Category Archives: Rocket Launches

SpaceX goes for a weekend rocket launch 'doubleheader'

So far, SpaceX has safely landed first-stage rockets on land or a droneship 12 times.

SpaceX just capped off two successful missions to space this weekend – the company’s quickest launch turnaround yet. The system was first successfully used on a Falcon 9 launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on February 17.

This weekend, it started to look like the future business Musk had originally envisaged back in 2002, when two Falcon 9s were launched within the space of three days.

Seven minutes after the launch, the first-stage of the rocket landed back on earth on a drone ship.

On Friday, a Falcon 9 launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida. SpaceX may eventually move used boosters for another launch in a day.

Shortly after the landing, though, Musk returned to Twitter to add that the rocket booster used “almost all of the emergency crush core”, which helps soften the landing.

No matter what you did over the weekend, you’ll struggle to top Elon Musk’s after his space trucking venture launched 11 satellites atop two rockets, both of which stuck flawless landings on barges.

Ground checks have been completed for Friday’s launch and the mission to send BulgariaSat-1 – a Bulgarian commercial satellite – appears set for lift off at Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The most-recent came more than a day before SpaceX’s planned Monday launch.

The latest mission: to deliver a group of satellites into orbit for a company called Iridium.

The second batch of 10 satellites is now scheduled to launch on a Falcon 9 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California Sunday (June 25), making a weekend doubleheader for SpaceX.

Following the launch, the rocket booster successfully landed on the floating pad. As it’s done in the past, SpaceX will be using one of its drone ships due to the launch trajectory.

BulgariaSat-1, which was built by the California company SSL, is the first Bulgarian-owned communications satellite. The plan makes sense to both parties since it means an addition $3 billion in revenue for Mr. Musk and the chance for Iridium Communications to replace 66 older satellites and put 9 new satellites into orbit before the decade is through.

SpaceX to Launch 10 More Satellites Into Orbit

Just two days after a successful satellite launch from Florida, SpaceX announced Sunday that is has scheduled another planned launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. According to a report, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to lift off at 1:25 PM Sunday afternoon, carrying 10 more satellites for Iridium Communications. Iridium reportedly plans to launch around 75 new satellites for its mobile data and voice communications system by mid-2018. The Sunday launch follows a similar one Friday in which a Falcon 9 took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying a Bulgarian communications satellite. Media: Wochit Tech

SpaceX's Weekend Doubleheader Off to Great Start With Successful Opening

In Brief

Today, SpaceX sent Bulgaria’s first telecommunications satellite into space using a Falcon 9 that’s already been launched before. This is the first of two launches scheduled for the SpaceX weekend doubleheader.

Ready for Launch

After being postponed from its originally scheduled Monday launch, Bulgaria’s first-ever telecommunications satellite is now in orbit. The launch was a success thanks to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 reusable rocket, which blasted off to space on Friday from the Launch Complex of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

This marks the first part of SpaceX’s first-ever weekend doubleheader, as Elon Musk’s venture space company has scheduled two launches just about 48 hours apart. The launch appeared to go off without a hitch, as this photo taken by a Twitter user John Kraus shows.

Image credit: John Kraus/TwitterImage credit: John Kraus/Twitter

SpaceX used a previously launched rocket to haul BulgariaSat-1 into orbital space. It’s the second time SpaceX has successfully reused a rocket for a launch. The BulgariaSat-1 is the second satellite Bulgaria has in orbit, blasting off almost 36 years after the first.

Bye Bye, Rocket Booster

For his part, SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk seemed satisfied with today’s launch, if his tweets were any indication. What may have been even more exciting than watching the Falcon 9 lift off was following its descent back to Earth as it attempted to land on one of SpaceX’s barge platforms. The rocket made a solid thud as it hit the surface of the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship, which is stationed somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean.

Musk expected the landing wouldn’t be too gentle, adding that the Falcon 9 was going to “experience its highest ever reentry force and heat in today’s launch,” he posted on a tweet before the launch. “Good chance rocket booster doesn’t make it back.”

Fortunately, it was able to make it in one piece — although it may have hit the surface of the platform a little to hard.

