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

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2021 February 26 18:24 PST

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What's New?
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FEB 24 Vandenberg AFB Launch Schedule updated

Next Vandenberg Launch
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As of February 24

The next Vandenberg AFB rocket launch could be a Firefly Alpha on March 14. The vehicle will carry multiple payloads into orbit.

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


News
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Minuteman III Launched

Minuteman III launch

An Air Force Global Strike Command unarmed, Minuteman III missile launches during an operation test at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., Feb. 23.

(FEB 24) VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- An operational test launch of an Air Force Global Strike Command unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base Tuesday, Feb. 23, at 11:49 p.m. PT.

The purpose of the ICBM test launch program is to validate and verify the safety, security, effectiveness, and readiness of the weapon system, according to Air Force Global Strike Command.

Col. Joseph Tringe, 30th Space Wing individual mobilization augmentee to the commander, was the launch decision authority.

"This first launch of the year demonstrates our ability to provide safe, secure range operations to our launch partners while maintaining a continuous state of readiness," said Tringe. "The outstanding teamwork of the Airmen and Guardians here at Vandenberg is a true testament to the future of space operations on the Western Range and our ability to defend the United States and our allies."

Vandenberg AFB

Vandenberg Launch Contract Awarded

(FEB 19) General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems (GA-EMS) announced today that it has awarded a contract to Firefly Aerospace Inc. to launch a GA-EMS developed Orbital Test Bed (OTB) satellite carrying NASA’s Multi-Angle Imager for Aerosols (MAIA) instrument. The launch vehicle delivering the satellite to space will be Firefly’s Alpha rocket and is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in 2022.

"Firefly’s Alpha rocket meets all technical and performance requirements to launch GA-EMS' OTB spacecraft with the MAIA instrument as the primary payload on a rideshare mission," stated Scott Forney, president of GA-EMS. "By leveraging Firefly's inventive launch capabilities with our novel approach to satellite design and development, GA-EMS is able to assure our customers keep pace with the demand to launch missions like MAIA to advance NASA’s Earth Science research goals."

MAIA's planned three year on-orbit operation will measure airborne particulate matter in the atmosphere to allow team members to correlate MAIA's measurements with adverse human health issues such as cardiovascular and respiratory disease, initially focused on 12 primary target areas around the world. MAIA is a Venture-class mission within NASA's Earth System Science Pathfinder Program at the agency’s Langley Research Center in Virginia. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA is responsible for the MAIA instrument design, development, and delivery.

Firefly Aerospace

DART Grooming

DART spacecraft grooming

Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) team members install the Radial Line Slot Array (RLSA) antenna on the spacecraft at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. DART seeks to test and validate a method to protect Earth in case of an asteroid impact threat by shifting an asteroid's orbit through kinetic impact. DART is scheduled to launch later this year on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

Virgin Orbit Pens Deal with SatRevolution

(FEB 9) Virgin Orbit, the California-based satellite launch company, announced today it has signed a new launch agreement with SatRevolution, a NewSpace satellite company headquartered in Wroclaw, Poland. For this contract, Virgin Orbit will launch a pair of small satellites, STORK-4 and STORK-5 (MARTA), later this year onboard its LauncherOne rocket.

Based on the state-of-the-art UniBus 3U CubeSat platform developed by SatRevolution, STORK-4 and MARTA are the first optical satellites to be launched as part of the company’s 14-satellite STORK constellation. Once deployed, STORK-4 and MARTA will collect multispectral medium-resolution imagery and data for agricultural and energy customers in the US, in Poland, and abroad. The mission will also feature a reduced timeline integration of the STORK-4 and MARTA satellites as part of a critical first step in demonstrating a responsive launch service. Future LauncherOne missions will be designed to offer a rapid launch capability, with the companies working closely to ensure that quick call-up capabilities are readily available.

The launch agreement builds on an existing relationship between Virgin Orbit and SatRevolution. In 2019, alongside nearly a dozen of the top technical Polish universities, the two companies became founding members of a consortium to develop the world’s first dedicated commercial small satellite missions to Mars. The Polish Mission to Mars Consortium seeks to launch best-in-class satellite technology by taking advantage of LauncherOne’s Virgin Interplanetary (or VIP) Service, which offers unique flexibility to access greater and more optimal launch windows for journeys to Mars and other interplanetary destinations.

Virgin Orbit

SpaceX Awarded Launch Contract

(FEB 4) NASA has selected Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, California, to provide launch services for the Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization, and Ices Explorer (SPHEREx) mission. SPHEREx is a planned two-year astrophysics mission to survey the sky in the near-infrared light, which, though not visible to the human eye, serves as a powerful tool for answering cosmic questions involving the birth of the universe, and the subsequent development of galaxies.

It also will search for water and organic molecules – essentials for life as we know it – in regions where stars are born from gas and dust, known as stellar nurseries, as well as disks around stars where new planets could be forming. Astronomers will use the mission to gather data on more than 300 million galaxies, as well as more than 100 million stars in our own Milky Way galaxy.

