Some Rocket Launches to Watch in 2018

The world’s most powerful booster is set to make a flight test sometime in January. If all goes well, 27 first stage engines will power the new booster off Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The three first stage cores will peel off and land for later reuse while the second stage continues into space.

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SpaceX Ruled Roost in 2017, Boosting U.S. to No. 1 in Global Launches

Falcon 9 carries the Dragon cargo ship into orbit. (Credit: NASA TV)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

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.

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Falcon Heavy Debut Slips to January

Artist’s conception of a Falcon Heavy launch. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX has slipped the maiden flight of its Falcon Heavy booster to January. The rocket, whose first stage is composed of three Falcon 9 cores with 27 engines, will lift off from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.  The flight will be preceded by a hold-down test on the launch pad in which all 27 first stage engines will be fired.

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First Look at Launch Complex 39A Crew Access Arm

Astronauts Bob Behnken and Eric Boe walk down the Crew Access Arm being built by SpaceX for Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Credit: SpaceX)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — Astronauts Bob Behnken and Eric Boe walk down the Crew Access Arm being built by SpaceX for Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The access arm will be installed on the launch pad, providing a bridge between the crew access tower and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon – or Dragon 2 – spacecraft for astronauts flying to the International Space Station on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

The access arm is being readied for installation in early 2018. It will be installed 70 feet higher than the former space shuttle access arm on the launch pad’s Fixed Service Structure. SpaceX continues to modify the historic launch site from its former space shuttle days, removing more than 500,000 pounds of steel from the pad structure, including the Rotating Service Structure that was once used for accessing the payload bay of the shuttle. SpaceX also is using the modernized site to launch commercial payloads, as well as cargo resupply missions to and from the International Space Station for NASA. The first SpaceX launch from the historic Apollo and space shuttle site was this past February.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with private companies, Boeing and SpaceX, with a goal of once again flying people to and from the International Space Station, launching from the United States. Boeing is building the CST-100 Starliner to launch on an United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41. For information on Boeing and ULA’s work on Space Launch Complex 41, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/crew-access-arm-installed-for-starliner-missions.

SpaceX on a Rapid Launch Cadence for 2017

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Dragon spacecraft on board, (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

SpaceX’s successful launch of the Intelsat 35e communications satellite on Wednesday was the company’s third launch in 12 days and its 10th successful launch of 2017, the most the company has ever launched during any calendar year.

Just past the mid-point of the year, SpaceX has launched more times than any other company or nation in 2017. The company’s flights account for just under short of one-quarter of the 44 launch attempts this year.

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Space Florida Seeks Another $5 Million for SpaceX Pad Upgrades

Pad 39A Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis
Pad 39A Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

Well, this is interesting. Space Florida is seeking $5 million from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to help SpaceX pay for upgrades to Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

The move will be discussed during an online-only board meeting next Wednesday.

According to meeting documents, “project match funding” from FDOT would be used for “infrastructure improvements by SpaceX.”

The move would authorize Space Florida to enter into an agreement with billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s space company.

Specifically, the meeting agenda says the $5 million is needed to help fund with Phase 2 of improvements to Pad 39A. It’s not clear exactly what these upgrades entail.

The timing of this move is interesting. It’s being done at a special meeting, which means the matter came up after — or wasn’t ready to be dealt with in time for —  the last board meeting held only three weeks ago on Sept. 28.  Nor does it seem the matter can wait until the board’s next regularly scheduled meeting on Nov. 29.

The apparent urgency of the request might well be related to the destruction of a Falcon 9 on Pad 40 last month. The launch complex was seriously damaged by the fire and explosion. It will be out of commission for an unknown number of months.

SpaceX officials say they could use Pad 39A as early as November to launch Falcon 9 rockets while the other launch complex is being repaired. The launcher’s return to flight depends upon an ongoing investigation into why a Falcon 9 caught fire and exploded while it was being fueled on Sept. 1.

SpaceX’s is leasing Pad 39A from NASA and has renovated to handle Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches. The Falcon 9 launches will include Crew Dragon flights to the International Space Station.

Falcon 9 Pad Failure Throws SpaceX Schedule into Doubt

Falcon 9 explodes on the launch pad. (Credit: USLaunchReport.com)
Falcon 9 explodes on the launch pad. (Credit: USLaunchReport.com)

The loss of a Falcon 9 rocket and its Amos 6 communications satellite payload in a launch pad accident on Friday morning throws the company’s ambitious launch schedule into confusion.

SpaceX has launched eight rockets successfully in 2016. The company had planned 10 more launches by the end of this year.  (See table below; information courtesy of Spaceflightnow.com). That plan was very ambitious, and it is unclear the company would have flown all these missions.

