Falcon 9 Flight to Kick Off Busy Launch Period

Falcon 9 on the launch pad with Intelsat 35e satellite. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

UPDATE: SpaceX has scrubbed for the day due to the need to replace a sensor on the second stage. The next launch window is Wednesday, Jan. 31.
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A SpaceX Falcon 9 launch scheduled for late this afternoon will kick off a busy period of international launches that will see the inaugural launch of the Falcon Heavy and China’s sixth orbital mission of 2018. SpaceX has four flights scheduled by the middle of February. (Thanks to Spaceflight Now for the schedule.)

Jan. 30

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payload: GovSat 1
Launch Window: 4:25-6:46 p.m. EST (2125-2346 GMT)
Launch Site: SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida

The Orbital ATK-built satellite will provide secure communications as part of the nation’s contribution to NATO. There will be no attempt to recover the Falcon 9’s first stage.

Jan. 31/Feb. 1

Launch Vehicle: Soyuz 2-1a with Fregat upper stage
Payload: Kanopus-V 3 & V4
Launch Time: 9:07:18 p.m. EST Jan. 31 (0207:18 GMT on Feb. 1)
Launch Site: Vostochny Cosmodrome, Russia

The twin satellites will assist Russia in mapping, forest fire detection and disaster response.

Feb. 1

Launch Vehicle: Long March 2D
Payload: CSES
Launch Time: TBD
Launch Site: Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, China

The China Seismo-Electromagnetic Satellite will study how electromagnetic signals in Earth’s atmosphere and ionosphere to determine if they can help predict earthquakes. This joint mission with Italy will be China’s sixth launch of 2018.

Feb. 3

Launch Vehicle: SS-520-5
Payload: TRICOM 1R CubeSat
Launch Window: 12:00-12:20 a.m. EST (0500-0520 GMT)
Launch Site: Uchinoura Space Center, Japan

The second launch of Japan’s upgraded sounding rocket will carry the 3U TRICOM 1R CubeSat, which has an imaging camera and store and forward communications system.

Feb. 6

Launch Vehicle: Falcon Heavy
Payload: Tesla Roadster
Launch Window: 1:30-4:30 p.m. EST (1830-2130 GMT)
Launch Site: LC-39A, Kennedy Space Center, Florida

The inaugural flight of the Falcon Heavy will send a red Tesla Roadster into deep space.

Feb. 10

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payload: Paz
Launch Time: 9:22 a.m. EST; 6:22 a.m. PST (1422 GMT)
Launch Site: Vandenberg Air Force Base, California

Built by Airbus Defense and Space, Hisdesat’s Paz satellite will provide radar imaging as well ship tracking and weather data. The flight will use a previously-flown first stage.

Feb. 11

Launch Vehicle: Soyuz
Payload: Progress 69P
Launch Time: 3:58 a.m. EST (0858 GMT)
Launch Site: Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan

Resupply mission to the International Space Station.

Feb. 14

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payload: Hispasat 30W-6
Launch Window: TBA
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral, Florida

The Hispasat 30W-6 satellite, built by Space Systems/Loral, will provide communications services over Europe, North Africa and the Americas.

Musk’s New Tesla Pay Package Seems to be Aimed at Mars

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Elon Musk has a new pay package with Tesla Motors that could net him $55 billion over the next decade if the company reaches a series of extremely ambitious targets, according to press reports. If he doesn’t reach those goals in 10 years, he could end up with nothing.

That might seem like a crazy plan even for Musk, who is known for taking great risks. But, it makes sense when you consider the billionaire’s ultimate long-term goal: to develop a transportation system to facilitate the establishment of human colonies on Mars.

Musk has said he is dedicating his personal wealth to that objective. And although his net worth is estimated at $21 billion, actual profits from his various businesses have been elusive.

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A Look Back at the Space Year That Was

Total solar eclipse photographed from NASA Armstrong’s Gulfstream III. (Credit: (NASA/Carla Thomas)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

I realize it’s a bit late, but here’s a look back at the major developments in space in 2017.

