X-37B Secret Air Force Spaceplane Blasts Off on SpaceX Falcon 9 as Monster Hurricane Irma Threatens Florida Peninsula

USAF X-37B military spaceplane blasts off with picturesque water reflections at 10 a.m. EDT (1400 UTC) Sept. 7, 2017 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Amidst the frenzy of ‘Sunshine State’ preparations for Cat 5 monster Hurricane Irma and quite dismal weather favorability odds, the skies surrounding the Florida Space Coast suddenly parted just in the nick of time enabling the Air Force’s secret military X-37B spaceplane to blast off this morning (Sept. 7) on a SpaceX Falcon 9 as the booster nailed another thrilling ground landing back at the Cape.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 roared to life at 10 a.m. EDT (1400 UTC) Thursday morning and soared aloft from seaside Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center into nearly clear blue skies after the classified launch time was kept guarded until just 10 minutes before liftoff.

Due to the potential for catastrophic destruction from approaching Hurricane Irma this was the last chance for the X-37B to escape Florida to orbit before the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station almost certainly close on Friday, the backup launch opportunity.

The X-37B OTV spaceplane reached orbit as planned on SpaceX’s 13th launch of the year.

“The 45th Space Wing successfully launched a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle Sept. 7, 2017, from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A,” the USAF and 45th Space Wing confirmed in a post launch statement.

The Falcon 9 launch was absolutely gorgeous taking place under near perfect weather conditions at launch time and putting on a long sky show as the rocket accelerated to orbit with its precious cargo.

USAF X-37B military spaceplane blasts off with picturesque water reflections at 10 a.m. EDT (1400 UTC) Sept. 7, 2017 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The nine Merlin 1D first stage engines ignited to generate a combined 1.7 million pounds of thrust fueled by liquid oxygen and RP-1 propellants, sending a huge exhaust plume billowing from behind as the rocket ascended off pad 39A and thundered aloft.

After first stage burnout and main engine cutoff the stages separated at T plus 2 min 26 seconds.

After successfully delivering the secret USAF mini-shuttle to orbit, SpaceX engineers completed the 2nd half of the double headed space spectacular when the Falcon 9 first stage booster successfully made a guided soft landing back at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS).

The boosters high speed descent generated multiple shockingly loud sonic booms as the 156-foot-tall first stage approached SpaceX’s dedicated Landing Zone-1 (LZ-1) on CCAFS that reverberated for dozens and dozens of miles across and beyond the Space coast region.

The mid-morning daylight first stage precision guided landing offered spectators a magnificent up close view of the rocket reusability technology envisioned by SpaceX’s billionaire CEO Elon Musk to drastically slash the high costs of launching people and payloads to space.

SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage fires Merlin 1D engine in final moments of descent to accomplish successful propulsive touchdown at Landing Zone-1 (LZ-1) after SpaceX launched the USAF X-37B military spaceplane on its 5th flight to space on the OTV-5 mission at 10 a.m. EDT (1400 UTC) Sept. 7, 2017 from pad 39A at KSC. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Meanwhile, Hurricane Irma continues barreling towards Florida packing winds of 185 mph as one of the strongest Atlantic storms ever. It is being closely tracked in incredibly high resolution by the new NASA/NOAA GOES-16 (GOES-R) satellite launched late last year on a ULA Atlas V in Nov 2016.

Here’s the latest storm track updated to Friday morning Sep 8:

Hurricane Irma Cone forecast on Sept 8, 2017 from the National Hurricane Center. Credit: NHC

The X-37B reusable mini-shuttle is a secretive technology testing spaceplane flying on its fifth mission overall for the U.S. Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.

“The OTV is designed to demonstrate reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operate experiments, which can be returned to and examined on Earth,” said the USAF.

Launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 on Sept. 7 , 2017 carrying the X-37B mini-shuttle to orbit for the USAF. Credit: Julian Leek

Also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle, the X-37B launched on the OTV-5 mission marks the programs maiden liftoff on the 230-foot-tall SpaceX Falcon 9.

All four prior OTV missions launched on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V and ended with runway landings in either California of Florida.

USAF X-37B military mini-shuttle lifts off at 10 a.m. EDT Sept. 7, 2017 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The X-37B launches vertically like a satellite but lands horizontally like an airplane and functions as a reliable and reusable space test platform for the U.S. Air Force.

The Boeing-built X-37B is processed for flight at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, using refurbished former NASA space shuttle processing facilities (OPFs) now dedicated to the reusable mini-shuttle, also named the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV).

The USAF X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle is set for blastoff on Sept. 7, 2017, onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo: Boeing/USAF

The last blastoff of the X-37B took place more than 2 years ago on May 20, 2015 when the OTV-4 mission launched on a ULA Atlas V on May 20, 2015 from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

After spending a record setting 718 days in orbit, the X-37B vehicle completed its fourth mission with a runway landing back at KSC’s Shuttle Landing Facility earlier this year on May 7, 2017.

Overall the OTV unmanned spacecraft have spent a total of 2,085 days in orbit.

The 11,000 pound (4990 kg) state-of-the art reusable OTV space plane is about a quarter the size of a NASA space shuttle. The vehicle measures 29 ft 3 in (8.9 m) in length with a wingspan of 14 ft 11 in (4.5 m).

The X-37B was originally developed by NASA but was transferred to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 2004.

Since then most but not all of the spaceplane’s goals have been shrouded in secrecy.

Sept. 7 , 2017 liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 on Sept. 7, 2017 carrying the X-37B mini-shuttle to orbit for the USAF. Credit: Jeff Seibert
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rolls horizontally up incline at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 6 Sept. 2017. The rocket is being processed for liftoff of the X-37B OTV-5 mini-shuttle mission scheduled for Sept. 7, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite X-37B OTV-5 and NASA mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Up close head on view of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rolling horizontally up incline at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 6 Sept. 2017. The rocket is being processed for liftoff of the X-37B OTV-5 mini-shuttle mission scheduled for Sept. 7, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rolls horizontally up incline at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 6 Sept. 2017 ahead of liftoff of the X-37B OTV-5 spaceplane mission on Sept. 7, 2017. Credit: Julian Leek

Secret X-37B Military Mini-Shuttle Set for SpaceX Blastoff/Landing Sept. 7 as Cat 5 Hurricane Irma Forces Florida State of Emergency – Watch Live

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rolls horizontally up incline at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 6 Sept. 2017. The rocket is being processed for liftoff of the X-37B OTV-5 mini-shuttle mission scheduled for Sept. 7, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Although its far from sunny in the so called ‘Sunshine State’ the secret X-37B military mini-shuttle is set for a SpaceX blastoff and booster landing combo Thursday, Sept. 7 – even as the looming threat from Cat 5 Hurricane Irma forced Florida’s Governor to declare a statewide ‘State of Emergency.’

Launch preparations were in full swing today on Florida’s Space Coast for liftoff of the hi tech USAF X-37B reusable spaceplane- hoping to escape to orbit for the first time atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and just in the nick of time tomorrow, before the impending threat of monster storm Irma potentially lashes the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in the center of the states long peninsula.

