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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch this launch video compilation from Jeff Seibert:

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

Watch this launch video from Ken Kremer:

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

WGS-9 was built by Boeing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ken Kremer

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

Delta IV Delivers Daunting Display Powering International Military WGS-9 SatCom to Orbit

ULA Delta IV rocket streaks to orbit carrying the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS-9) tactical communications satellite for the U.S. Air Force and international partners from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, at 8:18 p.m. EDT on Mar. 18, 2017, in this long exposure photo taken on base. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – On the 70th anniversary year commemorating the United States Air Force, a ULA Delta IV rocket put on a daunting display of nighttime rocket fire power shortly after sunset Saturday, March 19 – powering a high speed military communications satellite to orbit that will significantly enhance the targeting firepower of forces in the field; and was funded in collaboration with America’s strategic allies.

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

The launch and separation of the payload form the Delta upper stage was “fully successful,” said Major General David D. Thompson, Vice Commander Air Force Space Command, Peterson Air Force Base, CO, to our media gaggle soon after launch at the press view site on base.

“The WGS-9 mission is key event celebrating the 70th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force as a separate service. The USAF was created two years after World War II ended.”

“The theme of this year is ‘breaking Barriers.’”

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

WGS-9 was delivered to a supersynchronous transfer orbit atop the ULA Delta IV Medium+ rocket.

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

“WGS-9 was made possible by funding from our international partners,” Thompson emphasized.

Major General David D. Thompson, Vice Commander Air Force Space Command, Peterson Air Force Base, CO, and Brig. Gen. Wayne R. Monteith, Commander of the 45th Space Wing Commander and Eastern Range Director at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla, celebrate successful Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS-9) launch for the U.S. Air Force on ULA Delta IV from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on Mar. 18, 2017, with the media gaggle on base. Credit: Julian Leek

It is the ninth satellite in the WGS constellation that serves as the backbone of the U.S. military’s global satellite communications.

“WGS provides flexible, high-capacity communications for the Nation’s warfighters through procurement and operation of the satellite constellation and the associated control systems,” according to the U.S. Air Force.

“WGS provides worldwide flexible, high data rate and long haul communications for marines, soldiers, sailors, airmen, the White House Communication Agency, the US State Department, international partners, and other special users.”

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

WGS-9 also counts as the second of at least a trio of launches from the Cape this March – with the possibility for a grand slam fourth at month’s end – if all goes well with another SpaceX Falcon 9 launch from pad 39A.

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

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

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

Orbital ATK manufactures the four solid rocket motors. The Delta IV common booster core was powered by an RS-68A liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine producing 705,250 pounds of thrust at sea level.

A single RL10B-2 liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine powered the second stage, known as the Delta Cryogenic Second Stage (DCSS).

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

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

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

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

ULA Delta IV rocket poised for sunset blastoff with the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS-9) mission for the U.S. Air Force from Space Launch Complex-37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on Mar. 18, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

Ken Kremer

………….

Learn more about USAF/ULA WGS satellite, SpaceX EchoStar 23 and CRS-10 launch to ISS, ULA SBIRS GEO 3 launch, EchoStar launch GOES-R launch, Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, OSIRIS-REx, InSight Mars lander, ULA, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions, Juno at Jupiter, SpaceX AMOS-6, ISS, ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, Orbital ATK Cygnus, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events at Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL:

Mar 21-25: “USAF/ULA WGS satellite launch, SpaceX EchoStar 23, CRS-10 launch to ISS, ULA Atlas SBIRS GEO 3 launch, EchoStar 19 comsat launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions to the ISS, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Close-up view of nose cone encapsulating the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS-9) mission for the U.S. Air Force slated to launch from Space Launch Complex-37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on Mar. 18, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Sunset Delta Set to Dazzle Cape with Mighty Air Force SatCom Launch March 18 – Watch Live

ULA Delta IV rocket poised for sunset blastoff with the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS-9) mission for the U.S. Air Force from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on Mar. 18, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – As sunset dawns on the venerable Delta rocket program, the sole Delta slated to launch from the Cape this year is set to dazzle at sunset tonight, Saturday, March 18.

And the launch site is drenched with brilliant blue skies this afternoon as I watched the Delta rocket exposed to the heavens as the mobile service tower rolled away from on site at pad 37.

Florida’s Space Coast will light up with a spectacular sunset burst of fire and fury as a United Launch Alliance (ULA) 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-9) mission for the U.S. Air Force is slated for 7:44 p.m. EDT on Saturday, Mar. 18, 2017 from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Close-up view of nose cone encapsulating the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS-9) mission for the U.S. Air Force slated to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on Mar. 18, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

WGS-9 will be delivered to a supersynchronous transfer orbit atop a ULA Delta IV Medium+ rocket.

Thus ‘March Launch Madness’ continues unabated tonight – with a dizzying pace of launches.

