Covert NRO Satellite Fades into Capes Cloudy Night Skies Shrouded in Liftoff Secrecy: Gallery – As ULA Atlas Wins Landsat Launch

Covert NROL-52 spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office fades into cloudy nighttime skies shrouded in secrecy after liftoff on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket at 3:28 a.m. EDT on Oct. 15, 2017 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL — As one Atlas rocket carrying a covert spy satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) to monitor Earth for national security purposes faded into cloudy nighttime skies over the Cape in the dead of night shrouded in liftoff secrecy, rocket builder United Launch Alliance (ULA) won another significant Atlas launch contract for NASA’s Landsat 9 satellite to monitor the health of Earth’s environment.

Capping two launches from two different rocket companies in four days by ULA and SpaceX followed by the arrival back in port of SpaceX’s ocean landed recovered booster, last week provided all the proof that’s needed to demonstrate that the revitalization of Florida’s Spaceport is well underway and America’s rocket makers are capturing lucrative launch contracts ensuring an upswing nationwide in rocket and spacecraft manufacturing – for critical military surveillance, government, civilian and science needs.

Check out the exciting gallery of Atlas launch imagery and videos including the thrilling droneship return of SpaceX’s 156 foot tall first stage booster back into Port Canaveral less than 4 hours after ULA delivered the classified NROL-52 surveillance satellite to a secret orbit – from this author and several space media colleagues. And check back here as the gallery grows!

A ULA Atlas V launch carrying the covert NROL-52 mission in support of U.S. national security blasted off overnight Sunday, Oct. 15 at 3:28 a.m. EDT (0728 GMT) from seaside Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

“Congratulations to the team who helped make #NROL52 a success! United Launch Alliance, 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., Air Force Space Command, and the Space and Missile Systems Center,” the NRO announced post launch on social media.

It was a case of ‘Going, Going, Gone’ as seemingly endless stormy weather plagued the space coast and the Atlas soon disappeared behind clouds from many but not all vantage points, as the two stage rocket was finally cleared to launch on its fifth try. Postponed three times by poor weather and once due to a technical glitch to fix a faulty second stage transmitter.

Reflecting in a pond a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket blasts off with the covert NROL-52 spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office at 3:28 a.m. EDT on Oct. 15, 2017 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The launches were postponed by the downstream impact of Hurricane Irma which forced the base closings of the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and significantly impacted the Florida Space Coast region by causing over $100 million in damage to buildings, homes, businesses, hotels, restaurants, infrastructure and more due to flooding and hurricane force winds.

“We’ve had an incredible month,” said Brig. Gen. Wayne R. Monteith, Commander, 45th Space Wing.

“Not only did we restore our base to full mission capable status just a few hours after Hurricane Irma impacted our coast, but we’ve successfully launched two rockets in less than four days just weeks later.”

Covert NROL-52 spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office fades into cloudy nighttime skies shrouded in secrecy after liftoff on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket at 3:28 a.m. EDT on Oct. 15, 2017 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“The 45th Space Wing supported ULA’s Atlas V launch of the NROL-52 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office early morning on Oct. 15!”

“The men and women of the 45th Space Wing continue to make the impossible possible.”

Reflecting in a pond a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket blasts off with the covert NROL-52 spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office at 3:28 a.m. EDT on Oct. 15, 2017 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

More than a quarter of all the world’s rocket launches take place from Florida’s burgeoning spaceports.

Covert NROL-52 spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office fades into cloudy nighttime skies shrouded in secrecy after liftoff on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket at 3:28 a.m. EDT on Oct. 15, 2017 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“Our team’s resiliency and tireless efforts in launching over 25% of all world-wide launches this year proves why we are the ‘World’s Premier Gateway to Space,’” Montieth gushed in pride.

Meanwhile, NASA selected ULA to provide launch services for the Landsat 9 mission with another Atlas V rocket as soon as late 2020.

“The mission is currently targeted for a contract launch date of June 2021, while protecting for the ability to launch as early as December 2020, on an Atlas V 401 rocket from Space Launch Complex 3E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California,” said NASA.

The Landsat 9 launch contract is worth $153.8 million.

Landsat 9 is a joint mission between NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

“Landsat 9 will continue the Landsat program’s critical role in monitoring, understanding, and managing the land resources needed to sustain human life.”

