Parabolic Arc Space Tourism ... and Much More 2017-03-22T15:46:22Z WordPress Doug Messier <![CDATA[Congress, President Fail to Embrace Musk’s Bold Plan for Mars]]> 2017-03-22T15:46:22Z 2017-03-22T15:45:38Z

@karaswisher I am not. This bill changes almost nothing about what NASA is doing. Existing programs stay in place and there is no added funding for Mars.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 22, 2017

Last September, Elon Musk made his pitch for a bold new approach to sending people to Mars that requires substantial taxpayer supporter. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed a NASA authorizing act that maintains the slow, steady-as-she-goes status quo. The billionaire was not amused.

Doug Messier <![CDATA[Trump: Making America First in Space Again]]> 2017-03-22T03:37:27Z 2017-03-22T11:34:16Z
Credit: Matt Wade

WASHINGTON, DC (White House PR) — Today, President Donald J. Trump signed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Transition Authorization Act of 2017, the first comprehensive NASA authorization passed by Congress in more than six years. The bill demonstrates strong bipartisan support for our Nation’s space program and helps ensure that NASA remains at the forefront of exploration and discovery.

“With this legislation, we support NASA’s scientists, engineers, astronauts and their pursuit of discovery,” said President Trump during a signing ceremony at the White House. “America’s space program has been a blessing to our people and to the entire world. Almost half a century ago, our brave astronauts first planted the American flag on the moon. That was a big moment in our history.  Now this nation is ready to be the first in space once again. Today we’re taking the initial steps toward a bold and brave new future for American space flight.”

The Act, passed unanimously by Congress, authorizes the development and execution of a long-range plan for deep space human exploration; invests in robust science, technology and aeronautics portfolios; and endorses the Agency’s successful efforts to nurture a new commercial market that will boost our economy and create more jobs. Additionally, it guarantees vastly improved health care for the heroes who risk their lives in the exploration of space.

Acting Administrator Lightfoot added, “NASA would like to thank President Trump for his unwavering support of the Agency and express our gratitude to a bipartisan Congress for its thoughtful consideration of NASA’s future. We are grateful for the longstanding support and trust of the American people. NASA stands ready to meet the challenge of pioneering new frontiers in space.”

The Authorization Act signed today and the President’s proposed $19.1 billion budget announced last week provide a powerful framework for NASA and a roadmap for this Nation’s future in space. These steps reaffirm that NASA should remain a multi-mission agency with a balanced set of core missions in science, space technology, aeronautics, human space flight and exploration, and work to inspire the next generation of explorers.

Attendees of the White House signing ceremony with the President included:

  • Vice President Mike Pence
  • Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot
  • Acting NASA Deputy Administrator Lesa B. Roe
  • NASA Chief of the Astronaut Office Christopher Cassidy
  • NASA Astronaut Tracy Dyson
  • Sen. Ted Cruz, Sponsor of S.442
  • Sen. Bill Nelson, Cosponsor of S.442
  • Sen. Marco Rubio, Cosponsor of S.442
  • Sen. Luther Strange
  • Rep. Kevin McCarthy, House Majority Leader
  • Rep. Lamar Smith, Chairman of House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
  • Rep. Frank Lucas, Vice Chair of House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
  • Rep. Robert Aderholt
  • Rep. Brian Babin
  • Rep. Jim Bridenstine
  • Rep. Mo Brooks
  • Rep. John Culberson
  • Rep. Neal Dunn
  • Rep. Steve Palazzo
  • Rep. Bill Posey
  • Rep. Martha Roby
Doug Messier <![CDATA[NASA Acting Administrator Praises Authorization Act]]> 2017-03-22T00:52:45Z 2017-03-22T08:51:11Z
Robert Lightfoot

The following is a statement from NASA acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot on President Trump signing Tuesday the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act of 2017:

“We would like to thank President Trump for his support of the agency in signing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act of 2017.

“We also want to express our gratitude to a bipartisan Congress for its thoughtful consideration of the agency’s path forward. We are grateful for the longstanding support and trust of the American people, which enables our nation’s space, aeronautics, science, and technology development programs to thrive.

