≡ Menu

US Spy Sat and SpaceX Set for Double Barreled Blastoffs After Critical Cape Canaveral Radar Revitalized

Atlas V rocket and Super Secret NROL-67 intelligence gathering payload following rollout to Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, on March 24, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com

Atlas V rocket and Super Secret NROL-67 intelligence gathering payload following rollout to Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL in late March. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The Florida Space Coast is about to ignite with a doubled barreled dose of spectacular rocket launches from Cape Canaveral over the next few days that were suddenly postponed two weeks ago amidst final launch preparations when an electrical short completely knocked out use of the US Air Force’s crucial tracking radar that is mandatory to insure public safety.

A pair of liftoffs vital to US National Security and NASA/SpaceX are now slated for April 10 and April 14 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station after revitalizing the radar systems.

The tracking radar is an absolutely essential asset for the Eastern Range that oversees all launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V is now slated to launch on Thursday, April 10 at 1:45 p.m. EDT.

Artwork for Super Secret NROL-67 payload launching on Atlas V rocket. Credit: NRO/ULA

Artwork for Super Secret NROL-67 payload launching on Atlas V rocket. Credit: NRO/ULA

The Atlas V rocket is carrying the super secret NROL-67 intelligence gathering spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).

The SpaceX Falcon 9 is slated to launch on Monday, April 14 at 4:58 p.m. EDT.

The Falcon 9 is lofting a SpaceX Dragon cargo ship and delivering some 5000 pounds of science experiments and supplies for the six man space station crew – under a resupply contract with NASA.

The pair of liftoffs of the Atlas V and Falcon 9 boosters for the NRO and SpaceX/NASA had been slated just days apart on March 25 and March 30, respectively.

Falcon 9 and Dragon static fire test on March 8, 2014. Credit: SpaceX

Falcon 9 and Dragon static fire test on March 8, 2014. Credit: SpaceX

I was on site at Cape Canaveral Launch Pad 41 photographing the Atlas V rocket carrying the NRO payload in anticipation of the launch.

Shortly thereafter a fire of unexplained origin in the radar equipment unexpected occurred and knocked the tracking radar off line. When no quick fix was possible, both launches were delayed indefinitely pending repairs.

“The tracking radar experienced an electrical short, overheating the unit and rendering the radar inoperable,” said the USAF in a statement I received from the 45th Space Wing that controls the critical launch control systems, communications, computers and radar elements at the Eastern Range.

On Monday, April 7, the Air Force announced that range repairs were on target and that a retired, inactive radar had been brought back online.

“A radar that was previously in standby status has been brought back to operational status while the repair work is being accomplished,” said the USAF in a statement.

A fully functional tracking radar is an absolute requirement to ensure the success and safety of every rocket launch.

Insufficient maintenance and antiquated equipment due to a lack of US government funding and investment in infrastructure may be at fault for the electrical short.

The Eastern range radar must function perfectly in order to destroy any rocket in a split second in the event it abruptly veers off course towards the nearby populated areas along the Florida Space Coast.

The Atlas V rocket was rolled out earlier today to Space Launch Complex 41 in preparation for Thursday’s NROL-67 launch. The weather forecast shows a 90 percent chance of favorable weather conditions for launch.

The Dragon spacecraft, filled with about 4,600 lbs of cargo bound for the space station, is mated with Falcon 9.  Credit: SpaceX

The Dragon spacecraft, filled with about 4,600 lbs of cargo bound for the space station, is mated with Falcon 9. Credit: SpaceX

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Atlas V NROL 67, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Orion, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Learn more at Ken’s upcoming presentations at the NEAF astro/space convention, NY on April 12/13.

Ken Kremer

About 

Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, scientist, freelance science journalist (Princeton, NJ) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calanders including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, BBC, SPACE.com, Spaceflight Now and the covers of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Spaceflight and the Explorers Club magazines. Ken has presented at numerous educational institutions, civic & religious organizations, museums and astronomy clubs. Ken has reported first hand from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral and NASA Wallops on over 40 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight - www.kenkremer.com. Follow Ken on Facebook and Twitter

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Aqua4U April 10, 2014, 12:25 PM

    “Insufficient maintenance and antiquated equipment due to a lack of US government funding and investment in infrastructure may be at fault for the electrical short.” Grrrrr…..

