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News Article | April 22, 2017
Site: phys.org

For at least the last six years, that arena has been the exclusive domain of competitor United Launch Alliance, which also launches regularly from Florida. The satellite is scheduled to launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket no earlier than April 30. The NRO revealed in May that it had awarded SpaceX the upcoming launch. The mission will reflect a new area of competition for SpaceX and ULA, two of the main launch providers from the Space Coast. That could mean more business for Florida. "This satellite was going to launch from Florida anyway," said Dale Ketcham, Space Florida's chief of strategic alliances. "But it reflects more competition. That will drive down prices and could result in it being cheaper to get into space, meaning more launches. Competition is a good thing." SpaceX until now has focused primarily on telecommunications satellites and cargo missions for the International Space Station. But landing the government deal did not come without a testy exchange and threat of legal action. Musk had planned to sue the Air Force, which he accused of rewarding United Launch Alliance because some there planned the company as "their future retirement program." "Essentially we're asking them to award a contract to a company where they are probably not going to get a job, against a company where their friends are," he told Bloomberg Business Week in early 2015. Shortly thereafter, the Air Force opened bidding to the Hawthorne, Calif.-based company. Ultimately, it represented a win for the government, space historian Roger Launius said. "From the government angle, they now have more than one launch provider," said Launius, formerly of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. "That's important because if you lose one and have to stand down for whatever period of time, especially for national security payloads, you still have options." When the National Reconnaissance Office revealed SpaceX as its provider for the satellite launch, industry observers saw the move as a big moment because it essentially opened the door to competitive bidding on national security contracts. SpaceX landed a deal in March to send a GPS navigation satellite for the Air Force into space for $96.5 million. That launch is expected to take place within the next two years. In the competitive space, Launius said SpaceX's advantage comes at the top. "At this point, I'm not willing to bet against Elon and his people," he said. "They have proven over and over that they can pull this stuff off." SpaceX's successful relaunch March 30 of a used Falcon 9 rocket marked another first for Musk's company, carrying a telecommunications satellite toward orbit before landing the booster on a barge at sea. That accomplishment is early proof that the company's plan to reuse boosters could eventually lower launch costs. Few details are available about the upcoming NRO launch, scheduled for as early as April 30 according to a launch-tracking website. The NRO generally keeps those details under wraps. SpaceX has not confirmed the launch date. ULA and SpaceX have ramped up their manifests this year, with ULA launching a cargo resupply mission to International Space Station on Tuesday. Spokespeople for SpaceX and United Launch Alliance did not respond to emails requesting comment. "This is their way of (SpaceX) breaking into the game of government and defense launches," said Justin Karl, program coordinator of Commercial Space Operations at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He said SpaceX's capabilities could grow quickly from the NRO contract. "It's a very big deal," he said. "For government orbital launches, there are very few flight provider options. That is a huge segment of a changing market they have potentially captured." Explore further: SpaceX set to launch its first recycled rocket


SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center Monday, a victory for Elon Musk as he takes on Lockheed Martin and Boeing. SpaceX, the aerospace company founded by Elon Musk, launched a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Monday, breaking up the Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT)-Boeing (NYSE:BA) stronghold on U.S. military contracts. Musk’s Falcon 9 received certification from the U.S. Air Force in 2015, paving the way for SpaceX to handle national security missions and enter a business long dominated by a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Space Exploration Technologies’ launch on Monday was completed as part of a contract between spacecraft maker Ball Aerospace (NYSE:BLL) and the National Reconnaissance Office, which oversees U.S. spy satellites. NROL-76, the designation for the classified satellite launch, was SpaceX’s first dedicated mission for the military. The 23-story-tall Falcon 9 rocket took off at 7:15 a.m. ET from a launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Fla. After splitting from its payload, the rocket landed back to Earth at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. SpaceX has specialized in testing rocket landings and launching used rockets back into space. The Hawthorne, Calif.-based company flew its first recovered booster last month, as Musk attempts to lower the cost of rocket launches. United Launch Alliance, the Lockheed-Boeing partnership, was the sole company launching satellites for the military for the last 10 years. In 2014, SpaceX sued the U.S. Air Force in a dispute over an $11 billion contract awarded to ULA. SpaceX pulled the lawsuit after a settlement with the military, which said it would make future contracts available to other companies. SpaceX now holds two launch contracts with the Air Force. The contracts call for SpaceX to launch Global Positioning System satellites in 2018 and 2019. Musk is also the founder and CEO of Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA).