I know that I’m probably forgetting something, or several somethings or someones. Fortunately, I have eagle-eyed readers who really seem to enjoy telling me just how much I’ve screwed up. Some of them a little too much….

So, have at it!  Do your worst, eagle-eyed readers!

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Government Shutdown Delays Falcon Heavy Static Fire

The federal government shutdown that began on Saturday morning will postpone the Falcon Heavy static fire that SpaceX until there is an agreement between Congress and the White House to reopen the government. The impasse will result in the 45th Space Wing furloughing key civilian workers needed to support the static fire.

The shutdown will also prevent any launches until it is resolved. The next U.S. launch is scheduled for Jan. 30 from Cape Canaveral. A SpaceX Falcon 9 is set to launch a communications satellite for the Luxembourg government.

China Launches Satellites, ULA & Rocket Lab Flights Set

Atlas V on launch pad. (Credit: ULA)

China launched a Long March 11 rocket with six satellites aboard on Friday from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The booster orbited a pair of Jilin-1 Earth imaging satellites for the Chang Guang Satellite company as well as four secondary payloads.

ULA is set to launch an Atlas V rocket with an U.S. Air Force Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) GEO early warning satellite later today. The flight is scheduled to lift off at 7:48 p.m. from Cape Canaveral in Florida.  ULA scrubbed the launch on Thursday do to a problem with ground equipment.

The webcast is available at www.ulalaunch.com and www.youtube.com/unitedlaunchalliance

The delay has postponed an attempt by SpaceX to conduct a static fire of the Falcon Heavy’s first-stage engines on a nearby launch pad. The test had been planned for Friday, but the next earliest opportunity is Saturday providing the Atlas V launches tonight.

On Saturday, Rocket Lab will open a launch window for the second flight of its Electron rocket. The first four-hour window opens on January 20 at 2:30 p.m. NZDT (0130 a.m. GMT/8:30 p.m. EST on Friday).

Rocket Lab has reserved nine days with identical four-hour windows for this launch attempt. The booster is carrying CubeSats for Planet and Spire.

Check Rocket Lab’s website for information about the webcast.

Falcon Heavy Static Fire Postponed

Falcon Heavy on the launch pad (Credit: SpaceX)

There’s an unconfirmed report that the Falcon Heavy static fire scheduled for today has been postponed. No new date set. Updates as we get them.

SpaceShipTwo Glides, SpaceX Scrubs, Delta IV & 3 Other Launches Pending

SpaceShipTwo Unity on the runway after its seventh glide flight. (Credit; Virgin Galactic)

A busy day in space, so let’s get right to it:

SpaceShipTwo Flies: Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity performed its seven glide flight this morning in Mojave. The flight appeared to go as planned based on what I could see from the ground and Virgin Galactic’s tweets; the space plane landed and rolled to a stop on runway 30. The pilots were Mark Stucky and Michael Masucci.

This is the seventh glide flight for Unity and the 37th glide test for the SpaceShipTwo program. Its predecessor, Enterprise, flew 30 glide and three powered flights before it broke up during its fourth powered flight on Oct. 31, 2014.

Virgin Galactic officials have said today’s test should be the final glide flight for Unity. If all went well, the next test will be powered.

UPDATE: Virgin Galactic has posted a description of today’s flight here.

SpaceX Scrubs: SpaceX scrubbed a static fire of the Falcon Heavy booster for the second time in as many days at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The company planned a 12- to 15-second firing of the 27 first stage engines of the heavy-lift rocket. No reason has been given for the scrub. Reports indicate that a third attempt is set for Friday. If the same schedule is maintained, the six-hour test window will open at 1 p.m. EST.

Delta IV Launch Set: United Launch Alliance is planning to launch a Delta IV booster with the NROL 47 reconnaissance satellite from Vandenberg this afternoon. The original launch time was set for 1 p.m. PST, but ULA says it is working a technical issue that will delay the launch until later. No new time as been set yet. The launch was scrubbed on Wednesday due to high winds.

