Triple Barreled Powerhouse Plows Dazzling Path to Orbit for Clandestine NRO Eavesdropper – Gallery

United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy rocket blasts off with NROL-37 spy satellite on June 11, 2016 from Space Launch Complex-37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy rocket blasts off with NROL-37 spy satellite on June 11, 2016 from Space Launch Complex-37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL — A top secret eavesdropping satellite constructed to support America’s national defense plowed a dazzling path to orbit Saturday riding atop the immense firepower of the mightiest rocket in the world – the triple barreled Delta IV Heavy powerhouse.

Note: Story expanding with more photos/videos !!

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) soared to space under mostly sunny sunshine state skies from Space Launch Complex-37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on June 11 at 1:51 p.m. EDT.

Although the actual launch time was classified, liftoff of the 24 story tall monster rocket came right at the opening of the publicly announced launch window – on its ninth mission overall.

The clandestine surveillance satellite with the nondescript name NROL-37 blazed to space on over two million pounds of liftoff thrust – putting on a stunning display of one of the biggest and baddest launches in many years from the Florida Space Coast.

“We are so honored to deliver the NROL-37 payload to orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office during today’s incredible launch,” said Laura Maginnis, ULA vice president of Custom Services, in a statement.

“This was the ninth time ULA launched the Delta IV Heavy, the most powerful launch vehicle in existence today.”

United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy rocket blasts off with NROL-37 spy satellite on June 11, 2016 from Space Launch Complex-37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Ignition and liftoff … United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy rocket blasts off with NROL-37 spy satellite on June 11, 2016 from Space Launch Complex-37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

To the eyes and ears of myself and many space journalist friends it was among the very the best and loudest blastoffs since the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle orbiter fleet back it 2011.

Spectators ringing the beaches and packing the hotels along the Atlantic Ocean shore and beyond could hear the engines roar reverberating for more than 5 minutes, even after it disappeared far far way in the distant clouds.

Spectators east of the Cape and watching from more than 20 miles away told me they hear the rockets roar and feel the rumbling in their houses and apartments even after it disappeared from sight.

The 235-foot-tall rocket arced over eastwards towards the African continent on its path skywards, providing clues to its intended orbit.

Although a preplanned communications blackout was instituted by ULA and the US military some five minutes after liftoff, it is believed that the Delta IV Heavy successfully delivered NROL-37 to a geostationary orbit and an altitude of approximately 22,300 miles.

Launch of ULA Delta 4 Heavy with NROL-37 surveillance satellite on June 11, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.   Credit: Julian Leek
Launch of ULA Delta 4 Heavy with NROL-37 surveillance satellite on June 11, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Julian Leek

Saturdays successful liftoff came 48 hours after gloomy weather related to Tropical Storm Colin in the so called ‘sunshine state’ forced a postponement for the mammoth satellite valued at over $1.5 Billion.

“The team worked together through many challenges this flow including, overcoming the aftereffects of Tropical Storm Colin,” said Maginnis.

“We are proud of the outstanding teamwork between the ULA, NRO and Air Force partners to ensure mission success for this critical national security asset.”

The most powerful rocket in existence today was required for this launch since the immense payload reportedly weighs in excess of 17,000 pounds.

Double ignition of United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy booster and birds carrying NROL 37 spysat to orbit on June 11, 2016 from Space Launch Complex-37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Double ignition of United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy booster and birds carrying NROL 37 spysat to orbit on June 11, 2016 from Space Launch Complex-37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

NROL-37 is being launched for the NRO on an intelligence gathering mission in support of US national defense.

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

Reports indicate it may be one of the largest satellites ever launched, weigh some 17,000 pounds and may deploy an antenna over 300 feet wide for eavesdropping purposes.

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.

Launch of ULA Delta 4 Heavy with NROL-37 spysat on June 11, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.   Credit: SpaceHeadNews/Lane Hermann
Launch of ULA Delta 4 Heavy with NROL-37 spysat on June 11, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: SpaceHeadNews/Lane Hermann

Witnessing a Delta IV Heavy rumble to orbit is a rather rare treat since they launch infrequently.

The last of these to launch from the Cape was for NASA’s inaugural test flight of the Orion crew capsule on the EFT-1 launch in Dec. 5, 2014. No other rocket was powerful enough.

Watch these spectacular launch videos from remote video cameras set at the pad:

Video Caption: NROL-37 launch on ULA Delta IV Heavy from the front pond camera location at CCAFS on June 11, 2016. Credit: Jeff Seibert

The Delta IV Heavy employs three Common Core Boosters (CBCs). Two serve as strap-on liquid rocket boosters (LRBs) to augment the first-stage CBC and 5-m-diameter payload fairing housing the payload.

Each first stage CBC is powered by an upgraded RS-68A engine generating 702,000 pounds of thrust.

The three CBCs generate a combined 2.1 million pounds of thrust fueled by cryogenic liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.

A single RL10 liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine powers the Delta second stage.

The secret satellite was enclosed in a 5 meter diameter payload fairing.

Launch of ULA Delta 4 Heavy with NROL-37 surveillance satellite on June 11, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.   Credit: Julian Leek
Launch of ULA Delta 4 Heavy with NROL-37 surveillance satellite on June 11, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Julian Leek

ULA manufactures the Delta rocket family in Decatur, Alabama. Aerojet Rocketdyne builds the booster and upper stage engines.

ULA Delta 4 Heavy rocket delivers NROL-37 spy satellite to orbit on June 11, 2016 from Space Launch Complex-37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
ULA Delta 4 Heavy rocket delivers NROL-37 spy satellite to orbit on June 11, 2016 from Space Launch Complex-37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s continuing on site reports direct from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the SpaceX launch pad.

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

Ken Kremer

………….