The total cost for NASA to launch SPHEREx is approximately $98.8 million, which includes the launch service and other mission related costs.

The SPHEREx mission currently is targeted to launch as early as June 2024 on a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex-4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

NASA

Blue Canyon Technologies Provides Microsats for NASA Pioneers Missions

The Aspera and Pandora Missions were recently selected by NASA for further concept development

(JAN 27) BOULDER, Colo. - Leading small satellite manufacturer and mission services provider Blue Canyon Technologies, LLC. (“BCT” or “Blue Canyon”) today announced it is providing the microsatellites for NASA’s Pioneers Aspera and Pandora missions - small-scale astrophysics missions.

"We are providing high-performance microsats capable of supporting astrophysics missions at a price point never before possible," said George Stafford, CEO of Blue Canyon. "The missions will demonstrate our ability to be a mission-enabler in the areas of exoplanet characterization and the intergalactic medium."

BCT will build a Mercury-class microsat to support the Aspera mission from the University of Arizona, which will examine hot gas in the space between galaxies, otherwise known as the intergalactic medium. While the intergalactic medium is a major component of the universe, it remains poorly measured, which Aspera aims to address.

BCT also provided a Venus-class Microsat – part of the X-SAT product line to support Pandora, a mission from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Goddard Space Flight Center. This small satellite will study 20 stars and their 39 exoplanets in visible and infrared light, with the mission to disentangle the signals from stars and planetary atmospheres. Understanding how starlight changes can affect measurements of exoplanets is an outstanding problem in the search for habitable planets beyond the solar system.

Blue Canyon Technologies

Northrop Grumman Awarded Contract

(JAN 22) Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., Redondo Beach, California, is being awarded a firm-fixed-price prototype award with a total value of $155,030,206. This prototype award was competitively solicited among awardees of the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor Phase IIA effort, which was competitively awarded. Four proposals were received. Under this award, the performer will provide the Missile Defense Agency’s Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor program with an on-orbit prototype demonstration, culminating with launch and early orbit testing. The work will be performed in Redondo Beach, California, with an estimated completion date of July 22, 2023. Missile Defense Agency, Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, is the contracting activity.

Department of Defense

Northrop Grumman Tests New Rocket Motor

Rocket motor test

Northrop Grumman conducted a validation test of its GEM 63XL rocket motor on Jan. 21 at its Promontory, Utah, facility. The GEM 63XL will support the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur launch vehicle. Image courtesy of Northrop Grumman

(JAN 21) PROMONTORY, Utah – Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) conducted a validation ground test of an extended length 63-inch-diameter Graphite Epoxy Motor (GEM 63XL) today in Promontory. This variation of the company’s GEM 63 strap-on booster was developed in partnership with United Launch Alliance (ULA) to provide additional lift capability to the Vulcan Centaur rocket.

“This new motor optimizes our best-in-class technologies and leverages flight-proven solid rocket propulsion designs to provide our customers with the most reliable product,” said Charlie Precourt, vice president, propulsion systems, Northrop Grumman. “Evolving the original GEM 63 design utilizes our decades of GEM strap-on booster expertise while enhancing capabilities for heavy-lift missions.”

During today’s static test, the motor fired for approximately 90 seconds, producing nearly 449,000 pounds of thrust to validate the performance capability of the motor design. Additionally, this firing verified the motor’s internal insulation, propellant grain, ballistics and nozzle in a hot-conditioned environment.

Northrop Grumman

Virgin Orbit Aces Second Launch Demo and Deploys NASA Payloads

(JAN 17) Mojave, California - Virgin Orbit, the California-based satellite launch company, confirmed that its LauncherOne rocket reached space during the company's second launch demonstration today, successfully deploying 10 payloads for NASA's Launch Services Program (LSP). More

Vortices

Cloud vortices

The towering peaks of Fogo, Santa Antão, and São Nicolau of Cabo Verde (Cape Verde) disturb passing air masses and clouds producing trails called von Kármán vortex streets. The distinctive pattern can occur when a fluid passes a tall, isolated, stationary object. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra spacecraft captured this image of the swirling trails of clouds on December 20. Terra was launched from California's Vandenberg AFB in 1999. Image courtesy of NASA

A New NASA Space Telescope, SPHEREx, Is Moving Ahead

The observatory will map the entire sky to study the rapid expansion of the universe after the big bang, the composition of young planetary systems, and the history of galaxies.

(JAN 5) NASA's upcoming space telescope, the Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer, or SPHEREx, is one step closer to launch. More

SpaceX Awarded Launch Contract

(DEC 31) Space Exploration Technologies Inc. (SpaceX), Hawthorne, California, has been awarded a $150,450,000 firm-fixed-price contract for launch services from Vandenberg Air Force Base for the Space Development Agency's Tranche 0 Transport and Tracking Layer space vehicles. SpaceX will provide standalone launch services via two launches, with the first launch occurring in September 2022, and the entire constellation on orbit no later than March 31, 2023. The Space Development Agency, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity.

