NASA Makes Change in Boeing Starliner Test Flight Crew

Astronaut Eric Boe examines hardware during a tour of the SpaceX facility in Hawthorne, California. (Credit: SpaceX)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA astronaut E. Michael “Mike” Fincke has been added to the crew of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner’s Crew Flight Test, scheduled to launch later this year.

Fincke takes the place of astronaut Eric Boe, originally assigned to the mission in August 2018. Boe is unable to fly due to medical reasons; he will replace Fincke as the assistant to the chief for commercial crew in the astronaut office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

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Relativity Wins Direct Contract for Launch Site at Cape Canaveral from the U.S. Air Force

The autonomous rocket factory becomes the first venture-backed company to be granted an agreement for historic Launch Complex 16 from the U.S. Air Force

Los Angeles, CA — January 17, 2019 — Relativity, the world’s first autonomous rocket factory and launch services leader, today announced that it has been granted a Statement of Capability for its own rocket launch facilities at Launch Complex 16 (LC-16) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida by The 45th Space Wing of the United States Air Force. The Statement of Capability signifies the U.S. Air Force’s formal acceptance of Relativity for launch operations in Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. This is the first and only direct agreement the U.S. Air Force has completed with a venture-backed orbital launch company at LC-16, and includes on-site vehicle integration and payload processing, with the opportunity to extend to an exclusive 20-year term. Relativity joins SpaceX, ULA, and Blue Origin as only the 4th company with a major operational orbital launch site at Cape Canaveral.

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SpaceX Launches 21st & Final Mission of 2018

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. (SpaceX PR) — On Sunday, December 23rd at 5:51 a.m. PST, SpaceX successfully launched the United States Air Force’s first Global Positioning System III space vehicle (SV) from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The satellite was deployed to its intended orbit approximately 1 hour and 56 minutes after liftoff.

The United States’ Global Positioning System delivers positioning, navigation, and timing services supporting vital U.S. and allied operations worldwide, and underpins critical financial, transportation, and agricultural infrastructure that billions of users have come to depend on daily.

The Launch Facility

The United States Air Force’s first GPS III satellite will augment the current constellation of 31 operational GPS satellites. This newest generation of GPS satellites is designed and built to deliver positioning, navigation, and timing information with three times better accuracy, and up to eight times improved anti-jamming capability. GPS is used by over four billion users and supports critical missions worldwide.

GPS is a National Security Space (NSS) mission, critical to national defense. In April 2016, SpaceX was awarded its first NSS mission, GPS III SV01. SpaceX currently has an additional four GPS III missions on contract, all of which will be launched on Falcon 9.

Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida SpaceX’s SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is a world-class launch site that builds on a strong heritage. The site, located at the north end of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, was used for many years to launch Titan rockets, among the most powerful in the U.S. fleet. SpaceX took over the facility in May 2008.

The center of the complex is composed of the concrete launch pad and flame diverter system. Surrounding the pad are four lightning towers, propellant storage tanks, and the integration hangar. Before launch, Falcon 9’s stages and payload are housed inside the hangar. The payload is mated to the Falcon 9 inside SLC-40’s hangar on the transporter erector. The rocket and payload are then rolled out from the hangar to the launch pad and lifted to a vertical position.

Potentially Historic Flights Loom in Mojave

View of SpaceShipTwo Unity from the tail boom. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

It looks as if things could get very busy here at the Mojave Air and Space Port in the coming weeks with a possible pair of historic milestone flights.

Sir Richard Branson has said he expects SpaceShipTwo Unity to make a flight into space before Christmas, which is just over two weeks away. Sources say a flight is highly likely barring technical or weather delays.

Parabolic Arc has also heard that Stratolaunch could attempt the historic first flight of its massive carrier aircraft before the new year.
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Montheith Appointed to Head FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation

Wayne R. Monteith

WASHINGTON (DOT PR) – U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Elaine L. Chao today announced Wayne R. Monteith has been appointed to the position of Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Monteith’s appointment is effective January 20, 2019.

