SpaceX had a banner year in 2017, launching a record 18 times and helping to propel the United States to the top of the global launch table with a perfect 29-0 record. The U.S. total made up 32.2 percent of 90 orbital launches worldwide, which was an increase over the 85 flights conducted in 2016.
The 29 American launches were a leap of seven over the 22 flights conducted the previous year. This is the highest number of American orbital launches since the 31 flights undertaken in 1999. However, that year the nation’s launch providers suffered four failures whereas they were perfect in 2017.
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.
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.
The Atlas V and Falcon 9 launches delayed by a problem on the Eastern Range have been rescheduled for April 10 and 14, respectively.
ULA’s Atlas V will launch NROL-67 — a National Reconnaissance Office payload — from Cape Canaveral on Thursday at 1:45 p.m. EDT. The launch window extends to 2:26 p.m. EDT. The company usually streams launched at www.ulalaunch.com.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 will launch a Dragon freighter to the International Space Station. Liftoff is scheduled for 4:58 p.m. EDT. The company typically streams its launches at www.spacex.com.
The launches were delayed because of a fire that knocked out a crucial radar unit the U.S. Air Force uses to track launches. Florida Today has a story about the problems on the Eastern Range, which include aging technology and budget cutbacks.
Below is a list of upcoming launches worldwide.
Luch 5V & Kazsat 3
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Range CBA Commercial Engagement Agency: Department of the Air Force Office: Air Force Space Command
Headquarters Air Force Space Command, Launch and Range Requirements Division (HQ AFSPC/A5R) intends to hold a public forum to discuss a potential future concept to convert the Eastern Range (in part or whole) and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) from an Air Force managed range to an FAA-licensed commercial launch site (i.e., a spaceport).
The concept explores an approach where launch programs (U.S, commercial, civil, and national security space sector launch and test and evaluation (T&E) programs) contract for support services as needed for their missions from an FAA-licensed commercial launch site operator that manages the transportation and utility infrastructure, support services, and range capabilities as a business. This effort is directed by AFSPC Commander as part of a larger Range Capabilities Based Assessment (CBA).