A Look at the History of Suborbital Spaceflight

Neil Armstrong with the X-15 on the dry lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

With Richard Branson once again predicting that Virgin Galactic will fly SpaeShipTwo into space before the end of the year, it seems like a good time to take a look at the history of suborbital spaceflight.

The number of manned suborbital flights varies depending upon the definition you use. The internationally recognized boundary is 100 km (62.1 miles), which is also known as the Karman line. The U.S. Air Force awarded astronaut wings to any pilot who exceeded 80.5 km (50 miles).

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U.S. Air Force Secretary Visits Mojave, Tours Stratolaunch

If Stratolaunch only had a rocket worthy of the ginormous carrier aircraft they built. No offense to Orbital ATK and the Pegasus XL, but that’s not what this thing was built for. Maybe they will develop one eventually.

Trump Administration Objects to Defense Bill Provisions on Space Corps, EELV Development


The Trump Administration and the House Armed Services Committee are on a collision course over four space- and rocket-related provisions in the fNational Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2018 (FY 2018).

Specifically, the administration is objecting to the following provisions:

  • the establishment of a separate space corps within the U.S. Air Force (USAF);
  • limitations on the funding of new rocket engines for the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program;
  • a prohibition on the Pentagon procurement of transponder services on commercial satellites launched on Russian rockets; and,
  • requirements that the Defense Department find multiple suppliers for individual components of solid rocket missile systems.

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ULA Wins USAF Launch Contract

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying EchoStar XIX satellite lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41 at 2:13 p.m. ET. (Credit: United Launch Alliance/Lockheed Martin)

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (ULA PR) – The United States Air Force announced today that United Launch Alliance (ULA) was awarded a contract to launch the Space Test Program-3 (STP-3) mission. This contract resulted from a competitive award under the Air Force’s Phase 1A procurement strategy.

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Air Force Stands Up New Headquarters Space Directorate

WASHINGTON (AFNS) — Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson has approved the reorganization of the Air Force headquarters to establish a Deputy Chief of Staff for Space Operations, who will be a three-star Air Force general officer.

“This is the next step in our effort to integrate, normalize and elevate space operations in the Air Force,” said Wilson. “The United States is dependent on space and our adversaries know it. We must organize and train forces to be able to prevail in any future conflict which could extend into space.”

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Crew Dragon Trainer Takes Shape at Kennedy

Dan Burbank and Victor Glover inside the Crew Dragon model (Credit: NASA)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA and SpaceX engineers are working together at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to build a full-scale Crew Dragon model, or Recovery Trainer, that will be used by the U.S. Air Force to perform flight-like rescue and recovery training exercises in the open ocean later this year.

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SpaceX Falcon 9 to Launch X-37B Space Plane

X-37B after landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base on June 16, 2012. (Credit: Boeing/USAF)

Reuters reports that SpaceX will launch the U.S. Air Force’s  X-37B space plane in August.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson made the announcement during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, the news service reports.

Four previous X-37B missions have been launched aboard ULA’s Atlas V boosters.

The U.S. Air Force has two X-37B spacecraft, which are used to test new technologies on orbit. One vehicle landed in Florida on May 7 after spending a record 718 days in space.

U.S. Air Force Awards Four Study Contracts for Weather Mission

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — Air Force Space Command’s Space and Missile Systems Center recently awarded four study contracts worth approximately $500,000 each to EO Vista, Millennium Space Systems, Orbital ATK, and Raytheon Company – Space and Airborne Systems. These companies will provide concept reports to address space-based cloud characterization and theater weather imagery solutions by the end of fiscal year 2019.

Currently, the Air Force relies on the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) and other programs to provide cloud characterization, whereby satellites analyze cloud detection, cover and temperature, and, theater weather imagery, whereby satellites record visible satellite images of atmospheric conditions. Together, these missions are referred to as Space Based Environmental Monitoring (SBEM) Electro Optical Infrared (EO/IR) capabilities. The SBEM EO/IR mission has been performed by the DMSP satellite constellation for over 50 years and the Air Force is exploring new long-term solutions to continue this mission.

