Advanced USAF Tactical Satcom Set for Stunning Dec. 7 Nighttime Blastoff- Watch Live

ULA Delta IV rocket poised for blastoff with the WGS-7 mission for the U.S. Air Force from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on July 23, 2015.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
ULA Delta IV rocket poised for blastoff with the WGS-7 mission for the U.S. Air Force from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on July 23, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – Less than 24 hours from now the evening skies along the Florida Space Coast will light up with a spectacular burst of fire and fury as a Delta rocket roars to space with a super advanced tactical satcom for the U.S. Air Force that will provide a huge increase in communications bandwidth for American forces around the globe.

Blastoff of the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS-8) mission for the U.S. Air Force is slated for 6:53 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016 from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

WGS-8 will be delivered to a supersynchronous transfer orbit atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Medium+ rocket. The launch window runs for 49 minutes from 6:53-7:42 p.m. EST.

You can watch the Delta launch live on a ULA webcast. The live launch broadcast will begin at 6:33 p.m. EST here:

http://www.ulalaunch.com/webcast.aspx

The weather forecast for Wednesday Dec. 6, calls for an 80 percent chance of acceptable weather conditions at launch time.

In case of a scrub for any reason the chances for a favorable launch drop slightly to 60% GO.

WGS-8 is the first in a newly upgraded series of a trio of WGS satellites built by Boeing.

The major upgrade is inclusion of the Wideband Digital Channelizer, awarded to Boeing in June 2012.

The Wideband Digital Channelizer will provide a 90 percent improvement in satellite bandwidth for US forces.

It is also the only military satellite communications system that can support simultaneous X and Ka band communications.

WGS-8 can instantaneously filter and downlink up to 8.088 GHz of bandwidth compared to 4.410 GHz for the earlier Block I and II satellite series.

The prior Wideband Global SATCOM-7 (WGS-7) communications satellite was launched on July 23, 2015 from Space Launch Complex-37.

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

The Wideband Global SATCOM system provides “anytime, anywhere communication” for allied military forces “through broadcast, multicast and point to point connections,” according to ULA.

The $426 million WGS 8 satellite is part of a significant upgraded constellation of high capacity communications satellites providing enhanced communications capabilities to American and allied troops in the field for the coming two decades.

“WGS provides essential communications services, allowing Combatant Commanders to exert command and control of their tactical forces, from peace time to military operations.”

WGS-8 is the eighth in a series of high capacity communication satellites that will broaden tactical communications for U.S. and allied forces at both a significantly higher capacity and lower cost.

“WGS satellites are important elements of a high-capacity satellite communications system providing enhanced communications capabilities to America’s troops in the field for the next decade and beyond,” according to a ULA factsheet.

“WGS enables more robust and flexible execution of Command and Control, Communications Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR), as well as battle management and combat support information functions. The WGS constellation augments the existing service available through the UHF Follow-on satellite by providing enhanced information broadcast capabilities.”

The 217 foot tall Delta IV Medium+ rocket will launch in the 5,4 configuration with a 5 meter diameter payload fairing and 4 solid rocket boosters to augment the first stage.

The is the sixth flight in the Medium+ (5,4) configuration; all of which were for prior WGS missions.

WGS-8 logo
WGS-8 logo

WGS-8 also counts as the first of three launches from the Cape this December. A Pegasus XL rocket will launch on Dec. 12 carrying NASA’s CGYNSS hurricane monitoring satellites. And an Atlas V will launch on Dec. 12 with the EchoStar 23 comsat.

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

Ken Kremer

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 !
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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

Launch Gallery: Delta 4 Sends Military Satellite to Orbit

Who doesn’t like a good launch? These images and videos from last night’s launch of United Launch Alliance’s Delta 4 rocket are just pretty. The rocket boosted an international military communications satellite to orbit following a beautiful night-time launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 8:29 pm EDT on August 7 (00:29 UTC on August 8, 2013). The 21-story-tall Delta 4 included four solid-fuel strap-on boosters for extra oomph. As @OxyAstro said on Twitter last night, “I like to think of the Delta IV as an apartment building sitting on a few million lbs of thrust.”

Images here are from John O’Connor at Nasatech.net, and enjoy a close-up video of the launch, below, from Matthew Travis.

A standard video view of the launch is below.

On board was the WGS-6 (Wideband Global Satcom)a big 6,000 kg (13,200 lb) satellite that is part of a military communications network shared by the United States, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

As flames from the hydrogen-rich ignition coil around the boosters the RS-68 main engine comes up to full power. Credit: John O'Connor/nasatech.net
As flames from the hydrogen-rich ignition coil around the boosters the RS-68 main engine comes up to full power. Credit: John O’Connor/nasatech.net

Rising from the launch table the Delta IV/WGS-6 mission begins. Credit: John O'Connor/nasatech.net
Rising from the launch table the Delta IV/WGS-6 mission begins. Credit: John O’Connor/nasatech.net
Clear of the lightning towers the WGS-6 mission streaks to super-sync geo orbit. Credit: John O'Connor/nasatech.net.
Clear of the lightning towers the WGS-6 mission streaks to super-sync geo orbit. Credit: John O’Connor/nasatech.net.