Because it’s been barely two and a half days since a SpaceX Falcon 9 successfully dazzled sky watchers and launch enthusiasts on Thursday, March 16, just after midnight by delivering the EchoStar XXIII commercial television satellite to geosynchronous orbit – as I witnessed and reported on here.

So it’s past time to ‘get your ass to the Cape’ – because the weather is glorious in central Florida. And … a Atlas rocket is slated to launch in only five or six days – late next week! in six next Friday.

Saturday’s sunset launch window runs for one hour and 15 minutes from 7:44-8:59 p.m. EDT.

You can watch the Delta launch live on a ULA webcast. The live launch broadcast will begin approximately 20 minutes prior to liftoff at 7:24 p.m. EST here:

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

The weather forecast for Saturday, Mar. 18, calls for a 90 percent chance of acceptable ‘GO’ weather conditions at launch time.

The primary concern is for cumulus clouds.

In case of a scrub for any reason the chances for a favorable launch dip just slightly to 80% GO on Sunday, March 19.

WGS-9 and her two sisters are the most powerful US Air Force military communications satellite ever built.

WGS-8 was launched on a Delta in December 2016.

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the WGS-8 mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex-37 at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 7, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

It is the ninth satellite in the WGS constellation that serves as the backbone of the U.S. military’s global satellite communications.

“WGS provides flexible, high-capacity communications for the Nation’s warfighters through procurement and operation of the satellite constellation and the associated control systems,” according to the U.S. Air Force.

“WGS provides worldwide flexible, high data rate and long haul communications for marines, soldiers, sailors, airmen, the White House Communication Agency, the US State Department, international partners, and other special users.”

United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the WGS-8 mission for the U.S. Air Force launches at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 7, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

WGS-9 also counts as the first of at least a trio of launches from the Cape this March- with the possibility for a grand slam fourth at month’s end – if all goes well with another SpaceX Falcon 9 launch from pad 39A.

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

Ken Kremer

………….

Learn more about USAF/ULA WGS satellite, SpaceX EchoStar 23 and CRS-10 launch to ISS, ULA SBIRS GEO 3 launch, EchoStar launch GOES-R launch, Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, OSIRIS-REx, InSight Mars lander, ULA, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions, Juno at Jupiter, SpaceX AMOS-6, ISS, ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, Orbital ATK Cygnus, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events at Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL:

Mar 21-25: “USAF/ULA WGS satellite launch, SpaceX EchoStar 23, CRS-10 launch to ISS, ULA Atlas SBIRS GEO 3 launch, EchoStar 19 comsat launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions to the ISS, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

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

USAF High Throughput Tactical Satcom Takes Flight in Stunning Florida Sunset Blastoff

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – An advanced military communications satellite that will significantly fortify tactical communications amongst U.S. and allied military forces took flight this evening, July 23, during a stunning sunset blastoff of a United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket from the Florida space coast as threatening weather luckily skirted away from the launch site in the waning hours of the countdown.

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket successfully launched the Wideband Global SATCOM-7 (WGS-7) communications satellite for the U.S. Air Force at 8:07 p.m. EDT Thursday evening, July 23, from Space Launch Complex-37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

The evening hues in the sunset skies over the launch pad region were stellar and wowed spectators all along the space coast region.

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

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 $570 million WGS 7 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.”

Following a one day launch postponement forced by drenching rainstorms, widespread thunderstorms and heavy winds on Wednesday, the initial outlook for Thursdays weather looked at first like it would repeat the dismal weather conditions in the central Florida region and cause another scrub.

Luckily the forecast storms relented and heavy rains and thunder passed through the launch pad area earlier enough in the day that technicians for rocket provider ULA were able to fuel the rocket as planned with cryogenic propellants starting around four hours before the liftoff.

WGS-7 is the seventh in a series of high capacity that will broaden tactical communications for U.S. and allied forces at both a significantly higher capacity and lower cost.

The Boeing built WGS-7 will provide the U.S. and allied militaries with 17 percent more secure communications bandwidth. It is also the only military satellite communications system that can support simultaneous X and Ka band communications.

“Every WGS that we deliver increases the ability of U.S. and allied forces to reliably transmit vital information,” said Dan Hart, Boeing vice president, Government Satellite Systems.

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

It sent signals confirming its health soon after launch.

Altogether Boeing is manufacturing 10 WGS satellites for the U.S. Air Force.

The WGS payload bandwidth will be enhanced even more for the last three satellites in the WGS series. To further improve connectivity the payload bandwidth will double for WGS-8.

Boeing also promises big cost reductions on the last four WGS satellites by instituting additional commercial manufacturing procedures.

“By utilizing commercial processes, we are able to offer greater capacity at a lower spacecraft cost, resulting in more than $150 million in savings for WGS-7 through WGS-10,” noted Hart.