Department of Defense

Tule Fog

California Tule Fog from space

Wintertime in California’s Central Valley means snow in the high Sierra Nevada and a blanket of tule fog hanging low over the Valley floor. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on board NASA’s Terra satellite acquired a true-color image of Central Valley fog on December 20. This relatively narrow bank stretches about 325 miles (523 km) from north to south. Tule fog is an exceptionally dense fog that forms in the Central Valley each winter after the ground has become damp from a recent rain. Image and caption courtesy of NASA

New Sunspot Cycle Could Be One Of The Strongest On Record

Scientists use extended, 22-year solar cycle to make the forecast

(DEC 14) A team of scientists led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research is predicting that the sunspot cycle that started this fall could be one of the strongest since record-keeping began. More

First Data

Southeastern U.S. from space

The data in this graphic are the first sea surface height measurements from the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite (S6MF), which launched Nov. 21 from Vandenberg AFB, Calif. They show the ocean off the southern tip of Africa, with red colors indicating higher sea level relative to blue areas, which are lower. Image Credit: EUMETSAT

NASA Awards Launch Services Contracts

(DEC 11) NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP) has awarded multiple Venture Class Launch Services Demonstration 2 (VCLS Demo 2) contracts to launch small satellites (SmallSats) to space, including CubeSats, microsats or nanosatellites. The three companies selected to provide these commercial launch capabilities, and the value of their firm fixed-price contracts, are:

  • Astra Space Inc. of Alameda, California: $3.9 million
  • Relativity Space Inc. of Long Beach, California: $3.0 million
  • Firefly Black LLC of Cedar Park, Texas: $9.8 million

SmallSats, including CubeSats, are playing an increasingly larger role in exploration, technology demonstration, scientific research, and educational investigations at NASA. These miniature satellites provide a low-cost platform for NASA missions.

LSP supports the agency’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) by providing launch opportunities to CubeSats that are awaiting launch. The VCLS Demo 2 contracts will launch CubeSats selected through the CSLI to demonstrate a launch capability for smaller payloads that NASA anticipates it will require on a recurring basis for future science missions.

The Earth Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate has partnered with LSP to fund the VCLS Demo 2 contracts. These VCLS Demo 2 launches of small satellites can tolerate a higher level of risk than larger missions and will demonstrate – and help mitigate – risks associated with the use of new launch vehicles providing access to space for future small spacecraft and missions.

NASA

VSS Unity Preparing for First Powered Flight from New Mexico

(DEC 1) Virgin Galactic today announced its new flight window since it paused the spaceflight preparations in response to state guidelines from the New Mexico Department of Health to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The new flight window will open on December 11, pending good weather conditions and technical readiness. This flight expects to fulfill a number of objectives, including testing elements of the customer cabin as well as assessing the upgraded horizontal stabilizers and flight controls during boost. The flight will also carry payloads as part of the NASA Flight Opportunities Program.

The flight will be conducted by essential personnel only. No guests or media will be onsite, in accordance with company and state COVID-19 protocols. The operational footprint at our New Mexico facilities has been further minimized in the past 2 weeks. Only essential staff will be onsite to support the pre-flight operations ahead of the flight and the day of flight.

Virgin Galactic

U.S. Ally to Get Modern GPS Equipment

(NOV 23) The Space and Missile Systems Center’s Space Production Corps achieved a major milestone on Sept 30 when the Global Positioning System (GPS) Foreign Military Sales (FMS) office received its first Military Code (M-Code) capable Military GPS User Equipment (MGUE) order from Germany.

SMC is facilitating international access and availability of M-Code user equipment as directed by the Secretary of the Air Force and the Office of the Secretary of Defense to 58 authorized nations. Germany is expected to receive delivery of its first M-Code receiver in 2021. Additional foreign military sales of MGUE are being worked. Currently, SMC is engaged with several nations in bi-lateral M-Code prototyping, demonstration, and lead platform planning efforts. Under a multilateral agreement, MGUE ground-based receivers are on schedule to be loaned to approved partners for early integration and test in national weapons systems.

M-Code is an upgrade to the currently available GPS signals that provides enhanced secure positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) performance, anti-jam, and anti-spoofing to provide a more resilient PNT solution. It will improve interoperability with our defense partners’ equipment and operations while increasing navigation warfare effectiveness for allied operations.

SMC is the United States Space Force’s center of excellence for acquiring and developing military space systems. Providing MGUE to our allies is another example of SMC delivering vital capabilities to the warfighter and the world.

U.S. Space Force Space and Missile Center

SpaceX Launches Sentinel-6 Satellite from VAFB

(NOV 21) VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Team Vandenberg launched the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite Saturday, Nov. 21, at 9:17 a.m., from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The Sentinel-6 is the first of two identical satellites to head into Earth orbit five years apart to continue sea level observations for at least the next decade.