“Our workforce has proven time and again that it can meet any challenge, and the continuing support for NASA ensures our nation’s space program will remain the world’s leader in pioneering new frontiers in exploration, innovation, and scientific achievement.”

Doug Messier <![CDATA[NASA’s Efforts to Shrink Agency Lagging]]> 2017-03-21T23:29:07Z 2017-03-22T07:17:20Z NASA’S Efforts to “Rightsize” its Workforce, Facilities,
and Other Supporting Assets
[Full Report — PDF]

Office of Inspector General
March 21, 2017

Why We Performed This Audit

To accomplish its diverse scientific and space exploration missions, NASA relies on specialized facilities and infrastructure, unique equipment and tools, and a highly skilled civil servant and contractor workforce. These assets, collectively known as technical capabilities, are spread across NASA’s 10 Centers and include more than 5,000 buildings and other structures, 17,000 civil servants, and tens of thousands of contractors. Over the years, striking the right balance among these various assets has been a top management challenge, with the Agency making a number of mostly unsuccessful attempts at “rightsizing” its technical capabilities.

In June 2012, NASA established the Technical Capabilities Assessment Team (TCAT) to identify and assess Agency technical capabilities and make recommendations for investing in, consolidating, or eliminating capabilities based on mission requirements. To institutionalize capability management into its annual planning and budgeting processes, NASA replaced TCAT with the Capability Leadership Model (CLM) in 2015. CLM is designed to advance NASA’s technical capabilities to meet long-term missions, optimize deployment of capabilities across its major facilities, and transition capabilities no longer needed.

In this audit, we assessed NASA’s ongoing efforts to strategically manage its technical capabilities to ensure the Agency is prepared for current and future missions. Our work included reviewing Agency guidance, analyzing selected technical capability assessments, comparing the TCAT and CLM processes to best practices drawn from successful rightsizing initiatives, and interviewing Agency officials.

What We Found

Through the TCAT and CLM processes, NASA has established a framework that should improve the Agency’s ability to manage its technical capabilities and help make the difficult decisions regarding infrastructure and personnel required to optimally position itself for current and future missions. However, after more than 4 years, the Agency has yet to make many concrete decisions about its technical capabilities – for example, to consolidate or dispose of assets. Rather, most decisions have been iterative steps on the path to making actual determinations about technical capabilities, leaving us concerned that the Agency’s efforts have been slow to produce meaningful results.

Moreover, NASA’s assessments of its capabilities did not consistently include information needed to make informed decisions, including mission needs or facility usage data, analyses to determine gaps or overlaps, or recommendations to achieve cost savings. In addition, NASA did not incorporate in its process the best practices we identified from other successful rightsizing efforts, including following standardized guidance, incorporating independent analysis and cost-benefit rationales, and setting firm timeframes for completing actions. Finally, NASA continues to face the long-standing challenges of its federated governance model, uncertainty about its direction and future missions, political influence, and the lack of institutionalized processes that have hindered past Agency efforts to strategically align its technical capabilities.

We believe NASA must continue to press forward with CLM and that Agency leaders should work to further institutionalize the process, continue their efforts to promote the process both inside and outside the Agency, and take steps to ensure best practices are incorporated in future assessments. Ultimately, Agency leaders must be willing to make difficult decisions to invest, divest, or consolidate unneeded infrastructure; effectively communicate those decisions to stakeholders; and withstand the inevitable pressures from Federal, state, and local officials. Failure to do so increases the risk the Agency will continue to spend valuable resources on unneeded technical capabilities and be unable to deliver the technical capabilities required for future missions.

What We Recommended

To ensure NASA’s efforts to evaluate technical capabilities are institutionalized and sustained over time, we recommended the Associate Administrator (1) create standardized guidance for performing annual capability assessments; (2) evaluate CLM assessments and teams to better ensure independence; (3) develop and institute training, communications, or other measures to ensure capability assessments are complete, thorough, and include expected goals and results; and (4) revise the CLM decision process to include implementation timeframes for dispositioning agreed upon actions.

NASA concurred with and described planned actions to address our recommendations. We consider the actions responsive and will close the recommendations upon verification of their completion.

