76 posts

XCOR co-founder Aleta Jackson passes away

Aleta Jackson DeLong, co-founder of XCOR, passed away on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016. Credit: XCOR Aerospace

XCOR Aerospace co-founder Loretta “Aleta” Jackson DeLong died Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, from complications stemming from chemotherapy treatments in Midland, Texas. The aerospace pioneer was 68.

DeLong began her career in the aerospace industry working with an engineering co-op from the Indiana Institute of Technology. There, she worked on Project Gemini as a draftswoman and assisted in installing instrumentation in the cramped two-person Gemini capsules.

After a brief enlistment with the United States Air Force, DeLong spent 10 years as a repair technician with Xerox. Never straying far from her passion for aerospace, she also worked as a secretary for the L-5 Society, an organization founded to promote space colonization.

Read more in my full piece at SpaceFlight Insider…

ULA prepares to bolster military comms with launch of WGS-8

Artist’s depiction of WGS-8 satellite in orbit. Credit: Boeing

Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) is the latest in a constellation of military communications satellites. The eighth member of the WGS series, WGS-8 will soon join its predecessors in providing global communications capabilities to the United States military and its allies.

Equipped with a multitude of communications hardware, the WGS satellites are part of an effort to provide enhanced communications to armed services around the globe. A key element of the current generation of WGS satellites is the ability to have their software reconfigured while on-orbit.

The fleet is currently undergoing an update of its operational software, as well as an upgrade to the ground-support hardware, to ensure better protection of the system from interference, be it unintentional or from an enemy with ill-intent.

According to Boeing, “WGS is the backbone of our military’s ability to communicate.”

The WGS constellation is able to support broadcast, multicast, and point-to-point communications. This flexibility provides the United States and its allies with a resilient and extensible set of tools with which to connect with our men and women in the field.

Read much more in my full piece for SpaceFlight Insider…

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo successfully completes first glide flight

VSS Unity, Virgin Galactic’s suborbital spacecraft, conducts its first glide flight on Dec. 3, 2016. Image Credit: Virgin Galactic

Fresh off the completion of its successful captive carry flight just a few days prior, Virgin Galactic‘s SpaceShipTwo (SS2), christened VSS Unity, took the next step in its flight certification regime by completing its first solo glide flight on December 3, 2016.

Though Unity has taken to the skies four times previously, all had been captive carry tests, with the vehicle firmly attached to the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, the VMS Eve.

As part of a measured approach before becoming fully operational, this first glide flight was with Unity flying unburdened with fuel and mass simulators.

“Today, Unity is flying light. Mountains of data & analysis preceded this flight; in testing, you check every assumption,” tweeted the company during the test flight.

Read more in my full piece at SpaceFlight Insider…

OPINION: The Bear’s space program isn’t what it used to be…and it’s only going to get worse

russianspacepropaganda1They were the first to place a man-made satellite into Earth orbit. The first to launch a man…and, later, a woman…into orbit and bring them home safely. The first to conduct a spacewalk. The first to build a space station. The list goes on.

Indeed, the Russian — née, Soviet — space program has been both a trailblazer, and a stalwart workhorse, in spaceflight. While they may lack a lot of the flair and flash of their American counterparts, they were every bit as impressive in their achievements.

However, the Bear* may be past its prime and could very well be in a significant decline.

Their budget is low, and while they may have been able to gouge…I mean, sell…NASA some Soyuz seats at an ever-increasing rate in order to bolster their meager funding, those days will be coming to an end with the Americans switching to their Commercial Crew providers, depriving Roscosmos of millions needed of dollars.

What impact has this had on operations? Roscosmos recently confirmed that they’re reducing their complement of cosmonauts on the International Space Station (ISS) from three to two, something which had been projected earlier this year. This is in an effort to save money, ostensibly so Russia can fund its modernized crew capsule with the development of their Federation spacecraft.