Learn more about ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, Orbital ATK Cygnus, ISS, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

June 14/15: “ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SpaceX, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Riding a Fountain of Fire the Delta IV Heavy makes ‘First Contact’ with Space - after launching on June 11, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Riding a Fountain of Fire the Delta IV Heavy makes ‘First Contact’ with Space – after launching on June 11, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
ULA Delta 4 Heavy rides to orbit on a massive spongy looking vapor trail after blastoff with NROL-37 surveillance satellite on June 11, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
ULA Delta 4 Heavy rides to orbit on a massive spongy looking vapor trail after blastoff with NROL-37 surveillance satellite on June 11, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Massive vapor trail to orbit after blastoff of ULA Delta 4 Heavy with top secret NROL-37 surveillance satellite on June 11, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: Jillian Laudick
Massive vapor trail to orbit after blastoff of ULA Delta 4 Heavy with top secret NROL-37 surveillance satellite on June 11, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Jillian Laudick
Delta rocket at dawn at launch pad 37 on launch day June 11, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Delta rocket at dawn at launch pad 37 on launch day June 11, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Flock of 5 pelicans fly close recon over unveiled Delta 4 Heavy rocket set to launch NROL-37 spy satellite to orbit on June 11, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at Space Launch Complex-37.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Flock of 5 pelicans fly close recon over unveiled Delta 4 Heavy rocket set to launch NROL-37 spy satellite to orbit on June 11, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at Space Launch Complex-37. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

World’s Largest Rocket Ready to Rumble Saturday With Secret NRO Spy Satellite – Watch Live

Flock of 5 pelicans fly close recon over unveiled Delta 4 Heavy rocket set to launch NROL-37 spy satellite to orbit on June 11, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at Space Launch Complex-37.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Flock of 5 pelicans fly close recon over unveiled Delta 4 Heavy rocket set to launch NROL-37 spy satellite to orbit on June 11, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at Space Launch Complex-37. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL — The world’s largest rocket was ready to rumble with a secret spy satellite for the NRO until Thursday’s stormy weather across the so-called ‘sunshine state’ postponed the engines roar by 48 hours to Saturday, June 11.

After a forlorn four hour wait in hopes of a parting of the gloomy gray rainy skies around the Florida Space Coast, launch officials with rocker maker United Launch Alliance (ULA) threw in the towel at 6 p.m. EDT and kept the triple barreled Delta 4 Heavy rocket and its over $1.5 Billion clandestine cargo critical to national defense prudently grounded for a better day.

An early afternoon blastoff of the classified NROL-37 spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) atop the powerful ULA Delta IV Heavy rocket is now slated for 1:51 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Saturday, June 11.

The Delta 4 Heavy carrying NROL-37 clandestine intelligence satellite reflecting in the pond around Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station prior to planned launch on June 11, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The Delta 4 Heavy carrying NROL-37 clandestine intelligence satellite reflecting in the pond around Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station prior to planned launch on June 11, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

In an unusual move, the launch time of America’s newest spy satellite on America’s most powerful rocket had been announced in advance of Thursday’s plans by ULA. Liftoff of the NROL-37 surveillance satellite had been slated for 1:59 p.m. June 9. Saturdays launch time has moved up 8 minutes.

The good news is you can watch the now weekend launch live via a ULA broadcast which starts 20 minutes prior to the given launch time at 1:31 p.m. EDT June 11.

Webcast link: http://bit.ly/div_nrol37

Or – if you are free and mobile – you can watch this truly impressive feat with your own eyes as a rarely afforded treat – by making your way to the many excellent viewing locations surrounding Cape Canaveral.

Since this is a national security launch, the exact launch time and launch window are both actually classified. So the liftoff could easily occur later than 1:51 p.m. EDT Saturday.

Although the announced ‘launch period’ on Thursday extended until 6:30 p.m. EDT (2230 GMT), the actual launch window was also classified and fell somewhere within that lengthy launch period.

Due to Thursday’s weather scrub at 6 p.m. , we can now probably conclude that the actual launch window for NROL-37 lasts about 4 hours. So Saturday’s full launch window should run until shortly before 6 p.m. EDT.

Unfortunately the weather outlook has deteriorated from earlier indications and may be as trying as Thursday’s launch attempt.

The official Air Forces prognosis calls for only a 40% chance of favorable weather conditions on June 11.

The primary concerns are for Anvil Clouds, Cumulus Clouds and Lightning – quite similar to those on June 9.

“The trough that lingered in the area all week and caused multiple weather Launch Commit Criteria violations yesterday will continue to plague the area today.

Meteorological models are now showing the boundary still lingering in the area Saturday, and an upper-level short wave will also move through during the launch window,” according to the official Air Force forecast for June 11.

“Showers and thunderstorms are still likely along the trough. Also, anvils from inland thunderstorms will migrate toward the Space Coast.”

In case of a scrub for any reason related to technical or weather issues, ULA has NOT announced the next launch opportunity, a ULA spokesperson told Universe Today.

The Air Force did say that the weather odds rise significantly to an 80% chance of favorable weather conditions in case of a potential 48 hour scrub turnaround for potential on Monday, June 13.

Whenever the 24 story tall rocket soars skyward it will put on a spectacular sky show.

Virtually nothing is known about the clandestine payload, since its mission, purpose and goals are classified top secret – but it is absolutely vital to America’s national security.

The 235-foot-tall rocket will likely launch the classified NROL-37 surveillance satellite into a geosynchronous orbit and an altitude of 22,300 miles.

NROL-37 is being launched for the NRO on an intelligence gathering mission in support of US national defense.

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

Reports indicate it may be one of the largest satellites ever launched, weigh some 17,000 pounds and may deploy an antenna over 300 feet wide for eavesdropping purposes.

Delta 4 Heavy carrying NROL-37 spy satellite awaits launch from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force.  Credit: Lane Herman
Delta 4 Heavy carrying NROL-37 spy satellite awaits launch from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force. Credit: Lane Herman

Seeing a Delta 4 Heavy soar to space is a rare treat since they launch infrequently.

The last of these to launch from the Cape was for NASA’s inaugural test flight of the Orion crew capsule on the EFT-1 launch in Dec. 5, 2014. No other rocket was powerful enough.