Col. Anthony Mastalir, 30th Space Wing commander was the space launch commander for this mission.

“The Western Range is excited to provide the opportunity for this unique launch,” said Col. Anthony Mastalir, 30th Space Wing commander. “Working together with NASA and SpaceX to provide a successful launch takes planning and team work and I am proud of the work my 30th Space Wing members have done today. The technology from this satellite will provide critical data for scientific research and lay the framework for future generations to study the ocean.”

The 30th Space Wing’s primary responsibilities include maintaining and operating the Western range, providing mission assurance, safeguarding the public and ensuring minimal environmental impact so we can provide services, facilities and range safety control for the execution of DoD, civil and commercial launches.

Vandenberg AFB

Saturday Launch Visibility

(NOV 20) Saturday morning's scheduled launch of a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg AFB appears to be on schedule. Plans call for the rocket to lift off from Space Launch Complex 4-East on south Vandenberg at 9:17 PST. Following liftoff, the Falcon 9 will rise vertically for several seconds before it gradually pitches over and heads towards the south-southwest as it parallels the coast. If the launch goes as planned, the rocket will place NASA's Sentinel 6 sea level-measuring satellite into orbit.

If the sky is clear, the first few minutes of the launch should be visible to the unaided eye along the coast from San Luis Obispo to Malibu and inland as far as Santa Paula, Moorpark, and Newbury Park. Observers in outlying areas may also be able to see the launch provided they know exactly where to look and have an unobstructed horizon.

For countdown status and video coverage of the launch, go to:

https://nasa.gov/live

https://youtube.com/NASA

https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html#public

https://spaceflightnow.com/

During previous launches video feeds have been up to a minute behind, so don't rely on them to know when events such as liftoff are scheduled to occur.

For information about the mission, go to:

https://sealevel.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/jason-cs-sentinel-6/summary/

Brian Webb

Martian Selfie

Curiosity Mars rover selfie

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover took this selfie at a location nicknamed "Mary Anning" after a 19th century English paleontologist. Curiosity snagged three samples of drilled rock at this site on its way out of the Glen Torridon region, which scientists believe preserves an ancient habitable environment. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, California, leads the Curiosity mission. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Vandenberg Launch Delayed

(NOV 14) The December Delta IV Heavy/NROL-82 launch from Vandenberg AFB has been delayed.

There is no new launch date.

Brian Webb

Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich Prepared for Launch

The newest addition to a long line of ocean-monitoring satellites is ready to head into space.

(NOV 5) With a little over two weeks to go until its California launch, the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich spacecraft is undergoing final preparations. Technicians and engineers have encapsulated the satellite in the payload fairing - the protective nosecone that will ride atop the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The launch is targeted for Nov. 21. More

Minuteman III Launched from Vandenberg

Minuteman III launch

An Air Force Global Strike Command unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at 12:27 a.m. Pacific Time, Thursday, Oct. 29, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. U.S. Air Force photo by Michael Peterson

(OCT 29) VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- An operational test launch of an Air Force Global Strike Command unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base Thursday, Oct. 29, at 12:27 a.m. Pacific Time.

All test launches validate and verify the effectiveness, readiness and accuracy of the weapon system as they are conducted to test the entire intercontinental ballistic missile system, according to Air Force Global Strike Command.

Mr. Ron Cortopassi, 30th Space Wing executive director, was the launch decision authority.

“The ICBM test launch program demonstrates our Nation’s nuclear deterrence forces are safe, secure, effective and ready to defend the United States, and Vandenberg plays an integral part in providing the capabilities necessary to meet those test objectives,” said Cortopassi. “Even in times of global pandemic, our Airmen are able to provide the range support required to safely test an ICBM launch.”

Vandenberg AFB

Burn Scars

California burn scars from space

Scars from California's recent wildfires are visible in this Terra spacecraft image taken October 14. The false-color image recorded by the spacecraft's MODIS instrument uses a combination of visible and infrared light to better visualize the burn scars by making them easier to see against the vegetation. Burned areas appear brown, black, and brick red while and unburned vegetation appears bright green. Image Credit: MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC

U.S.-European Sea Level Satellite Gears Up for Launch

The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich spacecraft will soon be heading into orbit to monitor the height of the ocean for nearly the entire globe.

(OCT 16) Preparations are ramping up for the Nov. 10 launch of the world's latest sea level satellite. More

New Mexico Target Launch

(OCT 7) REDSTONE ARSENAL, Alabama – The U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command (USASMDC) Technical Center’s Targets Division launched a Black Dagger target from Fort Wingate, New Mexico, into White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, Oct. 1 during a flight test demonstrating new interoperability between the Patriot and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, systems.

“Preliminary indications are that the launch was very successful,” said Cain Crouch, launch test director and aerospace engineer with the Targets Division. “The purpose was to further test the capability of the interceptor system and at first glance, the target met all performance requirements and our customers are extremely satisfied with the target performance.

