Stairway to Heaven! – Boeing Starliner Crew Access Arm’s ‘Awesome’ Launch Pad Installation

A crane lifts the Crew Access Arm and White Room for Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft for mating to the Crew Access Tower at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41.  Astronauts will walk through the arm to board the Starliner spacecraft stacked atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A crane lifts the Crew Access Arm and White Room for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft for mating to the Crew Access Tower at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 on Aug. 15, 2016. Astronauts will walk through the arm to board the Starliner spacecraft stacked atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL — A new ‘Stairway to Heaven’ which American astronauts will soon stride along as “the last place on Earth” departure point aboard our next generation of human spaceships, was at long last hoisted into place at the ULA Atlas rocket launch pad on Florida’s Space Coast on Monday Aug 15, at an “awesome” media event witnessed by space journalists including Universe Today.

“This is awesome,” Chris Ferguson, a former shuttle commander who is now Boeing’s deputy program manager for the company’s Commercial Crew Program told Universe Today in an exclusive interview at the launch pad – after workers finished installing the spanking new Crew Access Arm walkway for astronauts leading to the hatch of Boeing’s Starliner ‘Space Taxi.’

Starliner will ferry crews to and from the International Space Station (ISS) as soon as 2018.

“It’s great to see the arm up there,” Ferguson elaborated to Universe Today. “I know it’s probably a small part of the overall access tower. But it’s the most significant part!”

“We used to joke about the 195 foot level on the shuttle pad as being ‘the last place on Earth.”

“This will now be the new ‘last place on Earth’! So we are pretty charged up about it!” Ferguson gushed.

Up close view of Boeing Starliner Crew Access Arm and White Room craned into place at Crew Access Tower at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 on Aug. 15, 2016.   Credit: Dawn Leek Taylor
Up close view of Boeing Starliner Crew Access Arm and White Room craned into place at Crew Access Tower at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 on Aug. 15, 2016. Credit: Dawn Leek Taylor

Under hot sunny skies portending the upcoming restoration of America’s ability to once again launch American astronauts from American soil when American rockets ignite, the newly constructed 50-foot-long, 90,000-pound ‘Crew Access Arm and White Room’ was lifted and mated to the newly built ‘Crew Access Tower’ at Space Launch Complex-41 (SLC-41) on Monday morning, Aug. 15.

“We talked about how the skyline is changing here and this is one of the more visible changes.”

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner crew capsule stacked atop the venerable United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket at pad 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida will launch crews to the massive orbiting science outpost continuously soaring some 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.

Space workers, enthusiasts and dreamers alike have been waiting years for this momentous day to happen. And I was thrilled to observe all the action firsthand along with the people who made it happen from NASA, United Launch Alliance, Boeing, the contractors – as well as to experience it with my space media colleagues.

“All the elements that we talked about the last few years are now reality,” Ferguson told me.

The Crew Access Arm and White Room for Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft approaches the notch for mating to the Crew Access Tower at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 at level 13 on Aug. 15, 2016, as workers observe from upper tower level.  Astronauts will walk through the arm to board the Starliner spacecraft stacked atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The Crew Access Arm and White Room for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft approaches the notch for mating to the Crew Access Tower at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 at level 13 on Aug. 15, 2016, as workers observe from upper tower level. Astronauts will walk through the arm to board the Starliner spacecraft stacked atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Attaching the access arm is vital and visual proof that at long last America means business and that a renaissance in human spaceflight will commence in some 18 months or less when commercially built American crew capsules from Boeing and SpaceX take flight to the heavens above – and a new space era of regular, robust and lower cost space flights begins.

It took about an hour for workers to delicately hoist the gleaming grey steel and aluminum white ‘Stairway to Heaven’ by crane into place at the top of the tower – at one of the busiest launch pads in the world!

It’s about 130 feet above the pad surface since it’s located at the 13th level of the tower.

The install work began at about 7:30 a.m. EDT as we watched a work crew lower a giant grappling hook and attach cables. Then they carefully raised the arm off the launch pad surface by crane. The arm had been trucked to the launch pad on Aug. 11.

The tower itself is comprised of segmented tiers that were built in segments just south of the pad. They were stacked on the pad over the past few months – in between launches. Altogether they form a nearly 200-foot-tall steel structure.

Another crew stationed in the tower about 160 feet above ground waited as the arm was delicately craned into the designated notch. The workers then spent several more hours methodically bolting and welding the arm to the tower to finish the assembly process.

Indeed Monday’s installation of the Crew Access Arm and White Room at pad 41 basically completes the construction of the first new Crew Access Tower at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station since the Apollo moon landing era of the 1960s.

“It is the first new crew access structure at the Florida spaceport since the space shuttle’s Fixed Service Structures were put in place before Columbia’s first flight in 1981,” say NASA officials.

Overall the steel frame of the massive tower weighs over a million pounds. For perspective, destination ISS now weighs in at about a million pounds in low Earth orbit.

Construction of the tower began about 18 months ago.

“You think about when we started building this 18 months ago and now it’s one of the most visible changes to the Cape’s horizon since the 1960s,” said Ferguson at Monday’s momentous media event. “It’s a fantastic day.”

The White Room is an enclosed area at the end of the Crew Access Arm. It big enough for astronauts to make final adjustments to their suits and is spacious enough for technicians to assist the astronauts climbing aboard the spacecraft and get tucked into their seats in the final hours before liftoff.

“You have to stop and celebrate these moments in the craziness of all the things we do,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, at the event. “It’s going to be so cool when our astronauts are walking out across this access arm to get on the spacecraft and go to the space station.”

The Crew Access Arm was built by Saur at NASA’s nearby off site facility at Oak Hill.

And when Starliner takes flight it will hearken back to the dawn of the Space Age.

“John Glenn was the first to fly on an Atlas, now our next leap into the future will be to have astronauts launch from here on Atlas V,” said Barb Egan, program manager for Commercial Crew for ULA.

Boeing is manufacturing Starliner in what is officially known as Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida under contract with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

Hull of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner Structural Test Article (STA)- the first Starliner to be built in the company’s modernized Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Hull of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner Structural Test Article (STA)- the first Starliner to be built in the company’s modernized Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The Boeing CST 100 Starliner is one of two private astronaut capsules – along with the SpaceX Crew Dragon – being developed under a CCP commercial partnership contract with NASA to end our sole reliance on Russia for crew launches back and forth to the International Space Station (ISS).

The goal of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program since its inception in 2010 is to restore America’s capability to launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil to the ISS, as soon as possible.

Furthermore when the Boeing Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon become operational the permanent resident ISS crew will grow to 7 – enabling a doubling of science output aboard the science laboratory.

This significant growth in research capabilities will invaluably assist NASA in testing technologies and human endurance in its agency wide goal of sending humans on a ‘Journey to Mars’ by the 2030s with the mammoth Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion deep space capsule concurrently under full scale development by the agency.

The next key SLS milestone is a trest firing of the RS-25 main engines at NASA Stennis this Thursday, Aug. 18 – watch for my onsite reports!

Boeing was awarded a $4.2 Billion contract in September 2014 by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden to complete development and manufacture of the CST-100 Starliner space taxi under the agency’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) program and NASA’s Launch America initiative.

Since the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle program in 2011, the US was been 100% dependent on the Russian Soyuz capsule for astronauts rides to the ISS at a cost exceeding $70 million per seat.

When will Ferguson actually set foot inside the walkway?

“I am hoping to get up there and walk through there in a couple of weeks or so when it’s all strapped in and done. I want to see how they are doing and walk around.”

How does the White Room fit around Starliner and keep it climate controlled?

