Stargazer Flight Raises Questions

Stargazer aircraft carrying Pegasus XL rocket with CYGNSS satellite. (Credit: Orbital ATK)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Whenever I’m over at the Mojave Air and Space Port, I’ve always felt a little sad when I catch a glimpse of Northrop Grumman’s Stargazer aircraft.

The last Lockheed L-1011 Tristar still flying today, the modified passenger aircraft’s main task is to air launch satellites aboard the Pegasus XL rocket carried under its fuselage. Since the rocket isn’t much in demand, the gap between launches can last for years.

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Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 Conducts Taxi Test with Launcher One

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 taxis down runway 12-30 at the Mojave Air and Space Port with the LauncherOne booster under its wing. Northrop Grumman’s Stargazer L-1011 aircraft, which also air launches the Pegasus XL rocket, can be seen in the background. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 aircraft conducted a low-speed taxi test down runway 12-30 at the Mojave Air and Space Port on Thursday afternoon.

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 carries LauncherOne in a taxi test at the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

The aircraft taxied down the runway, turned around and returned. The Boeing 747 was then towed back to a concrete pad where it has sat for the last several weeks undergoing preparations for a taxi test and captive carry flight.

The LauncherOne booster can be seen under the left wing of Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Virgin Orbit has said that it needed to do a taxi test with a full fueled LauncherOne prior to doing a captive carry flight. It is not clear whether the booster was fueled. However, a hazardous operations notice to airmen (NOTAM) was not posted prior to the taxi test.

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 taxis down the runway at the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

LauncherOne is designed to orbit small satellites by air launching them over the ocean. A flight test of the booster is scheduled for later this year.

Support equipment for Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 aircraft and LauncherOne booster. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

The aircraft and booster require a significant amount of support equipment as seen in the photo above.

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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Pegasus XL Launches ICON on Mission to Explore Frontier of Space

Illustration of ICON spacecraft. (Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. (NASA PR) — After successfully launching Thursday night, NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) spacecraft is in orbit for a first-of-its-kind mission to study a region of space where changes can disrupt communications and satellite orbits, and even increase radiation risks to astronauts.

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NASA’s ICON to Explore Boundary Between Earth and Space

Illustration of ICON spacecraft. (Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith)

UPDATE: Due to weather in the area, NASA and Northrop Grumman have decided to move the Pegasus XL and ICON launch 24-hours to October 10 at 9:30 p.m., with takeoff of the Stargazer L-1011 at 8:32 p.m. NASA’s live broadcast will begin tomorrow at 9:15 p.m. on www.nasa.gov/live.

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — On Oct.10, 2019, NASA launches the Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, a spacecraft that will explore the dynamic region where Earth meets space: the ionosphere.   

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Upcoming Launches Include Mission Extension Vehicle, ICON and Starlink Satellites

Mission Extension Vehicle refuels satellite. (Credit: Orbital ATK)

Four upcoming launches in the United States, Russia and New Zealand feature payloads to refuel a communications satellite, study space weather, expand SpaceX’s Starlink network, and test out new technology.

October 9

Proton
Payloads: Eutelsat 5 West B communications satellite, Mission Extension Vehicle 1 (MEV 1)
Launch Site: Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan
Launch Time: 6:17 a.m. EDT (1017 GMT )

This is the first flight of the MEV, which will refuel the Intelsat 901 communications satellite. Both satellites on this launch were built by Northrop Grumman.

October 9/10

Pegasus XL
Payload: Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) satellite
Launch Platform: Stargazer L-1011 aircraft
Departure Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
Launch Window: 9:25-10:55 p.m. EDT on Oct. 9 (0125-0255 GMT on Oct. 10)

NASA’s ICON mission will study disturbances in the ionosphere caused by terrestrial weather and solar storms that disrupt radio transmissions and GPS navigation. ICON has suffered repeated delays due to technical problems. The original launch date was in June 2017. The launch is being conducted by Northrop Grumman.

October 14/15

Electron
Payloads: Palisade CubeSat
Launch Site: Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand
Launch Window: 7:00-11:00 p.m. EDT on Oct. 14 (2300-0300 GMT on Oct. 14/15)

Rocket Lab’s “As The Crow Flies” mission is the ninth launch of the Electron rocket Astro Digital’s Palisade technology demonstration satellite is a 16U CubeSat with a next-generation communications system and an an on-board propulsion system.

NET October 17

Falcon 9
Payloads: ~ 60 Starlink 1 communications satellites
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
Launch Time: TBD

SpaceX will launch the second group of Starlink 1 broadband satellites no earlier than Oct. 17.

Report: StratoGoose is Cooked

Stratolaunch takes off. (Credit: Stratolaunch)

Reuters has confirmed reports that Parabolic Arc has been hearing for months here in Mojave: Stratolaunch’s goose is cooked.

Stratolaunch Systems Corporation, the space company founded by late billionaire and Microsoft Corp co-founder Paul Allen, is closing operations, cutting short ambitious plans to challenge traditional aerospace companies in a new “space race,” four people familiar with the matter said on Friday….