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

Tonight’s spectacular liftoff was the second successful ULA launch in just eight days from Cape Canaveral. Last week a ULA Atlas V launched the latest GPS satellite for the USAF.

The WGS launch also marked ULA’s seventh launch in 2015. Overall this was ULA’s 98th successful one-at-a-time launch since the company was formed in December 2006 as a joint venture between Lockheed and Boeing.

Wideband Global SATCOM-7 (WGS-7) communications satellite artist’s concept. Credit: Boeing
Wideband Global SATCOM-7 (WGS-7) communications satellite artist’s concept. Credit: Boeing

“Kudos to the Air Force and all of our mission partners on today’s successful launch and orbital delivery of the WGS-7 satellite. The ULA team is honored work with these premier U.S. government and industry mission teammates and to contribute to the WGS enhanced communications capabilities to the warfighter,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Atlas and Delta Programs.

“The team continues to emphasize reliability, and one launch at a time focus on mission success to meet our customer’s needs.”

United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket to carry US Air Force WGS 7 military communications satellite into orbit. Launch reset for Thursday, July 23, at 8:07 p.m. EDT.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket to carry US Air Force WGS 7 military communications satellite into orbit. Launch reset for Thursday, July 23, at 8:07 p.m. EDT. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The Delta IV Medium+ rocket launched in a 5,4 configuration with a 5-meter diameter composite payload fairing built by Orbital ATK and with four solid rocket motors augmenting the first stage common booster core powered by a single RS-68A main engine. Each of the 60 inch diameter GEM-60 solids from Orbital ATK produces about 200,000 lbs of thrust.

This was the first flight of the Delta IV with the newly upgraded RS-68 engine.

The Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-68A first stage main engine burns cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen which generates about 702,000 lbf of thrust at sea level. The upper stage was powered by an Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10B-2 engine

“The modified nozzle on the RS-68A supports a 17% increase in engine performance,” Andrew Haaland of Orbital ATK told Universe today at the media viewing site.

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
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

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

Ken Kremer

United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket to carry US Air Force WGS 7 military communications satellite into orbit. Launch reset for Thursday, July 23, at 8:07 p.m. EDT.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket to carry US Air Force WGS 7 military communications satellite into orbit. Launch reset for Thursday, July 23, at 8:07 p.m. EDT. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

ULA Delta IV Rocket Launches July 23 with USAF High Capacity Satcom: Watch Live

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – A high powered military communications satellite for the US Air Force is now slated for launch on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket on Thursday evening, July 23, following a scrub called on Wednesday due to powerful thunderstorms passing too close to the Cape Canaveral launch pad in Florida.

Heavy rain and thunderstorms within range of the Delta IV launch pad at Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, forced ULA to scrub the blastoff originally set for Wednesday, July 22.

Due to deteriorating weather, ULA technicians were had to stop processing the rocket for launch and were unable to fuel the propellant tanks. Predicted high winds were also a factor in the launch scrub.

The Delta IV liftoff with the Wideband Global SATCOM 7 (WGS 7) satellite was reset for Thursday, July 23, at 8:07 p.m. EDT

The window extends for 39 minutes until 8:46 p.m. EDT.

You can watch the Delta launch live on a ULA webcast that starts at 7:47 p.m. EDT here:

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

Up close look at base of first stage of United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket and four solid rocket motors lofting US Air Force WGS 7 military communications satellite into orbit. Launch reset for Thursday, July 23, at 8:07 p.m. EDT.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Up close look at base of first stage of United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket and four solid rocket motors lofting US Air Force WGS 7 military communications satellite into orbit. Launch reset for Thursday, July 23, at 8:07 p.m. EDT. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The weather forecast for Thursday July 23, calls for a 60 percent chance of acceptable weather conditions at launch time.

The $570 million WGS 7 satellite is part of a significant upgraded constellation of high capacity communications satellites providing enhanced communications capabilities to American troops in the field for the next two decades.

United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket to carry US Air Force WGS 7 military communications satellite into orbit. Launch reset for Thursday, July 23, at 8:07 p.m. EDT.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket to carry US Air Force WGS 7 military communications satellite into orbit. Launch reset for Thursday, July 23, at 8:07 p.m. EDT. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“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,” according to ULA.

The Delta IV Medium+ rocket will launch in a 5,4 configuration with a 5-meter diameter payload fairing and four solid rocket motors augmenting the first stage core powered by a single RS-68 main engine.

The RS-68 burns cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen which generates about 702,000 lbf of thrust at sea level.

Fueling of the rocket has begun!

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

Ken Kremer

Genesis of ULA’s New Vulcan Rocket Borne of Fierce Commercial and Political Pressures: Interview

Fierce commercial and international political pressures have forced the rapid development of the new Vulcan launcher family recently announced by rocket maker United Launch Alliance (ULA). Vulcan’s “genesis” and development was borne of multiple unrelenting forces on ULA and is now absolutely essential and critical for its “transformation and survival in a competitive environment” moving forward, according to Dr. George Sowers, ULA Vice President for Advanced Concepts and Technology, in an exclusive interview with Universe Today.