“The end of the white room has a part that slides up and down and moves over and slides on top of the spacecraft when it’s in place.”

“There is an inflatable seal that forms the final seal to the spacecraft so that you have all the appropriate humidity control and the purge without the Florida atmosphere inside the crew module,” Ferguson replied.

Up close, mid-air view of Crew Access Tower and front of White Room during installation.  The White Room will fit snugly against Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft with inflatable seal to maintain climate control and clean conditions as astronauts board capsule atop Atlas rocket hours before launch on  United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Up close, mid-air view of Crew Access Arm and front of White Room during installation. The White Room will fit snugly against Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft with inflatable seal to maintain climate control and clean conditions as astronauts board capsule atop Atlas rocket hours before launch on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Boeing and NASA are targeting Feb. 2018 for launch of the first crewed orbital test flight on the Atlas V rocket. The Atlas will be augmented with two solid rocket motors on the first stage and a dual engine Centaur upper stage.

How confident is Ferguson about meeting the 2018 launch target?

“The first crew flight is scheduled for February 2018. I am confident.” Ferguson responded.

“And we have a lot of qualification to get through between now and then. But barring any large unforeseen issues we can make it.”

The Crew Access Tower after installation of the Crew Access Arm and White Room for Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft on Aug. 15, 2016 at Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The Crew Access Tower after installation of the Crew Access Arm and White Room for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft on Aug. 15, 2016 at Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

Ken Kremer

As the Boeing Starliner Crew Access Arm and White Room are bolted into place behind us at Space Launch Complex 41, Chris Ferguson, former shuttle commander and current Boeing deputy program manager for Commercial Crew, and Ken Kremer of Universe Today discuss the details and future of human spaceflight on Aug. 15, 2016 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.  Credit: Jeff Seibert
As the Boeing Starliner Crew Access Arm and White Room are bolted into place behind us at Space Launch Complex 41, Chris Ferguson, former shuttle commander and current Boeing deputy program manager for Commercial Crew, and Ken Kremer of Universe Today discuss the future of human spaceflight on Aug. 15, 2016 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Credit: Jeff Seibert

Top Secret NRO SpySat Set for Brilliant Breakfast Blastoff July 28 – Watch Live

A ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the NROL-61 satellite is poised for blastoff from the pad at Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 28, 2016.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the NROL-61 satellite is poised for blastoff from the pad at Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 28, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL — The nation’s newest surveillance satellite is all set for a brilliant breakfast blastoff on Thursday July 28 atop a powerful Atlas V rocket from the Florida Space Coast – and both the booster and weather are in excellent shape at this time!

The goal is carry the top secret NROL-61 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) to an undisclosed orbit which in support of US national defense and vital to US national security.

The NROL-61 mission is set to lift off on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket on Thursday morning July 28 from Space Launch Comple-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

In an uncommon move, ULA and the military have announced the launch time is 8:37 a.m. EDT.

Virtually everything about the clandestine payload, its mission, purpose and goals are classified top secret.

The NRO is the government agency that runs a vast fleet of powerful orbital assets hosting a multitude of the most advanced, wide ranging and top secret capabilities.

The most recent NRO payload, known as NROL 37, was just launched by ULA last month on their Delta IV Heavy – the most powerful rocket in the world on June 11 – read my story here.

The excitement is building with the launch just a day away and visitors are checking into local area hotels hoping for a magnificent show from the venerable Atlas rocket with a perfect record of launch performance.

ULA managers completed the Launch Readiness Review and everything “is on track for launch.”

So you can now plan your day and watch Thursday’s launch live via a ULA broadcast which starts 20 minutes prior to the given launch time at 8:17 a.m. EDT.

Webcast links: http://bit.ly/nrol61

Or: www.youtube.com/unitedlaunchalliance

Better yet if you are free and mobile you can watch this truly impressive feat with your own eyes by making your way to the many excellent viewing locations surrounding Cape Canaveral in every direction.

Here’s the rather cool ULA mission art with a webcast link.

ULA Webcast info for launch of Atlas V NROL-61 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) on July 28, 2016.  Credit: ULA/NRO
ULA Webcast info for launch of Atlas V NROL-61 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) on July 28, 2016. Credit: ULA/NRO

The NROL-61 patch depicts a green lizard, Spike, riding an Atlas V launch vehicle from the Cape Canaveral AFS. Spike was chosen as the mission mascot.

Mission artwork for Atlas V NROL-61 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) is painted on nose cone of Atlas V rocket and depicts a green lizard, Spike, riding an Atlas V  launch vehicle.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Mission artwork for Atlas V NROL-61 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) is painted on nose cone of Atlas V rocket and depicts a green lizard, Spike, riding an Atlas V launch vehicle. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The Florida weather outlook is looking quite promising at this time rather favorable. Air Force meteorologists are predicting an 80 percent chance of ‘GO’ with favorable weather conditions for Thursdays breakfast time blastoff.

The primary weather concern is for Cumulus Clouds.

In the event of a scrub delay for any reason, a backup launch opportunity exists on Friday, July 29. The weather odds are the same at 80% GO!

The rocket should put on a spectacular sky show since it is equipped with a pair of powerful solid rocket boosters spewing fire and an expanding plume of smoke and ash as is soars to orbit!

The Atlas rocket and payload were rolled put to launch pad 41 as planned Tuesday morning, July 26 – for a distance of about 1800 feet from the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) where the rocket and payload were assembled, out to the pad.

It is now visibly erect at the pad from a number of viewing locations including Titusville and Playalinda Beach – positioned in between four lightning masts for protection from lightening.

Here’s a detailed mission profile video describing the launch events:

The NROL-61 mission counts as ULA’s sixth launch of 2016 and the 109th overall since the company was founded in 2006.

A ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the NROL-61 satellite is poised for blastoff from the pad at Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 28, 2016.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the NROL-61 satellite is poised for blastoff from the pad at Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 28, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The 20 story tall Atlas V will launch in its 421 configuration – the same as what will be used for manned launches with the crewed Boeing ‘Starliner’ space taxi carrying astronaut crews to the International Space Station.

This will be the sixth Atlas V to launch in the 421 configuration.

The Atlas 421 vehicle includes a 4-meter diameter payload fairing and two solid rocket boosters that augment the first stage. 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-1 engine.

The RD-180 burns RP-1 (Rocket Propellant-1 or highly purified kerosene) and liquid oxygen and delivers 860,200 lb of thrust at sea level.

The strap on solids deliver approximately 500,000 pounds of thrust.

The solids will be jettisoned about 2 minutes after liftoff

The possible roles for the reconnaissance payload include signals intelligence, eavesdropping, imaging and spectroscopic observations, early missile warnings and much more.

The NRO was formed in response to the Soviet launch of Sputnik and secretly created on September 6, 1961.

“The purpose is overseeing all satellite and overflight reconnaissance projects whether overt or covert. The existence of the organization is no longer classified today, but we’re still pressing to perform the functions necessary to keep American citizens safe,” according to the official NRO website.

Watch for Ken’s continuing on site reports direct from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the Kennedy Space Center and the ULA Atlas launch pad.

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

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about SLS and Orion crew vehicle, SpaceX CRS-9 rocket launch, ISS, ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, Juno at Jupiter, Orbital ATK Antares & Cygnus, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

July 27-28: “ULA Atlas V NRO Spysat launch July 28, SpaceX launch to ISS on CRS-9, SLS, Orion, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy NRO spy satellite, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Spectacular Launch of Most Powerful Atlas Completes Constellation of Navy’s Advanced Tactical Comsats – Gallery

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the MUOS-5  mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41 at 10:30 a.m. EDT.  Credit:  United Launch Alliance
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the MUOS-5 mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41 at 10:30 a.m. EDT on June 24, 2016. Credit: United Launch Alliance

Today’s (June 24) spectacular launch of the most powerful version of the venerable Atlas V rocket from the sunshine state completes the orbital deployment of a constellation of advanced tactical communications satellites for the U.S. Navy.

