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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U.S. Air Force Completes USSPACECOM Draft Environmental Assessment

WASHINGTON (AFNS) — The Department of the Air Force has completed the draft environmental assessment of the preferred alternative and other five reasonable alternatives for U.S. Space Command headquarters as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The draft document was made available July 13 for a 30-day public comment period in accordance with the NEPA process.
 
The final environmental assessment will take into account comments received for the DAF to consider before making a final basing decision for the command’s headquarters. As recommended by the Department of Defense Inspector General and directed by the Secretary of Defense, the DAF will also review concerns regarding full operational capability for U.S. Space Command headquarters, as well as review the DAF’s analysis criteria for “childcare,” “housing affordability,” and “access to military/veteran support” to verify that identification of the preferred alternative was supported.

Once the NEPA process is complete, the Secretary of the Air Force will select a location for U.S. Space Command headquarters.

The draft environmental assessment, along with information about how to submit a comment, is available online here.

Air Force Research Laboratory Recurve Satellite Launched on Virgin Orbit Mission

Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles Directorate’s spacecraft Recurve was launched into low Earth orbit July 2, 2022, from the Mojave Air and Space Port, Rutan Field, Mojave, California, on a Virgin Orbit U.S. Space Force Space Test Program mission. (Credit: U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory)

by Jeanne Dailey
Air Force Research Laboratory Public Affairs

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFRL) — The Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles Directorate spaceflight experiment Recurve was launched July 2, 2022, from the Mojave Air and Space Port on the Virgin Orbit space system in California. The launch supported the U.S. Space Force’s STP-S28A mission and carried six additional payloads for the Department of Defense Space Test Program (STP).

Recurve is the latest in several low-cost CubeSats designed, built and operated entirely in house at the Space Vehicles Directorate located on Kirtland AFB.

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Reaction Engines Begins Testing of Breakthrough High-mach Propulsion Technology Under Contract with U.S. Department of Defense

Engine on the test stand. (Credit: Reaction Engines)

ABINDON, UK (Reaction Engines PR) — Reaction Engines today revealed the start of a new testing campaign to expand the performance envelope of their high-Mach enabling technology through the Foreign Comparative Testing (FCT) Program at the Department of Defense and supported by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).

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ULA Atlas V to Launch USSF-12 Mission on Thursday

Atlas V for the USSF-12 mission on the launch pad. (Credit: ULA)

CAPE CANAVERAL SPACE FORCE STATION, Fla. (ULA PR) — A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 541 rocket will launch the USSF-12 mission for the U.S. Space Force’s Space Systems Command (SSC). Liftoff will occur from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida.

Launch Date and Time: Thursday, June 30, 2022 at 6:00 p.m. EDT (2200 UTC)

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The National Reconnaissance Office Is Partnering With the UK’s Ministry of Defence on Historic Mission Aboard Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne

Virgin Orbit’s first international commercial rocket launch will carry a joint U.K. and U.S. mission scheduled for takeoff later this year.

LONG BEACH, Calif. (Virgin Orbit PR) — Virgin Orbit (Nasdaq: VORB) announces today that it will carry a joint mission between the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the United States’ National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) in its historic flight out of Newquay Airport in Cornwall, England later this year. It will be the first rocket launch from British soil, and the first commercial launch from Western Europe.

Virgin Orbit will send two satellites to Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) using the LauncherOne launch platform aboard Cosmic Girl, a modified Boeing 747 aircraft. The Prometheus 2 CubeSats will provide a test platform for monitoring radio signals including GPS and sophisticated imaging, expected to pave the way for a more collaborative and connected space communication system with our allies.

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The Small Businesses Behind CAPSTONE Are Paving Our Path to the Moon

CAPSTONE in orbit around the moon. (Credit: NASA)

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — The upcoming Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) mission will be the first spacecraft to fly a unique orbit around the Moon that will be used for Gateway, NASA’s future Moon-orbiting outpost. Gateway is an international collaboration working with commercial partners to establish a long-term human presence in deep space. Similarly, CAPSTONE – a mission owned and operated by Advanced Space, LLC in Westminster, Colorado – is made possible by collaborations with small businesses across the country, showing how NASA works with innovators in its future exploration endeavors.

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Virgin Orbit on Target for Next Launch Window to Open June 29

Highlights: 

  • Dress rehearsals complete, payload-rocket mating successful 
  • June 29 marks the opening of the launch window for the company’s fourth overall mission  
  • Is lead-in to historic U.K. launch planned for later this year

LONG BEACH, Calif. (Virgin Orbit PR) — Virgin Orbit (Nasdaq: VORB)’s launch system is in place at the Mojave Air and Space Port. The dress rehearsals are complete, and the company remains on track for its upcoming Straight Up launch, with a launch window opening on June 29 at 10 pm PDT.

The launch will support the United States Space Force’s STP-S28A mission and carry payloads for the Department of Defense (DOD) Space Test Program (STP). The target orbit for Straight Up is approximately 500 km above the Earth’s surface at a 45-degree inclination. Virgin Orbit is the first company to achieve this feat from California through its Above the Clouds launch which was completed earlier this year.

