Space and astronomy news and information for the American Southwest. Coverage includes Vandenberg SFB rocket and missile launches.

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2023 May 31 19:51 PDT

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What's New?
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MAY 31 Vandenberg SFB Launch Schedule updated

Next Vandenberg Launch
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As of May 31

The next announced Vandenberg SFB rocket launch is a Falcon 9 on June 8. The vehicle is scheduled to lift off from south base and carry several satellites into orbit. Transporter 8

For a list of past Vandenberg launches, go to Vandenberg SFB Launch History. To access launch photos, videos, and audio reports, visit the Vandenberg Rocket and Missile Launch Multimedia library.

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Hidden Cyclone


The first polar cyclone detected on Uranus appears as a bright dot in this Ka-band radio image from the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico. NASA scientists used the VLA to observe radio emissions from the planet in the K, Ka, and Q bands, which allowed them to peer into the gas giant's atmosphere. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/VLA

Northrop Grumman On Track to Produce Early-Warning Missile Defense Program

(MAY 24) REDONDO BEACH, Calif. - Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) recently completed a Preliminary Design Review (PDR) for the U.S. Space Force Space Systems Command's Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared Polar (NGP) program. The company is on track to begin production of the early-warning missile system in defense of the nation.

The design review establishes the company's technical approach for the full integration of the Eagle-3 spacecraft with the infrared sensor, auxiliary and high-bandwidth communication payloads being developed at our Northrop Grumman site in Azusa, Calif.

"Northrop Grumman is on an accelerated path to delivering an early-warning missile system capable of surviving attacks from space, ground or cyber elements," said Alex Fax, vice president, NGP, Northrop Grumman. "NGP satellites will maintain a direct line of communication back to the continental United States, limiting dependency on overseas ground station sites."

The two NGP satellites, operating in highly elliptical orbits, are designed to detect and track ballistic and hypersonic missiles over the Northern Hemisphere. Broad coverage over the polar region offers the highest probability of spotting potential missile launches.

NGP can identify the infrared heat signatures of incoming threats and transmit this mission data to the ground. Based on the threat, decision-makers can then make responsive and informed decisions. This enhanced communication system also has resiliency features that reduce vulnerabilities to counter-space and cyberattacks.

Northrop Grumman is a leading global aerospace and defense technology company. Our pioneering solutions equip our customers with the capabilities they need to connect and protect the world, and push the boundaries of human exploration across the universe. Driven by a shared purpose to solve our customers' toughest problems, our 95,000 employees define possible every day.

Northrop Grumman

Terran Breaks Ground on Manufacturing Facility

(MAY 19) Irvine, Calif. - Terran Orbital Corporation (NYSE: LLAP), a global leader in satellite-based solutions primarily serving the aerospace and defense industries, and W. P. Carey, one of the largest U.S. net lease REITs with over 1,400 properties across the U.S. and Europe, broke ground this morning on a 94,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art satellite manufacturing facility located at 4 Goodyear in Irvine, Calif. In partnership with Terran Orbital, W. P. Carey will redevelop one of its outdated office properties into a new, Class A industrial facility, which will serve as Terran Orbital's fifth production facility. Demolition of the existing building commenced in February 2023, and the project is expected to be completed in January 2024.

The facility will be located on a five-acre site and upon completion will increase Terran Orbital's satellite assembly, integration, and test facility space by over three times the Company's current size. All satellite assembly will be transitioned to this new facility enabling the dedication of Terran Orbital's existing facilities to the production of components and modules. This optimization will enhance the efficiency and capacity of Terran Orbital's entire production system.

The property will have 36-foot clear heights and will be built with several sustainable features, including solar panels on the rooftop and electric vehicle charging stations. It is also expected to receive a LEED Gold certification.

"Terran Orbital is thrilled to break ground on 4 Goodyear," said Terran Orbital Co-Founder, Chairman, and Chief Executive Officer Marc Bell. "The new facility will propel Terran Orbital to new heights. We are currently working on 30 programs and over 375 satellites, including initial constellation orders for SDA, Rivada, and a new constellation customer announced on May 15. We also look forward to the capacity increase the new facility will create as we continue to onboard contracts and satellite orders. W. P. Carey has been a joy to work with and we look forward to developing this new facility together."

Terran Orbital

Canadian Fires

Wildfires in western Canada

More than 100 wildland fires raged across Western Canada in early May 2023, forcing tens of thousands of people in Alberta and British Columbia to evacuate. The fires destroyed homes and produced chimneys of smoke that reached into the upper troposphere. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Terra satellite acquired this image of smoke billowing from fires in the two Canadian provinces on May 6. Terra was launched from Vandenberg SFB in 1999. Image courtesy of NASA

Starlink Satellites Launched

(MAY 12) A Falcon 9 rocket was successfully launched Wednesday morning (May 10) from Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg SFB, Calif. Following liftoff at 1:09 p.m. PDT, the rocket headed towards the south-southeast and roughly paralleled the coast as it climbed into orbit. After achieving orbit, the vehicle deployed 51 Starlink Internet satellites.

