SMC Partnering with Astra for Upcoming USSF Launch

Rocket 3.1 after liftoff from Kodiak Island in Alaska. (Credit: Astra)

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (USSF PR) — The United States Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center will partner with Astra, a wholly-owned U.S. company based in Alameda, California, to perform a demonstration launch for the Department of Defense from the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska later this month.  

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USSF Awards OSP-4 Contract to Emerging Small Launch Providers

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (SMC PR) — The U.S. Space Force’s Rocket Systems Launch Program Office, part of the Space and Missile Systems Center’s (SMC) Launch Enterprise at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, announced the award of the first on ramp of the Orbital Services Program (OSP)-4 Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract Aug. 9, 2021, to ABL Space Systems Corp, Astra Space, Inc., and Relativity Space, Inc.

OSP-4 allows for the rapid acquisition of launch services to meet mission requirements for payloads greater than 400 pounds, enabling launch to any orbit within 12-24 months from task order award.  The RSLP will compete each mission among the IDIQ awardees. The addition of these emerging providers’ preserves, stimulates, and enhances the small launch industrial base and yields the Space Force a diverse vendor pool in support of the nation’s defense. 

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Launch 2020: U.S. Reclaimed Top Spot, Flew Astronauts Again from American Soil

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched from Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard, Saturday, May 30, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls & Joel Kowsky)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The United States reclaimed the top spot in launches from China last year as NASA astronauts flew into orbit from American soil for the first time in nearly nine years, SpaceX deployed the world’s first satellite mega-constellation with reused rockets, and two new launchers debuted with less than stellar results.

American companies conducted 44 launches in 2020, with 40 successes and four failures. Bryce Tech reports that U.S. companies accounted for 32 of the 41 commercial launches conducted last year. The majority of those flights were conducted by SpaceX, which launched 25 orbital missions.

China came in second with a record of 35 successful launches and four failures. The 39 launch attempts tied that nation’s previous record for flights during a calendar year.

Let’s take a closer look at what U.S. companies achieved last year.

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Northrop Grumman Successfully Launches Minotaur I Rocket for the National Reconnaissance Office

The Minotaur I rocket was launched from NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

Flight extends flawless record of Minotaur product line to 28 missions

WALLOPS, Va. – June 15, 2021 – Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) launched its Minotaur I rocket today at 9:35 a.m. EDT, successfully placing a National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) payload into orbit. The Minotaur I was launched from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0B at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility.

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U.S. Space Force Successfully Launches First Tactically Responsive Launch Mission

WASHINGTON (AFNS) — The U. S. Space Force successfully launched the Tactically Responsive Launch-2 (TacRL-2) mission on a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base on June 13 at 4:11 a.m. EDT, delivering a technology demonstration satellite to Low Earth Orbit.

Pegasus, the world’s first privately-developed commercial space launch vehicle, is an air-launched threestaged rocket carried aloft by Northrop Grumman’s specially modified “Stargazer” L-1011 aircraft. Shortly after its release from Stargazer, at approximately 40,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean, Pegasus ignited its first stage, beginning its successful flight carrying TacRL-2 to its intended orbit.

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SMC Stands Up New Space Safari Program Office for Rapid Response to Urgent Needs

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (SMC PR) — Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, Commander, Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), recently announced the establishment of the Space Safari Program Office within SMC’s Special Programs Directorate.  Space Safari responds to high-priority, urgent space needs by rapidly acquiring, integrating and executing missions in support of USSPACECOM requirements and other combatant commander needs. These missions are not typically a part of an enduring program of record, but respond to high priority needs to deploy space systems quickly to respond to emerging threats.  

As a high-speed integrator for specialized space missions, Space Safari operates with a unique mission focus, rapidly connecting space vehicles, specialized payloads, launch campaigns and ground systems, all while coordinating with the operational community and end-users.  Similar to the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Big Safari office, Space Safari uses mature technology and existing production lines to quickly repurpose and integrate space assets from multiple organizations.

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Northrop Grumman Successfully Launches Pegasus XL Rocket for the US Space Force

Stargazer L-1011 with Pegasus XL rocket. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

CHANDLER, Ariz., June 13, 2021 (Northrop Grumman PR) – Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) successfully launched the Tactically Responsive Launch-2 (TacRL-2) payload into orbit for the U.S. Space Force (USSF), Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), using the company’s Pegasus XL rocket. TacRL-2 was launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base.

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How to Watch the Minotaur Launch From Wallops Island

Credit: NASA

WALLOPS, Va. (NASA PR) — Get up early June 15, grab a cup of coffee and watch the rise of Northrop Grumman’s Minotaur 1 rocket as it’s launched into space from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

The rocket carrying three national security payloads for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), is scheduled for launch at 7 a.m. June 15, from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s (MARS) Pad 0B on Wallops Island. The U.S. Space Force (USSF) Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise is providing the launch services for this mission.

