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

USAF Missile Defense SBIRS Observatory Streaks to Orbit during Spectacular Evening Blastoff

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: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – A U.S. Air Force missile defense reconnaissance observatory that will track the telltale infrared signatures of incoming enemy missiles and is vital to America’s national security blasted off in spectacular fashion this evening, Jan. 20, 2017, as it streaked to orbit from the Florida Space Coast.

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. – marking the first US east coast launch of 2017.

The 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.

It is also the first of at least eleven launches of Atlas and Delta rockets by the aerospace firm this year.

The on time launch took place at the opening of the 40 minute launch window and after a 24 hour delay – when the launch was scrubbed yesterday (Jan. 19) after an aircraft flew into the Cape’s restricted airspace and could not be diverted in time before the launch window closed.

ULA also had to address sensor issues with the Atlas rockets RD-180 main engine during Thursday’s countdown.

Due to the scrub, the Atlas liftoff counts as the first launch of the Trump Administration rather the last of the Obama Administration.

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.

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

The SBIRS GEO Flight 3 is considered to be one of the highest priority military space programs in defense of the homeland.

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.

SBIRS will supplement and replace the legacy Defense Support Program (DSP) satellites currently in orbit and features vastly increased early missile detection and warning capabilities.

“ULA is proud to deliver this critical satellite which will improve surveillance capabilities for our national decision makers,” said Laura Maginnis, ULA vice president of Government Satellite Launch, in a statement.

“I can’t think of a better way to kick off the new year.”

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 is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin with 116 successful launches under its belt after today’s liftoff.

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 Atlas V 401 configuration has become the workhorse of the Atlas V fleet, delivering half of all Atlas V missions to date” said Maginnis.

“ULA understands that even with the most reliable launch vehicles, our sustained mission success is only made possible with seamless integration between our customer and our world class ULA team.”

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

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

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.

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 is poised for blastoff from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Jan. 20, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Artwork for ULA Atlas V launch of SBIRS GEO Flight 3 mission on Jan. 19, 2017 from Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: ULA

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

………….

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

Awesome Atlas Ferocious Fury Delivers Next Gen High Speed EchoStar 19 Internet Sat to Orbit for America

Fiery blastoff of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the EchoStar XIX satellite from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl., at 2:13 p.m. EST on Dec. 18, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Fiery blastoff of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the EchoStar XIX satellite from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl., at 2:13 p.m. EST on Dec. 18, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – The mighty Atlas V rocket put on an awesome display of ferocious fury Sunday afternoon delivering a rousing display of rocketeering capability that propelled a new next generation high speed internet satellite to orbit for North America to the delight of spectators gathered around the Florida Space Coast.

The 15,000 pound satellite will also delight American home and business subscribers users of HughesNet® – who should soon see dramatic improvements in speed and capability promised by satellite builder Space Systems Loral (SSL).

With the fiery blastoff of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket, EchoStar XIX – the world’s highest capacity broadband satellite – roared to space off Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl., at 2:13 p.m. EST on Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016.

“EchoStar XIX will dramatically increase capacity for HughesNet® high-speed satellite Internet service to homes and businesses in North America,” according to ULA.

“EchoStar XIX will be the world’s highest capacity broadband satellite in orbit.”

Also known as Jupiter 2, it will deliver more speed, more data and more advanced features to consumers and small businesses from coast to coast, says EchoStar.

Liftoff on the sunny Florida afternoon was delayed some 45 minutes to deal with a technical anomaly that cropped up during the final moments of the countdown with launch originally slated for 1:27 p.m. EST.

Incoming bad weather threatened to delay the blastoff but held off until dark clouds and rains showers hit the Cape about half an hour after the eventual launch at 2:13 p.m.

EchoStar 19 is based on the powerful SSL 1300 platform as a multi-spot beam Ka-band satellite.

It is upgraded from the prior series version.

“Building from their experience on the highly successful EchoStar XVII broadband satellite, SSL and Hughes collaboratively engineered the specific design details of this payload for optimum performance.”

EchoStar 19 was delivered to a geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO). It will be stationed at 97.1 degrees West longitude.

Fiery blastoff of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the EchoStar XIX satellite from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl., at 2:13 p.m. EST on Dec. 18, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Fiery blastoff of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the EchoStar XIX satellite from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl., at 2:13 p.m. EST on Dec. 18, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

EchoStar 19 was ULA’s final mission of 2016, ending another year of 100% success rates stretching back to the company’s founding back in 2006, as a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

This is ULA’s 12th and last launch in 2016 and the 115th successful launch since December 2006.