News Article | April 30, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

A SpaceX rocket sits on launch pad 39A as it is prepared for the NROL-76 launch on April 29, 2017 in Cape Canaveral, Florida (AFP Photo/JOE RAEDLE) Miami (AFP) - SpaceX on Sunday postponed for 24 hours the launch of a secretive US government payload, known only as NROL-76, due to a "sensor issue" with the rocket, a spokesman said. "Out of an abundance of caution we have decided to scrub today's launch," a SpaceX spokesman said, describing the issue as relating to the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket. Another opportunity for launch opens Monday at 7:00 am (1100 GMT). The payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, which makes and operates spy satellites for the United States, will be the first military launch for the California-based aerospace company headed by billionaire tycoon Elon Musk. "As a matter of policy and because of classification, NRO does not provide information about our contracts," a spokeswoman told AFP. Until now, the US military has spent billions per year exclusively with United Launch Alliance, a joint operation of aerospace giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin, to launch government satellites. SpaceX in 2014 protested the US Air Force's practice of using only ULA, saying it unfairly awarded billions of dollars to a single company for national security launches. SpaceX was selected to launch NROL-76 "after a competition," said the NRO spokeswoman. She said she did not know when the contract was awarded. It was first announced last year. SpaceX regularly launches unmanned cargo ships to the International Space Station, and is working on a crew capsule that could carry humans into orbit as early as next year.


News Article | May 1, 2017
Site: phys.org

The payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, which makes and operates spy satellites for the United States, soared into the sky atop a Falcon 9 rocket at 7:15 am (1115 GMT). About 10 minutes after launch, the scorched first stage of the rocket came back to Earth and landed upright at Cape Canaveral, marking the fourth successful solid ground landing for SpaceX. "And we have touchdown," a SpaceX commentator said on a live webcast as cheers broke out at mission control. "The first stage has landed back at Landing Zone 1. Another good day for us at SpaceX. A beautiful sight to see." Live video of the launch showed the first and second stages of the rocket separating about two and a half minutes into the flight. The larger portion of the rocket, known as the first stage, made a gentle arc and powered its nitrogen thrusters to guide it back to Earth. After a fiery entry burn, the rocket set itself down steadily in the center of the 300-foot (91-meter) circular landing zone. Musk is leading an effort in the rocket industry to re-use costly parts rather than jettison them into the ocean after each launch. SpaceX has already made multiple successful landings—some on land and others on floating ocean platforms, known as drone ships. The launch was initially planned for Sunday, but was postponed in the last seconds before liftoff due to a sensor issue with the rocket, SpaceX said. The sensor in question was replaced ahead of Monday's attempt. Little was known about the payload, which a SpaceX commentator described only as a "satellite," due to its classified nature. "As a matter of policy and because of classification, NRO does not provide information about our contracts," an NRO spokeswoman told AFP. Until now, the US military has spent billions per year exclusively with United Launch Alliance, a joint operation of aerospace giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin, to launch government satellites. SpaceX in 2014 protested the US Air Force's practice of using only ULA, saying it unfairly awarded billions of dollars to a single company for national security launches. SpaceX to was selected to launch NROL-76 "after a competition," said the NRO spokeswoman. She said she did not know when the contract was awarded. The contract was first announced last year. SpaceX also has a pair of launch contracts coming up for the Air Force to send GPS satellites into orbit. SpaceX regularly launches unmanned cargo ships to the International Space Station, and is working on a crew capsule that could carry humans into orbit as early as next year. Explore further: Reused rocket back in port after satellite launch by SpaceX