Monteith is a proven aerospace leader with nearly 30 years of planning and managing activities to integrate Department of Defense, civil, commercial, and intelligence community space capabilities. Monteith is a recently retired US Air Force Brigadier General who previously served as the Commander, 45th Space Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida and led operations for the busiest and most successful spaceport in the world.

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Officials Give Widely Varying Estimates on Cost of Space Force

Defense One reports that senior Pentagon officials remain widely apart on what the Space Force will cost to set up.

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Thursday told reporters at the Pentagon that it would cost “single digit, not a double-digit” billions of dollars. “It might be lower than $5” billion, he said.

About two hours later, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson defended her service’s far higher estimate. In September, she estimated that standing up a Space Force and a new combatant command for space warfare would cost about $13 billion over five years. (Shanahan did not specify the timeframe for his $5 billion estimate on Thursday.)

“Our cost estimate that we gave to a lot of people in the Pentagon in September was the cost of a fully-fledged, stand-alone department and also a unified combatant command,” she said at the Defense One Summit. “Whatever is put forward needs to implement the president’s proposal,” she said.

Building in Space: Government and Industry Meet to Discuss In-Space Assembly

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Orbiting 250 miles above Earth’s surface is a large example of in-space assembly: the International Space Station. Modules, trusses, solar arrays and instruments were flown to space and assembled by astronauts during spacewalks and using space-controlled robotics.

On Nov. 6, NASA, along with the U.S. Air Force and the National Reconnaissance Office — its principal partners in the Science & Technology Partnership Forum — hosted more than 50 industry members at NASA Headquarters in Washington for an open discussion on in-space assembly technology and projects. Representatives from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory involved in in-space assembly projects also attended.

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Richard Branson Pops into Mojave to Check on Progress of Spaceflight Quest

Mojave Air and Space Port on a rare cloudy day. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Some day, Richard Branson might fly to space, gaze out the window, and see stars with his naked eyes, unencumbered by the Earth’s atmosphere or the optics of a telescope.

For the moment, he has to settle for his own fame and a star encased in concrete along the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The British billionaire was in Los Angeles last month for the unveiling of his star on that famous boulevard. While he was in the neighborhood, he popped up to the Mojave Air and Space Port, where Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company are working to make his dream of spaceflight a reality.

Given his early October prediction that Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity would fly to space in “weeks, not months,” one might have expected him to be here to view a spaceflight he has been promising for the past 14 years.

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Musk: Still Looking to Launch BFR to Mars in 2024

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

Kara Swisher of Recode posted an interview with Elon Musk last week. Below are lightly edited excepts concerning SpaceX and Musk’s plans for Mars.

Well let’s get to rockets, then. SpaceX. Last time we talked, you said you wanted to die on Mars, just not on landing. Which was a very funny joke, although it’s probably not a joke, it’s probably —

Well, it’d be ironic if that had happened. I have to be careful about tempting fate, because I think often the most ironic outcome is the most probable….

Instead of discussing your death, let’s discuss what’s going on at SpaceX. What are some of the things you’re doing?

We successfully launched the Falcon Heavy rocket, which is the most powerful rocket in the world by a factor of two. So that’s twice the power, twice the thrust of the next biggest rocket. And we actually launched a Tesla — my Tesla Roadster — to Mars orbit. The reason we did that is actually because, normally, when a new rocket is launched, you just put a dummy payload, which is like a block of concrete or something.
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Air Force Seeks Top Space Awareness Innovators with ‘VQ-Prize’ Competition

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (USAF PR) — The U.S. Air Force and the Wright Brothers Institute are offering cash prizes for the creation of visualization tools, including Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality solutions, that will enhance DOD space operator understanding and awareness of satellites and other objects in Earth orbit in a competition that is set to run from October 29 through January 15, 2019.

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First Vulcan Launch Slips to 2021

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

SpaceNews reports the first launch of ULA’s new Vulcan booster will slip from 2020 to spring 2021.

During a panel discussion at the American Astronautical Society’s Wernher von Braun Symposium here Oct. 24, John Elbon, chief operating officer of ULA, said the company was making “good progress” on the vehicle, an effort aided by winning one of three Launch Service Agreement (LSA) awards from the U.S. Air Force Oct. 10.

