SpaceX Plans Three Launches in 11 Days

The first Falcon 9 Block 5 booster heads for the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. (Credit: SpaceX)

After a three-week break, SpaceX is gearing up for a busy stretch of launches with three coming up in an 11-day period on opposite sides of the country.

The launch campaign kicks off with an early Sunday morning launch from Cape Canaveral. Falcon 9 will carry Telesat’s Telstar 19 VANTAGE communications satellite, which will provide service to China, India, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Ocean.

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Vandenberg Consolidates Operations on Western Launch Range

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the NROL-47 mission lifts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Credit: ULA)

By Michael Peterson
30th Space Wing Public Affairs

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — The 30th Range Management Squadron inactivated and merged with the 2nd Range Operations Squadron here, July 10. The reorganization allows all range mission assurance operations to be conducted under a single chain of command. This combining of responsibilities allows two similar mission sets to continue providing a unified front for the Western Range.

“This process will empower our squadrons to push responsibility to our experts in the field and streamline our range management capabilities.” said Lt. Col. Max Coberly, 30th RMS commander. “This merger will offer our squadrons more flexibility in responding to the challenges of the range.”

“Since the activation of the 30th RMS in 2002, the unit has enabled 142 launches from Vandenberg,” said Col. Curtis Hernandez, 30th Operations Group commander. “The unit has also placed 73 satellites into orbit, valued at over 53.6 billion dollars, providing critical nation defense and commercial industry capabilities that protect and enable the American and global way of life.”

The 30th RMS inactivation and merge into the 2nd ROPS is a major step taken by the 30th Space Wing to reach its mission goal of “providing robust, relevant and efficient spaceport and range capabilities for the nation.”

“This Wing provides range support for nationally critical missions.” said Col. Michael Hough, 30th Space Wing commander. “We have to position ourselves to provide efficient, flexible range capabilities.”

The move to combine squadrons returns the decision-making down to the lower levels, improves readiness, and unifies the efforts of the wing towards the same goal while removing unnecessary barriers brought on by duplicated responsibilities. With the unified commands, Lt. Col. Meredith Beg, 2nd ROPS commander, sees the groundwork for an improved Western Range capability.

“The 30th RMS has made significant contributions to the defense of our nation, and cemented America’s current position as the dominant space power on this planet,” said Hernandez. “We will ensure America’s access to space is agile, efficient and lethal. This is an inactivation of a unit that maintained Vandenberg’s relevance to the nation and the planet, and has ensured our legacy into the future.”

Mid-Year Global Launch Report: China & USA Continue to Battle for Lead

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the NROL-47 mission lifts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Credit: ULA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The world’s launch providers were extremely busy in the first half of 2018, with China and the United States battling for the lead.

There with 55 orbital launches through the end of June, which amounted to a launch every 3.29 days or 79 hours. The total is more than half the 90 launches attempted in 2017. With approximately 42 missions scheduled for the last six months of the year, the total could reach 97. (more…)

SpaceX Applies for Permission to Land Falcon 9 Stage at Vandenberg

Falcon 9 first stage comes in for a landing after launching the Zuma payload. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX has applied for permission to land a Falcon 9 first stage at Vandenberg Air Force Base for the first time.

The request to the Federal Communications Commission for “special temporary authority” covers a six-month window from September 5, 2018 to March 5, 2019. SpaceX needs permission for communications between the landing site and the returning first-stage booster for the experimental operation.

All previous land recoveries have taken place at Cape Canaveral in Florida. SpaceX has recovered first stages from Vandenberg launches using offshore drone ships.

Falcon 9 Orbits Iridium-NEXT, GRACE-FO Satellites

The NASA/German Research Centre for Geosciences GRACE Follow-On spacecraft launch onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, Tuesday, May 22, 2018, from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

A SpaceX Falcon 9 booster blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Tuesday afternoon and successfully orbited seven satellites.

There were five Iridium-NEXT communications satellites aboard. These were the 51st through 56th Iridium-NEXT spacecraft orbited by Falcon 9 boosters.

A pair of Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) satellites were also onboard. The spacecraft will measure changes in how mass is redistributed within and among Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, land and ice sheets, as well as within Earth itself.

The mission is a join collaboration of NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ).  GFZ reports receiving signals from both GRACE-FO satellites.

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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Three Launches Scheduled Over Two Days Next Week

ISS with Soyuz and Progress spacecraft docked to it. (Credit: NASA)

There are a dozen orbital launches planned around the world through the end of June.

China will lead off on Sunday as it launches its Chang’e-4 lunar relay satellite from Xichang. A lunar lander and rover targeted for the far side of the moon is scheduled for launch at the end of the year.

Orbital ATK will follow with the launch of a Cygnus resupply ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday from Wallops Island. On Tuesday, SpaceX is scheduled to launch 5 Iridium Next satellites and a pair of scientific spacecraft for NASA.

Other notable missions scheduled through June include a Soyuz crew mission and a SpaceX Dragon resupply flight. Rocket Lab is probably going to launch the first commercial flight of its Electron booster from New Zealand. However, the company has not published a launch window for the flight.

The current global schedule is below. Be sure to check Space Flight Now’s launch schedule for updates.

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ULA Machinists Go on Strike

Nearly 600 machinists working at United Launch Alliance (ULA) are on strike against the company after they voted down a three-year contract offer from the company on Sunday.

The machinists, who are represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), are employed at ULA facilities in Decatur, Ala.; Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla,; and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

“It’s unfortunate that a company who makes a living off the backs of tax payer dollars would offer a substandard package for a highly skilled workforce,” said IAM Western Territory General Vice President Gary Allen prior to the vote.  The union had recommended machinists reject the contract.

In a statement, ULA called the offer fair, competitive and in the best interest of the company and its employees.