“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.

Faced with the combined challenges of a completely changed business and political environment emanating powerfully from new space upstart SpaceX offering significantly reduced launch costs, and continuing uncertainty over the future supply of the Russian-made RD-180 workhorse rocket engines that power ULA’s venerable Atlas V rocket, after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Sowers and ULA’s new CEO Tory Bruno were tasked with rapidly resolving these twin threats to the firms future well being – which also significantly impacts directly on America’s national security.

“Our current plan is to have the new Vulcan rocket flying by 2019,” Sowers stated.

Whereas ULA enjoyed a virtual US launch monopoly for many years, those days are now history thanks to SpaceX.

Vulcan - United Launch Alliance (ULA)’s 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

The Vulcan launcher was created in response to the commercial SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, and it will combine the best features of ULA’s existing unmanned Atlas V and Delta IV booster product lines as well as being revamped with new and innovative American-made first stage engines that will eventually be reusable.

It will meet and exceed the capabilities of ULA’s current stable of launchers, including the Delta IV Heavy which recently launched NASA’s maiden Orion crew module on an unmanned test flight in Dec. 2014.

“We at ULA were faced with how do we take our existing products and transform them into a single fleet that enables us to do the entire range of missions on just one family of rockets.”

“So that was really the genesis of what we now call the “Vulcan” rocket. So this single family will be able to do everything [from medium to heavy lift],” Sowers told me.

Another requirement is that Vulcan’s manufacturing methodology be extremely efficient, slashing costs to make it cost competitive with the Space X Falcon 9. Sowers said the launcher would sell “for less than $100 million” at the base level.

“Vulcan will be the highest-performing, most cost-efficient rocket on the market. It will open up new opportunities for the nation’s use of space,” says ULA CEO Tory Bruno.

In its initial configuration Vulcan’s first stage will be powered by a revolutionary new class of cost effective and wholly domestic engines dubbed the BE-4, produced by Blue Origin.

It can be augmented by up to six solid rocket boosters, to propel high value payloads on missions ranging from low Earth orbit to interplanetary destinations for NASA, private industry and vital US national security interests.

Vulcan will also blast off with astronaut crews aboard the Boeing CST-100 space taxi bound for the International Space Station (ISS) in the early 2020s.

Cutaway diagram of ULA’s new Vulcan rocket powered by BE-4 first stage engines, six solid rocket motors and a 5 meter diameter payload fairing. Credit ULA
Cutaway diagram of ULA’s new Vulcan rocket powered by BE-4 first stage engines, six solid rocket motors and a 5 meter diameter payload fairing. Credit ULA

Further upgrades including a powerful new upper stage called ACES, will be phased in down the road as launches of ULA’s existing rocket families wind down, to alleviate any schedule slips.

“Because rocket design is hard and the rocket business is tough we are planning an overlap period between our existing rockets and the new Vulcan rocket,” Sowers explained. “That will account for any delays in development and other issues in the transition process to the new rocket.”

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

Development of the two Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELV’s) was originally funded by the U.S. Air Force to provide two independent and complimentary launch capabilities thereby offering assured access to space for America’s most critical military reconnaissance satellites gathering intelligence for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), DOD and the most senior US military and government leaders.

Since 2006, SpaceX (founded by billionaire Elon Musk) has emerged on the space scene as a potent rival offering significantly lower cost launches compared to ULA and other launch providers in the US and overseas – and captured a significant and growing share of the international launch market for its American-made Falcon rocket family.

And last year to top that all off, Russia’s deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, who is in charge of space and defense industries, threatened to “ban Washington from using Russian-made [RD-180] rocket engines [used in the Atlas V rocket], which the US has used to deliver its military satellites into orbit.”

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 Atlas V rocket first stage is powered by Russian-made RD-180 engines.
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, March 12, 2015, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

“ULA was formed eight years ago as a government regulated monopoly focused on US government launches. Now eight years later the environment is changing,” Sowers told me.

How did ULA respond to the commercial and political challenges and transform?

“So there are a lot of things we had to do structurally to make that transformation. One of the key ones is that when ULA was formed, the government was very concerned about having assured access to space for national security launches,” Sowers explained.

“In their mind that meant having two independent rocket systems that could essentially do the same jobs. So we have both the Atlas V and the Delta IV. But in a competitive environment you can well imagine that that requirement drives your costs significantly higher than they need to be.”

ULA actually offered three rocket families after the merger, when only one was really needed.

“So our first conclusion on how to be competitive was how do we go from supporting three rocket families – including the Delta II – off of 6 launch pads, to our ultimate aim of getting down to just 1 rocket family of off just 2 pads – one on each coast. So, that is the most cost effective structure that we could come up with and the most competitive.”