Doug Messier <![CDATA[SpaceX Expands Operations at Port Canaveral]]> 2017-03-21T19:15:15Z 2017-03-21T19:15:15Z
Falcon 9 first stage after landing on drone ship (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX is expanding its operations at Port Canaveral so it can process, refurbish and store recovered first stages.

The commercial space company has occupied the 53,360-square-foot former SpaceHab building on the north side of the port since August, under a month-to-month lease, and has been renovating the facility, located at 620 Magellan Road.

Now, with the signed lease agreement, “they can forge ahead” with their plans, Port Canaveral Chief Executive Officer John Murray said.

The company also plans to build an adjacent 44,000-square-foot hangar on the 4-acre parcel.

Canaveral Port Authority commissioners are scheduled to vote Wednesday on the lease, which will take effect April 1.

Under terms of the lease, SpaceX will pay monthly rent to the port of $35,181 in Year 1, increasing to $50,639 a month by Year 5.

Read the full story.

Doug Messier <![CDATA[Trump Signs NASA Authorization Act]]> 2017-03-21T18:34:06Z 2017-03-21T18:34:06Z President Donald Trump has signed a NASA authorization act that calls for spending $19.5 billion by the space agency in fiscal year 2017 and lays out a set of priorities of the agency.

The measure stipulates the following funding levels for the space agency:

  1. Exploration, $4,330,000,000.
  2. Space Operations, $5,023,000,000.
  3. Science, $5,500,000,000.
  4. Aeronautics, $640,000,000.
  5. Space Technology, $686,000,000.
  6. Education, $115,000,000.
  7. Safety, Security, and Mission Services, $2,788,600,000.
  8. Construction and Environmental Compliance and Restoration, $388,000,000.
  9. Inspector General, $37,400,000.

“With President Trump’s signature on the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, we put America back on a path to being a global leader in space,” said House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said in a statement. “The last NASA authorization expired in 2013, and my colleagues and I have been hard at work to ensure a more robust and well-planned human exploration program.”

The act enshrines the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft as the foundation of the nation’s expansion beyond low Earth orbit (LEO). It calls upon the NASA Administrator to develop a “human exploration roadmap, including a critical decision plan, to expand human presence beyond low-Earth orbit to the surface of Mars and beyond, considering potential interim destinations such as cis-lunar space and the moons of Mars.”

The measure also requires NASA to contract with an “independent, non-governmental systems engineering and technical assistance organization to study a Mars human space flight mission to be launched in 2033.”

NASA must also evaluate whether the Orion spacecraft could be launched on a rocket other than SLS on missions to the International Space Station (ISS). Orion is considered as a backup to the commercial crew vehicles being developed by Boeing and SpaceX.

The space agency is also instructed to evaluate the proposed Asteroid Robotic Redirect Mission (ARRM) to determine how scientific and technical objectives applicable to a human Mars mission could be met in other ways. ARRM is an Obama Administration program that Congress has never embraced.

The act notes the Obama’s Administration requests for the Commercial Crew Program were higher than what Congress provided for the program. The “credibility in the Administration’s budgetary estimates for the Commercial Crew Program can be enhanced by an independently developed cost estimate,” the bill states.

Congress also wants to free up hundreds of millions of dollars that NASA contractors have set aside to cover close out costs in the event the government decides to cancel a program for convenience. Large amounts of termination liability funding has been reserved for Orion, SLS, ISS and the James Webb Space Telescope.

“The Administration should vigorously pursue a policy on termination liability that maximizes the utilization of its appropriated funds to make maximum progress in meeting established technical goals and schedule milestones on these high-priority programs,” the legislation states.

The measure supports the To Research, Evaluate, Assess, and Treat Astronauts Act (TREAT Astronauts Act), which is a measure to provide former astronauts with continuing health monitoring to determine any long-term ill effects they might have suffered as a result of long-term stays in space.

