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.


SES to Launch Satellite on Reused SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket

A Falcon 9 first stage lands after launching the SES-2 satellite. (Credit: SpaceX)
A Falcon 9 first stage lands after launching the SES-2 satellite. (Credit: SpaceX)

LUXEMBOURG & HAWTHORNE, Calif., August 30, 2016 (SES/SpaceX PR) — SES (Euronext Paris:SESG) (LuxX:SESG) and SpaceX announced today they have reached an agreement to launch SES-10 on a flight-proven Falcon 9 orbital rocket booster.

The satellite, which will be in a geostationary orbit and expand SES’s capabilities across Latin America, is scheduled for launch in Q4 2016. SES-10 will be the first-ever satellite to launch on a SpaceX flight-proven rocket booster.


SES Takes Controlling Share in O3b Networks

SES_LogoLUXEMBOURG (SES PR)–SES S.A. (NYSE Paris:SESG) (LuxX:SESG) has agreed to increase its interest in O3b Networks (O3b) to 50.5% and, in doing so, will take a controlling share in the company. The transaction is subject to regulatory approvals which are expected to be completed during H2 2016.

SES will pay USD 20 million to increase its fully diluted ownership of O3b from 49.1% to 50.5%, bringing its aggregate equity investment in O3b to date to USD 323 million (EUR 257 million). On completion, SES will consolidate O3b’s net debt, which is currently USD 1.2 billion. The transaction is expected to generate returns exceeding SES’s hurdle rates for infrastructure investments.

Euro Updates: Ariane 6 Price Promises, SES Embraces SpaceX & Orbital Servicing

Artist's impression of Ariane 6. (Credit: ESA)
Artist’s impression of Ariane 6. (Credit: ESA)

Updates from the Old World: European officials say they can beat SpaceX’s launch pricing four years from now.

Europe’s next-generation Ariane 6 rocket remains on track for a 2020 first launch with a cost structure allowing the heavier Ariane 64 version to advertise per-kilogram prices below today’s Space X Falcon 9, European government and industry officials said April 6.

They said they saw no roadblocks to the 2020 first-flight date despite what they described as noncritical delays that have no impact on the rocket’s design, performance or cost targets.

These issues include a delay of several months in the ramp-up of Airbus Safran Launchers (ASL), which is the Ariane 6 prime contractor, due to tax issues in France, and an extended antitrust review by the European Commission of ASL’s plan to become the dominant shareholder of the Arianespace commercial launch consortium.

Meanwhile, satellite fleet operator SES is embracing on-orbit servicing and SpaceX’s reusable Falcon 9.

SES said specifically it had opened negotiations with two companies — industry officials said they are Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital ATK’s Vivisat and MDA Corp. of Canada — “to have each extend the life of one of our satellites once their services are operational.”

The two in-orbit servicing projects take different approaches. Orbital ATK’s Vivisat launches a small vehicle that latches onto the target communications satellite and stays attached to it, providing fuel. MDA Corp. has designed an in-orbit fuel depot that would visit satellites, fuel them and then leave to service other customers….

ES has said that, for the right price, it is willing to be the inaugural customer using a refurbished Falcon 9 first stage “to show our commitment to reusable rockets.”

SES plans to launch seven satellites by late 2017– three in 2016 and four in 2017 – of which five are slated for SpaceX Falcon 9 missions, with two on Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket. The first of the seven, SES-9, was successfully launched in March aboard a Falcon 9.

Shotwell: SpaceX Could Reduce Launch Costs By 30 Percent by Reusing First Stage

Gwynne Shotwell
Gwynne Shotwell

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said earlier this week the company could reduce launch costs substantially by reusing the first stage of its Falcon 9 booster.

SES of Luxembourg, SpaceX’s biggest backer among the large commercial satellite fleet operators, has said it wants to be the first customer to fly with a reused stage. But SES Chief Executive Karim Michel Sabbagh said here March 8 that SES wanted a 50 percent price cut, to around $30 million, in return for pioneering the reusable version.

Shotwell said it was too early to set precise prices for a reused Falcon 9, but that if the fuel on the first stage costs $1 million or less, and a reused first stage could be prepared for reflight for $3 million or so, a price reduction of 30 percent – to around $40 million – should be possible.


SpaceX Schedules Fourth Launch Attempt for Tonight

Falcon 9 launch (Credit: SpaceX)
Falcon 9 launch (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX will make its fourth attempt to launch the SES-9 satellite on Tuesday, March 1, at 6:35 p.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral. The company scrubbed three launch attempts of the Falcon 9 booster over the past week.

SpaceX will webcast the event at beginning about 20 minutes before the launch window opens.

SpaceX Falcon 9 Launch Scrubbed Again

The Eastern Range is evaluating new launch dates no earlier than 48 hours after this one. So, no launch before Tuesday, March 1.

SpaceX Resets Falcon 9 Launch for Sunday Evening

Falcon 9 launch (Credit: SpaceX)
Falcon 9 launch (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX has reset the launch of a Falcon 9 carrying the SES 9 communications satellite for Sunday, Feb. 28, at 6:46 p.m. EST. The backup date is Monday evening.

