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.

Launch Delays Blessing in Disguise for GRACE-FO Mission

GRACE-FO spacecraft (Credit: Airbus Defense and Space)

A German-American science mission scheduled to launch this week is running nine months behind schedule due to issues with launch vehicles. However, the delays turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the project, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment.

The twin Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) satellites are set to launch on Tuesday at 12:47:58 p.m. PDT (3:47:58 p.m. EDT; 1947:58 GMT) aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The launch will be webcast at www.nasa.gov and www.spacex.com.

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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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With Dragon 2 Still Unfinished, Musk Rolls Out an Even More Ambitious Plan

Dragon Version 2. (Credit: SpaceX)

When on May 29, 2014, Elon Musk unveiled the Dragon 2 spacecraft at a gala ceremony at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., the future of American human spaceflight seemed assured and tantalizingly close.

By 2017, the new spacecraft would begin making crewed flights to the International Space Station, restoring a capability that had ended with the last space shuttle mission in 2011. NASA’s dependence on  Russian Soyuz spacecraft would come to an end.

Four years after its unveiling, Dragon 2 is still months away from making an automated flight test to the space station. A test flight with astronauts aboard might not occur until next year. The Government Accountability Office believes additional delays could push certification of the spacecraft to carry NASA astronauts on a commercial basis to December 2019. (Certification of Boeing’s crew vehicle might not occur until February 2020).

It’s good to keep all this in mind as Musk prepares to unveil his latest transportation plan this evening. At 7 p.m. PDT, Musk will hold a town-hall style meeting in Los Angeles to discuss plans by The Boring Company for tunneling under the city. The event will be webcast at https://www.boringcompany.com/.

Musk might have given a preview of the session on Twitter this week when he made a connection between his tunneling work and the mega rocket/spaceship that he is designing to render Dragon 2 and its Falcon 9 booster obsolete.

The spaceport in question is apparently the offshore platform where passengers will board the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), which Musk says will be capable of going anywhere in the world in about 30 minutes. The rocket is also being designed to launch satellites and transport people and cargo to the moon and Mars.

It sounds as ambitious as anything Musk has attempted to date. If the past is any guide, his estimates on cost and schedules will be extremely optimistic.

Weekend Reading: Spaceport America, SpaceX, LightSail 2 & More

Richard Branson and his children hang out with Project Bandaloop dancers during the dedication of the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space facility in October 2011. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Dream a Little Dream of Me: SpaceX’s launch of Bangladesh’s “dream” satellite, Bangabandhu 1, has them celebrating in Dhaka. https://www.thedailystar.net/science/space-science/bangladesh-bd-first-commercial-satellite-bangabandhu-1-on-way-orbit-after-successful-launch-space-spacex-florida-us-1575244

Musk’s Big Promises for F9 B2: Crazy Elon’s prices are so low they’re insane! https://www.investors.com/news/spacex-elon-musk-predictions-reusable-falcon9-lower-costs/

A Shot of Maple Syrup, Coming Right Up: Nick Rose samples the cuisine for David Saint-Jacques’ upcoming mission to the International Space Station. https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/nekwyz/canada-astronaut-food-david-saint-jacques-perspective-space

All Quiet on the Spaceport Front: Maggie Grimason visits Truth or Consequences and finds patience is wearing thin. https://undark.org/article/spaceport-america-new-mexico/

Let there be LightSail: Jason Davis has an update on The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2, whose launch aboard Falcon Heavy is now set for the Fall.
http://www.planetary.org/blogs/jason-davis/2018/20180511-lightsail2-launch-slip.html

Kenya Enters the CubeSat Age: A homegrown satellite is launched from the International Space Station. https://qz.com/1275698/kenya-to-launch-first-satellite-into-space/

Musk: 100 Launches Per Falcon 9 Block 5 Booster is Possible

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

Elon Musk had a teleconference today concerning the Falcon 9 Block 5 launch vehicle prior to the planned first flight of the upgraded booster. The launch, which would have orbited the Bangabandhu 1 communications satellite for Bangladesh, was scrubbed for an undisclosed technical reason. SpaceX plans to try again on Friday at 4:14 p.m. EDT.

Below are notes from Musk’s teleconference about the upgraded booster and SpaceX’s future plans.
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SpaceX Readies for First Flight of Upgraded Falcon 9 Block 5

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

Update: The launch was scrubbed for an undisclosed technical reason. SpaceX plans to try again on Friday at 4:14 p.m. EDT. Your local time may vary.


Elon Musk’s SpaceX will mark a major milestone for reusable rockets today with the launch of the upgraded Falcon 9 Block 5 booster.

