NOAA Continues Push Toward Innovative Partnerships with Second Round of Commercial Weather Data Pilot

Radio occultation helps to increase the accuracy of weather prediction models by measuring the refraction of radio signals beamed through Earth’s atmosphere. (Credit; NOAA)

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NESDIS has awarded contracts to three satellite companies as part of the Commercial Weather Data Pilot (CWDP) Round Two.

Awardees Spire, GeoOptics, and PlanetIQ will each provide space-based radio occultation data to NOAA for the purpose of demonstrating data quality and potential value to NOAA’s weather forecasts and warnings.

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China Launches Remote Sensing Satellite, SpaceX Plans Early Monday Flight

SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts off with a Dragon resupply ship on April 2, 2018. (Credit: NASA)

At least 10 launches are planned worldwide this month. The launches include crew and cargo missions to the International Space Station and the first commercial flight of Rocket Lab’s Electron booster. Orbital ATK’s Pegasus XL will launch NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) from the Marshall Islands on June 14.

China got June off to a successful start on Saturday with the launch of the Gaofen-6 remote sensing satellite aboard a Long March 2D rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

SpaceX is up next, with an early morning launch on Monday morning. A Falcon 9 is set to launch the SES 12 communications satellite from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The four-hour launch window opens at 12:29 a.m. EDT (0429 GMT). The company has no plans to recover the previously used first stage.

The current launch schedule is below. View updates here.

JUNE 2018

June 2

Launch Vehicle: Long March 2D
Payload: Gaofen 6 remote sensing satellite
Launch Site: Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, China
Outcome: Success

June 4

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payload: SES 12 communications satellite
Launch Window: 12:29-1:27 a.m. EDT (0429-0527 GMT)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
Webcast: www.spacex.com

June 6

Launch Vehicle: Soyuz
Payload: ISS 55S Crew flight
Launch Time: 7:11 a.m. EDT (1111 GMT)
Launch Site: Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan
Webcast: www.nasa.gov

June 11

Launch Vehicle: H-2A
Payload: IGS Radar 6 reconnaissance satellite
Launch Window: 12:00-2:00 a.m. EDT (0400-0600 GMT)
Launch Site: Tanegashima Space Center, Japan

June 14

Launch Vehicle: Pegasus XL
Payload: NASA Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) satellite
Launch Time: TBD
Launch Site: L-1011, Kwajalein, Marshall Islands
Webcast: www.nasa.gov

June 22/23

Launch Vehicle: Electron
Payloads: 2 Spire & 1 GeoOptics satellites
Launch Time: TBD
Launch Site: Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand

First commercial flight of Electron.

June 28

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payload: Dragon ISS resupply (CRS-15)
Launch Time: 6:03 a.m. EDT (1003 GMT)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral, Florida
Webcast: www.spacex.com and www.nasa.gov

June TBD

Launch Vehicle: Long March 2C
Payload: PRSS 1 remote sensing satellite
Launch Time: TBD
Launch Site: Taiyuan, China

Launch Vehicle: Long March 3A
Payload: Fengyun 2H geostationary weather satellite
Launch Time: TBD
Launch Site: Xichang, China

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payload: Telstar 19V communications satellite
Launch Window: TBD
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral, Florida
Webcast: www.spacex.com

Rocket Lab Sets Launch Window for First Electron Flight

Electron lifts off on maiden flight from Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

Huntington Beach, Calif., Friday 25 May 2018 (Rocket Lab PR)  — US orbital launch provider Rocket Lab has today confirmed the new launch window for the upcoming ‘It’s Business Time’ mission. The 14-day launch window will open from 23 June to 6 July (NZST), with launch opportunities between 12:30 – 16:30 NZST daily (00:30 – 04:30 UTC).

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NOAA Issues RFP for Commercial Weather Data Pilot Program

NOAA has issued a request for proposals for the second phase of its commercial weather data pilot program.

The program’s goal is to determine whether GPS radio occultation data from commercial satellites can be used to improve weather forecasting. Radio occultation involves the change in a radio signal as it passes through Earth’s atmosphere, allowing for the measurement of physical properties there.

The firm-fixed price contracts for the second phase will run from  Aug. 27, 2018 through Sept. 30, 2019. The data collection and delivery period will run from Oct. 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019.

Companies are required to provide at least two periods of at least three consecutive months of radio occultation data during the collection period. A minimum of 500 atmospheric soundings per day are required. Data must be delivered to NOAA at least once per week.

NASA issued contracts to GeoOptics and Spire for the first phase of the pilot program in September 2016. Space News reports the program did not go very smoothly, but that NOAA officials had learned a number of key lessons from it that are being included in the second phase.

GeoOptics’ contract was terminated when the company was unable to provide data because of delays in the launch of its first satellites.

While Spire did provide data, NOAA officials said later that the quality of the data fell short of expectations. “We have gone through one contract already with the radio occultation community, and we found that the data aren’t accurate enough or comprehensive enough yet to meet our observing requirements,” Stephen Volz, NOAA assistant administrator for satellite and information services, said in January. Spire said that the data from its constellation of cubesats has improved significantly since the end of that initial round of the pilot program in April 2017.

NOAA officials have said for several months that they are working on a report analyzing the results of that first round of the Commercial Weather Data Pilot. However, NOAA spokesman John Leslie said May 7 that the report is still “nearing competition” within the agency and will be released publicly once it is completed.

Proposals for phase two are due on May 25.

Three Launches Scheduled Over Two Days Next Week

ISS with Soyuz and Progress spacecraft docked to it. (Credit: NASA)

There are a dozen orbital launches planned around the world through the end of June.

