Rocket Lab Prepares to Launch CubeSat Mission for NASA

Electron It’s Business Time lift-off (Credits: Kieran Fanning & Sam Toms)

Huntington Beach, California (Rocket Lab PR) – US small satellite launch company Rocket Lab is gearing up for the company’s third orbital launch of the year, the Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa)-19 mission for NASA. The launch is a significant moment for the small satellite industry, as it’s the first time NASA CubeSats will enjoy a dedicated ride to orbit on a commercial launch vehicle, thanks to NASA’s forward-leaning Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) initiative.  VCLS is managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program headquartered at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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Video: A Look at NASA’s Venture Class Launch Services Program

Video Caption: For years, tiny CubeSat satellites could only fly into space as hitchhikers, riding along with larger, primary payloads. Now, thanks to Venture Class Launch Services, these small packages of big science are getting their own rides into space on dedicated rockets — and on their own terms. Rocket Lab USA of Huntington Beach, California, and Virgin Orbit of Long Beach, California, are the two companies poised to propel CubeSats from coach class to first class.

Small Satellites to Get their Own Ride to Space With Venture Class Program

Technicians examine at CubeSat at Rocket Lab USA’s facility in California. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA is investing in a new commercial market that could answer the demand for affordable access to space for small satellites, including CubeSats. The agency’s Venture Class Launch Services brings together a smaller class of rockets with satellites small enough to hold in your hands.

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CubeSats Readied for NASA’s First Venture Class Launch

Technicians examine at CubeSat at Rocket Lab USA’s facility in California. (Credit: NASA)

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (NASA PR) — A host of CubeSats, or small satellites, are undergoing the final stages of processing at Rocket Lab USA’s facility in Huntington Beach, California, for NASA’s first mission dedicated solely to spacecraft of their size. This will be the first launch under the agency’s new Venture Class Launch Services.

Scientists, including those from NASA and various universities, began arriving at the facility in early April with spacecraft small enough to be a carry-on to be prepared for launch.

A team from NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, completed final checkouts of a CubeSat called the Compact Radiation Belt Explorer (CeREs), before placing the satellite into a dispenser to hold the spacecraft during launch inside the payload fairing. Among its missions, the satellite will examine the radiation belt and how electrons are energized and lost, particularly during events called microbursts — when sudden swarms of electrons stream into the atmosphere.

This facility is the final stop for designers and builders of the CubeSats, but the journey will continue for the spacecraft. Rocket Lab will soon ship the satellites to New Zealand for launch aboard the company’s Electron orbital rocket on the Mahia Peninsula this summer.

The CubeSats will be flown on an Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) mission to space through NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative. CeREs is one of the 10 ELaNa CubeSats scheduled to be a part of this mission.

Jim Bridenstine Explains Why He is Qualified to be NASA Administrator

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) says that his leadership efforts in Congress on space issues qualifies him to serve as NASA administrator.

“For three terms in Congress, have led comprehensive, bipartisan, space reforms with the objective of preserving America’s preeminence and global leadership in space,” Bridenstine stated in a notarized document submitted to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

“These efforts have led me to a deep understanding of the complex challenges NASA will face bringing together traditional space companies and new space entrepreneurs into a comprehensive NASA vision for both exploration and science,” he added. “Traditional and new space companies are both critical to accelerating America’s space renaissance.”

In the document, which queried Bridenstine on his views and qualifications for NASA’s top job, the congressman listed NASA’s top three challenges as:
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House Appropriations Committee Boosts NASA’s Budget

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Ignoring the Trump’s Administration’s fiscal year 2018 (FY 2018) budget request, the House Appropriations Committee has voted to boost NASA’ spending to $19.88 billion, including significant increases to the space agency’s Exploration and Planetary Science programs.

The appropriations bill is an increase of $779.8 million over Trump’s requested budget of $19.09 billion. It would increase NASA’s budget by $218.5 million over the $19.65 billion the space agency is receiving in FY 2017.

NASA’s Exploration program, which includes the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft, would be boosted by $226 million to $4.55 billion under the House measure. The administration had requested $3.93 billion, a cut of $390 million under current spending.

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CubeSats: Shaping Possibilities in Space

CubeSats STMSat-1, CADRE and MinXSS are deployed from the International Space Station during Expedition 47. (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — For more than a decade, CubeSats, or small satellites, have paved the way to low-Earth orbit for commercial companies, educational institutions, and non-profit organizations. These small satellites offer opportunities to conduct scientific investigations and technology demonstrations in space in such a way that is cost-effective, timely and relatively easy to accomplish.

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Firefly Planned to Air Launch Small Satellite Booster

firefly_space_systems_logoAn alert reader who goes by the pseudonym “redyns” has pointed out something very interesting about Firefly Space Systems, the company that on Thursday is reported to have laid off its entire staff due to financial difficulties.

In April, Firefly and NASA modified a contract under the Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) program from land launch to air launch, according to the USASpending.gov website. The company’s Firefly α small satellite booster was originally designed to launch vertically from the ground.

The website shows that Firefly was awarded a VCLS contract worth $4.4 million on Sept. 30, 2015. A second contract modification has been made to “deobligate” $2.5 million in funding from the contract. That modification was made on Sept. 27, two days before the layoffs.

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Smallsat 2016: NASA Program & Mission Updates

Two three-unit (3U) CubeSats. At about a foot in length and four inches wide, these are similar in design to IceCube and the five selected heliophysics CubeSats. (Credit: NASA)
Two three-unit (3U) CubeSats. At about a foot in length and four inches wide, these are similar in design to IceCube and the five selected heliophysics CubeSats. (Credit: NASA)

NASA officials have been providing updates this week on agency programs and missions during the 2016 Small Satellite Conference and the CubeSat Workshop that preceded it. I have pulled together summaries of their presentations drawn from Twitter.  Information has come from the following Tweeters:

  • Jeff Foust ‏@jeff_foust
  • David Hurst ‏@OrbitalDave
  • Hanna Steplewska ‏@spacesurfingirl
  • Augie Allen ‏@AugieAllen
  • RITSpaceExploration ‏@RITSPEX

Enjoy!
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Firefly Awarded NASA Venture Class Launch Services Contract

firefly_space_systems_logoCEDAR PARK, Texas, October 14, 2015 (Firefly PR) — Firefly Space Systems, Inc., a New Space leader in the development of dedicated small satellite launch vehicles has been selected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to conduct a demonstration CubeSat launch by March 2018. The Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) contract to Firefly is valued at $5.5M.

Mark Wiese, chief of the Flight Projects Office for NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP), based at Kennedy Space Center, described VCLS contracts as representing “NASA’s investment in the future of the commercial launch industry for SmallSats.”

Since there hasn’t been a dedicated launcher available, CubeSats have flown into orbit as auxiliary payloads that are released after the booster has achieved the primary mission. They have also been sprung into the orbital void from canisters aboard the International Space Station to conduct research missions. In both cases though, the CubeSats are at the mercy of the primary payload and the orbit it must fly in.

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Virgin Galactic Wins Venture Class Launch Services Contract

LauncherOne (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
LauncherOne (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., October 14, 2015 (Virgin Galactic PR) – US space agency NASA announced today that it has awarded commercial spaceline Virgin Galactic a $4.7 million contract for the launch of more than a dozen cutting-edge experimental satellites.  The satellites, which will be selected and provided by NASA, will fly on a test flight of Virgin Galactic’s dedicated small satellite launch vehicle, LauncherOne.

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