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ULA finishes 12-for-12 with launch of EchoStar XIX

The Atlas V, carrying EchoStar XIX, lifts off from the pad at SLC-41. Credit: ULA

The weather might not have been perfect, but that didn’t prevent United Launch Alliance (ULA) from successfully delivering the EchoStar XIX satellite to orbit atop their Atlas V rocket. The launch marked ULA’s 12th of 2016 and 115th overall since the company’s founding more than 10 years ago.

Amidst broken clouds from an approaching cold front, the Atlas V 431 lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s (CCAFS) Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) at 2:13 p.m. EST (19:13 GMT), after a 42-minute hold at T-minus 4 minutes from the initial opening of the two-hour launch window due to a technical glitch.

“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,” Col. Walt Jackim, 45th Space Wing vice commander and mission Launch Decision Authority, said in a news release. “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.’”

Read more in my full piece for SpaceFlight Insider…

ULA looks to close out 2016 with launch of EchoStar XIX

EchoStar XIX, with its antennas and solar arrays stowed, sits on a vertical stand prior to fairing encapsulation. Photo credit: SSL

As 2016 draws to a close, United Launch Alliance (ULA) is busy making final preparations to launch the EchoStar XIX communications satellite on the Atlas V rocket. Liftoff is scheduled for the beginning of a two-hour launch window at 1:27 p.m. EST (18:27 GMT) Dec. 18.

Originally scheduled to launch on Dec. 16, ULA was forced to delay the mission two days due to a hardware issue discovered during final checkout procedures.

EchoStar XIX will be launching on the 431 variant of the Atlas V, which has a 4-meter payload fairing, 3 supplemental solid rocket motors, and a single-engine Centaur stage. This will mark the 12th mission of the year for the Colorado-based launch provider.

The satellite, also known as Jupiter 2, arrived at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in early November 2016, where it has since undergone processing in preparation for its launch on Dec. 18, 2016.

Read more in my full piece at SpaceFlight Insider…

ULA notches another successful launch with delivery of WGS-8 to orbit

A Delta IV Medium+ (5,4) lifts off on December 7, carrying the USAF’s WGS-8 satellite. Credit: ULA

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully delivered the latest member of the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) constellation to orbit. The launch of WGS-8 (ULA’s 114th overall and the 34th Delta IV ) occurred on time with liftoff commencing at 6:53 p.m. EST (23:53 GMT) Dec. 7, 2016, precisely at the opening of its 49-minute launch window.

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

Read more in my full write-up at SpaceFight 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…

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.

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

United Launch Alliance delays two missions due to issues with Atlas V

File photo of a ULA Atlas V 401 on the pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Credit: Curt Godwin

File photo of a ULA Atlas V 401 on the pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Credit: Curt Godwin

Coming only 24 hours after United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) announcement on November 2, 2016, of a one week delay of the WorldView-4 satellite launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, the company tweeted that the launch of the GOES-R satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station will also be delayed:

Noting that the cause of the delay for both missions is related to minor Atlas V issues discovered during launch preparations, ULA is taking the pragmatic approach and holding the launches until the issues are resolved. Though WorldView-4 is officially only delayed by a week, it’s nearly certain ULA will delay it further should a solution not be quickly reached.

The WorldView-4 launch has seen several delays, both from equipment issues and from Mother Nature. GOES-R has also been similarly-afflicted. Hurricane Matthew delayed the weather satellite’s launch, initially scheduled for November 4, 2016, then rescheduled for November 16, and now awaiting a resolution for this latest issue before a new date can be set.

Considering both the WorldView-4 and the GOES-R missions are launching on different variants of the stalwart Atlas V — the 401 and 541, respectively — it would appear that whatever gremlin is haunting these two launches is in the core part of the vehicle.

More updates as they become available.

ULA notches another successful mission with launch of OSIRIS-REx

An Atlas V 411 carrying NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft lifts off from SLC-41. Photo credit: ULA

An Atlas V 411 carrying NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft lifts off from SLC-41. Photo credit: ULA

A practically cloudless sky provided a perfect backdrop for the launch of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft atop a ULA Atlas V rocket in a rare 411 configuration.

With only a single strap-on solid rocket motor to accompany the Atlas V’s main RD-180 engine, the rocket presented an unusual sight to viewers as the RD-180 had to gimbal enough to mitigate the asymmetric thrust provided by the lone solid motor, giving the rocket the appearance of “sliding” slightly as it ascended. This particular configuration of the Atlas V – the ‘411’, which designates a 4-meter payload fairing, single solid rocket motor, and a single RL10-engined Centaur stage – had only flown three times previously and is one of the rarer configurations of the reliable Atlas V family.

The on-time launch at 7:05 pm EDT on Thursday, September 8, 2016, places NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on a trajectory to rendezvous with the asteroid Bennu. This will be NASA’s first spacecraft to visit an asteroid and retrieve a sample for later return to Earth.

“We are honored to be chosen by NASA to launch this historic mission,” said Laura Maginnis, ULA vice president of Custom Services, in a press release issued by the company after the launch. “Thank you to our NASA customer and mission partners for the outstanding teamwork and attention to detail as we successfully started OSIRIS-Rex on its seven-year journey to Bennu.”

Scientists hope to collect as much as 2 kilograms (4.41 pounds) of material from the asteroid in hopes to better understand the solar system’s early days, and to get a better understanding of what sort of materials may be exploitable for future use.

The spacecraft will rendezvous with Bennu in 2018, and begin an intensive examination of the asteroid culminating with the collection of material from the surface and return it to Earth in September 2023.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was on-hand to witness the historic launch. “Today, we celebrate a huge milestone for this remarkable mission, and for this mission team,” said Bolden in a release from the agency. “We’re very excited about what this mission can tell us about the origin of our solar system, and we celebrate the bigger picture of science that is helping us make discoveries and accomplish milestones that might have been science fiction yesterday, but are science facts today.”

For its part, ULA continued its laudable track record of successful launches for NASA’s science missions. “ULA and our heritage vehicles have successfully launched NASA missions to every planet in our solar system,” said Maginnis in the company’s post-launch press release. “ULA’s commitment to mission launch is unparalleled, and we’re proud of our team for continuing our unprecedented track record of 100 percent mission success.”