The good news was that the crush core, as Musk explained in a reply on the same thread as his initial tweet, would take only a couple of hours to replace:

So, despite a little bumpy landing, overall Friday’s launch was deemed a success. But the excitement is far from over: Sunday will usher in part two of this weekend’s doubleheader, when a payload of 10 satellites for telecommunication company Iridium is expected to launch from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

ESA contracts for eight new Galileo navsats, confident atomic-clock issue is resolved

Paul Verhoef, director of navigation at the European Space Agency, said the defects in the rubidium and hydrogen maser atomic clocks — two technologies, separate causes — on the Galileo satellites have been identified. A launch of four Galileo satellites is scheduled in December. Credit: ESA

LE BOURGET, France — The European Space Agency on June 22 signed a long-expected contract with OHB SE of Germany for eight more Galileo positioning, timing and navigation satellites, a contract that is about eight months late.

Valued at 324 million euros ($361 million), the contract stipulates that the eight spacecraft will be ready for launch by 2020, the date Galileo’s owner, the European Union’s executive commission, has set for full Galileo system service.

The contract, expected in late 2016, was delayed as the commission and the 22-nation European Space Agency (ESA) debated whether to maintain OHB as Galileo’s sole supplier or to award all or part of the contract to competitor Thales Alenia Space Italia.

In the event, the commission and ESA agreed that the savings realized from ordering recurrent-model spacecraft from OHB, and the schedule assurance this provided, outweighed arguments on behalf of dual sourcing.

Dual sourcing vs sole source

“Dual sourcing is always important but it needs to be weighed against other program requirements” including cost, said Paul Verhoef, ESA’s director of navigation. Verhoef said ESA and the commission may pursue dual sourcing for the next round of Galileo orders, when a new design will be used for the system’s second generation.

Verhoef has said in the past that dual sourcing in the case of Galileo is a bit of an illusion, since either prime contractor would rely on the same supply chain.

OHB’s partner in the Galileo work is Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) of Britain. Britain’s intention to exit the European Union in 2019 may or may not mean a British exit from European Commission-financed programs including Galileo.

But for now, Britain is a full EU member and Verhoef said there was never any doubt about whether SSTL could retain its role as payload builder for OHB, Verhoef said.

Verhoef said the main concern with the latest contract, called Batch 3, was that it came some eight months later than was scheduled. Subcontractors to OHB and SSTL were at risk of deploying staff to other projects.

“You cannot ask these guys just to keep people standing around for eight months waiting for an order,” Verhoef said.

Atomic clock issue resolved, repaired units arrive at OHB in July

The deployment of the Galileo constellation, eventually to include 30 satellites in medium-Earth orbit, has also been slowed by in-orbit failures on both types of Galileo atomic clocks:

The planned late-summer launch of four Galileo satellites aboard a European Ariane 5 rocket has slipped to mid-December to give satellite teams time to remove the clocks already integrated into Galileo satellites, replace any suspect hardware and then retest them before shipping them back to OHB’s Bremen, Germany, facility.

Government officials said Orolia Switzerland SA’s Spectratime division in Switzerland is expected to send two satellites’ worth of clocks — each satellite carries two rubidium and two hydrogen maser clocks — to OHB.

These will be integrated into the full satellites, retested and then sent to Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport in French Guiana to prepare for the December launch.

Both the rubidium and hydrogen maser atomic clocks on Galileo satellites have suffered failures, for different reasons. Credit: SSTL

China’s navsats spared atomic clock anomaly, but not India’s

Because the atomic clock anomalies occurred at about the same time on two clock designs, officials at first thought the problem’s cause was somewhere in the hardware ensemble around the clocks.

This turned out not to be true. For the rubidium clocks, the issue was a defective component that was produced for the OHB-built Galileo satellites but was not used for the earlier, in-orbit-validation satellites.

China’s Beidou navigation system also uses Spectratime rubidium clocks, but these came from a production series that predates the affected series.

“What’s remarkable here is that the component in question costs only a few dollars,” one government official said.

For the maser clocks, the problem relates to how they are operated in orbit. New operational practices have been instituted.

The Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System, however, has been affected by the same rubidium clock issue and has had to launch a replacement satellite earlier than planned as a result.

One government official said Indian and European authorities have compared clock data and determine that they were the suffering from the same problem. “The signatures were identical,” said the official. “We have kept them up to date on our testing.”

