Antares to Kick Off Busy Launch Period

The Orbital ATK Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft onboard, launches from Pad-0A, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Orbital ATK’s sixth contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station is delivering over 5,100 pounds of science and research, crew supplies and vehicle hardware to the orbital laboratory and its crew. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The launch of an Orbital ATK Antares rocket on Saturday morning will be the first of four launches planned over the next five days.

The Antares will launch a Cygnus resupply ship to the International Space Station. It is the second flight of the re-engineered Antares booster, which includes two Russian-made RD-181 engines in its first stage. Launch time is set for 7:37 a.m. EST (1237 GMT) from Wallops Island in Virginia. NASA TV will provide launch coverage.

ULA’s Delta II booster will launch NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System 1 (JPSS-1) weather satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Tuesday, Nov. 14. The launch window extends from 1:47:03 to 1:48:05 a.m. PST (4:47:03-4:48:05 a.m. EST or 0947:03-0948:05 GMT).  NASA TV will provide launch coverage. It will be the penultimate flight of the venerable Delta II rocket.

SpaceX is scheduled to launch the mysterious Zuma payload on Wednesday, Nov. 15 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Built by Northrop Grumman for the U.S. government, there are no other details about the spacecraft. The launch window extends from 8:00 to 10 p.m. EST (0100-0300 GMT on Nov. 16). It’s not clear whether SpaceX will webcast the flight.

China will launch the Fengyun 3D weather satellite into polar orbit aboard a Long March 4C booster from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on Wednesday, Nov. 15. The launch window is not known.

JPSS-1 to Provide More Accurate Environmental Forecasts

This illustration depicts the Joint Polar Satellite System-1, or JPSS-1, spacecraft designed to provide forecasters with crucial environmental science data to provide a better understanding of changes in the Earth’s weather, oceans and climate. (Credit: Ball Aerospace)

By Bob Granath
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

NASA is preparing to launch the Joint Polar Satellite System-1, or JPSS-1, satellite on behalf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to provide essential data for timely and accurate weather forecasts and for tracking environmental events such as forest fires and droughts.

(more…)

Dawn Mission Celebrates 10 Years in Space

Dawn launched 10 years ago on Sept. 27, 2007. (Credits: NASA/Sandra Joseph and Rafael Hernandez)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Ten years ago, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft set sail for the two most massive bodies in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter: giant asteroid Vesta and dwarf planet Ceres. The mission was designed to deliver new knowledge about these small but intricate worlds, which hold clues to the formation of planets in our solar system.

(more…)

Are SpaceX’s 60 to 80 Hour Work Weeks Really Such a Good Idea?

Credit: USLaunchReport.com
Credit: USLaunchReport.com

Elon Musk has been credited with bringing Silicon Valleyesque practices to the rocket industry: the 60 to 80 hour weeks, frequent hardware as software upgrades, multi-tasking, free coffee, vested stock options, gala holiday parties each more extravagant than the last, and the other things.

(more…)

Russia Led in Launch Successes and Failures in 2015

Flight VS13 was the 13th Soyuz liftoff performed from French Guiana since this vehicle’s 2011 introduction at the Spaceport. (Credit: Arianespace)
Flight VS13 was the 13th Soyuz liftoff performed from French Guiana since this vehicle’s 2011 introduction at the Spaceport. (Credit: Arianespace)

Russia continued its dominance of the global satellite launch industry in 2015, conducting 29 of 86 orbital launches over the past 12 months. It also maintained its lead in botched launches, suffering two failures and one partial failure.

(more…)

ULA Delta II Launches NASA Environmental Satellite

Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., (Jan. 31, 2015) – A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta II rocket carrying the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) payload for NASA lifted off from Space Launch Complex-2 at 6:22 a.m. PST today. This launch marks ULA’s second launch of 13 planned for 2015, and the 93rd successful mission since the company was formed.

(more…)

Atlas V Launches U.S. Navy Satellite

Atlas V launches MUOS-3 satellite. (Credit: ULA)
Atlas V launches MUOS-3 satellite. (Credit: ULA)

Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., (Jan. 20, 2015) – A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the third Mobile User Objective System satellite for the United States Navy launched from Space Launch Complex-41 at 8:04 p.m. EST today. The MUOS-3 spacecraft will ensure continued mission capability of the existing Ultra High Frequency Satellite Communications system that will provide improved and assured mobile communications to the warfighter.

(more…)

ULA Celebrates Banner Launch Year

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

Centennial, Colo., Dec. 29, 2014 (ULA PR) – United Launch Alliance, the nation’s premier space launch provider, congratulates its employees, suppliers and customers on another successful year, reliably and affordably launching 14 satellites to orbit with 100 percent mission success.

(more…)

2014: The Year We Realized Space is Hard (Part I)

A massive explosion occurred right after the Antares rocket hit the ground.
A massive explosion occurred right after the Antares rocket hit the ground. (Credit: NASA TV)

Sometimes things can go so well for so long that we forget – or try not to remember – just how difficult some tasks can be to achieve. Like getting to space, for example.