Doug Messier <![CDATA[Rocket Lab Raises $75 Million Series D Funding Round]]> 2017-03-21T15:42:25Z 2017-03-21T15:42:25Z
First Electron rocket at launch site. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

By Peter Beck,
Rocket Lab CEO

Today, we announced that Rocket Lab has closed a $75m Series D financing round, led by Data Collective, with additional investors Promus Ventures and an undisclosed investor. We’ve partnered with this esteemed group of investors because of their experience in the space industry.  We also had renewed participation in this round from our existing investors – Khosla Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners and K1W1 – who have provided continued expertise and support as we work to make space accessible to everyone. The closure of the round brings the total funding Rocket Lab has received to date to $148 million, with the company value now in excess of $1 billion (USD).

Currently, small satellite companies wait years to get on orbit, often at the mercy and schedules of larger payloads. With Electron, they will be provided a high-frequency, quality launch service that will take customers where they want to go, when they want to fly. The commercial and humanitarian applications this will open up are endless. The satellites Electron will launch are used to provide optimized crop monitoring, natural disaster prediction, Internet from space, improved weather reporting, up-to-date maritime data and search and rescue services.

Today, we also welcome Matt Ocko of Data Collective to Rocket Lab’s board. We’re delighted to work with Matt and his team, including Chris Boshuizen, who have extensive knowledge of this industry and will bring added expertise to our leadership.

You may have seen that just last month, the first Electron vehicle arrived to Launch Complex 1, our private launch facility on the Mahia Peninsula. As we speak the team is hard at work commissioning the site. In other words, they’re completing hundreds of tests to ensure that all systems are safe and ready for launch.

The test flight program will begin with our first Electron rocket, “It’s a Test,” where we’ll aim to get Rocket Lab’s own flying laboratory, complete with 20,000 data channels, into Low-Earth Orbit. The insight it will gather will prove invaluable as we seek to learn from the first flight and iterate on the vehicle so as to optimize its performance in advance of future launches. We fully expect to meet a few challenges along the way but this will only leave us better prepared as we enter the commercial phase of launch.

Our priorities are safety and security first and foremost. This may mean that as we enter different launches we may decide to “scrub” or delay a launch to ensure these priorities are met. There’s a lot of work to be done and we’re not going to fly unless we’re ready. We’ve got a big year ahead and the team are excited to work through the test phase of our program and begin manufacturing Electron at scale.

This brings me to our next exciting piece of news. We’re incredibly pleased to announce the opening of our new Huntington Beach, California office. While we’ve had a presence in the LA area since 2013, this new facility will enable us to triple our production rate. We’re actively hiring for our engineering and business units and we’re committed to rapidly growing and scaling in both our Huntington Beach HQ and Auckland, NZ office. If you’re interested in open positions please take a look at our careers page.

Join us as we work to make space accessible and follow along here!


Doug Messier <![CDATA[Jeff Bezos Muses About Those Underappreciated Engine Components – Bearings]]> 2017-03-20T17:00:35Z 2017-03-20T17:00:34Z
Finding its bearing: Orbit plot with starting shaft location (red dot) marking each revolution as shaft spirals to its center during propellant fluid film pressurization. (Credit: Blue Origin)

By Jeff Bezos

Although the BE-4 turbopump is smaller than your refrigerator, it generates 70,000 horsepower from a turbine running at nearly 19,000 revolutions per minute that pumps cryogenic propellants to pressures just under 5,000 pounds per square inch. To react the forces generated by the rotating turbine and impellers inside the pump, production rocket turbopumps to date have used traditional ball and roller bearings. For BE-4, we’re doing something different – we’re using hydrostatic bearings.

A hydrostatic bearing relies on a fluid film supplied by a high-pressure source to provide support for the shaft and cause it to float without contacting the static structure except at startup and shutdown. The BE-4 main turbopump uses hydrostatic journal bearings for radial support and hydrostatic axial bearings to carry axial thrust. The system is bootstrapped. The high pressure fluid films for the bearings are supplied by the propellants themselves – liquefied natural gas and liquid oxygen – tapped off from the pump discharge flows.

Material selection is a critical consideration for this approach, as there is physical contact between the bearing surfaces during the start transient before the fluid film is fully established and during the shutdown transient as the fluid film dissipates. With lab-scale tests and full-scale bearing rig tests using actual pump hardware, we evaluated over 20 material combinations in over a hundred tests, leading to our baseline material and coating choices.