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket successfully launched the massive MUOS-5 satellite into clear blue skies from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 10:30 a.m. EDT – on its way to a geosynchronous orbit location approximately 22,000 miles (37,586 km) above the Earth.

Note: Check back again for an expanding gallery of launch photos and videos

The Mobile User Objective System-5 (MUOS-5) satellite is the last in a five-satellite constellation that will provide military forces with significantly improved and assured communications worldwide. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for the MUOS system.

As launch time neared the weather odds improved to 100% GO and Atlas rumbled off the pad for on time launch that took place at the opening of a 44 minute window.

The launch was broadcast live on a ULA webcast.

The 206 foot tall Atlas rocket roared to space on an expanding plume of smoke and crackling fire from the first stage liquid and solid fueled engines generating over 2.5 million pounds of liftoff thrust.

Their contribution complete, all 5 solid rocket motors were jettisoned with seconds about 2 minutes after liftoff as the liquid fueled first stage continued firing.

The spent first stage separated about 5 minutes after liftoff, as the Centaur second stage fires up for the first of three times over almost three hours to deliver the hefty payload to orbit.

Blastoff of United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket on MUOS-5  mission from Space Launch Complex-41 on June 24, 2016.  Credit: Lane Hermann
Blastoff of United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket on MUOS-5 mission from Space Launch Complex-41 on June 24, 2016. Credit: Lane Hermann

“We are honored to deliver the final satellite in the MUOS constellation for the U.S. Navy,” said Laura Maginnis, ULA vice president, Custom Services, in a statement.

“Congratulations to our navy, air force and Lockheed Martin mission partners on yet another successful launch that provides our warfighters with enhanced communications capabilities to safely and effectively conduct their missions around the globe.”

This is the fifth satellite in the MUOS series and will provide military users up to 16 times more communications capability over existing systems, including simultaneous voice, video and data, leveraging 3G mobile communications technology.

Long plume from MUOS-5 Atlas V Launch by United Launch Alliance from Space Launch Complex-41 on June 24, 2016.  Credit: Michael Seeley
Long plume from MUOS-5 Atlas V Launch by United Launch Alliance from Space Launch Complex-41 on June 24, 2016. Credit: Michael Seeley

With MUOS-5 in orbit the system’s constellation is completed.

MUOS-5 will serve as an on orbit spare. It provides the MUOS network with near-global coverage. Communications coverage for military forces now extends further toward the North and South poles than ever before, according to Lockheed Martin officials.

“Like its predecessors, the MUOS-5 satellite has two payloads to support both new Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (WCDMA) waveform capabilities, as well as the legacy Ultra High Frequency (UHF) satellite system. On orbit, MUOS-5 will augment the constellation as a WCDMA spare, while actively supporting the legacy UHF system, currently used by many mobile forces today.”

The prior MUOS-4 satellite was launched on Sept. 2, 2015 – as I reported here.

The 20 story tall Atlas V launched in its most powerful 551 configuration and performed flawlessly.

United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying MUOS-5 military comsat streaks to orbit atop a vast exhaust plume after liftoff from Space Launch Complex-41 on June 24, 2016.  Credit: Jillian Laudick
United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying MUOS-5 military comsat streaks to orbit atop a vast exhaust plume after liftoff from Space Launch Complex-41 on June 24, 2016. Credit: Jillian Laudick

The vehicle includes a 5-meter diameter payload fairing and five solid rocket boosters that augment the first stage. 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-1 engine.

The RD-180 burns RP-1 (Rocket Propellant-1 or highly purified kerosene) and liquid oxygen and delivers 860,200 lb of thrust at sea level.

And the rocket needed all that thrust because the huge MUOS-5 was among the heftiest payloads ever lofted by an Atlas V booster, weighing in at some 15,000 pounds.
The Centaur upper stage was fired a total of three times.

For this mission the payload fairing was outfitted with an upgraded and advanced acoustic system to beet shield the satellite from the intense vibrations during the launch sequence.

This Atlas launch had been delayed several months to rectify a shortfall in the first stage thrust that occurred during the prior mission launching the Orbital ATK OA-6 cargo freighter in March 2016 on a contract mission for NASA to resupply the International Space Station (ISS).

The launch comes just two weeks after blastoff of the ULA Delta IV Heavy, the worlds most powerful rocket, on a mission to deliver a top secret spy satellite to orbit – as I witnessed and reported on here.

“I am so proud of the team for all their hard work and commitment to 100 percent mission success,” Maginnis added.

“It is amazing to deliver our second national security payload from the Cape in just two weeks. I know this success is due to our amazing people who make the remarkable look routine.”

The 15,000 pound MUOS payload is a next-generation narrowband tactical satellite communications system designed to significantly improve ground communications for U.S. forces on the move.

Here’s a detailed mission profile video describing the launch events:

Video caption: Atlas V MUOS-5 Mission Profile launched on June 24, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air force Station. Credit: ULA

The launch was supported by the 45th Space Wing.

“Today’s successful launch is the culmination of the 45th Space Wing, Space and Missile Systems Center, Navy and ULA’s close partnership and dedicated teamwork,” said Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, 45th Space Wing commander and mission Launch Decision Authority, in a statement.

“We continue our unwavering focus on mission success and guaranteeing assured access to space for our nation, while showcasing why the 45th Space Wing is the ‘World’s Premiere Gateway to Space.”

Watch this exciting launch highlights video reel from ULA – including deployment of MUOS-5!

The MUOS-5 launch marked the 63rd Atlas V mission since the vehicle’s inaugural launch in August 2002. To date seven flights have launched in the 551 configuration. These include all four prior MUOS missions as well as NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Juno mission to Jupiter.

Watch my up close remote launch video from the pad with hurling rocks:

Video caption: The sounds and fury of a ULA Atlas V 551 rocket blast off carrying Lockheed Martin built MUOS-5 tactical communications satellite to geosynchronous orbit for US Navy on June 24, 2016 at 10:30 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, as seen in this up close video from remote camera positioned at pad. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch this compilation of dramatic launch videos from Jeff Seibert.

Video Caption: MUOS-5 launch compilation on ULA Atlas 5 rocket on 6/24/2016 from Pad 41 of CCAFS. Credit: Jeff Seibert

The Navy's fifth Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) is encapsulated inside an Atlas V five-meter diameter payload fairing.  Credit: ULA
The Navy’s fifth Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) is encapsulated inside an Atlas V five-meter diameter payload fairing. Credit: ULA

The next Atlas V launch is slated for July 28 with the NROL-61 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).

Blastoff of MUOS-4 US Navy communications satellite on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Blastoff of MUOS-4 US Navy communications satellite on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

Ken Kremer

United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket poised for launch on MUOS-5  mission from Space Launch Complex-41 on June 24, 2016.  Credit: Lane Hermann
United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket poised for launch on MUOS-5 mission from Space Launch Complex-41 on June 24, 2016. Credit: Lane Hermann
Artist’s concept of a MUOS satellite in orbit. Credit: Lockheed Martin
Artist’s concept of a MUOS satellite in orbit. Credit: Lockheed Martin
MUOS-5 mission logo. Credit: ULA
MUOS-5 mission logo. Credit: ULA
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the MUOS-5  mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41 at 10:30 a.m. EDT on June 24, 2016.  Credit:  United Launch Alliance
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the MUOS-5 mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41 at 10:30 a.m. EDT on June 24, 2016. Credit: United Launch Alliance

Fuel Control Valve Faulted for Atlas Launch Anomaly, Flights Resume Soon

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41 at 11:05 p.m. EDT on March 22, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41 at 11:05 p.m. EDT on March 22, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

A critical fuel control valve has been faulted for the Atlas V launch anomaly that forced a premature shutdown of the rockets first stage engines during its most recent launch of a Cygnus cargo freighter to the International Space Station (ISS) last month – that nevertheless was successful in delivering the payload to its intended orbit.

