Publish Date: 24 November 2010
US: The next generation of NASA remote sensing satellites and space science probes could be burdened by rising launch costs and delays as the agency incorporates new medium-lift rockets, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.
The uncertainty surrounds 12 to 14 science missions through 2020 that have not yet received launch vehicle assignments, the government watchdog report said.
NASA is ending its use of the Delta 2 rocket, a workhorse launcher that has delivered nearly 60 percent of the agency's scientific satellites to space since 1998.
NASA is shifting future medium-class missions to SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and the Taurus 2 launcher being developed by Orbital Sciences Corp. The GAO found both vehicles serve the same market as the Delta 2 and have similar costs. But the Falcon 9 and Taurus 2 are not certified to launch NASA's most expensive and important science missions.
United Launch Alliance has three more NASA missions on its Delta 2 manifest. Parts for producing five more Delta 2 rockets are also available, but there are high costs of modifying and maintaining launch pads to host any extra flights, according to the GAO.
The report addressed NASA's efforts to support the remaining Delta 2 flights and the agency's medium-class launch strategy.
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