China will lead off on Sunday as it launches its Chang’e-4 lunar relay satellite from Xichang. A lunar lander and rover targeted for the far side of the moon is scheduled for launch at the end of the year.

Orbital ATK will follow with the launch of a Cygnus resupply ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday from Wallops Island. On Tuesday, SpaceX is scheduled to launch 5 Iridium Next satellites and a pair of scientific spacecraft for NASA.

Other notable missions scheduled through June include a Soyuz crew mission and a SpaceX Dragon resupply flight. Rocket Lab is probably going to launch the first commercial flight of its Electron booster from New Zealand. However, the company has not published a launch window for the flight.

The current global schedule is below. Be sure to check Space Flight Now’s launch schedule for updates.

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Updated Global Launch Schedule for May

Mars InSight lander (Credit: NASA)

There are some interesting launches among the nine orbital flights currently scheduled for May. Highlights include:

  • NASA’s Mars InSight lander with two deep-space CubeSats (May 5);
  • SpaceX’s first flight of a Falcon 9 Block 5 variant (NET May 7);
  • Two Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE Follow-On) satellites (May 19);
  • Orbital ATK’s Antares Cygnus ISS resupply mission (May 20);
  • China’s Chang’e-4 lunar relay satellite with two deep-space microsats (TBD); and,
  • Rocket Lab’s first Electron commercial flight (TBD).

There have been 40 orbital launches through April, with 38 successes, one failure and one partial failure.

The schedule below is subject to change. Please check with our friends at Spaceflight Now for updates.
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Rocket Lab Plans First Commercial Launch

Eelectron rocket on the launch pad. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

Huntington Beach, Calif., 3 April 2018 (Rocket Lab PR) — US orbital launch provider Rocket Lab has today confirmed it will open a 14-day launch window this month to conduct the company’s first fully commercial launch. The mission, named ‘It’s Business Time’, includes manifested payloads for Spire Global and GeoOptics Inc., built by Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems.

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Secondary Payloads Increasingly Take Center Stage

CubeSats (Credit: ESA/Medialab)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On most launches, the small secondary satellites that ride along with the primary payloads garner little attention.

That has begun to change in recent years as CubeSats have become increasingly capable. The importance of these small satellites could be seen in the recent launch of an Indian PSLV rocket, which carried a CartoSat Earth observation satellite and 30 secondary spacecraft from India, Canada, Finland, France, Republic of Korea, UK and the United States.

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Soyuz Rocket Launches 73 Satellites in One Flight

Soyuz-2 launch (Credit: Roskosmos)

A Russian Soyuz-2 rocket deployed 48 Planet Dove and eight Spire Lemur CubeSats on Friday during a flight that deployed a total of 73 satellites.

The Dove and Lemur satellites were secondary payloads on the launch, whose main mission was to deploy the Kanopus-V-IK remote sensing satellite.

Planet co-founder Will Marshall tweeted that all 48 satellites were deployed as planned and were in contact with ground controllers.

The Soyuz also launched three Cicero radio occultation satellites for GeoOptics and two Corvus-BC imaging CubeSats for Astro Digital.  Both companies are based in the United States.

In addition to Russia and the United States, the 72 secondary satellites came from Canada, Germany Japan, and Norway.

Harnessing the Small Satellite Revolution

Members of the NASA Ames Nodes Integration & Test team ready to integrate the Nodes 1 and 2 spacecraft (forefront) into the Nanoracks dispenser.(Credit: NASA)
Members of the NASA Ames Nodes Integration & Test team ready to integrate the Nodes 1 and 2 spacecraft (forefront) into the Nanoracks dispenser.(Credit: NASA)

by Steve Fetter and Tom Kalil
White House OSTP

Today, astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly are visiting the White House to talk to the President about developing innovative new space technologies. One critical area for technology development is making satellites more affordable, adaptable, and adept at providing the sorts of real-time information that will help advance knowledge out in space and on Earth.

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NOAA Awards Commercial Weather Data Program Contracts

noaa_logoWASHINGTON (NOAA PR) — On September 15, 2016, NOAA awarded contracts to GeoOptics, Inc., and Spire Global, Inc., as part of the Commercial Weather Data Pilot.

GeoOptics and Spire Global will each provide space-based GNSS radio occultation data to NOAA for the purpose of demonstrating data quality and potential value to NOAA’s weather forecasts and warnings. This approach is a win-win solution. Both NOAA and the commercial firms will gain a trial run of the NOAA evaluation process, a necessary first step to considering sustained operational use of new commercial weather data.

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LauncherOne’s Long & Winding Road to Orbit: A Timeline

LauncherOne stage separation. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
LauncherOne stage separation. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

If the current schedule holds, Virgin Galactic’s revamped LauncherOne program will enter commercial service sometime in 2018 after roughly a decade of development. During that period, the program has been redefined several times, lost two of the key people hired to lead it, and changed its launch platform from WhiteKnightTwo to a jumbo jet. The estimates for the initial flight tests also have slipped by about  four years from 2013 to 2017.

Below is a timeline of the program’s major events, milestones, announcements, hires and departures, and other things. Feel free to let me know if I’ve missed anything significant.

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Virgin Galactic Focused on Larger Satellite Launch Vehicle

Artist's conception of WhiteKnightTwo with LauncherOne (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
Artist’s conception of WhiteKnightTwo with LauncherOne (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic is developing a rocket more powerful than LauncherOne to fulfill a recent order for 39 launches from its global satellite Internet partner OneWeb, according to sources familiar with the program.

LauncherTwo will use Virgin Galactic’s largest liquid fuel engine, NewtonThree, in its first stage, according to sources that insisted upon anonymity. A new engine, NewtonFour, will be developed for the second stage.

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