Hurricane Irma Cone forecast on Sept 7, 2017 from the National Hurricane Center. Credit: NHC

Irma is packing winds of 185 mph and one of the strongest Atlantic storms ever. It is being closely tracked in incredibly high resolution by the new NASA/NOAA GOES-16 (GOES-R) satellite launched late last year on a ULA Atlas V in Nov 2016.

I witnessed the entire SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and payload stack being rolled horizontally up the incline to the top of Launch Complex 39A late this afternoon, Sept. 6, during our media visit for up-close camera setup.

Up close head on view of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rolling horizontally up incline at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 6 Sept. 2017. The rocket is being processed for liftoff of the X-37B OTV-5 mini-shuttle mission scheduled for Sept. 7, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Rather remarkably the relatively dismal weather forecast has brightened considerably in the final hours leading to Thursday’s scheduled launch and the forecast heavy rain showers and thunder have dissipated in the time remaining between now and liftoff.

The X-37B reusable mini-shuttle is a secretive technology testing spaceplane flying on its fifth mission overall.

Up close side view of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and nose cone housing the X-37B OTV-5 spaceplane slated for liftoff from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 7, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The path to launch was cleared following the successful engine test firing of the Falcon 9 first stage I witnessed late last week, Thursday afternoon, Aug. 30.

During the hold down static fire test all nine Merlin 9 stage engine were ignited and fired up to full throttle for several seconds. See my static fire story here.

SpaceX conducts successful static fire test of the Falcon 9 first stage rocket at 4:30 p.m. EDT on Aug. 31, 2017 on Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fl., as seen from nearby Playalinda causeway. Liftoff of the USAF X-37B OTV-5 mini-shuttle mission is scheduled for Sept. 7, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Although the exact launch time remains a closely guarded U.S. Air Force secret, liftoff of the X-37B is slated to occur sometime during a 5 hour long window.

The launch window for the X-37B on the OTV-5 mission opens at 9:50 a.m. EDT (13:50 UTC) and spans until 2:55 p.m. EDT (18:55 UTC) Sept. 7 from seaside Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

SpaceX will offer their own live webcast beginning approximately 15 minutes before launch starting at about 9:35 a.m. EDT.

You can watch the launch live at NASA TV at the SpaceX hosted Webcast at – spacex.com/webcast

In the event of delay for any reason, the next launch opportunity is Friday, Sept 8 at approximately the same time and window.

However amidst the heavy duty Hurricane Irma preparations all around, nothing is certain. Local area schools in Brevard County have closed and local residents are preparing their homes and apartments to hunker down, buying food and essentials putting up storm shutters, topping off gas and energy supplies and more.

“If for any reason we cannot launch tomorrow we will reevaluate whether or not we can still support another attempt on Friday, said Wayne R. Monteith, Brig Gen, USAF, Commander, 45th Space Wing.

The weather forecast overall is about 50% chance of favorable conditions at launch time according to U.S. Air Force meteorologists with the 45th Space Wing Weather Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base. But the opportunity varies within the long window and the exact launch time is currently classified.

“Hurricane Irma is forecast to be approximately 900 miles southeast of the Spaceport during Thursday’s launch attempt, so while Irma certainly bears watching, the stalled boundary will be the main factor in Thursday’s weather,” noted the 45th Space Wing Weather Squadron.

The primary concerns on Sept. 7 are for cumulus clouds and for thick clouds in the flight path.

The odds drop to 40% favorable for the 24 hour scrub turnaround day on Friday, Sept 8

The USAF X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle is set for blastoff on Sept. 7, 2017, onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo: Boeing/USAF

Everything is currently on track for Thursday’s launch of the 230 foot tall SpaceX Falcon 9 on the X-37B OTV-5 mission.

“The Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office is undergoing final launch preparations for the fifth mission of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle [OTV],” the Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs announced. “The OTV is scheduled to launch on Sept. 7, 2017, onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rolls horizontally up incline at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 6 Sept. 2017 ahead of liftoff of the X-37B OTV-5 spaceplane mission on Sept. 7, 2017. Credit: Julian Leek

The X-37B will be launched for the fifth time on the OTV-5 mission atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 on Sept. 7 from Launch Complex 39A on the Kennedy Space Center Florida into low Earth orbit.

The Boeing-built X-37B is processed for flight at KSC using refurbished NASA space shuttle processing facilities now dedicated to the reusable mini-shuttle, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV). It launches vertically like a satellite but lands horizontally like an airplane and functions as a reliable and reusable space test platform for the U.S. Air Force.

The OTV-5 mission marks the first launch of an X-37B spaceplane by SpaceX.

All four prior OTV missions launched on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V and ended with runway landings in either California or Florida.

“The many firsts on this mission make the upcoming OTV launch a milestone for the program,” said Randy Walden, the director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.

“It is our goal to continue advancing the X-37B OTV so it can more fully support the growing space community.”

Ground landing of SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage at Landing Zone-1 (LZ-1) after SpaceX launched its 12th resupply mission to the International Space Station from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida from pad 39A at 12:31 p.m. EDT on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

SpaceX will also attempt another land landing of the 156-foot-tall Falcon 9 first stage back at Landing Zone-1 (LZ-1) at the Cape.

The Falcon 9 first stage is equipped with a quartet of landing legs and grid fins to enable the rocket recycling plan.

Up close view of SpaceX Falcon 9 landing legs for the X-37B OTV-5 spaceplane slated for liftoff from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 7, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

This marks the 7th time SpaceX attempts a ground landing at the Cape.

The booster will touch down about 8 minutes after launch and generate multiple sonic booms screaming loudly across the surrounding region and beyond.

“The fifth OTV mission will also be launched into, and landed from, a higher inclination orbit than prior missions to further expand the X-37B’s orbital envelope.”

The daylight first stage precision guided landing should offer spectators a thrilling up close view of the rocket reusability technology envisioned by SpaceX’s billionaire CEO Elon Musk to drastically slash the high costs of launching to space.

Technicians work on the Air Force X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle 4, which landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida May 7, 2017. Credit: Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs.

The 11,000 pound (4990 kg) state-of -the art reusable OTV space plane is about a quarter the size of a NASA space shuttle. The vehicle measures 29 ft 3 in (8.9 m) in length with a wingspan of 14 ft 11 in (4.5 m).

The X-37B was originally developed by NASA but was transferred to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 2004.

Since then most but not all of the spaceplane’s goals have been shrouded in secrecy.

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite X-37B OTV-5 and NASA mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Cold-War Era Derived ICBM Blasts Military ORS-5 Surveillance and Space Junk Tracking Satellite to Orbit: Gallery

ICBM derived Minotaur IV overnight launch of the ORS-5 space situational awareness and debris tracking satellite for the U.S. Air Force at 2:04 a.m. EDT on August 26, 2017 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL — A Cold War-era derived Peacekeeper ICBM missile formerly armed with multiple nuclear warheads and now modified as a payload orbiter successfully launched an urgently needed space situational awareness and space junk tracking satellite to equatorial orbit overnight this morning, Aug. 26, for the U.S. military from the Florida Space Coast.