“We’re disappointed that the IAM members rejected ULA’s last, best and final offer and voted to strike,” said Tory Bruno, ULA president and chief executive officer. “We believe our proposed contract is very competitive with other companies. Importantly, ULA’s final offer contributes to ULA’s long term viability in an increasingly competitive launch business environment.”

Union officials disagreed.

“The best-case scenario for both sides is when we are able to come to an agreement at the bargaining table. Unfortunately, in this case, that didn’t happen,” said Chief of Staff and Aerospace Negotiator Jody Bennett. “Although the contract does include some improvements, it just wasn’t enough for a group of working men and women who have made ULA the absolute safest company in the aerospace industry. Their offer did not clearly mirror the decades of hard work put forth by these machinists members.”

ULA’s said it would implement strike contingency plans and continue to operate at all three locations.

Atlas V Launches InSight Spacecraft to Mars

NASA’s Mars Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission is the first interplanetary launch from the West Coast of the U.S. After its six-month journey, InSight will descend to Mars to study the heart of the Red Planet. (Credit: NASA)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Mars Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission is on a 300-million-mile trip to Mars to study for the first time what lies deep beneath the surface of the Red Planet. InSight launched at 7:05 a.m. EDT (4:05 am PDT) Saturday from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

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Unfavorable Weather Forecast for Mars Insight Launch

NASA’s InSight to Mars undergoes final preparations at Vandenberg AFB, Calif., ahead of its May 5 launch date. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (ULA PR) — Everything is progressing toward the ULA Atlas V InSight mission for NASA. The mission is set to lift off on an Atlas V rocket on Saturday, May 5 from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Today’s L-3 forecast shows a 20 percent chance of favorable weather conditions for launch.

The two-hour launch window begins at 4:05 a.m. PT.

Launch Forecast Summary:

Overall probability of violating weather constraints: 80%
Primary concerns: Launch Visibility
Overall probability of violating weather constraints for 24 hour delay: 80%
Primary concern: Launch Visibility

Launch Broadcast

Live launch coverage will begin at 3:30 a.m. PT on May 5.  Webcast available at: www.ulalaunch.com

Firefly Aerospace Receives USAF Statement of Support for Use of Vandenberg Launch Complex

Space Launch Complex 2 West with Delta II booster. (Credit: NASA)

CEDAR PARK, Texas, May 1, 2018 (Firefly Aerospace PR) — Firefly Aerospace, Inc. (Firefly), a developer of orbital launch vehicles for the small to medium satellite market, announced today that the United States Air Force (USAF) has issued a “Statement of Support for the Firefly Aerospace Program, Alpha and Beta Launch Vehicles” to utilize Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) Space Launch Complex 2 West (SLC-2W) for future launches of the Firefly Alpha and Beta launch vehicles.

“Firefly Aerospace is greatly appreciative that NASA and the USAF support the transition of SLC-2W to a commercial launch site dedicated to the launch of Firefly vehicles,” said Firefly CEO Dr. Tom Markusic. “SLC-2W has been an incredible asset for US space missions for over 50 years. We are humbled and honored that Firefly Alpha and Beta launch vehicles will be adding many successful missions to the already storied history of SLC-2W.”

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Schedule of Mars InSight Pre-Launch & Launch Activities

NASA’s InSight to Mars undergoes final preparations at Vandenberg AFB, Calif., ahead of its May 5 launch date. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA’s next mission to Mars, Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight), is scheduled to launch Saturday, May 5, on a first-ever mission to study the heart of Mars. Coverage of prelaunch and launch activities begins Thursday, May 3, on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

InSight, the first planetary mission to take off from the West Coast, is targeted to launch at 7:05 a.m. EDT (4:05 a.m. PDT) from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket.

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Updated Global Launch Schedule for May

Mars InSight lander (Credit: NASA)

There are some interesting launches among the nine orbital flights currently scheduled for May. Highlights include:

  • NASA’s Mars InSight lander with two deep-space CubeSats (May 5);
  • SpaceX’s first flight of a Falcon 9 Block 5 variant (NET May 7);
  • Two Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE Follow-On) satellites (May 19);
  • Orbital ATK’s Antares Cygnus ISS resupply mission (May 20);
  • China’s Chang’e-4 lunar relay satellite with two deep-space microsats (TBD); and,
  • Rocket Lab’s first Electron commercial flight (TBD).

There have been 40 orbital launches through April, with 38 successes, one failure and one partial failure.

The schedule below is subject to change. Please check with our friends at Spaceflight Now for updates.
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Iridium Announces Target Launch Date for the Iridium-6/GRACE-FO Mission

Iridium NEXT spacecraft (Credit: Iridium)

MCLEAN, Va., April 09, 2018 (Iridium PR) — Iridium Communications Inc. (NASDAQ:IRDM) announced today that the Iridium-6/GRACE-FO rideshare mission, the sixth Iridium® NEXT launch overall, has been targeted for launch by SpaceX from Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) in California for May 19, 2018 at approximately 1:03 PM PDT (20:03 UTC). An exact instantaneous launch window time will be available closer to launch.

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Bound for Mars: Countdown to First Interplanetary Launch from California

NASA’s InSight to Mars undergoes final preparations at Vandenberg AFB, Calif., ahead of its May 5 launch date. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — In the early morning hours of May 5, millions of Californians will have an opportunity to witness a sight they have never seen before – the historic first interplanetary launch from America’s West Coast. On board the 189-foot-tall (57.3-meter) United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket will be NASA’s InSight spacecraft, destined for the Elysium Planitia region located in Mars’ northern hemisphere. The May 5 launch window for the InSight mission opens at 4:05 am PDT (7:05 EDT, 11:05 UTC) and remains open for two hours.

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