Monday, March 16, 2009

What "Gap?"

With retirement for the Space Shuttle only eight (possibly nine) missions away, in late 2010, and with its ostensible replacement Orion Block One stretching into "the out years," with manned launches unlikely before 2016, talk of "The Gap," which began in space industry conferences years ago is just now reaching down to the level of conventional wisdom.

Fortunately NASA, ESA, JAXA, Roscosmos and the United States' commercial space industry all are already apparently moving on, in ways unimaginable to less attentive observers. News late last year, for example, only temporarily stayed by appeal, that SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation had been awarded 20 autonomous transfer vehicle cargo flights in support of ISS went largely unreported.

With barely more notice from America's "legacy media" the outstanding mission of the European Space Agency's ATV Jules Verne didn't make the radar, even as the ESA's ATV performed exceptionally parking, docking and even boosting ISS orbit. What were whispers of the ESA ATV graduating into a service module for crew rotations suddenly became loud and proud policy.

Both SpaceX and Orbital Sciences are equally confident their American ATV's will eventually make the same leap, as Russia and ESA announced they will partner to launch the new generation of Soyuz and Progress vehicles from ESA's equatorial launch site at Kourou in French Guyana.

By the time congressional planners intend Orion to begin cargo and crew rotations to ISS in 2016, or so, it's likely that phase in its development as "replacement for the Space Shuttle" will no longer be needed. American scientists and crew will have already arrived at ISS, perhaps on American vehicles. Orion can "get ahead" supporting the next scientific outpost in Space by rotating crews and cargo to and from the Moon.

Hat Tip tp Spaceports for casting a light on ESA's growing confidence in a man-rated ATV, posted on YouTube, HERE.

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