Busy Launch Week With Flights to ISS, Electron Test

The Soyuz MS-06 spacecraft launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

We’ve got a busy launch week coming up with a new three-man crew headed for the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX launching a Dragon resupply mission to the station, and Rocket Lab attempting the second flight test of its Electron small-satellite launcher. Europe and China are also launching satellites this week.

December 10

Launch Vehicle: Long March 3B
Payload: Alcomsat 1 communications satellite (Algeria)
Launch Time: Approx. 1635 GMT (11:35 a.m. EST)
Launch Site: Xichang, China

December 10/11

Launch Vehicle: Electron
Payloads: 3 Planet and Spire CubeSats
Launch Window: 0130-0530 GMT on 11th (8:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m. EST on 10/11th)
Launch Site: Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand
Webcast: http://www.rocketlabusa.com

December 12

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payload: Dragon (CRS 13 mission)
Launch Time: 1646 GMT (11:46 a.m. EST)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
Webcast: http://www.spacex.com and http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv/

Launch Vehicle: Ariane 5
Payloads: Galileo 19-22 navigation satellites
Launch Time: 1836:07 GMT (1:36:07 p.m. EST)
Launch Site: ELA-3, Kourou, French Guiana
Webcast: http://www.esa.int

December 17

Launch Vehicle: Soyuz
Payload: Soyuz spacecraft with Anton Shkaplerov (Roscosmos), Scott Tingle (NASA) and Norishige Kanai (JAXA)
Launch Time: 0720 GMT (2:20 a.m. EST)
Launch Site: Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan
Webcast: http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv/

Defense Act Calls for Upgrades to Eastern & Western Launch Ranges

SpaceX launched its 12th resupply mission to the International Space Station from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 12:31 p.m. EDT on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017. (Credit: NASA Television)

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) mandates the Department of Defense to undertaken a program to modernize the infrastructure and improve support services on the Eastern and Western launch ranges in Florida and California. The measure, passed by Congress, awaits President Donald Trump’s signature.

“The program….shall include investments to improve operations at the Eastern and Western Ranges that may benefit all users, to enhance the overall capabilities of ranges, to improve safety, and  to reduce the long-term costs of operations and maintenance,” the bill reads.

The act also includes measures to improve processes across both ranges to “minimize the burden on launch providers” and “improvements in transparency, flexibility, and, responsiveness for launch scheduling.”

The NDAA allows the DOD to consult with current and anticipated users of the two ranges and to pursue partnerships if appropriate. The DOD is given 120 days after enactment of the act to submit a report on planned improvements to congressional defense committees.

The commanders of the U.S. Air Force space wings that run the ranges have said they need more funding to maintain and upgrade aging infrastructure as they cope with a surge in commercial launches. The failure of Congress to pass budgets in time for the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1 and automatic budgets mandated under sequestration have also hindered long-term planning, the commanders said.

The Eastern Range, which handles launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, was recently closed for two weeks to tackle 85 high-priority maintenance projects. The western range at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California uses radar systems that were built in the 1950’s.

A Tale of 2 Launch Ranges: The Best & Worst of Times

ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the MUOS-4 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA)

America’s Eastern and Western launch ranges in Florida and California are struggling to keep up with increasing demand from the nation’s booming commercial launch industry while dealing with budget uncertainties in Washington, U.S. Air Force officials said last week.

The Eastern Range has been dealing with a surge of flights this year from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center as SpaceX has increased its launch cadence. Elon Musk’s company and rival United Launch Alliance (ULA) has launched 18 times from Florida thus far, with two more SpaceX flights on the schedule for later this month.

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Falcon Heavy Debut Slips to January

Artist’s conception of a Falcon Heavy launch. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX has slipped the maiden flight of its Falcon Heavy booster to January. The rocket, whose first stage is composed of three Falcon 9 cores with 27 engines, will lift off from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.  The flight will be preceded by a hold-down test on the launch pad in which all 27 first stage engines will be fired.

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SpaceX Receives Approval for Dragon Facility at Cape Canaveral

Planned expansion of Landing Zone 1 (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX has received approval for the addition of a Dragon processing and refurbishment facility and static fire test stand at Cape Canaveral adjacent to Landing Zone 1 where Falcon 1 stages return to Earth.

The approval came from the St. Johns River Water Management District, which reviewed the project’s plan for storm water infrastructure.

“The Processing Facility finished floor, the building apron, and the static fire test pad will be constructed of concrete while the surrounding aprons and associated pathways will be constructed of a crushed gravel mixture,” according to the application. “A storm water management system will be constructed to retain all water on-site for percolation.”