“We are honored that NASA has entrusted ULA with launching this critical land imaging satellite,” said Tory Bruno, ULA’s president and chief executive, in a statement.

“ULA’s world-leading performance and reliability, paired with the tremendous heritage of 74 consecutive successful Atlas V launches, provides the optimal value for our customer. We look forward to working together again with our mission partners at NASA’s Launch Services Program, Goddard Space Flight Center and the U.S. Geological Survey in the integration and launch of this significant mission, contributing to the international strategy for examining the health and state of the Earth.”

ULA Atlas V rocket streaks to orbit in this long duration exposure carrying covert NROL-52 payload for the NRO after lift off from Space Launch Complex-41 on Oct. 15, 2017 at 3:28 a.m. EDT at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Jeff Seibert

NROL-52 is the fourth of five launches slated for the NRO in 2017 by both ULA and SpaceX.

“Never before has innovation been more important for keeping us ahead of the game. As the eagle soars, so will the advanced capabilities this payload provides to our national security,” said Colonel Matthew Skeen, USAF, Director, NRO Office of Space Launch, in a statement. “Kudos to the entire team for a job well done.”

Check out this exciting video compilation from remote cameras circling the Atlas pad 41.

Video Caption: Launch of the NROL-52 satellite on an Atlas 5 booster from Pad 41. A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 421 rocket launches the NROL-52 payload on Oct. 15, 2017 at 328 a.m. EDT on the 5th launch attempt. Previous launch attempts were halted by weather issues 3 times, and a faulty telemetry radio that needed to be replaced after the rocket was rolled back to the Pad 41 Vertical Integration Facility. Credit Jeff Seibert

The venerable two stage Atlas V stands 194 feet tall and sports a 100% success record. The first stage generates approx. 1.6 million pounds of liftoff thrust.

This Atlas Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) mission launched in the 421 configuration vehicle, which includes a 4-meter payload fairing (PLF) encapsulating the payload and two strap on solid rocket first stage boosters.

The Atlas first stage booster for this mission was powered by the Russian-built RD AMROSS RD-180 engine, and the Centaur upper stage was powered by the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C-1 engine.

The dual chamber, dual-nozzle RD-180 is fueled by a mixture of RP-1 kerosene and LOX (liquid oxygen).

The ULA Atlas V first stage powers NROL-52 spy satellite to orbit for the NRO firing the dual chamber, dual-nozzle RD-180 engines after blastoff at 3:28 a.m. EDT on Oct. 15, 2017 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The next NRO launch is scheduled on a ULA Delta IV in December from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

Reflecting in a pond a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket blasts off with the covert NROL-52 spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office at 3:28 a.m. EDT on Oct. 15, 2017 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite NROL-52, SpaceX SES-11 and NASA and space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

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

Ken Kremer

Liftoff of ULA Atlas V rocket carrying classified NROL-52 payload for the NRO on Oct. 15, 2017 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Julian Leek
United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket streaks to orbit in this long duration exposure carrying covert NROL-52 payload for the National Reconnaissance Office after lift off from Space Launch Complex-41 on Oct. 15, 2017 at 3:28 a.m. EDT at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Reflecting in a pond a ULA Atlas V rocket stands poised for launch with the NROL-52 surveillance satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office prior to blastoff on Oct. 15, 2017 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Reflown SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster arrives at sunrise atop OCISLY droneship being towed into the mouth of Port Canaveral, FL on Oct. 15, 2017 after successfully launch SES-11 UHDTV comsat to orbit on Oct. 11, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com
ULA Atlas V rocket blasts off carrying covert NROL-52 payload for the NRO from Space Launch Complex-41 on Oct. 15, 2017 at 3:28 a.m. EDT at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Jeff Seibert

SpaceX Stages Stupendous NRO Spysat Sunrise Liftoff and Land Landing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ken Kremer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the weather looks promising at this time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ken Kremer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Outbids ULA for Military GPS Contract Igniting Fierce Launch Competition

Upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 blasts off with Thaicom-8 communications satellite on May 27, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. 1st stage booster landed safely at sea minutes later. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The fierce competition for lucrative launch contracts from the U.S. Air Force just got more even intense with the announcement that SpaceX outbid arch rival United Launch Alliance (ULA) to launch an advanced military Global Positioning System (GPS III) navigation satellite to orbit in approx. 2 years.

