SpaceX Rockets U.S. Launches to New Heights in 2022

Falcon 9 launches 53 Starlink satellites on June 17, 2022. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Powered by 33 flights of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster, the United States leads all nations with 48 launch attempts through the first seven months of the year. The total is three short of the number of U.S. launches attempted last year, and far ahead of the 27 launches conducted by second place China through the end of July. The U.S. has conducted more launches than the 43 flights conducted by the rest of the world combined.

A number of notable flights were conducted. SpaceX launched two Crew Dragons to the International Space Station (ISS), including the first fully privately funded mission to the orbiting laboratory. United Launch Alliance (ULA) launched Boeing’s CST-100 Starship crew vehicle on an automated flight test to ISS, a crucial step before astronauts to fly on the spacecraft. Small satellite launch provider Rocket Lab conducted its first deep-space mission by sending a spacecraft the size of a microwave to the moon.

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Astra Space Seeks to Launch First Satellites Today

Launch Date Set for NASA CubeSat Mission Aboard Astra Space’s Rocket 3.3

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA’s first mission under the agency’s Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) Demonstration 2 contract is scheduled to launch four CubeSats to space no earlier than Feb. 5, 2022. The CubeSats, which make up the agency’s 41st Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) mission, will be the first VCLS launch from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida and Astra Space Inc’s first operational satellite launch aboard its Rocket 3.3.

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Launch Date Set for NASA CubeSat Mission Aboard Astra Space’s Rocket 3.3

Rocket 3 lifts off from Kodiak Island. (Credit: Astra Space webcast)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA’s first mission under the agency’s Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) Demonstration 2 contract is scheduled to launch four CubeSats to space no earlier than Feb. 5, 2022. The CubeSats, which make up the agency’s 41st Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) mission, will be the first VCLS launch from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida and Astra Space Inc’s first operational satellite launch aboard its Rocket 3.3.

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NASA Selects Relativity Space for Venture-class Acquisition of Dedicated and Rideshare (VADR) Mission

Rendering of Terran 1 rocket launching from potential future Vandenberg launch site. (Credit: Relativity Space)

LONG BEACH, Calif., January 27, 2022 (Relativity Space PR) – Relativity Space,  announced today that the company has been selected by NASA as one of 12 companies to provide launch services for the agency’s Venture-Class Acquisition of Dedicated and Rideshare (VADR) missions, providing new opportunities for science and technology payloads and fostering a growing U.S. commercial launch market.

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12 Companies to Provide Venture Class Launch Services for NASA

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected 12 companies to provide launch services for the agency’s Venture-Class Acquisition of Dedicated and Rideshare (VADR) missions, providing new opportunities for science and technology payloads and fostering a growing U.S. commercial launch market.

Award selections are:

  • ABL Space Systems of El Segundo, California
  • Astra Space Inc. of Alameda, California
  • Blue Origin Florida LLC of Merritt Island, Florida
  • L2 Solutions LLC of Houston
  • Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation of Chandler, Arizona
  • Phantom Space Corporation of Tucson, Arizona
  • Relativity Space Inc. of Long Beach, California
  • Rocket Lab USA Inc. of Long Beach, California
  • Spaceflight Inc. of Seattle
  • Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, California
  • United Launch Services LLC of Centennial, Colorado
  • Virgin Orbit LLC of Long Beach, California
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General Atomics Awards Contract to Firefly Aerospace to Launch NASA’s Multi-Angle Imager for Aerosols Mission

Orbital Test Bed (OTB) satellite carrying NASA’s Multi-Angle Imager for Aerosols (MAIA) instrument. (Credit: General Atomics)

SAN DIEGO, February 18, 2021 (GA-EMS PR) — General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems (GA-EMS) announced today that it has awarded a contract to Firefly Aerospace Inc. to launch a GA-EMS developed Orbital Test Bed (OTB) satellite carrying NASA’s Multi-Angle Imager for Aerosols (MAIA) instrument. The launch vehicle delivering the satellite to space will be Firefly’s Alpha rocket and is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in 2022.