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NSSA Release Report on “United States Space Command: Progress and Opportunities”

ARLINGTON, Va., June 22, 2022 (NSSA PR) — The National Security Space Association (NSSA) today released a report entitled “United States Space Command:  Progress and Opportunities”. Produced by the Association’s Moorman Center for Space Studies, the report notes the importance of the USSPACECOM mission to U.S. national security and economic well-being, describes recent progress of the Command in reaching an “initial operational capability” (IOC), and highlights key challenges and opportunities facing the Command.

The report notes that, for the Command to reach its full potential, expanded cooperation with and support from other Department of Defense organizations and the Congress is required in the following areas:

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Private 5G Provider SEMPRE.ai Acquires NewSpace Networks to Extend Secure Satellite Communications Globally

Ensuring survivable communication and edge computing services for the Department of Defense, allied nations, and businesses

NewSpace Networks Founders Join SEMPRE Executive team

WASHINGTON (SEMPRE.ai PR) — SEMPRE.ai, the technology company created to secure America’s critical infrastructure, today announced the acquisition of NewSpace Networks to further safeguard and expand the availability of terrestrial, maritime, airborne and space-based wireless communications. Integration of the two companies’ technologies has been underway for more than a year, with the first commercial products having been tested domestically with the U.S. Department of Defense. By combining SEMPRE’s heterogeneous edge compute, hardware hardening expertise and 5G core development with NewSpace Networks software experience, virtualization and networking knowledge the company has combined these technologies into a complete survivable, micro-edge datacenter solution. The specific terms of the acquisition are not being disclosed.

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Northrop Grumman Announces Successful Laser Communication Demonstration for Tranche 1 Transport Layer Prototype Constellation

Northrop Grumman teamed with Mynaric and Innoflight to bring the Space Development Agency’s (SDA) vision of a secure, proliferated low-Earth orbit (LEO) mesh communication network closer to reality

Northrop Grumman personnel examine the U.S. Space Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s Space Test Program Satellite 6 (STPSat-6) at its facility in Dulles, Virginia, prior to its shipment to Florida for final launch processing. Seen on the front of the spacecraft is NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration instrument, the first long-duration laser communications mission that will validate advanced relay operations for future missions. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

REDONDO BEACH, Calif. (Northrop Grumman PR) – Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) today announced the successful ground demonstration of a secure networked laser communications system for proliferated-LEO constellations supporting the U.S. military.

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Northrop Grumman to Build Multi-Level Space Mesh Networking Prototype to Enable DOD’s Vision for Connected Battlespace

SAN DIEGO (Northrop Grumman PR) – Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) and Aeronix, Inc. have been selected to build a secure connective networking layer in space that will help enable the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) vision for the joint force.

The companies will develop a Space End Crypto Unit (ECU) prototype that will connect platforms and weapons in low earth orbit (LEO) across common architecture, providing added network security to critical missions for the Space Force. Northrop Grumman’s prototype is a flexible, high throughput design based on a single chip, reprogrammable solution and is expected to provide a connected network solution that helps warfighters make decisions faster across a full range of platforms.

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NASA to Set Up Independent Study on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA is commissioning a study team to start early in the fall to examine unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs) – that is, observations of events in the sky that cannot be identified as aircraft or known natural phenomena – from a scientific perspective. The study will focus on identifying available data, how best to collect future data, and how NASA can use that data to move the scientific understanding of UAPs forward.

The limited number of observations of UAPs currently makes it difficult to draw scientific conclusions about the nature of such events. Unidentified phenomena in the atmosphere are of interest for both national security and air safety. Establishing which events are natural provides a key first step to identifying or mitigating such phenomena, which aligns with one of NASA’s goals to ensure the safety of aircraft. There is no evidence UAPs are extra-terrestrial in origin.

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UK and US to Launch Joint Mission Aboard United Kingdom’s First Orbital Launch Supported by Virgin Orbit

LONG BEACH, Calif. (Virgin Orbit PR) — Satellite launch company Virgin Orbit (Nasdaq: VORB) announces today that a joint mission between the United Kingdom’s Defense Science and Technology Laboratory and the United States Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) is expected to be lofted on the first space launch out of Spaceport Cornwall later this year.

The government agencies’ joint Coordinated Ionospheric Reconstruction CubeSat Experiment (CIRCE) is supported by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Space Test Program (STP), which is organized under the U.S. Space Force’s Space Systems Command (SSC). CIRCE will utilize two 6U CubeSats flying in tandem formation to measure the ionosphere and radiation environment from multiple vantage points. The mission will support the two countries’ joint development of a wide range of civil and defense applications, including GPS, radar, communication systems, and sensing technology.

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Panel Urges Government, Industry Action to Improve Battered Space Supply Chain

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

LONG BEACH, Calif. — The question of how to strengthen the U.S. space industry’s weakened supply chain, which has been battered over the past two years by the global COVID-19 pandemic, was the subject of a panel discussion at the Space Tech Expo last week. The answers boiled down to the Pentagon adopting an agile approach to developing and acquiring technology, and reversing a decades-old trend by industry of outsourcing manufacturing abroad.

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