Having identified the root cause of the engine shortfall, workers for Atlas rocket builder United Launch Alliance (ULA), have now stacked the booster slated for the next planned liftoff in the processing facility at their Cape Canaveral launch pad, the company announced in a statement Friday.

The Atlas rockets Centaur upper stage fired longer than normal after the first stage anomaly, saving the day by making up for the significant lack of thrust and “delivering Cygnus to a precise orbit, well within the required accuracy,” ULA said.

ULA says it hopes to resume launches of the 20 story tall rocket as soon as this summer, starting with the MUOS-5 communications satellite payload for the U.S. Navy.

Following a painstaking investigation to fully evaluate all the data, the ULA engineering team “determined an anomaly with the RD-180 Mixture Ratio Control Valve (MRCV) assembly caused a reduction in fuel flow during the boost phase of the flight,” the company confirmed in a statement.

The Atlas V first stages are powered by the Russian-made RD AMROSS RD-180 engines. The dual nozzle powerplants have been completely reliable in 62 Atlas launches to date.

The RD-180s are fueled by a mixture of RP-1 kerosene and liquid oxygen stored in the first stage.

Up close view of dual nozzle RD-180 first stage engines firing during blastoff of United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the GPS IIF-12 mission on Feb. 5, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Up close view of dual nozzle RD-180 first stage engines firing during blastoff of United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the GPS IIF-12 mission on Feb. 5, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The Centaur RL10C-1 second stage powerplant had to make up for a thrust and velocity deficiency resulting from a 6 second shorter than planned firing of the first stage RD-180 engines.

“The Centaur [upper stage] burned for longer than planned,” Lyn Chassagne, ULA spokesperson, told Universe Today.

Indeed Centaur fired for a minute longer than planned to inject Cygnus into its proper orbit.

“The first stage cut-off occurred approximately 6 seconds early, however the Centaur was able to burn an additional approximately 60 seconds longer and achieve mission success, delivering Cygnus to its required orbit,” said ULA.

MUOS-5 was originally supposed to blastoff on May 5. But the liftoff was put on hold soon after the Atlas V launch anomaly experienced during the March 22, 2016 launch of the Orbital ATK Cygnus OA-6 supply ship to the ISS for NASA.

Since then, ULA mounted a thorough investigation to determine the root cause and identify fixes to correct the problem with RD-180 Mixture Ratio Control Valve (MRCV) assembly, while postponing all Atlas V launches.

ULA has inspected, analyzed and tested their entire stockpile of RD-180 engines.

Last Friday, the Atlas V first stage for the MUOS-5 launch was erected inside ULA’s Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) at Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The five solid motors have been attached and the Centaur is next.

In this configuration, known as Launch Vehicle on Stand (LVOS) operation, technicians can further inspect and confirm that the RD-180 engines are ready to support a launch.

The two stage Atlas V for MUOS-5 will launch in its most powerful 551 configuration with five solid rocket boosters attached to the first stage, a single engine Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C-1 Centaur upper stage and a 5-meter-diameter payload fairing.

The RD-180s were supposed to fire for 255.5 seconds, or just over 4 minutes. But instead they shut down prematurely resulting in decreased velocity that had to be supplemented by the Centaur RL10C-1 to get to the intended orbit needed to reach the orbiting outpost.

The liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen fueled Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C-1 engine was planned to fire for 818 seconds or about 13.6 minutes. The single engine produces 22,900 lbf of thrust.

The Atlas V first and second stages are preprogrammed to swiftly react to a wide range of anomalous situations to account for the unexpected. The rocket and launch teams conduct countless simulations to react to off nominal situations.

“The Atlas V’s robust system design, software and vehicle margins enabled the successful outcome for this mission,” Chassagne said.

“As with all launches, we will continue to focus on mission success and work to meet our customer’s needs.”

ULA currently sports a year’s long manifest of future Atlas V launches in the pipeline. It includes a wide range of payloads for NASA, US and foreign governments, and military and commercial customers – all of who are depending on ULA maintaining its string of 106 straight launches with a 100% record of success since the company formed in 2006.

The Orbital ATK Cygnus CRS-6 space freighter was loaded with 3513 kg (7700 pounds) of science experiments and hardware, crew supplies, spare parts, gear and station hardware for the orbital laboratory in support of over 250 research experiments being conducted on board by the Expedition 47 and 48 crews.

Inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a Cygnus cargo spacecraft is being prepared for the upcoming Orbital ATK Commercial Resupply Services-6 mission to deliver hardware and supplies to the International Space Station. The Cygnus was named SS Rick Husband in honor of the commander of the STS-107 mission. On that flight, the crew of the space shuttle Columbia was lost during re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003. The Cygnus is scheduled to lift off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on March 22.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a Cygnus cargo spacecraft was being prepared for the Orbital ATK Commercial Resupply Services-6 mission to deliver hardware and supplies to the International Space Station. The Cygnus was named SS Rick Husband in honor of the commander of the STS-107 mission. On that flight, the crew of the space shuttle Columbia was lost during re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003. The Cygnus lifted off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on March 22. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Cygnus successfully arrived and berthed at the ISS on March 26 as planned.

An exact date for the MUOS-5 launch has yet to be confirmed on the Eastern Range with the US Air Force.

ULA is in the process of coordinating launch dates with customers for their remaining Atlas V launches in 2016.

MUOS-4 US Navy communications satellite stowed inside huge 5 meter diameter payload fairing atop Atlas V rocket at pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL set for launch on Sept. 2, 2015. EDT. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
MUOS-4 US Navy communications satellite stowed inside huge 5 meter diameter payload fairing atop Atlas V rocket at pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL set for launch on Sept. 2, 2015. EDT. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The 15,000 pound MUOS payload is a next-generation narrowband tactical satellite communications system designed to significantly improve ground communications for U.S. forces on the move.

ULA says they expect minimal impact and foresee completing all launches planned for 2016, including the top priority OSIRIS-REx asteroid mission for NASA which has a specific launch window requirement.

Blastoff of MUOS-4 US Navy communications satellite on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Blastoff of MUOS-4 US Navy communications satellite on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

Ken Kremer

MUOS-4 US Navy communications satellite and Atlas V rocket at pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL for launch on Sept. 2, 2015 at 5:59 a.m. EDT. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
MUOS-4 US Navy communications satellite and Atlas V rocket at pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL for launch on Sept. 2, 2015 at 5:59 a.m. EDT. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Aerojet-Rocketdyne Seeks to Buy United Launch Alliance for $2 Billion

America’s premier rocket launch services provider United Launch Alliance, or ULA, may be up for sale according to media reports, including Reuters and the Wall Street Journal. Any such sale would result in a major shakeup of the American rocket launching business with far reaching implications.

Aerojet-Rocketdyne has apparently made a bid to buy ULA for approximately $2 Billion in cash, based on behind the scenes information gathered from unnamed sources.

ULA was formed in 2006 as a 50:50 joint venture between aerospace giants Lockheed Martin and Boeing that combined their existing expendable rocket fleet families – the Atlas V and Delta IV – under one roof.