Following a nearly 3 hour delay due to day long dismal weather causing locally heavy rain storms and lighting in central Florida, an Orbital ATK Minotaur IV rocket carrying the ORS-5 tracking satellite for the USAF finally lifted off in the wee hours Saturday morning, Aug. 26 at 2:04 a.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The five stage solid fueled Minotaur IV roared rapidly off Space Launch Complex 46 (SLC-46) on a half million pounds of thrust and quickly disappeared into the clouds from the perspective of our nearby media launch viewing site on this inaugural launch of the rocket from the Cape.

Check back here to see the expanding gallery of launch photos and videos recorded by myself and space journalist colleagues!

Orbital ATK Minotaur IV rocket streaks to orbit after blastoff carrying the ORS-5 space situational awareness and debris tracking satellite to orbit for the military at 2:04 a.m. EDT on August 26, 2017 from pad 46 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Julian Leek

The gap filling ORS-5 space surveillance satellite is a low cost mission technology demonstration mission that will track orbiting threats for the U.S. Air Force – and offered a thrilling nighttime launch experience to those who stayed awake and braved the post midnight time slot.

The converted ICBM motor ignition produced a flash of extremely bright light that briefly turned night into day. The maiden Minotaur from the Cape gushed intensely at liftoff and left a huge exhaust trailing in its wake as it accelerated to orbit.

Orbital ATK Minotaur IV rocket streaks to orbit after blastoff darting in and out of clouds to deliver the ORS-5 space situational awareness and debris tracking satellite to equatorial orbit for the U.S. Air Force at 2:04 a.m. EDT on August 26, 2017 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL – as seen from 5th Space Launch Squadron building roof on CCAFS. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The ORS-5 is a single satellite constellation with a primary mission to provide space situational awareness of the geosynchronous orbit belt for Combatant Commanders’ urgent needs, according to Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, 45th Space Wing commander and mission Launch Decision Authority at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

The ORS-5 mission, which stands for Operationally Responsive Space-5, marks the first launch of a Minotaur IV rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the first use of SLC-46 since 1999.

SLC-46 is operated under license by Space Florida, which invested more than $6 million dollars of state funds into pad upgrades and renovations.

Orbital ATK Minotaur IV rocket streaks to orbit after blastoff carrying the ORS-5 space situational awareness and debris tracking satellite to orbit for the military at 2:04 a.m. EDT on August 26, 2017 from pad 46 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Michael Seeley/WeReportSpace

The ORS-5 satellite built for the USAF Operationally Responsive Space Office will provide the US military with space-based surveillance and tracking of other satellites both friend and foe as well as space debris in geosynchronous orbit, 22,236 miles above the equator.

ORS-5 is like a telescope wrapped in a satellite that will aim up to seek threats from LEO to GEO using cameras and spectrometer sensors.

Also known as SensorSat, ORS-5 is designed to scan for other satellites and debris to aid the U.S. military’s tracking of objects in geosynchronous orbit for a minimum of three years and possibly longer if its on board sensor and spacecraft systems continue functioning in a useful and productive manner.

The Minotaur IV is a five stage rocket comprised of three stages of a decommissioned Cold War-era Peacekeeper Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) that has been modified to add two additional Orbital ATK Orion 38 solid rocket motors for the upper stages.

Approximately 28 minutes after liftoff at 2:04 a.m. EDT, the Minotaur IV deployed the ORS-5 satellite into its targeted low inclination orbit 372 miles (599 kilometers) above the earth, Orbital ATK confirmed.

“From this orbit, ORS-5 will deliver timely, reliable and accurate space situational awareness information to the United States Strategic Command through the Joint Space Operations Center.”

Orbital ATK Minotaur IV rocket soars to orbit after blastoff darting artfully in and out of clouds to deliver the ORS-5 space situational awareness and debris tracking satellite to orbit for the U.S. Air Force at 2:04 a.m. EDT on August 26, 2017 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“This was our first Minotaur launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, demonstrating the rocket’s capability to launch from all four major U.S. spaceports,” said Rich Straka, Vice President and General Manager of Orbital ATK’s Launch Vehicles Division.

ICBM derived Minotaur IV overnight launch of the ORS-5 space situational awareness and debris tracking satellite for the U.S. Air Force at 2:04 a.m. EDT on August 26, 2017 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

This Minotaur IV rocket is a retired Cold War-era ICBM missile once armed with nuclear warheads aimed at the former Soviet Union that can now launch satellites for purposes other than offensive nuclear war retaliation.

So on the event of a nuclear first or retaliatory strike, this is how the world could potentially end in utter destruction and nuclear catastrophy.

To get an up-close feeling of the sounds and fury watch this Minotaur IV/ORS-5 launch video compilation from colleague Jeff Seibert from our media launch viewing site from the roof of the 5th Space Launch Squadron building on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.

Video Caption: Orbital ATK launch of Minotaur ORS 5 at 2:04 a.m. EDT on Aug. 26, 2017. None of the videos are sped up, it really takes off that fast. The solid fuel Peacekeeper missile segments were repurposed to launch the ORS-5 satellite from Launch Complex 46 on CCAFS., Fl. Credit: Jeff Seibert

Overall the ORS-5 launch was the 26th blastoff in Orbital ATK’s Minotaur family of launch vehicles which enjoy a 100% success rate to date.

Today’s launch was the 6th for the Minotaur IV version.

“With a perfect track record of 26 successful launches, the Minotaur family has proven to be a valuable and reliable asset for the Department of Defense,” said Straka.

“Orbital ATK has launched nearly 100 space launch and strategic rockets for the U.S. Air Force,” said Scott Lehr, President of Orbital ATK’s Flight Systems Group. “We’re proud to be a partner they can count on.”

Orbital ATK Minotaur IV rocket streaks to orbit through low hanging clouds that instantly become brightly illuminated as the booster engines flames pass through, while leaving towering exhaust plume in its wake. The mission carried the ORS-5 satellite tracker to equatorial orbit for the U.S. Air Force at 2:04 a.m. EDT on August 26, 2017 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The past two weeks have been a super busy time at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral. This morning’s post midnight launch was the third in just 11 days – and the second in a week!

A ULA Atlas V launched the NASA TDRS-M science relay satellite last Friday, Aug 18. And a SpaceX Falcon 9 launched the Dragon CRS-12 cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday, Aug. 14.

“The ORS-5 Minotaur IV launch was the true epitome of partnership,” Gen. Monteith said.

“A collaborative effort between multiple mission partners, each group came together flawlessly to revolutionize how we work together on the Eastern Range. Teamwork is pivotal to making us the ‘World’s Premier Gateway to Space’ and I couldn’t be prouder to lead a Wing that not only has launched over a quarter of the world’s launches this year, but also three successful, launches from three different providers, in less than two weeks.”

ORS-5 was designed and built by Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory facility in Lexington, Massachusetts at a cost of $49 million.


The ORS-5 or SensorSat satellite will provide the US military with space-based surveillance and tracking of other satellites both friend and foe and space debris in geosynchronous orbit 22,236 miles above the equator. Credit: MIT Lincoln Laboratory

In July 2015 the U.S. Air Force’s Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Office awarded Orbital ATK a $23.6 million contract to launch the ORS-5 SensorSat on the Minotaur IV launch vehicle.

ORS-5/SensorSat was processed for launch and encapsulation inside the 2.3 meter diameter payload fairing at Astrotech Space Operations processing facility in Titusville, Florida.