The Delta IV Heavy employs three Common Core Boosters (CBCs). Two serve as strap-on liquid rocket boosters (LRBs) to augment the first-stage CBC and 5-m-diameter payload fairing housing the payload.

Each first stage CBC is powered by an upgraded RS-68 engine, which generates a combined 2.1 million pounds of thrust fueled by cryogenic liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.

Watch this up close video tour of the Delta 4 Heavy on pad 37 after retraction of the Mobile Service Structure from my space friends at USLaunchReport.

Video Caption: ULA is launching the 2.1 million lbs thrust “Heavy” on June 11, 2016 from Pad 37 on CCAFS. Credit: USLaunchReport

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.

Credit: Julian Leek
Credit: Julian Leek

Watch for Ken’s continuing on site reports direct from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the SpaceX launch pad.

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

Ken Kremer

………….

Learn more about ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, Orbital ATK Cygnus, ISS, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

June 10/11: “ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SpaceX, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

The Delta 4 Heavy carrying NROL-37 clandestine intelligence satellite reflecting in the pond around Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station prior to planned launch on June 11, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The Delta 4 Heavy carrying NROL-37 clandestine intelligence satellite reflecting in the pond around Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station prior to planned launch on June 11, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The June 9 launch of the ULA Delta 4 Heavy carrying the classified NROL-37 spy satellite is planned for 1:59 p.m.  EDT.  Broadcast starts at 1:39 p.m. EDT  Watch the live webcast:  http://bit.ly/div_nrol37
The June 9 launch of the ULA Delta 4 Heavy carrying the classified NROL-37 spy satellite is planned for 1:59 p.m. EDT. Broadcast starts at 1:39 p.m. EDT Watch the live webcast: http://bit.ly/div_nrol37

Surveillance Satellite Set for June 9 Launch on Mighty Delta 4 Heavy

Sun rises behind Delta 4 Heavy launch of  NROL-15 for the NRO on June 29, 2012 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at Space Launch Complex-37.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Sun rises behind Delta 4 Heavy launch of NROL-15 for the NRO on June 29, 2012 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at Space Launch Complex-37. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL — A classified surveillance satellite set to fortify the reconnaissance capabilities of America’s spy masters is now scheduled to launch this Thursday afternoon, June 9, atop America’s most powerful rocket – the Delta 4 Heavy.

Lift off of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta 4 Heavy carrying the classified NROL-37 spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) on Thursday, June 9 is slated for 1:59 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

This follows a four day delay from June 5 to deal with a last minute and unspecified payload issue.

“Spacecraft, rocket and support systems are ready!” tweeted the NRO.

Although almost everything about the clandestine payload, its mission, purpose and goals are classified top secret, it is certainly vital to America’s national security.

We do know that NROL-37 will be launched for the NRO on an intelligence gathering mission in support of US national defense.

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

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

The payload is named NROL-37 and will be carried to an undisclosed orbit, possibly geostationary, by the triple barreled ULA Delta 4 Heavy rocket – currently the largest and most powerful rocket in the world.

It is manufactured and launched by ULA as part of the Delta rocket family. This includes the Delta 4 Medium which can launch with strap on solid rocket boosters. ULA also builds and launches the Atlas V rocket family.

Delta 4 Heavy cutaway diagram. Credit: ULA
Delta 4 Heavy cutaway diagram. Credit: ULA

To date nine NRO payloads have flown on Delta 4 rockets. NROL-37 will be the 32nd Delta IV mission since the vehicle’s inaugural launch.

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.

Precisely because this is a launch of the mighty triple barreled Delta 4 Heavy, the view all around is sure to be spectacular and is highly recommended – in case you are in the Florida Space Coast area or surrounding regions.

One thing for sure is the top secret payload is huge and weighty since it requires the heaviest of the heavies to blast off.

Watch this ULA video showing the mating of the classified reconnaissance payload to the rocket.

Video Caption: The NROL-37 payload is mated to a Delta IV Heavy rocket inside the Mobile Service Tower or MST at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex-37. Credit: ULA

Another unclassified aspect we know about this flight is that the weather forecast is rather iffy.

The official Air Forces prognosis calls for only a 40% chance of favorable weather conditions.

The primary concerns are for Anvil Clouds, Cumulus Clouds and Lightning.

In case of a scrub for any reason related to technical or weather issues, the next launch opportunity is 48 hours later on Saturday. June 11.

The weather odds rise significantly to an 80% chance of favorable weather conditions on June 11.

Somewhat surprisingly ULA has just announced the launch time – which is planned for 1:59 p.m. EDT (1759 GMT).

And you can even watch a ULA broadcast which starts 20 minutes prior to the given launch time at 1:39 p.m. EDT.

Webcast link: http://bit.ly/div_nrol37

The June 9 launch of the ULA Delta 4 Heavy carrying the classified NROL-37 spy satellite is planned for 1:59 p.m.  EDT.  Broadcast starts at 1:39 p.m. EDT  Watch the live webcast:  http://bit.ly/div_nrol37
The June 9 launch of the ULA Delta 4 Heavy carrying the classified NROL-37 spy satellite is planned for 1:59 p.m. EDT. Broadcast starts at 1:39 p.m. EDT Watch the live webcast: http://bit.ly/div_nrol37

Since this is a national security launch, the exact launch time is actually classified and could easily occur later than 1:59 p.m.

The launch period extends until 6:30 p.m. EDT (2230 GMT). The actual launch window is also classified and somewhere within the launch period.

Seeing a Delta 4 Heavy soar to space is a rare treat since they launch infrequently.

The last of these to launch from the Cape was for NASA’s inaugural test flight of the Orion crew capsule on the EFT-1 launch in Dec. 5, 2014. No other rocket was powerful enough.

Inaugural Orion crew module launches at 7:05 a.m. on Delta 4 Heavy Booster from pad 37 at Cape Canaveral on Dec. 5, 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Inaugural Orion crew module launches at 7:05 a.m. on Delta 4 Heavy Booster from pad 37 at Cape Canaveral on Dec. 5, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The Delta IV Heavy employs three Common Core Boosters (CBCs). Two serve as strap-on liquid rocket boosters (LRBs) to augment the first-stage CBC and 5-m-diameter payload fairing housing the payload.