But the Russians can’t seem to string together a calendar year without a mission failure. According to Doug Messier at Parabolic Arc, Russia hasn’t had a full year without a failure since 2009-2010. The failure of the Soyuz-U carrying Progress MS-04 on December 1, 2016, kept that dubious streak alive.

To be sure, and to use a phrase I absolutely despise, space is hard. And sure, failure inevitably comes, in some guise or another, to all those who attempt this journey into the cosmos.

Nevertheless, one can’t help but get the feeling that Russia’s best days of spaceflight may be behind them…and likely receding at an ever-accelerating rate.

With the anticipated rise of multiple crew-capable launch providers in the United States, in addition to NASA’s own capabilities with Orion, the need for Russia to launch humans to space — beyond the country’s own cosmonauts — will rapidly wither.

The prognosis for Mother Russia’s satellite launching industry may be as, if not more, bleak. SpaceX aims to be a low-cost option with their Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy vehicles. United Launch Alliance, though more expensive, is damn-near flawless with their success rate over the past ten years. And those are just two of the options in the United States.

Arianespace in Europe has been a top-tier launch provider for many years, and the rise of both India and China as low-cost alternatives further dilutes the need to engage Russia to get hardware to space.

I certainly hope my prognostication is wrong and that Roscosmos rights their ship and rejoins the United States as a premier spaceflight power. The more capability we have, as a species, to explore space, the better.

But I don’t think I’m wrong.

*I will always think of Russia as “the Bear” – I’m a child of the Cold War.

ULA debuts RocketBuilder website to highlight their cost benefit

An Atlas V 541 model built with ULA’s RocketBuilder custom configurator. Image Credit: ULA

An Atlas V 541 model built with ULA’s RocketBuilder custom configurator. Image Credit: ULA

In an effort to better educate potential customers on the true cost of launch services and the associated upside inherent in United Launch Alliance’s reputation and record, the company has developed a website with the aim to showcase the total cost benefit that comes with selecting ULA as a launch provider.

For those wondering how much ULA would charge to launch an 11,000-pound (5,000-kilogram) spacecraft on an Earth-escape trajectory, replete with a full spectrum of services, wonder no more.

Tory Bruno, ULA’s president and CEO, held a press conference on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016, to unveil the RocketBuilder website, and to describe what it means for the company and their prospective customers.

“The value of a launch is a lot more than its price tag,” said Bruno in a release issued by the company. “Through our RocketBuilder website…”

Read more in my latest piece for SpaceFlight Insider.

ISS-RapidScat decommissioned after two years of service

Artist’s representation of the ISS-RapidScat instrument (inset). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Johnson Space Center

Artist’s representation of the ISS-RapidScat instrument (inset). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Johnson Space Center

Two years may only be half of a typical course of study at a university, but for NASA’s pioneering International Space Station Rapid Scatterometer (ISS-RapidScat) science instrument, it was a lifetime.

Taking advantage of the orbital “high ground” offered by the ISS, ISS-RapidScat provided near real-time data for forecasters and researchers in an effort to gain a better understanding of ocean winds and how they impact regional weather patterns. Indeed, the instrument’s vantage point on the ISS contributed useful information to domestic and foreign entities alike.

Besides supplying unique wind data to agencies like the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) and the U.S. Navy, ISS-RapidScat also provided information to European and Indian weather organizations.

“As a first-of-its-kind mission, ISS-RapidScat proved successful in providing researchers and forecasters with a low-cost eye on winds over remote areas of Earth’s oceans,” said Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division in a release from the agency. “The data from ISS-RapidScat will help researchers contribute to an improved understanding of fundamental weather and climate processes, such as how tropical weather systems form and evolve.”

Read more in my full piece at SpaceFlight Insider

COMMENTARY: I finally saw a launch…and it was incredible

A ULA Atlas V 541 lifts off, carrying the next-generation GOES-R weather satellite. Credit: Curt Godwin

A ULA Atlas V 541 lifts off, carrying the next-generation GOES-R weather satellite. Credit: Curt Godwin

I have seen a huge 5-segment solid rocket booster perform a full duration burn in the desert of Utah at Orbital ATK’s facility. Pro tip: if NASA tells you to not look at the flame, then do NOT look at the flame.