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NASA Q&A on Commercial Crew Program

Bob Cabana, Kennedy Space Center director, from left, Kathy Lueders, Commercial Crew Program manager, astronauts Eric Boe and Suni Williams discuss talk about the development of a new generation of human-rated spacecraft. (Credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett)
Bob Cabana, Kennedy Space Center director, from left, Kathy Lueders, Commercial Crew Program manager, astronauts Eric Boe and Suni Williams discuss talk about the development of a new generation of human-rated spacecraft. (Credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

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

There are few days that are the same for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program astronauts as they train for flight tests aboard the next generation of human-rated spacecraft, astronauts Eric Boe and Suni Williams told an audience at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Thursday.

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Historic Pad 39A Being Transformed for Falcon Launches

Pad 39A (Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)
Pad 39A Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — Removing hundreds of thousands of pounds of steel and adding robust, new fixtures, SpaceX is steadily transforming Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for use as a launch pad for its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. The launchers will lift numerous payloads into orbit, including the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft with astronauts aboard bound for the International Space Station.

Pad 39A is being modified for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches (Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)
Pad 39A is being modified for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches (Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)

A horizontal integration facility was built at the base of the pad and rails installed running up the incline to the flame trench. Instead of arriving to the pad on the back of the crawler-transporters, SpaceX rockets will roll on a custom-built transporter-erector that will carry them up the hill and then stand the rocket up for liftoff. The fixed service structure at the pad deck will remain, although more than 500,000 pounds of steel has already been removed from it. SpaceX has already started removing the rotating service structure, which is attached to the fixed structure. Built for the need to load a shuttle’s cargo bay at the pad, it does not serve a purpose for Falcon launchers whose payloads are mounted on the top of the rocket.

Pad 39A  (Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)
Pad 39A (Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)

SpaceX leased the historic launch pad from NASA in April 2014 and has been steadily remaking it from a space shuttle launch facility into one suited for the needs of the Falcon rockets and their payloads. It is the same launch pad where Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins lifted off on July 16, 1969, to begin their Apollo 11 flight that would make history as the first to land people on the moon. Almost all signs of Apollo-era hardware were removed from the launch pad when it was rebuilt for the shuttle.

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SpaceX Assembly Building at Pad 39A Progresses

SpaceX assembly building at Pad 39A. (Credit: NASA)
SpaceX assembly building at Pad 39A. (Credit: NASA)

The exterior skin begins to take shape of what will become SpaceX’s new 300-foot-long horizontal hangar at the base of Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39A.

SpaceX assembly building at Pad 39A. (Credit: NASA)
SpaceX assembly building at Pad 39A. (Credit: NASA)

Inside, the company will process the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket before being rolled out for launch. The company also is refurbishing the historic complex for Commercial Crew and Falcon Heavy launches.

NASA Signs Agreement with SpaceX for Use of Historic Launch Pad

Discovery_Launch_Pad_39A
Discovery on Pad 39A. (Credit: NASA)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA Kennedy Space Center’s historic Launch Complex 39A, the site from which numerous Apollo and space shuttle missions began, is beginning a new mission as a commercial launch site.

NASA signed a property agreement with Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, Calif., on Monday for use and occupancy of the seaside complex along Florida’s central east coast. It will serve as a platform for SpaceX to support their commercial launch activities.

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SpaceX’s Launch Manifest Decisive in Leasing Agreement for NASA’s Pad 39A

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

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

NASA selected SpaceX to lease Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center because it had a firm manifest of launches while rival Blue Origin’s plan to transfer the former space shuttle launch pad into a multi-user facility lacked actual users, according to the space agency’s selection statement.

“Blue Origin’s multi-use approach involved uncertainty regarding the extent other users would use the pad,” wrote NASA selection official  Richard J. Keegan, Jr. “In contrast, SpaceX’s approach for exclusive use and its proposed manifest was specific, firm and included customers on contract.

“I determined the certainty and number of launches associated with SpaceX’s proposal outweighed the potential benefits associated with Blue Origin’s multi-use approach. I had a high level of confidence that SpaceX was very likely to successfully achieve its near term manifest,” he added.

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NASA Selects SpaceX for Lease of Historic Pad 39A

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

Editor’s Note: Blue Origin’s GAO appeal was the only thing holding up the decision. Once a decision was issued on Thursday, NASA was able to move ahead.

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA has selected Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, Calif., to begin negotiations on a lease to use and operate historic Launch Complex (LC) 39A at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Permitting use and operation of this valuable national asset by a private-sector, commercial space partner will ensure its continued viability and allow for its continued use in support of U.S. space activities.

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GAO Footnotes Parabolic Arc as NASA Ponders Need for Warp Drive, Flux Capacitors

parabolicarc_gao_footnote
Credit: GAO

This is kind of cool. The Government Accountability Office footnoted Parabolic Arc in its decision to deny Blue Origin’s protest concerning the privatization of launch Pad 39A. I think it’s the first time we’ve been cited in a government report. Woo-hoo!

Credit: GAO
Credit: GAO

And while we’re on the topic, check out this bit of sarcasm from NASA that GAO quoted about its potential future need for “flux capacitors and warp drives.”