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ANALYSIS: President-elect Trump’s NASA landing team continues to take shape

Though both major party candidates made clear their position on a multitude of issues prior to the election, their view of NASA’s role in our nation’s space-faring endeavors was not necessarily among them. Certainly, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump often gave politically expedient answers when asked what their vision of what NASA should be, but neither has ever really presented a coherent roadmap for the agency’s future.

Indeed, Trump seemed, at times, to present wildly diverging positions on the nation’s space agency. At one point, the then-candidate professed to love NASA but declared that the country has bigger problems to address, such as fixing potholes.

Whether or not he was speaking of literal or figurative potholes, it appeared as if NASA wasn’t terribly high on Mr. Trump’s priority list and that the businessman-turned-politician didn’t necessarily have a ready answer for his take on national space policy.

However, now that the election of 2016 is in the books and the President-elect continues forming his Cabinet and landing teams, it would appear that Trump – or, at least, his advisory team – is taking NASA a bit more seriously. More seriously than during the campaign and is selecting an experienced collection of members, some of whom seem to favor a “stay the course” focus, while others may be adherents to the NewSpace movement, to help the incoming President decide how best to direct NASA during his presidency.

From the outset, Jeff Sessions, a Republican Senator from Alabama, was a key architect in guiding the make-up of the landing team, and conventional wisdom dictated this was a strong indicator that NASA’s big rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), which was designed and is managed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, would not only survive a Trump presidency but also could likely thrive.

Read much more in my full piece at SpaceFlight Insider.

Lockheed Martin completes assembly of GOES-S

Lockheed Martin personnel prepare GOES-S for an acoustics test. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin

Although the recently launched GOES-R series satellite, since designated GOES-16, has yet to enter operation, Lockheed Martin hasn’t been idle. The second member of the GOES-R series of weather satellites, GOES-S, is now complete and undergoing mechanical and environmental tests to ensure the spacecraft can handle the rigors of launch and harshness of space.

Like its on-orbit sibling, GOES-S represents a revolutionary step forward in weather satellites and will greatly enhance the data available to weather forecasters with the capability to provide near real-time observations.

However, before it can take its place in geostationary orbit and begin supplying data to scientists and forecasters, the spacecraft and its related hardware must undergo rigorous testing here on Earth.

Read more in the full piece at SpaceFlight Insider.

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…

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…

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