Category Archives: Rocket Launches

Air Force reveals plan for up to 48 launches per year from Cape Canaveral

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Following the successful launch of a Delta IV rocket with the WGS-9 satellite Saturday night, Brigadier General Wayne R. Monteith and Major General David D. Thompson of the U.S. Air Force discussed the 45th Space Wing’s plan to ramp up to 48 launches per year – a feat made possible in large part due to the introduction by SpaceX of the new Autonomous Flight Termination System and the increasing and booming commercial launch market.

Breaking barriers – U.S. Air Force celebrates 70th anniversary, 67 years at CCAFS:

As part of the celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force, the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) and the 45th Space Wing of the Air Force initiated a series of year-long celebrations on Saturday night with the launch of a Delta IV rocket carrying the WGS-9 satellite.

Lifting off into the crystal clear night sky above Central Florida, the Delta IV marked the 3,550th rocket launch from the CCAFS and the fourth flight from the Cape this year.

With four flights under its belt, the 45th Space Wing is now preparing for the remaining 31 launches on this year’s manifest – the next two of which are scheduled within three days of each other on 24 and 27 March.

The 24 March launch will see a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket, flying in its 401 configuration, deliver the Cygnus OA-7 mission to the International Space Station on behalf of Orbital ATK.

Three days later, on 27 March, SpaceX is – at time of publication – planning to launch the SES-10 mission on a Falcon 9 from LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center – a launch which will mark the first time SpaceX reuses a flown Falcon 9 first stage.

From a dozen launches per year to 48:

In the past ten years, the CCAFS and Kennedy Space Center combined have seen anywhere from between 7 to 18 launches per year, with the lowest of those numbers coming in 2008 and the highest in 2016.

However, this year alone, the CCAFS and the 45th Space Wing of the Air Force plan to nearly double its 2016 number, with 35 total launches manifested, 28 of them being commercial missions.

As Major General David D. Thompson, Vice Commander, Air Force Special Command, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, stated in a post-WGS-9 launch briefing, “The commercial spaceflight market is just blooming.

The Maj. Gen. specifically noted that the 45th Space Wing is doing everything possible to reduce the amount of time it takes to reconfigure assets between launches – something that will eventually allow the Cape to increase from its already packed schedule of 35 launches this year to an eventual goal of 48 launches per year in the “next couple of years.”

Of particular note toward this goal was Brig. Gen. Wayne R. Monteith, Commander, 45th Space Wing and Director, Eastern Range, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida.

Brig. Gen. Monteith specifically discussed how the 45th Space Wing has been working to increase its capabilities to support such a robust schedule.

Speaking after the Delta IV WGS-9 launch, Brig. Gen. Monteith stated, “This launch here represented the fourth launch this year.  We launched just 66 hours ago the Falcon 9.  

“We also have another launch, an Atlas, in 6 days, and then 3 days after that we have another Falcon with SES-10.  

“So we will do four launches within three weeks.  That’s just an incredible team effort.”

In many ways, the 45th Space Wing’s launch cadence increase plans are owed to SpaceX’s introduction of the new Autonomous Flight Termination System (AFTS).

The AFTS debuted this year from LC-39A with the Falcon 9 launch of the CRS-10 mission to the ISS for NASA.

“When we talk about breaking barriers, a good example of that here is the new Autonomous Flight Termination System.  It flew on the Falcon 9 on CRS-S10 and this last Falcon mission for Echostar that we had was the last time they plan on flying a traditional flight termination system.  

Under a traditional FTS, there is a person “in the loop”.

As the Brig. Gen. explained, “We have now gone completely autonomous with that system.  So with CRS-10 and all others with the AFTS, we’re able to reduce our operational footprint by 60% on day of launch.

“So we came down 96 people that don’t have to be sitting on console.  And the cost to the customer is cut in half.  

“We are driving out every bit of inefficiency that we have.”

Moreover, Brig. Gen. Monteith stated that this new AFTS combined with two operational SpaceX pads at Kennedy and the CCAFS will allow the company to launch two Falcon 9 rockets – one from 39A and one from SLC-40 – within 16 to 18 hours of each other.

“When pad 40 is up and operating, [it will] give us the capability of launching a Falcon from both pad 39A and pad 40 on the same day,” stated the Brig. Gen.

“Now if we did that and we had an Atlas V or a Delta IV launch, within 36 hours we could do three launches.  So that’s how we’re going to get to 48 launches a year.  It’s a great problem to have.”

In practicality, this goal of the 45th Space Wing would result in an ability to “launch consistently every single week of the year with just four weeks of downtime,” stated Brig. Gen. Monteith.