Side view shows trio of Common Booster Cores (CBCs) with RS-68 engines powering the Delta IV Heavy rocket resting horizontally in ULA’s HIF processing facility at Cape Canaveral that will launch NASA’s maiden Orion on the EFT-1 mission in December 2014 from Launch Complex 37.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Side view shows trio of Common Booster Cores (CBCs) with RS-68 engines powering the Delta IV Heavy rocket resting horizontally in ULA’s HIF processing facility at Cape Canaveral that will launch NASA’s maiden Orion on the EFT-1 mission in December 2014 from Launch Complex 37. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s continuing on site reports direct from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the SpaceX launch pad.

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

Ken Kremer

………….

Learn more about ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, Orbital ATK Cygnus, ISS, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

June 8/9: “SpaceX, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Launch Of World’s Largest Rocket Postponed

Mission art for NROL-37. The Delta-IV Heavy kind of looks like three cigarettes. Credit: United Launch Alliance

Next weekend’s launch of the Delta-4 Heavy has been postponed. The launch, which was to take place at Cape Canaveral, has been delayed due to unspecified payload issues. The launch is for the National Reconnaissance Office, a fairly secretive branch of the U.S. Government that’s in charge of the nation’s spy satellites. As such, they aren’t revealing too many details about the launch, or the postponement.

The Delta-4 Heavy rocket is a combination of three booster cores from the Delta Medium. Each one of these cores is a liquid hydrogen-fuelled engine that forms the Delta-4 Medium’s first stage. They’re mounted together to make a trio of engines, capped with a cryogenic upper stage.

The Delta-4 Heavy weighs 725000 kg (1.6 million lbs.) when it’s fully fuelled. It’s 71.6 meters (235 ft.) tall, and when it’s ignited it unleashes a whopping 2.1 million lbs. of thrust.

A Delta-4 Heavy blasting off in 2013.
A Delta-4 Heavy blasting off in 2013.

This configuration makes it the USA’s largest rocket, and it carries critical payloads for the government. These include not only spy satellites, but also an un-crewed test flight of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle.

The cancelled mission, named NROL-37, was supposed to lift an Orion 9 satellite into orbit. Orion satellites are signal interception satellites, and are placed in geo-stationary orbits to collect radio emissions. One of the Orion satellites is believed to be “… the largest satellite in the world,” according to Bruce Carlson, NRO Director. This probably refers to the size of the satellites antenna, which is over 100m (330ft.) in diameter.

The Delta-4 Heavy (D4H) is considered the largest rocket in the world. The D4H can lift a whopping 28,790 kg into Low Earth Orbit (LEO.) Contemporaries like the Ariane 5 (ECA & ES versions) can lift 21,000 kg into LEO.

It won’t be the most powerful rocket for much longer though. The upcoming Falcon Heavy from SpaceX will lift an enormous 54,400 kg into LEO. Also being developed is the US Space Launch System (SLS), which, in its Block2 configuration, will lift 130,700 kg. The Chinese are in on the most powerful rocket game too, with their Long March 9 rocket. Under development now, it is projected to lift 130,000 kg into LEO, just a shade less than the SLS.

Oddly enough, the old Saturn V could lift 140,000 kg, putting all its successors to shame. The Saturn V was developed for the Apollo Program, and was also used to launch Skylab. Saturn V was in use from 1967 to 1973. To date, the Saturn V is the only rocket capable of transporting human beings beyond LEO.

A Saturn IV launching the historic Apollo 11 mission. Image: NASA/Michael Vuijlsteke. Public Domain image.
A Saturn IV launching the historic Apollo 11 mission. Image: NASA/Michael Vuijlsteke. Public Domain image.

As for the cancelled launch, no date has been set yet for the next launch. Once it is launched, it will mark the 9th D4H configuration to fly, and the 32nd Delta 4 launch since 2002. It will also be the 6th time the D4H has launched for the NRO.

Universe Today’s Ken Kremer is at Cape Canaveral for this launch, and will report on it, and no doubt provide some stunning photos. Check back with us to see Ken’s coverage.

NASA Video Shows Astronaut’s-Eye View of “Trial by Fire” from Inside Orion EFT-1 on First Test Flight

Video Caption: New video recorded during NASA’s Orion return through Earth’s atmosphere provides viewers a taste of what the vehicle endured as it returned through Earth’s atmosphere during its Dec. 5 flight test. Credit: NASA

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Newly released NASA footage recorded during the first test flight of NASA’s Orion crew capsule this month gives an astronaut’s-eye view of what it would have been like for a crew riding along on the “Trial by Fire” as the vehicle began the fiery reentry through the Earth’s atmosphere and suffered scorching temperatures during the approximately ten minute plummet homewards and parachute assisted splashdown.

“The video provides a taste of the intense conditions the spacecraft and the astronauts it carries will endure when they return from deep space destinations on the journey to Mars,” NASA said in a statement.

The video was among the first data to be removed from Orion following its unpiloted Dec. 5 flight test and was recorded through windows in Orion’s crew module.

The Orion deep space test capsule reached an altitude of 3604 miles and the video starts with a view of the Earth’s curvature far different from what we’ve grown accustomed to from Space Shuttle flight and the International Space Station (ISS).

Then it transitions to the fiery atmospheric entry and effects from the superheated plasma, the continued descent, gorgeous series of parachute openings, and concludes with the dramatic splashdown.

Although parts of the video were transmitted back in real time and shown live on NASA TV, this is the first time that the complete video is available so that “the public can have an up-close look at the extreme environment a spacecraft experiences as it travels back through Earth’s environment from beyond low-Earth orbit.”

