SpaceX to Launch Majority of 4,000 Starlink Satellites From Cape Canaveral

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

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The draft environmental assessment for SpaceX’s proposed expansion at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) also revealed that Elon Musk’s rocket company plans to most of more than 4,000 satellites of its planned Starlink constellation from Cape Canaveral.

That will guarantee a busy schedule for SpaceX’s Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at KSC and LC-40 at the adjoining Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS). LC-39A can accommodate Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters while LC-40 is configured for the Falcon 9.

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SpaceX Launches Zuma But Satellite Fate Unknown; Falcon Heavy Rolled Out for Static Fire

Falcon 9 first stage launches Zuma spacecraft (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

SpaceX launched a secret U.S. military satellite code named Zuma into space on Sunday evening. The company successfully landed the first stage of the Falcon 9 back at Cape Canaveral.

However, exactly what happened to the mysterious satellite remains a mystery nearly 24 hours after the launch. SpaceX says an analysis of data indicate the Falcon 9’s second stage performed nominally.

However, there are unconfirmed rumors that the satellite was lost. Rumors include the spacecraft being dead on orbit after separation from Falcon 9’s second stage, or re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere still attached to the stage.

Northrop Grumman, which built the spacecraft, is not commenting on the flight. The identity of the government agency the spacecraft was built for is not known. So, nobody from the government has confirmed whether the launch succeeded or not.

Meanwhile, SpaceX rolled out the first Falcon Heavy booster to Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center today. The company plans to conduct a brief static test of the rocket’s 27 first-stage engines for the first time. The rocket is set to make its maiden flight later this month from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

Commercial Crew Year in Review

Launch_America_Commercial_Crew
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — Boeing and SpaceX made numerous advances on their crew transportation systems set to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Both companies began building the spacecraft that will fly the flight tests for the program before beginning crew rotation missions. Boeing is building the CST-100 Starliner to fly on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, and SpaceX is building its Crew Dragon spacecraft to launch atop the company’s Falcon 9 rocket.

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Commercial Crew Manufacturing Gains Momentum Coast to Coast

Technicians lower the upper dome of a Boeing Starliner spacecraft onto a work stand inside the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The upper dome is part of Spacecraft 1, a Starliner that will perform a pad abort flight test as part of the development process of the spacecraft in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.  (Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)
Technicians lower the upper dome of a Boeing Starliner spacecraft onto a work stand inside the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The upper dome is part of Spacecraft 1, a Starliner that will perform a pad abort flight test as part of the development process of the spacecraft in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. (Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)

By Steven Siceloff,
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Manufacturing facilities are in operation on the east and west coasts to build the next generation of spacecraft to return human launch capability to American soil. Over the past six months, Boeing and SpaceX – the companies partnered with NASA to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station – each have begun producing the first in a series of spacecraft.

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U.S. Launch Providers Plan Busy Year in 2016

Falcon Heavy. (Credit: SpaceX)
Falcon Heavy. (Credit: SpaceX)

The United States has a very busy launch year ahead if all 33 flights currently on the manifest go off as planned. Given the tendency of launches to slip and rockets to occasionally go boom, that is a very big “if”.

United Launch Alliance (ULA) and SpaceX each have 15 launches penciled in this year, according to the latest update to Spaceflight Now’s Launch Schedule page. Orbital ATK has plans for three launches during 2016. (more…)

Commercial Crew Progress on Display in Florida

Media view Pad 39A. (Credit: NASA)
Media view Pad 39A. (Credit: NASA)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — Commercial Crew team members with NASA and our aerospace industry partners showed what a season of advances has meant for the launch sites where NASA astronauts will lift off on missions to the International Space Station in the near future.

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SpaceX Builds Integration Facility at Pad 39-A

SpaceX vehicle integration building at Pad 39A. (Credit: NASA)
SpaceX vehicle integration building at Pad 39-A. (Credit: NASA)

SpaceX is deep into construction of a new horizontal integration facility at Launch Complex 39-A. The 300-foot-long structure is being built at the base of the pad on Kennedy Space Center’s historic crawlerway to process the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket for Commercial Crew flights. The pad facilities also will be used for launches using the Falcon Heavy rocket.

SpaceX Busy on Both Coasts

Falcon Heavy. (Credit: SpaceX)
Falcon Heavy. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX is busy on both coasts preparing Pad 39-A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for an upcoming Falcon Heavy launch and signing leases to develop landing pads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Vandenberg Air Force Base.

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Triumph & Tragedy: The Year in Commercial Space 2014 (Part I)

Part of SpaceShipTwo's fuselage. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
Part of SpaceShipTwo’s fuselage. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

The year 2014 was one of steady progress and major setbacks in commercial space. Here is a rundown of some of the major developments and trends of the year. A later will look more closely at some of the companies in the industry.