Developing a new first stage engine not subject to international tensions was another primary impetus.

“The other big objective that was always in our minds, but that became much higher priority in April 2014 when Russia decided to annex Crimea, is that the RD-180 rocket engine that became our workhorse on Atlas, now became politically untenable.”

“So the other main objective of Vulcan is to re-engine [the first stage of] our fleet with an American engine, the Blue Origin BE-4.”

The RD-180’s will be replaced with a pair of BE-4 engines from Blue Origin, the highly secretive aerospace firm founded by Jeff Bezos, billionaire founder of Amazon. The revolutionary BE-4 engines are fueled by liquefied natural gas and liquid oxygen and will produce about 1.1 million pounds of thrust vs. about 900,000 pounds of thrust for the RD-180, a significant enhancement in thrust.

“The Blue Origin BE-4 is the primary engine [for Vulcan]. ULA is co-investing with Blue Origin in that engine.”

Although the BE-4 is ULA’s primary choice to replace the RD-180, ULA is also investing in development of a backup engine, the AR-1 from Aerojet-Rocketdyne, in case the BE-4 faces unexpected delays.

“As I said, rocket development is hard and risky. So we have a backup plan. That is with Aerojet-Rocketdyne and their AR-1. And we are investing in that engine as well.”

More on the Vulcan, BE-4, reusability and more upcoming in part 2.

ULA concept for SMART reuse capability for the new Vulcan rocket involves eventual midair recovery and reuse of the first stage engines.  Credit: ULA
ULA concept for SMART reuse capability for the new Vulcan rocket involves eventual midair recovery and reuse of the first stage engines. Credit: ULA

Meanwhile, the next commercial SpaceX Falcon 9 is due to blastoff this Sunday, June 28, on the Dragon CRS-7 resupply mission to the ISS.

Watch for my onsite reports from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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

Ken Kremer
………….

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

Jun 25-28: “SpaceX launch, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Antares and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

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

U.S. Air Force Certifies SpaceX for National Security Launches, Ending Monopoly

SpaceX Falcon 9 is now certified for USAF launches. SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon blastoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14, 2015 at 4:10 p.m. EDT on the CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Story updated[/caption]

The U.S. Air Force announced Tuesday that they have certified SpaceX to launch the nations critical and highly valuable national security satellites on the firms Falcon 9 rocket, thereby breaking the decade old launch monopoly held by launch competitor United Launch Alliance (ULA). ULA is a joint venture owned by aerospace giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

The Air Force’s goal in approving the SpaceX Falcon 9 booster is aimed at drastically cutting the high cost of access to space by introducing competition in the awarding of military mission launch contacts. The prior contract involved a sole source $11 Billion “block buy” bid for 36 rocket cores from ULA in December 2013 which was legally challenged by SpaceX in April 2014, but eventually settled by SpaceX in an agreement with the USAF earlier this year.

Lieutenant General Samuel Greaves, Commander of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), announced the long awaited decision on Tuesday, May 26.

The certification milestone came after a grueling two year review process in which the Air Force invested more than $60 million and 150 people to thoroughly review all aspects of the Falcon 9 booster. The review was based on three successful flights by the Falcon 9 v1.1 which first launched in late 2013.

The purpose of certification is to assure that qualified launch providers could meet the challenge of safely, securely and reliably lofting expensive U.S. national security military missions to space and into their intended orbits with full mission capability that are critical for maintaining national defense.

“The SpaceX and SMC teams have worked hard to achieve certification,” said Greaves, Commander of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) and Air Force Program Executive Officer for Space, in a statement.

“And we’re also maintaining our spaceflight worthiness process supporting the National Security Space missions. Our intent is to promote the viability of multiple EELV-class launch providers as soon as feasible.”

And the competitive launch races “for award of qualified national security space launch missions” between SpaceX and ULA start very soon, within the next month says the USAF.

In June, the Air Force will issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) for GPS III launch services. ULA has three GPS launches in its manifest for 2015.

Of course SpaceX was overjoyed on hearing the certification news.

“This is an important step toward bringing competition to National Security Space launch, said Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and Lead Designer.

‘We thank the Air Force for its confidence in us and look forward to serving it well.”

Until today, ULA has held a launch monopoly over military missions since the company was founded in 2006. ULA also launches many NASA science missions, but very few commercial satellites.

Thus the U.S. military and NASA provide the core of ULA’s business and the source of much of its income and profits.

SpaceX is suing the Air Force for the right to compete for US national security satellites launches using Falcon 9 rockets such as this one which successfully launched the SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX is now certified by the Air Force for the right to compete for US national security satellites launches using Falcon 9 rockets such as this one which successfully launched the SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“This is a very important milestone for the Air Force and the Department of Defense,” said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, in a statement.