I’ve watched the incredible RS-25 engine static fired in a test stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. Twice.

I’ve been on top – ON TOP! – of the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center (KSC)… within touching distance of a satellite at Ball Aerospace in Boulder… in United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Denver Operations Support Center (DOSC) and in their Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center (ASOC) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS). These are not easy places to access.

Read More →

GOES-R successfully launched on ULA Atlas V

The Atlas V 541 carrying GOES-R lifts off at 6:42pm EST. Credit: Curt Godwin

The Atlas V 541 carrying GOES-R lifts off at 6:42pm EST. Credit: Curt Godwin

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — The launch window extended for an hour, and United Launch Alliance (ULA) needed every minute of it. After resolving multiple issues, the Atlas V rocketed into the black on a mission to send the most advanced weather satellite, GOES-R, into geostationary orbit.

The first issue that cropped up turned out to be a false-positive indicator on the launch vehicle. ULA’s frustrations didn’t end there, however. The Eastern Range also encountered an issue, which delayed the liftoff time to the very end of the window. Finally, under nearly perfect conditions, the Atlas V 541 with GOES-R lifted off at 6:42 p.m. EST (23:42 GMT) from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The workhorse of ULAs stable of launch vehicles, the Atlas V for this mission was set up in its 541 configuration: this includes a 5-meter payload fairing, four supplemental solid rocket boosters, and a single-engined Centaur stage.

It was the fourth launch of this configuration of the Atlas V, with the most notable payload being the Mars Science Laboratory – otherwise known as Curiosity – which took to the skies in November 2011.

Much more in my full piece at SpaceFlight Insider

Weather appears favorable for launch of GOES-R on ULA Atlas V

The ULA Atlas V carrying GOES-R makes its way to the pad. Credit: Curt Godwin

The ULA Atlas V carrying GOES-R makes its way to the pad. Credit: Curt Godwin

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — After being subjected to delays caused by weather and troublesome hardware, the next-generation GOES-R weather satellite is soon to liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41), the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), with a scheduled launch date of Saturday, November 19, 2016.

The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series (GOES-R) spacecraft, a collaborative project between NOAA and NASA, and based on the Lockheed Martin A2100 satellite model, will augment the current stable of three active GOES satellites and will monitor weather in the Western Hemisphere. GOES-R will be given the operational designation of GOES 16 once it reaches its orbital slot, approximately 22,300 miles (35,888 kilometers) above the equator.

GOES-R represents the fourth generation of weather monitoring satellites operated by NOAA and will eventually be joined by three more of its family, culminating with the projected launch of GOES-U in 2024.

Weather forecasters and climate scientists have been eagerly awaiting the launch of GOES-R, which promises to greatly increase the amount of weather data that can be collected from orbit. In fact, GOES-R will provide nearly real-time weather data, with a fidelity and speed unmatched by the current generation of GOES satellites.

Read much more in my full piece at SpaceFlight Insider

Coming soon to a small screen near you: ME!

Logo for the GOES-R mission. Credit: NOAA/NASA

Logo for the GOES-R mission. Credit: NOAA/NASA

I’ve been told that I have a face for radio, and a voice pleasing to the hard-of-hearing…and in just a few days, you lucky space fans will have the opportunity to witness the train wreck that is me in front of a camera.

That’s right – I’ll be hosting SpaceFlight Insider’s LIVE coverage of the GOES-R launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Saturday, November 19, 2016.

Though I’ve done some live broadcasts before, this will be the first time that an established brand’s reputation is in my hands. Lord help them.

Seriously, though, I’m honored SFI is trusting me with broadcast, and I’m certain it’ll be an excellent show. Provided there’s no scrub or delay, this will be my first in-person launch, so expect a bit of excitement. I’ll post more information as it becomes available.