Extensive rotordynamic and computational fluid dynamics analyses have shown the feasibility of this design, and recent powerpack tests confirmed that this approach works during the startup and shutdown transients – the most critical phases. The shaft orbit plot below shows that the turbopump lifts off smoothly and centers during a typical start transient, demonstrating a smooth ride on a film of propellant.

Why do we go to all this trouble instead of just using traditional bearings? Engine life. We’re relentlessly focused on reusability, and properly designed hydrostatic bearings offer the potential for longer engine life without refurbishment. This is one of the many engineering decisions we’ve made that we hope will lead to reusability – not just in principle – but to practical, operational reusability. If “reusability” requires significant refurbishment, inspection, and re-validation between flights, then it simply won’t lead to the far lower launch costs we need to achieve our vision of millions of people living and working in space.

We’ll keep you up to date as our testing progresses in the coming weeks.

Gradatim Ferociter!

Jeff Bezos

Doug Messier <![CDATA[This Week on The Space Show]]> 2017-03-20T16:36:24Z 2017-03-20T16:36:24Z
This week on The Space Show with Dr. David Livingston:

1. Monday, March 20, 2017: 2-3:30 PM PDT (5-6:30 PM EDT, 4-5:30 PM CDT): We welcome LAURA MONTGOMERY, ATTY. Ms. Montgomery, a former regulation attorney will speak to Article 6 of the OST and much more.

2. Tuesday, March 21, 2017: 7-8:30 PM PDT, 10-11:30 PM EDT, 9-10:30 PM CDT: We welcome back DWIGHT STEVEN-BONIECKI regarding his new book and film on Skylab.

3. Friday, March 24, 2016: 9:30-11AM PDT; (12:30-2 PM EDT; 11:30 AM – 1 PM CDT): No show today working on tax matters. Check the website newsletter for updates.

4. Sunday, March 26, 2017: 12-1:30 PM DST (3-4:30 PM EDT, 2-3:30 PM CDT): Open Lines. First time callers welcome as are all space and STEM topics..

Doug Messier <![CDATA[OneWeb Breaks Ground on Satellite Factory at Kennedy]]> 2017-03-19T23:01:20Z 2017-03-19T23:01:19Z
One Web Satellites Ground Breaking ceremony at Exploration Park. (Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — The portfolio of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center will soon include large-scale satellite manufacturing following Thursday’s groundbreaking for a 150,000-square foot spacecraft factory in the center’s Exploration Park.

“This is all a part of our vision for a multi-user spaceport,” said Kelvin Manning, associate director of Kennedy. “I think when people signed up to work at Kennedy Space Center, they wanted to come to the place where we launch rockets.”

Planned OneWeb production facility in Exploration Park, Fla. (Credit: OneWeb)

OneWeb, in partnership with Airbus’ American branch, intends to build 2,000 satellites that will form a constellation capable of wirelessly connecting every portion of the world to the Internet. The satellites will launch from the Kennedy spaceport as well, some on New Glenn rockets that will be built in the Blue Origin factory across the street from the OneWeb facility. Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne, an air-launched rocket flying from the Shuttle Landing Facility at Kennedy, also will send some of the OneWeb satellites into orbit.

Rick Scott, governor of Florida, hailed the company’s decision to open the factory at Kennedy, noting the company’s goals enhance the value of the commercial space environment as it develops.

OneWeb satellite factory in Florida (Credit: OneWeb)

“OneWeb’s building this factory and providing jobs and they’re going to provide affordable Internet access worldwide so everybody has a chance to experience the Internet and get the benefits of the Internet,” Scott said.

The development is part of renaissance at the space center built on a philosophy of opening the center’s extensive capabilities and work force to commercial enterprises as well as government operations. It also works close partnerships with organizations such as Space Florida which administers Exploration Park.

“This is another exciting addition to the Multiuser Spaceport at the Kennedy Space Center,” said Tom Engler, acting director of Kennedy’s Center Planning and Development. “Having the OneWeb factory adding to all of the great capability that is here at Kennedy is fantastic. Seeing how we continue to evolve is going to be very exciting.”