Members of the Targets Division built the Black Dagger target as a ballistic missile target capable of threat-matching for use in advanced missile defense systems testing.

The Black Dagger is a two-stage, short-range ballistic missile that is created by mating a Pathfinder Zombie target missile, another USASMDC custom-built target missile, on top of a Terrier MK70 first stage booster.

The test demonstrated the ability to expand the area a Patriot battery can defend by using a THAAD radar. The Patriot system was able to launch its interceptor sooner and engage the threat missile earlier in flight.

During the flight test, an Army-Navy/Transportable Radar Surveillance and Control Model 2, or AN/TPY-2, detected and tracked the Black Dagger. A Patriot weapon system successfully achieved an intercept of the target with a Patriot Advanced Capability-3 Missile Segment Enhancement interceptor using data provided by the AN/TPY-2 radar.

Adapted from a U.S. Army News Feature

Fresh Craters

Fresh martian craters

The HiRISE camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) took this image of a crater cluster on Mars, the first ever to be discovered with AI. The AI first spotted the craters in images taken the orbiter's Context Camera; scientists followed up with this HiRISE image to confirm the craters. The AI used to discover these craters was developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. JPL, manages the MRO for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Boeing to Develop Next-generation Satellite System for U.S. Space Force

First phase of Evolved Strategic SATCOM program includes prototype payload, architecture development

(OCT 1) EL SEGUNDO, Calif. - Boeing [NYSE: BA] has received one of three development contracts to build a satellite payload prototype and develop a new secure, resilient satellite communications architecture for the U.S. Space Force’s Evolved Strategic SATCOM (ESS) program.

ESS will be a military satellite communications (MILSATCOM) system. It is a critical component of the U.S. Space Force’s strategy.

The initial ESS development contract is valued at $298 million. Contracts for the full ESS system are expected to be awarded in 2025.

Boeing’s support of the U.S. government’s SATCOM mission spans six decades and has since included programs that span air, land and space domains. The company’s secure MILSATCOM programs include extremely high-frequency payloads, the Wideband Global SATCOM constellation, the Protected Tactical Enterprise Service and Protected Tactical SATCOM program, which deliver survivable, secure and resilient communications to the U.S. military and its allies.

Boeing

New Sea Level Satellite Arrives at California Launch Site

The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich spacecraft will launch from the U.S. West Coast aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in November.

(SEP 25) The world's latest ocean-monitoring satellite has arrived at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Central California to be prepared for its Nov. 10 launch. More

Ground Detail

Southwestern U.S.

Despite widespread smoke from weeks of wildfires, ample ground detail is visible in California and surrounding areas in this satellite image taken September 19. The color view was recorded by NOAA's GOES-West satellite some 23,000 miles above the east Pacific. Image credit: NOAA

Solar Cycle 25 Is Here. NASA, NOAA Scientists Explain What That Means

(SEP 15) Solar Cycle 25 has begun. During a media event on Tuesday, experts from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) discussed their analysis and predictions about the new solar cycle - and how the coming upswing in space weather will impact our lives and technology on Earth, as well as astronauts in space. More

Rocket Launched from New Mexico

(SEP 13) On September 8 NASA launched its first sounding rocket since the coronavirus pandemic began in the United States.

The two-stage Black Brant IX suborbital rocket lifted off from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico and carried the DUST-2 payload to a height of approximately 215 miles before descending by parachute. The payload was recovered and good data was received during the mission.

The DUST-2 mission simulated how tiny grains of space dust – the raw materials of stars, planets and solar systems – form and grow. DUST-2, a collaboration between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, follows up on the DUST mission launched in October 2019.

Brian Webb

Minuteman III Launched from Vandenberg

Minuteman III launch

An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. early on the morning of September 2. Courtesy photo by Connor Riley

(SEP 2) VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Ca. -- An operational test launch of an Air Force Global Strike Command unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base Wednesday, Sept. 2, at 12:03 a.m., Pacific Time.

The purpose of the ICBM test launch program is to validate and verify the safety, security, effectiveness, and reliability of the weapon system, according to Air Force Global Strike Command.

Col. Kris Barcomb, 30th Operations Group commander, was the launch decision authority.

“Our outstanding Airmen and space professionals continue to showcase flawless execution and teamwork between the 30th Space Wing and the 576th Flight Test Squadron,” said Barcomb. “This test launch represents another successful demonstration of our nation’s capability and underscores the fact that our nuclear enterprise is safe, secure, reliable, effective and ready to defend the United States and our allies.”

Vandenberg AFB

NASA Engineers Checking InSight's Weather Sensors

An electronics issue is suspected to be preventing the sensors from sharing their data about Mars weather with the spacecraft.

(AUG 24) PASADENA, Calif. - Weather sensors aboard NASA's InSight Mars lander stopped providing data on Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020, a result of an issue affecting the sensor suite's electronics. Engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California are working to understand the cause of the issue.