    I’d like to ‘kick start’ our congress and senate by getting rid of the lobbyists entirely.. ban or outlaw them.. and bring back citizen’s rights over corporations. We could start by repealing Supreme Court ruling #08-205. Corporations are NOT citizens!

    • weeasle April 10, 2014, 9:26 PM

      Hear! hear! Lobbyists should not be distorting the governing of congress, having more rights and access to the governors that individual citizens…

      Also the corporation personhood thing – I believe the ruling was that the entity known as a corporation was considered a ‘person’ before the courts.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporate_personhood

      Needs revisiting. What individual citizen can compete in court against a corporation with hundreds of employees and bottomless lawyer fees? Talk about unfair advantage.. Equal before the law ‘my foot!’

      Once that was done, I would have a few other suggestions, such as not having electronic vote tally’s sitting in one room with lax security… USB Stick coups should not be possible.

      Anyway the only reason I bring up all this governmental stuff is it is quite clear the Civil US Space Program has been in dire straights since Nixon. The costly Space Shuttle (STS – Space Transportation System) gobbled up many funds constricting other projects (when an improved Apollo Saturn V would have done most if not all the same jobs). Now we had Constellation (Cancellation) and now its replacement SLS (Space Launch System)… A similar outcome is predictable (little funds and drive left over for actual scientific discovery missions and innovations).

      I am told that the real reason all this pork wastage is happening is that in addition to clear goals, actual designs must be approved by congressional committees/subcommittes (and consequently by lobbyists) before funding is allocated. This is not how scientific innovation generally runs. If we could go back in time and ask Newton, Einstein, or other great inventors/innovators, I am sure they would agree.

      In a more fair democratic environment, NASA could just specify what it wanted the spacecraft’s performance and functionality to be and leave it to the numerous corporations to build & design the spacecraft (at the lowest price to taxpayers) and then use the freed-up moneys for ACTUAL scientific discovery missions. NASA could fully realize its role in our world as an ideas & discovery powerhouse then – much more suited to this day and age.

      • Windfall April 10, 2014, 11:08 PM

        So much I could say to agree with both of you but after a good many brews, I am doubtful it would come out coherently so I guess I will just agree :)

        Total side-note, but your post (weeasle) reminded me of the dilemma we in the states (and likely many other nations) face with funding science to specific ends. There simply is too little science being funded that is purely for the sake of learning, which historically bears the least fruit. So many discoveries, necessities to technological advancements, have been borne through the pursuits of an individual’s interests yet now with an increasing scarcity of funding, it seems there is no way for scientists to garner the resources they require unless they can show there is some specific benefit or advancement at stake. When will those in charge of OUR money realize that the most significant advancements to society – be it medicinal, industrial, or even entertainment – stemmed from knowledge garnered through science without specific applications. X-rays machines, televisions, etc. were not specifically funded projects. They only exist as the resulting bi-product of more personal scientific pursuits made by men free to explore their curiosities.

        This tangent primed and sponsored by the late Carl Sagan…

        • weeasle April 11, 2014, 1:38 AM

          Thank you for your considered response. I wholeheartedly agree that often great advancements are made by lone people persuing their deep interest and fascination in nature or in improving a human ability to interact in nature. In this context, it would be helpful to simply allocate goals and funds and for the politicians to then take a few steps back and hands off until completion or failure (with knowledge gained)

          In the case of Newton, I would like to add that if one were to get in a time machine to go and posit the question I mentioned above, one would need to set the dial to before the time which Sir Isaac got his Job with the UK Treasury with his Office in the Tower of London, sending counterfeiters to the gallows. In the case of Tesla, before he started work on his ‘Death Ray’ project. And in Einstein’s case, after his letter to President Roosevelt asking him to consider matching the Nazi’s efforts in building an atomic weapon resulted in two nuclear weapons being deployed in Japan.

          It seems with humans, seldom are there black and white cases in science, technology and its applications – only many shades of grey… But one thing is certain: Collectively working for a transparent and fair democracy on an ongoing basis is necessary to ensure modern science is used for the common good.

          And nice tangent – I really admire the late great Carl Sagan’s work.

hide