Photos by NASA/Kim Shiflett, concept art by OneWeb.

Doug Messier <![CDATA[Dragon Cargo Ship Returns to Earth]]> 2017-03-19T22:46:02Z 2017-03-19T22:46:02Z

Recovery teams en route to Dragon.

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) March 19, 2017

Doug Messier <![CDATA[Former Roscosmos Official Stabbed to Death in Jail]]> 2017-03-19T16:28:29Z 2017-03-19T16:28:29Z

Law enforcement officials in Moscow are investigating the stabbing death in jail of a former top Roscosmos official who was awaiting trial on charges of embezzlement, Tass reports.

Vladimir Yevdokimov was found dead in a cell he shared with 11 other inmates from two stab wounds in the heart and one in the neck. Officials say they are investigating the death as a murder, but they have not ruled out suicide.

Yevdokimov formerly headed up the space agency’s quality and reliability control efforts. He was arrested in December on charges of embezzling 200 million rubles ($3.5 million) from the MIG Russian Aircraft Corporation.

Yevdokimov and an alleged accomplice denied the charge.

Doug Messier <![CDATA[EOS Launches Land Viewer]]> 2017-03-18T05:05:05Z 2017-03-19T09:01:10Z MENLO PARK, Calif. (EOS PR) — Data scientists, GIS engineers and software developers from California-based company EOS have recently launched a cutting-edge cloud-based tool that allows users, journalists, researchers and students to easily search and analyze huge amounts of the most up-to-date earth observation data.

Land Viewer is an on-the-fly, real-time imagery processing and analytics service, which provides:

  • instant access to petabytes of new and archive data;
  • the ability to find geospatial images on any scale in 2 clicks by selecting the required territory on the map or by location name;
  • on-the-fly imagery analytics, with the option to download any images required for business purposes.

The EOS solution enables users to carry out multipurpose research, to find and employ any Earth Observation image available from the Sentinel 2 and Landsat 8 satellites in one place and many times faster than previously. The service is free of charge, simple to use and can be accessed from any browser or device.

With Land Viewer, users are able to explore satellite imagery from the Sentinel 2 and Landsat 8 satellites stored on the Amazon Cloud platform, to apply search filters by date of image acquisition, cloudiness or sun elevation, to analyze images, download and share them with others.

Using tiling technology, Land Viewer can recover scenes from archive data in any zoom in less than 10 seconds. Images can be viewed in different band combinations or in an on-the-fly spectral index such as NDVI, selected to provide the information that best matches the user’s needs. To make this possible, EOS experts have created a technology that transforms on-the-fly raw satellite imagery data stored in 16-bit GeoTIFF format into tiles, which the user can immediately see on the screen in his web browser. There is no need to create and store additional preview screens or to archive data, as the images can be displayed immediately in the browser from raw data.

The user can apply various pre-installed and customized spectral band combinations to highlight and visualize any data type on the image. For example, forest fires are easier to see in the infrared spectrum. Various bands are available for analysis of vegetation, agricultural land, ice cover, rivers, lakes and oceans. Users can review in detail all objects located within a scene, for example, in connection with fires, floods, illegal logging or water resources management. It is also possible to chronologically compare geospatial imagery from 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 to track changes in the development of riverbeds, forests and other natural features.

In February 2017, earth scientists in Israel used Land Viewer to facilitate their research by extracting satellite derived bathymetry to create a 100 m grid map of the seas around the Arabian Peninsula. GIS experts were also able to carry out shallow bathymetry analysis using the very best imagery (no waves, clean atmosphere, good visualization of real bathymetry etc.) available in Land Viewer.

“By 2017, EOS will be listening to the social and commercial pulse of mankind on the planet”, says EOS founder and CEO Max Polyakov. Indeed, the company has the most powerful set of remote sensing image processing technologies at its disposal, while the EOS warehouse aggregates data from a variety of sources: satellites, aerial and UAV. From now on, users can receive access to innovative cloud-based imagery analytics technologies, neural network based methods, point cloud – photogrammetry, change detection, imagery tiling and mosaicking.

