Stargazer Flight Raises Questions

Stargazer aircraft carrying Pegasus XL rocket with CYGNSS satellite. (Credit: Orbital ATK)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Whenever I’m over at the Mojave Air and Space Port, I’ve always felt a little sad when I catch a glimpse of Northrop Grumman’s Stargazer aircraft.

The last Lockheed L-1011 Tristar still flying today, the modified passenger aircraft’s main task is to air launch satellites aboard the Pegasus XL rocket carried under its fuselage. Since the rocket isn’t much in demand, the gap between launches can last for years.

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Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 Conducts Taxi Test with Launcher One

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 taxis down runway 12-30 at the Mojave Air and Space Port with the LauncherOne booster under its wing. Northrop Grumman’s Stargazer L-1011 aircraft, which also air launches the Pegasus XL rocket, can be seen in the background. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 aircraft conducted a low-speed taxi test down runway 12-30 at the Mojave Air and Space Port on Thursday afternoon.

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 carries LauncherOne in a taxi test at the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

The aircraft taxied down the runway, turned around and returned. The Boeing 747 was then towed back to a concrete pad where it has sat for the last several weeks undergoing preparations for a taxi test and captive carry flight.

The LauncherOne booster can be seen under the left wing of Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Virgin Orbit has said that it needed to do a taxi test with a full fueled LauncherOne prior to doing a captive carry flight. It is not clear whether the booster was fueled. However, a hazardous operations notice to airmen (NOTAM) was not posted prior to the taxi test.

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 taxis down the runway at the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

LauncherOne is designed to orbit small satellites by air launching them over the ocean. A flight test of the booster is scheduled for later this year.

Support equipment for Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 aircraft and LauncherOne booster. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

The aircraft and booster require a significant amount of support equipment as seen in the photo above.

Original Firefly Shareholders Sue Firefly’s Markusic, Polyakov Alleging Fraud

Tom Markusic

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A group of original shareholders in the defunct Firefly Space Systems have accused co-founder and CEO Tom Markusic of fraudulently conspiring with Ukrainian billionaire Maxym Polyakov to force the rocket company into bankruptcy in 2017 and reconstitute it under a nearly identical name without giving them any stake in the new venture.

Markusic “betrayed the trust of his original co-founders and investors and committed fraud to cut them out of his aerospace company. Instead of managing the operations of the Original Firefly, a revolutionary rocket company with endless potential, Markusic schemed with…Maxym Polyakov…to rob Plaintiffs of their investments and form a new company called Firefly Aerospace, Inc. (the ‘New Firefly’),” the plaintiffs said in a lawsuit.

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NASA’s ICON to Explore Boundary Between Earth and Space

Illustration of ICON spacecraft. (Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith)

UPDATE: Due to weather in the area, NASA and Northrop Grumman have decided to move the Pegasus XL and ICON launch 24-hours to October 10 at 9:30 p.m., with takeoff of the Stargazer L-1011 at 8:32 p.m. NASA’s live broadcast will begin tomorrow at 9:15 p.m. on www.nasa.gov/live.

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — On Oct.10, 2019, NASA launches the Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, a spacecraft that will explore the dynamic region where Earth meets space: the ionosphere.   

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Upcoming Launches Include Mission Extension Vehicle, ICON and Starlink Satellites

Mission Extension Vehicle refuels satellite. (Credit: Orbital ATK)

Four upcoming launches in the United States, Russia and New Zealand feature payloads to refuel a communications satellite, study space weather, expand SpaceX’s Starlink network, and test out new technology.

October 9

Proton
Payloads: Eutelsat 5 West B communications satellite, Mission Extension Vehicle 1 (MEV 1)
Launch Site: Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan
Launch Time: 6:17 a.m. EDT (1017 GMT )

This is the first flight of the MEV, which will refuel the Intelsat 901 communications satellite. Both satellites on this launch were built by Northrop Grumman.

October 9/10

Pegasus XL
Payload: Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) satellite
Launch Platform: Stargazer L-1011 aircraft
Departure Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
Launch Window: 9:25-10:55 p.m. EDT on Oct. 9 (0125-0255 GMT on Oct. 10)

NASA’s ICON mission will study disturbances in the ionosphere caused by terrestrial weather and solar storms that disrupt radio transmissions and GPS navigation. ICON has suffered repeated delays due to technical problems. The original launch date was in June 2017. The launch is being conducted by Northrop Grumman.

October 14/15

Electron
Payloads: Palisade CubeSat
Launch Site: Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand
Launch Window: 7:00-11:00 p.m. EDT on Oct. 14 (2300-0300 GMT on Oct. 14/15)

Rocket Lab’s “As The Crow Flies” mission is the ninth launch of the Electron rocket Astro Digital’s Palisade technology demonstration satellite is a 16U CubeSat with a next-generation communications system and an an on-board propulsion system.

NET October 17

Falcon 9
Payloads: ~ 60 Starlink 1 communications satellites
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
Launch Time: TBD

SpaceX will launch the second group of Starlink 1 broadband satellites no earlier than Oct. 17.

NASA Prepares to Launch ICON — Again

ICON spacecraft (Credit: NASA)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA and Northrop Grumman currently are preparing the agency’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, spacecraft and the Pegasus XL rocket at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for ferry to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida by the L-1011 Stargazer aircraft on Oct. 1, 2019.

The launch has been rescheduled to Oct. 10, 2019, following the completion of a joint NASA/Northrop Grumman investigation into a Pegasus sensor reading that was not within normal limits during previous ferry and launch attempt flights. The cause of the issue is understood, and the flight hardware has been modified to address the issue.

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Report: StratoGoose is Cooked

Stratolaunch takes off. (Credit: Stratolaunch)

Reuters has confirmed reports that Parabolic Arc has been hearing for months here in Mojave: Stratolaunch’s goose is cooked.

Stratolaunch Systems Corporation, the space company founded by late billionaire and Microsoft Corp co-founder Paul Allen, is closing operations, cutting short ambitious plans to challenge traditional aerospace companies in a new “space race,” four people familiar with the matter said on Friday….

[Parent company] Vulcan has been exploring a possible sale of Stratolaunch’s assets and intellectual property, according to one of the four sources and also a fifth person….

The decision to set an exit strategy was made late last year by Allen’s sister, Jody Allen, chair of Vulcan Inc and trustee of the Paul G. Allen Trust, one of the four people and the fifth industry source said.

Jody Allen decided to let the carrier aircraft fly to honor her brother’s wishes and also to prove the vehicle and concept worked, one of the four people said.

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