“SpaceX’s emergence as a viable commercial launch provider provides the opportunity to compete launch services for the first time in almost a decade. Ultimately, leveraging of the commercial space market drives down cost to the American taxpayer and improves our military’s resiliency.”

Other military spacecraft in the future could involve vehicles such as the X-37B space plane which recently launched on an Atlas V, as well as weather satellites, signals intelligence and missile warning satellites and a range of top secret missions for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) that have been routinely launched by ULA with a 100% success rate to date.

USAF X-37B orbital test vehicle launches atop  United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on May 20, 2015 on OTV-4 mission. Credit: Alex Polimeni
USAF X-37B orbital test vehicle launches atop United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on May 20, 2015 on OTV-4 mission. Credit: Alex Polimeni

ULA’s stable of launchers includes the Atlas V and Delta IV families of vehicles. ULA is phasing out the Delta IV due to its high costs. Only the Delta IV Heavy will remain in service as required to launch the very heaviest satellites that cannot be accommodated by less powerful rockets.

ULA is also replacing the Atlas V with the partly reusable new Vulcan rocket, that will be phased in starting in 2019 using American-made engines from either Blue Origin or Aerojet Rocketdyne.

The Atlas V uses Russian made RD-180 engines, who’s use has become highly contentious since the deadly crisis in Ukraine erupted in 2014.

The ensuing threats of RD-180 engine embargoes and imposition of sanctions and counter sanctions imposed by the US and Russia have thus placed US national security at risk by being dependent on a rocket with foreign made engines whose future supply chain was uncertain.

U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has been highly critical of the ULA dependence on the Russian RD-180 engines and issued this statement in response to the Air Force announcement.

“The certification of SpaceX as a provider for defense space launch contracts is a win for competition, said McCain.

“Over the last 15 years, as sole-source contracts were awarded, the cost of EELV was quickly becoming unjustifiably high. I am hopeful that this and other new competition will help to bring down launch costs and end our reliance on Russian rocket engines that subsidizes Vladimir Putin and his cronies.”

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

Overall the Air Force “invested more than $60 million and 150 people in the certification effort which encompassed 125 certification criteria, including more than 2,800 discreet tasks, 3 certification flight demonstrations, verifying 160 payload interface requirements, 21 major subsystem reviews and 700 audits in order to establish the technical baseline from which the Air Force will make future flight worthiness determinations for launch.”

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

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon blastoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14, 2015 at 4:10 p.m. EDT  on the CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon blastoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14, 2015 at 4:10 p.m. EDT on the CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk Sues Government to Break US Air Force’s National Security Launch Monopoly

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announces lawsuit protesting Air Force launch contracts while speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on April 25, 2014
Story updated[/caption]

Elon Musk, CEO and founder of the upstart commercial launch venture SpaceX, announced at a press conference today, Friday, April 25, that SpaceX is filing suit against the Federal Government to protest and break the US Air Force’s awarding of lucrative launch contracts for high priority national security satellites to a sole rocket provider – United Launch Alliance (ULA) – on a non competitive basis.

The gloves are officially off in the intensely mounting duel over multibillion dollar Air Force military launch contracts between SpaceX and ULA.

“The official protest document will be available Monday, April 28th at www.freedomtolaunch.com and will be filed with the United States Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C.,” said SpaceX in an official statement.

Musk said the Air Force launch contract with ULA amounted to a continuing monopoly, was unfair by blocking SpaceX from competing for launches of surveillance satellites and would cost taxpayers billions of extra dollars in coming years.

“What we feel is that this is not right – that the national security launches should be put up for competition and they should not be awarded on a sole source, uncompeted basis,” said Musk at the briefing called on short notice and held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

SpaceX is suing the Air Force for the right to compete for US national security satellites launches using Falcon 9 rockets such as this one which successfully launched the SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX is suing the Air Force for the right to compete for US national security satellites launches using Falcon 9 rockets such as this one which successfully launched the SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The latest Air Force launch contract dated to December 2013 guarantees the “block buy” purchase of 36 rocket cores from ULA for national security launches for the DOD, NRO and other government agencies, at a significantly reduced cost compared to earlier contracts.

A further 14 cores were to be awarded on a competitive basis, including bids from SpaceX and others who seek to gain Air Force certification. Several of those launch awards have now been deferred indefinitely.

ULA is a joint venture between aerospace giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin, formed in 2006, that has launched over 80 satellites to orbit and beyond including many NASA science and mission probes like Orion EFT-1, Curiosity, MAVEN, TDRS and more.

It manufactures the Delta IV and Atlas V unmanned, expendable rocket families that are currently the only boosters certified to launch the high value military payloads at issue in the lawsuit announced on Friday by Musk.

The newest versions of the Delta and Atlas rockets – known as EELV’s (Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles) have had nearly flawless records of success since being introduced some dozen years ago by the companies individually, before the ULA merger.

