2019: A Busy Year in Suborbital Flight

Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable, suborbital rocket. (Credits: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Last year was a busy one for suborbital flights as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic conducted a combined four flights of their crewed suborbital vehicles. Despite hopes to the contrary, neither company flew paying tourists on their spaceships.

There were also 26 sounding rocket launches that carried scientific experiments and technology payloads above the atmosphere. The year saw:

  • Japanese startup Interstellar Technologies conduct a successful launch of its Momo commercial sounding rocket;
  • Texas-based Exos Aerospace continue to struggle with its reusable SARGE booster; and,
  • the first suborbital launch ever achieved by college students.
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SpaceX Designing Service Tower for Pad 39A

Falcon Heavy on the launch pad. (Credit: SpaceX)

Spaceflight Now reports that SpaceX is completing plans for a mobile service tower so the company can integrate U.S. military satellites onto its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters while they are in a vertical position on Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

The tower will surround Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets at pad 39A, shielding the vehicles from storms and high winds and providing a controlled environment for ground crews to hoist heavy satellites and mount them on top of the launch vehicles in a vertical configuration.

SpaceX currently installs satellites, already cocooned inside their payload shrouds, onto Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets horizontally inside hangars near the company’s launch pads. But some of thee U.S. government’s most sensitive intelligence-gathering satellites, some of which come with billion-dollar or higher price tags, are designed to be mounted on their launch vehicles vertically.

SpaceX officials said the vertical integration capability is required for participants in the National Security Space Launch Phase 2 Launch Service Procurement. The U.S. Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center — now part of the U.S. Space Force — released a request for proposals for the Phase 2 Launch Service Procurement last May.

The military plans to select two companies later this year to launch the Pentagon’s most critical satellite missions from 2022 through 2026. The military’s incumbent National Security Space Launch providers — United Launch Alliance and SpaceX — are competing for the lucrative contracts with newcomers Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin for the Phase 2 contracts.

14th Air Force Redesignated as Space Operations Command (SPOC)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFNS) — By order of Secretary of the Air Force Barbara M. Barrett, effective Dec. 20, Fourteenth Air Force was officially redesignated as Space Operations Command.

Air Force military and civilian personnel previously assigned to the Fourteenth Air Force are now assigned to SPOC by virtue of the redesignation action.

The SPOC directly supports the U.S. Space Force’s mission to protect the interests of the United States in space; deter aggression in, from and to space; and conduct space operations.

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Rocket Lab Opens Second Launch Complex on Wallops Island

Rocket Lab’s launch complex on Wallops Island. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Ten months after the first pilings were driven in, Rocket Lab declared its new launch complex on Wallops Island, Va., open and ready to serve the U.S. military’s need for rapid response launches with the company’s Electron booster.

“We’re proud to call Wallops Island in Virginia our home. We’re very proud to deliver a new launch capability to the United States. We’re very proud to support U.S. missions with a U.S. launch vehicle on U.S. soil,” CEO Peter Beck said during a press conference.

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Legislation to Create Space Force as 6th Branch of Armed Forces

The White House and Congress have worked out a deal that will establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the Armed Services in exchange for 12 weeks of paid leave for federal employees with newborn babies.

The details of the Space Force taken from a summary of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) are below.

Space Force

The FY20 NDAA recognizes space as a warfighting domain and establishes the U.S. Space Force in Title 10 as the sixth Armed Service of the United States, under the U.S. Air Force. In doing so, the NDAA provides the Secretary of the Air Force with the authority to transfer Air Force personnel to the newly established Space Force. To minimize cost and bureaucracy, the Space Force will require no additional billets and remains with the President’s budget request.

The conference agreement creates a Chief of Space Operations (CSO) for the U.S. Space Force who will report directly to the Secretary of the Air Force and become a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. During the first year, the CSO may also serve as the Commander of U.S. Space Command. The CSO will provide updates to the committees of jurisdiction every 60 days, with briefings and reports on implementation and establishment status. The conference report also creates:

  • A Senate-confirmed Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisition and Integration, as the senior space architect, who will:
    • Provide a renewed focus on the acquisition of space systems as the Chair of the Space Force Acquisition Council, ensuring integration across the national security space enterprise;
    • Synchronize with the Air Force Service Acquisition Executive on all space system efforts, and take on Service Acquisition Executive responsibilities for space systems and programs effective on October 1, 2022; and
    • Oversee and direct the Space and Missile Systems Center, Space Rapid Capabilities Office, and Space Development Agency.
  • An Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy as the senior civilian in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for oversight of space warfighting.

Aerospace CubeSats Blaze a Faster Trail to Space

Aerospace CubeSat (Credit: Aerospace Corporation)

The challenge: Build and launch a pair of cube satellites on a tight budget and even tighter timeline. 

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (Aerospace Corporation PR) — In mid-2018, The Aerospace Corporation engineers and scientists received a unique mission from the United States Air Force. Their challenge: Build and launch a pair of cube satellites on a tight budget and even tighter timeline of just 18 months.

In a world where the threats facing orbiting satellites proliferate with each passing year, the ability to field an agile response and quickly restore lost functionality is a critical, but still developing, capability.