United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket streak to orbit carrying EchoStar XIX satellite after lift off from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl., at 2:13 p.m. EST on Dec. 18, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket streaks to orbit carrying EchoStar XIX satellite after lift off from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl., at 2:13 p.m. EST on Dec. 18, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“ULA is honored to have been entrusted with the launch of the EchoStar XIX satellite,” said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Human and Commercial Systems, in a statement.

“We truly believe that our success is only made possible by the phenomenal teamwork of our employees, customers and industry partners.”

Ignition and liftoff of United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket delivering EchoStar 19 satellite to orbit from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl., at 2:13 p.m. EST on Dec. 18, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Ignition and liftoff of United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket delivering EchoStar 19 satellite to orbit from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl., at 2:13 p.m. EST on Dec. 18, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The 194-foot-tall commercial Atlas V booster launched in the 431 rocket configuration with approximately 2 million pounds of first stage thrust. This is the 3rd launch of the 431 configuration – all delivered commercial communications satellites to orbit.

Three solid rocket motors are attached to the Atlas booster to augment the first stage powered by the dual nozzle RD AMROSS RD-180 engine.

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

“As we celebrate 10 years, ULA continues to be the nation’s premier launch provider because of our unmatched reliability and mission success,” Wentz elaborated.

“The Atlas V continues to provide the optimum performance to precisely deliver a range of missions. As we move into our second decade, we will maintain our ongoing focus on mission success, one launch at a time even as we transform the space industry, making space more accessible, affordable and commercialized.”

Artwork for ULA Atlas V launch of EchoStar 19 high speed Internet satellite on Dec. 18, 2016 from  Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.  Credit: ULA
Artwork for ULA Atlas V launch of EchoStar 19 high speed Internet satellite on Dec. 18, 2016 from Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: ULA

December has been an extremely busy time for launches at the Cape, with three in the past week and a half supported by U.S. Air Force’s 45th Space Wing. These include NASA’s CYGNSS hurricane mission launch by an Orbital ATK Pegasus rocket on Dec. 15; and the WGS-8 military communications satellite launch for the US Air Force by a ULA Delta 4 rocket on Dec. 7.

“Congratulations to ULA and the entire integrated team who ensured the success of our last launch capping off what has been a very busy year,” said Col. Walt Jackim, 45th Space Wing vice commander and mission Launch Decision Authority.

“This mission once again clearly demonstrates the successful collaboration we have with our mission partners as we continue to shape the future of America’s space operations and showcase why the 45th Space Wing is the ‘World’s Premiere Gateway to Space.'”

A ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the EchoStar 19 high speed internet satellite is poised for blastoff from  Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 18, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the EchoStar 19 high speed internet satellite is poised for blastoff from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 18, 2016. 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 EchoStar 19 high speed internet satellite is poised for blastoff from  Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 18, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the EchoStar 19 high speed internet satellite is poised for blastoff from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 18, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Powerful USAF Satcom Propelled to Orbit by Delta Provides Dinnertime Launch Delight; Photo/Video Launch Gallery

Ignition and liftoff of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the WGS-8 highest capacity satcom to orbit for the U.S. Air Force at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 16, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Ignition and liftoff of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the WGS-8 highest capacity satcom to orbit for the U.S. Air Force at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 7, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – The most powerful US Air Force military communications satellite ever built was propelled to orbit by a ULA Delta IV rocket that provided a dinnertime launch delight Wednesday evening for the crowds of spectators gathered around America’s premier gateway to space.

Check out this expanding gallery of launch photos and videos from several space journalist colleagues and friends and myself- spread throughout the Florida Space Coast region – giving a comprehensive look as the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS-8) mission streaked to orbit atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 6:53 p.m. EST on Dec. 7, 2016.

ULA Delta IV rocket and WGS-8 USAF sitcom streak to orbit at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 16, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, as seen from Melbourne, FL.   Credit: Julian Leek
ULA Delta IV rocket and WGS-8 USAF sitcom streak to orbit at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 7, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, as seen from Melbourne, FL. Credit: Julian Leek

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Medium+ rocket successfully streaked to the heavens through nearly crystal clear skies to deliver WGS-8 to a supersynchronous transfer orbit.

Spectators were rewarded with a picture perfect view of the rocket as it ascended quickly and arced over to the African continent.