Importantly, the 45th Space Wing’s ability to handle the increasing demand for launches within a short time frame was demonstrated earlier this month.

Originally, when the WGS-9 mission was scheduled to launch on 8 March, SpaceX booked a static fire for the Echostar XXIII Falcon 9 on 7 March in a test window that extended less than 24 hours prior to the Delta IV’s planned launch.

This ability to rapidly support two different enterprises across the 45th Space Wing is a critical necessity to accommodating as many launches as the Air Force is looking at.

Moreover, this eye toward greater efficiency comes at a time when SpaceX and ULA are set to be joined by at least one new launch service provider in the coming years: Blue Origin.

“Pad 36 is being operated by Blue Origin,” notes Brig. Gen. Monteith. “They have started horizontal construction.  We hope they’ll be starting vertical construction later this year.  

“Their factory at Exploration Park is coming along, and they just signed a deal for 6 launches with OneWeb.

“So we anticipate that they will be flying in the next few years, and we will add them to our host of launch vehicle providers that will be flying here off the coast as we drive to 48 launches a year.”

The Brig. Gen. also touched on this year’s upcoming Orbital ATK use of the Cape and Pad 46 for a scheduled 15 July launch of a Minotaur 4 rocket with ORS 5.

Brig. Gen. Monteith noted that beyond the current Minotaur 4 launch, there are no other plans for Orbital ATK to use the CApe, but he did note that such further use was “not out of the realm of possibility” – noting last December’s launch of Pegasus off the L-1011 as a return of Pegasus to the 45th Space Wing’s jurisdiction for the first time in 13 years.

However, while a great deal of work has already taken place and will continue to occur to prepare the Cape for this major increase in launch cadence, the ability to meet this new maximum number of launches per year is – as always – dependent on ULA and SpaceX’s rocket fleets’ abilities to meet this new demand.

(Images: U.S. Air Force, SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Chris Gebhardt for

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WATCH LIVE: ULA Delta IV Rocket Set To Launch From Cape Canaveral Tonight, Coverage …

rocket lit up the Space Coast night sky

WATCH REPLAY: A United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket lit up the Space Coast night sky Saturday. The rocket took off from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 8:18 p.m. after a 40-minute delay because of a ground system issue, according to United Launch Alliance officials.

BREVARD COUNTY • CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA – A United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket lit up the Space Coast night sky Saturday.

The rocket took off from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 8:18 p.m. after a 40-minute delay because of a ground system issue, according to United Launch Alliance officials.

Rocket/Payload: A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Medium+ (5,4) rocket will launch the ninth Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS-9) mission for the U.S. Air Force.

Date/Site/Launch Time: Saturday, March 18, 2017, from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The launch window was 7:44-8:59 p.m. EDT.

Launch Notes: WGS-9 will mark the seventh flight of the Delta IV in the Medium + (5,4)configuration; all launches in this configuration have delivered WGS missions to orbit. This mission also will be the 35th launch of the Delta IV since its inaugural launch in 2002.

Mission Description: WGS satellites are important elements of a new high-capacity satellite communications system providing enhanced communications capabilities to our troops in the field. WGS has 19 independent coverage areas, 18 of which can be positioned throughout its field-of-view.

This includes eight steerable/shapeable X-band beams formed by separate transmit/receive phased arrays; 10 Ka-band beams served by independently steerable diplexed antennas; and one transmit/receive X-band Earth-coverage beam.

WGS can tailor coverage areas and connect X-band and Ka-band users anywhere within its field-of-view. The X-band phased array antenna enables anti-jam functionality without sacrificing performance.


A United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket lit up the Space Coast night sky Saturday. (ULA Image)

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EUTELSAT 172B Satellite scheduled for launch

Paris, Toulouse – The EUTELSAT 172B satellite of Eutelsat Communications is in the final stages of preparation at the Airbus Defence and Space facility in Toulouse and boarded onto a special flight to French Guiana. The 3.5 tonne satellite is scheduled for an Ariane launch on 25 April from the European Spaceport in Kourou.…

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SpaceX satellite launch scrubbed due to Stella's high winds

SpaceX scrubbed the launch of its Falcon 9 rocket at the 11th hour due to high winds, the company announced. The rocket was set to carry the EchoStar 23 satellite into high orbit.

The launch was scheduled for 1:35am local time from Cape Canaveral, Florida, but was called off ahead of  the 2.5-hour launch window due to high winds. Patrick Air Force Base had given only a 40 percent chance of favorable conditions for the launch because of thick clouds and high winds in the area, the Verge reported.