The rocket is set to launch the Bangabandhu communications satellite for Bangladesh from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The launch window runs from  4:12-6:22 p.m. EDT (2012-2222 GMT). SpaceX will webcast the mission at www.spacex.com.

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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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SpaceX Falcon 9 Launches NASA’s TESS Spacecraft

TESS exoplanet satellite (Credit: NASA)

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) on Wednesday evening. The spacecraft successfully separated from the booster’s second stage about 50 minutes after it was launched from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

TESS will use four cameras to search 85 percent of the sky for exoplanets orbiting other stars. The mission is a follow-on to the Kepler Space Telescope, which is completing a 9-year mission to survey the other 15 percent of the sky.

The on time launch occurred at 6:51 p.m. EDT. NASA reports the spacecraft’s solar arrays deployed on schedule, providing the satellite with power.

Falcon 9’s first stage successfully landed on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

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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Update Global Launch Schedule for April

PSLV-C40 booster lifts off (Credit: ISRO)

The schedule is subject to change. Please check with our friends at Spaceflight Now for updates.

April 11

Launch Vehicle: PSLV
Payload: IRNSS 1I navigation satellite
Launch Time: TBA
Launch Site: Satish Dhawan Space Center, India

April 14/15

Launch Vehicle: Atlas V
Payload: AFSPC 11 mission
Launch Window: 6:00-10:00 p.m. EDT on 12th (2200-0200 GMT on 12th/13th)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida

The U.S. Air Force’s EAGLE satellite will carry multiple military experiments.

April 16

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payload: Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)
Launch Window: 6:32-6:33 p.m. EDT (2232-2233 GMT)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida

April 18

Launch Vehicle: Proton
Payload: Blagovest No. 12L communications satellite
Launch Window: 6:12 p.m. EDT (2212 GMT)
Launch Site: Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan

April 19/20

Launch Vehicle: Electron
Payload: 2 Spire Global CubeSats, 1 GeoOptics satellite
Launch Time: 8:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m. EDT on 19th/20th (0030-0430 GMT on 20th)
Launch Site: Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand

April 21

Launch Vehicle: Long March 3B
Payload: Apstar 6C communications satellite
Launch Time: TBA
Launch Site: Xichang, China

NET April 24

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payload: Bangabandhu 1 communications satellite
Launch Window: TBA
Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center, Florida

April 25

Launch Vehicle: Rockot
Payload: Sentinel 3B Earth observation satellite
Launch Window: 1:57 p.m. EDT (1757 GMT)
Launch Site: Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Russia

Final launch of Rockot, a converted ballistic missile.

Zuma Investigation Pinpoints Payload Adapter in Launch Failure

The Wall Street Journal has an update into the failed launch of the classified Zuma payload in January. The spacecraft was launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster.

Government and industry experts have tentatively concluded that engineering and testing errors by Northrop Grumman Corp. caused a U.S. spy satellite to plummet into the ocean shortly after a January launch, according to people familiar with the details.

…two separate teams of federal and industry investigators have pinpointed reasons for the high-profile loss to problems with a Northrop-modified part—called a payload adapter — that failed to operate properly in space….

The device, purchased from a subcontractor, was significantly modified and then successfully tested three times on the ground by Northrop Grumman, according to one person familiar with the process. But upon reaching orbit, this person said, the adapter didn’t uncouple the satellite from the rocket in zero-gravity conditions.

Sensors on board failed to immediately report what happened, this person said, so officials tracking the launch weren’t aware of the major malfunction until the satellite was dragged back into the atmosphere by the returning second stage. The satellite ultimately broke free but by then had dropped to an altitude that was too low for a rescue.

SpaceX Launches Dragon Resupply Ship to Space Station

SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts off with a Dragon resupply ship on April 2, 2018. (Credit: NASA)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. (NASA PR) — Astronauts aboard the International Space Station soon will receive a delivery of experiments dealing with how the human body, plants and materials behave in space following the 4:30 p.m. EDT launch Monday of a SpaceX commercial resupply mission.

A SpaceX Dragon lifted off on a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida with more than 5,800 pounds of research investigations and equipment, cargo and supplies that will support dozens of the more than 250 investigations aboard the space station.

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First Quarter 2018 Launch Report: China & USA Battle for Lead

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy begins its first flight. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The world’s launch providers have been extremely busy in the first quarter of 2018, with 31 orbital launches thus far. This is more than one third of the 90 launches conducted last year.

China leads the pack with 10 successful launches. The United States is close behind with a total of nine launches with one failure. The tenth American launch is scheduled for Monday afternoon from Florida.

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