Hush, Hush US Spy Satellite Blasts Off atop Milestone Atlas Rocket

Image Caption: Spy Satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office blasts off atop Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 8:28 a.m. EDT. Credit: Jeff Seibert/wired4space.com

A top secret US national security Spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) roared mightily to space this morning (June 20) through picturesque layers of broken clouds an Atlas V rocket at 8:28 a.m. EDT (1228 GMT) from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

Basically nothing is publicly known about the specifications or mission of the vital payload, dubbed NROL-38, launched in support of America’s national defense.

The classified mission entered a total news blackout and cutoff of the live webcast some five minutes after launch when the rocket’s first stage and upper stage engine separated successfully and before the secret satellite was deployed and reached orbit.

The flight marked a key milestone as the 50th successful launch of the combined Atlas V and Delta IV booster families collectively known as the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) built by United Launch Alliance (ULA). The maiden launch took place in 2002.

Image Caption: NROL-38 Spy Satellite soars to space on an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 8:28 a.m. EDT on Jun 20, 2012. Credit: Jeff Seibert/wired4space.com

ULA was formed in 2006 as a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin who were originally in competition at the start of the EELV program.

“This morning’s flawless launch is the product of many months of hard work and collaboration of government and industry teams. We hit it out of the park again as we continue to deliver superior vigilance from above for the Nation,” remarked Col James D. Fisher, Director of Office of Space Launch.

Threatening clouds and gusting winds remained within acceptable levels and did not delay the launch.

The 19 story Atlas booster first stage was powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine and the Centaur upper stage was powered by a single Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RL10A-4 engine.


Image Caption: NROL-38 Spy Satellite liftoff on June 20, 2012 atop Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com

“Congratulations to the NRO and to all the mission partners involved in this critical national security launch,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Mission Operations. “This launch marks an important milestone as we celebrate the 50th successful Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) mission, with 31 Atlas V and 19 Delta IV missions flown since August 2002.”

The NROL-38 spy satellite is the first of three critical NRO missions slated for launch by ULA over the next two months. The NRO is based in Chantilly, Va. and the U.S. Government agency responsible for designing, building, launching, and maintaining America’s intelligence satellites.

Indeed the next NRO satellite is currently scheduled for blastoff in the early morning hours of June 28 atop a Delta 4 Heavy booster rocket, now the most powerful rocket in the US arsenal following the forced retirement of NASA’s trio of Space Shuttle orbiters and which will surely put on a spectacular sky show !

The likewise classified NROL-15 mission will lift off next Thursday from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral.



Image Caption: NROL-38 Spy Satellite liftoff on June 20, 2012 atop Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer

The EELV Program was developed by the United States Air Force to provide assured access to space for Department of Defense and other government payloads, achieve significant cost savings and reliably meet launch schedule targets as older booster such as the Titan were phased out.

“Twelve of the 50 EELV launches have been NRO missions and these have been vital to our overall mission of delivering on commitments critical to our national security,” said Bruce Carlson, director, National Reconnaissance Office. “I thank and congratulate ULA and the EELV program for the tremendous performance and achievement of this very impressive and noteworthy milestone.”


Image Caption: NROL-38 Spy Satellite atop Atlas V rocket pierces cloud layers after liftoff on June 20, 2012. Credit: Ken Kremer

ULA will be getting some competition. SpaceX Corporation – which recently dispatched the first private spacecraft (Dragon) to dock at the ISS – will compete in the bidding to launch future US national security payloads.

Ken Kremer

Construction Begins on the 1st Space-Bound Orion Crew Module

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Production of NASA’s first space-bound Orion crew module has at last begun at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans – that’s the same facility that for more than three decades was responsible for manufacturing the huge orange colored External Tanks for the just retired Space Shuttle Program.

The first weld of structural elements of the Orion crew cabin was completed by Lockheed Martin engineers working at Michoud on Sept. 9, 2011. This marks a major milestone on the path toward the full assembly and first test flight of an Orion capsule.

This state of the art Orion vehicle also holds the distinction of being the first new NASA spacecraft built to blast humans to space since Space Shuttle Endeavour was assembled at a California manufacturing facility in 1991.

This capsule will be used during Orion’s first test flight in space which could occur as early as 2013. Credit: NASA

Eventually, Orion crew modules with astronaut crews will fly atop NASA’s newly announced monster rocket – the SLS – to exciting new deep space destinations beyond low Earth Orbit; such as the Moon, Asteroids and Mars.

