USSF Awards OSP-4 Contract to Emerging Small Launch Providers

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (SMC PR) — The U.S. Space Force’s Rocket Systems Launch Program Office, part of the Space and Missile Systems Center’s (SMC) Launch Enterprise at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, announced the award of the first on ramp of the Orbital Services Program (OSP)-4 Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract Aug. 9, 2021, to ABL Space Systems Corp, Astra Space, Inc., and Relativity Space, Inc.

OSP-4 allows for the rapid acquisition of launch services to meet mission requirements for payloads greater than 400 pounds, enabling launch to any orbit within 12-24 months from task order award.  The RSLP will compete each mission among the IDIQ awardees. The addition of these emerging providers’ preserves, stimulates, and enhances the small launch industrial base and yields the Space Force a diverse vendor pool in support of the nation’s defense. 

(more…)

Astra Plans Next Launch in Late August From Kodiak Island

Video Caption: The Final System Test, also known as the “hot fire” engine test for Astra’s Launch Vehicle 0006.

Astra is hoping the third time will be a charm.

The publicly-traded launch provider will make another attempt to reach orbit with its Rocket 3 booster late this month from Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska on Kodiak Island. The window for the launch attempt opens on Aug. 27 and runs until Sept. 11.

Astra’s first commercial launch includes a payload for the U.S. Space Force (USSF). It is the first of two launches ordered by the military service.

Astra’s two previous orbital launch attempts failed. The first rocket was destroyed shortly after launch in September 2020 after it began to veer off course. A second rocket launched last December reached space but lacked sufficient velocity to enter orbit.

On July 1, Astra became a publicly traded company on the Nasdaq exchange after a merger with Holicity.

Rocket Lab’s Electron Launches U.S. Military Satellite in Successful Return to Flight

Electron engine firing (Credit: Rocket Lab webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

MAHIA PENINSULA, New Zealand — Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket launched an U.S. Space Force satellite on Thursday in a successful return to flight for the small-satellite booster after a launch failure in May.

The booster lifted off with the USSF’s Monolith technology technology demonstration satellite. Deployment from the booster’s kick stage occurred less than an hour after liftoff from Rocket Lab’s facility on the Mahia Peninsula.

(more…)

Rocket Lab to Launch U.S. Space Force Mission on Thursday From Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand

Electron launches with OHB satellite. (Credit: Rocket Lab webcast)

LONG BEACH, Calif., July 27, 2021 (Rocket Lab PR) – Rocket Lab, the leading launch and space systems company, today announced it will open a launch window from tomorrow to launch a research and development satellite to low Earth orbit from Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand for the United States Space Force (USSF).

(more…)

First Soldiers, Sailors, Marines Selected for Transfer to U.S. Space Force

ARLINGTON, VA. (AFNS) — The Space Force working with the Army, Navy and Marine Corps have selected 50 active-duty volunteers from those Services to transfer into the Space Force beginning July 2021. This initial group of Soldiers, Sailors and Marines will test out the integration efforts established by the Services to pave the way for a larger group of volunteers transferring in fiscal year 2022.

(more…)

Launch 2020: China’s Space Program Continued to Surge with a Number of Firsts

Long March 3B lifts off from Xichang Satellite Launch Center. (Credit: China Aerospace Science and Technology Group)

China’s surging space program showed no sign of slowing down last year as it tied its own launch record and moved ahead with ambitious space missions and a set of new launchers.

China compiled a record of 35 successes and four failures in 2020. That matched the number of launch attempts made in 2018, a year that saw 38 successes and a single failure.

(more…)

ULA’s Bruno Denies Igniter Problems with Vulcan Centaur’s BE-4 Engine

In a recent report, the GAO — Government Accountability Office — had reported technical issues with the Blue Origin produced BE-4 engine that will power United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan Centaur rocket.

Vulcan Centaur’s first flight will launch Astrobotic Technology’s Peregrine on a mission to land on the moon. That flight was scheduled for the end of 2021, but it has slipped into next year due to COVID-19 pandemic related delays with Peregrine.