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. 16, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the Wideband Global SATCOM (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

WGS-8 is the first in a newly upgraded series of a trio of WGS satellites built by Boeing that will nearly double the communications bandwidth of prior WGS models.

United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket streaks to orbit after blastoff at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 16, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, carrying USAF WGS-8 tactical sitcom.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket streaks to orbit after blastoff at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 7, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, carrying USAF WGS-8 tactical sitcom. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
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. 16, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
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
Liftoff of ULA Delta IV rocket carrying WGS-8 satcom to orbit for USAF at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 16, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit:  Julian Leek
Liftoff of ULA Delta IV rocket carrying WGS-8 satcom to orbit for USAF at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 7, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Julian Leek

Watch this video compilation showing the launch from several different vantage points.

Video Caption: A collage of up-close video cameras ringed around Space launch Complex 37 capture Delta 4 launch of the WGS-8 satellite on 12/7/2016 from Pad 37 of the CCAFS, FL. Credit: Jeff Seibert

ULA Delta IV rocket lifts off carrying WGS-8 satcom to orbit for USAF at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 7, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl., as seen from LC-39 gantry. Credit:  Chuck Higgins
ULA Delta IV rocket lifts off carrying WGS-8 satcom to orbit for USAF at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 7, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl., as seen from LC-39 gantry. Credit: Chuck Higgins
ULA Delta IV rocket lifts off carrying WGS-8 satcom to orbit for USAF at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 7, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl., as seen from LC-39 gantry.  Credit:  Chuck Higgins
ULA Delta IV rocket lifts off carrying WGS-8 satcom to orbit for USAF at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 7, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl., as seen from LC-39 gantry. Credit: Chuck Higgins

WGS-8 is the first of three launches from the Cape this December. A Pegasus XL rocket will launch on Dec. 12 carrying NASA’s CGYNSS hurricane monitoring satellites. And an Atlas V will launch on Dec. 18 with the EchoStar 19 comsat.

ULA Delta IV poised for blastoff with the WGS-8 mission for the U.S. Air Force from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on Dec. 7, 2016.  Credit: Lane Hermann
ULA Delta IV poised for blastoff with the WGS-8 mission for the U.S. Air Force from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on Dec. 7, 2016. Credit: Lane Hermann

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

Ken Kremer

Blastoff of ULA Delta IV rocket with USAF WGS-8 satcom at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 7, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl., as seen from Titusville. Credit:  Ashley Crouch
Blastoff of ULA Delta IV rocket with USAF WGS-8 satcom at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 7, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl., as seen from Titusville. Credit: Ashley Crouch
Blastoff of ULA Delta IV rocket with USAF WGS-8 satcom at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 7, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl., as seen from Titusville. Credit:  Ashley Crouch
Blastoff of ULA Delta IV rocket with USAF WGS-8 satcom at 6:53 p.m EDT on Dec. 7, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl., as seen from Titusville. Credit: Ashley Crouch
ULA Delta IV rocket poised for blastoff with the WGS-8 mission for the U.S. Air Force from pad 37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on Dec. 7, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
ULA Delta IV rocket poised for blastoff with the WGS-8 mission for the U.S. Air Force from pad 37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on Dec. 7, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
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. 16, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
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. 16, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
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. 16, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
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. 16, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Fabulous Florida Nighttime Blastoff Delivers Highest-Capacity US Air Force Satcom to Orbit

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. 16, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
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

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – The highest-capacity US Air Force communications system thundered to orbit during a fabulous nighttime blastoff from the Florida Space Coast, Wednesday evening offering a picture perfect spectacle in addition to a significant boost to military point to point communications.

Hordes of spectators lined space coast beaches and viewing areas to witness the dinnertime launch of the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS-8) mission for the U.S. Air Force on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Medium+ rocket at 6:53 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016.

The on time Delta liftoff took place from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida at the opening of the 49 minute long launch window.

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. 16, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
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

“Thank you to the U.S. Air Force and industry team whose flawless execution enabled today’s successful launch of the WGS-8 mission,” said Laura Maginnis, ULA vice president of Custom Services, in a statement.

“Last week ULA celebrated our anniversary and 10 years of 100% mission success. This evening’s launch epitomizes why our customers continue to entrust ULA to deliver our nation’s most crucial space capabilities.”

WGS-8 was delivered to a supersynchronous transfer orbit atop the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Medium+ rocket.