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

Musk wants his company’s newer and he says much cheaper Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets to be certified by the Air Force and included in the competition for launch contracts.

To date the Falcon 9 has launched only 9 times. Only four of those were in the new and more powerful configuration needed by the Air Force.

Musk is not asking that the launches be awarded outright to SpaceX. But he does want the Air Force contract cancelled and re-competed.

“We’re just protesting and saying that the launches should be competed,” Musk said.

“If we compete and lose that’s fine. But why were they not even competed? That just doesn’t make sense.”

“So far we are most of the way through the certification process. And so far there have been zero changes to the rocket. Mostly it’s just been a paperwork exercise.”

“Since this is a large multiyear contract, why not wait a few months for the certification process to complete. And then do the competition. That seems very reasonable to me.”

Musk said it costs four times more to launch ULA’s Delta or Atlas rocket vs. a SpaceX Falcon rocket.

“The ULA rockets are basically four times more expensive than ours. So this contract is costing US taxpayers billions of dollars for no reason.”

“Each launch by ULA costs American taxpayers roughly $400 million per launch. They are insanely expensive. I don’t know why they are so expensive.”

The Falcon 9 lists for about $60 Million per launch, but rises to about $100 million after the certification costs are included, Musk explained.

“So yes the certification does make our Falcon 9 rocket more expensive. But not 400% more expensive.”

“Our rockets are 21st century design,” said Musk to obtain the most efficiency. He said ULA’s designs date back to the 90s and earlier with heritage hardware.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters including Universe Today in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite on Dec 3, 2013 from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters including Universe Today in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite on Dec 3, 2013 from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

To date the Falcon 9 has already been used three times under a $1.6 Billion contract with NASA to launch the private SpaceX Dragon resupply vessel to the International Space Station (ISS) – most recently a week ago during the April 18 blastoff of the SpaceX CRS-3 mission from Cape Canaveral.

It is also being used to launch highly expensive communications satellites like SES-8 and Thaicom-6 for private companies to geostationary orbits.

“It just seems odd that if our vehicle is good enough for NASA and supporting a $100 billion space station, and it’s good enough for launching NASA science satellites, for launching complex commercial geostationary satellites, then there’s no reasonable basis for it not being capable of launching something quite simple like a GPS satellite,” said Musk.

“Our only option is to file a protest.”

Furthermore as I wrote here in a prior article, US National Security launches are now potentially at risk due to the ongoing crisis between Russian, Ukraine and Crimea because the RD-180 first stage engines powering the Atlas V are designed and manufactured in Russia by NPO Energomash, majority owned by the Russian Federation.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announces lawsuit protesting Air Force launch contracts while speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on April 25, 2014.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announces lawsuit protesting Air Force launch contracts while speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on April 25, 2014

“The head of the Russian space sector, Dmitry Rogozin, was sanctioned by the White House in March 2014 in the wake of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine,” says SpaceX.

The RD-180 engine supply could be cut off in a worst case scenario if economic sanctions against Russia are increased by the Western allies.

ULA has a two year contingency supply of the RD-180’s and blueprints to begin production, if needed.

However in the event of a cutoff, it would take at least three to five years to start and certify RD-180 engine production somewhere in the US, a ULA spokesperson told me recently at Cape Canaveral.

This possibly leaves a 1 to 3 year gap with no Atlas V 1st stage engine supply.

The Delta IV rockets and engines by contrast are manufactured in the US.

“In light of international events, this seems like the wrong time to send hundreds of millions of dollars to the Kremlin,” said Musk.

“Yet, this is what the Air Force’s arrangement with ULA does, despite the fact that there are domestic alternatives available that do not rely on components from countries that pose a national security risk.”

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

Ken Kremer

NASA Pressing Towards Fall 2014 Orion Test Flight – Service Module Complete

Engineers prepare Orion’s service module for installation of the fairings that will protect it during launch this fall when Orion launches on its first mission. The service module, along with its fairings, is now complete. Credit: NASA
Story Updated[/caption]

2014 is the Year of Orion.

Orion is NASA’s next human spaceflight vehicle destined for astronaut voyages beyond Earth and will launch for the first time later this year on its inaugural test flight from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The space agency is rapidly pressing forward with efforts to finish building the Orion crew module slated for lift off this Fall on the unmanned Exploration Flight Test – 1 (EFT-1) mission.

NASA announced today that construction of the service module section is now complete.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and science chief Astronaut John Grunsfeld discusses NASA’s human spaceflight initiatives backdropped by the service module for the Orion crew capsule being assembled at the Kennedy Space Center.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and science chief Astronaut John Grunsfeld discuss NASA’s human spaceflight initiatives backdropped by the service module for the Orion crew capsule being assembled at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The Orion module stack is comprised of three main elements – the Launch Abort System (LAS) on top, the crew module (CM) in the middle and the service module (SM) on the bottom.