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Kleos Space Establishes US Subsidiary

  • Wholly owned subsidiary incorporated to target largest Defence and Security market
    • US$692 billion (~628 EUR billion) US national security budget (Bryce 2019)
    • Former intelligence community and US Department of Defence senior executive, Head of Kleos US Strategy, Karyn Hayes-Ryan, appointed Director
  • US Government Departments to access datasets from Kleos’ commercial satellites, enhancing US surveillance capability
  • Effective local support for existing Kleos projects
  • Kleos operations now cover US, UK, Luxembourg and Australia

LUXEMBOURG, 15 October 2019 (Kleos Space PR) — Kleos Space S.A. (ASX: KSS, Frankfurt: KS1), a space-powered Radio Frequency Reconnaissance data-as-a-service (DaaS) company, headquartered in Luxembourg, has incorporated a wholly-owned US subsidiary to integrate and sell its maritime ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) data into US defence and security government departments, agencies and industry.

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Next Generation OPIR GEO Satellite Program Completes Preliminary Design Review

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — The Next Generation OPIR Geosynchronous Earth Orbiting (GEO) satellite program, commonly referred to as NGG, achieved another major milestone in 2019 by completing its system/ground and space vehicle preliminary design review (PDR) Sept. 27, 2019.

Next Generation OPIR will provide a capable, resilient, and defensible space-based global missile warning capability against emerging threats.

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USAF Selects 8 Companies to Compete for Launch Contracts

The U.S. Air Force has selected eight companies to compete for $986 worth of launch contracts under its Orbital Services Program-4 (OSP-4) program. The companies include:

  • Aevum Inc., Huntsville, Ala.;
  • Firefly Black LLC, Cedar Park, Texas;
  • Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, Chandler, Ariz.;
  • Rocket Lab USA Inc., Huntington Beach, Calif.;
  • Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Hawthorne, Calif.;
  • United Launch Alliance, Centennial, Colo.;
  • VOX Space LLC., El Segundo, Calif.;
  • Xbow Launch Systems Inc., Auburn, Calif.;

“The contract seeks to capitalize on the emerging small launch providers while providing dedicated and primary launch services to the Department of Defense and other government agencies,” the U.S. Air Force said in announcing the selections.

“The program 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 announcement added.

The eight companies will be competitive for indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity, firm-fixed-price contracts under OSP-4.

Air Force Selects Ball Aerospace, Microsoft to Demonstrate Cloud Processing for LEO Constellations

BOULDER, Colo., Sept. 17, 2019 (Ball Aerospace PR) — Ball Aerospace and Microsoft were selected to demonstrate agile cloud processing capabilities in support of the U.S. Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center’s Commercially Augmented Space Inter Networked Operations (CASINO) project. The demonstration will show how simultaneous, worldwide data streams from large, distributed constellations of small satellites can be processed quickly using Microsoft’s Azure cloud and Ball Aerospace algorithms.

Additionally, the demonstration will include a single downlink directly into a Microsoft data center using a Ball Aerospace phased array antenna.

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USAF Awards Launch Contract Formerly Held by Vector to Aveum

Aveum rocket launching drome. (Credit: Aveum)

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (USAF PR) — The U.S. Air Force’s Rocket Systems Launch Program (RSLP) office, part of the Space and Missile Systems Center Launch Enterprise, awarded a $4.9 million contract to Aevum, Inc. today for the Agile Small Launch Operational Normalizer (ASLON)-45 space lift mission via RSLP’s Small Rocket Program-Orbital (SRP-O) framework. 

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White House Continues to Press for Space Force as Separate Military Branch

The Trump Administration continues to press Congress to designate the newly created Space Force as a separate military service instead of being subordinate to the U.S. Air Force.

“The Administration strongly urges the Congress to explicitly designate the Space Force as a separate sixth branch of the Armed Forces and include all related technical and conforming amendments,” Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Russell T. Vought wrote in a letter to Congressional leaders.

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Combined Force Space Component Command Established at Vandenberg AFB

Gen. John Raymond

By Maj. Cody Chiles
Combined Force Space Component Command Public Affairs

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif., Aug. 30, 2019 — Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, Commander, U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM), ordered the establishment of two subordinate commands to support the warfighting efforts of the command — Combined Force Space Component Command (CFSCC), and Joint Task Force Space Defense (JTF-SD), immediately following the establishment of USSPACECOM Aug. 29, 2019.

Raymond appointed Maj. Gen. Stephen N. Whiting as CFSCC Commander, and Brig. Gen. Matthew W. Davidson as the Deputy Commander; with a mission to plan, integrate, conduct, and assess global space operations in order to deliver combat relevant space capabilities to Combatant Commanders, Coalition partners, the Joint Force, and the Nation.

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Kleos Space Wins USAF SBIR Award

Kleos Scouting mission. (Credit: Kleos Space)
  • Kleos Space technology passes first US Air Force hurdle- Small Business Innovation Research contract award
  • Kleos was granted Phase 1 Award to prepare feasibility study
  • Opportunity to progress into SBIR Phase II Award of ~EUR 1.36M

LUXEMBOURG, 30 August 2019 (Kleos Space PR) — Kleos Space S.A. (ASX: KSS, Frankfurt: KS1), a space-powered Radio Frequency Reconnaissance data-as-a-service (DaaS) company, is pleased to announce that it has been awarded a United States Air Force Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase 1 contract with a focus on “Innovative Defense-Related Dual-Purpose Technologies/Solutions with a Clear Air Force Stakeholder Need”.

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