WGS-8 is the first in a newly upgraded series of a trio of WGS satellites built by Boeing that will nearly double the communications bandwidth of prior WGS models.

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

“Boeing’s eighth Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) satellite will provide nearly twice as much communications bandwidth as previous WGS satellites due to an upgraded digital payload,” said Boeing in a statement.

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

“Using leading commercial digital circuit technology, the newly upgraded satellite will aid in fulfilling the increasing demand for high-data rate communications of warfighters around the globe.”

WGS-8 was also built for a significantly cheaper price compared to the prior WGS series. WGS-8 cost about $426 million vs. about $570 million for the WGS 7 satellite.
“Not only does WGS-8’s cutting edge digital payload nearly double the satellite’s bandwidth, but the U.S. government was able to realize more than $150 million in savings for WGS-7 through WGS-10 through fixed-price block purchases and commercial operating practices,” said Dan Hart, Boeing vice president, Government Satellite Systems, in a statement.

“We’ve been able to both increase the capability and reduce the per-unit cost with each new WGS satellite we’ve delivered, making WGS, by far, the most cost-effective asset for military communications.”

The 217 foot tall Delta IV Medium+ rocket launched in the (5,4) configuration with a 5 meter diameter payload fairing and powered by one common booster core and four solid rocket motors built by Orbital ATK to augment the first stage.

The 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.

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

ULA Delta IV rocket poised for blastoff with the WGS-8 mission for the U.S. Air Force from pad 37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on Dec. 7, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
ULA Delta IV rocket poised for blastoff with the WGS-8 mission for the U.S. Air Force from pad 37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, on Dec. 7, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

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

Ken Kremer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WGS-8 logo
WGS-8 logo

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

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

Ken Kremer

Was SpaceX’s Lost Falcon 9 The Victim Of Sabotage?

On Sept. 1st, 2016, aerospace giant SpaceX suffered a terrible setback when one of their Falcon 9 rockets inexplicably exploded during a fueling test. An investigation into the causes of the accident – which Musk described as being the “most difficult and complex failure” in the company’s history – was immediately mounted.

And while the focus of the investigation has been on potential mechanical failures – such as a possible breach In 2nd stage helium system – another line in inquiry also came to light recently. In this case, the focus was on the ongoing feud between SpaceX and its greatest competitor, United Launch Alliance (ULA), and whether or not that could have played a role.

Speculation about this possible connection began after three unnamed industry officials who were familiar with the accident shared details of an incident that happened a few weeks after the explosion. According to The Washington Post, these officials claimed that SpaceX had come across something suspicious during the course of their investigation.

On Sept. 1st, one of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket's exploded during a static firing test. The company is now facing a potential legal battle over the damage caused. Credit: SpaceX
On Sept. 1st, one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket’s exploded during a static firing test. The company is now facing a potential legal battle over the damage caused. Credit: SpaceX

After pouring over images and video from the explosion, SpaceX investigators noticed an odd shadow and then a white spot on the roof of building located close to their launch complex. The building is currently being leased by ULA to refurbish their Sensible Modular Autonomous Return Technology (SMART) rocket motors – a key component in the company’s new Vulcan rocket.

Located about one and half kilometers (1 mile) from SpaceX’s launch facilities, and has a clear line of sight on the launch pad. SpaceX dispatched an representative to check it out, who arrived at the building and requested access to the roof. A ULA representative denied them access and called Air Force investigators, who then inspected the roof themselves and determined that nothing of a suspicions nature was there.

While the incident proved to be inconclusive, it is the fact that it was not previously reported that is raising some eyebrows. And it is just another mysterious detail to come from an accident that remains largely unexplained. However, in all likelihood the incident was avoided to prevent embarrassment to either company, and to avoid fueling speculations about possible sabotage (which seems highly unlikely at this point).

In the meantime, SpaceX is still investigating the explosion with the help of NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the USAF’s 45th Space Wing. Musk commented on the ongoing investigation while attending the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Mangled SpaceX Falcon 9 strongback after prelaunch explosion destroyed the rocket and AMOS-6 payload and damaged the pad. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Mangled SpaceX Falcon 9 strongback after prelaunch explosion destroyed the rocket and AMOS-6 payload and damaged the pad. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

In the midst of sharing the latest details of his vision to colonize Mars, Musk was quoted by The Washington Post as saying that the investigation is his company’s “absolute top priority.” As for the cause, he went on to say that they have “eliminated all of the obvious possibilities for what occurred there. So what remains are the less probable answers.”