A portion of the video could not be sent back live because of the communications blackout that always occurs during reentry when the superheated plasma surrounds the vehicle as it endures peak heating up to 4000 F (2200 C) and prevents data downlink. Video footage “shows the plasma created by the interaction change from white to yellow to lavender to magenta as the temperature increases.”

The on-board cameras continued to operate all the way through the 10 minute reentry period to unfurling of the drogue and three main parachutes and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean at 11:29 a.m. EST at about 20 mph.

The Orion EFT-1 spacecraft was recovered from the Pacific by a combined team from NASA, the U.S. Navy, and Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin and safely towed into the flooded well deck of the USS Anchorage.

The Orion spacecraft is guided into the well deck of the USS Anchorage during recovery operations following splashdown. Credit: U.S. Navy
The Orion spacecraft is guided into the well deck of the USS Anchorage during recovery operations following splashdown. Credit: U.S. Navy

It was brought to shore and off-loaded from the USS Anchorage at US Naval Base San Diego.

Orion was then hauled 2700 miles across the US from California on a flat bed truck for her homecoming arrival back to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19 just prior to the Christmas holidays.

Homecoming view of NASA’s first Orion spacecraft after returning to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014 after successful blastoff on Dec. 5, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Homecoming view of NASA’s first Orion spacecraft after returning to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014, after successful blastoff on Dec. 5, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Orion’s inaugural test flight began with the flawless Dec. 5 launch as it soared to orbit atop the fiery fury of a 242 foot tall United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket – the world’s most powerful booster – at 7:05 a.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Orion flew on its two orbit, 4.5 hour flight maiden test flight on the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission that carried the capsule farther away from Earth than any spacecraft designed for astronauts has traveled in more than four decades.

Humans have not ventured beyond low Earth orbit since the launch of Apollo 17 on NASA’s final moon landing mission on Dec. 7, 1972.

EFT-1 tested the rocket, second stage, and jettison mechanisms as well as avionics, attitude control, computers, environmental controls and electronic systems inside the Orion spacecraft, heat shield, thermal protection tiles, and ocean recovery operations.

NASA intends that the EFT-1 test flight starts the agency on the long awaited road to send astronauts beyond Earth and eventually to Mars in the 2030s.

View of three core samples taken from the heat shield of NASA’s first Orion spacecraft after returning to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
View of three core samples taken from the heat shield of NASA’s first Orion spacecraft after returning to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s ongoing Orion coverage from onsite at the Kennedy Space Center about the historic launch on Dec. 5.

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

Ken Kremer

NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014.   Launch pad remote camera view.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014. Launch pad remote camera view. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

NASA’s First Orion Crew Module Arrives Safely Back at Kennedy Space Center

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – After a history making journey of more than 66,000 miles through space, ocean splash down and over 2700 mile cross country journey through the back woods of America, NASA’s pathfinding Orion crew capsule has returned to its home base at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“The Orion mission was a spectacular success,” said Jules Schneider, Lockheed Martin Program manager for Orion at KSC, during a homecoming event attended by space journalists including Universe Today on Friday, Dec. 19, 2014.

“We achieved 85 of 87 test objectives,” noted Schneider. “Only an up righting air bag did not deploy fully after splashdown. And we are looking into that. Otherwise the mission went extremely well.”

Orion’s early homecoming was unexpected and a pleasant surprise since it hadn’t been expected until next week just prior to Christmas.

Orion flew on its two orbit, 4.5 hour flight maiden test flight on the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission that started NASA’s long road to send astronauts beyond Earth and eventually to Mars in the 2030s.

The media were able to see the entire Orion capsule from top to bottom, including the exposed, blackened and heat scorched heat shield which had to protect the vehicle from fiery reentry temperatures exceeding 4000 F (2200 C).

 Top view of NASA’s maiden Orion spacecraft after returning to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com

Top view of NASA’s maiden Orion spacecraft after returning to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Orion is being stored for now inside the Launch Abort System Facility (LASF)

“The heat shield worked extremely well and did its job,” Schneider told Universe Today.

Engineers took three samples from the 16.5 foot diameter heat shield and they are in for analysis.

“I don’t know if you can tell, we’ve actually taken a few core samples off the heat shield already and we’re looking at those,” said Schneider. “We will be removing the heat shield from this vehicle later in February so we will get an ever better look at it.”

One of the main objectives was to test the heat shield during the high speed atmospheric plummet of about 20000 mph (32000 kph) that reached approximately 85% of what astronauts will experience during a return from future voyages to Mars and Asteroids in the next decade and beyond.

“All of Orion’s system performed very well,” Schneider told me in an interview beside Orion.

“And the capsule used only about 90 pounds of its about 300 pounds of hydrazine propellant stored on board.”

“All of the separation events went beautifully and basically required virtually no maneuvering fuel to control the attitude of the capsule. The expected usage was perhaps about 150 pounds.”

“Therefore there is a lot more hydrazine fuel on board than we expected. And we had to be cautious in transporting Orion across the country.”

Up close view of three core samples taken from the heat shield of NASA’s first Orion spacecraft after returning to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Up close view of three core samples taken from the heat shield of NASA’s first Orion spacecraft after returning to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Lockheed Martin is the Orion prime contractor.

The Orion arrived module arrived back at KSC, Thursday afternoon after being hauled across our country mostly on back country roads, and with no publicity or fanfare, on an unmarked flat bed truck to minimize interaction with the public.

“It was like a black ops operation,” said one of the team members responsible to safely transporting Orion from Naval Base San Diego to KSC.

NASA obtained special permits to move Orion from all the states travelled between California and Florida.

“We didn’t want any publicity because the capsule was still loaded with residual toxic chemicals like ammonia and hydrazine.” These were used to power and fuel the capsule.”

Orion’s test flight began with a flawless launch on Dec. 5 as it roared to orbit atop the fiery fury of a 242 foot tall United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket – the world’s most powerful booster – at 7:05 a.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The unpiloted test flight of Orion on the EFT-1 mission ignited NASA’s roadmap to send Humans to Mars by the 2030s by carrying the capsule farther away from Earth than any spacecraft designed for astronauts has traveled in more than four decades.