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U.S. Air Force Explores Cargo Delivery by Rocket

Cargo delivery by rocket. (Credit: U.S. Air Force)

WASHINGTON (AFNS) — The Department of the Air Force announced June 4 the designation of Rocket Cargo as the fourth Vanguard program as part of its transformational science and technology portfolio identified in the DAF 2030 Science and Technology strategy for the next decade. Additionally, the U.S. Space Force was designated as the lead service for Rocket Cargo Vanguard, marking the service’s first such program.

Under the Rocket Cargo Vanguard, the Air Force Research Laboratory will lead a science and technology effort to determine the viability and utility of using large commercial rockets for Department of Defense global logistics, potentially expanding the portfolio of capabilities the USSF presents to combatant commanders. The Space and Missile Systems Center will serve as the Program Executive Officer.

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United States Space Force Partnering with VOX Space for First DoD Launch

LauncherOne ignites after being dropped from Cosmic Girl. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (USSF PR) The United States Space Force, Space and Missile Systems Center has partnered with VOX Space, a US-incorporated, wholly-owned subsidiary of Virgin Orbit, to launch multiple Department of Defense satellites on a commercial rideshare mission from the Mojave Air and Space Port, California. The launch is currently scheduled for June 2021.

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United Launch Alliance Successfully Launches SBIRS GEO Flight 5 Mission in Support of National Security

A ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the SBIRS GEO Flight 5 mission for the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41at 1:37 p.m. EDT on May 18. (Credit; United Launch Alliance)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. May 18, 2021 (ULA PR) – A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the Space Based Infrared System Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (SBIRS GEO) Flight 5 mission for the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) lifted off on May 18 at 1:37 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. To date ULA has launched 144 times with 100 percent mission success.

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Parsons Wins $185 Million Space Situational Awareness Task Order Contract

CENTREVILLE, VA, May 17, 2021 (Parsons Corporation PR) – Parsons Corporation (NYSE: PSN) has been awarded a task order contract by the Space and Missile Systems Center Special Programs Directorate (SMC/SPG) for Integrated Solutions for Situational Awareness (ISSA) support, potentially worth up to $185 million. The cost-plus-fixed-fee (CPFF) contract has a one-year base period with four one-year options. It will provide SMC/SPG and its strategic partners with highly specialized services in IT engineering, space domain expertise, software development, scientific analysis, and data analytics to develop, maintain, sustain, and enhance the ISSA system.

“We are proud to support SMC in their mission to deliver resilient and affordable space capabilities by continuing to provide our specialized operational and technical expertise for ISSA,” said Rich Aves, executive vice president, Parsons’ space and geospatial business unit. “Our agile and flexible solutions will help to improve and enhance the existing ISSA system and ensure the warfighter and other key stakeholders are fully supported.”

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Atlas V Launch Delayed a Day Due to Anomaly

CAPE CANAVERAL SPACE FORCE STATION, Fla., May 17, 2021 (ULA PR) – The launch of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V carrying the SBIRS GEO Flight 5 mission for the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) has been scrubbed. During Centaur liquid oxygen (LOX) chilldown operations, the team identified an anomalous system response that could not be resolved within the launch window. 

Launch is now scheduled for 1:31 p.m. EDT on Tues., May 18, 2021.

SMC’s Launch Enterprise and Space Development Corps’ Space Enterprise Consortium release three Requests for Prototype Proposals

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (SMC PR) – The Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise, in collaboration with the Space Development Corps’ Space Enterprise Consortium (SpEC), today released three Requests for Prototype Proposals to industry.

SMC intends to partner with industry to invest in next generation rocket engine testing, upper stage resiliency enhancements, and orbital transfer and maneuver capabilities.

“These enabling investments are a part of the National Security Space Launch Phase 3 strategy to accelerate development of transformational space access capabilities and make them available for future NSSL procurement contracts,” said Col. Rob Bongiovi, director of SMC’s Launch Enterprise. “We are eager to work with SpEC to maximize acquisition flexibility and speed to award the next generation rocket engine testing and upper stage resiliency enhancements Other Transactions by September 2021 and the orbital transfer and maneuver capabilities OTs in early 2022.”

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SMC Awards $32.5 Million to Palantir USG Inc. for Data-as-a-Service

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (SMC PR) — The U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center’s Cross-Mission Ground & Communications Enterprise (ECX) has awarded a firm-fixed price contract totaling $32.5 million, to Palantir USG Inc on April 30, 2021. 

This sole source award provides a Data-as-a-Service (DaaS) Platform and converges three separate mission areas (Space C2, NORAD-NORTHCOM, and Project Brown Heron) using the same tech stack called Warp Core. It supports the Project Brown Heron effort under the U.S. Air Force Vice Chief of Staff, by providing a common data foundation that improves readiness information, which is a critical component of DAF-wide COVID-19 analysis and decision-making effort.

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