Boeing’s Phantom Express Vanishes into Thin Air

DARPA’s Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program seeks to build and fly the first of an entirely new class of hypersonic aircraft that would break the cycle of escalating launch costs and make possible a host of critical national security options. As the next step toward a future of routine, responsive, and low-cost space access, DARPA has awarded Phases 2 and 3 of the program to The Boeing Company. (Credit: Boeing)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A couple of years ago, a friend made the surprising predication that DARPA’s Experimental Spaceplane Program (XSP) — a R&D effort designed to produce a rocket capable of being launched 10 times in 10 days — would never see any hardware built.

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2019: A Busy Year in Suborbital Flight

Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable, suborbital rocket. (Credits: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

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.
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SpaceX Designing Service Tower for Pad 39A

Falcon Heavy on the launch pad. (Credit: SpaceX)

Spaceflight Now reports that SpaceX is completing plans for a mobile service tower so the company can integrate U.S. military satellites onto its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters while they are in a vertical position on Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

The tower will surround Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets at pad 39A, shielding the vehicles from storms and high winds and providing a controlled environment for ground crews to hoist heavy satellites and mount them on top of the launch vehicles in a vertical configuration.

SpaceX currently installs satellites, already cocooned inside their payload shrouds, onto Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets horizontally inside hangars near the company’s launch pads. But some of thee U.S. government’s most sensitive intelligence-gathering satellites, some of which come with billion-dollar or higher price tags, are designed to be mounted on their launch vehicles vertically.

SpaceX officials said the vertical integration capability is required for participants in the National Security Space Launch Phase 2 Launch Service Procurement. The U.S. Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center — now part of the U.S. Space Force — released a request for proposals for the Phase 2 Launch Service Procurement last May.

The military plans to select two companies later this year to launch the Pentagon’s most critical satellite missions from 2022 through 2026. The military’s incumbent National Security Space Launch providers — United Launch Alliance and SpaceX — are competing for the lucrative contracts with newcomers Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin for the Phase 2 contracts.

Original Firefly Shareholders Sue Firefly’s Markusic, Polyakov Alleging Fraud

Tom Markusic

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A group of original shareholders in the defunct Firefly Space Systems have accused co-founder and CEO Tom Markusic of fraudulently conspiring with Ukrainian billionaire Maxym Polyakov to force the rocket company into bankruptcy in 2017 and reconstitute it under a nearly identical name without giving them any stake in the new venture.

Markusic “betrayed the trust of his original co-founders and investors and committed fraud to cut them out of his aerospace company. Instead of managing the operations of the Original Firefly, a revolutionary rocket company with endless potential, Markusic schemed with…Maxym Polyakov…to rob Plaintiffs of their investments and form a new company called Firefly Aerospace, Inc. (the ‘New Firefly’),” the plaintiffs said in a lawsuit.

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Northrop Grumman Signs Customer for First Flight of OmegA Rocket

OmegA rocket (Credit: Orbital ATK)

DULLES, Va., Dec. 12, 2019 (Northrop Grumman PR) – Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) announced that Saturn Satellite Networks has selected the OmegA space launch vehicle to launch up to two satellites on the rocket’s inaugural flight scheduled for spring 2021. OmegA will launch from Kennedy Space Center’s Pad 39B and insert the SSN satellites into a geosynchronous transfer orbit.

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Northrop Grumman, AFRL Partner to Provide Critical Advanced Technology in Space Solar Power

An artistic representation showcases the capture of solar energy in space that is precisely beamed it to where it is needed through the Space Solar Power Incremental Demonstrations and Research (SSPIDR) Project. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

Project directly supports the Space Solar Power Initiative converting solar power in space to radio frequency on Earth.

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (Northrop Grumman PR) — Northrop Grumman is working with the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) on a project to rapidly infuse space technological innovations to incrementally develop component technologies needed for a prototype solar energy collection system.

The project is designed to provide constant, consistent and logistically agile power to expeditionary forces operating in unimproved areas such as forward operating bases. These forces require assured power that will be transmitted via radio frequency (RF) from spacecraft.

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Astrobotic Blasts Off to the International Space Station

SoundSee, a new space technology collaboration, debuts at the International Space Station

SoundSee (Credit: Astrobotic)

PITTSBURGH, Pa. (Astrobotic PR)  – Astrobotic and Bosch are proud to announce the launch of SoundSee to the International Space Station (ISS). This technology marks the first deployment of technology to the ISS of both companies. As part of a research collaboration with NASA, the lunchbox-sized SoundSee module will assist astronauts by free flying through the space station and using fully-autonomous sensing capabilities to gauge ISS performance and predict when maintenance is needed.

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GAO Upholds Blue Origin’s Protest Over USAF Launch Solicitation

Jeff Bezos

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has upheld a pre-award protest by Blue Origin over the selection process the U.S. Air Force is using to award contracts for military launches for the years 2022 to 2027.

GAO recommended the Air Force modify the solicitation under which it planned to select two companies that would compete for launches during that period. The decision would have been based on which combination of two independently developed proposals provided the best value to the government.