Called the Auxiliary Payload Sensor Suite (APSS), the sensors collect data on wind speed and direction, air temperature and pressure, and magnetic fields. Throughout each Martian day, or sol, InSight's main computer retrieves data stored in APSS' control computer for later transmission to orbiting spacecraft, which relay the data to Earth.

APSS is in safe mode and unlikely to be reset before the end of the month while mission team members work toward a diagnosis. JPL engineers are optimistic that resetting the control computer may address the issue but need to investigate the situation further before returning the sensors to normal.

Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Heat Wave

Southeastern U.S. from space

The ECOSTRESS instrument aboard the International Space Station recorded this temperature map of southern California on August 14 during a period of elevated temperatures. ECOSTRESS observations have a spatial resolution of about 77 by 77 yards (70 by 70 meters), which enables researchers to study surface-temperature conditions down to the size of a football field. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, Calif. built and manages the ECOSTRESS instrument for NASA. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

White Sands Conducts Missile Defense Test

(AUG 20) WHITE SANDS, NM - ?The U.S. Army successfully intercepted a high-performance, high-speed tactical ballistic missile (TBM) target and a cruise missile target during a flight test using the Northrop Grumman Corporation Integrated Battle Command System (IBCS) Aug. 20 at White Sands Missile Range.

The target missiles were part of the second of two live-fire tests during the Army's IBCS Limited User Test (LUT) at WSMR, and demonstrated the system's ability to acquire, track, identify and engage diverse targets from various locations, speeds and altitudes.

The flight test commenced with the target missiles being launched from different points of origin toward the Army defenders at the controls of IBCS. The TBM target was fired far from the missile range and traveled on a ballistic trajectory, while the cruise missile surrogate flew a low-altitude course. As the target missiles traveled independently towards their targets, multiple disparate radars provided data to IBCS. IBCS integrated the data to form a single uninterrupted composite track of each threat, impossible with any single sensor, which then informed engagement solutions with the best interceptors to engage both incoming threats. The soldiers then executed the IBCS-enabled engagement, which included the launch of a PAC-2 to intercept the cruise missile and a PAC-3 to intercept the advanced TBM. The successful execution of this second LUT flight test moves IBCS another step closer to Milestone C followed by production and fielding of IBCS.

IBCS is the centerpiece of the U.S. Army's modernization strategy for air and missile defense to address the changing battlefield. IBCS enables revolutionary and battle survivable "any-sensor, best-effector" operations by: fusing information from multiple, disparate sensors to create a single integrated air picture; and employing all available effectors to defeat advancing threats.

Northrop Grumman / White Sands Missile Rage

Northrop Grumman Successfully Tests of New Rocket Motor

(AUG 13) PROMONTORY, Utah – Aug. 13, 2020 – Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) conducted its first ground test of an extended length 63-inch-diameter Graphite Epoxy Motor (GEM 63XL) today in Promontory, Utah. This variation of the company’s GEM 63 strap-on booster was developed in partnership with United Launch Alliance (ULA) to provide additional lift capability to the Vulcan Centaur vehicle.

“Our new GEM 63XL motors leverage its flight-proven heritage while utilizing state-of-the-art manufacturing technology to enhance launch vehicle heavy-lift capabilities,” said Charlie Precourt, vice president, propulsion systems, Northrop Grumman. “The GEM 63XL increases thrust and performance by 15-20 percent compared to a standard GEM 63.”

During today’s static test, the motor fired for approximately 90 seconds, producing nearly 449,000 pounds of thrust to qualify the motor’s internal insulation, propellant grain, ballistics and nozzle in a cold-conditioned environment. This test demonstrated materials and technologies similar to the GEM 63 rocket motor that qualified for flight in October 2019.

Northrop Grumman has supplied rocket propulsion to ULA and its heritage companies for a variety of launch vehicles since 1964. The GEM family of strap-on motors was developed starting in the early 1980s with the GEM 40 to support the Delta II launch vehicle. The company then followed with the GEM 46 for the Delta II Heavy, and the GEM 60, which flew 86 motors over 26 Delta IV launches before retiring in 2019 with 100 percent success. The first flight of the GEM 63 motors will be on a ULA Atlas V launch vehicle planned for fourth quarter 2020, and GEM 63XL motors will support the Vulcan rocket in 2021.

Northrop Grumman

Minuteman III Launched

Minuteman III launch

An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches August 4 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Hanah Abercrombie)

(AUG 4) VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- An operational test launch of an Air Force Global Strike Command unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base Tuesday, Aug. 4, at 12:21 a.m. Pacific Time.

The purpose of the ICBM test launch program is to validate and verify the safety, security, effectiveness, and readiness of the weapon system, according to Air Force Global Strike Command.

Col. Anthony Mastalir, 30th Space Wing commander, was the launch decision authority.