Try Land Viewer right now or contact the team for more details:

Doug Messier <![CDATA[ULA’s Delta IV Launches U.S. Air Force Satellite]]> 2017-03-19T05:21:51Z 2017-03-19T05:21:51Z
Delta IV rocket launches the WGS-9 satellite. (Credit: ULA)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla., March 18, 2017 (ULA PR) – A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the ninth Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS-9) satellite for the United States Air Force lifted off from Space Launch Complex-37 on March 18 at 8:18 p.m. EST.

“This launch commemorates the 70th anniversary of the USAF.” said Laura Maginnis, ULA vice president of Government Satellite Launch. “We are absolutely honored to play a role in this important milestone, while safely delivering WGS-9 to orbit.”

This mission was launched aboard a Delta IV Medium+ (5, 4) configuration Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) powered by one common booster core and four solid rocket motors built by Orbital ATK. The common booster core was powered by an RS-68A liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine producing 705,250 pounds of thrust at sea level. A single RL10B-2 liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine powered the second stage. The booster and upper stage engines are both built by Aerojet Rocketdyne. ULA constructed the Delta IV Medium+ (5,4) launch vehicle in Decatur, Alabama.

This is ULA’s 3rd launch in 2017 and the 118th successful launch since the company was formed in December 2006.

“Thank you to the women and men of United Launch Alliance and all of our teammates who have worked tirelessly together to ensure today’s mission success,” said Maginnis. “The team’s number one priority was safely and reliably delivering one of our nation’s most critical satellites.”

WGS-9, the third Block II Follow-on satellite, supports communications links in the X-band and Ka-band spectra. The WGS-9 satellite will be able filter and downlink up to 8.088 GHz of bandwidth. WGS satellites are an important element of a new high-capacity satellite communications system providing enhanced communications capability to our troops in the field.

The EELV program was established by the U.S. Air Force to provide assured access to space for Department of Defense and other government payloads. The commercially developed EELV program supports the full range of government mission requirements, while delivering on schedule and providing significant cost savings over the heritage launch systems.

With more than a century of combined heritage, United Launch Alliance is the nation’s most experienced and reliable launch service provider. ULA has successfully delivered more than 115 satellites to orbit that provide critical capabilities for troops in the field, aid meteorologists in tracking severe weather, enable personal device-based GPS navigation and unlock the mysteries of our solar system.

For more information on ULA, visit the ULA website at, or call the ULA Launch Hotline at 1-877-ULA-4321 (852-4321). Join the conversation at, and

Doug Messier <![CDATA[COBALT Flight Demonstrations Fuse Technologies to Gain Precision Landing Results]]> 2017-03-18T05:21:44Z 2017-03-18T11:21:00Z

Team members from the NASA COBALT team and the Masten Xodiac team hold a pre-campaign TIM (Technical Interchange Meeting) to iron out remaining technical hurdles and operations logistics in preparation for the COBALT payload integration onto Xodiac for the open-loop flight testing. The image is taken in the Masten Xodiac hangar, and Xodiac is in the background. The COBALT payload sits atop Xodiac in the empty payload frame. (Credit: NASA)

MOJAVE, Calif. (NASA PR) — Many regions in the solar system beckon for exploration, but they are considered unreachable due to technology gaps in current landing systems. The CoOperative Blending of Autonomous Landing Technologies (COBALT) project, conducted by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate’s (STMD) and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, could change that.

Through a flight campaign this month through April, COBALT will mature and demonstrate new guidance, navigation and control (GN&C) technologies to enable precision landing for future exploration missions.

“COBALT will allow us to reduce the risk in developing future landing systems and will benefit robotic landers to planetary surfaces by allowing for autonomous precision landing,” said LaNetra Tate, STMD’s Game Changing Development (GCD) program executive. “This will definitely become a game changing technology.”

The campaign will pair and test new landing sensor technologies that promise to yield the highest precision navigation solution ever tested for NASA space landing applications.

The technologies, a Navigation Doppler Lidar (NDL), which provides ultra-precise velocity and line-of-sight range measurements, and the Lander Vision System (LVS), which provides terrain relative navigation, will be integrated and flight tested aboard a rocket-powered vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) platform. The platform, named Xodiac, was developed by Masten Space Systems in Mojave, California.