According to Reuters, Aerojet Rocketdyne recently proffered a $2 billion cash offer to buy ULA from Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

“Aerojet Rocketdyne board member Warren Lichtenstein, the chairman and chief executive of Steel Partners LLC, approached ULA President Tory Bruno and senior Lockheed and Boeing executives about the bid in early August,” sources told Reuters.

ULA’s Bruno declined to comment on the story via twitter.

“Wish I could, but as a matter of policy, we don’t comment on this type of story,” Bruno tweeted in response to inquiries.

Aerojet-Rocketdyne currently is a major supplier to ULA by providing first and second stage engines for use in the Atlas V and Delta IV rockets. They also manufacture the Space Shuttle Main Engines now being repurposed as the RS-25 to serve as first stage engines for NASA’s mammoth new SLS deep space rocket.

Since 2006 ULA has enjoyed phenomenal launch success with its venerable fleet of Atlas V and Delta IV rockets and also enjoyed a virtual launch monopoly with the US Government and for the nations most critical national security military payloads.

And just last week, ULA conducted its 99th launch with the successful blastoff of an Atlas V with the MUOS-4 military communications satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for the U.S. Navy.

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the WGS-7 mission for the U.S. Air Force launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on July 23, 2015.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the WGS-7 mission for the U.S. Air Force launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on July 23, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

But the recent emergence of rival SpaceX – founded by billionaire Elon Musk – with the lower cost Falcon 9 rocket and the end of the ULA’s launch monopoly for high value military and top secret spy satellites has the potential to undermine ULA’s long term business model and profitability. In May, the US Air Force certified the SpaceX Falcon 9 for national security payload launches.

Furthermore a Congressional ban on importing the Russian-made RD-180 first stage engines that power the Atlas V rocket, that takes effect in a few years, has threatened the rockets future viability. The Atlas V dependence on Russia’s RD-180’s landed at the center of controversy after Russia invaded Crimea in the spring of 2014.

To date the Atlas V enjoys a 100 percent success rate after over 50 launches.

The Falcon 9 no longer enjoys a 100 percent success rate after the launch failure on June 28, 2015 on a critical NASA cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

The Atlas V will also serve as the launch vehicle for Boeing’s new ‘Starliner’ space taxi to transport astronauts to the ISS as soon as 2017 – detailed in my onsite story here.

In response to the Congressional RD-180 engine ban and relentless cost pressures from SpaceX, ULA CEO Tory Bruno and ULA Vice President for Advanced Concepts and Technology George Sowers announced ULA will develop a cost effective new rocket named Vulcan using American made engines.

“To be successful and survive ULA needs to transform to be more of a competitive company in a competitive environment,” Dr. Sowers told Universe Today in a wide ranging interview regarding the rationale and goals of the Vulcan rocket.

Vulcan is ULA’s next generation rocket to space and slated for an inaugural liftoff in 2019.

Vulcan - United Launch Alliance (ULA)  next generation rocket is set to make its debut flight in 2019.  Credit: ULA
Vulcan – United Launch Alliance (ULA) next generation rocket is set to make its debut flight in 2019. Credit: ULA

However, Lockheed Martin and Boeing are only providing funds to ULA on a quarterly basis to continue development of the Vulcan.

Vulcan’s first stage will most likely be powered by the BE-4 engine being developed by the secretive Blue Origin aerospace firm owned by billionaire Jeff Bezos.

Interestingly, ULA is also evaluating the AR-1 liquid fueled engine being developed by Aerojet-Rocketdyne.

The final decision on which engine to use is expected sometime in 2016.

The engine choice could clearly be impacted if Aerojet-Rocketdyne buys ULA.

Aerojet-Rocketdyne has also sought to buy the rights to manufacture the Atlas V from ULA, which is currently planned to be retired several years after Vulcan is introduced.

To this writer, ULA would seem to be worth far more than $2 Billion. They own manufacturing and rocket launch facilities on both coasts and in several states.

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

Ken Kremer

Atlas V Launch of Navy’s Revolutionary MUOS-4 Tactical Comsat Produces Exotic Skyshow

ULA Atlas V rocket successfully launches MUOS-4 for the U.S. Navy on Sept. 2, 2015 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: ULA
See launch gallery below[/caption]

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – Today’s (Sept. 2) stunningly successful launch of the US Navy’s revolutionary MUOS-4 tactical communications satellite atop a mighty Atlas V rocket produced an unexpectedly exotic skyshow beyond compare for lucky spectators all around the Florida Space Coast, as it thundered off a Cape Canaveral launch pad and simultaneously generated house and bone rattling vibrations.

Seasoned and long time launch enthusiasts have rarely if ever never seen anything like this morning’s spectacular predawn launch of the Mobile User Objective System-4 (MUOS-4) satellite for the US Navy at 6:18 a.m. EDT aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

As the rocket arced over eastwards above the Atlantic Ocean the huge vapor trail turned utterly exotic – producing a whitish oval glow that appeared out of nowhere, and looked to me like a moving and living creature as it moved downwards and forwards. Although the rocket appeared to head towards the Earth’s horizon it was actually being propelled to orbit by the most powerful variant of the Atlas V rocket.

Exotic vapor produced by launch of MUOS-4 communications satellite for the US Navy atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015. Credit: Dawn Leek Taylor/Space Head News
Exotic vapor trail produced by launch of MUOS-4 communications satellite for the US Navy atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015. Credit: Dawn Leek Taylor/Space Head News

The alien looking trail was fortuitously highlighted by glint from the sun that may have been enhanced by a slight delay of some 19 minutes from the originally planned launch time of 5:59 a.m. EDT as the launch team worked to resolve a technical issue.

Local residents in the Titusville, Fl, area and surroundings told me that their houses and windows shook this morning from the powerful roar and thunderous sound waves pulsing away from the Atlas V rocket. Sleeping children were awoken, close to school time anyway! And another gentleman said he felt it inside the shower with running water – having misunderstood the launch time!

The MUOS-4 launch by United Launch Alliance had also been postponed by 48 hours from Monday morning Aug. 31 due to threatening weather expected from Tropical Storm Erika which most likely would have obliterated today’s uniquely beautiful experience!

Blastoff of MUOS-4 US Navy communications satellite on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Blastoff of MUOS-4 US Navy communications satellite on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The Lockheed Martin-built MUOS-4 satellite was successfully orbited by the Atlas V and is already talking from space to the satellite control team at the Naval Spacecraft Operations Control facility in Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu, Calif.

MUOS-4 will enable near-global coverage for a new secure military communications network offering enhanced capabilities for mobile forces.

“Today’s successful launch will enable the MUOS constellation to reach global coverage,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Atlas and Delta Programs.

“The Lockheed Martin-built MUOS-4 satellite will deliver voice, data, and video communications capability, similar to a cellular network, to our troops all over the globe.”

Weird exhaust trail from launch of MUOS-4 communications satellite for the US Navy atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015 by Titusville, FL  resident Ashley Crouch. Credit: Ashley Crouch
Weird exhaust trail from launch of MUOS-4 communications satellite for the US Navy atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015 by Titusville, FL resident Ashley Crouch. Credit: Ashley Crouch

MUOS is a next-generation narrowband tactical satellite communications system designed to significantly improve ground communications for U.S. forces on the move.

This is the fourth satellite in the MUOS series and will provide military users up to 16 times more communications capability over existing systems, including simultaneous voice, video and data, leveraging 3G mobile communications technology.

With MUOS-4 in orbit the system’s initial constellation is completed. It provides the MUOS network with near-global coverage. Communications coverage for military forces now extends further toward the North and South poles than ever before, according to Lockheed Martin officials.