“This launch demonstrates that we are able to provide the range support needed to facilitate this test during peacetime operations in the midst of COVID-19 operations,” said Mastalir. “Signifying that our nuclear enterprise is safe, secure, reliable, effective and ready to defend the United States and our allies.”

Vandenberg AFB

Minuteman Launch Scheduled

(AUG 3) VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- An operational test launch of an Air Force Global Strike Command unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 4, between 12:21 a.m. and 6:21 a.m. from north Vandenberg.

The purpose of the ICBM test launch program is to verify the safety, security, effectiveness and readiness of the weapon system, according to Air Force Global Strike Command.

Vandenberg AFB

NASA, ULA Launch Mars Rover Mission

(JUL 31) NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission is on its way to the Red Planet to search for signs of ancient life and collect samples to send back to Earth. More

Magnetic Field

Galaxy magnetic field

The magnetic field of NGC 4217, a star-forming, spiral galaxy, similar to the Milky Way is visible in this composite image released by the University of New Mexico on Wednesday. The view was created by combining optical data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and Kitt Peak National Observatory and radio data from the Very Large Array. The galaxy is seen edge-on in visible light and the magnetic field lines, shown in green, are revealed at radio wavelengths. Image Credit: University of New Mexico

General Atomics Awarded Contract for Spacecraft

(JUL 22) SAN DIEGO, CA - General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems (GA-EMS) has been awarded a contract by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) to build the Total and Spectral solar Irradiance Sensor-2 (TSIS-2) spacecraft which will provide measurements of solar irradiance and high-quality data for the long term climate record. GA-EMS will leverage its proven Orbital Test Bed (OTB) platform architecture to design and develop the satellite for TSIS-2, which is scheduled to launch in early 2023.

“We are extremely pleased to expand our relationship with NASA and to continue supporting their research goals with our flexible, modular OTB platforms,” stated Scott Forney, president of GA-EMS. “This contract is another exciting opportunity that demonstrates GA-EMS’ ability to deliver satellites on an aggressive schedule. The OTB platform will allow us to quickly and affordably integrate the TSIS-2 payload suite onto a free-flying spacecraft that will operate in a sun-synchronous orbit and allow NASA continuous solar monitoring capabilities throughout its mission lifecycle.”

On a separate contract, the University of Colorado (CU) Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) will provide the Total Irradiance Monitor (TIM) and Spectral Irradiance Monitor (SIM) sensors for TSIS-2. GA-EMS will utilize its new spacecraft development facility in Centennial, CO for the design, manufacture, assembly, integration and test of the spacecraft and payload, as well as for mission operations support.

“Our spacecraft designs provide lower-cost access to space helping customers keep pace with the demand to provide for missions like TSIS-2,” stated Nick Bucci, vice president of GA-EMS Missile Defense and Space Systems. “Our agile approach to small satellite design, operational flight experience with high mission assurance, and our state-of-the-art spacecraft manufacturing, assembly, integration and testing facilities allows us to create tailored solutions in shorter timeframes to allow customers to execute a variety of missions on budget, and on time.”

General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems

Satellites to Test Deorbit Technology

(JUL 16) EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Two Millennium Space Systems-built DRAGRACER small satellites are being prepared for a first-of-its kind, controlled flight experiment later this year to mature future deorbit tether systems for low Earth orbiting satellites.

The DRAGRACER mission uses the scientific method to compare deorbit performance with two identical satellites: one in a naturally decaying orbit and one deploying a tether to expedite de-orbit. By flying this DRAGRACER experiment, Millennium plans to empirically compare the satellite hosting the 70-meter-long Terminator Tape provided by Tethers Unlimited to the control satellite, while calibrating predictive models with radar tracking data.

The satellites are scheduled to ship in September to TriSept Corp, the mission launch service provider, for integration onto a Rocket Lab Electron launch vehicle. Once launched, the DRAGRACER mission begins when the two satellites, named ALCHEMY and AUGURY, eject from the rocket. After deployment, the DRAGRACER payload separates into two 6U Millennium RAPTOR satellites with identical stowed mass properties and drag coefficients. ALCHEMY will house the 70 meter tether while AUGURY will provide a baseline deorbit trajectory.

Funded entirely with internal research and development funding and similar to a concept car in the auto industry, the RAPTOR satellite line is Millennium’s internal concept platform for hosting new and promising next-generation technologies. These missions launch in less than 12 months from inception and quantify and characterize technical performance and behavior in the space environment.

“The space community understands tether systems can expedite reentry, but this is our first opportunity to truly quantify performance directly and more effectively calibrate models developed over the last 50 years,” said Dr. Robert Hoyt, founder and CEO, Tethers Unlimited. “Predictions suggest the tethered spacecraft will deorbit in approximately 45 days, while the untethered spacecraft remains in orbit for approximately 7 to 9 years.”

