NASA Tests Atomic Clock for Deep Space Navigation

A glimpse of the Deep Space Atomic Clock in the middle bay of the General Atomics Orbital Test Bed spacecraft. (Credit: NASA)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — In deep space, accurate timekeeping is vital to navigation, but not all spacecraft have precise timepieces aboard. For 20 years, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, has been perfecting a clock. It’s not a wristwatch; not something available in a store. It’s the Deep Space Atomic Clock (DSAC), an instrument being built for deep space exploration.

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SSL Studies Next-generation Space Architectures for the U.S. Air Force Space Enterprise Vision

PALO ALTO, Calif. January 31, 2018 (SSL PR) – SSL, a Maxar Technologies company (formerly MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd.) and a leading provider of innovative satellites and spacecraft systems, announced today it is leveraging its heritage in developing advanced space architectures and systems to assist the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (USAF) with exploring new enterprise-level solutions to enable resilient space defense capabilities. The study is expected to accelerate crucial technologies for future missions as identified within the U.S. Air Force Space Enterprise Vision (SEV), and further distinguish SSL as a trusted partner to U.S. government agencies.

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Secondary Payloads Increasingly Take Center Stage

CubeSats (Credit: ESA/Medialab)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On most launches, the small secondary satellites that ride along with the primary payloads garner little attention.

That has begun to change in recent years as CubeSats have become increasingly capable. The importance of these small satellites could be seen in the recent launch of an Indian PSLV rocket, which carried a CartoSat Earth observation satellite and 30 secondary spacecraft from India, Canada, Finland, France, Republic of Korea, UK and the United States.

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ULA Atlas V Launches U.S. Air Force Early Warning Satellite

Atlas V launches the U.S. Air Force’s SBIRS Geo 4 satellite. (Credit: ULA)

Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., Jan. 19, 2018 (ULA PR) – A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) GEO Flight 4 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex-41 on Jan. 19 at 7:48 p.m. EST. SBIRS is considered one of the nation’s highest priority space programs, and is designed to provide global, persistent, infrared surveillance capabilities to meet 21st century demands.

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China Launches Satellites, ULA & Rocket Lab Flights Set

Atlas V on launch pad. (Credit: ULA)

China launched a Long March 11 rocket with six satellites aboard on Friday from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The booster orbited a pair of Jilin-1 Earth imaging satellites for the Chang Guang Satellite company as well as four secondary payloads.

ULA is set to launch an Atlas V rocket with an U.S. Air Force Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) GEO early warning satellite later today. The flight is scheduled to lift off at 7:48 p.m. from Cape Canaveral in Florida.  ULA scrubbed the launch on Thursday do to a problem with ground equipment.

The webcast is available at www.ulalaunch.com and www.youtube.com/unitedlaunchalliance

The delay has postponed an attempt by SpaceX to conduct a static fire of the Falcon Heavy’s first-stage engines on a nearby launch pad. The test had been planned for Friday, but the next earliest opportunity is Saturday providing the Atlas V launches tonight.

On Saturday, Rocket Lab will open a launch window for the second flight of its Electron rocket. The first four-hour window opens on January 20 at 2:30 p.m. NZDT (0130 a.m. GMT/8:30 p.m. EST on Friday).

Rocket Lab has reserved nine days with identical four-hour windows for this launch attempt. The booster is carrying CubeSats for Planet and Spire.

Check Rocket Lab’s website for information about the webcast.

ULA Atlas V Set to Launch Air Force Satellite Tonight

Atlas V on launch pad. (Credit: ULA)

UPDATE: The launch was scrubbed. They will try again on Friday at 7:48 p.m. EST.

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. (ULA PR) — Everything is progressing toward the ULA Atlas V launch carrying the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) GEO Flight 4 mission for the U.S. Air Force.

The mission is set to lift off on a ULA Atlas V rocket on Thursday, Jan. 18 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Today’s L-1 forecast shows a 90 percent chance of favorable weather conditions for launch. The launch time is 7:52 p.m. ET.

Launch Forecast Summary:
Overall probability of violating weather constraints: 10%
Primary concerns: Cumulus Clouds

Overall probability of violating weather constraints for 24 hour delay: 10%
Primary concern: Cumulus Clouds

Webcast available at www.ulalaunch.com and www.youtube.com/unitedlaunchalliance

Orbital ATK Signs Agreement With USAF on Next Generation Launcher

DULLES, Va., 04 January 2018  (Orbital ATK PR) – Orbital ATK (NYSE: OA), a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, today announced it has signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the U.S. Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC). The CRADA provides the framework and plan for data exchanges needed to certify Orbital ATK’s Next Generation Launch (NGL) system to carry National Security Space missions.

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Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic Eye Human Spaceflights in 2018

New Shepard booster fires its engine just over the landing pad. (Credit: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

While Boeing and SpaceX move toward flying astronauts to the International Space Station this year, there are two other companies working on restoring the ability to launch people into space from U.S. soil.

Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic aren’t attempting anything as ambitious as orbital flight. Their aim is to fly short suborbital hops that will give tourists and scientists several minutes of microgravity to float around and conduct experiments in.