At press time, the webmaster has not received any launch observations. This may be due to the hazy conditions at liftoff.

Brian Webb

Rocket Lab to Launch Small Satellite Swarm for NASA

Four Starling satellites have been added to Electron's 2023 manifest

(MAY 9) LONG BEACH, Calif. - Rocket Lab USA, Inc. (Nasdaq: RKLB) ("Rocket Lab" or "the Company"), a global leader in launch services and space systems, today announced it has signed a deal to launch NASA's Starling mission, a multi-CubeSat mission to test and demonstrate autonomous swarm technologies, as well as automated space traffic management for groups of spacecraft in low-Earth orbit.

The four Starling small satellites have been manifested on an Electron commercial rideshare mission scheduled for lift-off from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand in Q3 this year. Rocket Lab will deliver the satellites to space within three months of the contract signing.

The Starling mission is designed to test technologies to enable future "swarm" missions. Spacecraft swarms refer to multiple spacecraft autonomously coordinating their activities to achieve certain goals. Starling will explore technologies for in-space network communications, onboard relative navigation between spacecraft, autonomous maneuver planning and execution, and distributed science autonomy.

"Electron has been delivering rapid and reliable access to orbit for NASA since 2018 and we're delighted to continue that strong heritage with the Starling mission," said Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck. "Starling has the potential to revolutionize the way science is done in orbit and we're immensely proud to make that possible."

NASA's Small Spacecraft Technology program within the agency's Space Technology Mission Directorate manages the Starling project. The program is based at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley. Starling joins a growing list of NASA missions launched by Rocket Lab since 2018, including the ELaNa-19 educational CubeSat program, the CAPSTONE mission to the Moon, and two dedicated Electron launches for the NASA TROPICS mission.

Rocket Lab

Massive Radio Array to Search for Extraterrestrial Signals from Other Civilizations

The SETI Institute, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and the Breakthrough Listen Initiative team up for COSMIC and SETI

(MAY 1) Mountain View, CA - One of the world's most powerful radio telescope arrays is joining the hunt for signals from other galactic civilizations. More

Falcon 9 Launched

(APR 29) A Falcon 9 rocket was successfully launched from Vandenberg SFB, Calif. Thursday morning (April 27). Following liftoff at 6:40 a.m. PDT, the vehicle carried 46 spacecraft into orbit. The launch was the thirteenth flight and landing for the rocket's first stage.

Brian Webb

625th Strategic Operations Squadron Lights Up the Night Sky

(APR 24) VANDENBERG SPACE FORCE BASE, Calif. -- This past week, a team of dedicated Airmen and Sailors took to the skies to fire an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) over the Pacific Ocean during an Operational Test Launch, known as a Glory Trip. More

Minuteman III Test Launch Showcases Readiness of U.S. Nuclear Force's Safe, Effective Deterrent

Minuteman III launch

An operational test launch of an Air Force Global Strike Command unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile was conducted April 19 at 5:11 a.m. Pacific Time from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. The missile used in GT-246 launched in the early hours of the morning with a launch command delivered from the Air Launch Control System on a Navy E-6 TACAMO aircraft. (U.S. Space Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ryan Quijas)

(APR 19) VANDENBERG SPACE FORCE BASE, Calif. - A joint team of Air Force Global Strike Command Airmen and Navy aircrew launched an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile equipped with one test re-entry vehicle More

Falcon 9 Carries 51 Spacecraft into Orbit

(APR 15) A Falcon 9 rocket was successfully launched from Vandenberg SFB, Calif. late Friday evening (April 14). Following liftoff at 11:48 p.m. PDT, the vehicle carried 51 spacecraft into orbit. The launch was the tenth flight and recovery for the rocket's first stage.

The following links have additional information about the spacecraft launched on this mission:

Kenya launches first operational satellite into space -Space X

Turkiye launches its 1st indigenous Earth observation satellite into space

Watch: Dubai's DEWA Sat-2 nanosatellite launched on SpaceX rocket from California

Momentus Launches Vigoride-6 Orbital Service Vehicle on SpaceX Transporter-7 Mission

Brian Webb

Iberian Contrails


Long streaks of cloud crisscrossed the skies over the Iberian Peninsula on April 7. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on board NASA's Terra satellite acquired a true-color image of the complex pattern on that same day. The streaks are a type of cirrus cloud known as a "contrail". Cirrus clouds typically form in the sky when humidity is high, but contrails form in the wake of passing aircraft due to particles and water vapor contained in their exhaust. Terra was launched from Vandenberg AFB in 1999. Image Credit: MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC

Unarmed Minuteman III Test Launch to Showcase Readiness of U.S. Nuclear Force's Safe, Effective Deterrent

(APR 5) VANDENBERG SPACE FORCE BASE, Calif. -- An operational test launch of an Air Force Global Strike Command unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile is scheduled for April 19 from 11:47 p.m. to April 20, 5:47 a.m. Pacific Time from north Vandenberg.

