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).

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NASA and Boeing Progress Toward July Launch of Second Starliner Flight Test

Technicians prepare Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner for the company’s Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) in the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 2, 2021. Part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, OFT-2 is a critical developmental milestone on the company’s path to fly crew missions for NASA. (Credits: Boeing)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA and Boeing are continuing preparations ahead of Starliner’s second uncrewed flight to prove the system can safely carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

Teams inside the Starliner production factory at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida recently began fueling the Starliner crew module and service module in preparation for launch of Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) at 2:53 p.m. EDT on Friday, July 30. The fueling operations are expected to complete this week as teams load propellant inside the facility’s Hazardous Processing Area and perform final spacecraft checks.

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Fun with Figures: Move Over Starlink, Here Comes China’s Satellite Mega-Constellation

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Chinese government recently formed a company to develop a satellite mega-constellation that would exceed SpaceX’s rival Starlink communications network in size, according to media reports.

The newly created China Satellite Network Group Co. will oversee the development of a communications satellite constellation that will include 12,992 satellites. China has filed for spectrum allocation for the constellation with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

The Chinese constellation would be the largest in the world with 1,049 more satellites than the 11,943 Starlink satellites approved by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Together, the Chinese and Starlink satellites would place 24,935 satellites into Earth orbit.

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Breaking Down Virgin Galactic’s Latest Flight Test

Take me out to the black,
Tell them I ain’t comin’ back.
Burn the land and boil the sea,
You can’t take the sky from me….

— “The Ballad of Serenity,” Sonny Rhodes

“After so many years and so much hard work, New Mexico has finally reached the stars.”

— New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

By now, you’ve probably read the rhetoric flourishes in Virgin Galactic’s press release about the company’s first suborbital flight test in more than two years that was conducted on Saturday. Suffice to say, if the stars were located at the altitude that SpaceShipTwo actually reached (55.45 miles/89.2 km), they would take the sky away at the same time they burned the land and boiled the seas. Being suborbital, VSS Unity wouldn’t have helped anyone escape the inferno.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen. So, let’s just put doomsday out of our minds. It’s time to break down what the flight test accomplished, what comes next, and why 27 months passed between powered flights. And what about Jeff Bezos?

Ready? Let’s go!

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United Launch Alliance Successfully Launches SBIRS GEO Flight 5 Mission in Support of National Security

A ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the SBIRS GEO Flight 5 mission for the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41at 1:37 p.m. EDT on May 18. (Credit; United Launch Alliance)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. May 18, 2021 (ULA PR) – A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the Space Based Infrared System Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (SBIRS GEO) Flight 5 mission for the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) lifted off on May 18 at 1:37 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. To date ULA has launched 144 times with 100 percent mission success.

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Atlas V Launch Delayed a Day Due to Anomaly

CAPE CANAVERAL SPACE FORCE STATION, Fla., May 17, 2021 (ULA PR) – The launch of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V carrying the SBIRS GEO Flight 5 mission for the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) has been scrubbed. During Centaur liquid oxygen (LOX) chilldown operations, the team identified an anomalous system response that could not be resolved within the launch window. 

Launch is now scheduled for 1:31 p.m. EDT on Tues., May 18, 2021.

United Launch Alliance to Launch SBIRS GEO Flight 5 Mission in Support of National Security on Monday

An Atlas V rocket launches the NROL-101 satellite. (Credit: ULA)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla., (May 15, 2021) – A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket is in final preparations to launch the Space Based Infrared System Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (SBIRS GEO) Flight 5 mission for the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC). The launch is on track for May 17 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Launch is planned for 1:35 p.m. EDT. The live launch broadcast begins at 1:15 p.m. EDT on May 17 at www.ulalaunch.com.

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Delta IV Heavy, Chinese Space Station Launches on Tap for This Week

A Delta IV Heavy launches the NROL-44 satellite. (Credit: ULA)

The month of April is concluding with a string of launches from Russia, the United States, China and South America. Things kicked off on Friday with SpaceX’s launch of Crew-2 to the International Space Station (ISS). On Sunday, a Russian Soyuz rocket launched 36 OneWeb satellite broadband spacecraft from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East.

One of the final United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rockets is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Monday afternoon. That flight will be followed by the fifth launch of China’s Long March 6 booster. Launches by Europe’s Vega and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets are scheduled over the next two days.

China will close out the month on Thursday by launching Tianhe-1 core module for that nation’s first permanent space station aboard a Long March 5B booster.

The full schedule for the week is below.