Humans have not ventured beyond low Earth orbit since the launch of Apollo 17 on NASA’s final moon landing mission on Dec. 7, 1972.

Watch for more details and photos later.

NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014.   Launch pad remote camera view.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014. Launch pad remote camera view. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s ongoing Orion coverage from onsite at the Kennedy Space Center about the historic launch on Dec. 5.

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

Ken Kremer

Jules Schneider, Lockheed Martin Program manager for Orion at KSC, and Ken Kremer/Universe Today discuss Orion during arrival event at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Jules Schneider, Lockheed Martin Program manager for Orion at KSC, and Ken Kremer/Universe Today discuss Orion during arrival event at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Amazing Up Close Videos Capture Orion’s Final Descent, Splashdown and Ocean Recovery

Video Caption: Last moments of Orion descent as viewed from the recovery ship USS Anchorage. Credit: NASA/US Navy

Relive the final moments of the first test flight of NASA’s Orion spacecraft on Dec. 5, 2014, through this amazing series of up close videos showing the spacecraft plummeting back to Earth through the rollicking ocean recovery by dive teams from the US Navy and the USS Anchorage amphibious ship.

The two orbit, 4.5 hour flight maiden test flight of Orion on the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission was a complete success.

It was brought back to land to the US Naval Base San Diego, California.

Orion’s test flight began with a flawless launch on Dec. 5 as it roared to orbit atop the fiery fury of a 242 foot tall United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket – the world’s most powerful booster – at 7:05 a.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The unpiloted test flight of Orion on the EFT-1 mission ignited NASA’s roadmap to send Humans to Mars by the 2030s by carrying the capsule farther away from Earth than any spacecraft designed for astronauts has traveled in more than four decades.

Humans have not ventured beyond low Earth orbit since the launch of Apollo 17 on NASA’s final moon landing mission on Dec. 7, 1972.

Video Caption: NASA TV covers the final moments of Orion spacecraft descent and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean approximately 600 miles southwest of San Diego on Dec. 5, 2014, as viewed live from the Ikhana airborne drone. Credit: NASA TV

The spacecraft was loaded with over 1200 sensors to collect critical performance data from numerous systems throughout the mission for evaluation by engineers.

EFT-1 tested the rocket, second stage, and jettison mechanisms as well as avionics, attitude control, computers, environmental controls, and electronic systems inside the Orion spacecraft and ocean recovery operations.

It also tested the effects of intense radiation by traveling twice through the Van Allen radiation belt.

After successfully accomplishing all its orbital flight test objectives, the capsule fired its thrusters and began the rapid fire 10 minute plummet back to Earth.

During the high speed atmospheric reentry, it approached speeds of 20,000 mph (32,000 kph), approximating 85% of the reentry velocity for astronauts returning from voyages to the Red Planet.

The capsule endured scorching temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit in a critical and successful test of the 16.5-foot-wide heat shield and thermal protection tiles.

The entire system of reentry hardware, commands, and 11 drogue and main parachutes performed flawlessly.

Finally, Orion descended on a trio of massive red and white main parachutes to achieve a statistical bulls-eye splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles southwest of San Diego, at 11:29 a.m. EST.

It splashed down within one mile of the touchdown spot predicted by mission controllers after returning from an altitude of over 3600 miles above Earth.

The three main parachutes slowed Orion to about 17 mph (27 kph).

Here’s a magnificent up close and personal view direct from the US Navy teams that recovered Orion on Dec. 5, 2014.

Video Caption: Just released footage of the Orion Spacecraft landing and recovery! See all the sights and sounds, gurgling, and more from onboard the Zodiac boats with the dive teams on Dec. 5, 2014. See the initial recovery operations, including safing the crew module and towing it into the well deck of the USS Anchorage, a landing platform-dock ship. Credit: US Navy

Navy teams in Zodiac boats had attached a collar and winch line to Orion at sea and then safely towed it into the flooded well deck of the USS Anchorage and positioned it over rubber “speed bumps.”

Next they secured Orion inside its recovery cradle and transported it back to US Naval Base San Diego where it was off-loaded from the USS Anchorage.

The Orion EFT-1 spacecraft was recovered by a combined team from NASA, the U.S. Navy, and Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin.

Orion has been offloaded from the USS Anchorage and moved about a mile to the “Mole Pier” where Lockheed Martin technicians have conducted the first test inspection of the crew module and collected test data.

It will soon be hauled on a flatbed truck across the US for a nearly two week trip back to Kennedy where it will arrive just in time for the Christmas holidays.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden briefs the media about the ‘Big Deal’ goals of the first Orion deep space crew module during prelaunch meeting backdropped by Orion and Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida prior to launch on Dec. 5, 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden briefs the media about the “Big Deal” goals of the first Orion deep space crew module during prelaunch meeting backdropped by Orion and Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida prior to launch on Dec. 5, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Technicians at KSC will examine every nook and cranny of Orion and will dissemble it for up close inspection and lessons learned.

NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014.   Launch pad remote camera view.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014. Launch pad remote camera view. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

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

Ken Kremer

NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014.   Launch pad remote camera view.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014. Launch pad remote camera view. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Prelaunch night view of NASA’s first Orion spacecraft bolted atop triple barreled United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Prelaunch night view of NASA’s first Orion spacecraft bolted atop triple barreled United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Orion Off-Loaded for Cross Country Trek to Florida Home Base

After a brilliant first test flight, and historic Pacific Ocean splashdown and recovery on Dec. 5, 2014, NASA’s Orion spacecraft was brought onshore inside the USS Anchorage to the US Naval Base San Diego and has now been offloaded for the cross country trek back her home base in Florida.

Orion was off-loaded from the well deck of the USS Anchorage Monday night after the amphibious ship docked in San Diego.

NASA officials pronounced the two orbit, 4.5 hour flight maiden test flight of Orion on the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission to be a complete success.