Whether or not sabotage is a realistic possibility, this incident does serve to highlight the rivalry between SpaceX and ULA. Prior to 2014, ULA was the sole provider of launch services for the US Air Force, until a lawsuit from SpaceX compelled them to open the field to competition. Since then, both companies have been fighting – sometimes bitterly – to secure national security contracts.

It has also brought the issue of government oversight and accountability to the fore. On Sept. 29th, members of Congress Mike Coffman (R-Co) and Robert Aderholt (R-Al) sent a congressional letter to the heads of NASA, the US Air Force and the FAA expressing concerns about SpaceX’s recent accidents and the need for “assured access to space”.

In the letter, Coffman and Aderholt indicated that authority for investigating this and other accidents involving commercial space companies should be entrusted to the federal government:

“The investigative responses to both SpaceX failures raise serious concerns about the authority provided to commercial providers and the protection of national space assets. In both Falcon 9 explosions, NASA and the FAA granted primary responsibility for conducting the mishap investigation to SpaceX. Although subject to FAA oversight, it can be asserted the investigation lacked the openness taxpayers would expect before a return-to-flight.”

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket explodes about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket explodes about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

In other words, several Republican members of Congress hope to make SpaceX’s return to flight contingent on more stringent federal oversight. This may prove to be a source of inconvenience for SpaceX, which has stated that they intend to return to regular flights with their Falcon 9 rockets by November 1st.

Then again, increased federal oversight may also be beneficial in the long run. As is stated in the letter, both accidents involving SpaceX in the past few months occurred after the USAF signed off on the rockets involved:

“Both accidents occurred after the Air Force certified the Falcon 9 launch vehicle for U.S. national security launches, less than fifteen months ago. The certification, designed to subject the Falcon 9’s design and manufacturing process to a review of their technical and manufacturing rigor, appears to have fallen short of ensuring reliable assured US access to space for our most important payloads.”

Clearly, something is wrong if technical failures are not being caught in advance. But then again, space exploration is a hard business, and even the most routine checks can’t account for everything. Nevertheless, if there’s one thing that the Space Race taught us, it is that fierce competition can lead to mistakes, which can in turn cost lives.

As such, demanding that the federal authorities be on hand to ensure that safety standards are met, and that all competitors are being subjected to the same regulatory framework (without preference), might not be a bad idea.

Further Reading: The Washington Post

SpaceX Falcon 9 Failure Investigation ‘Most Difficult’ Ever: Musk

Mangled SpaceX Falcon 9 strongback with dangling cables as seen on Sept. 7 after prelaunch explosion destroyed the rocket and AMOS-6 payload at Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 1, 2016 . Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Mangled SpaceX Falcon 9 strongback with dangling cables (at right) as seen on Sept. 7 after prelaunch explosion destroyed the rocket and AMOS-6 payload at Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 1, 2016 . Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – More than a week after the catastrophic launch pad explosion that eviscerated a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket during a fueling test, the bold and burgeoning aerospace firm is still confounded by the “most difficult and complex failure” in its history, and is asking the public for help in nailing down the elusive cause – says SpaceX CEO and Founder Elon Musk in a new series of tweets, that also seeks the public’s help in the complex investigation.

“Turning out to be the most difficult and complex failure we have ever had in 14 years,” Musk tweeted on Friday, Sept. 9 about the disaster that took place without warning on Space Launch Complex-40 at approximately 9:07 a.m. EDT on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. on Sept. 1, 2016.

Both the $60 million SpaceX rocket and the $200 million AMOS-6 Israeli commercial communications satellite payload were completely destroyed in a massive fireball that erupted suddenly during a routine and planned pre-launch fueling and engine ignition test at pad 40 on Wednesday morning Sep. 1.

“Still working on the Falcon fireball investigation,” Musk stated.

Check out my new up close photos of launch pad 40 herein – showing dandling cables and pad damage – taken over the past few days during NASA’s OSIRIS-REx launch campaign which successfully soared to space on Sept 8. from the adjacent pad at Space Launch Complex-41.

The rocket failure originated somewhere in the upper stage during fueling test operations at the launch pad for what is known as a hot fire engine ignition test of all nine first stage Merlin 1D engines, said Musk.

However, the countdown dress rehearsal had not yet reached the point of ignition and the Merlin engines were still several minutes away from typically firing for a few seconds as the rocket was to be held down during the pre-planned hot fire test.

