Zuma Blame Game Begins

In the wake of the apparently unsuccessful launch of the secret Zuma payload, there is still some confusion about what exactly happened and who is to blame.

The top secret satellite for an unidentified government agency is believed to have burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere after failing to separate from the second stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster.

However, SpaceX officials say that the Falcon 9 booster performed exactly as planned, so the company is not responsible for any failure that might have occurred.

That would appear to point the finger at Northrop Grumman, which provided the satellite and the adapter that connected it to booster. The company had declined to comment, saying it doesn’t comment on classified missions.

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SpaceX Says Falcon 9 Performed as Planned on Zuma Launch

Falcon 9 launches Zuma spacecraft (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell has issued a statement concerning the Falcon 9 launch of the classified Zuma payload, which reports say was lost:

For clarity: after review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night. If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately. Information published that is contrary to this statement is categorically false. Due to the classified nature of the payload, no further comment is possible.

Since the data reviewed so far indicates that no design, operational or other changes are needed, we do not anticipate any impact on the upcoming launch schedule. Falcon Heavy has been rolled out to launchpad LC-39A for a static fire later this week, to be followed shortly thereafter by its maiden flight. We are also preparing for an F9 launch for SES and the Luxembourg Government from SLC-40 in three weeks.

Reports indicate that the satellite’s builder, Northrop Grumman, provided its own payload adapter. So, if the satellite failed to separate from the second stage as reports indicate, the problem lay with the adapter and not the Falcon 9.

The Joint Space Operations Center did enter an object from the launch into its master catalog. That would indicate the satellite did enter orbit; however, it might not still be in orbit.

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.

Falcon Heavy Debut Slips to January

Artist’s conception of a Falcon Heavy launch. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX has slipped the maiden flight of its Falcon Heavy booster to January. The rocket, whose first stage is composed of three Falcon 9 cores with 27 engines, will lift off from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.  The flight will be preceded by a hold-down test on the launch pad in which all 27 first stage engines will be fired.

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Orbital ATK Stockholders Approve Merger with Northrop Grumman

DULLES, Va., 29 November 2017 (Orbital ATK PR)– Orbital ATK, Inc. (NYSE: OA), a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, today announced that its stockholders overwhelmingly approved the merger agreement providing for the proposed acquisition of Orbital ATK by Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:  NOC) at a special meeting of stockholders held on November 29, 2017.

Holders of more than 99% of Orbital ATK’s common stock present at the meeting or represented by proxy voted in favor of approving and adopting the merger agreement, which represented approximately 79% of the total number of outstanding shares of Orbital ATK’s common stock as of the October 10, 2017 record date for the special meeting.

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Antares to Kick Off Busy Launch Period

The Orbital ATK Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft onboard, launches from Pad-0A, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Orbital ATK’s sixth contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station is delivering over 5,100 pounds of science and research, crew supplies and vehicle hardware to the orbital laboratory and its crew. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The launch of an Orbital ATK Antares rocket on Saturday morning will be the first of four launches planned over the next five days.

The Antares will launch a Cygnus resupply ship to the International Space Station. It is the second flight of the re-engineered Antares booster, which includes two Russian-made RD-181 engines in its first stage. Launch time is set for 7:37 a.m. EST (1237 GMT) from Wallops Island in Virginia. NASA TV will provide launch coverage.

ULA’s Delta II booster will launch NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System 1 (JPSS-1) weather satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Tuesday, Nov. 14. The launch window extends from 1:47:03 to 1:48:05 a.m. PST (4:47:03-4:48:05 a.m. EST or 0947:03-0948:05 GMT).  NASA TV will provide launch coverage. It will be the penultimate flight of the venerable Delta II rocket.

SpaceX is scheduled to launch the mysterious Zuma payload on Wednesday, Nov. 15 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Built by Northrop Grumman for the U.S. government, there are no other details about the spacecraft. The launch window extends from 8:00 to 10 p.m. EST (0100-0300 GMT on Nov. 16). It’s not clear whether SpaceX will webcast the flight.

China will launch the Fengyun 3D weather satellite into polar orbit aboard a Long March 4C booster from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on Wednesday, Nov. 15. The launch window is not known.

GAO Reports on Efforts to Maintain Solid-Rocket Motor Industrial Base

The second and final qualification motor (QM-2) test for the Space Launch System’s booster is seen, Tuesday, June 28, 2016, at Orbital ATK Propulsion Systems test facilities in Promontory, Utah. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Solid Rocket Motors:
DOD and Industry Are Addressing Challenges to Minimize Supply Concerns

Government Accountability Office
October 2017
GAO-18-45 [Full Report]

Why GAO Did This Study

DOD relies on a multi-tiered supply chain to provide SRMs, the propulsion systems behind the various missile systems that provide defense capabilities to meet U.S. national security objectives. The SRM industrial base includes manufacturers that turn to an extensive network of suppliers that provide the raw materials, components, and subsystems needed to build SRMs. DOD is responsible for developing a strategy for the national industrial base that ensures that defense contractors and their suppliers are capable of providing the goods and services needed to achieve national security objectives.