Launch 2020: U.S. Reclaimed Top Spot, Flew Astronauts Again from American Soil

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched from Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard, Saturday, May 30, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls & Joel Kowsky)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The United States reclaimed the top spot in launches from China last year as NASA astronauts flew into orbit from American soil for the first time in nearly nine years, SpaceX deployed the world’s first satellite mega-constellation with reused rockets, and two new launchers debuted with less than stellar results.

American companies conducted 44 launches in 2020, with 40 successes and four failures. Bryce Tech reports that U.S. companies accounted for 32 of the 41 commercial launches conducted last year. The majority of those flights were conducted by SpaceX, which launched 25 orbital missions.

China came in second with a record of 35 successful launches and four failures. The 39 launch attempts tied that nation’s previous record for flights during a calendar year.

Let’s take a closer look at what U.S. companies achieved last year.

(more…)

FAA, U.S. Air Force Sign Commercial Space Agreement to Streamline Launches

WASHINGTON (FAA PR) — The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Department of the Air Force signed an agreement (PDF) aimed at eliminating red tape while protecting public safety during commercial space activities at ranges operated by the U.S. Space Force.

The agreement recognizes common safety standards for FAA-licensed launch and reentry activities that occur on, originate from, or return to Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida and Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. It also removes duplicative processes and approvals for the U.S. commercial space sector.

“Assured access to space is vital to our national security,” said Acting Secretary of the Air Force John P. Roth. “The launch licensing standards provided in the agreement will support a rapidly expanding commercial launch sector and strengthen our space industrial base, bolstering our economy and enhancing our security as a nation.”

(more…)

GAO: Blue Origin BE-4 Engine Technical Issues Threaten ULA’s Vulcan Booster Schedule

BE-4 engine firing (Credit: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Technical issues related to related to “the igniter and booster capabilities” with Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine could delay the maiden flight of United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) new Vulcan Centaur booster scheduled for late this year, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

(more…)

Northrop Grumman Successfully Launches Minotaur I Rocket for the National Reconnaissance Office

The Minotaur I rocket was launched from NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

Flight extends flawless record of Minotaur product line to 28 missions

WALLOPS, Va. – June 15, 2021 – Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) launched its Minotaur I rocket today at 9:35 a.m. EDT, successfully placing a National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) payload into orbit. The Minotaur I was launched from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0B at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility.

(more…)

U.S. Space Force Successfully Launches First Tactically Responsive Launch Mission

WASHINGTON (AFNS) — The U. S. Space Force successfully launched the Tactically Responsive Launch-2 (TacRL-2) mission on a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base on June 13 at 4:11 a.m. EDT, delivering a technology demonstration satellite to Low Earth Orbit.

Pegasus, the world’s first privately-developed commercial space launch vehicle, is an air-launched threestaged rocket carried aloft by Northrop Grumman’s specially modified “Stargazer” L-1011 aircraft. Shortly after its release from Stargazer, at approximately 40,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean, Pegasus ignited its first stage, beginning its successful flight carrying TacRL-2 to its intended orbit.

(more…)

SMC Stands Up New Space Safari Program Office for Rapid Response to Urgent Needs

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (SMC PR) — Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, Commander, Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), recently announced the establishment of the Space Safari Program Office within SMC’s Special Programs Directorate.  Space Safari responds to high-priority, urgent space needs by rapidly acquiring, integrating and executing missions in support of USSPACECOM requirements and other combatant commander needs. These missions are not typically a part of an enduring program of record, but respond to high priority needs to deploy space systems quickly to respond to emerging threats.  

As a high-speed integrator for specialized space missions, Space Safari operates with a unique mission focus, rapidly connecting space vehicles, specialized payloads, launch campaigns and ground systems, all while coordinating with the operational community and end-users.  Similar to the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Big Safari office, Space Safari uses mature technology and existing production lines to quickly repurpose and integrate space assets from multiple organizations.

(more…)

Northrop Grumman Successfully Launches Pegasus XL Rocket for the US Space Force

Stargazer L-1011 with Pegasus XL rocket. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

CHANDLER, Ariz., June 13, 2021 (Northrop Grumman PR) – Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) successfully launched the Tactically Responsive Launch-2 (TacRL-2) payload into orbit for the U.S. Space Force (USSF), Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), using the company’s Pegasus XL rocket. TacRL-2 was launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base.

(more…)