Orbital ATK Minotaur IV rocket streaks to orbit after blastoff darting in and out of clouds to deliver the ORS-5 space situational awareness and debris tracking satellite to equatorial orbit for the U.S. Air Force at 2:04 a.m. EDT on August 26, 2017 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL – as seen from 5th Space Launch Squadron building roof on CCAFS. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Orbital ATK Minotaur IV rocket streaks to orbit after blastoff darting in and out of clouds to deliver the ORS-5 space situational awareness and debris tracking satellite to equatorial orbit for the U.S. Air Force at 2:04 a.m. EDT on August 26, 2017 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL – as seen from 5th Space Launch Squadron building roof on CCAFS. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite Minotaur IV ORS-5, TDRS-M, CRS-12, and NASA and space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Orbital ATK Minotaur IV rocket streaks to orbit through low hanging clouds that instantly illuminate as the booster engines flames pass through. This first Minotaur launch from the Cape carried the ORS-5 satellite tracker to equatorial orbit for the U.S. Air Force at 2:04 a.m. EDT on August 26, 2017 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Orbital ATK Minotaur IV rocket description. Credit: Orbital ATK/USAF
Minotaur IV ORS-5 mission patch

Threat Tracking USAF Satellite Launching Nighttime Aug 25 on Cape Debut of Retired ICBM Minotaur Rocket: Watch Live

An Orbital ATK Minotaur IV rocket carrying the ORS-5 USAF surveillance satellite is slated for its maiden liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Station, Florida at 11:15 p.m. EDT on August 25, 2017 on a retired ICBM. Credit: U.S. Air Force/Patrick AFB

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL — A gap filling space surveillance satellite that will track orbiting threats for the U.S. Air Force is set for an thrilling nighttime blastoff Friday, Aug. 25 on the maiden mission of the Minotaur IV rocket from Cape Canaveral that’s powered by a retired Cold War-era ICBM missile – once armed with nuclear warheads.

The ORS-5 satellite will provide the US military with space-based surveillance and tracking of other satellites both friend and foe as well as space debris in geosynchronous orbit, 22,236 miles above the equator.

The Orbital ATK Minotaur IV rocket carrying the ORS-5 tracking satellite for the USAF Operationally Responsive Space Office is targeting liftoff just before midnight Friday at 11:15 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex-46 (SLC-46) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

“We are go for launch of Orbital ATK’s Minotaur IV rocket Friday night,” Orbital ATK confirmed.

The ORS-5 mission, which stands for Operationally Responsive Space-5, marks the first launch of a Minotaur IV rocket from Cape Canaveral and the first use of SLC-46 since 1999.

The Minotaur IV is a five stage rocket comprised of three stages of a decommissioned Cold War-era Peacekeeper Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) that has been modified to add two additional Orbital ATK Orion 38 solid rocket motors for the upper stages.

Being a night launch and the first of its kind will surely make for a spectacular sky show.

Plus if you want to see how the world could potentially end in nuclear catastrophy, come watch the near midnight launch of the Orbital ATK Minotaur IV rocket that’s a retired Peacekeeper ICBM once armed with nuclear warheads aimed at the Russians but now carrying the USAF ORS-5 surveillance satellite instead.

Its well worth your time if you can watch the Minotaur launch with your own eyeballs. It can be easily viewed from numerous local area beaches, parks, restaurants and more.

Minotaur IV rocket stands at pad 46 with the USAF ORS-5 surveillance satellite for its first launch from Cape Canaveral Air Station, Florida on August 25, 2017. Credit: Orbital ATK

Furthermore, its been in a super busy time at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral. Because, if all goes well Friday’s midnight launch will be the third in just 11 days – and the second in a week!

A ULA Atlas V launched the NASA TDRS-M science relay satellite last Friday, Aug 18. And a SpaceX Falcon 9 launched the Dragon CRS-12 cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday, Aug. 14.

You can watch the launch live via the Orbital ATK website here: www.orbitalatk.com

The live Orbital ATK broadcast will begin approximately 20 minutes before the launch window opens.

The webcast will be hosted by former CNN space reporter John Zarrella.

The launch window opens at 11:15 p.m. EDT August 25. It extends for four hours until 3:15 a.m. EDT August 26.

In the event of delay for any reason, the next launch opportunity is Saturday, Aug. 26. The launch window remains the same from 11:15 p.m. EDT August 26 to 3:15 a.m. EDT August 27.

The weather looks somewhat iffy at this time with only a 60% chance of favorable conditions at launch time according to U.S. Air Force meteorologists with the 45th Space Wing Weather Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base. The primary concerns on Aug. 25 are for thick clouds and cumulus clouds.

The weather odds deteriorate to only 40% favorable for the 24 hour scrub turnaround day on Aug. 26. The primary concerns on Aug. 26 are for thick clouds, cumulus clouds and lightning.


The ORS-5 or SensorSat satellite will provide the US military with space-based surveillance and tracking of other satellites both friend and foe and space debris in geosynchronous orbit 22,236 miles above the equator. Credit: MIT Lincoln Laboratory

ORS-5 is like a telescope wrapped in a satellite that will aim up to seek threats from LEO to GEO.

ORS-5, also known as SensorSat, is designed to scan for other satellites and debris to aid the U.S. military’s tracking of objects in geosynchronous orbit for a minimum of three years and possibly longer if its on boards sensor and satellite systems continue functioning in a useful and productive manner.

“The delivery and upcoming launch of ORS-5 marks a significant milestone in fulfilling our commitment to the space situational awareness mission and U.S. Strategic Command,” said Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center and Air Force program executive officer for Space. “It’s an important asset for the warfighter and will be employed for at least three years.”

The ORS-5 satellite has a payload mass of 140 kg. It will be launched into a low inclination equatorial orbit of 600 km x 600 km (373 mi x 373 mi) at zero degrees.

“This will be the largest low-Earth orbit inclination plane change in history – 28.5 degrees latitude to equatorial orbit,” says Orbital ATK.

“The Minotaur IV 4th stage will put ORS-5 into initial orbit & the payload insertion stage will make a hard left to get to equatorial orbit.”

The Cape Canaveral AFB launch site for this Minotaur IV was chosen, rather than NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia based on the final orbit required for ORS-5, Orbital ATK told Universe Today at a prelaunch media briefing.

The Minotaur IV is not powerful enough to deliver ORS-5 to the desired orbit from Wallops.

ORS-5 was designed and built by Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory facility in Lexington, Massachusetts at a cost of $49 million.

In July 2015 the U.S. Air Force’s Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Office awarded Orbital ATK a $23.6 million contract to launch the ORS-5 SensorSat on the Minotaur IV launch vehicle.

ORS-5/SensorSat was processed for launch and encapsulation inside the 2.3 meter diameter payload fairing at Astrotech Space Operations processing facility in Titusville, Florida.

The Minotaur IV is quite similar to Orbital ATK’s Minotaur V launch vehicle which successfully propelled NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter to the Moon for NASA during a night launch from the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia in Sept. 2013.

Launch of NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter on Friday night Sept. 6, 2013 at 11:27 p.m. EDT on the maiden flight of the Minotaur V rocket from NASA Wallops, Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The Minotaur V also utilizes the first three stages of the decommissioned Peacekeeper ICBM missile.