A Crash in the Desert. The tragic loss of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and death of Scaled Composites test pilot Mike Alsbury on Oct. 31 sent shock waves through the space community. The ship was ripped apart over the Mojave Desert about 13 seconds into a powered flight test when its twin tail booms suddenly deployed. Pilot Pete Siebold was thrown free of the wreckage and landed under parachute, battered and bruised but alive.

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Pad 39-A Dispute Gets Personal

Launch Pad 39A with the space shuttle Endeavour. (Credit: NASA)
Launch Pad 39A with the space shuttle Endeavour. (Credit: NASA)

A cranky Elon Musk has lashed out at Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin and ULA for getting in the way of his plans to lease Pad 39-A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

In an email to Space News, the SpaceX CEO accused Bezos of using a “phony blocking tactic” in a rival bid to control the former space shuttle launch complex.

Blue Origin, which is backed by ULA, wants to convert the pad into a multi-use complex that can accommodate multiple launch vehicles while SpaceX wants the facility for its own use but has agreed to share it if Blue Origin can come up with an actual rocket to launch from it. (more…)

Blue Origin Files Protest Over Lease on Pad 39A

Launch Pad 39A with the space shuttle Endeavour. (Credit: NASA)
Launch Pad 39A with the space shuttle Endeavour. (Credit: NASA)

Florida Today reports Blue Origin has filed a formal protest over what it says is a plan by NASA to award an exclusive commercial lease to SpaceX for use of mothballed space shuttle launch pad 39A.

Blue Origin of Kent, Wash., had proposed to take over and modify pad 39A to support launches by multiple rocket companies, though its own orbital launch vehicle won’t be ready until 2018.

The protest could impact who ultimately uses the pad, but at a minimum will delay any lease award until the GAO reaches a decision, expected by mid-December.

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NASA Weighs Competing Blue Origin, SpaceX Proposals for Pad 39-A

Launch Pad 39A with the space shuttle Endeavour. (Credit: NASA)
Launch Pad 39A with the space shuttle Endeavour. (Credit: NASA)

NASA is evaluating proposals from SpaceX and Blue Origin for use of Pad 39A, which formerly launched space shuttles but is no longer needed for space agency missions:

NASA was close to an agreement on a 15-year lease of Kennedy Space Center’s pad 39A to SpaceX, which could use it in the next few years for launches of astronauts to the International Space Station and for a planned heavy-lift Falcon rocket.

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Rocket Roundup: VASIMR Kickstarter, Ariane 6 Panned, RD-180 Replacement, and SpaceX at KSC

Ad Astra Launches VASMIR Kickstarter

Ad Astra has launched a Kickstarter fund-raising campaign to raise $46,000 for the creation of a short documentary called “Animating VASIMR®: The Future of Spaceflight.”

Falcon Heavy Launches from KSC?

Falcon Heavy. (Credit: SpaceX)
Falcon Heavy. (Credit: SpaceX)

Space News reports that SpaceX appears to be the only bidder to take over operations of PAD 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, which NASA used to launch space shuttles:

NASA declined to comment on how many bids it received in response to a solicitation that closed on July 5, but a survey of U.S. launch companies by SpaceNews shows only SpaceX saying it put in a proposal to take over Launch Complex 39A.

Documents posted on NASA’s solicitation website shows the agency wants to have a commercial operator for Pad 39A in place by Oct. 1, 2013, when funding for maintenance is slated for termination.

UPDATE: Space News now reports that Blue Origin put in a bid for Pad 39A.

DLR Chief on Ariane 6: Meh!

Artist's conception of Ariane 6. (Credit: ESA)
Artist’s conception of Ariane 6. (Credit: ESA)

DLR Chairman Johann-Dietrich Woerner still really doesn’t like the plan for Ariane 6:

Johann-Dietrich Woerner, chairman of the German Aerospace Center, DLR, said the German government remains in favor of continued development of the current Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket, with possible evolutions including environmentally acceptable new fuels in place of the vehicle’s current solid-rocket boosters.

“The solution selected seems to be the most workable in terms of costs, but from an environmental point of view we are really taking a step backward,” Woerner said. “But my main point is: What is this launcher for? Is it to make life easy for commercial satellite operators, or is it to assure European launcher autonomy? If it’s the latter, then there are lots of ways of meeting this objective.”

I Can’t Quit You

RD-180 test firing. (Credit: NASA)
RD-180 test firing. (Credit: NASA)

Efforts to develop a domestic alternative to the Russian RD-180 engine that powers the Atlas V are stuck in second gear.

The buy-international model works so well that even an executive with the company working on an American alternative to the RD-180 — which has powered 43 flawless space launches since it made its U.S. debut on Lockheed Martin’s Atlas 3 rocket in 2000 — does not see much urgency on anyone’s part to bring such an engine to market.

“We don’t see a good business case for a pure commercial development of one of these engines,” Julie Van Kleeck, vice president of space programs at Sacramento, Calif.-based Aerojet Rocketdyne, told SpaceNews in a July 9 phone interview. “Not today.”

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