Atlas V for First Starliner Flight Coming Together in Alabama

The Atlas V rocket that will launch Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft on the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. (Credit: ULA)

DECATUR, Ala. (NASA PR) — The Atlas V rocket that will launch Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft for the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is coming together inside a United Launch Alliance facility in Decatur, Alabama.

The uncrewed Orbital Flight Test is intended to prove the design of the integrated space system prior to the Crew Flight Test. These events are part of NASA’s required certification process as the company works to regularly fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Boeing and United Launch Alliance have begun conducting integrated reviews of components, software and systems along with decades of Atlas data to ensure integrated vehicle test simulations are similar to real-life conditions during missions. Starliners for the uncrewed and crew test flights, including for the pad abort test, are in various stages of production and testing.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with private companies, Boeing and SpaceX, as they each develop unique systems to fly astronauts for the agency to and from the space station. SpaceX is developing the Crew Dragon, or Dragon 2, spacecraft to launch on a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Boeing’s Starliner will liftoff on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Busy Stretch of Launches Coming Up

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Dragon spacecraft on board, (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

There is a busy schedule of launches for the rest of the month. Nine launches are on tap, including seven in the next week. SpaceX is planning three flights this month, including launches from Florida and California within two days next week.

October 7

Atlas V
Payload: NROL-52 reconnaissance satellite
Launch time: 0759 GMT (3:59 a.m. EDT)
Launch site: SLC-41, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida

October 9

Long March 2D
Payload: Venezuelan Remote Sensing Satellite
Launch time: Approx. 12:10 a.m. EDT (0410 GMT)
Launch site: Jiuquan, China

Falcon 9
Payload: Iridium Next 21-30 communications satellites
Launch time: 8:37 a.m. EDT; 5:37 a.m. PDT (1237 GMT )
Launch site: Vandenberg Air Force Base, California

H-2A
Payload: Michibiki 4 navigation satellite
Launch time: Approx. 6 p.m. EDT (2200 GMT)
Launch site: Tanegashima Space Center, Japan

October 11

Falcon 9
Payload: SES 11/EchoStar 105 communications satellite
Launch window: 6:53-8:53 p.m. EDT (2253-0053 GMT)
Launch site: LC-39A, Kennedy Space Center, Florida

October 12

Soyuz
Payload: Progress 68P resupply ship
Launch time: 5:32 a.m. EDT (0932 GMT)
Launch site: Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan

October 13

Rockot
Payload: Sentinel 5p Earth observation satellite
Launch time: 5:27 a.m. EDT (0927 GMT)
Launch site: Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Russia

October 17

Minotaur-C
Payload: 6 SkySat Earth observation satellites
Launch time: 5:37 p.m. EDT; 2:37 p.m. PDT (2137 GMT)
Launch site: SLC-576E, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California

October 30

Falcon 9
Payload: Koreasat 5A communications satellite
Launch window: 3:34-5:58 p.m. EDT (1934-2158 GMT)
Launch site: Cape Canaveral, Florida

California Considers Tax on Launches Within the State

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the WorldView-4 spacecraft lifts off from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Credit: ULA)

California’s Franchise Tax Board is seeking public comment on a proposed new tax that would fall upon ULA, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and other companies launching spacecraft from within the state.

The levy would apply to companies “that generates more than 50 percent of its gross receipts from the provision of space transportation activity for compensation in a taxable year,” the proposal states. Space is defined as 62 statute miles (100 km) or more above Earth.
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Outgoing USAF Acquisition Chief Worried About Access to Space

Orion Exploration Flight Test launch. (Credit: NASA)
Orion Exploration Flight Test launch. (Credit: NASA)

Outgoing U.S. Air Force Acquisition Chief William LaPlante has expressed concern about maintaining access to space as ULA transitions to a new launch vehicle:

LaPlante leaves his post with at least one nagging concern: ensuring access to space. Congress recently pushed to move away from reliance on Russian-made engines to launch satellites into space, but LaPlante doubts the US can quickly transition entirely to a homegrown engine while simultaneously ensuring competition and maintaining access to space.

“I think the space launch situation is serious for the country.” LaPlante told reporters during a Nov. 24 media roundtable at the Pentagon. “You can get competition, you can get two independent ways to get into space or you can get off the Russian engines — I don’t see how you do all three in the next four years.”

LaPlante’s remarks come on the heels of a controversial showdown between the Pentagon and United Launch Alliance, which until this year was the sole provider of military launch. ULA recently pulled out of the Air Force’s GPS III competition, citing insufficient stores of the Russian RD-180 rocket engine after Congress banned the use of the power plant for military satellite launches after 2019.

Read the full story.

SpaceX’s Philosophy: Reliability Through Continual Upgrades

falcon9_debris
Remains of a Falcon 9 rocket fall to Earth.

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

To succeed in the launch business, you need to be very, very good and more than a little bit lucky. Eventually, there comes a day when you are neither.

That is what happened to SpaceX on June 28. A string of 18 successful Falcon 9 launches was snapped as the company’s latest rocket broke up in the clear blues skies over the Atlantic Ocean. A Dragon supply ship headed for the International Space Station was lost, SpaceX’s crowded manifest was thrown into confusion, and the company’s reputation for reliability was shattered.

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