Overall the ORS-5 launch will be the 26th blastoff in Orbital ATK’s Minotaur family of launch vehicles which enjoy a 100% success rate to date.

Gantry doors open to expose Minotaur V rocket launching LADEE lunar orbiter to the Moon on Sept 6, 2013 from Launch Pad 0B at NASA Wallops Island. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The U.S. Air Force has a stockpile of about 180 surplus Peacekeeper motors, but not all are launch capable, the USAF told Universe Today at a prelaunch media briefing.

The USAF furnishes the Peacekeeper motors to Orbital ATK after first refurbishing the booster stages at Vandenberg AFB, Ca.

Orbital ATK then upgrades the stages by adding their own “flight-proven avionics, structures, software and other components that are common among Orbital ATK’s space launch vehicles” and integrating the firms Orion 38 solid rocket motors for the two upper stages.

“A combined government and contractor team of mission partners executed final ground activities including a Launch Base Compatibility Test to verify satellite integrity after shipment, an intersegment test to verify communication compatibility from the satellite to the on-orbit operations center and the final battery reconditioning for launch, prior to its integration with the Minotaur IV launch vehicle,” says the USAF.

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite Minotaur IV ORS-5, TDRS-M, CRS-12, and NASA and space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Minotaur IV ORS-5 Mission Trajectory. Credit: Orbital ATK

………….

Learn more about the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse, upcoming Minotaur IV ORS-5 military launch on Aug. 25, recent ULA Atlas TDRS-M NASA comsat on Aug. 18, 2017 , SpaceX Dragon CRS-12 resupply launch to ISS on Aug. 14, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events at Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL:

Aug 25-26: “2017 Total Solar Eclipse, Minotaur IV ORS-5, TDRS-M NASA comsat, SpaceX CRS-12 resupply launches to the ISS, Intelsat35e, BulgariaSat 1 and NRO Spysat, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew capsules from Boeing and SpaceX , Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, ULA Atlas/John Glenn Cygnus launch to ISS, SBIRS GEO 3 launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, Juno at Jupiter, InSight Mars lander, SpaceX and Orbital ATK cargo missions to the ISS, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, Curiosity and Opportunity explore Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Stacking the 4th stage of the Orbital ATK Minotaur IV rocket in preparation for the August 25, 2017 ORS-5 launch from Space Launch Complex 46, Cape Canaveral Air Station, Florida. Credit: Orbital ATK
Orbital ATK Minotaur IV rocket description. Credit: Orbital ATK/USAF
Minotaur IV ORS-5 mission patch

Air Force’s Secret X-37B Space Plane Lands After 718 Days in Orbit

The Air Force’s secretive X-37B space plane landed at the Kennedy Space Center’s orbiter runway on Sunday, May 7, after spending a record 718 days in orbit. This was the fourth flight of the uncrewed, autonomous military project, and was the first landing for an X-37B at KSC.

“The landing of OTV-4 marks another success for the X-37B program and the nation,” said Lt. Col. Ron Fehlen, X-37B program manager. “This mission once again set an on-orbit endurance record and marks the vehicle’s first landing in the state of Florida. We are incredibly pleased with the performance of the space vehicle and are excited about the data gathered to support the scientific and space communities. We are extremely proud of the dedication and hard work by the entire team.”

The mini space shuttle launched on May 20, 2015 on its somewhat clandestine mission. The launch was well publicized (and shown live on a webcast) but the landing came unannounced, except for the sonic boom that heralded its arrival, surprising those living around the space coast area.

The Air Force revealed before the launch that it would carry an experimental electric propulsion thruster to be tested in orbit and an investigation called Materials Exposure and Technology Innovation in Space (METIS), which exposes sample materials to the space environment and builds on more than ten years of similar research on the International Space Station.

Beyond that, however, what the X-37B did in orbit is not known. The Air Force said in a news release is that mini shuttle is “an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force.” Some experts has said they believe it has intelligence-gathering equipment.

Technicians work on the Air Force X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle 4, which landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida May 7, 2017. Credit: Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs.

Satellite-tracking enthusiasts were able to monitor the ship’s changing orbital height at various times throughout the mission.

The reusable space plane is designed to be launched like a satellite and land on a runway like an airplane and the NASA space shuttles. The 11,000 pound (4990 kg) OTV space plane was built by Boeing and is about a quarter the size of a NASA space shuttle. It was originally developed by NASA but was transferred to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 2004.

Note: In the above video you’ll see a “big” NASA space shuttle sitting near the runway. It is the mockup of a space shuttle that used to be at the entrance of the Kennedy Space Center visitor complex. It is currently being restored.

All four OTV missions launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida and previous missions landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The first OTV mission launched on April 22, 2010, and concluded on Dec. 3, 2010, after 224 days in orbit. The second OTV spent 468 days on orbit, and the third mission was 674 days long.

The Air Force said they are preparing to launch the fifth X-37B mission from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, later in 2017.

Sources: Air Force, Spaceflight Now, US Air Force Twitter.

SpaceX Blasts First Surveillance Satellite to Orbit – Launch and Landing Photo/Video Gallery

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying classified NROL-76 surveillance satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office successfully launches shortly after sunrise from Launch Complex 39A on 1 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 1st stage accomplished successful ground landing at the Cape nine minutes later. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – This week SpaceX blasted their first top secret surveillance satellite to orbit for America’s spy chiefs at National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) – affording magnificent viewing and imagery from the Florida Space Coast. Updated with more photos/videos – plus distinctly hear the sonic booms from pad 39A sending birds fleeing!

Liftoff of the classified NROL-76 payload for the NRO occurred soon after sunrise Monday morning, May 1, at 7:15 a.m. EDT (1115 GMT), from SpaceX’s seaside Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Less than nine minutes later, Space engineers managed to again recover the 15 story tall first stage booster by accomplishing a precise ground landing by perfectly targeting the vehicle for a propulsive soft landing at Cape Canaveral several miles south of the launch pad.

Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 delivering NROL-76 spy satellite to orbit on 1 May 2017 for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office. Credit: Julian Leek

The stunning events were captured by journalists and tourists gathered from around the globe to witness history in the making with their own eyeballs.

Check out this expanding gallery of eyepopping photos and videos from several space journalist colleagues and friends and myself – for views you won’t see elsewhere.

Click back as the gallery grows !

Landing legs unfurl and lock in place mere seconds before soft landing via propulsive firing of SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster engines at Landing Zone 1 on Canaveral Air Force Station only 9 minutes after launch from pad 39A on 1 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida as seen from Exploration Tower at Port Canaveral, FL. Credit: Dawn Leek

The milestone SpaceX mission to launch the first satellite in support of US national defense was apparently a complete success.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying classified NROL-76 surveillance satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office successfully launches shortly after sunrise from Launch Complex 39A on 1 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 1st stage accomplished successful ground landing at the Cape nine minutes later. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
Up close view of engine exhaust flames whipping around SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster during propulsive descent Merlin 1 D engines fire with 4 grid fins deployed after successful NROL-76 spysat launch for the NRO on 1 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 1st stage descent culminated seconds later in successful ground landing at the Cape’s LZ-1 nine minutes later. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
Flames whip around booster darting in and out of clouds during propulsive descent of the SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage firing Merlin 1 D engines with 4 grid fins deployed after successful NROL-76 spysat launch for the NRO on 1 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 1st stage descent culminated seconds later in successful ground landing at the Cape’s LZ-1 nine minutes later. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Check out these exquisite videos from a wide variety of vantage points including remote cameras at the pad, Cape Canaveral media viewing site and public viewing locations off base.

