No Plan B

Space launches involving Pratt & Whitney’s RL-10 upper-stage motor will have to wait until investigators determine the cause of an anomaly with this engine during the recent launch of a GPS IIF satellite, said Gen. William Shelton, Air Force Space Command chief. “We have to find out what happened,” said Shelton during an AFA-Air Force Breakfast Program talk in Arlington, Va., on Nov. 7. With no alternative motor supplier to Pratt & Whitney, “there is no plan B,” and AFSPC can’t afford to risk the loss of a payload, such as the X-37 reusable spaceplane slated to fly later this month, he said. The RL-10 behaved anomalously, requiring “a bit of a diving save” during the Oct. 4 GPS mission, and command officials found items “in the data that we didn’t like,” said Shelton. He explained that “yes, the upper stage got us to orbit” and “we’re fortunate that we had enough margin.” However, “had we had a heavier payload . . . we might not have made it,” he said. Click here to continue to the full report.