Exotic vapor produced by launch of MUOS-4 communications satellite for the US Navy atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Exotic vapor trail produced by launch of MUOS-4 communications satellite for the US Navy atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The unmanned Atlas V expendable rocket launched in its mightiest configuration known as the Atlas V 551 with five solid rocket boosters augmenting the first stage.

The 206 foot-tall rocket features a 5-meter diameter payload fairing, five Aerojet Rocketdyne first stage strap on solid rocket motors and a single engine Centaur upper stage powered by the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C-1 engine.

The first stage is powered by the Russian-built dual nozzle RD AMROSS RD-180 engine. Combined with the five solid rocket motors, the Atlas V first stage generates over 2.5 million pounds of liftoff thrust.

The RD-180 burns RP-1 (Rocket Propellant-1 or highly purified kerosene) and liquid oxygen and delivers 860,200 lb of thrust at sea level.

And the rocket needed all that thrust because the huge MUOS-4 was among the heftiest payloads ever lofted by an Atlas V booster, weighing in at some 15,000 pounds.

MUOS-4, the next satellite scheduled to join the U.S. Navy’s Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) secure communications network, launched on Sept 2, 2015 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida and is responding normally to ground control.  Credit: Lockheed Martin
MUOS-4, the next satellite scheduled to join the U.S. Navy’s Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) secure communications network, launched on Sept 2, 2015 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida and is responding normally to ground control. Credit: Lockheed Martin

Ken is onsite for launch coverage from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the Kennedy Space Center.

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

Ken Kremer

………….

Learn more about MUOS-4 US Navy launch, Orion, SLS, SpaceX, Boeing, ULA, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orbital ATK, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Sep 2/3: “MUOS-4 launch, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Antares and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Weird exhaust trail from launch of MUOS-4 communications satellite for the US Navy atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015 by Titusville, FL  resident Ashley Crouch. Credit: Ashley Crouch
Weird exhaust trail from launch of MUOS-4 communications satellite for the US Navy atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015 by Titusville, FL resident Ashley Crouch. Credit: Ashley Crouch
Liftoff of MUOS-4 comsat for US Navy on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015. Credit: Julian Leek/Space Head News
Liftoff of MUOS-4 comsat for US Navy on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015. Credit: Julian Leek/Space Head News
MUOS-4 US Navy communications satellite and Atlas V rocket at pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL for launch on Sept. 2, 2015 at 5:59 a.m. EDT. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
MUOS-4 US Navy communications satellite and Atlas V rocket at pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL for launch on Sept. 2, 2015 at 5:59 a.m. EDT. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

You Can Vote to Name America’s New Rocket from ULA

Help ULA name America’s next rocket to space. Credit: ULA
Voting Details below
Watch ULA’s March 25 Delta Launch Live – details below
Update 3/26: 2 new names have been added to the voting list – Zeus and Vulcan !
[/caption]

United Launch Alliance (ULA) is asking the public for your help in naming their new American made rocket, now under development that “represents the future of space”- and will replace the firms current historic lines of Atlas and Delta rocket families that began launching back near the dawn of the space age.

Eagle, Freedom or GalaxyOne – those are the names to choose from for the next two weeks, from now until April 6.

UPDATE 3/26: 2 new names have been added to the voting list – Zeus and Vulcan !

ULA says the names were selected from a list of over 400 names submitted earlier this year by ULA’s 3400 employees and many space enthusiasts.

ULA has set up a simple voting system whereby you can vote for your favorite name via text or an online webpage.

Currently dubbed the “Next Generation Launch System,” or NGLS, ULA’s new president and CEO Tory Bruno is set to unveil the next generation rockets design and name at the National Space Symposium on April 13 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“ULA’s new rocket represents the future of space – innovative, affordable and reliable,” said Bruno, in a statement.

“More possibilities in space means more possibilities here on earth. This is such a critical time for space travel and exploration and we’re excited to bring all of America with us on this journey into the future.”

The NGLS is ULA’s response to what’s shaping up as a no holds barred competition with SpaceX for future launch contracts where only the innovative and those who dramatically cut the cost of access to space will survive.

The first flight of the NGLS is slated for 2019.

Here’s how you can cast your vote for America’s next rocket to April 6, 2015:

Visit the website: http://bit.ly/rocketvote

OR

Voters can text 22333 to submit a vote for their favorite name. The following key can be used to text a vote:

• ULA1 for “Eagle”
• ULA2 for “Freedom”
• ULA3 for “GalaxyOne”

3/26 Update: Zeus and Vulcan have been added to the voting list

One small step for ULA, one giant leap for space exploration. Vote to name America’s next ride to space: Eagle, Freedom, or GalaxyOne? #rocketvote http://bit.ly/rocketvote
One small step for ULA, one giant leap for space exploration. Vote to name America’s next ride to space: Eagle, Freedom, or GalaxyOne? #rocketvote http://bit.ly/rocketvote

“Name America’s next ride to space. Vote early, vote often … ” says Bruno.

I have already voted – early and often.

Over 11,000 votes were tallied in just the first day.

Currently ULA is the nation’s premier launch provider, launching at a rate of about once per month. 13 launches are planned for 2015- as outlined in my earlier article here.

But ULA faces stiff and relentless pricing and innovative competition from NewSpace upstart SpaceX, founded by billionaire Elon Musk.

NGLS is ULA’s answer to SpaceX – they must compete in order to survive.

To date ULA has accomplished a 100 percent mission success for 94 launches since the firms founding in 2006 as a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. They have successfully launched numerous NASA, national security and commercial payloads into orbit and beyond.

Planetary missions launched for NASA include the Mars rovers and landers Phoenix and Curiosity, Pluto/New Horizons, Juno, GRAIL, LRO and LCROSS.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft onboard launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41, Thursday, March 12, 2015, Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
ULA’s new rocket will launch from this pad in 2019
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft onboard launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41, Thursday, March 12, 2015, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

ULA’s most recent launch for NASA involved the $1.1 Billion Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission comprised of four formation flying satellites which blasted to Earth orbit atop an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, during a spectacular nighttime blastoff on March 12, 2015. Read my onsite reports – here and here.

“Space launch affects everyone, every day, and our goal in letting America name its next rocket is to help all Americans imagine the future of endless possibilities created by affordable space launch,” Bruno added.

NGLS will include some heritage design from the Atlas V and Delta IV rockets, but will feature many new systems and potentially some reusable systems – to be outlined by Bruno on April 13.

ULA plans to phase out the Delta IV around 2019 when the current contracts are concluded. The Atlas V will continue for a transitional period.

The Atlas V is also the launcher for Boeing’s CST-100 manned space taxi due to first launch in 2017.

NGLS will launch from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, the same pad as for the Atlas V, as well as from Vandenberg AFB, Calif.

ULA’s next Delta IV launch with GPS IIF-9 is scheduled shortly for Wednesday, March 25, with liftoff at 2:36 p.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral.

Live webcast begins at 2:06 p.m. Live link here – http://www.ulalaunch.com/webcast.aspx

Vote now!

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

Ken Kremer

Tory Bruno, ULA President and CEO, speaks about the ULA launch of NASA’s Orion EFT-1 mission on Delta IV Heavy rocket in the background at the Delta IV launch complex 37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Tory Bruno, ULA President and CEO, speaks about the ULA launch of NASA’s Orion EFT-1 mission on Delta IV Heavy rocket in the background at the Delta IV launch complex 37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

NASA’s MMS Satellite Constellation Blasts to Orbit to Study Explosive Magnetic Reconnection

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – NASA’s constellation of state-of-the-art magnetospheric science satellites successfully rocketed to orbit late Thursday night, March 12, during a spectacular nighttime launch on a mission to unravel the mysteries of the process known as magnetic reconnection.