“This marks the beginning of NASA’s next step to send humans far beyond Earth orbit,” said Orion program manager Mark Geyer. “The Orion team has maintained a steady focus on progress, and we now are beginning to build hardware for spaceflight. With this milestone, we enter the home stretch toward our first trip to space in this new vehicle.”

The first unmanned Orion test flight – dubbed OFT-1 – could come as early as 2013 depending on the funding available from NASA and the US Federal Government.

Welding the First Space-Bound Orion at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans by NASA and Lockheed Martin contractor team. Credit: NASA

NASA is still deciding which rocket to use for the initial test flight – most likely a Delta 4 Heavy but possibly also the new Liberty rocket proposed by ATK and EADS.

The framework welds were completed using the same type of friction stir welding (FSW) process that was implemented to construct the last several of the 135 Space Shuttle External Tanks at MAF that flew during the shuttle program.

Friction Stir Welding creates seamless welds in the Aluminum – Lithium alloys used for construction that are far stronger and more reliable and reproducible compared to conventional welding methods.

The first Space-Bound Orion will look similar to this initial Orion Ground Test Article (GTA) prototype crew cabin built in 2010 at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, LA after individual segments were bound together by Friction Stir Welding techniques. Note the astronaut crew hatch and windows. The GTA is now undergoing testing and integration at Lockheed’s facilities in Denver, Colorado. Credit: Ken Kremer

Orion spacecraft will be manufactured at Michoud in New Orleans, Louisiana, then sent to the Operations & Checkout Facility at Kennedy Space Center for final assembly and integration prior to launch.

Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for Orion. The vehicle was recently renamed the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) after being resurrected following its cancellation by President Obama as a key element of NASA’s now defunct Project Constellation “Return to the Moon” program.

NASA's Orion Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle
The Orion MPVC Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle ground test article (GTA) is shown at the Lockheed Martin Vertical Test Facility in Colorado. The GTA’s heat shield and thermal protection backshell was completed in preparation for environmental testing. Credit: NASA/Lockheed Martin

The first crewed Orion won’t launch until the 2nd flight of the SLS set for around 2020 said William Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate, at an SLS briefing for reporters on Sept. 14.

Lockheed has already built an initial version of the Orion crew capsule known as the Orion Ground Test Article (GTA) and which is currently undergoing stringent vibration and acoustics testing to mimic the harsh environments of space which the capsule must survive.

Watch for my upcoming Orion GTA status report.

Sketch of the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle. Credit: NASA
Artists concept of the STS blasting off with the Orion Crew Module from the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: NASA

Read Ken’s continuing features about the Orion project and Orion GTA starting here:
First Orion Assembled at Denver, Another Orion Displayed at Kennedy Space Center
Lockheed Accelerates Orion to Achieve 2013 launch and potential Lunar Flyby

Air Force Launches Next Generation GPS Satellite

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The first in a series of next-generation GPS satellites launched late Thursday from Cape Canaveral launch Complex 37 on board a Delta IV rocket. The Air Force’s Global Positioning System GPS IIF SV-1 satellite blasted off at 11 p.m. EDT on May 27, 2010, after overcoming three different launch aborts over the last week due to weather and technical glitches. Following its three hour, 33 minute flight into orbit, the new satellite has reached its orbit 18,000 km (11,000 miles) above the Earth, joining a constellation of 24 other GPS satellites that aids in military operations and helps civilians navigate the planet. Boeing, who built the satellite for the Air Force, said they acquired the first on-orbit signals from the new satellite early Friday, and all indications are that the spacecraft bus is functioning normally and ready to begin orbital maneuvers and operational testing.

This new era of GPS satellites are solar powered, designed for a minimum 12-year life. There will be a constellation of 12 of these new navigation satellites, which will have twice the signal accuracy of previous GPS satellites and are equipped with a new signal capability for more robust civilian and commercial aviation applications, Boeing said.

Close-up view of the Delta IV rocket before launch of the new GPS satellite. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today

For the United Launch Alliance, which prepared the Delta IV rocket, this was the 41st successful launch in the 41 months and six days since the company was created as a joint venture between Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co. This launch also marked a milestone for the Delta rockets. The first Delta rocket, called a Thor-Delta booster, launched 50 years ago on May 13, 1960.

The Delta IV was first launched in 2002, and this is the rocket’s 13th successful flight. GPS IIF-SV1 is the first GPS satellite to launch on a Delta 4. Previous navigation satellites were launched on the smaller Delta 2 boosters, and upcoming GPS IIF constellation satellites are expected to fly on the Delta IV rockets or Atlas 5 boosters.

Sources: SatNews, Boeing