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Defense Officials Describe Priorities for Operating in Contested Space Domain

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying AFSPC-6 mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex-37. (Credit: ULA)

By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, May 22, 2017 — Space enables everything the joint force does and the national security space architecture must protect and defend that capability in a contested environment, officials from the Air Force, the intelligence community and the Defense Department told a House panel in recent testimony.

Air Force Gen. John Raymond, commander of Air Force Space Command and Air Force Lt. Gen. David Buck, commander of the Joint Functional Component-Space for the U.S. Strategic Command testified last week before the House Armed Services Committee on priorities and posture of the national security space enterprise for fiscal year 2018.

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Defense Leaders Testify on Space Posture

Gen. John Raymond, the Air Force Space Command commander, testifies with Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces May 17, 2017, in Washington, D.C. Sharing the panel with them were Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, the Space and Missile Systems Center commander and Cristina Chapin, the General Accounting Office director of acquisition and sourcing management. The committee examined military space organization, policy, and programs. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

By Staff Sgt. Alyssa C. Gibson,
Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

WASHINGTON (AFNS) —

On May 17, 2017, Air Force senior leaders testified before the Senate Armed Service Committee Strategic Forces subcommittee on military space, organization, policy and programs.
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Senate Confirms Wilson as U.S. Air Force Secretary

Heather Wilson (Credit: U.S. Air Force/Scott M. Ash)

WASHINGTON (AFNS) — Heather Wilson will be the next secretary of the Air Force, following her confirmation by the Senate May 8, 2017.

Wilson, who is stepping down from her position as the president of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology to take the post, is expected to be sworn in within a week.

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X-37B Space Plane Lands at Kennedy Space Center

The X-37B spacecraft after landing on May 7, 2017. (Credit: USAF)

WASHINGTON, DC (AFNS) — The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle mission 4 (OTV-4), the Air Force’s unmanned, reusable space plane, landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility May 7, 2017.

“Today marks an incredibly exciting day for the 45th Space Wing as we continue to break barriers,” said Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, the 45th SW commander. “Our team has been preparing for this event for several years, and I am extremely proud to see our hard work and dedication culminate in today’s safe and successful landing of the X-37B.”
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Video: X-37 Space Plane Lands After Nearly 2 Years in Orbit

Video Caption: The Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle mission 4 landed at NASA ‘s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility May 7, 2017. Managed by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, the X-37B program is the newest and most advanced re-entry spacecraft that performs risk reduction, experimentation and concept of operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies.

AIA Policy Recommendations for Improving U.S. Space Competitiveness


Engine for Growth:
Analysis and Recommendations for U.S. Space Industry Competitiveness

Aerospace Industries Association
May 2017
[Full Report]

Policy Recommendations
for Strengthening U.S. Space Competitiveness

1. Level the Playing Field

Provide a responsive regulatory environment for commercial space activities. The list of commercial space activities is varied and growing, ranging from traditional applications such as satellite telecommunications to emerging ones like space resource utilization. At the same time, the U.S. space industry is governed by multiple federal agencies with disparate regulatory interests, including the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Aviation Administration and Departments of State and Commerce. These agencies often suffer from funding and staffi ng shortages, a situation that creates bottlenecks in licensing processes and slows responsiveness to technological and market changes. The new Administration should work closely with Congress to ensure that the appropriate space regulatory agencies are fully resourced and staffed.
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Design Evolution: Lockheed Martin is using 3-D Printed Parts for U.S. Military Satellites

New process cuts more than four months out of the manufacturing lead time for a component onboard the U.S. Air Force’s AEHF-6 satellite

SUNNYVALE, Calif. (Lockheed Martin PR) — When the U.S. Air Force’s sixth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF-6) satellite launches into space, a 3-D printed part will be along for the ride. A Remote Interface Unit, an aluminum electronic enclosure designed to hold avionic circuits, will be the first 3-D printed part certified for use on a Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) military satellite.

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