The $1.1 Billion Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission is comprised of four formation flying satellites blasted to Earth orbit atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, precisely on time at 10:44 p.m. EDT.

Magnetic reconnection is a little understood natural process whereby magnetic fields around Earth connect and disconnect while explosively releasing vast amounts of energy. It occurs throughout the universe.

NASA’s fleet of four MMS spacecraft will soon start the first mission devoted to studying the phenomenon called magnetic reconnection. Scientists believe that it is the catalyst for some of the most powerful explosions in our solar system.

The night launch of the venerable Atlas V booster turned night into day as the 195 foot tall rocket roared to life on the fiery fury of about a million and a half pounds of thrust, thrilling spectators all around the Florida space coast and far beyond.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft onboard launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41, Thursday, March 12, 2015, Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft onboard launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41, Thursday, March 12, 2015, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

NASA’s four Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft were stacked like pancakes on top of one another and encapsulated inside the rocket extended nose cone atop the Atlas V.

The venerable rocket continues to enjoy a 100% success rate. It launched in the Atlas V 421 configuration with a 4-meter diameter Extra Extended Payload Fairing along with two Aerojet Rocketdyne solid rocket motors attached to the Atlas booster first stage.

The two stage Atlas V delivered the MMS satellites to a highly elliptical orbit. They were then deployed from the rocket’s Centaur upper stage sequentially, in five-minute intervals beginning at 12:16 a.m. Friday, March 13. The last separation occurred at 12:31 a.m.

About 10 minutes later at 12:40 a.m., NASA scientists and engineers confirmed the health of all four spacecraft.

“I am speaking for the entire MMS team when I say we’re thrilled to see all four of our spacecraft have deployed and data indicates we have a healthy fleet,” said Craig Tooley, project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Artist's concept of the MMS observatory fleet with rainbow magnetic lines. Image Credit: NASA
Artist’s concept of the MMS observatory fleet with rainbow magnetic lines. Image Credit: NASA

This marked ULA’s 3rd launch in 2015, the 53nd Atlas V mission and the fourth Atlas V 421 launch in the programs life.

Each of the identically instrumented spacecraft are about four feet tall and eleven feet wide.

The deployment and activation of all four spacecraft is absolutely essential to the success of the mission, said Jim Burch, principal investigator of the MMS instrument suite science team at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, Texas.

They will fly in a pyramid formation to conduct their science mission, spaced about 10 miles apart. That separation distance will vary over time during the two year primary mission.

NASA scientists and engineers will begin deploying multiple booms and antennas on the spacecraft in a few days, MMS mission scientist Glyn Collinson of NASA Goddard told Universe Today.

The deployment and calibration process will last about six months, Collinson explained. Science observations are expected to begin in September 2015.

Technicians work on NASA’s 20-foot-tall Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mated quartet of stacked observatories in the cleanroom at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., on May 12, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Technicians work on NASA’s 20-foot-tall Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mated quartet of stacked observatories in the cleanroom at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., on May 12, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

“After a decade of planning and engineering, the science team is ready to go to work,” said Burch.

“We’ve never had this type of opportunity to study this fundamental process in such detail.”

The spacecraft will fly in a tight formation through regions of reconnection activity.

The instruments will conduct their science observations at rates100 times faster than any previous mission.

“MMS is a crucial next step in advancing the science of magnetic reconnection – and no mission has ever observed this fundamental process with such detail,” said Jeff Newmark, interim director for NASA’s Heliophysics Division at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington.

“The depth and detail of our knowledge is going to grow by leaps and bounds, in ways that no one can yet predict.”

MMS measurements should lead to significant improvements in models for yielding better predictions of space weather and thereby the resulting impacts for life here on Earth as well as for humans aboard the ISS and robotic satellite explorers in orbit and the heavens beyond.

The best place to study magnetic reconnection is ‘in situ’ in Earth’s magnetosphere. This will lead to better predictions of space weather phenomena.

Magnetic reconnection is also believed to help trigger the spectacular aurora known as the Northern or Southern lights.

NASA MMS spacecraft fly in a pyramid pattern to capture the 3-D structure of the reconnection sites encountered. Credit: NASA
NASA MMS spacecraft fly in a pyramid pattern to capture the 3-D structure of the reconnection sites encountered. Credit: NASA

MMS is a Solar Terrestrial Probes Program, or STP, mission within NASA’s Heliophysics Division. The probes were built, integrated and tested at NASA Goddard which is responsible for overall mission management and operations.

Watch for Ken’s ongoing MMS coverage. He was onsite at the Kennedy Space Center in the days leading up to the launch and for the liftoff on March 12.

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

Ken Kremer

………….

Learn more about MMS, Mars rovers, Orion, SpaceX, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Mar 13: “MMS, Orion, SpaceX, Antares, Curiosity Explores Mars,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

The Atlas V with MMS launches, as seen by this camera placed in the front of the launchpad. Copyright © Alex Polimeni
The Atlas V with MMS launches, as seen by this camera placed in the front of the launchpad. Copyright © Alex Polimeni
The Atlas V with MMS launches on March 12, 2015, as seen by this camera placed in the front of the launchpad. Copyright © Alex Polimeni
The Atlas V with MMS launches on March 12, 2015, as seen by this camera placed in the front of the launchpad. Copyright © Alex Polimeni
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft onboard launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41, Thursday, March 12, 2015, Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft onboard launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41, Thursday, March 12, 2015, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V 421 rocket is poised for blastoff at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex-41 in preparation for launch of NASA's Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) science mission on March 12, 2015.  Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V 421 rocket is poised for blastoff at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex-41 in preparation for launch of NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) science mission on March 12, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden poses with the agency’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft, mission personnel, Goddard Center Director Chris Scolese and NASA Associate Administrator John Grunsfeld, during visit to the cleanroom at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., on May 12, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden poses with the agency’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft, mission personnel, Goddard Center Director Chris Scolese and NASA Associate Administrator John Grunsfeld, during visit to the cleanroom at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., on May 12, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
MMS Project Manager Craig Tooley (right) and Ken Kremer (Universe Today) discuss  science objectives of NASA’s upcoming Magnetospheric Multiscale mission by 20 foot tall mated quartet of stacked spacecraft at the cleanroom at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., on May 12, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
MMS Project Manager Craig Tooley (right) and Ken Kremer (Universe Today) discuss science objectives of NASA’s upcoming Magnetospheric Multiscale mission by 20 foot tall mated quartet of stacked spacecraft at the cleanroom at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., on May 12, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

NASA Unravels Mysteries of Magnetic Reconnection with Nighttime Blastoff of MMS Satellite Quartet – Watch Live

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – A state of the art quartet of identical science satellites aimed at unraveling the mysteries of the process known as magnetic reconnection is slated for a spectacular nighttime blastoff tonight, March 12, atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The $1.1 Billion Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission is comprised of four formation flying and identically instrumented observatories whose objective is providing the first three-dimensional views of a fundamental process in nature known as magnetic reconnection.

Magnetic reconnection is a little understood natural process whereby magnetic fields around Earth connect and disconnect while explosively releasing vast amounts of energy. It occurs throughout the universe.

Liftoff is slated for 10:44 p.m. EDT Thursday March 12 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

The launch window extends for 30 minutes. You can watch the MMS launch live on NASA TV, below, starting at 8 p.m.



Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

Spectators ringing the Florida space coast region and ranging well beyond should be treated to a magnificent fireworks display and skyward streak of perhaps several minutes – weather and clouds permitting.