That reality was driven home during three days in October when an expendable booster exploded in Virginia and an experimental space plane crashed in the Mojave Desert in California. This is the first of a multi-part series looking at these accidents and their impacts.

++++++++

On Oct. 28, an Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket exploded in spectacular fashion after takeoff from Wallops Island, Va. The rocket was carrying a Cygnus freighter bound for the International Space Station (ISS) under a contract with NASA.

(more…)

ULA Delta II Puts NASA Environmental Satellite into Orbit

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta II rocket carrying the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) payload for NASA lifted off from Space Launch Complex-2 at 2:56 a.m. PDT today. (Credit: United Launch Alliance)
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta II rocket carrying the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) payload for NASA lifted off from Space Launch Complex-2 at 2:56 a.m. PDT today. (Credit: United Launch Alliance)

Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., July 2, 2014 (ULA PR) – A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta II rocket carrying the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) payload for NASA lifted off from Space Launch Complex-2 at 2:56 a.m. PDT today. This launch marks the 51st Delta II mission for NASA and Delta II’s return to flight as the first of two planned Delta II launches this year, and also the seventh ULA launch of 2014 and the 84th since the company was formed.

“Congratulations to the NASA Launch Services Program team, JPL and all of our mission partners on the successful launch of the OCO-2 satellite,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Atlas and Delta Programs. “It is our honor to launch this important mission that will gather the scientific data to better understand planet earth.”

(more…)

A Closer Look at Orbital Sciences’ Stable of Launch Vehicles

Antares_first_launch
Continuing our look at U.S. launch vehicles, we turn our spotlight onto Orbital Sciences Corporation.  Although the Virginia company is traditionally a supplier of small launch vehicles, it recently made the leap to medium-lift rockets.

Orbital currently operates four launch vehicles:

  • Pegasus, an air-launched solid-fuel vehicle for small satellites;
  • Taurus, a land-based variant of the Pegasus booster with a decommissioned Peacekeeper ballistic missile used as the first stage;
  • Minotaur, a family of small solid-fuel launchers that uses a mixture of decommissioned Peacekeeper and Minuteman II ballistic missile stages and Pegasus and Taurus technology; and,
  • Antares, a new medium-class, liquid-fuel booster developed under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program that will launch Cygnus freighters to the International Space Station.

The company also is developing a new air-launched rocket nicknamed Pegasus II for Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch Systems company. This new medium launch vehicle is set to make its debut flight in 2016.

Let’s now take a closer look at Orbital’s programs. The launch history tables below are adapted from Wikipedia.

(more…)

ULA Wins NASA Launch for Delta II

deltaii_aquarius
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (NASA PR) —
NASA’s Launch Services Program at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida has selected United Launch Services LLC of Englewood, Colo., to provide Delta II launch services for the Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) mission, currently scheduled for July 2016.
(more…)

Delta II Launches Aquarius Satellite

30th Space Wing Public Affairs — VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — Team Vandenberg launched a Delta II rocket carrying the Aquarius/SAC-D (Satelite de Aplicaciones Cientificas) observatory from Space Launch Complex-2 here at 7:20 a.m. PDT.

Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, was the launch decision authority.

“Team Vandenberg performed brilliantly once again in ensuring safe and successful launch operations,” said Colonel Boltz. “We wish our mission partners at NASA well as they begin their important work with Aquarius.”

(more…)

The High Cost of Reaching the High Frontier

The table above is adapted from data in the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation: 2010 Year In Review report. Shown are data on commercial rockets for which there is information on launch costs. I also added in mission types (LEO, GEO and SSO) for those launches with price information. Note that for the Rockot, Soyuz 2 and Proton M, there were some flights for which there is no price information.

These figures provide us with a good guide to what getting into orbit costs and the competitive positions of the various providers. A few things to note:

  • The commercial rocket field is dominated by Russia, the United States and Europe. Dnepr is a Ukrainian rocket launched from Russia.
  • Aside from the parties listed above, no other country launched a commercial orbital flight last year.
  • Proton has the highest payload capacity to LEO, but it launches less to GTO than Ariane 5 and Delta IV Medium + (4,2) .
  • Proton prices for GEO missions are the lowest at $85 million. However,certain Proton flights are priced at $100 million, which is comparable to the Delta IV Medium + (4,2).
  • Falcon 9 is competitive with Soyuz 2 on price to LEO and can haul larger payloads to both LEO and GTO. However, there is a large flight history gap: Soyuz 2 traces its lineage back to 1966 while Falcon 9 entered service only last year.
  • Falcon 9 has a comparable payload to the Delta IV Medium + (4,2) to LEO. However, it has a somewhat smaller payload to GTO.
  • Dnepr and Rockot are both modified Soviet-era ICBMs serving the low end of the LEO market.