Video Caption: SpaceX Falcon 9 liftoff with NROL-76 on 1 May 2017. This is the first launch of an NRO satellite on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and the 4th launch from Pad 39A this year. Credit: Jeff Seibert

In this cool video you can distinctly hear the Falcon 9 sonic booms eminating at LZ-1 from pad 39A sending birds fleeing aflutter in fright!

Video Caption: Falcon 9 sonic booms heard from Pad 39A. These two cameras recorded the launch of the NROL-76 satellite at https://youtu.be/kkKTe_61jk0
Nine minutes after launch, they recorded the sonic booms caused by the booster landing at LZ-1, 9.5 miles south of Launch Pad 39A on 1 May 2017. Credit: Jeff Seibert

Video Caption: SpaceX Launch and Best Landing – NROL76 05-01-2017. Best landing for spectators. Watch the nitrogen thruster’s steer the 16 story booster. Hear double sonic boom at the end. Audio is delayed from podcast. We can not match SpaceX and NASA tracking telescope coverage. Was really awesome for all who witnessed. Credit: USLaunchReport

NROL-76 marks the fifth SpaceX launch of 2017 and the fourth from pad 39A.

The NRO is a joint Department of Defense–Intelligence Community organization responsible for developing, launching, and operating America’s intelligence satellites to meet the national security needs of our nation, according to the NRO.

SpaceX Falcon 9 begins to deploy quartet of landing legs spreading out from the top down mere moments before precision propulsive ground touchdown at Landing Zone 1 on Canaveral Air Force Station barely nine minutes after liftoff from Launch Complex 39A on 1 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 deploys quartet of landing legs moments before precision propulsive ground touchdown at Landing Zone 1 on Canaveral Air Force Station barely nine minutes after liftoff from Launch Complex 39A on 1 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 deploys quartet of landing legs moments before precision propulsive ground touchdown at Landing Zone 1 on Canaveral Air Force Station barely nine minutes after liftoff from Launch Complex 39A on 1 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s continuing coverage direct from onsite at the Kennedy Space Center press site and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying classified NROL-76 surveillance satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office successfully launches shortly after sunrise from Launch Complex 39A on 1 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 1st stage accomplished successful ground landing at the Cape nine minutes later. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 delivering NROL-76 spy satellite to orbit on 1 May 2017 for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office. Credit: Julian Leek
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying classified NROL-76 surveillance satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office stands raised erect poised for sunrise liftoff from Launch Complex 39A on 30 April 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

SpaceX Stages Stupendous NRO Spysat Sunrise Liftoff and Land Landing

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying classified NROL-76 surveillance satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office successfully launches shortly after sunrise from Launch Complex 39A on 1 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 1st stage accomplished successful ground landing at the Cape nine minutes later. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – SpaceX today staged the stupendously successful Falcon 9 rocket launch at sunrise of a mysterious spy satellite in support of U.S. national defense for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) while simultaneously accomplishing a breathtaking pinpoint land landing of the boosters first stage that could eventually dramatically drive down the high costs of spaceflight.

Liftoff of the classified NROL-76 payload for the NRO took place shortly after sunrise this morning, Monday, May 1, at 7:15 a.m. EDT (1115 GMT), from SpaceX’s seaside Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The weather was near perfect and afforded a spectacular sky show for all those who descended on the Florida Space Coast for an up close eyewitness view of the rockets rumbling thunder.

The rocket roared off pad 39A after ignition of the nine Merlin 1D first stage engines generated some 1.7 million pounds of thrust.

The Falcon sped skyward darting in and out of wispy white clouds and appeared to head in a northeasterly direction from the space coast.

“A National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) payload was successfully launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A), Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Florida, at 7:15 a.m. EDT, on May 1, 2017,” the NRO said in a post launch statement.

“Thanks to the SpaceX team for the great ride, and for the terrific teamwork and commitment they demonstrated throughout. They were an integral part of our government/industry team for this mission, and proved themselves to be a great partner,” said Betty Sapp, Director of the National Reconnaissance Office.

The launch of the two stage 229 foot tall Falcon 9 was postponed a day after a last moment scrub was suddenly called on Sunday by the launch director at just about T minus 52 seconds due to a sensor issue in the first stage.

SpaceX engineers were clearly able to fully resolve the issue in time for today’s second launch attempt of the super secret NROL-76 for the NRO customer.

Barely nine minutes after the launch, the 156 foot tall first stage of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket made an incredibly precise and thrilling soft touchdown on land at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Landing Zone 1, located a few miles south of launch pad 39A.

SpaceX Falcon 9 deploys quartet of landing legs moments before precision propulsive ground touchdown at Landing Zone 1 on Canaveral Air Force Station barely nine minutes after liftoff from Launch Complex 39A on 1 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The quartet of landing legs attached to the base of the first stage deployed only moments before touchdown – as can be seen in my eyewitness photos herein.

Multiple sonic booms screamed across the space coast as the 15 story first stage plummeted back to Earth and propulsively slowed down to pass though the sound barrier and safely came to rest fully upright.

This counts as SpaceX’s first ever launch of a top secret US surveillance satellite. It also counts as the fourth time SpaceX landed a first stage fully intact on the ground.

As is typical for NRO missions, nothing is publically known about the satellite nor has the NRO released any details about this mission in support of national security other than the launch window.

SpaceX Falcon 9 deploys quartet of landing legs moments before precision propulsive ground touchdown at Landing Zone 1 on Canaveral Air Force Station barely nine minutes after liftoff from Launch Complex 39A on 1 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Overall SpaceX has now recovered 10 first stages via either land or at sea on an oceangoing platform.

NROL-76 marks the fifth SpaceX launch of 2017 and the 33rd flight of a Falcon 9.

Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 delivering NROL-76 spy satellite to orbit on 1 May 2017 for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office. Credit: Julian Leek

NROL-76 is the second of five launches slated for the NRO in 2017. The next NRO launch is on schedule for August 14 from Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB), California by competitor ULA.

Until now launch competitor United Launch Alliance (ULA) and its predecessors have held a virtual monopoly on the US military’s most critical satellite launches.

The NRO is a joint Department of Defense–Intelligence Community organization responsible for developing, launching, and operating America’s intelligence satellites to meet the national security needs of our nation, according to the NRO.

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite launch reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying classified NROL-76 surveillance satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office stands raised erect poised for sunrise liftoff from Launch Complex 39A on 1 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Surveillance Sat Set for Sunday Sunrise SpaceX Blastoff and Landing Apr. 30 – Watch Live

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying classified NROL-76 surveillance satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office stands raised erect poised for sunrise liftoff from Launch Complex 39A on 30 April 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – A classified surveillance for the nation’s spymasters is set for blastoff shortly after sunrise on Sunday, Apr. 30 by SpaceX in a space first by the firm founded by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk that also features a ground landing attempt by the booster. Update: Scrub reset to May 1

Liftoff of the still mysterious NROL-76 classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, or NRO, is slated Sunday morning, April 30 from SpaceX’s seaside Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Falcon 9 rocket and NROL-76 payload have been mated and rolled about a quarter mile up the ramp at pad 39A.