Launch attempts were canceled on Wednesday and Thursday due to fueling issues.

SpaceX will webcast the launch beginning about 20 minutes prior to scheduled liftoff.

SpaceX Falcon 9 Set to Launch Communications Satellite Tonight

Falcon 9 launch (Credit: SpaceX)
Falcon 9 launch (Credit: SpaceX)

UPDATE NO. 2: The launch was scrubbed on Thursday due to a LOX loading problem. Since this was the backup date, SpaceX does not currently have a new launch date.

UPDATE: The launch has been scrubbed for Wednesday. SpaceX will try again on Thursday night.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to launch the SES-9 communications satellite to geosynchronous orbit this evening from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The approximately 90-minute launch window opens on February 24 at 6:46:14 pm ET. A backup launch window opens at 6:46:17 pm ET on February 25. The satellite will be deployed approximately 31 minutes after liftoff.

Following stage separation, the first stage of the Falcon 9 will attempt an experimental landing on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship. Given the mission’s unique launch profile, a successful landing is not expected.

The launch webcast will be live at approximately 20 minutes before launch.

Delta IV, Falcon 9 Launches Set

NROL45_MissionArtNight owls and insomniacs in California will be able to witness a spectacular night launch on Wednesday morning.

A United Launch Alliance Delta IV is set to lift off at 3:39 a.m. PST (6:39 a.m. EST) from Vandenberg Air Force Base carrying the National Reconnaissance Office’s NROL-45. If there are clear skies, the launch will be visible for hundreds of miles.

ULA will webcast the launch at

SpaceX is planning to be back in action two weeks later with a planned Feb. 24 launch of its upgraded Falcon 9 booster. The rocket will carry SES-9 communications satellite for SES S.A. of Luxembourg. SpaceX will conduct the launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

“In order to minimise the impact of moving the launch from late last year, SpaceX is supporting a mission modification,” SES said in a press release. “The changed mission will reduce the time needed for SES-9 to reach its orbital slot, keeping the Operational Service Date (OSD) in the third quarter of 2016, as previously foreseen….

“SES-9 will use a chemical bi-propellant apogee motor to quickly achieve a 24h synchronous orbit and then electric propulsion to circularise the final orbit and to remove eccentricity at 36,000 kilometers over the equator,” the company added. “Subsequent on-orbit manoeuvres will be executed with electric propulsion.”

Customers Edgy as SpaceX’s Schedule Slips; Falcon Heavy Flight Delayed Again

Falcon 9 launch (Credit: SpaceX)
Falcon 9 launch (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX’s customers are again experiencing the effects of Elon Musk’s focus on continuous upgrades to its Falcon 9 rocket as launch dates slide to the right. Meanwhile, the long-delayed debut of the company’s 28-engine Falcon Heavy vehicle has been postponed by at least five more months.

SpaceX’s silence on the schedule delays of its Falcon 9 Upgrade rocket, whose inaugural flight on Dec. 21 was a success, is causing ripples of concern among commercial customers, which like NASA are counting on a high launch cadence in 2016 to meet these companies’ schedule milestones, industry officials said.

SpaceX to Fly Orbcomm, not SES, on First Test of Upgraded Booster

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 will loft 11 Orbcomm OG2 satellites into orbit instead of a SES spacecraft in a December launch that will be the rocket’s first flight since a catastrophic failure in June destroyed a Dragon cargo ship bound for the International Space Station. The launch will be the first test of upgrades to the Falcon 9 that will allow the rocket to lift heavier payloads.

In a statement, SpaceX said that unlike the geosynchronous SES 9 communication satellites, the OG2 spacecraft do not require a relight of the Falcon 9’s second stage following orbital insertion. Changing the order of the launches will allow SpaceX to test the second stage after the OG2 satellites have been deployed.


SpaceWorks Review Finds Sharp Increase in Smallsat Launches

Excerpts From
2015 Small Satellite Market Observations
Full Presentation

Developed by:

Ms. Elizabeth Buchen
Director, Engineering Economics Group
SpaceWorks Enterprises, Inc. (SEI)
Atlanta, GA


SpaceWorks’ 2014 Projection estimated between 140 and 143 nano/microsatellites across all sectors would launch globally in 2014; 158 nano/microsatellites were actually launched. This represented an increase of nearly 72% compared to 2013.


In 2014, 107 commercial nano/microsatellites (1-50 kg) launched and thousands of commercial small satellites (101-500 kg) are planned for launch over the next fifteen years. Recent multi-million and multi-billion dollar investments in various ventures confirm the commercial sector’s continued interest in the nano/microsatellite and small satellite industries.

Falcon 9 Launch Failure Scrambles Schedule

Dragon capsule separated from Falcon 9 launch vehicle.
Dragon capsule separated from Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

With the failure of the Falcon 9 on Sunday, SpaceX’s only launch vehicle will be grounded for an unknown number of months while engineers identify the cause of the crash and make necessary changes to ensure that failure won’t happen again.