The U.S. Air Force has announced that SpaceX has won the national security contract to launch a single next generation GPS III satellite to Earth orbit in the first half of 2019. The contract award is valued at $96.5 million.

“SpaceX is proud to have been selected to support this important National Security Space Mission,” Gwynne Shotwell, President & COO, told Universe Today in a statement in response to the GPS III award.

The GPS constellation of navigation satellites is vital to both military and civilian users on a 24/7 basis.

“Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Hawthorne, California, has been awarded a $96,500,490 firm-fixed-price contract for launch services to deliver a GPS III satellite to its intended orbit,” the Air Force announced in a statement.

There could be as many as 15 Air Force launch contracts awarded this year in competitive bidding between ULA and SpaceX.

The upshot is that ULA’s decade long near monopoly on national security launches has now been broken several times in the past year with SpaceX outbidding ULA based on the price of their newer Falcon family of rockets compared to ULA’s long established Atlas and Delta rocket families.

Last year SpaceX won the competition to launch the first GPS-III satellite on a Falcon 9 rocket in 2018 with a bid of $82.7 million after ULA decided not to enter a bid.

“We appreciate the confidence that the U.S. Air Force has placed in our company and we look forward to working together towards the successful launch of another GPS-III mission,” Shotwell elaborated to Universe Today.

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell meets the media at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 17 Feb 2017 to discuss a wide range of space launch plans. Credit: Julian Leek

ULA did not bid on the first GPS III contract citing the lack of availability of “any Atlas engines available to bid” and other contract factors as the reason for not submitting a bid for the 2018 launch based on the request for proposals (RFP) for the global positioning satellite.

The Atlas V is powered by Russian made RD-180 engines, who’s import for military uses had been temporarily restricted by Congress following the Russian invasion of the Crimea.

The launch price was a deciding factor in the winning bid.

“Each contractor had to prove through their proposal that they could meet the technical, the schedule and the risk criteria,” said Claire Leon, director of the launch enterprise directorate at the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center, during a media briefing.

“SpaceX was able to do that. I wouldn’t say that they were necessarily better. They adequately met our criteria.”

SpaceX has been snatching away numerous launch contracts from ULA other launch providers across the globe with their substantially lower rocket prices. SpaceX has been hiring while other firms including ULA have suffered layoffs.

So in response to competitive pressures from SpaceX, ULA took concrete steps to dramatically cut launch costs and end dependency on the RD-180s when CEO Tory Bruno announced in April 2015 that the company would develop the new all-American made Vulcan rocket.

Vulcan is slated for an inaugural liftoff in 2019.

The Air Force expects SpaceX to achieve a rapid turnaround from winning the bid to actually launching the GPS satellite by April 2019.

“Contractor will provide launch vehicle production, mission integration, launch operations, spaceflight worthiness and mission unique activities for a GPS III mission. Work will be performed at Hawthorne, California; Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida; and McGregor, Texas, and is expected to be complete by April 30, 2019,” said the Air Force.

Only SpaceX and ULA bid on the GPS III satellite launch contract.

“This award is the result of a competitive acquisition with two offers received. Fiscal 2016 space procurement funds in the amount of $96,500,490 are being obligated at the time of award.”

The Air Force opened up military launch contracts to competitive bidding in 2015 after certifying SpaceX as a qualified bidder to launch the nation’s most critical and highly valuable national security satellites on their Falcon 9 booster.

Until 2015, ULA had a near sole source contract with the USAF as the only company certified to bid on and launch those most critical national security satellites. New space upstart SpaceX, founded by billionaire CEO Elon Musk, then forced the bidding issue by filing a lawsuit suing the Air Force.

In response to the lost GPS-III bid, ULA touted their demonstrated record of 100 percent success launching more than 115 satellites.

“United Launch Alliance continues to believe a best value launch service competition with evaluation of mission success and assurance, and past performance including demonstrated schedule reliability, is appropriate and needed for the Phase 1A missions given the technical complexities of rocket launch services and their critical significance to the war fighter and U.S. national security,” ULA spokeswoman Jessica Rye told Universe Today.