The purpose of the ICBM test launch program is to demonstrate the readiness of U.S. nuclear forces and provide confidence in the lethality and effectiveness of the nation's nuclear deterrent, according to Air Force Global Strike Command.

This test is routine and was scheduled years in advance. Consistent with previous test launches, this ICBM test launch will validate and verify the effectiveness, readiness and accuracy of the weapon system.

In accordance with standard procedures, the United States has transmitted a pre-launch notification pursuant to the Hague Code of Conduct, and notified the Russian government in advance, per our existing bi-lateral obligations.

Vandenberg SFB

Space Development Agency Successfully Launches Tranche 0 Satellites

SDA delivers first 10 satellites on-orbit, two-and-a-half years from award to launch

(APR 2) The Space Development Agency (SDA) today announced the successful initial launch of Tranche 0 (T0) of the Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture (PWSA), the Transport and Tracking Layer satellites that will demonstrate the low-latency communication links to support the warfighter with a resilient network of integrated capabilities, including tracking of advanced missile threats, from low-Earth orbit (LEO). More

Joint NASA, CNES Water-Tracking Satellite Reveals First Stunning Views

The Surface Water and Ocean Topography mission offers the first taste of the detailed perspectives of Earth's surface water that its cutting-edge instruments will be able to capture.

SWOT spacecraft image of the Gulf Stream

Sea level data gathered Jan. 21 in the Gulf Stream by SWOT's KaRIn instrument, visualized at left, has 10 times the spatial resolution of data taken over the same area by altimeters on seven other satellites, visualized at right. Red represents sea levels higher than the global average, while blue is lower. Credit: left: NASA/JPL-Caltech; right: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Copernicus Marine Service of ESA

(MAR 24) The international Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission - led by NASA and the French space agency Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES) - has sent back some of its first glimpses of water on the planet's surface, showing ocean currents like the Gulf Stream in unprecedented detail. More

Northrop Grumman Enhances Design of Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared Polar Satellites

Digital technology keeps the development of polar-orbit missile-warning satellites on an accelerated pace

(MAR 14) REDONDO BEACH, Calif. - Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) has refined the design of Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) Polar (NGP) satellites by leveraging digital technology called Highly Immersive Virtual Environment (HIVE). The satellites are being built by Northrop Grumman for the U.S. Space Force's Space Systems Command (SSC).

Northrop Grumman's HIVE technology allows engineers to design, build, maintain and service satellites in virtual reality before any hardware is manufactured or procured. Real-time modeling, simulation, visualization and human interaction reduce technical costs and risks early in the development phases.

"With digital engineering, we can move through the design, testing and manufacturing phases quickly and with agility, saving money and significantly reducing development timelines for large systems," said Carol Erikson, vice president, systems engineering and digital transformation, Northrop Grumman.

As part of the Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared System (Next-Gen OPIR), two NGP satellites will provide precise, timely sensor coverage over the northern hemisphere to help deter and defend against ballistic and hypersonic missiles. NGP combines Northrop Grumman's proven experience in missile warning and defense with a commitment to delivering NGP at an accelerated pace.

During a recent HIVE demonstration, conducted at the company's facility in Redondo Beach, California, Northrop Grumman engineers donned virtual-reality goggles and motion-capture suits to simulate the integration and assembly of the satellites' key components. Engineers validated the NGP design and will continue to use digital technology in the next stages of the satellites' development.

In March 2022, Northrop Grumman announced its partnership with Ball Aerospace to design and develop the two NGP satellite infrared payloads in the first phase of a $1.89 billion SSC contract.

Northrop Grumman

Northrop Grumman Test Fires Stage-One Solid Rocket Motor for Sentinel Missile

Sentinel ICBM rocket motor test

The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center conducted its first full-scale static test fire of the LGM-35A Sentinel stage-one solid rocket motor at the Northrop Grumman test facility in Promontory, Utah, March 2. The Air Force plans to replace the fielded Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile with the next-generation Sentinel system currently in development. The Sentinel acquisition program represents the modernization of the land-based leg of the U.S. nuclear triad. (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw).

(MAR 6) PROMONTORY, Utah. - Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) conducted its first full-scale static test fire of the Sentinel stage-one solid rocket motor at the company's test facility in Promontory. More

Falcon 9 Launched

(MAR 3) After several delays, a Falcon 9 rocket carrying 51 Starlink satelllites was launched this morning from Vandenberg SFB, Calif. at 10:38 PST.

