As space has become a war-fighting domain, the Defense Department (DOD) faces challenges in assessing how its satellites can survive threats against them, erecting a Space Fence to better track satellites and debris in Earth orbit, and upgrading the Global Positioning System (GPS), according to a new report from the director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E).
“The DOD intends to invest at least $100 billion in space systems over the next decade, and we are not alone,” the report stated. “We therefore must thoroughly understand how our systems will perform in space, particularly when facing manmade threats,” Robert F. Behler wrote in the 2019 annual report.
“Yet, the DOD currently has no real means to assess adequately the operational effectiveness, suitability, and survivability of space-based systems in a representative environment,” he added. (Download full report)
Last year was a busy one for suborbital flights as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic conducted a combined four flights of their crewed suborbital vehicles. Despite hopes to the contrary, neither company flew paying tourists on their spaceships.
There were also 26 sounding rocket launches that carried scientific experiments and technology payloads above the atmosphere. The year saw:
Japanese startup Interstellar Technologies conduct a successful launch of its Momo commercial sounding rocket;
Texas-based Exos Aerospace continue to struggle with its reusable SARGE booster; and,
the first suborbital launch ever achieved by college students.
There were 15 flight tests of eight suborbital boosters in 2018, including six flights of two vehicles — Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and Blue Origin’s New Shepard — that are designed to carry passengers on space tourism rides.
The race to provide launch services to the booming small satellite industry also resulted in nine flight tests of six more conventional boosters to test technologies for orbital systems. Two of the boosters tested are designed to serve the suborbital market as well.
A pair of Chinese startups took advantage of a loosening of government restrictions on launch providers to fly their rockets two times apiece. There was also suborbital flight tests of American, Japanese and South Korean rockets.
The world’s launch providers were extremely busy in the first half of 2018, with China and the United States battling for the lead.
There with 55 orbital launches through the end of June, which amounted to a launch every 3.29 days or 79 hours. The total is more than half the 90 launches attempted in 2017. With approximately 42 missions scheduled for the last six months of the year, the total could reach 97. (more…)
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.
Launch Vehicle: Long March 2D Payload: Gaofen 6 remote sensing satellite Launch Site: Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, China Outcome: Success
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
Problems with its launch vehicle and range schedule conflicts have caused a year-long in the launch of a new NASA spacecraft that will study the Earth’s ionosphere, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment.
The June 2017 launch date for the Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) satellite was delayed after two of the three stages of the Pegasus XL’s launch vehicle were involved in a transport accident, the GAO found. The stages were returned to Orbital ATK’s facility for inspection and testing, but no damage was found.
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.
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.