With the completion of the service module, two thirds of the Orion EFT-1 mission stack are now compete.

LAS assembly was finalized in December.

The crew module is in the final stages of construction and completion is due by early spring.

Orion is being manufactured at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) inside a specially renovated high bay in the Operations and Checkout Building (O&C).

“We are making steady progress towards the launch in the fall,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at a media briefing back dropped by the Orion service module inside the O&C facility.

“It’s very exciting because it signals we are almost there getting back to deep space and going much more distant than where we are operating in low Earth orbit at the ISS.”

“And I’m very excited for the young people who will have an opportunity to fly Orion,” Bolden told me in the O&C.

Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for Orion under terms of a contract from NASA.

Orion is NASA’s first spaceship designed to carry human crews on long duration flights to deep space destinations beyond low Earth orbit, such as asteroids, the Moon, Mars and beyond.

The inaugural flight of Orion on the unmanned Exploration Flight Test – 1 (EFT-1) mission is on schedule to blast off from the Florida Space Coast in mid September 2014 atop a Delta 4 Heavy booster, Scott Wilson, NASA’s Orion Manager of Production Operations at KSC, told Universe Today during a recent interview at KSC.

Orion crew capsule, Service Module and 6 ton Launch Abort System (LAS) mock up stack inside the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Orion crew capsule, Service Module and 6 ton Launch Abort System (LAS) mock up stack inside the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Service Module at bottom. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Orion is currently under development as NASA’s next generation human rated vehicle to replace the now retired space shuttle.

Concurrently, NASA’s commercial crew initiative is fostering the development of commercial space taxi’s to ferry US astronauts to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station (ISS).

Get the details in my interview with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk about his firm’s Dragon ‘space taxi’ launching aboard the SpaceX upgraded Falcon 9 boosterhere.

The two-orbit, four- hour EFT-1 flight will lift the Orion spacecraft and its attached second stage to an orbital altitude of 3,600 miles, about 15 times higher than the International Space Station (ISS) – and farther than any human spacecraft has journeyed in 40 years.

The crew module rests atop the service module, similar to the Apollo Moon landing program architecture.

Orion service module assembly in the Operations and Checkout facility at Kennedy Space Center.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Orion service module assembly in the Operations and Checkout facility at Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The SM provides in-space power, propulsion capability, attitude control, thermal control, water and air for the astronauts.

For the EFT-1 flight, the SM is not fully outfitted. It is a structural representation simulating the exact size and mass.

In a significant difference from Apollo, Orion is equipped with a trio of massive fairings that encase the SM and support half the weight of the crew module and the launch abort system during launch and ascent. The purpose is to improve performance by saving weight from the service module, thus maximizing the vehicles size and capability in space.

All three fairings are jettisoned at an altitude of 100 miles up when they are no longer need to support the stack.

The fairings that will protect it during launch are added to Orion’s service module at the Operations and Checkout facility at Kennedy Space Center.  Credit: NASA
The fairings that will protect it during launch are added to Orion’s service module at the Operations and Checkout facility at Kennedy Space Center. Credit: NASA

On the next Orion flight in 2017, the service module will be manufactured built by the European Space Agency (ESA).

“When we go to deep space we are not going alone. It will be a true international effort including the European Space Agency to build the service module,” said Bolden.

The new SM will be based on components from ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) which is an unmanned resupply spacecraft used to deliver cargo to the ISS.

A key upcoming activity for the CM is installation of the thermal protection system, including the heat shield.

The heat shield is the largest one ever built. It arrived at KSC last month loaded inside NASA’s Super Guppy aircraft while I observed. Read my story – here.

The 2014 EFT-1 test flight was only enabled by the extremely busy and productive year of work in 2013 by the Orion EFT-1 team.

“There were many significant Orion assembly events ongoing on 2013” said Larry Price, Orion deputy program manager at Lockheed Martin, in an interview with Universe Today at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver.

“This includes the heat shield construction and attachment, power on, installing the plumbing for the environmental and reaction control system, completely outfitting the crew module, attached the tiles and building the service module which finally leads to mating the crew and service modules (CM & SM) in early 2014,” Price told me.

Orion was originally planned to send American astronauts back to Moon – until Project Constellation was cancelled by the Obama Administration.

Now with Orion moving forward and China’s Yutu rover trundling spectacularly across the Moon, one question is which country will next land humans on the Moon – America or China?

Read my story about China’s manned Moon landing plans – here.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orion, Chang’e-3, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, LADEE, Mars and more news.

Ken Kremer

Orion schematic. Credit: NASA
Orion schematic. Credit: NASA
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden meets the media including Ken Kremer/Universe Today to discuss NASA’s human spaceflight initiatives and Orion crew capsule being assembled at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Urijan Poerink
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden meets the media including Ken Kremer/Universe Today to discuss NASA’s human spaceflight initiatives and Orion crew capsule being assembled at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Urijan Poerink