Webcast available at  www.ulalaunch.com and  www.youtube.com/unitedlaunchalliance

UPDATE: Liftoff is now planned for 1:55 p.m. PST. Webcast commentary will start at 1:30 p.m. PST.
UPDATE 2: Liftoff now at 2:05 p.m. PST.

Chinese & Indian Launches Scheduled: A Chinese Long March 3B rocket will launch two Beidou navigation satellites at approximately 2300 GMT (6 p.m. EST) today. The flight will be conducted from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center.

India’s PSLV booster will launch the Cartosat 2F remote sensing satellite from Satish Dhawan Space Center on Friday at 0358 GMT (10:58 p.m. EST on Thursday, Jan. 11). It will be the first PSLV launch since August when a failure of the payload shroud to separate doomed an IRNSS-1H navigation satellite to a fiery destruction.

A Long March 2D rocket is set to launch an unidentified satellite from Jiuquan on Saturday at approximately 0710 GMT (2:10 a.m. EST). This will be China’s third launch of the new year.

SpaceX Launches Zuma But Satellite Fate Unknown; Falcon Heavy Rolled Out for Static Fire

Falcon 9 first stage launches Zuma spacecraft (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

SpaceX launched a secret U.S. military satellite code named Zuma into space on Sunday evening. The company successfully landed the first stage of the Falcon 9 back at Cape Canaveral.

However, exactly what happened to the mysterious satellite remains a mystery nearly 24 hours after the launch. SpaceX says an analysis of data indicate the Falcon 9’s second stage performed nominally.

However, there are unconfirmed rumors that the satellite was lost. Rumors include the spacecraft being dead on orbit after separation from Falcon 9’s second stage, or re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere still attached to the stage.

Northrop Grumman, which built the spacecraft, is not commenting on the flight. The identity of the government agency the spacecraft was built for is not known. So, nobody from the government has confirmed whether the launch succeeded or not.

Meanwhile, SpaceX rolled out the first Falcon Heavy booster to Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center today. The company plans to conduct a brief static test of the rocket’s 27 first-stage engines for the first time. The rocket is set to make its maiden flight later this month from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

Some Rocket Launches to Watch in 2018

The world’s most powerful booster is set to make a flight test sometime in January. If all goes well, 27 first stage engines will power the new booster off Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The three first stage cores will peel off and land for later reuse while the second stage continues into space.

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Missions to Moon, Mars, Mercury & More Set for 2018

This artist’s concept shows the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft passing by Earth. (Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona)

Updated with SpaceX’s Red Tesla launch.

An international fleet of spacecraft will be launched in 2018 to explore the Moon, Mars, Mercury and the Sun. Two sample-return spacecraft will enter orbit around asteroids while a third spacecraft will be launched to search for asteroids that contain water that can be mined.

NASA will also launch its next exoplanet hunting spacecraft in March. And the space agency will ring in 2019 with the first ever flyby of a Kuiper Belt object.

And, oh yes, Elon Musk is launching his car in the direction of Mars.
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Falcon Heavy Goes Vertical on Pad-39A for First Time

The rocket is undergoing a fit check on the launch pad. A brief static fire of the first stage’s 27 engines will follow in January prior to the maiden flight set for later in the month.

Falcon Heavy will be capable of lifting 63,800 kg (140,655 lb) to low Earth orbit, 26,700 kg (58,863 lb) to geosynchronous transfer orbit and 16,800 kg (37,038 lb) to Mars. That will make it the most powerful booster in the world.

The payload for the maiden flight will be a Red Tesla Roadster.

Future Looks (Mostly) Bright for Space Industry in DC


The Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference is being held in Colorado through today. I wasn’t able to attend this year, but the following folks are there tweeting away:

  • Jeff Foust‏ @jeff_foust
  • Rand Simberg‏ @Rand_Simberg
  • Colorado Space News‏ @CO_Space_News
  • Laura Seward Forczyk @LauraForczyk

Below are updates based upon their tweets on what is happening in Washington, DC, from talks by officials from the FAA, NASA, and the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.
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