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SpaceX Leases Air Force Facility to Prepare Dragon Crew Capsules for Flight

Dragon 2 weldment and heat shield. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX has taken another step forward toward flying astronauts to the space station.

In a sign that astronaut launches from Florida are growing nearer, SpaceX recently leased an Air Force facility where it will prepare Dragon capsules to fly crews to the International Space Station.

The 45th Space Wing said work on the capsule called Crew Dragon or Dragon 2 would take place in Area 59, a former satellite processing facility on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

“This summer, they should be receiving their first Dragon 2 capsule, which will directly support NASA and the return of astronauts (launching into orbit) from U.S. soil,” said Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, the Wing commander, at a recent transportation summit in Port Canaveral.

It’s unclear when SpaceX or Boeing will be ready to launch test flights of astronauts under NASA contracts.

Read the full story.

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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Orbital ATK Awarded USAF Contract for Long-Duration Propulsion ESPA Spacecraft

ESPAStar space platform (Credit: Orbital ATK)

DULLES, Va., 11 December 2017 (Orbital ATK PR) – Orbital ATK (NYSE: OA), a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, today announced it has been awarded a contract from the U.S. Air Force Space and Missiles Center (AFSMC) to build LDPE, or the Long Duration Propulsive Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Secondary Payload Adapter (ESPA) space platform.

The innovative platform, positioned between the launch booster and a primary space vehicle, is used to carry small payloads or deploy small satellites.

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Defense Act Calls for Upgrades to Eastern & Western Launch Ranges

SpaceX launched its 12th resupply mission to the International Space Station from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 12:31 p.m. EDT on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017. (Credit: NASA Television)

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) mandates the Department of Defense to undertaken a program to modernize the infrastructure and improve support services on the Eastern and Western launch ranges in Florida and California. The measure, passed by Congress, awaits President Donald Trump’s signature.

“The program….shall include investments to improve operations at the Eastern and Western Ranges that may benefit all users, to enhance the overall capabilities of ranges, to improve safety, and  to reduce the long-term costs of operations and maintenance,” the bill reads.

The act also includes measures to improve processes across both ranges to “minimize the burden on launch providers” and “improvements in transparency, flexibility, and, responsiveness for launch scheduling.”

The NDAA allows the DOD to consult with current and anticipated users of the two ranges and to pursue partnerships if appropriate. The DOD is given 120 days after enactment of the act to submit a report on planned improvements to congressional defense committees.

The commanders of the U.S. Air Force space wings that run the ranges have said they need more funding to maintain and upgrade aging infrastructure as they cope with a surge in commercial launches. The failure of Congress to pass budgets in time for the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1 and automatic budgets mandated under sequestration have also hindered long-term planning, the commanders said.

The Eastern Range, which handles launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, was recently closed for two weeks to tackle 85 high-priority maintenance projects. The western range at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California uses radar systems that were built in the 1950’s.

A Tale of 2 Launch Ranges: The Best & Worst of Times

ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the MUOS-4 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA)

America’s Eastern and Western launch ranges in Florida and California are struggling to keep up with increasing demand from the nation’s booming commercial launch industry while dealing with budget uncertainties in Washington, U.S. Air Force officials said last week.

The Eastern Range has been dealing with a surge of flights this year from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center as SpaceX has increased its launch cadence. Elon Musk’s company and rival United Launch Alliance (ULA) has launched 18 times from Florida thus far, with two more SpaceX flights on the schedule for later this month.

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SpaceX Wants More Government Funding for Renamed BFR

BFR servicing the International Space Station. (Credit: SpaceX)

Some news out of the NewSpace Europe conference:

The president of SpaceX said she expects the company would receive additional funding from the U.S. government to support the development of its large reusable launch system.

Speaking at the NewSpace Europe conference here Nov. 16, Gwynne Shotwell noted that SpaceX is already receiving funding from the U.S. Air Force supporting the development of Raptor, the engine that will power the vehicle known as BFR, or Big Falcon Rocket, and the reusable spacecraft known as BFS or Big Falcon Spaceship.

“I do anticipate that there is residual capability of that system that the government will be interested in,” she said. “I do see that we would likely get some funding from the government for BFR and BFS.” She added, though, that work on the vehicles was not contingent on receiving government funding.

The U.S. Air Force recently issued a request for proposals that will fund the development of new launch systems to replace ULA’s Delta IV and Atlas V boosters.

NASA Works With Other Agencies for In-Space Assembly Development

NASA Office of the Chief Technologist team members, including Acting Chief Technologist Douglas Terrier (center), Acting Deputy Chief Technologist Vicki Crisp (left) and Strategic Parternships Lead Erica Rodgers (right) listen as Naval Research Laboratory Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites Program Lead Roboticist Glen Henshaw gives a presentation about in-space development capabilities. (Credit: Naval Research Laboratory)

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — A robot stretches its limbs and systematically climbs across a tubular structure, using the truss’s crossbars as handholds; one limb after another, it reaches and grabs the next handhold while releasing the ones behind it. Pulling itself along, it inspects the structure it just assembled in space.

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