“Over the past decade, ULA has provided unmatched reliability with 100 percent mission success and ensured more than 115 satellites were delivered safely to their orbits each and every time. We look forward to continuing to provide the best value launch services to enable our customers’ critical missions.”

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

The most recent ULA launch for the Air Force took place days ago involving the stunning Delta blastoff of the WGS-9 high speed communications satellite on March 18, 2017.

SpaceX has suffered a pair of calamitous Falcon 9 rocket failures in June 2015 and Sept. 2016, destroying both the rocket and payloads for NASA and the AMOS-6 communications satellite respectively.

So the U.S. Air Force should definitely be balancing risk vs. reward with regard to lower pricing and factoring in rocket robustness and reliability, regarding launches of national security satellites which could cost into the multi-billions of dollars, take years to manufacture and are not swiftly replaceable in case of catastrophic launch failures.

ULA’s workhorse Atlas V rocket successfully delivered the final GPS satellite in the IIF series to orbit for the US Air Force on Feb 5, 2016.

United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the GPS IIF-12 mission lifted off at 8:38 a.m. EST on Feb. 5, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

At that time the Global Positioning System (GPS) IIF-12 navigation satellite completed the constellation of GPS IIF satellites that are critical to both military and civilian users on a 24/7 basis.

The Atlas V rocket delivered the GPS IIF-12 satellite to a semi-synchronous circular orbit at an altitude of approximately 11,000 nautical miles above Earth.

“GPS III is the next generation of GPS satellites that will introduce new capabilities to meet the higher demands of both military and civilian users,” according to the USAF.

“GPS III is expected to provide improved anti-jamming capabilities as well as improved accuracy for precision navigation and timing. It will incorporate the common L1C signal which is compatible with the European Space Agency’s Galileo global navigation satellite system and compliment current services with the addition of new civil and military signals.”

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

Ken Kremer

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

Vital Air Force Missile Reconnaissance Satellite SBIRS GEO 3 Launched – Photo/Video Gallery

United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying SBIRS GEO Flight 3 early missile warning satellite for USAF lifts off at 7:42 p.m. ET on Jan. 20, 2017 from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – A vital missile reconnaissance satellite for the U.S. Force soared to space atop an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral at dinnertime Friday night, Jan. 20, 2017.

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the $1.2 Billion Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) GEO Flight 3 infrared imaging satellite lifted off at 7:42 p.m. ET from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

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

Click back as the gallery grows !

Nighttime blastoff of ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the USAF SBIRS GEO 3 missile defense satellite to orbit on Jan. 20, 2017 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Julian Leek

“GEO Flight 3 delivery and launch marks a significant milestone in fulfilling our commitment to the missile-warning community, missile defense and the intelligence community. It’s an important asset for the warfighter and will be employed for years to come,” says Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, SMC commander and Air Force program executive officer for space, in a statement.

The Space Based Infrared System is designed to provide global, persistent, infrared surveillance capabilities to meet 21st century demands in four national security mission areas: missile warning, missile defense, technical intelligence and battlespace awareness.

“The hard work and dedication of the launch team has absolutely paid off,” Col. Dennis Bythewood, director of the Remote Sensing Directorate said in a statement.

“Today’s launch of GEO Flight 3 culminates years of preparation by a broad team of government and industry professionals.”

ULA Atlas V launch of USAF SBIRS GEO 3 missile defense satellite on Jan. 20, 2017 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Joe Sekora

The SBIRS GEO Flight 3 missile defense observatory built for the USAF will detect and track the infrared signatures of incoming enemy missiles twice as fast as the prior generation of satellites and is vital to America’s national security.

United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying SBIRS GEO Flight 3 missile detection satellite for USAF lifts off at 7:42 p.m. ET on Jan. 20, 2017 from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SBIRS GEO Flight 3 was launched to geosynchronous transfer orbit to an altitude approx 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) above Earth.

The Atlas V was launched southeast at an inclination of 23.29 degrees. SBIRS GEO Flight 3 separated from the 2nd stage as planned 43 minutes after liftoff.

Following separation, the spacecraft began a series of orbital maneuvers to propel it to a geosynchronous earth orbit. Once in its final orbit, engineers will deploy the satellite’s solar arrays and antennas. The engineers will then complete checkout and tests in preparation for operational use, USAF officials explained.