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AeroCube-14 Takes Nanotech Experiments to Space

The AeroCube-14 CubeSats in the lab prior to launch integration. Once deployed, they’ll carry a number of nanotechnology experiments in low-Earth orbit. (Credit: Aerospace Corporation)

AeroCube 14’s experiments include nanotechnology payloads that will test new and emerging materials, including structural materials and thermal straps

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (Aerospace Corporation PR) — The Aerospace Corporation’s AeroCube-14 CubeSats launched on Nov. 2 loaded with nanotechnology payloads to conduct modular experiments and other research.

AeroCube-14 consists of two identical 3-unit CubeSats that launched as part of the Northrop Grumman-12 Cygnus cargo mission to the International Space Station. 

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USAF Space and Missile Systems Center Payloads Arrive at Space Station

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (SMSC PR) — The U.S. Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center and its mission partners successfully delivered the Aerospace Rogue Alpha/Beta CubeSats and Space Test Program Satellite-4 (STPSat-4) to the International Space Station.

The mission, designated NG-12, started with the on-time launch of an upgraded Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems Antares 230+ rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad 0A Nov. 2 at 9:59 a.m. EDT from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

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Cygnus Resupply Ship Attached to Unity for Cargo Operations

Nov. 4, 2019: International Space Station Configuration. Four spaceships are attached to the space station including the Northrop Grumman Cygnus resupply ship and Russia’s Progress 73 resupply ship and Soyuz MS-13 and MS-15 crew ships.

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — After its capture this morning at 4:10 a.m. EST, the Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft was bolted into place on the International Space Station’s Earth-facing port of the Unity module at 6:21 a.m. At the time of installation, Cygnus was flying over the south Pacific.

This mission, designated NG CRS-12, will be in orbit at the same time as its predecessor, the NG CRS-11 Cygnus spacecraft, which launched in April on an extended duration flight. The NG CRS-12 Cygnus spacecraft will remain at the space station until January before it disposes of several thousand pounds of trash through its fiery reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. The ability to fly two vehicles at once further demonstrates the robustness of Cygnus to support the goals of NASA’s ambitious missions.

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Cygnus Resupply Ship Launches to Space Station

Antares launches a Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. — A Northrop Grumman Antares rocket blasted off from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Saturday with a Cygnus spacecraft that will deliver 8,200 pounds of science and research, crew supplies and vehicle hardware to astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Cygnus separated from the second stage as planned after what appeared to be a nominal flight. This is Northrop Grumman’s 12th contracted cargo resupply mission to ISS under NASA contract.

The space agency will provide live coverage on Monday of the resupply ship’s capture and berthing with the station on NASA Television and its  website.

  • 2:45 a.m. – Coverage of Cygnus capture with the space station’s robotic arm
  • 6:30 a.m. – Cygnus installation operations coverage

Expedition 61 NASA astronaut Jessica Meir will grapple the spacecraft using the station’s robotic arm. She will be backed up by NASA astronaut Christina Koch. After Cygnus capture, ground controllers will command the station’s arm to rotate and install Cygnus on the bottom of the station’s Unity module.

The Cygnus spacecraft, dubbed the SS Alan Bean, is named after the late Apollo and Skylab astronaut who died on May 26, 2018, at the age of 86. This Cygnus will launch 50 years to the month after Bean, Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon flew to the Moon on NASA’s Apollo 12 mission, during which Bean became the fourth human to walk on the lunar surface. Bean was the lunar module pilot aboard Intrepid with mission commander Conrad when they landed on Moon at the Ocean of Storms on Nov. 19, 1969.

You can more about the research the Cygnus is carrying here.

Research Launching to the Space Station Ranges from Radiation Protection to Rover Control

Cygnus departs the International Space Station. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. (NASA PR) — Supplies and scientific experiments ride to the International Space Station on a Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft (NG-12) scheduled for launch on Nov. 2. The investigations making the trip range from research into human control of robotics in space to reprocessing fibers for 3D printing. Cygnus lifts off on the Antares rocket from pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island in Virginia.

Resupply missions from U.S. companies ensure NASA’s capability to deliver critical science research to the space station and significantly increase its ability to conduct new investigations in the only laboratory in space. This is the first mission under Northrop’s Commercial Resupply Services-2 contract with NASA.

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Updated NASA TV Coverage of Cygnus Resupply Mission to Space Station

Cygnus departs the International Space Station. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

Editor’s note: This advisory was updated on Oct. 29 to update the time of NASA TV’s coverage of the Cygnus capture on Nov. 4.

WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. (NASA PR) — NASA commercial cargo provider Northrop Grumman is scheduled to launch its next resupply mission to the International Space Station at 9:59 a.m. EDT Saturday, Nov. 2. NASA’s prelaunch coverage will air live on NASA Television and the agency’s website beginning Friday, Nov. 1. 

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NASA TV Coverage Set for Cygnus Resupply Mission to International Space Station

The Northrop Grumman Antares rocket, with Cygnus resupply spacecraft onboard, launches from Pad-0A, Wednesday, April 17, 2019 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Northrop Grumman’s 11th contracted cargo resupply mission for NASA to the International Space Station will deliver about 7,600 pounds of science and research, crew supplies and vehicle hardware to the orbital laboratory and its crew. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA commercial cargo provider Northrop Grumman is scheduled to launch its next resupply mission to the International Space Station at 9:59 a.m. EDT Saturday, Nov. 2. NASA’s prelaunch coverage will air live on NASA Television and the agency’s website beginning Friday, Nov. 1. 

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