The EFT-1 spacecraft was recovered at sea, brought to land, and off-loaded by a combined team from NASA, the U.S. Navy, and Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin.

NASA's Orion spacecraft is being offloaded from the well deck of the USS Anchorage at Naval Base San Diego in California  and has been secured in its crew module recovery cradle to prepare for return to Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  Credit:  NASA/Amber Philman
NASA’s Orion spacecraft is being offloaded from the well deck of the USS Anchorage at Naval Base San Diego in California and has been secured in its crew module recovery cradle to prepare for return to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: NASA/Amber Philman

Years of planning, rehearsals, and hard work on land, in the air, and at sea paid off handsomely for the Orion Recovery Team, led by the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program (GSDO) based at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“The recovery of Orion was flawless,” said Jeremy Graeber, NASA recovery director. “We wanted to be patient, take our time. We didn’t rush.”

Navy teams in Zodiac boats had attached a collar and winch line to Orion at sea and then safely towed it into the flooded well deck of the USS Anchorage and positioned it over rubber “speed bumps.”

Next they secured Orion inside its recovery cradle and transported it back to US Naval Base San Diego where it was off-loaded from the USS Anchorage.

Orion has now been moved about a mile to the “Mole Pier” where Lockheed Martin has conducted the first test inspection of the crew module and collected test data.

The Orion crew module is being moved into a covered structure at the Mole Pier at Naval Base San Diego in California where it will be prepared for return to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Orion was secured on its crew module recovery cradle in the well deck of the USS Anchorage after it was recovered from the Pacific Ocean.   Credit: NASA/Cory Huston
The Orion crew module is being moved into a covered structure at the Mole Pier at Naval Base San Diego in California where it will be prepared for return to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Orion was secured on its crew module recovery cradle in the well deck of the USS Anchorage after it was recovered from the Pacific Ocean. Credit: NASA/Cory Huston

Next, it was placed into the crew module transportation fixture with a rigorous environmental control system and generator to ensure the crew module’s safety during transport.

Orion will be hauled on a flatbed truck across the US for a nearly two-week trip back to Kennedy where it will arrive just in time for the Christmas holidays.

Technicians at KSC will examine every nook and cranny of Orion, and will disassemble it for up close inspection and lessons learned.

NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014.   Launch pad remote camera view.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014. Launch pad remote camera view. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

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

Ken Kremer

NASA’s First Orion Back on Land after Flawless Ocean Recovery

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Following a picture perfect launch on Dec. 5, 2014, flawless test flight, and safe splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, NASA’s first Orion spacecraft has been recovered from the ocean and brought back onshore in California.

Near the conclusion of its two orbit, 4.5 hour maiden test flight on the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission, the capsule fired its thrusters and began the rapid fire 10 minute plummet back to Earth.

During the high speed re-entry through the atmosphere, Orion reached speeds approaching 20,000 mph (32,000 kph), or approximating 85% of the reentry velocity for astronauts returning from voyages to the Red Planet.

The capsule endured scorching temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit in a critical and successful test of the 16.5-foot-wide heat shield and thermal protection tiles.

The entire system of reentry hardware, commands, and parachutes performed flawlessly.

The Orion spacecraft is guided into the well deck of the USS Anchorage during recovery operations following splashdown. Credit: U.S. Navy
The Orion spacecraft is guided into the well deck of the USS Anchorage during recovery operations following splashdown. Credit: U.S. Navy

Finally, Orion descended on a trio of massive red and white main parachutes to achieve a statistical bulls-eye splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles southwest of San Diego, at 11:29 a.m. EST that was within one mile of the touchdown spot predicted by mission controllers after returning from an altitude of over 3600 miles above Earth.

The main parachutes slowed Orion to about 17 mph (27 kph).

The Orion EFT-1 spacecraft was recovered by a combined team from NASA, the U.S. Navy, and Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin.

Following a perfect launch on Dec. 5, 2014 and more than four hours in Earth's orbit, NASA's Orion spacecraft is seen from an unpiloted aircraft descending under three massive red and white main parachutes and then shortly after its bullseye splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles southwest of San Diego. Credit: NASA
Following a perfect launch on Dec. 5, 2014, and more than four hours in Earth’s orbit, NASA’s Orion spacecraft is seen from an unpiloted aircraft descending under three massive red and white main parachutes, and then shortly after its bullseye splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles southwest of San Diego. Credit: NASA

The only minor glitch was the failure of one of the three crew module uprighting bags to inflate. Nevertheless the capsule was in an upright position in the ocean waters.

Navy teams in Zodiac boats with divers approached the Orion after it had cooled down, hooked a sea anchor and tether lines onto the outside and maneuvered it into the flooded well deck of the USS Anchorage.

Once safely inside, Orion was placed inside its recovery cradle for transport back to a pier at US Naval Base San Diego.

An MH-60 helicopter flies over the Orion as recovery teams move in to retrieve the spacecraft. Credit: U.S. Navy
An MH-60 helicopter flies over the Orion as recovery teams move in to retrieve the spacecraft. Credit: U.S. Navy

The capsule will be hauled back to its launch site at the Kennedy Space Center, likely by Christmas, Larry Price, Lockheed Martin Deputy Orion Program Manager told me.

At KSC it will be refurbished and launched again on a high altitude abort test in 2018 to test the launch abort system.

Watch for Ken’s ongoing Orion coverage from onsite at the Kennedy Space Center about the historic launch on Dec. 5.

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

Ken Kremer

NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014.   Launch pad remote camera view.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014. Launch pad remote camera view. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014.   Launch pad remote camera view.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014. Launch pad remote camera view. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

NASA’s Exploration Roadmap to Mars Starts with Flawless Orion Launch and Landing

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – NASA’s exploration roadmap aimed at sending Humans to Mars in the 2030s got off the ground magnificently with the flawless launch and landing of the agency’s new Orion deep space capsule on its maiden voyage to space on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014.

“The first look looks really good from a data standpoint and will help us as we go forward,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Directorate, at the post Orion landing media briefing at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

“We, as a species, are meant to press humanity further into the solar system and this is a first step. What a tremendous team effort.”