“Important to note that this happened during a routine filling operation. Engines were not on and there was no apparent heat source,” Musk elaborated.

Engineers were in the final stages of loading the liquid oxygen (LOX) and RP-1 kerosene propellants that power the Falcon 9 first stage for the static fire test which is a full launch dress rehearsal.

Mangled SpaceX Falcon 9 strongback with dangling cables as seen on Sept. 7 after prelaunch explosion destroyed the rocket and AMOS-6 payload at Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 1, 2016 . Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Mangled SpaceX Falcon 9 strongback with dangling cables as seen on Sept. 7 after prelaunch explosion destroyed the rocket and AMOS-6 payload at Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 1, 2016 . Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The explosion mystery and its root causes are apparently so deep that SpaceX is asking the public for help by sending in “any recordings of the event” which may exist, beyond what is already known.

“If you have audio, photos or videos of our anomaly last week, please send to [email protected] Material may be useful for investigation,” Musk requested by twitter.

Indications of an initial “bang” moments before the calamity are also bewildering investigators.

“Particularly trying to understand the quieter bang sound a few seconds before the fireball goes off. May come from rocket or something else.”

The explosion is also being jointly investigated by multiple US Federal agency’s.

“Support & advice from @NASA, @FAA, @AFPAA & others much appreciated. Please email any recordings of the event to [email protected]

The incident took place less than two days before the scheduled Falcon 9 launch on Sept. 3.

It also caused extensive damage to the rockets transporter erector, or strongback, that holds the rocket in place until minutes before liftoff, and ground support equipment (GSE) around the pad – as seen in my new photos of the pad taken a week after the explosion.

Dangling cables and gear such as pulley’s and more can clearly be seen to still be present as the strongback remains raised at pad 40. The strongback raises the rocket at the pad and also houses multiple umbilical line for electrical power, purge gases, computer communications and more.

One of the four lightning masts is also visibly burnt and blackened – much like what occurred after the catastrophic Orbital ATK Antares rocket exploded moments after liftoff from a NASA Wallops launch pad on Oct 28, 2014 and witnessed by this author.

Black soot also appears to cover some area of the pads ground support equipment in the new photos.

US Air Force personnel immediately jumped into action to assess the situation, set up roadblocks and look for signs of blast debris and “detect, dispose and render safe any possible explosive threats.”

However SpaceX has not released a full description of the damage to the pad and GSE. It cost approximately $15 Million to repair the Antares pad and flights have not yet resumed – nearly 2 years after that disaster.

Up close view of top of mangled SpaceX Falcon 9 strongback with dangling cables (at right) as seen on Sept. 7 after prelaunch explosion destroyed the rocket and AMOS-6 payload at Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 1, 2016 . Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Up close view of top of mangled SpaceX Falcon 9 strongback with dangling cables (at right) as seen on Sept. 7 after prelaunch explosion destroyed the rocket and AMOS-6 payload at Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 1, 2016 . Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The rocket disaster was coincidentally captured as it unfolded in stunning detail in a spectacular up close video recorded by my space journalist colleague at USLaunchReport – shown below.

Here is the full video from my space journalist friend and colleague Mike Wagner of USLaunchReport:

Video Caption: SpaceX – Static Fire Anomaly – AMOS-6 – 09-01-2016. Credit: USLaunchReport

The 229-foot-tall (70-meter) SpaceX Falcon 9 had been slated for an overnight blastoff on Saturday, September 3 at 3 a.m. from pad 40 with the 6 ton AMOS-6 telecommunications satellite valued at some $200 million.

Mangled SpaceX Falcon 9 strongback after prelaunch explosion destroyed the rocket and AMOS-6 payload. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Mangled SpaceX Falcon 9 strongback after prelaunch explosion destroyed the rocket and AMOS-6 payload. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The Falcon rocket and AMOS-6 satellite were swiftly consumed in a huge fireball and thunderous blasts accompanied by a vast plume of smoke rising from the wreckage that was visible for many miles around the Florida Space Coast.

“Loss of Falcon vehicle today during propellant fill operation,” Musk tweeted several hours after the launch pad explosion.

“Originated around upper stage oxygen tank. Cause still unknown. More soon.”