The weather that prevented the mission from taking off was the tail end of a blizzard battering the East Coast of the US, from the Mid-Atlantic up into New England. The area experienced widespread showers and thunderstorms before the cold front ‒ part of the larger system known as Winter Storm Stella ‒ moved into Central Florida by Tuesday morning, said Tim Sedlock, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

READ MORE: Nearly 100,000 without power as snow, sleet & strong winds lash Northeast

The launch was originally scheduled for 2016, but has been pushed back several times, including in January and February of this year. On March 9, SpaceX test fired a Falcon 9 ahead of the satellite launch.

The EchoStar 23 is a commercial communications satellite that weighs about 6 tons, which is heavier than most satellites. It will launch to a geostationary transfer orbit ‒ about 22,000 miles (34,500km) above Earth ‒ where it will provide broadcast services for Brazil.

The backup window for this launch opens Thursday at 05:35 GMT. The weather for that window is “90% favorable,” SpaceX tweeted.

When the launch does happen, it will be the second from the historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, the pad used for the Apollo 11 and final Space Shuttle missions. In late February, the Falcon 9 took off on a resupply mission for the International Space Station loaded with 5,500 lbs (2,494 kg) of cargo, including a deadly superbug, as part of an experiment to examine how the bacterium will mutate in low gravity environments, with a view to improving antibiotic efficacy on Earth.

Unlike the February launch, however ‒ which saw the first-stage reusable Falcon 9 successfully land back on Earth ‒ this mission will not include a rocket landing post-takeoff, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said. The heaviness of the satellite combined with its high orbit require too much fuel to have enough reserved for a landing.

In the future, such missions would use the Falcon Heavy ‒ a heavy-lift vehicle in development that is basically three Falcon 9 rockets strapped together ‒ or the Block 5, which is the “final upgrade of the Falcon architecture,” Musk said. It is set to fly at the end of this year.

Vega rocket launches latest Sentinel Earth observation satellite

Sentinel-2B lifts off on a Vega launcher from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana at 01:49 GMT on March 7. Credit: Stephane Corvaja/ESA

A Vega rocket launched the latest Sentinel Earth observation satellite Monday night.

The Vega, on its ninth launch to date, lifted off on schedule at 8:49 p.m. Eastern from Kourou, French Guiana, and placed the Sentinel-2B satellite into orbit.

The spacecraft carries a suite of multi-wavelength sensors for land imaging, and will work in conjunction with the Sentinel-2A satellite launched in 2015.

The satellite is part of the EU’s Copernicus program of Earth observation. [BBC]

More News

Arabsat has ordered its first satellite from a Saudi Arabian manufacturer. The company announced it is ordering Arabsat-6D, a communications satellite with a Ka- and Ku-band payload, from Taqnia Space for launch in 2019. The agreement stems from a provision of a two-satellite order Arabsat made with Lockheed Martin in 2015 that required the U.S. company to establish a joint venture with Taqnia for building future satellites in Saudi Arabia. [SpaceNews]

Some industry analysis and investors warn a bubble may soon burst in part of the space market. In sessions at the Satellite 2017 conference Monday, they noted a consolidation that appears to be underway in the Earth observation market, as well as the large number of launch companies that are struggling to raise money from skeptical investors. While startups today can generally raise initial Series A funding rounds relatively easily, a big challenge in the coming years will be their ability to raise larger Series B and C rounds. [SpaceNews]

Smallsat developers say they’re struggling with a launch botteneck. Companies said difficulties getting their spacecraft launched have slowed their growth despite the increasing interest in using smallsats for a variety of applications. A panel at the Satellite 2017 conference also said smallsat developers need to specialize on providing solutions for specific industries, because, as one investor said, “the market is saturated with companies that are broad and shallow.” [SpaceNews]

Ahead of a widely anticipated speech, Jeff Bezos showed off Blue Origin’s first BE-4 engine. Bezos, in a series of tweets, said the first BE-4 engine built by Blue Origin is done, with two more engines in development “close behind.” The company is expected to ship the engine to its West Texas test site soon for a series of tests. The engine is being developed both for Blue Origin’s own New Glenn rocket as well as United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan. Bezos is expected to provide an update on the company’s plans in a talk this morning at Satellite 2017. [GeekWire]

Launch ranges need to rethink their operations in order to handle much higher launch rates promised by reusable rockets. Traditional range systems, said panelists at a Satellite 2017 session, are designed for low flight rates from expendable rockets, and may not be able to handle much higher flight rates promised by reusable vehicles in development. Reusable vehicles could also lead developers, like the Air Force, to reconsider how they approach satellite development. [SpaceNews]

