, and Orbital ATK’s $1.9 billion.

Both of those companies recently lost rockets and the shuttle cargo they were hauling to launch explosions, Orbital ATK in October, 2014, and SpaceX in June, 2015. Both had to shut down their launch and cargo-hauling services for months.

Orbital ATK got back into the business with a successful launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and delivery of goods in early December. SpaceX got back into the launching business from Cape Canaveral late in December, delivering a commercial satellite to orbit, and followed that up with a California launch two weeks ago, putting a weather satellite into orbit. But the company still has not launched any space station cargo since its last successful resupply run last April.

Launch schedules are largely up to rocket companies, based on their readiness and the availability of launch times at Cape Canaveral. Orbital ATK’s next commercial resupply launch is tentatively set for early this spring.

“We don’t have any firm launch dates at this time for SpaceX, unfortunately,” NASA spokesman Michael Curie said in an email to FloridaPolitics.com. “The CRS-8 flight that originally was targeting early February is not flying then, but we’re awaiting an announcement from SpaceX on a new launch date.’

SpaceX officials were not available Thursday to discuss their plans or reasons for the delay from NASA’s expectations. The company had not announced any specific dates for the launch.

Also awaiting a new launch date is the Luxembourg-based satellite company SES. Its latest satellite was originally slated to go up last summer on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. After SpaceX’s June 28 launch failure, that mission was delayed indefinitely. SpaceX founder Elon Musk said in October he expected it would be launched in late December. In early January, SES spokesman Markus Payer told FloridaPolitics that the company was expecting a launch in “mid-late January.”

SpaceX also has made no announcements about that launch.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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