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Northrop Grumman to Acquire Orbital ATK in $9.2 Billion Deal

FALLS CHURCH Va. and DULLES, Va., Sept. 18, 2017 (Northrop Grumman PR) — Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC), a leading global security company, and Orbital ATK, Inc. (NYSE:OA), a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, today announced they have entered into a definitive agreement under which Northrop Grumman will acquire Orbital ATK for approximately $7.8 billion in cash, plus the assumption of $1.4 billion in net debt. Orbital ATK shareholders will receive all-cash consideration of $134.50 per share.

The agreement has been approved unanimously by the Boards of Directors of both companies. The transaction is expected to close in the first half of 2018 and is subject to customary closing conditions, including regulatory and Orbital ATK shareholder approval.

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Report: Northrop Grumman Nears Deal to Acquire Orbital ATK

Here’s an interesting report from Reuters:

Northrop Grumman Corp (NOC.N) neared an agreement to buy Orbital ATK Inc (OA.N) in a transaction that could be announced as soon as Monday, according to a person familiar with the transaction.

The source requested anonymity because the deal has not been disclosed publicly.

Northrop Grumman declined to comment and Orbital did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Wall Street Journal reported the deal earlier on Sunday.

Northrop is valued at $46.5 billion, while Orbital is valued at $6.3 billion. The acquisition price could not be immediately determined, but could exceed $7.5 billion if a typical premium was attached to it, Wall Street Journal said.

Editor’s Note:  If Northrop buys Orbital ATK, it will inherit the Pegasus XL booster and the L-1011 Stargazer aircraft that is used to launch it. Northrop is also is involved through Scaled Composites in the Stratolaunch program, which will also use Pegasus XL boosters.

The cost of maintaining one aging jetliner built in 1974 has got to be fairly high. Then you’ve got Stratolaunch which is a massive, one-of-a-kind aircraft. So, would you want to maintain both of them to launch the same booster?

NASA Space Act Agreements with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and More

NASA has released a document listing the 1,206 active Space Act Agreements (SAAs) the agency has with commercial companies, non-profit organizations and state and local governments.

From that list, I’ve extracted agreements with individual companies. Below you will find tables listing SAAs that NASA has signed with Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, Space Systems Loral, Google and Teledyne.

SAAs come in three varieties: reimburseable, non-reimburseable and funded. Under reimburseable agreements, a company or organization will pay NASA for its services. No money exchanges hands under non-reimburseable agrements. And under funded agreements, NASA pays the company to perform work or provide services. (The space agency made substantial use of SAA’s in the Commercial Crew Program.)
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A Look at Payloads Launched in 2016

Built by Lockheed Martin, the WorldView-4 satellite will expand DigitalGlobe’s industry-leading constellation of high-accuracy, high-resolution satellites, and double the availability of 30 cm resolution imagery for commercial and government customers around the globe. (Credit: Lockheed Martin)

Excerpt from

The Annual Compendium of
Commercial Space Transportation: 2017

Federal Aviation Administration
Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST)

January 2017

State of the Payload Industry

Space industry companies and organizations worldwide, sometimes the same as launch vehicle manufacturers but also those specifically dedicated to spacecraft manufacturing, produce these spacecraft. Commercially launched payloads are typically used for the following mission types:

  • Commercial communications satellites;
  • Commercial remote sensing or Earth observation satellites;
  • Commercial crew and cargo missions, including on-orbit vehicles and platforms;
  • Technology test and demonstration missions, usually new types of payloads undergoing test or used to test new launch vehicle technology; and
  • Other commercially launched payloads, usually satellites launched for various purposes by governments of countries not having indigenous orbital launch capability.

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The Year Ahead in Space

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

It’s going to be busy year in space in 2017. Here’s a look at what we can expect over the next 12 months.

A New Direction for NASA?

NASA’s focus under the Obama Administration has been to try to commercialize Earth orbit while creating a foundation that would allow the space agency to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.

Whether Mars will remain a priority under the incoming Trump Administration remains to be seen. There is a possibility Trump will refocus the space agency on lunar missions instead.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who is currently viewed as a leading candidate for NASA administrator, has written two blog posts focused on the importance of exploring the moon and developing its resources. Of course, whether Bridenstine will get NASA’s top job is unclear at this time.

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Trump Threatens Boeing Air Force One Contract After CEO Criticizes Trade Policies

In what could be a preview of things to come, Donald Trump today threatened The Boeing Company with the cancellation of a $3 billion U.S. Air Force contract to replace the fleet of Air Force One aircraft.

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NASA Awards Study Contracts for Mars Orbiter

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft artist concept. (Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center)
NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft artist concept. (Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected five U.S. aerospace companies to conduct concept studies for a potential future Mars orbiter mission. Such a mission would continue key capabilities including telecommunications and global high-resolution imaging in support of the agency’s Journey to Mars.

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