“In this first flight campaign, we plan to successfully complete the integration, flight testing and performance analysis of the COBALT payload,” explained John M. Carson III, COBALT project manager. “This is considered a passive test, where COBALT will be solely collecting data, while the Xodiac vehicle will rely on its GPS for active navigation.””

Team members from NASA Langley demonstrating the new Navigation Doppler Lidar (NDL) to NASA Headquarters personnel from AES and GCD. (Credit: NASA)

In a follow-up flight campaign in summer 2017, COBALT will become the active navigation system for Xodiac, and the vehicle will use GPS only as a safety monitor and backup.

“The knowledge from these flights will lead into the development of systems for deployment in future NASA landing missions to Mars and the moon,” said Carson.

So how does it work?

The technologies themselves are very different, but together they are a recipe for precision landing.

The NDL, developed at NASA’s Langley Research Center (LaRC), is an evolution of a prototype flown by the former ALHAT (Autonomous precision Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology) project on the NASA Morpheus vehicle in 2014. The new NDL is 60 percent smaller, operates at nearly triple the speed and provides longer range measurements.

“NDL functionally is similar to the radar systems used in previous Mars landers, Phoenix and Mars Science Laboratory,” explained Farzin Amzajerdian, NDL Chief Scientist at Langley. “The major difference is that the NDL uses a laser instead of a microwave as its transmitter. Operating at almost four orders of magnitude higher frequency makes the measurement a whole lot more accurate. NDL also is much smaller than radar systems, which is a big deal as every ounce counts when sending a lander to Mars or other destinations.”

LVS, developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), is a camera-based navigation system that photographs the terrain beneath a descending spacecraft and matches it with onboard maps to determine vehicle location, explained Carl Seubert, the COBALT project lead at JPL.

“This allows the craft to detect its location relative to large landing hazards seen in the onboard maps, such as large boulders and terrain outcroppings,” Seubert said.

COBALT is one springboard for these technologies, which will find their way into future missions. The NDL design is geared toward infusion onto near-term lunar, Mars or other missions.  The LVS was developed for infusion onto the Mars 2020 robotic lander mission, and has application to many other missions.

“Both NDL and LVS come from more than a decade of NASA research and development investments across multiple projects within robotic and human exploration programs, and from the hard work and dedication of personnel across the agency,” said Carson.

“These COBALT technologies give moon and Mars spacecraft the ability to land much more precisely, improving access to interesting sites in complex terrain and to any exploration assets previously deployed to the surface,” said Jason Crusan, director of NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems division. “Landings will also be more controlled and gentle, potentially allowing smaller landing legs and propellant reserves, and resulting in lower mission risk, mass and cost.”

The COBALT team is managed at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, and comprises of engineers from JSC, JPL in Pasadena, California, and LaRC in Hampton, Virginia. All three centers will jointly conduct the flight campaign and post-flight data analysis.

“The progress and success of the COBALT project has relied on the team dynamic between NASA centers that started during the prior ALHAT project,” says Carson. “The team has a common goal to develop and deploy precision landing GN&C technologies, and they maintain constant communication and a focus on collaboration to iron out the technical challenges and operational constraints required to develop, interface and successfully test the sensors and payload.”

COBALT involves multiple NASA programs, including the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate’s Advanced Exploration Systems (AES), and the Game Changing Development and Flight Opportunities programs, both under STMD.

Based at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, the Flight Opportunities program funds technology development flight tests on commercial suborbital space providers of which Masten is a vendor. The program has previously tested the LVS on the Masten rocket and validated the technology for the Mars 2020 rover.

The COBALT flights will demonstrate blended LVS and NDL measurement viability for the precise, controlled soft landing of future missions. While the sensors are key enablers for future human and robotic landing missions to Mars, the moon and other solar system destinations, the COBALT payload also will provide a reusable platform for integration and testing of other precision landing and hazard avoidance capabilities developed within NASA or industry.

For more information about the COBALT project, visit:

For more information about the Flight Opportunities program, visit: