Meet the Long March 8

Long March 8 (Credit: CCTV 13)

Riddle me this: what has grid fins, lands on an offshore platform and honors a famous military retreat?

If you said SpaceX’s Falcon 9, you’d be wrong.

Meet the China’s latest launch vehicle, the Long March 8. Set for a flight test later this year, the rocket is that nation’s attempt to reuse a first stage booster.

I had trouble embedding the report, but here’s a link to it that includes an animation of the descent and landing. https://www.weibo.com/tv/v/Iq2C4AEhH?fid=1034:4462065528799258

Early Weather Reports Positive for SpaceX In-Flight Abort Test

In-flight abort is the final, major test before astronauts fly aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. (Credits: SpaceX)

By Jim Cawley
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center


With the launch of SpaceX’s in-flight abort demonstration three days away, early weather reports are promising. According to Mike McAleenan, a launch weather officer with the U.S. Air Force 45th Space Wing, there is a 90 percent chance of favorable weather at liftoff. The primary concern is flight through precipitation, as some shallow coastal rain showers are predicted.

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SpaceX Launches 60 More Starlink Satellites

Falcon 9’s first stage conducts an entry burn as its second stage continues toward orbit. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. (SpaceX PR) — SpaceX conducted its third launch of 60 Starlink satellites from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on Monday, January 6 at 9:19 p.m. EST.

Falcon 9’s first stage supported a Starlink mission in May 2019, the Iridium-8 mission in January 2019, and the Telstar 18 VANTAGE mission in September 2018. Following stage separation, SpaceX landed Falcon 9’s first stage on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.

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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.

Animation of Crewed Dragon Flight to Space Station

Video Caption: SpaceX will soon demonstrate Crew Dragon’s ability to safely and reliably carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

Editor’s Note: Musk tweeted the following concerning the schedule for the actual flight:

“Crew Dragon should be physically ready & at the Cape in Feb, but completing all safety reviews will probably take a few more months”

That would place the flight sometime in the second quarter of 2020. That fits with what I reportedly previously. Keep in mind that Musk’s predictions have been optimistic in the past.

So, why wold it take that long. The story is more complicated than one might think.

When the capsule destined for the in-flight abort test exploded earlier this year, SpaceX spent months investigating the cause and devising a fix for the anomaly. NASA had to review all the data those efforts generated and sign off on the modifications.

Musk’s company needed to modify the capsule it was building for the Crew Dragon mission with astronauts to fly on the in-flight abort test, which is currently scheduled for Jan. 11.

The test will require extensive data analysis to determine how well it went. The spacecraft will be subjected to severe stresses, so it won’t be recycled for another flight.

Meanwhile, SpaceX has had to build a brand spacecraft incorporating the modifications for the Crew Dragon flight test. That process can typically take six months to a year.

Contrary to a popular impression that seems to be out there, SpaceX didn’t have a Crew Dragon in any advanced state of development that could have been easily slid into the flight rotation. And since this mission will be the first to carry a crew, it will undergo a lot of additional checks.

SpaceX Falcon 9 Launches Communications Satellite

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. (SpaceX PR) — On Monday, December 16 at 7:10 p.m. EST, SpaceX launched JCSAT-18/Kacific1 from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The satellite was deployed approximately 33 minutes after liftoff.

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Spaceflight Inc. Closes 2019 with Three Successful Launches in One Week Across Three Continents

PSLV-C48 launch (Credit: ISRO)

SEATTLE, December 11, 2019 (Spaceflight PR) - - Spaceflight, the leading provider of mission management and rideshare integration services, today announced it successfully executed nine missions in 2019, the most rideshare launches the company has performed in one year, representing a 300 percent growth from the previous year.

The company ended last year with its historic dedicated rideshare mission, SSO-A, and continued to execute many more firsts in 2019. This includes the most recent accomplishment of manifesting and managing three rideshare launches in one week on three continents. The final missions of 2019 were SEOPS-2 (ISS SpX-19/NG-12) launched in the U.S., RL-2 (Rocket Lab’s “Running Out of Fingers”) launched in New Zealand, and PSLV-C48 launched in India.

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Kepler Communications Selects SpaceX to Launch Two Batches of its Nanosatellite Constellation

TORONTO, December 12, 2019 (Kepler PR) — Kepler announced today that it has selected SpaceX as launch partner to deliver a portion of its first Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite constellation into space onboard SpaceX’s reusable Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

Kepler has procured 400 kg of launch capacity from SpaceX for the deployment of multiple satellites. These spacecraft incorporate both a high-capacity Ku-band communications system and a narrowband payload, for both high-speed data transfers and for low-power direct-to-satellite IoT connectivity.

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Dragon Cargo Ship Arrives at Space Station

Falcon 9 launches the CRS-19 mission. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

Three days after its launch from Florida, the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft was installed on the Earth-facing side of the International Space Station’s Harmony module at 7:47 a.m. EST.

The 19th contracted commercial resupply mission from SpaceX delivers more than 5,700 pounds of research, crew supplies and hardware to the orbiting laboratory.

Here’s some of the science arriving at station:

Keeping Bones and Muscles Strong
Rodent Research-19 (RR-19) investigates myostatin (MSTN) and activin, molecular signaling pathways that influence muscle degradation, as possible targets for preventing muscle and bone loss during spaceflight and enhancing recovery following return to Earth. This study also could support the development of therapies for a wide range of conditions that cause muscle and bone loss on Earth.

Checking for Leaks
NASA is launching Robotic Tool Stowage (RiTS), a docking station that allows Robotic External Leak Locator (RELL) units to be stored on the outside of space station, making it quicker and simpler to deploy the instruments. The leak locator is a robotic, remote-controlled tool that helps mission operators detect the location of an external leak and rapidly confirm a successful repair. These capabilities can be applied to any place that humans live in space, including NASA’s lunar Gateway and eventually habitats on the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

After Dragon spends approximately one month attached to the space station, the spacecraft will return to Earth with cargo and research.

Next up, the station crew will be preparing for the arrival early Monday morning of a second resupply spacecraft. The Russian Progress 74 that launched Friday at 4:34 a.m. is expected to dock to the Pirs compartment on the station’s Russian segment at 5:38 a.m. Monday, Dec. 9. NASA TV and the agency’s website will provide live coverage of Progress rendezvous and docking at 4:45 a.m.

Keep up to date with the latest news from the crew living in space by following https://blogs.nasa.gov/spacestation/@space_station and @ISS_Research on Twitter, and the ISS Facebook and ISS Instagram accounts.

CIMON-2 on Way to ISS

Cimon 2 during tests. (Credit: DLR)
  • Like its predecessor, the technology experiment, developed and built in Germany, is designed to interact with astronauts in the Columbus laboratory.
  • CIMON-2 has a better ‘sense of orientation’ and is more ’empathic’.
  • DLR, Airbus and IBM continue their partnership.

COLOGNE, Germany (DLR PR) — A new Crew Interactive MObile companioN (CIMON) is on its way the International Space Station (ISS). On 5 December 2019 at 18:29 CET (12:29 local time) the US SpaceX CRS-19 mission lifted off from the spaceport at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

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Overview of Cargo Dragon Launch

Dragon arriving at Space Station (Credit: NASA)

UPDATE: Launch scrubbed due to high altitude winds and windy seas. SpaceX will try again on Thursday at 12:29 p.m. EST/ 17:29 UTC.

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. (SpaceX PR) — SpaceX is targeting Wednesday, December 4 for launch of its nineteenth Commercial Resupply Services mission (CRS-19) at 12:51 p.m. EST, or 17:51 UTC, from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Launch webcast will go live about 15 minutes before liftoff at spacex.com/webcast.

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NASA Launching RiTS, a ‘Robot Hotel’ to the International Space Station

RELL Engineering Development Unit (left) pictured alongside RiTS flight unit that will fly to the International Space Station aboard SpaceX-19. (Credits: NASA)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — Sometimes robots need a place to stay in space, too. NASA is attaching a “robot hotel” to the outside of the International Space Station with the upcoming launch of the Robotic Tool Stowage (RiTS), a protective storage unit for critical robotic tools.

RiTS is set to launch on Dec. 4 aboard the 19th SpaceX commercial resupply mission. Its first residents will be two Robotic External Leak Locators (RELL). Outfitted with mass spectrometers capable of “sniffing” out the presence of gases such as ammonia, these robotic tools are used to detect leaks from the station. Two RELL units are on board the station right now: the first RELL launched in 2015, and it proved to be such a success that a second RELL was launched as a backup earlier this year.

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Crew Dragon In-flight Abort Test Set for No Earlier Than December

Crew Dragon abort static test (Credit: NASA)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — Media accreditation is open for SpaceX’s In-Flight Abort Test as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The flight test of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft is targeted for no earlier than December – an exact test date still is to be determined — from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

This will be among the final major tests for the company before NASA astronauts will fly aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft. As part of the test, SpaceX will configure the spacecraft to trigger a launch escape shortly after liftoff and demonstrate Crew Dragon’s capability to safely separate from the rocket in the unlikely event of an in-flight emergency. The demonstration also will provide valuable data toward NASA certifying SpaceX’s crew transportation system for carrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with the American aerospace industry through a public-private partnership to launch astronauts on American rockets and spacecraft from American soil for the first time since 2011. The goal of the program is safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station, which could allow for additional research time and increase the opportunity for discovery aboard humanity’s testbed for exploration. The space station remains the springboard to NASA’s next great leap in exploration, including future missions to the Moon and eventually to Mars.

For test coverage, NASA’s launch blog, and more information about the test, visit:

https://www.nasa.gov/commercialcrew

SpaceX Cargo Mission to Carry a Diverse Set of ISS National Lab-sponsored Payloads

Dragon arriving at Space Station (Credit: NASA)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER (FL), November 26, 2019 – The International Space Station (ISS) is poised to receive a multitude of critical research and supplies as part of SpaceX’s 19th commercial resupply services mission (SpaceX CRS-19) to the orbiting laboratory (contracted by NASA).

A wide variety of research investigations sponsored by the U.S. National Laboratory will be part of this mission, including payloads from the life, materials, and physical sciences—each designed to leverage the unique space-based environment of the station to benefit life on Earth.

The launch is presently slated for no earlier than December 4 at 12:51 p.m. EST from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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GAO Upholds Blue Origin’s Protest Over USAF Launch Solicitation

Jeff Bezos

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has upheld a pre-award protest by Blue Origin over the selection process the U.S. Air Force is using to award contracts for military launches for the years 2022 to 2027.

GAO recommended the Air Force modify the solicitation under which it planned to select two companies that would compete for launches during that period. The decision would have been based on which combination of two independently developed proposals provided the best value to the government.

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