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Will NASA Retire The Space Shuttle In 2010

File image of a Shuttle landing.
by Staff Writers
Los Angeles CA (SPX) Sep 04, 2008
Since the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) was announced in 2004, NASA has been planning to retire the Space Shuttle in 2010. After retirement the U.S. would have no human launch capability until at least 2015. When President Bush announced the VSE, Russian support for continued crew rotation launch services was assumed through the use of the Soyuz spacecraft.

Relations between the two countries were good and cooperative projects were on the rise.

However, in 2008, Russia decided to send troops into Georgia, a US ally. Suddenly, US-Russian relations have chilled. This recent action may well lead to problems for US access to the International Space Station (ISS) for five or more years.

Does NASA have a back-up plan? The answer is: Maybe. In 2006, the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) initiative was created to encourage commercial use of space and to possibly provide the US with another way to resupply the ISS.

Contracts were awarded to Rocketplane Kistler (RpK) and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), totaling almost $500 million. However, only SpaceX is trying to build a crewed vehicle.

The plot thickens. If SpaceX can provide astronaut transportation services to and from the ISS after the Shuttle is retired, then the US has a plan B. If SpaceX falters, then the Russians may offer the only transportation for our astronauts.

Unfortunately, so far SpaceX has attempted three orbital launches of its small launcher system and has had three failures.

Plan B does not look promising. So, should NASA retire the Shuttle or wait until the US has assured access to the ISS?

Summing up the situation, US options are not promising. It is entirely possible that the only country to have access to the ISS after 2010 will be Russia. If the Russians decide not to participate in ISS operations, then the station could be left adrift. Without periodic orbit-raising, the altitude of the station will continue to decay and it will reenter the atmosphere. If that should happen much of the station will burn up, but a large part of it will survive reentry.

It is clear that the launch vehicles are complex. Programs requiring launch services are critically dependent on these rockets and there are political and policy considerations to be kept in focus. What is the real story about launch vehicle technology, launch operations, new contenders and government actions?

These questions and much more are addressed in Launchspace's upcoming course in Cocoa Beach, September 15-17: Launch Vehicle Systems Design and Engineering. It's not too late to register for this widely-acclaimed class. Sign up now! at

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NASA Postpones Atlantis Mission To Hubble Again
Moscow (RIA Novosti) Sep 02, 2008
NASA has postponed the Atlantis shuttle's launch to the Hubble Space Telescope for another two or three days to October 10-11, to complete work on an external fuel tank.

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