The 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9/NROL-76 were raised erect this morning, Saturday, April 29 and are poised for liftoff and undergoing final prelaunch preparations.

The breakfast time launch window on Sunday, April 30 opens at 7 a.m. EDT (1100 GMT). It extends for two hours until 9.a.m. EDT.

#NROL76 will carry a classified payload designed, built and operated by @NatReconOfc. @SpaceX @45thSpaceWing. Credit: NRO

The exact time of the spy satellite launch within the two hour window is classified at less than T Minus one day.

Spectators have been gathering from across the globe to witness the exciting launch and landing and area hotels are filling up.

A brand new Falcon 9 is being used for the launch unlike the recycled rocket utilized for the prior launch of the SES-10 mission involving history’s first reflown orbit class booster.

As is typical for NRO missions, nothing is publicly known about the satellite nor has the NRO released any details about this mission in support of national security other than the launch window.

We also know that this is the first launch of a spy satellite for the US governments super secret NRO spy agency by SpaceX and a source of pride for Musk and all SpaceX employees.

However you can watch the launch live on a SpaceX dedicated webcast starting about 20 minutes prior to the 7:00 am EDT opening of the window.

Watch the SpaceX broadcast live at: SpaceX.com/webcast

As is customary for all national security launches live coverage of the launch will cease approximately five minutes after liftoff as the secret payload makes it way to orbit.

However, SpaceX will continue their live webcast with complete coverage of the ground landing attempt back at the Cape which is a secondary objective of the launch.

#NROL76 Mission Patch depicts Lewis & Clark heading into the great unknown to discover and explore the newly purchased Louisiana Territory. Launch slated for 30 April 2017 from KSC pad 39A. Credit: NRO

Everything is on track for Sunday’s launch of the 229 foot tall SpaceX Falcon 9 on the NRO launch of NROL-76.

And the weather looks promising at this time.

Sunday’s weather outlook is currently forecasting an 80% chance of favorable conditions at launch time. The concerns are for cumulus clouds according to Air Force meteorologists with the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying classified NROL-76 surveillance satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office stands raised erect poised for sunrise liftoff from Launch Complex 39A on 30 April 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

In case of a scrub for any reason on April 30, the backup launch opportunity Monday, May 1.

The path to launch was paved following a successful static hotfire test of the first stage booster on pad 39A which took place shortly after 3 p.m. Tuesday, April 25, as I reported here.

SpaceX conducts successful static hot fire test of Falcon 9 booster atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 25 Apr. 2017 as seen from Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Titusville, FL. The Falcon 9 is slated to launch the NROL-76 super secret spy satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) on 30 April 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Until now launch competitor United Launch Alliance (ULA) and its predecessors have held a virtual monoploy on the US military’s most critical satellite launches.

The last first stage booster during the SES-10 launch of the first recycled rocket landed on a droneship barge at sea last month.

SpaceX will also attempt to achieve the secondary mission goal of landing the 156 foot tall first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket on land at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Landing Zone 1, located a few miles south of launch pad 39A.

This counts as the fourth time SpaceX will attempt a dramatic land landing potentially visible to hundreds of thousands of locals and tourists.

NROL-76 will be the fifth SpaceX launch of 2017.

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite launch reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

SpaceX to Launch 1st NRO SpySat Sunday after Static Fire Success

SpaceX conducts successful static hot fire test of Falcon 9 booster atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 25 Apr. 2017 as seen from Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Titusville, FL. The Falcon 9 is slated to launch the NROL-76 super secret spy satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) on 30 April 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

MERRITT ISLAND NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, FL – Elon Musk’s SpaceX is primed for another significant space first; the firms first launch of a spy satellite for the US governments super secret spy agency; the National Reconnaissance Office, or NRO – following today’s successful static hotfire test of the Falcon 9 launchers first stage booster.

Tuesday’s hotfire test to took place shortly after 3 p.m. this afternoon, April 25, at SpaceX’s seaside Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The successful test paves the path for launch of the NROL-76 classified payload for the NRO atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket this Sunday morning, April 30 from pad 39A.

“Static fire test complete,” SpaceX confirmed via social media just minutes after finishing the brief test at 3:02 p.m. EDT (1902 GMT).

“Targeting Falcon 9 launch of NROL-76 on Sunday, April 30.”

The engine test is conducted using only the first two stages of the rocket – minus the expensive payload in case anything goes wrong as like occurred during the catastrophic AMOS-6 static fire disaster last September.

The test is routinely done so that SpaceX engineers can confirm the readiness of the rocket and all its systems to safely and successfully launch the specified payload to its intended orbit.

Furthermore this launch is also notable because it features the next land landing by a SpaceX Falcon 9 first booster back at the Cape for only the fourth time in history – which also makes for an extremely thrilling experience – and unforgettable space enthusiasts event.

So by all means try to witness this launch from the Florida Space Coast in person, if at all possible.

The breakfast time launch window on Sunday, April 30 opens at 7 a.m. EDT. It extends for two hours until 9.a.m. EDT.

The long range weather outlook currently looks favorable with lots of sun and little rain. But that can change on a moment’s notice in the sunshine state.

The brief engine test lasting approximately three seconds took place at 3:02 p.m. today, Tuesday, April 25, with the sudden eruption of smoke and ash rushing out the flame trench to the north and into the air over historic pad 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center during a picture perfect sunny afternoon – as I witnessed from the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Titusville, FL.

SpaceX conducts successful static hot fire test of Falcon 9 booster atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 25 Apr. 2017 as seen from Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Titusville, FL. The Falcon 9 is slated to launch the NROL-76 super secret spy satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) on 30 April 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

During today’s static fire test, the rocket’s first and second stages are fueled with densified liquid oxygen and RP-1 propellants like an actual launch, and a simulated countdown is carried out to the point of a brief engine ignition with the rocket firmly clamped down and held in place.

The hold down engine test with the erected rocket involved the ignition of all nine Merlin 1D first stage engines generating some 1.7 million pounds of thrust at pad 39A while the two stage rocket was restrained on the pad.

This is only the fourth Falcon 9 static fire test ever conducted on Pad 39A.

Pad 39A has been repurposed by SpaceX from its days as a NASA shuttle launch pad.

Watch this video of the April 25 static fire test from colleague Jeff Seibert:



Video Caption: Static fire test of the Falcon 9 core in preparation for NROL-76 launch scheduled for April 30, 2017. A Falcon 9 booster undergoes a captive static fire test as a step in the launch preparation for the first dedicated NRO launch by SpaceX. Credit: Jeff Seibert

Following the engine test, the propellants are drained and the rocket is rolled off the pad and back into the huge SpaceX processing hanger at the pad perimeter.

The NROL-76 classified surveillance satellite will be bolted on top. The rocket will be rolled back to pad 39A in advance of Sunday’s planned blastoff.