Verhoef said the clock issue has received enough attention in the past six months to assure that even a July arrival of the prequalified clocks at OHB will not threaten the satellites’ delivery in time for a December launch.

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Peter B. de Selding
Peter B. de Selding
Peter de Selding is a Co-Founder and editor for He started SpaceIntelReport in 2017 after 26 years as the Paris Bureau Chief for SpaceNews where he covered the commercial satellite, launch and the international space businesses. He is widely considered the preeimenent reporter in the space industry and is a must read for space executives. Follow Peter @pbdes

SpaceX Will Attempt to Launch Two Falcon 9 Rockets Within Only 48 Hours

SpaceX will be attempting a twofold launch of the Falcon 9 rocket within a 48-hour window. This is a clear manifestation of Elon Musk’s vow to make rapid rocket launching a possibility. If the two satellite mission launches successfully, SpaceX and Musk will be one step closer to achieving their grand scheme – to send millions of people to space.

One of the two missions of SpaceX, the BulgariaSat-1, was originally scheduled to launch a few days ago but was delayed due to technical issues. It is now scheduled for launch on June 23, two days before the Iridium NEXT Mission. With an initial plan to launch the second batch of the Iridium satellites on the 29th of June, the mission was brought forward four days earlier. The Iridium NEXT Mission is considered to be one of the largest “tech updates” in history.

SpaceX will not only make history for itself by conducting two consecutive launches in such a short period of time but will also be the vessel to complete two historical space missions.

BulgariaSat-1 Mission

The BulgariaSat-1 is a commercial communications satellite that will be delivered by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO). It will be the first geostationary communications satellite in Bulgaria’s history. The satellite was built by SSL in Palo Alto, California, which is expected to provide direct-to-home television (DTH) and data communications services to the Southeastern European region and other European countries. The BulgariaSat-1 satellite will be placed at the Bulgarian orbital position at 1.9 degrees East longitude. It offers reliable satellite communications services to broadcast, telecom, corporate, and government clients.

This mission’s payload includes 30 Broadcast Satellite Service (BSS) Ku-band transponders and two Fixed Satellite Service (FSS) Ku-band transponders. These satellite equipment are required to meet the current demand for high-quality HDTV and Ultra HDTV broadcasting.

The Falcon 9 rocket and the BulgariaSat-1 mission will be launched at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Once again, Falcon 9’s first stage booster will attempt to land on the “Of Course I Still Love You” drone ship that will be positioned in the Atlantic Ocean.

Iridium NEXT Mission

Earlier this year in January, SpaceX launched the first 1-10 batch of satellites for the Iridium NEXT Mission.

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket for the Iridium-1 NEXT mission

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket for the Iridium-1 NEXT mission

Falcon 9 with 10 Iridium NEXT communications satellites at Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. [Image Source: SpaceX via Flickr]

This second launch will see the deployment of the 11-20 satellites to join Iridium’s next-generation global satellite constellation. There will be a total of 70 satellites that will compose the Iridium NEXT constellation. According to SpaceX, “The process of replacing the satellites one-by-one in a constellation of this size and scale has never been completed before”. There is a total of 7 SpaceX Falcon 9 launches that will deploy 10 Iridium satellites each time.

The second launch of the Iridium NEXT Mission will take place on the 25th of June, 2017 at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The third launch of the 21-30 Iridium NEXT satellites is scheduled for some time in August 2017.

This twofold launch by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will be one of their many important milestones achieved in 2017. It will bring Musk and his space company closer to their ultimate goal of populating space and Earth’s neighboring planet Mars.

Via SpaceX

SEE ALSO: SpaceX Successfully Launches First Reused Dragon Capsule to ISS

Glavkosmos seeks to become a major smallsat launch provider

A Soyuz launch in July will carry 72 small satellites, which wil be deployed into three separate orbits by the rocket’s upper stage. Credit: Glavkosmos

WASHINGTON — Russian company Glavkosmos is seeking to become a major player in the small satellite launch market, with plans to launch up to 120 satellites as secondary payloads on three Soyuz missions this year.

Glavkosmos, a subsidiary of Russian state space corporation Roscosmos, said June 14 that it will launch 72 small satellites as secondary payloads on the Soyuz-2.1a launch of the Kanopus-V-IK remote sensing satellite, scheduled for July 14 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Vsevolod Kryukovskiy, launch program director at Glavkosmos, said in a June 19 interview that the smallsat customers for that launch come from the United States, Germany, Japan, Canada, Norway and Russia. He declined to identify specific customers, although he said they include both companies and universities. The spacecraft range in size from single-unit cubesats up to a 120-kilogram microsatellite.