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Virgin Orbit Delays Flight Test to Sunday

Cosmic Girl performs a pitch up maneuver during a flight test on April 12, 2020. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

Virgin Orbit has delayed the flight test of its LauncherOne booster originally scheduled for Wednesday until Sunday, Jan. 17. Operations are expected to take place between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. PST (1800-2200 UTC). Your local time may vary; please adjust accordingly.

Virgin Orbit’s modified Boeing 747 named Cosmic Girl will take off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. It will release LauncherOne over the Pacific Ocean west of San Nicolas Island. The rocket’s first stage will fire once the booster is clear of the aircraft.

LauncherOne’s second flight test will carry 10 CubeSats for NASA under the space agency’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) program. NASA also funded the launch under its Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) program.

LauncherOne’s first flight test failed on May 25, 2020. The first stage fired for about four seconds, but then quit due to a break in a propellant line.

This second flight test is seen as crucial for Virgin Orbit, which is attempting to raise an additional $200 million in investment. Founder Richard Branson has said the company has already raised $1 billion in its effort to reach orbit.

Virgin Orbit Launch Attempt Scheduled for Jan. 10

Cosmic Girl with a fueled LauncherOne on approach to Mojave on April 12, 2020. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The U.S. Coast Guard has posted a Local Notice to Mariners (LNM) that says Virgin Orbit is planning to conduct the second flight test of its LauncherOne rocket off the coast of California on Sunday, Jan. 10.

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NASA’s ELaNa 20 Mission First to Fly on Virgin Orbit Launch

Virgin Orbit teammates complete a dry run of the payload encapsulation process in Aug. 2020 inside their “Nebula” payload processing facility ahead of the company’s Launch Demo 2 mission. (Credits: Virgin Orbit/Greg Robinson)

By Danielle Sempsrott 
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

MOJAVE, Calif. — Ten NASA-sponsored CubeSats are preparing to fly on the agency’s next Educational Launch of Nanosatellites  (ELaNa) mission, making this the first payload carried by Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket.

With the small satellites safely secured inside the payload fairing, and the fairing mated to the rocket, Virgin Orbit is gearing up for ELaNa 20, the Launch Demo 2 flight from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

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Shorthanded Virgin Orbit Postpones Launch Due to COVID-19

Closeup on LauncherOne. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Orbit has postponed the second flight of its LauncherOne booster scheduled for Dec. 19 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company announced on Saturday.

“Our latest round of contact tracing Friday evening led to a new batch of precautionary quarantines,” Virgin Orbit tweeted. “Consequently, we’ve fallen below the number of staff we feel we require to prudently and safely proceed with pre-launch operations….

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Firefly Black Awarded NASA Venture Class Launch Services Demonstration 2 Contract

WASHINGTON (Firefly Black PR) — Firefly Black, LLC is pleased to announce its selection by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for the launch of Mission Two of the Venture Class Launch Service Demonstration 2 (VCLS Demo 2) contract. Mission Two involves launch of two CubeSat constellations to a 550 km Sun-Synchronous Orbit, separated by a minimum of 10 degrees in plane change.

“Firefly Black is pleased to have been selected by NASA for this operationally challenging mission. We applaud NASA’s commitment to the nation’s emerging small launch industrial base and look forward to supporting America’s civil space launch needs for many years,” said Leslie Kovacs, company President. “The all-private development of our Alpha launch vehicle, and the impending completion of our Space Launch Complex 2 conversion at Vandenberg AFB, are on schedule to support the maiden Firefly Alpha launch in the first quarter of 2021. The men and women of Firefly, and our supply chain partners, are excited by this partnership with NASA.”

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NASA Awards Venture Class Launch Contracts to Astra, Relativity Space & Firefly

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP) has awarded multiple Venture Class Launch Services Demonstration 2 (VCLS Demo 2) contracts to launch small satellites (SmallSats) to space, including CubeSats, microsats or nanosatellites. The three companies selected to provide these commercial launch capabilities, and the value of their firm fixed-price contracts, are:

  • Astra Space Inc. of Alameda, California: $3.9 million
  • Relativity Space Inc. of Long Beach, California: $3.0 million
  • Firefly Black LLC of Cedar Park, Texas: $9.8 million
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