News Article | May 1, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

SpaceX regularly launches unmanned cargo ships to the International Space Station, and is working on a crew capsule that could carry humans into orbit as early as next year (AFP Photo/BRUCE WEAVER) Miami (AFP) - SpaceX on Monday blasted off a secretive US government satellite, known only as NROL-76, marking the first military launch for the California-based aerospace company headed by billionaire tycoon Elon Musk. The payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, which makes and operates spy satellites for the United States, soared into the sky atop a Falcon 9 rocket at 7:15 am (1115 GMT). About 10 minutes after launch, the scorched first stage of the rocket came back to Earth and landed upright at Cape Canaveral, marking the fourth successful solid ground landing for SpaceX. "And we have touchdown," a SpaceX commentator said on a live webcast as cheers broke out at mission control. "The first stage has landed back at Landing Zone 1. Another good day for us at SpaceX. A beautiful sight to see." Live video of the launch showed the first and second stages of the rocket separating about two and a half minutes into the flight. The larger portion of the rocket, known as the first stage, made a gentle arc and powered its nitrogen thrusters to guide it back to Earth. After a fiery entry burn, the rocket set itself down steadily in the center of the 300-foot (91-meter) circular landing zone. Musk is leading an effort in the rocket industry to re-use costly parts rather than jettison them into the ocean after each launch. SpaceX has already made multiple successful landings -- some on land and others on floating ocean platforms, known as drone ships. The launch was initially planned for Sunday, but was postponed in the last seconds before liftoff due to a sensor issue with the rocket, SpaceX said. The sensor in question was replaced ahead of Monday's attempt. Little was known about the payload, which a SpaceX commentator described only as a "satellite," due to its classified nature. "As a matter of policy and because of classification, NRO does not provide information about our contracts," an NRO spokeswoman told AFP. Until now, the US military has spent billions per year exclusively with United Launch Alliance, a joint operation of aerospace giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin, to launch government satellites. SpaceX in 2014 protested the US Air Force's practice of using only ULA, saying it unfairly awarded billions of dollars to a single company for national security launches. SpaceX to was selected to launch NROL-76 "after a competition," said the NRO spokeswoman. She said she did not know when the contract was awarded. The contract was first announced last year. SpaceX also has a pair of launch contracts coming up for the Air Force to send GPS satellites into orbit. SpaceX regularly launches unmanned cargo ships to the International Space Station, and is working on a crew capsule that could carry humans into orbit as early as next year.