[Parent company] Vulcan has been exploring a possible sale of Stratolaunch’s assets and intellectual property, according to one of the four sources and also a fifth person….

The decision to set an exit strategy was made late last year by Allen’s sister, Jody Allen, chair of Vulcan Inc and trustee of the Paul G. Allen Trust, one of the four people and the fifth industry source said.

Jody Allen decided to let the carrier aircraft fly to honor her brother’s wishes and also to prove the vehicle and concept worked, one of the four people said.

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Pegasus XL Set to Launch NASA’s ICON Satellite on Wednesday

ICON spacecraft (Credit: NASA)

NASA and Northrop Grumman have completed a launch readiness review for the early Wednesday morning launch of the space agency’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) satellite mission. There are no technical issues being worked at this time.

ICON will be launched by Northrop Grumman’s Pegasus XL rocket which will be carried aloft by the L-1011 Stargazer aircraft taking off from the Skid Strip at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The ICON satellite mission 90-minute launch window opens at 3 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 7. Release from the Stargazer is anticipated for 3:05 a.m. ICON is designed to study the dynamic zone high in the atmosphere where terrestrial weather from below meets space weather from above.

Follow the prelaunch coverage and the launch on NASA Television at:
https://www.nasa.gov/live

 

Wednesday, Nov. 7
2:45 a.m. – Launch coverage begins at 2:45 a.m.

Learn more about NASA’s ICON mission at:
https://www.nasa.gov/icon











NASA Sets Live Coverage of ICON Launch Planned for Next Week

ICON spacecraft (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA and Northrop Grumman will hold a Launch Readiness Review early next week at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to ensure preparations are continuing on track for the launch of the agency’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, satellite.

ICON will be launched by Northrop Grumman’s Pegasus XL rocket which will be carried aloft by the L-1011 Stargazer aircraft taking off from the Skid Strip at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The ICON satellite mission is expected to launch no earlier than Wednesday, Nov. 7 with a 90-minute launch window opening at 3 a.m. EST. Release from the Stargazer is anticipated for 3:05 a.m. ICON is designed to study the dynamic zone high in the atmosphere where terrestrial weather from below meets space weather from above.

Follow the prelaunch coverage and the launch on NASA Television at:
https://www.nasa.gov/live

Tuesday, Nov. 6

3 p.m. – NASA EDGE webcast from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station will discuss ICON spacecraft operations, science and engineering, as well as launch processing of the Northrop Grumman L-1011 Stargazer with the Pegasus rocket.

Wednesday, No
v. 7
2:45 a.m. – Launch coverage begins at 2:45 a.m.

Learn more about NASA’s ICON mission at:
https://www.nasa.gov/icon











Stratolaunch Announces New Launch Vehicles

Air-launched boosters (Credit: Stratolaunch)

SEATTLE, Wash. – August 20, 2018 (Stratolaunch PR) – Stratolaunch announces today its new family of launch vehicles that will enter regular service starting in 2020. The company’s unique air-launch system will use the world’s largest aircraft as a mobile launch platform, capable of deploying launch vehicles that will carry satellites to multiple orbits and inclinations on a single mission. With these new vehicles, Stratolaunch is poised to make access to space convenient, affordable, and routine.

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Stratolaunch Aircraft Strolls Outside for a Little California Sun

Stratolaunch aircraft rolls out of its hangar in Mojave, Calif. (Credit: Stratolaunch)

Stratolaunch emerged from its hangar over the weekend to soak up some California sun. Engineers took the giant, twin fuselage carrier aircraft outside for some tests.

Stratolaunch carrier aircraft has a wingspan of 385 ft. (Credit: Stratolaunch)

The announced plan was to conduct some taxi tests on Runway 12/30. The plane didn’t make it that far. Engineers put the airplane through a series of fueling, fueling, full-power engine and communication tests.

Stratolaunch carrier aircraft outside for tests. (Credit: Stratolaunch)

The aircraft will begin by launching Pegasus XL boosters, which are produced by Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems.

Stratolaunch carrier plane is a dual fuselage aircraft. (Credit: Stratolaunch)

The company is also working on a medium launcher that expected to debut in 2021. There are not a lot of details about the project, which is under the direction of Vice President of Propulsion Jeff Thornburg.

Stratolaunch aircraft outside for testing. (Credit: Stratolaunch)

I caught a glimpse of the aircraft from Highway 14 during my return from the Small Satellite Conference in Utah. I was probably five miles away at the time, but the thing still looked massive sitting there next to the hangar.











NASA Delays ICON Launch Due to Booster Problem

ICON spacecraft (Credit: NASA)

NASA and Northrop Grumman have postponed the launch of the agency’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) satellite. ICON, which will study the frontier of space, was targeted to launch on a Pegasus XL rocket June 14 from the Kwajalein Atoll in Marshall Islands.

During a ferry transit, Northrop Grumman saw off-nominal data from the Pegasus rocket. While ICON remains healthy, the mission will return to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for rocket testing and data analysis. A new launch date will be determined at a later date.











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











GAO: Launch Vehicle Problems Caused Delay in NASA Science Satellite

ICON spacecraft (Credit: NASA)

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.

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