Brian Webb

Celestial Close Encounter

Venus Jupiter conjunction

Venus and Jupiter as seen from Los Angeles, Calif. 30 minutes after sunset on March 1. Image: SkyMap

(FEB 25) Weather permitting, observers in Southwest and beyond will see a celestial close encounter the evening of March 1 when Venus and Jupiter will be separated by half a degree. Their apparent proximity will be an illusion, however. The planets will lie in the same direction as seen from Earth, but be in different parts of the solar system. To see the display, look in the west about 30 minutes after sunset.

Brian Webb

Falcon 9 Launched

(FEB 17) A Falcon 9 rocket carrying 51 Starlink satelllites was launched this morning from Vandenberg SFB, Calif. at 11:12 PST.

Brian Webb

Northrop Grumman Validates Sentinel Missile Design through Rigorous Wind Tunnel Testing Campaign

Live-fire results with scaled missiles correlate with digital models, offering further proof of design maturity

(FEB 16) ROY, Utah. - Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) successfully completed a series of wind tunnel tests of the LGM-35A Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). More

Minuteman III Test Launch Showcases Readiness of U.S. Nuclear Force's Safe, Effective Deterrent

Minuteman III missile launch

An Air Force Global Strike Command unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operation test at Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif., Feb. 9, 2023. Image Credit: Courtesy photo via Department of Defense

(FEB 10) BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- A team of Air Force Global Strike Command Airmen launched an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile equipped with a test reentry vehicle at 11:01 p.m. Pacific Time Feb. 9 from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. More

Falcon 9 Launched

(FEB 3) A Falcon 9 rocket was successfully launched January 31 from Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif. The vehicle lifted off from south base at 08:15 PST and flew southward as it carried 49 Starlink Internet satellites and an Italian rideshare payload into orbit.

A few minutes after launch, Bob Brown sent the following report to the webmaster:

"Just had to send you a note about the launch from Vandenberg that took place 5 minutes ago. In all the years that I've observed launches from my street between Santa Barbara and Goleta, this was easily the clearest,most vibrant view of the rocket (through binocs) that I've ever seen. I credit that to the crisp, clear winter air and side lighting from an early morning sun. The shock waves haven't hit here just yet but should occur any moment. Just WOW!!"

Brian Webb

Falcon 9 Launched - Finally

Falcon 9 Starlink launch

A SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket carrying Starlink mission 2-4 launches from Space Launch Complex-4E on Jan. 19, 2023, 7:43 a.m. PDT, Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif. Since 1958, there have been 2,023 launches on base. This launch also makes it the 100th launch from SLC-4E since 1964. (U.S. Space Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tiarra Sibley)

(JAN 21) After multiple delays, a Falcon 9 rocket was launched January 19 at 7:43 a.m. PST from Vandenberg SFB. Following liftoff, the vehicle headed south-southeast and roughly paralleled the coast as it carried 51 Starlink Internet satellites into orbit. The launch was seen from Newbury Park and Simi Valley and was reportedly heard in Oxnard.

Brian Webb

Update on "Start Me Up" Mission Anomaly

(JAN 12) Preliminary analysis of data from the Start Me Up mission has begun to shed light on the outcome of the January 9th flight and next steps to follow. More

Space Systems Command Launches EWS Cubesat Technical Demonstration

(JAN 3) EL SEGUNDO, Calif. - Space Systems Command successfully launched its Electro-Optical/Infrared (EO/IR) Weather Systems (EWS) cubesat technical demonstration this morning onboard the SpaceX Transporter-6 mission at 9:56 a.m. (Eastern, 6:56 a.m. Pacific) from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida.

This one-year EWS cubesat technical demonstration will prove out emerging space-based EO/IR radiometric imaging technology, using a smaller sensor to provide timely weather imagery data from low Earth orbit (LEO).

"The EWS cubesat technical demonstration effort represents SSC's continued commitment to working with non-traditional partners to broaden the competitive industrial base. If successful, this will provide an innovative option to deliver Space-Based Environmental Monitoring data to the warfighter at an operationally relevant speed," said Lt. Col. Joe Maguadog, EWS Materiel Leader and Program Manager. "This demonstration will inform our transition toward a more affordable, scalable, and resilient EO/IR weather constellation."

In February 2002, the EWS program competitively selected two vendors to develop and launch two separate sensor prototypes. Orion Space Solutions, a non-traditional government contractor, delivered the cubesat for this demonstration. General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems Group will deliver the second prototype by 2025.

This launch satisfies the FY20 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Congressional mandate to launch a weather EO/IR pathfinder prototype by FY23. The program expects the first transmittal of data early in the new year.

Space Systems Command

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