News Article | April 29, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

On Monday, SpaceX is slated to do its very first national security mission for the US military — sending a spy satellite into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office. Dubbed NROL-76, the secretive payload is scheduled to go up on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket early Monday morning from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. After launch, SpaceX will attempt to land the Falcon 9’s first stage — the 14-story high core of the rocket that contains the main engines and most of the fuel — on solid ground back at the Cape. Just like with other NRO launches, we don’t really know much about this satellite’s final destination or what the probe will do when it gets there. And typically, broadcasts of NRO missions are cut a bit short to hide the true purpose of the satellite and where it’s going. That means we probably won’t get as many shots of the rocket and satellite in space as we normally do when SpaceX does commercial launches. However, we should still get plenty of images of the first stage as it makes its descent to Earth. This will be the fourth time that SpaceX tries to land a Falcon 9 on the company’s Florida landing site. We don’t really know much about this satellite’s final destination or what the probe will do This launch comes off the heels of SpaceX’s historic launch a few weeks ago, in which the company flew one of its landed Falcon 9 boosters for the first time. That launch successfully put a satellite into orbit for the Luxembourg-based company SES. SpaceX was also able to retrieve the first stage by landing it on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. The Falcon 9 launching the NROL-76 mission will be using a brand new first stage, however, and it’s not clear when SpaceX will by flying a used booster again. But this launch is still unique since it marks one of the few NRO missions in the last decade that hasn’t been done by the United Launch Alliance. ULA, a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, has basically had a monopoly on military launches for the last decade. However, SpaceX received certification in 2015 to launch military satellites after going through two years of reviews with the US Air Force. The idea was to create competition between military launch providers — a move that could potentially lower the costs of government missions. And since receiving its certification, SpaceX has won two contracts from the Air Force that have been publicly put up for bid. However, the NRO seems to have set up this launch with SpaceX at some unknown time in the past couple years. The NRO announced in May 2016 that it had tapped SpaceX to launch NROL-76 and that it’s possible that more NRO missions could be launched by SpaceX in the future, according to Space News. While we don’t know a lot about the purpose of Monday’s launch, we do have the signature NRO patch that goes along with the mission. NRO launches have always been accompanied by a wild mission patch, typically depicting some massive animal conquering the Earth or a mystical being like a sorceress or dark knight. The NROL-76 patch deviates from that theme a bit, showcasing Lewis and Clark, both looking very stern, as they prepare to embark on their expedition westward. Specifically, the NRO says the two explorers on the patch are about “to discover and explore the newly purchased Louisiana Territory and report back to the National Command Authority (President Jefferson).” Perhaps that’s some kind of hint about the mission. Monday’s launch is scheduled to get off the ground at 7:15AM ET, though the rocket can takeoff up until 9AM ET. The launch was originally scheduled for Sunday at the same time, but the mission was scrubbed due to an issue with one of the sensors on the Falcon 9 first stage. But weather is looking mostly good for a launch tomorrow; there’s a 70 percent chance that conditions will be favorable, according to Patrick Military Air Force. SpaceX’s coverage of the launch begins 20 minutes before liftoff, so check back then to watch the mission live. Update 7:20AM ET, April 30th: Sunday morning, SpaceX stopped the launch of its Falcon 9 less than a minute before take off, citing an issue with one of the sensors on the first stage. The company will try to launch vehicle again tomorrow around 7AM ET.


"ULA is excited to be a part of the team that delivered such an important payload to astronauts aboard the ISS," said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Human and Commercial Systems. "Not only are we delivering needed supplies as the first launch under our new RapidLaunch™ offering, but we are truly honored to launch a payload dedicated to John Glenn on an Atlas V, helping to signify the gap we plan to fill as we start launching astronauts from American soil again in 2018." Orbital ATK dedicated the OA-7 Cygnus spacecraft to John Glenn during a ceremony last month. John Glenn became the first U.S. astronaut to orbit the Earth after being launched on a heritage Atlas LV-3B rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida in 1962. This mission was launched aboard an Atlas V 401 configuration vehicle, which includes a 4-meter extra extended payload fairing (XEPF). The Atlas booster for this mission was powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine, and the Centaur upper stage was powered by the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C engine. This is ULA's fourth launch in 2017 and the 119th successful launch since the company was formed in December 2006. "Congratulations to our mission partners at Orbital ATK and NASA on another successful launch that will help advance our scientific knowledge on Earth and in space, and inspire the next generation of space explorers," said Wentz. Cygnus is a low-risk design incorporating elements drawn from Orbital ATK and its partners' existing, flight-proven spacecraft technologies. Cygnus consists of a common Service Module (SM) and a Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM). The SM is assembled and tested at Orbital ATK's Dulles, Virginia, satellite manufacturing facility and incorporates systems from Orbital ATK's flight-proven LEOStar™ and GEOStar™ satellite product lines. The PCM is based on the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM), developed and built by Thales Alenia Space of Italy. ULA's next launch is the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite-M (TDRS) mission for NASA. The launch is scheduled for Aug. 3 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. With more than a century of combined heritage, United Launch Alliance is the nation's most experienced and reliable launch service provider. ULA has successfully delivered more than 115 satellites to orbit that aid meteorologists in tracking severe weather, unlock the mysteries of our solar system, provide critical capabilities for troops in the field and enable personal device-based GPS navigation. For more information on ULA, visit the ULA website at www.ulalaunch.com, or call the ULA Launch Hotline at 1-877-ULA-4321 (852-4321). Join the conversation at www.facebook.com/ulalaunch, twitter.com/ulalaunch and instagram.com/ulalaunch. To view the original version on PR Newswire, visit:http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/united-launch-alliance-successfully-launches-oa-7-under-first-rapidlaunch-service-contract-300441091.html