The static fire test stand will be used to test launch abort motors for the Dragon 2 crew vehicle that is set to make its maiden flight early next year. The project area covers 7.6 acres.

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DiBello: Florida Faces Possible Shortage of Aerospace Talent

Space Florida President Frank DiBello
Space Florida President Frank DiBello

Florida’s success in drawing companies such as Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman and OneWeb to the Space Coast could create a shortage of aerospace talent in the future, Space Florida CEO Frank DiBello said on Tuesday.

“I would even go so far as to say that this is the area I am most worried about for our aerospace future,” DiBello told several hundred guests at a National Space Club Florida Committee meeting in Cape Canaveral….

The Space Coast, anchored by the civil and military and space programs at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, has long been a hub for skilled aerospace workers.

And new companies had a ready supply to draw from after the retirement of NASA’s shuttle program in 2011 resulted in roughly 8,000 layoffs of contractors.

But looking ahead, DiBello said Florida does not produce enough aerospace-related degrees and lags a dozen states in attracting federal funding for space-related research, metrics that need to improve.

A source on the Space Coast recently told Parabolic Arc that NASA’s exploration ground system program, which is developing supporting infrastructure for the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft, has been impacted by workers taking positions with Blue Origin, which is building a rocket production facility nearby and modifying a launch pad at Cape Canaveral.
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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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SpaceX Again Aims for High Launch Cadence

Falcon 9 launch (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX’ is hoping the fourth time will be a charm.

For the fourth year in a row, SpaceX is trying to significant increase its launch rate.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp, better known as SpaceX, plans to launch its Falcon 9 rockets every two to three weeks, its fastest rate since starting launches in 2010, once a new launch pad is put into service in Florida next week, the company’s president told Reuters on Monday.

“We should be launching every two to three weeks,” SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell told Reuters in an interview on Monday.

During each of the past three years, the company tried to vastly improve its launch cadence only to hit significant setbacks.

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SpaceX to Launch Dragon Supply Ship from Historic Launch Pad 39A

SpaceX’s 300-foot long processing hangar, which stands at the base of Launch Pad 39A, and the upgraded launch infrastructure will support the needs of astronauts and ground support staff who will access SpaceX’s Crew Dragon as it stands on the pad for launch to the International Space Station. (Credit: SpaceX)

NASA’s historic Launch Complex 39A will see its first flight in nearly six years in mid-February when a SpaceX Falcon 9 launches a Dragon resupply ship to the International Space Station.

The California-based company announced over the weekend that the launch of the EchoStar 23 communications satellite, set to be the first from the renovated pad, would be delayed until after the CRS-10 Dragon supply flight.

SpaceX is leasing the historic launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center under a 20-year agreement with NASA. The company has been modifying the launch complex for launches of the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters.

SpaceX’s main launch complex at the adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station has been out of action since September when a Falcon 9 caught fire and exploded as it was being fueled for a pre-flight engine test. Repairs are still under way.

Pad 39A last saw a launch in July 2011 with the 135th and final space shuttle mission. Atlantis flew a nearly 13-day logistics flight to the space station. Prior to the start of the shuttle program in 1981, the complex hosted Saturn V launches for the Apollo program.

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Orbital Launch Statistics for 2016

The Soyuz MS-02 rocket is launched with Expedition 49 Soyuz commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos, flight engineer Shane Kimbrough of NASA, and flight engineer Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Ryzhikov, Kimbrough, and Borisenko will spend the next four months living and working aboard the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)
The Soyuz MS-02 rocket is launched with Expedition 49 Soyuz commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos, flight engineer Shane Kimbrough of NASA, and flight engineer Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Part 2 of 2

There were 85 orbital launches in 2016, not including the Falcon 9 that exploded on launch pad prior to a pre-flight engine test. The launches break down as follow:

  • United States: 22 (22-0)
  • China: 22 (20-1-1)
  • Russia: 19 (18-1)
  • Europe: 9 (9-0)
  • India: 7 (7-0)
  • Japan: 4 (4-0)
  • Israel: 1 (1-0)
  • North Korea: 1 (1-0)

For a more detailed description of these launches, please read US, China Led World in Launches in 2016.

Let’s look at launches by booster and spaceport and the flights that were required for human spaceflight.
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Space Florida Approves Minotaur Launches From Florida

minotaur4
Minotaur IV booster

The Space Florida Board of Directors last week approved a plan to allow Orbital ATK to use Launch Complex 46 (SLC-46) at Cape Canaveral for Minotaur launches. The board instructed staff members to complete negotiations and enter into a contract with the Virginia-based company.