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Amazon Secures United Launch Alliance’s Proven Atlas V Rocket for Nine Project Kuiper Launches

Northrop Grumman’s GEM 63 rocket motors propel the launch of United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V on Nov. 13, 2020. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

Atlas V provides important reliability and schedule assurance in launch agreement

Centennial, Colo., April 19, 2021 (ULA PR) – United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced today that Amazon has secured Atlas V for nine launches supporting deployment of its ambitious Project Kuiper initiative. Project Kuiper is an initiative that will increase global broadband access through a constellation of 3,236 advanced satellites in low earth orbit.  

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NASA Adds United Launch Alliance Vulcan Centaur Rocket to Launch Services Program Catalog

Artist’s conception of Vulcan Centaur rocket. (Credit: ULA)

ULA’s next generation rocket to compete for future NASA launches

CENTENNIAL, Colo., April 15, 2021 (ULA PR) – NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP) has added United Launch Alliance’s next generation rocket, the Vulcan Centaur, to the NASA Launch Services II (NLS) indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract in accordance with the on-ramp provision of NLS II.

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Last Delivery of Russian RD-180 Engines Under Current Contract for ULA’s Atlas V Launch Vehicle

RD-180 test firing. (Credit: NASA)

MOSCOW (Roscosmos PR) — On Wednesday, April 14, 2021, at the Academician V.P. Glushko (part of the Roscosmos State Corporation), six RD-180 engines were handed over to American customers. Representatives of the companies Pratt & Whitney, United Launch Alliance, EP AMROSS signed the forms for the engines.

For two weeks prior to the transfer of products, representatives of these companies, as well as NASA and the US Air Force, performed an external examination of engines, spare parts and accessories, as well as a review of accompanying documentation. 

This acceptance is the first since the beginning of the pandemic, which has made its own adjustments to the schedule of supplies abroad. The engines are currently being prepared for shipment. 

The current delivery will be the last under the current contract. In total, within the framework of more than twenty years of cooperation, NPO Energomash has supplied 122 commercial RD-180 engines to the United States.

The RD-180 liquid-propellant rocket engine is designed and manufactured by NPO Energomash. Designed for use as part of the American Atlas V launch vehicles.

Final RS-68A Engine for Delta IV Heavy Completes Hot-fire Acceptance Test

Aerojet Rocketdyne’s RS-68A rocket engine successfully completed its final acceptance test April 12, 2021, on the B-1 test stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The RS-68A powers the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket to send critical spacecraft into orbit. (Credit: NASA Stennis)

STENNIS SPACE CENTER, Miss. (Aerojet Rocketdyne PR) — Today (April 12), the world’s most powerful hydrogen-fueled rocket engine built by Aerojet Rocketdyne, the RS-68A, completed its final hot-fire acceptance test for use on the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle on the B-1 Test Stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

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SpaceX, ULA Win U.S. Air Force Launch Contracts

The U.S. Air Force has awarded contracts to SpaceX and United Launch Alliance (ULA) for two launches each under its National Security Space Launch Phase 2 agreements.

SpaceX will receive $159,721,445 to launch the USSF-36 and NROL-69 missions from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The launches are expected to be completed by the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2023.

ULA will receive $224,290,000 for launching the USSF-112 and USSF-87 missions from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The launches are expected to be completed by the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2023.

Last year, SpaceX and ULA won U.S. Air Force contracts to launch defense payloads for 2022-27.

Lunar Traffic to Pick Up as NASA Readies for Robotic Commercial Moon Deliveries

This photograph of a nearly full Moon was taken from the Apollo 8 spacecraft at a point above 70 degrees east longitude. Mare Crisium, the circular, dark-colored area near the center, is near the eastern edge of the Moon as viewed from Earth. (Credits: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA is working on various science instruments and technology experiments from the agency that will operate on the Moon once American companies on Commercial Lunar Payload Services  (CLPS) contracts deliver them to the lunar surface. Through CLPS flights, NASA is buying a complete commercial robotic lunar delivery service and does not provide launch services, own the lander or lead landing operations.

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United Launch Alliance Modifies Launch Pad and Facilities in Advance of First Vulcan Centaur Launch This Year

The VLP emerges from the SPOC for rollout to Space Launch Complex-41. (Credit: United Launch Alliance)

CAPE CANAVERAL SPACE FORCE STATION, Fla., Feb. 2, 2021 (ULA PR) – United Launch Alliance (ULA) has modified Space Launch Complex-41 and the processing facilities in support of Vulcan Centaur’s inaugural launch later this year. The multi-year project to prepare for the larger and more capable launch vehicle culminated in the new mobile launch platform being rolled to the launch pad for final testing.

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