News Article | April 18, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

Space enthusiasts can watch NASA's first-ever 360-degree live stream of a rocket launch on April 18. The Orbital ATK robotic Cygnus cargo spacecraft is scheduled to launch toward the International Space Station from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Cygnus has flown a number of resupply runs in the past. However, its liftoff will be special, since viewers will get the opportunity to watch a launchpad's-eye view of the event, in 360 degrees. The launch time for the event is 11:11 a.m. EST. The liftoff can be watched on NASA's official YouTube channel. "Those who own virtual reality headsets will be able to look around and experience the view as if they were actually standing on the launchpad," noted an official NASA statement. The Cygnus is carrying more than 7,600 pounds of supplies, scientific gear, and hardware that it will take to the ISS. Because the cargo is so heavy, the mission will use an Atlas V rocket instead of the Antares booster, the usual booster employed during such missions. The replacement will take place because the Antares booster is not as powerful as the Atlas V. "We have a wide range of support equipment that's going to be headed to station to support the science that's up there already, but also to introduce brand new capabilities," noted Tara Ruttley, associate scientist for the ISS program, during a prelaunch news conference at Kennedy Space Center. The Cygnus cargo module is also known as the S.S. John Glenn, named in honor of the first American who orbited the Earth. The astronaut died in December 2016. The S.S. John Glenn will travel for four days and arrive at the orbiting lab on April 22. The April 18 launch is the third time that Cygnus is boosted by United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V. The launch marks the ULA's 71st overall launch of the rocket and the 36th in the spacecraft's 401 configuration. Vern Thorp, program manager for commercial missions at the ULA, stated that this configuration has become the "Atlas V workhorse," as it has launched approximately half of the Atlas V missions up until now. Both virtual reality and 360-degree technologies have become increasingly popular over the past few years. Live 360 technology offers advanced capacities that can be used efficiently during the launch of space missions to give viewers a more immersive experience. While the minimum viewing distance is miles away from the launchpad, the 360-degree live stream offers viewers the possibility to experience the start of the space mission firsthand. Spherical videos, as they are also known, are recordings that can be viewed in every direction, as the entire visual field is recorded at once, which allows the users to share the same view as the omnidirectional camera or the sets of cameras that record the event. You can also watch the live broadcast via NASA's Facebook page. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | May 10, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

SpaceX is gearing up for its next big step forward in spaceflight: launching the Falcon Heavy. The heavy-lift launch vehicle will use three Falcon 9 cores bolted together-two first stages that have already been launched, landed and recovered, as well as a shiny new core stage that will sit in the center of the two used boosters. The Hawthorne, CA-based company is aiming to launch the Falcon Heavy before the year is out, and yes, SpaceX will attempt to land all three first stages of the Falcon Heavy. Last week, Elon Musk's space startup test fired the center core of the new rocket at their facility in McGregor, TX. SpaceX tweeted out a video of the test fire today. The Falcon Heavy will be similar to the Delta IV Heavy operated by United Launch Alliance (ULA), which also uses three cores in the first stage and is currently the largest payload capacity rocket flown. However, on paper, the Falcon Heavy will be able to lift more than twice as much as the Delta IV Heavy to low-Earth orbit, 140,660 pounds for the Falcon Heavy compared to 62,540 pounds for the Delta IV Heavy. The real improvement over the Delta IV Heavy, though, should be in the ability to land and relaunch all three of the Falcon Heavy's first stage cores. The only question is, when will it fly? You Might Also Like