“We’ll do the most technically challenging cluster mission ever,” he said. The satellites will be deployed into three separate orbits, after which the rocket’s upper stage will perform a deorbit maneuver.

Kryukovskiy said Glavkosmos is also arranging the launch of secondary payloads on two Soyuz launches planned for December from the new Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East region. “We’ll have about 40 microsats that we’ll launch from Vostochny, and that will be the first international launch from this new Russian cosmodrome,” he said.

While many launch providers use brokers to arrange secondary payloads, Glavkosmos is working directly with most of its smallsat customers, Kryukovskiy said. “With most of our customers we have a direct contract, and we’re trying to avoid any brokers on the market,” he said. “According to our experience, it’s much easier to work directly.”

He noted, though, that Glavkosmos is working with Spaceflight, a Seattle-based company that brokers secondary payload opportunities, on a one-time basis for its upcoming launch. Glavkosmos is also working with a German company, ECM Space Technologies, to handle cubesat integration.

Glavkosmos plans additional smallsat launch opportunities beyond this year. In 2018, he said Glavkosmos expects to have rideshare opportunities on three Soyuz launches, two to sun-synchronous orbits and one to a highly elliptical orbit. He added he expects to have a similar number of launch opportunities in future years.

“We currently plan to do a smallsat cluster to sun-synchronous orbit every year,” he said. “This is a big market for the Soyuz, and we think this market is growing for us.”

Kryukovskiy said Glavkosmos considers its biggest competition India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), which has launched a number of smallsats in the last few years. A PSLV launch in February placed a record 104 satellites in orbit, all but three of which were cubesats.

“We’re trying to beat PSLV. That’s our main target for the next couple of years,” he said. Glavkosmos believes it can offer more launch opportunities and a more reliable vehicle, although the PSLV has had more than 35 consecutive successful launches. Glavkosmos also offers a backup policy whereby if the launch a satellite is manifested on is delayed, that satellite can be shifted to another launch.

“Our price is more reasonable,” he added, but did not disclose the prices it charges for smallsat launches.

Kryukovskiy said Glavkosmos is also taking note of ongoing efforts to develop small launch vehicles designed to provide dedicated launches of smallsats. That has included discussions with Rocket Lab, the U.S.-New Zealand company developing the Electron small launch vehicle, details of which he said he could not discuss.

“We believe that, for sure, we are competitors in this market,” he said of small launchers. “But we believe that we could find a solution to work together.”

SpaceX Announces Plans For a "Weekend Doubleheader" With Two Falcon 9 Launches

The Bulgaria Sat 1 communications satellite. Credit Space Systems Loral

The Bulgaria Sat 1 communications satellite. Credit Space Systems Loral

The planned Monday afternoon launch of a Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center with a commercial communications satellite has been delayed, SpaceX said on Sunday, according to News 6 partner Florida Today. The SpaceX founder and CEO once again rocked the Twittersphere Sunday when he revealed what could be a first for his space company: a launch doubleheader.

The Falcon 9, which is supposed to carry the Bulgarian satellite, is a so-called proven rocket, meaning it has been in space before. SpaceX needs to replace a fairing valve on the payload shroud, an aerodynamic fairing will enclose the BulgariaSat 1 communications satellite during the first three-and-a-half minutes of launch.

On Friday, Bulsatcom said that SpaceX has completed the static fire test of Falcon 9 and targeted June 19 as a launch date.

A two-hour window was scheduled to open at 2:10 p.m. Monday.

The company tweeted that technical issues with a valve forced teams to delay the launch from pad 39A to no earlier than Friday with a second opportunity on Saturday. “As a side, this will also be our first launch with the Autonomous Flight Safety System, which is expected to help decrease launch costs and improve turnaround times between launches”. The Iridium satellite launch, meanwhile, is now scheduled to lift off from Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex 4 at 1:25 p.m. PDT (4:25 p.m. EDT/2025 GMT).

The launch will take place at Space Launch Complex-4 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. “It is dual redundant, but not worth taking a chance”, Musk wrote.

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