Watch these eyepopping launch videos as the Atlas V rocket thunders to space – showing different perspectives of the blastoff from remote cameras ringing the pad and from the media’s launch viewing site on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Video Caption: ULA Atlas 5 launch of the SBIRS GEO Flight 3 satellite from Pad 41 of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on January 20, 2017. Credit: Jeff Seibert

Video Caption: Launch of SBIRS GEO Flight 3 early missile warning satellite for USAF on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from SLC-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl., at 7:42 p.m. ET on Jan. 20, 2017 – as seen in this remote video taken at the pad. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor, with Northrop Grumman as the payload integrator.

The SBIRS team is led by the Remote Sensing Systems Directorate at the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center. Air Force Space Command operates the SBIRS system.

United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying SBIRS GEO Flight 3 early missile warning satellite for USAF lifts off at 7:42 p.m. ET on Jan. 20, 2017 from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
ULA Atlas V rocket carrying SBIRS GEO Flight 3 missile tracking observatory lifts off at 7:42 p.m. ET on Jan. 20, 2017 from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

Ken Kremer

ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the USAF SBIRS GEO 3 missile warning satellite awaits blastoff from pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Jan. 20 , 2017. Credit: Dawn Taylor
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying SBIRS GEO Flight 3 satellite lifts off at 7:42 p.m. ET on Jan. 20, 2017 from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the USAF SBIRS GEO 3 missile warning satellite awaits blastoff from pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Jan. 20 , 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the USAF SBIRS GEO 3 missile defense satellite streaks to orbit on Jan. 20, 2017 after nighttime blastoff at 7:42 p.m. ET from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Julian Leek
Banner announcing imminent launch of ULA Atlas V and USAF SBIRS GEO 3 from CCAFS on Jan. 20, 2017. Credit: Dawn Taylor
Launch of Atlas V and USAF SBIRS GEO 3 missile defense satellite from CCAFS on Jan. 20, 2017 as seen from Titusville, Fl neighborhood. Credit: Melissa Bayles
ULA Atlas V rocket stands erect alongside newly built crew access tower at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex-41 ahead of Jan. 19, 2017 blastoff. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Launch of Atlas V and USAF SBIRS GEO 3 missile defense satellite from CCAFS on Jan. 20, 2017 as seen from Titusville, Fl neighborhood. Credit: Melissa Bayles
Pad 41 gets hosed down about 1 hour post launch of ULA Atlas V rocket delivering USAF SBIRS GEO 3 missile defense satellite to orbit on Jan. 20, 2017 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Julian Leek
Atlas V/SBIRS GEO 3 awaits liftoff from pad 41 on Jan. 20, 2017 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Lane Hermann

Air Force Missile Warning SBIRS GEO 3 Satellite Set for Spectacular Night Liftoff Jan. 19; 1st 2017 Cape Launch-Watch Live

ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the USAF SBIRS GEO 3 missile warning satellite is poised for blastoff from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Jan. 19 , 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – A U.S. Air Force satellite that will provide vital early warnings on incoming enemy missiles that are critical to the defense of our homeland is set for a spectacular nighttime blastoff on Thursday Jan. 19 from the Florida Space Coast. Update: Launch reset to Jan 20 at 7:42 pm EST

The Atlas V rocket carrying the $1.2 Billion SBIRS GEO Flight 3 infrared imaging satellite counts as the first launch of 2017 by rocket builder United Launch Alliance (ULA) as well as the years first liftoff from Cape Canaveral.

The ULA Atlas V rocket is set for liftoff on Thursday, Jan. 19 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellite will be launched to geosynchronous transfer orbit.

It is the third satellite in this series of infrared surveillance satellites that will provide rapid and accurate warning of attacking enemy strategic missiles via infrared signatures – as well as critical targeting data to US missile defense systems to enable swiftly responding launches that will hopefully destroy the attackers in the battle space arena before impacting US cities, infrastructure and military installations.

USAF SBIRS GEO 3 missile warning satellite under construction by prime contractor Lockheed Martin. Credit: Lockheed Martin

The 20 story tall rocket and payload were rolled out vertically this morning some 1800 feet (600 m) from the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) processing hangar to pad 41.

