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.

(more…)

Rocket Lab Successfully Launches First of Two Responsive Space Missions for the National Reconnaissance Office

Lift-off of the NROL-162 national security mission for the National Reconnaissance Office on Electron from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1. (Photo: Business Wire)

LONG BEACH, Calif. (Rocket Lab USA PR) — Rocket Lab USA, Inc (Nasdaq: RKLB) (“Rocket Lab” or “the Company”), a leading launch and space systems company, has successfully launched the first of two responsive space missions for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).

(more…)

Virgin Orbit Mission Success Brings UK Launch Another Step Closer

The “Straight Up” mission carried seven satellites to Low Earth Orbit. (Credit: Virgin Orbit/David Massena)

LONDON (Virgin Orbit PR) — Virgin Orbit’s next satellite launch will take place from the UK, following the success of the “Straight Up” mission, which lifted off from Mojave in California earlier today (2 July 2022).

Science Minister George Freeman and the UK Space Agency welcomed the news that Virgin Orbit has successfully completed its fourth mission from California, and its first night launch.

With this mission complete, Virgin Orbit is on track for launch from Spaceport Cornwall later this year. The UK Space Agency and Cornwall Council are supporting the launch, with Spaceport Cornwall set to create 150 jobs in the local area.

Science Minister George Freeman said:

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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:

(more…)

Planet Reports Financial Results for First Quarter of Fiscal Year 2023

Continued Acceleration with Record First Quarter Revenue of $40.1 Million

Received Landmark EOCL Award by the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)

Expects Revenue Growth Rate to More than Double YoY for FY’23

SAN FRANCISCO (Planet Labs PR) –Planet Labs PBC (NYSE: PL) (“Planet” or the “Company”), a leading provider of daily data and insights about Earth, today announced financial results for its fiscal first quarter for the period ended April 30, 2022, demonstrating accelerated growth and the momentum of its unique data subscription business.

(more…)

Virgin Orbit Plans First UK Launch for Late August

LauncherOne ignites on its way to space. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

LONG BEACH, Calif. — With three successful launches under its belt, Virgin Orbit is planning two flights this summer to demonstrate its agile air-launched booster system, including the first-ever satellite launch from the United Kingdom, a company executive said this week.

(more…)

NRO Announces Commercial Imagery Contracts to BlackSky, Maxar and Planet Worth Billions

CHANTILLY, Va. (NRO PR) — The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) today announced the results of its largest ever commercial imagery contract effort, awarding Electro-Optical Commercial Layer (EOCL) to BlackSky, Maxar, and Planet. Valued at billions of dollars over the next decade, these contracts mark a historic expansion of the NRO’s acquisition of commercial imagery to meet increasing customer demands with greater capacity than ever before .

“The NRO has a longstanding strategy of ‘buy what we can, build what we must’,” said .Dr. Chris Scolese, director of the NRO. “The diversity offered by our expanding architecture comprised of both commercial and NRO systems increases our resilience and enables an integrated approach to the threats facing our Nation.”

Due to its unclassified and shareable nature, commercial remote sensing data offer important benefits, including increased transparency, mission-critical awareness , and humanitarian assistance. EOCL ‘s unique situational design, featuring user-friendly license agreements and built-in contract flexibility, maximizes shareability across a diverse customer base.

(more…)

SpaceX Orbits 53 Starlink Satellites in 21st Falcon 9 Launch of 2022

Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX launched 53 Starlink broadband satellites to low-Earth orbit aboard a Falcon 9 booster on Wednesday, May 18, from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The first stage booster supporting the mission on Wednesday previously launched Arabsat-6A, STP-2, COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation FM2, and one Starlink mission. Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage returned to Earth and landed on the A Shortfall of Gravitas droneship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.

It was SpaceX’s 14th launch of Starlink satellites this year, and the company’s 21st launch overall of 2022. SpaceX has launched 709 of the broadband satellites this year, and 2,653 Starlink spacecraft in all. Wikipedia reports that 2,354 satellites are currently functioning in orbit.

SpaceX has launched 860 payloads into orbit in its 21 launches. The total includes two rideshare missions with 145 small payloads, two Crew Dragon flights carrying eight astronauts to the International Space Station, two missions for the National Reconnaissance Office, and the launch of Italy’s military/civilian COSMO-SkyMed second generation Earth observation satellite.