Currently the weather forecast is 70 percent “GO” for favorable conditions at launch time. The primary concerns for a safe and successful launch are for cumulus clouds and thick clouds.

In the event of a 24 hour delay for any reason the weather forecast is 60 percent “GO.”

Technicians work on NASA’s 20-foot-tall Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mated quartet of stacked observatories in the cleanroom at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., on May 12, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Technicians work on NASA’s 20-foot-tall Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mated quartet of stacked observatories in the cleanroom at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., on May 12, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

The 195 foot tall rocket and encapsulated MMS satellite payload were rolled out to Space Launch Complex-41 on Wednesday March 10 at 10 a.m. on the Mobile Launch Platform (MLP) about 1800 feet from the Vertical Integration Facility or VIF to the Cape Canaveral pad.

The two stage Atlas V rocket will deliver the MMS constellation to a highly elliptical orbit.

The venerable rocket with a 100% success rate will launch in the Atlas V 421 configuration with a 4-meter diameter Extra Extended Payload Fairing along with two Aerojet Rocketdyne solid rocket motors attached to the Atlas booster first stage.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V 421 rocket is poised for blastoff at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex-41 in preparation for launch of NASA's Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) science mission on March 12, 2015.  Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V 421 rocket is poised for blastoff at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex-41 in preparation for launch of NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) science mission on March 12, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

The Atlas first stage is powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine and the Centaur upper stage is powered by the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10A engine producing 22,300 lb of thrust.

The first stage is 12.5 ft in diameter and fueled with liquid propellants. The RD-180 burns RP-1 highly purified kerosene and liquid oxygen and delivers 860,200 lb of sea level thrust.

This is ULA’s 4th launch in 2015, the 53nd Atlas V mission and the fourth Atlas V 421 launch.

“This is the perfect time for this mission,” said Jim Burch, principal investigator of the MMS instrument suite science team at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, Texas.

“MMS is a crucial next step in advancing the science of magnetic reconnection. Studying magnetic reconnection near Earth will unlock the ability to understand how this process works throughout the entire universe.”

After a six month check out phase the probes will start science operation in September.

Unlike previous missions to observe the evidence of magnetic reconnection events, MMS will have sufficient resolution to measure the characteristics of ongoing reconnection events as they occur.

The four probes were built in-house by NASA at the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland where I visited them during an inspection tour by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

I asked Bolden to explain the goals of MMS during a one-on-one interview.

“MMS will help us study the phenomena known as magnetic reconnection and help us understand how energy from the sun – magnetic and otherwise – affects our own life here on Earth,” Bolden told Universe Today.

“MMS will study what effects that process … and how the magnetosphere protects Earth.”

MMS measurements should lead to significant improvements in models for yielding better predictions of space weather and thereby the resulting impacts for life here on Earth as well as for humans aboard the ISS and robotic satellite explorers in orbit and the heavens beyond.

The best place to study magnetic reconnection is ‘in situ’ in Earth’s magnetosphere. This will lead to better predictions of space weather phenomena.

Magnetic reconnection is also believed to help trigger the spectacular aurora known as the Northern or Southern lights.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden poses with the agency’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft, mission personnel, Goddard Center Director Chris Scolese and NASA Associate Administrator John Grunsfeld, during visit to the cleanroom at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., on May 12, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden poses with the agency’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft, mission personnel, Goddard Center Director Chris Scolese and NASA Associate Administrator John Grunsfeld, during visit to the cleanroom at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., on May 12, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

MMS is a Solar Terrestrial Probes Program, or STP, mission within NASA’s Heliophysics Division

Watch for Ken’s ongoing MMS coverage and he’ll be onsite at the Kennedy Space Center in the days leading up to the launch on March 12.

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

Ken Kremer

NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) Spacecraft Set for March Blastoff to study Earth’s Magnetic Reconnection Events

NASA’s first mission dedicated to study the process in nature known as magnetic reconnection undergoing final preparation for launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida in just under two weeks time.

The Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission is comprised of a quartet of identically instrumented observatories aimed at providing the first three-dimensional views of a fundamental process in nature known as magnetic reconnection.

Magnetic reconnection is the process whereby magnetic fields around Earth connect and disconnect while explosively releasing vast amounts of energy. It occurs throughout the universe.

“Magnetic reconnection is one of the most important drivers of space weather events,” said Jeff Newmark, interim director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

“Eruptive solar flares, coronal mass ejections, and geomagnetic storms all involve the release, through reconnection, of energy stored in magnetic fields. Space weather events can affect modern technological systems such as communications networks, GPS navigation, and electrical power grids.”

The four MMS have been stacked on top of one another like pancakes, encapsulated in the payload fairing, transported to the launch pad, hoisted and mated to the top of the 195-foot-tall rocket.

NASA's Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) observatories are shown here in the clean room being processed for a March 12, 2015 launch from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.  Credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky
NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) observatories are shown here in the clean room being processed for a March 12, 2015 launch from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

The nighttime launch of MMS on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket should put on a spectacular sky show for local spectators along the Florida space coast as well as more distant located arcing out in all directions.

Liftoff is slated for 10:44 p.m. EDT Thursday March 12 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

The launch window extends for 30 minutes.

Artist rendition of the four MMS spacecraft in orbit in Earth’s magnetic field. Credit: NASA
Artist rendition of the four MMS spacecraft in orbit in Earth’s magnetic field. Credit: NASA

After a six month check out phase the probes will start science operation in September.

Unlike previous missions to observe the evidence of magnetic reconnection events, MMS will have sufficient resolution to measure the characteristics of ongoing reconnection events as they occur.

The four probes were built in-house by NASA at the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland where is visited them during an inspection tour by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

I asked Bolden to explain the goals of MMS during a one-on-one interview.

“MMS will help us study the phenomena known as magnetic reconnection and help us understand how energy from the sun – magnetic and otherwise – affects our own life here on Earth,” Bolden told Universe Today.

“MMS will study what effects that process … and how the magnetosphere protects Earth.”

MMS measurements should lead to significant improvements in models for yielding better predictions of space weather and thereby the resulting impacts for life here on Earth as well as for humans aboard the ISS and robotic satellite explorers in orbit and the heavens beyond.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden poses with the agency’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft, mission personnel, Goddard Center Director Chris Scolese and NASA Associate Administrator John Grunsfeld, during visit to the cleanroom at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., on May 12, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden poses with the agency’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft, mission personnel, Goddard Center Director Chris Scolese and NASA Associate Administrator John Grunsfeld, during visit to the cleanroom at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., on May 12, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

The best place to study magnetic reconnection is ‘in situ’ in Earth’s magnetosphere. This will lead to better predictions of space weather phenomena.

“This is the perfect time for this mission,” said Jim Burch, principal investigator of the MMS instrument suite science team at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, Texas.

“MMS is a crucial next step in advancing the science of magnetic reconnection. Studying magnetic reconnection near Earth will unlock the ability to understand how this process works throughout the entire universe.”

Magnetic reconnection is also believed to help trigger the spectacular aurora known as the Northern or Southern lights.

MMS is a Solar Terrestrial Probes Program, or STP, mission within NASA’s Heliophysics Division.

Watch for Ken’s ongoing MMS coverage and he’ll be onsite at the Kennedy Space Center in the days leading up to the launch on March 12.

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

Ken Kremer
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Learn more about MMS, Mars rovers, Orion, SpaceX, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Mar 6: “MMS Update, Future of NASA Human Spaceflight, Curiosity on Mars,” Delaware Valley Astronomers Assoc (DVAA), Radnor, PA, 7 PM.

Mar 10-12: “MMS, Orion, SpaceX, Antares, Curiosity Explores Mars,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings