BY MARK DeCOTIS
Key planetary missions await. Humans might not launch again from the Space Coast until about 2015 but three major NASA planetary missions are on the docket for the remainder of 2011.
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is scheduled to launch NASA’s Juno spacecraft to Jupiter from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Aug. 5; A ULA Delta II rocket is to launch NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission from the Cape to place two spacecraft in lunar orbit on Sept. 8. Thirdly, the most high profile mission involves an Atlas V launching NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission from the Cape on Nov. 25.
The key part of the mission is the car-sized Curiosity rover, which will determine the planet's habitability.
Another high-profile mission from the air station is the scheduled Oct. 8 flight on Space X's Falcon 9 rocket carrying the second Dragon spacecraft, called Dragon C2. The spacecraft is to approach to within 10K (6.2 miles) of the International Space Station and demonstrate the ability of the crew to receive telemetry from Dragon and its ability to send a command to the spacecraft.
William H. Gerstenmaier. NASA's Associate Administrator for Space Operations, told reporters on Thursday that NASA is working with Space X to combine the rendezvous and a subsequent berthing mission into one with the goal of achieving cargo delivery to the station as soon as possible.
“We haven’t given them formal approval yet,” Gerstenmaier said. “We still want to go through some more analysis. If the systems are mature and the design is mature enough, combining those two flights is that best way to get cargo to ISS in the fastest manner possible.”