SpaceX conducts successful static hot fire test of Falcon 9 booster atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 25 Apr. 2017 as seen from Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Titusville, FL. The Falcon 9 is slated to launch the NROL-76 super secret spy satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) on 30 April 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Until now launch competitor United Launch Alliance (ULA) and its predecessors have held a virtual monoploy on the US military’s most critical satellite launches.

Worlds 1st ever reflown SpaceX Falcon 9 soars to orbit with SES-10 telecomsat from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 6:27 p.m. EDT on March 30, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The last first stage booster during the SES-10 launch of the first recycled rocket landed on a droneship barge at sea last month.

NROL-76 will be the fifth SpaceX launch of 2017.

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite launch reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Nighttime Delta IV Blastoff Powers Military Comsat to Orbit for U.S. Allies: Photo/Video Gallery

Blastoff of ULA Delta IV rocket carrying the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS-9) comsat to orbit for the U.S. Air Force from Space Launch Complex-37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on Mar. 18, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – The second round of March Launch Madness continued with the thunderous nighttime blastoff of a ULA Delta IV rocket powering a super swift military communications satellite to orbit in a collaborative effort of U.S. Allies from North America, Europe and Asia and the U.S. Air Force.

The next generation Wideband Global SATCOM-9 (WGS-9) military comsat mission for the U.S. Force lifted off atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV from Space Launch Complex-37 (SLC-37) on Saturday, March 18 at 8:18 p.m. EDT at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Check out this expanding gallery of spectacular launch photos and videos gathered from my space journalist colleagues, myself and spectators ringing the space coast under crystal clear early evening skies.

A key feature in this advanced Block II series WGS satellite is inclusion of the upgraded digital channelizer that nearly doubles the available bandwidth of earlier satellites in the series.

WGS-9 can filter and downlink up to 8.088 GHz of bandwidth compared to 4.410 GHz for earlier WGS satellites. It supports communications links in the X-band and Ka-band spectra.

ULA Delta IV rocket streaks to orbit carrying WGS-9 tactical communications satellite for the U.S. Air Force and international partners from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, at 8:18 p.m. EDT on Mar. 18, 2017. Credit: Julian Leek

Note that Round 3 of March Launch Madness is tentatively slated for March 29 with the SpaceX liftoff of the first ever reused Falcon 9 first stage from historic pad 39 on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

The WGS-9 satellite was paid for by a six nation consortium that includes Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United States. It joins 8 earlier WGS satellites already in orbit.

The partnership was created back in 2012 when the ‘WGS-9 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)’ was signed by Defense organizations of the six countries.

The WGS-9 MOU agreement to fund the satellite enabled the expansion of the WGS system with this additional satellite added to the existing WGS constellation.

“The agreement provides all signatories with assured access to global wideband satellite communications for military use,” according to the US Air Force.

Watch this launch video compilation from Jeff Seibert:

Video Caption: Launch of WGS-9 satellite continues USAF Breaking Barriers heritage. This ULA Delta 4 launch of the WGS-9 satellite on Mar 18, 2017 marks the start of the 70th anniversary of the United States Air Force. That was also the year that U.S. Air Force Captain Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier. Credit: Jeff Seibert

Watch this launch video from Ken Kremer:

Video Caption: ULA/USAF Delta IV launch of Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS-9) from pad 37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on 18 Mar. 2017 – as seen in this remote video taken at the pad. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

WGS-9 was built by Boeing.

The 217 foot tall Delta IV Medium+ rocket launched in the 5,4 configuration with a 5 meter diameter payload fairing that stands 47 feet tall, and 4 solid rocket boosters to augment the first stage thrust of the single common core booster.

The payload fairing was emblazoned with decals commemorating the 70th anniversary of the USAF, as well as Air Force, mission and ULA logos.

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS-9) mission for the U.S. Air Force launches at 8:18 p.m. EDT on Mar. 18, 2017 from Space Launch Complex-37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl – reflecting beautifully in the pad pond. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Blastoff of ULA Delta IV rocket carrying the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS-9) comsat to orbit for the U.S. Air Force from Space Launch Complex-37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on Mar. 18, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Orbital ATK manufactures the four solid rocket motors. The Delta IV common booster core was powered by an RS-68A liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine producing 705,250 pounds of thrust at sea level.
A single RL10B-2 liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine powered the second stage, known as the Delta Cryogenic Second Stage (DCSS).

The booster and upper stage engines are both built by Aerojet Rocketdyne. ULA constructed the Delta IV Medium+ (5,4) launch vehicle in Decatur, Alabama.

Launch of USAF WGS-8 milsatcom on ULA Delta IV rocket from pad 37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on Mar. 18, 2017. Credit: Julian Leek

The DCSS will also serve as the upper stage for the maiden launch of NASA heavy lift SLS booster on the SLS-1 launch slated for late 2018. That DCSS/SLS-1 upper stage just arrived at the Cape last week – as I witnessed and reported here.

Saturday’s launch marks ULA’s 3rd launch in 2017 and the 118th successful launch since the company was formed in December 2006 as a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Blastoff of ULA Delta IV rocket carrying the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS-9) comsat to orbit for the U.S. Air Force from Space Launch Complex-37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on Mar. 18, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Launch of USAF WGS-8 milsatcom on ULA Delta IV rocket from pad 37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on Mar. 18, 2017. Dawn Leek Taylor
Two AF Generals and a Delta! Major General David D. Thompson, Vice Commander Air Force Space Command, Peterson Air Force Base, CO, and Brig. Gen. Wayne R. Monteith, Commander of the 45th Space Wing Commander and Eastern Range Director at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla, celebrate successful Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS-9) launch for the U.S. Air Force on ULA Delta IV from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on Mar. 18, 2017, with the media gaggle on base post launch with Delta pad 37 in background right. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Liftoff of ULA Delta IV with WGS-9 milsatcom on Mar 18, 2017 as seen soaring above the pool at the Quality Inn Kennedy Space Center in Titusville, FL. Credit: Wesley Baskin
Eerie view of ULA Delta IV blastoff of WGS-9 milsatcom on Mar 18, 2017 as seen soaring over residential area in Titusville, FL. Credit: Melissa Bayles
ULA Delta IV rocket prior to blastoff with the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS-9) mission for the U.S. Air Force from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on Mar. 18, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
ULA Delta IV blastoff of WGS-9 satcom on Mar 18, 2017 from Cape Canaveral AFS with long vapor exhaust trail as seen roaring over residential area in Titusville, FL. Credit: Ashley Carrillo
ULA Delta IV blastoff of WGS-9 satcom on Mar 18, 2017 from Cape Canaveral AFS with long vapor exhaust trail as seen roaring over residential area in Titusville, FL. Credit: Ashley Carrillo
ULA Delta IV blastoff of WGS-9 satcom on Mar 18, 2017 from Cape Canaveral AFS with long vapor exhaust trail as seen roaring over residential area in Titusville, FL. Credit: Ashley Carrillo
ULA Delta IV blastoff of WGS-9 satcom on Mar 18, 2017 from Cape Canaveral AFS with long vapor exhaust trail as seen roaring over residential area in Titusville, FL. Credit: Ashley Carrillo