With the unpredictable North Korean dictator Kim John Un threatening to launch an upgraded long range intercontinental ballistic missile this year that could potentially strike the United States west coast, SBIRS GEO 3 is more important than ever for our national defense.

The launch window opens at 7:46 p.m. EST (0046 GMT).

The launch window extends for 40 minutes from 7:46-8:26 p.m. EST.

Spectators are flocking into Space Coast area hotels for the super convenient dinnertime blastoff. And they will have a blast ! – if all goes well.

You can watch the Atlas launch live via a ULA webcast. The live launch broadcast will begin about 20 minutes before the planned liftoff at 7:26 p.m. EST here:

http://www.ulalaunch.com/webcast.aspx
www.youtube.com/unitedlaunchalliance and www.ulalaunch.com

The current launch weather forecast for Thursday, Jan. 18, calls for an 80 percent chance of acceptable weather conditions at launch time. The primary concern is for cumulus clouds.

The backup launch opportunity is on Friday.

In case of a scrub for any reason, technical or weather, the chances for a favorable launch drop slightly to 70% GO.

ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the USAF SBIRS GEO 3 missile warning satellite is poised for blastoff from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Jan. 19 , 2017. Credit: Julian Leek

“SBIRS, considered one of the nation’s highest priority space programs, is designed to provide global, persistent, infrared surveillance capabilities to meet 21st century demands in four national security mission areas including: missile warning, missile defense, technical intelligence and battlespace awareness.”

The first SBIRS satellite was launched in 2011.

SBIRS GEO 3 will launch southeast at an inclination of 23.29 degrees. It separate from the 2nd stage 43 minutes after liftoff.

ULA has enjoyed a 100% success rate for this 69th Atlas V launch stretching back to the company’s founding back in 2006.

ULA is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin with 116 successful launches under its belt.

ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the USAF SBIRS GEO 3 missile warning satellite is poised for blastoff from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Jan. 19 , 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The 194-foot-tall commercial Atlas V booster launched in the 401 rocket configuration with approximately 860,000 pounds of sea level first stage thrust powered by the dual nozzle Russian-built RD AMROSS RD-180 engine. There are no thrust augmenting solids attached to the first stage.

The satellite is housed inside a 4-meter diameter large payload fairing (LPF). The Centaur upper stage is powered by the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C engine.

Watch this video showing the detailed mission profile:

Video Caption: An Atlas V 401 configuration rocket will deliver the Air Force’s third Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellite to orbit. SBIRS, considered one of the nation’s highest priority space programs, is designed to provide global, persistent, infrared surveillance capabilities to meet 21st century demands. Credit: ULA

This mission marks the 34th Atlas V mission in the 401 configuration.

The two prior SBIRS GEO missions also launched on the ULA Atlas V 401 rocket.

Up close look at the payload fairing housing SBIRS GEO 3atop ULA Atlas V rocket set for launch from pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Lane Hermann

The SBIRS team is led by the Remote Sensing Systems Directorate at the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor, with Northrop Grumman as the payload integrator. Air Force Space Command operates the SBIRS system, according to a ULA description.

ULA Atlas V rocket stands erect alongside newly built crew access tower at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex-41 ahead of Jan. 19, 2017 blastoff. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

Ken Kremer

Mission patch for SBIRS GEO Flight 3. Credit: USAF

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Learn more about 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 & CRS-9 rocket launch, 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:

Jan. 18/20/21: “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

ULA Skips Competitive Bid for Air Force GPS Launch Contract, Door Opens to SpaceX

Atlas V rocket - powered by Russian made RD-180 engines - 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
File photo of Atlas V rocket – powered by Russian made RD-180 engines – 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

United Launch Alliance (ULA) has decided to skip the bidding competition for launch of the next generation U.S. Air Force GPS military navigation satellites, a company spokesperson confirmed to Universe Today, meaning that rival SpaceX is set to win its first military launch contract as the only other certified contract contender.

Since bids for the new GPS launch contract – which were the first to be opened by the military to a competitive bidding process since 2006 – were due on Monday, Nov. 16, the door has opened for SpaceX to apparently prevail with the launch services contract, by default, since they are the only other American company certified to launch U.S. Air Force military satellites. Continue reading “ULA Skips Competitive Bid for Air Force GPS Launch Contract, Door Opens to SpaceX”