Aerial view of pad and strongback damage at SpaceX Launch Complex-40 as seen from the VAB roof on Sept. 8, 2016  after fueling test explosion destroyed the Falcon 9 rocket and AMOS-6 payload at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 1, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Aerial view of pad and strongback damage at SpaceX Launch Complex-40 as seen from the VAB roof on Sept. 8, 2016 after fueling test explosion destroyed the Falcon 9 rocket and AMOS-6 payload at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 1, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Thankfully there were no injuries to anyone – because the pad is always cleared of all personnel during these types of extremely hazardous launch complex operations.

“The anomaly originated around the upper stage oxygen tank and occurred during propellant loading of the vehicle. Per standard operating procedure, all personnel were clear of the pad and there were no injuries,” SpaceX reported in a statement.

“We are continuing to review the data to identify the root cause. Additional updates will be provided as they become available.”

This also marks the second time a Falcon 9 has exploded in 15 months and will call into question the rocket’s reliability. The first failure involved a catastrophic mid air explosion about two and a half minutes after liftoff, during the Dragon CRS-9 cargo resupply launch for NASA to the International Space Station on June 28, 2015 – and witnessed by this author.

All SpaceX launches are on hold until a thorough investigation is conducted, the root cause is determined, and effective fixes and remedies are identified and instituted.

After the last failure, it took nearly six months before Falcon 9 launches were resumed.

Any announcement of a ‘Return to Flight’ following this latest launch failure is likely to be some time off given the thus far inscrutable nature of the anomaly.

The planned engine test was being conducted as part of routine preparations for the scheduled liftoff of the Falcon 9 on Saturday, September 3, with an Israeli telecommunications satellite that would have also been used by Facebook.

The AMOS-6 communications satellite was built by Israel Aerospace Industries for Space Communication Ltd. It was planned to provide communication services including direct satellite home internet for Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

SpaceX is simultaneously renovating and refurbishing NASA’s former shuttle launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center at Pad 39A – from which the firm hopes to launch the new Falcon Heavy booster as well as human rated launches of the Falcon 9.

SpaceX is renovating Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center for launches of the Falcon Heavy and human rated Falcon 9.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX is renovating Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center for launches of the Falcon Heavy and human rated Falcon 9. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Ongoing work at Pad 39A was clearly visible to this author and other media this past week during NASA’s OSIRIS-REx launch campaign.

SpaceX has indicated they hope to have the pad upgrades complete by November, but a lot of work remains to be done. For example the shuttle era Rotating Service Structure (RSS) is still standing. The timing for its demolishment has not been announced.

Damage at  SpaceX Launch Complex-40 following Sept. 1, 2016 launch pad explosion.  Credit: Lane Hermann
Damage at SpaceX Launch Complex-40 following Sept. 1, 2016 launch pad explosion. Credit: Lane Hermann

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

Ken Kremer

Up close view of mangled SpaceX Falcon 9 strongback with dangling cables as seen on Sept. 7 after prelaunch explosion destroyed the rocket and AMOS-6 payload at Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 1, 2016 . Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Up close view of mangled SpaceX Falcon 9 strongback with dangling cables as seen on Sept. 7 after prelaunch explosion destroyed the rocket and AMOS-6 payload at Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 1, 2016 . Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket moments after catastrophic explosion destroys the rocket and Amos-6 Israeli satellite payload at launch pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL,  on Sept. 1, 2016.  A static hot fire test was planned ahead of scheduled launch on Sept. 3, 2016. Credit: USLaunchReport
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket moments after catastrophic explosion destroys the rocket and Amos-6 Israeli satellite payload at launch pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, on Sept. 1, 2016. A static hot fire test was planned ahead of scheduled launch on Sept. 3, 2016. Credit: USLaunchReport

Super Secret X-37B Nears One Year In Orbit Doing ???

For years now, the program to develop the X-37B spacecraft has been shrouded in secrecy. Originally intended as part of a NASA project to develop a reusable unmanned spacecraft, this Boeing-designed spaceplane was taken over by the Department of Defense in 2004. And while it has been successfully tested on multiple occasions, there remain some unanswered questions as to its intended purpose and what has been taking place during these flights.

This, predictably, has lead to all kinds of rumors and speculation, with some suggesting that it could be a spy plane while others think that it is intended to deliver space-based weapons. It’s latest mission – which was dubbed OTV-4 (Orbital Test Vehicle-4) – has been especially clandestine. And after nearly a year in orbit, it remains unclear what the X37B has been doing up there all this time.

Continue reading “Super Secret X-37B Nears One Year In Orbit Doing ???”