The Air Force is looking once again to smallsats as a means to mitigate losses in the event of a conflict in space. The growing capability of smallsats, coupled with concerns about the loss of larger spacecraft in the event of a space conflict, are leading to renewed assessments of the use of smallsats as low-cost, responsive means to provide capabilities, panelists said at Satellite 2017 Monday. That concept will be tested with the Operationally Responsive Space Office’s latest smallsats, ORS-5 and ORS-6, scheduled for launch later this year. [SpaceNews]

Teleports need to adapt to the increasing demands of satellite systems, including the proliferation of constellations. Teleport companies said at Satellite 2017 Monday they need to develop ground systems with 50 times the performance of previous systems for one-tenth the cost to keep up with demands from high-throughput satellite in GEO and smallsat constellations in LEO. More, and smaller, teleports are also needed to match demand, they said. [SpaceNews]

China is considering development of an air-launch system. A concept proposed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology would place a solid-fuel rocket inside a Y-20 cargo plane, which would release the rocket at altitude. The rocket would be able to place a 100-kilogram payload into orbit, and could be upgraded for launching 200-kilogram satellites. The system would be designed to be responsive, with only 12 hours of preparation needed for a launch. The report didn’t indicate when the first launch of this system might take place. [China Daily]

A variety of payloads, including dozens of cubesats, are being prepared for launch on a Cygnus cargo mission to the International Space Station this month. The Cygnus will carry 3,400 kilograms of cargo to the station, with launch scheduled for the evening of March 19. Among the payloads on the Cygnus will be 38 cubesats, four of which will deployed from the Cygnus itself and the rest from the station. Other payloads on the vehicle include an advanced plant growth habitat and an experiment to collect data on reentry conditions experienced by Cygnus at the end of its mission. []

Live coverage: European environmental satellite set for launch

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Atlas 5 to launch second JPSS polar orbit weather satellite

The JPSS-2 satellite, built by Orbital ATK, will launch on an Atlas 5 in the summer of 2021. Credit: Orbital ATK

WASHINGTON — NASA awarded a contract to United Launch Alliance March 3 for the launch of the second in a series of next-generation polar-orbiting weather satellites.

The contract for the launch of the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) 2 satellite comes among concerns that the budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which operates such weather satellites, could be slashed in President Trump’s upcoming budget proposal.

The contract covers the mid-2021 launch of the JPSS-2 satellite on an Atlas 5 401 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The contract value is $170.6 million, which covers the launch itself and “other mission-related costs,” according to a NASA statement. ULA offers a similar launch, with a “full spectrum” of support services, to commercial customers for $137 million, according to the company’s RocketBuilder web site.

NASA did not disclose if it received other bids for the launch. ULA, in a statement, said it won the award “from a competitive Launch Service Task Order evaluation” under its NASA Launch Services contract with the agency. NASA handles satellite and launch procurement for the JPSS and other spacecraft programs for NOAA.

JPSS-2 is the second in a series of new polar-orbiting weather satellites, and the first to be built by Orbital ATK under a contract it won in March 2015 that includes options for two additional satellites. The first JPSS satellite, built by Ball Aerospace, is scheduled for launch this September on a Delta 2. ULA received a $412 million contract in July 2012 that included the JPSS-1 launch and two other Delta 2 missions.

The JPSS-2 launch contract came the same day of news that the Trump administration is considering significant budget cuts to NOAA, the agency that funds the JPSS and other weather satellite programs. A report in the Washington Post said the administration is proposing a 17 percent cut in NOAA’s overall budget, based on information provided in a “passback” to the agency from the White House Office of Management and Budget.

According to the report, NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (NESDIS), which is responsible for weather satellite and related programs, would suffer one of the biggest cuts, $513 million or 22 percent of its current funding.

Such cuts, if implemented, could affect development of future satellites. NOAA’s fiscal year 2017 request projected significant increases in 2018 and future years for the Polar Follow-On program, which would fund development of the third and fourth JPSS satellites and their instruments, and the Space Weather Follow On, a proposed spacecraft to continue space weather monitoring currently handled by the DSCOVR satellite.

NOAA’s weather satellite programs have enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress, even as its climate science work has been subject to more partisan debate. A continuing resolution passed by Congress in December, funding the government through April at fiscal year 2016 levels, included a provision giving NOAA the flexibility to spend funding at the rate needed to keep the JPSS program on schedule.