“We’re making good progress on the development” of Vulcan, he said. “Our first certification flight is targeted for April of ’21. We were really excited about the results of the Air Force’s LSA procurement. We’re off and marching.”

As recently as last month, though, ULA said the first Vulcan launch was scheduled for 2020, a date the company had bene holding for some time. In a Sept. 27 release about its selection of Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine for Vulcan’s first stage, the company said the vehicle “is on track for its initial flight in mid-2020.”

Vector Signs Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with U.S. Air Force

TUCSON, Ariz. (Vector PR)  – Vector today announced it has entered into a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the United States Air Force Space Command and Missile Systems Center’s Space Superiority Directorate. In addition to its nearly three-year partnership with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the CRADA with the Air Force highlights Vector’s continued efforts to develop critical technologies with the U.S Department of Defense.

Located at the Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo Calif., the Space Missile Systems Center will engage in collaborative research and development activities relating to Vector’s launch services and the Air Force’s technology and mission needs. The CRADA is effective for one year and includes provisions for protecting information by both the Air Force and Vector.

Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), a subordinate unit of Air Force Space Command, is the center of technical excellence for developing, acquiring, fielding and sustaining military space systems. SMC’s mission is to deliver resilient and affordable space capabilities. The center is responsible for on-orbit check-out, testing, sustainment and maintenance of military satellite constellations and other Department of Defense space systems.

About Vector:

Created by the original founding team of SpaceX, Vector connects space startups and innovators with dedicated launch services and enabling platforms to access space more efficiently than ever before. Vector is proud to design, build and launch its vehicles and enabling platforms in the United States of America. For more information, please visit http://www.vector-launch.com

United Launch Alliance Successfully Launches AEHF-4 Mission

ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the AEHF-4 mission for the U.S. Air Force lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41. (Credit: ULA)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla., Oct. 17, 2018 (ULA PR) – A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the fourth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) mission for the U.S. Air Force lifted off from Space Launch Complex-41 on Oct. 17 at 12:15 a.m. EDT. The launch of AEHF-4 marks ULA’s 50th launch for the U.S. Air Force; ULA’s first Air Force mission was Space Test Program-1 (STP-1), launched March 8, 2007.

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Former NASA Astronaut & Armstrong Research Pilot Rick Searfoss Passes Away

Rick Searfoss

EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — Former NASA research pilot and astronaut Richard “Rick” Searfoss died Sept. 29 at his home in Bear Valley Springs, California. He was 62.

Searfoss, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, served as a research pilot in the flight crew branch at NASA Dryden (now Armstrong) Flight Research Center in California from July 2001 to February 2003, having brought with him over 5,000 hours of military flying and 939 hours in space.

He flew on three space flights, onboard space shuttles Columbia and Atlantis, logging 39 days in space. Searfoss was the pilot for his first two space missions, STS-58 and STS-76, landing both times at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Once at Dryden, medical staff was standing by for the astronauts as well as personnel who supported the NASA convoy team in preparing the shuttle for its return ferry flight to Florida.

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Blue Origin Awarded $500 Million Air Force Contract

New Glenn is a reusable, vertical-landing booster with 3.85 million pounds of thrust, (Credit: Blue Origin)

Kent, Wash. (Blue Origin PR) — Blue Origin is honored to enter into a Launch Services Agreement (LSA) partnership with the Air Force to leverage our commercial, heavy-lift New Glenn launch vehicle for national security space (NSS) missions. New Glenn is a single-configuration, operationally reusable launch vehicle powered by seven BE-4 liquefied natural gas rocket engines and offers significant performance margin for all NSS missions.

The LSA partnership enables rapid buildout of NSS-unique New Glenn infrastructure such as vertical payload integration capability and a launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base as well as completion of NSS certification activities.

Blue Origin is proud to serve the NSS community and is committed to providing safe, reliable access to space for the nation.

For more information on this announcement, check out the Air Force’s press releaseBlue’s tweet and Jeff’s tweet.

Gradatim Ferociter!