Orion roared to orbit atop the fiery fury of a 242 foot tall United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket – the world’s most powerful booster – at 7:05 a.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The unpiloted test flight of Orion on the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission carried the capsule farther away from Earth than any spacecraft designed for astronauts has traveled in more than four decades.

Humans have not ventured beyond low Earth orbit since the launch of Apollo 17 on NASA’s final moon landing mission on Dec. 7, 1972.

Orion’s inaugural launch on Dec. 5, 2014 atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy rocket at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida at 7:05 a.m.  Credit: Alex Polimeni/Zero-G News/AmericaSpace
Orion’s inaugural launch on Dec. 5, 2014, atop United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida at 7:05 a.m. Credit: Alex Polimeni/Zero-G News/AmericaSpace

The first stage of the mammoth, triple barreled Delta IV Heavy generates some two million pounds of liftoff thrust and was the only rocket powerful enough to launch Orion and achieve its intended goals.

During the two orbit, 4.5 hour flight, Orion reached an altitude of 3,604 miles above Earth, about 15 times higher than the International Space Station (ISS).

The Delta rocket’s main stage and upper stage performed so well that Orion was injected into orbit within an accuracy of about 1 foot of the planned orbit, said Larry Price, Lockheed Martin Deputy Orion Program Manager in an interview with Universe Today.

“It’s phenomenal,” Price told me. NASA selected Lockheed Martin a decade ago as the prime contractor to design and build Orion.

A camera in the window of NASA's Orion spacecraft looks back at Earth during its unpiloted flight test in orbit. Credit: NASA Television
A camera in the window of NASA’s Orion spacecraft looks back at Earth during its unpiloted flight test in orbit. Credit: NASA Television

Orion was assembled, integrated, and tested inside the Neil Armstrong Operations & Checkout Facility at KSC.

“Lockheed Martin did a tremendous job of getting Orion ready,” noted Gerstenmaier.

“Thanks to everyone for getting us to be the leader in space.”

The EFT-1 mission concluded with a successful parachute-assisted splashdown of the Orion crew module in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles southwest of San Diego.

Orion Service Module fairing separation. Credit: NASA TV
Orion Service Module fairing separation. Credit: NASA TV

“It was a difficult mission,” said Mark Geyer, NASA’s Orion program manager at the KSC briefing. It appears to have been nearly flawless.”

“It is hard to have a better day than today, The upper stage put us right where we needed to be.”

“Today’s flight test of Orion is a huge step for NASA and a really critical part of our work to pioneer deep space on our Journey to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

“The teams did a tremendous job putting Orion through its paces in the real environment it will endure as we push the boundary of human exploration in the coming years.”

The spacecraft was loaded with over 1200 sensors to collect critical performance data on numerous systems throughout the mission for evaluation by engineers.

EFT-1 tested the rocket, second stage, and jettison mechanisms, as well as avionics, attitude control, computers, environmental controls, and electronic systems inside the Orion spacecraft and ocean recovery operations.

It also tested the effects of intense radiation by traveling twice through the Van Allen radiation belt.

Approximately 3 hours and 20 minutes into the mission, the spacecraft separated and soon experienced the highest radiation levels of the mission.

At about 4 hours and 15 minutes, the capsule began its high speed re-entry through the atmosphere at speeds approaching 20,000 mph, thereby testing the 16.5-foot-wide heat shield at speeds approximating 85% of the reentry velocity for astronauts returning from voyages to the Red Planet.

The capsule survived scorching temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit in a successful test of the heat shield and thermal protection tiles, before splashing down on a trio of parachutes in the Pacific Ocean at 11:29 a.m. EST.

The Orion crew module splashed down in the Pacific Ocean about 600 miles southwest of San Diego.  Credit: NASA TV
The Orion crew module splashed down in the Pacific Ocean about 600 miles southwest of San Diego. Credit: NASA TV

The purpose was to check out many, but not all, of the systems critical to the safety of astronauts who will eventually travel to deep space in Orion.

“When Orion started there were still a lot of Apollo veterans. Now we have finally done something for our generation,” said Mike Hawes, Lockheed Martin Orion Program manager.

Onboard cameras captured stunning views during many stages of the EFT-1 mission, including the fairing jettison and views out the window.

“Some of those pictures where you could see the frame of the window, you don’t feel like you’re watching like a satellite, you feel like an astronaut yourself,” Geyer said.

In the Kennedy Space Center’s Press Site auditorium, agency leaders received prolonged applause on entering the room and spoke to members of the news media about the successful Orion Flight Test on Dec. 5, 2014. From left are: Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, Mark Geyer, Orion program manager, Mike Hawes, Lockheed Martin Orion Program manager, and NASA astronaut Rex Walheim.  Credit:  Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
In the Kennedy Space Center’s Press Site auditorium, agency leaders received prolonged applause on entering the room and spoke to members of the news media about the successful Orion Flight Test on Dec. 5, 2014. From left are: Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations; Mark Geyer, Orion program manager; Mike Hawes, Lockheed Martin Orion Program manager; and NASA astronaut Rex Walheim. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

“That picture really meant something to me,” said astronaut Rex Walheim, who flew on the final space shuttle mission on STS-135.

A drone captured stunning images of Orion during the final plummet to Earth and parachute deployment.

The pace of the Orion program is constrained by budgets and is slower than anyone wishes.

The next Orion launch on the EM-1 mission is slated for the second half of 2018 and will also be unmanned during the debut launch of NASA’s powerful new SLS rocket.

America’s astronauts flying aboard Orion will venture farther into deep space than ever before – beyond the Moon to Asteroids, Mars, and other destinations in our Solar System starting around 2020 or 2021 on Orion’s first crewed flight atop NASA’s new monster rocket – the SLS – concurrently under development.

Watch for Ken’s ongoing Orion coverage from onsite at the Kennedy Space Center about the historic launch on Dec. 5.

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

Ken Kremer