SpaceX has said it is planning to launch more than 50 times this year. The company’s next flight is the May 25 launch of the Transporter-5 rideshare mission from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

Calvelli Swears in as U.S. Air Force Space Acquisition and Integration Lead

WASHINGTON (AFNS) — Frank Calvelli was sworn in as Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisition and Integration during a Pentagon ceremony this morning, following his confirmation to the role by the U.S. Senate, April 28.
 
Prior to his confirmation, Calvelli worked at the National Reconnaissance Office and within industry. In this new role, he becomes the first service acquisition executive for space and serves as the senior acquisition executive for space programs within the Department of the Air Force.
 
“Congratulations to Frank on his long-awaited Senate confirmation and we are fortunate to welcome him to the Department of the Air Force team,” said Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall. “Frank’s in-depth experience, knowledge and leadership will be invaluable to acquiring the transformational space-based systems we need to stay ahead of our pacing challenges, and in ensuring the U.S. Space Force meets its obligations as the great enabler and protector of the Joint Force.”
 
Calvelli’s priorities in his new role will revolve around enhancing the Department’s speed and collaboration in developing systems for the U.S. Space Force, while also synchronizing efforts across the Department of Defense and with broader government and international partners, to get new capabilities into the hands of warfighters.

SpaceX Falcon 9 Launches NROL-85 Mission From Vandenberg

Falcon 9 launches the NROL-85 mission from Vandenberg Space Force Base. (Credit: NRO)

CHANTILLY, Va. (NRO PR) — The National Reconnaissance Office successfully launched the NROL-85 mission aboard a reflown SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex-4E located at Vandenberg Space Force Base (VSFB) in California today at 6:13 a.m. Pacific Time. The Falcon 9 reusable rocket booster returned safely to Landing Zone 4 after delivering the national security payload to orbit.

(more…)

Third Time a Charm? SpaceX Will Try Launching NROL-85 on Easter Sunday From Windy Vandy

Falcon 9 with the NROL-85 payload on the launch pad at Vandenberg Space Force Base. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

I recently spent a week housesitting down in LA where the temperatures reached into the 90’s. When I arrived back home to Mojave on Monday night, I found that spring had turned back into winter in the High Desert: overnight temps a few degrees above freezing, 50 mph wind gusts, chilly temperatures during the day. Although the temperatures have risen over the last few days, the wind has been pretty relentless all week.

So, it’s little wonder they’re having the same issues with wind over at Vandenberg Space Force Base to the west of here. The winds forced SpaceX to twice scrub the launch of the NROL-85 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office on Friday and Saturday.

Elon Musk’s company is set to try again on Easter Sunday. Falcon 9 has an instantaneous launch window at 6:13 a.m. PDT from Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E).

If I’m awake, I’ll go outside and see if I can see the launch. Although nighttime launches are spectacular out here, they’re more difficult to see in daylight. It will probably be a distant contrail at best.

For everyone else, you can watch the live launch webcast starting about 15 minutes before liftoff. 

The Falcon 9 first stage booster supporting this mission previously launched the NROL-87 mission in February 2022. Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage will return and land on Landing Zone 4 at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

Dutton Launches Australian Defence Space Command

Peter Dutton

During an address to the 2022 Royal Australian Air Force Air and Space Power Conference on Tuesday, Australian Minister of Defense Peter Dutton announced the creation of the new Defence Space Command.

An excerpt from the speech concerning the new command follows.

Peter Dutton
Minister of Defense

For any nation, losing access to space would have significant civil and military consequences.

Thus all nations have an interest in assuring their access to space.

It is a domain which must be used to deter aggression, rather than become a new realm for conflict.

So friends, to that end, it is my great pleasure today to officially announce the stand-up of Australia’s Defence Space Command.

(more…)

NRO Celebrates First Launch of 2022 and First SpaceX Falcon 9 National Security Launch with NROL-87

Falcon 9 launches the NROL-87 mission. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

CHANTILLY, Va., February 2, 2022 (NRO PR) — The National Reconnaissance Office successfully launched the NROL-87 mission aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex-4E located at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California at 12:27 p.m. PST. NROL-87 is the 60th launch since NRO began publicly disclosing launches in December 1996.

(more…)