News Article | May 15, 2017
Site: www.theengineer.co.uk

Six companies are developing different concepts for the station The six US companies designing ground-based prototypes for NASA’s Deep Space Gateway (DSG) station — Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Bigelow Aerospace, Sierra Nevada Corporation, Orbital ATK, and a consortium called Ixion —are to receive grants totalling $65 million up to the end of this year as part of a programme NASA calls NextSTEP (Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnership), with a decision taken on which designs will go on to become flight modules in 2018 or 2019. The DSG could potentially acclimatise crew for the long durations in space required for deep-space missions, and to develop and test systems for long-duration spaceflight and the conditions distant from Earth. It will be a space station positioned in lunar orbit, around a quarter of a million miles from Earth and well outside the protection of the magnetosphere. Each of the six companies is developing different concepts for the station. Bigelow, whose 3m-diameter BEAM (Bigelow Expandable Activity Module) chamber is part-way through a two-year trial on the ISS, is developing another expandable structure, known as B330, as a habitat module for the DSG. Projected to be 13.7m long and 6.7m in diameter, the module is a made of a multi-layer material capable of withstanding micrometeorite strikes, and, although designed to be inflated with compressed air, should be regarded as more similar to a steel radial tyre than a balloon. Sierra Nevada is a space industry veteran, currently working with NASA to develop Dream Chaser, a lifting-body reusable spaceplane concept intended to ferry crew and supplies to the ISS. Like Sierra Nevada, Orbital ATK is basing its concept on features of an existing spacecraft, the Cygnus capsule. “This award allows us to mature plans to develop an Exploration Augmentation Module [EAM] based on the Cygnus product line and a new docking node concept,” said Frank DeMauro, head of human spaceflight systems. “Cygnus modules can be added to increase pressurised volume for the crew and outfitted to increase the associated functionality of the EAM. Ixion includes satellite and space hardware specialist Nanoracks, which has worked extensively on ISS projects, along with Space Systems/Loral, another satellite builder, and United Launch Alliance (ULA). Ixion is studying the feasibility of converting ULA Centaur rocket upper stages  into habitat modules. NASA’s first space station, Skylab, was originally proposed to be made from converted upper stages, and Nanoracks explains this is “more affordable and involves less risk than fabricating modules on the  ground and subsequently launching them into orbit.” Lockheed Martin is developing a multipurpose habitat module that it is converting from an ISS logistics module, a container originally developed to be carried in the Space Shuttle’s cargo bay, explained programme manager Bill Pratt. “These modules were made in Italy, and the one we’re converting for our ground-based prototype never actually flew,” he said. The prototype module will include ECLSS and avionics systems, included for ‘form-and-fit’ testing, Pratt said. However, he added, Lockheed Martin anticipates that in use, the DSG will use an Orion module, which would always be docked to the station when it is crewed, as a ‘flight deck’ for the station. “It’s rated for deep space, and it has all the necessary functionality, including avionics, communications, a toilet, galley and its own ECLSS that could augment any system on the DSG,” he said. The DSG will have to use a different internal architecture from the ISS, Pratt said. “We just won’t have the space for the large racks that house equipment in the ISS; most things will have to be on pallets, and ideally reconfigurable.” An example of this might be a shielded area for crew to shelter from the radiation of solar storms. “We don’t want to have a permanent refuge, we’d just want to be able to put one up when it’s needed.” One possibility might be to use the docked Orion’s shelter, he said. Other radiation such as energetic cosmic rays could be more of a problem, Pratt added. “We really don’t know much about them. We might use the DSG in autonomous mode, with no crew on board, to study them so we can come up with a protective system when crew go on board.” Boeing is using its experience as prime contractor for the US portions of the ISS and in designing SEP systems, and has unveiled concept designs both for the DSG and a SEP-equipped deep-space transit vehicle. Much of the hardware it is developing uses technology developed for the ion-driven Dawn spacecraft, which visited the asteroid belt last year, and the 702 series of high-power communication satellites.

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