The board’s approval clears the way for Orbital ATK to launch the U.S. Air Force’s Office of Operationally Responsive Space’s ORS-5 SensorSat spacecraft in mid-2017.

SensorSat will be launched aboard a Minotaur IV rocket under a $23.6 million contract.

“The risks associated with operating the site and launching the vehicle are born by [Orbital ATK],” according to the board’s meeting agenda. “The Company will pay a reimbursement fee to Space Florida for all fees and costs incurred by Space Florida associated with the use of the Premises.”

SLC-46 increases the locations where Minotaur rockets can be launched to four. Orbital ATK has launch facilities for the booster in Virginia, California and Alaska.

Space Florida is eyeing SLC-46 for other launches, including or a test of the Orion abort system in 2019.

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KSC Avoids Direct Hit By Hurricane Matthew

This visible image on Oct. 6 at 1:00 p.m. EDT from NOAA's GOES-East satellite shows Hurricane Matthew as it regained Category 4 Hurricane Status. (Credits: NASA/NOAA GOES Project)
This visible image on Oct. 6 at 1:00 p.m. EDT from NOAA’s GOES-East satellite shows Hurricane Matthew as it regained Category 4 Hurricane Status. (Credits: NASA/NOAA GOES Project)

Hurricane Matthew Update
NASA Kennedy Space Center

Oct. 7, 2016, 9:45 a.m. EDT – Hurricane Matthew has now passed offshore from Cape Canaveral and is north of Kennedy Space Center.  The wind is starting to decline but remains near tropical storm strength.  However, until the wind is consistently below 50 knots a crew cannot be sent outside to begin a more thorough look at KSC. That is expected sometime this afternoon.  At this time there is observed to be limited roof damage to KSC facilities, water and electrical utilities services have been disrupted and there is scattered debris. Storm surge has been observed to be relatively minimal, limited to localized portions of the space center. The Damage Assessment and Recovery Team will be brought in for its formal assessment Saturday morning.

Editor’s Note: KSC and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station dodged a bullet by avoiding a direct hit. The hurricane ended up tracking about 20 miles to the east of where forecasters initially believed. This kept the strongest winds off shore.

Hurricane Matthew Bears Down on Cape Canaveral

Video Caption: Cameras on the International Space Station captured new views of Hurricane Matthew at 4 p.m. Eastern time Oct. 5 as the Category 3 storm moved to the north of Cuba toward the Bahamas at about 12 miles an hour, packing winds of 120 miles an hour. After inflicting major damage to western Haiti and eastern Cuba, Matthew is heading toward the east coast of Florida where it could pass close to or over NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The National Hurricane Center has issued hurricane warnings from north of Golden Beach, Florida to the Flagler/Volusia county line to Lake Okeechobee.

Editor’s Note: There’s a lot of concern that Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Base could get hit pretty hard by this storm. Both facilities are being evacuated and will be shut down the rest of the week. There’s concern the Vehicle Assembly Building and other structures could be damaged by the high winds.

SpaceX Pad Explosion Endangered NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft

Credit: USLaunchReport.com
Credit: USLaunchReport.com

“No sooner had we accomplished the securing of the pumps when I was approached by another one of our range users who explained they were losing pressure on the chillers at a neighboring launch complex. Without those chillers the spacecraft for the next launch would be lost. [Emphasis added] Needless to say at this point I had to reestablish our priorities and get a team working on a way to get our IRT into Space Launch Complex 41 to allow access for technicians to enter in order to make the necessary repairs.”

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx was sitting on top of an ULA Atlas V on Space Launch Complex 41. Read the full story below.

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Blue Origin Eyes Second Launch Complex in Florida

Brig. Gen. Steven Garland, 14th Air Force vice commander, left, provides remarks at a Blue Origin media event held at Space Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, Sept 15, 2015. (Credit: USAF/Matthew Jurgens)
Brig. Gen. Steven Garland, 14th Air Force vice commander, left, provides remarks at a Blue Origin media event held at Space Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, Sept 15, 2015. (Credit: USAF/Matthew Jurgens)

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is looking to expand its footprint on Florida’s Space Coast:

Blue Origin has asked permission to build at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on a launch pad that has been dormant since the 1960’s.

Billionaire Jeff Bezos’ company wants to build on Space Launch Complex 11, which hasn’t seen a launch since 1964, and the adjacent Space Launch Complex 36.

The plan was revealed in permit applications with the St. Johns River Water Management District, which oversees permitting on that land.

The permits hint at a plan to test rockets onsite while launching from the launch pad.

Read the full story.