Millennium Space Systems

Tropical Storm Fay

Tropical Storm Fay

NASA's AIRS instrument captured this image of Tropical Storm Fay around 2 p.m. local time on July 10, 2020, as the storm swept through New England. Aqua was launched from California's Vandenberg AFB in 2002. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

SETI Institute Awarded Planetary Protection Contract

(JUL 10) NASA has awarded the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, a contract to support all phases of current and future planetary protection missions to ensure compliance with planetary protection standards.

The SETI Institute will work with NASA’s Office of Planetary Protection (OPP) to provide technical reviews and recommendations, validate biological cleanliness on flight projects, provide training for NASA and its partners, as well as develop guidelines for implementation of NASA requirements, and disseminate information to stakeholders and the public. The role of OPP is to promote responsible exploration of the solar system by protecting both Earth and mission destinations from biological contamination.

Planetary protection preserves environments, as well as the science, ensuring verifiable scientific exploration for extraterrestrial life. Some of the upcoming NASA science missions that will be supported by this contract include the Mars 2020 and Europa Clipper missions, and preparations for NASA’s Mars Sample Return mission. In addition, future human spaceflight exploration under NASA’s Artemis program, such as the Gateway lunar orbital outpost, the Human Lander System, and Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative, will be supported under this contract, as part of America’s Moon to Mars exploration approach.

The contract is a fixed-price indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract with a maximum award value of $4.7 million over a five-year period that began July 1.

NASA

Bright Morning Comet

(JUL 3) Today, Comet NEOWISE (C/2020 F3) is passing by the sun near the orbit of Mercury--and it seems to be thriving. Many astronomers in Europe and the USA photographed the comet at the crack of dawn shining through bright twilight. The mornings ahead could be even better. Visit today's edition of Spaceweather.com for pictures and observing tips.

Spaceweather.com

Glide Test

SpaceShipTwo Glide Test

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo completes an unpowered test flight at Spaceport America, New Mexico on June 25. Pending completion of an extensive data review of the flight, the Virgin Galactic team will start preparing for powered spaceflights from Spaceport America. Image courtesy of Virgin Galactic

Relativity Space to Build Launch Site at Vandenberg

(JUN 24) Vandenberg, CA -- Relativity Space, the first company to utilize 3D printing, robotics and AI to reinvent aerospace manufacturing, extended its launch capabilities via a Right of Entry Agreement with the United States Air Force, 30th Space Wing for development of rocket launch facilities at Vandenberg Air Force Base. The Right of Entry (RoE) allows Relativity and the 30th Space Wing to assess the viability of conducting launch operations at a location currently comprised of Building 330 and adjacent land area. Relativity’s launch capabilities, which will now span both coasts of the United States, offer customers a complete range of orbital inclinations, including polar and Sun Synchronous orbits (SSO), adding to the LEO, MEO, GEO, and low inclination orbits possible at Cape Canaveral LC-16. These expanded capabilities, along with the company’s autonomous production via metal 3D printing, help drive Relativity’s continued momentum.

“We’re honored to begin this partnership with the 30th Space Wing and join the exclusive group of private space companies able to conduct launches at Vandenberg,” says Tim Ellis, CEO of Relativity. “The West Coast launch facilities allow Relativity to provide affordable access to polar and sun sync orbits that are critical for both government and commercial customers. The geographic southerly position of B-330 at Vandenberg offers schedule certainty and increased launch frequency that will be advantageous to our Terran 1 customers.”

Vandenberg Air Force Base is the home of the 30th Space Wing, which manages the Department of Defense’s space and missile testing, as well as satellite launches into polar and sun sync orbits from the West Coast. If approved, the B-330 launch site at Vandenberg will be capable of supporting Relativity’s rocket, Terran 1, the world’s first and only fully 3D printed rocket, as well as the company’s future capabilities. Relativity’s senior leadership team, drawn from both longtime aerospace companies and industry pioneers, has executed dozens of successful launches at Vandenberg.

Relativity Space

Rocket Lab to Demonstrate Fastest Launch Turnaround to Date

Rocket Lab to demonstrate rapid launch capability by launching next mission just three weeks after previous launch

(JUN 15) Long Beach, Calif. - Satellite manufacturer and global leader in dedicated small satellite launch, Rocket Lab, has today announced its next Electron mission is scheduled to launch just three weeks after its most recent mission in a demonstration of the company's rapid launch capability. More

Acoustic Testing

Acoustic testing of the Sentinel-6 spacecraft

Mission team members perform acoustic tests of the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite in a chamber outfitted with giant speakers that blast the spacecraft with sound. This is to ensure that the high decibels associated with liftoff won't damage the spacecraft. Sentinel-6 is scheduled for launch from California's Vandenberg AFB in late 2020. Image Credit: Airbus

6th SOPS Provides Assistance During Hurricane Season

(JUN 12) SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The 6th Space Operations Squadron delivers meteorological data to the military and civilians around the world throughout the year that plays a critical role during hurricane season. More

JPL Mission Breaks Record for Smallest Satellite to Detect an Exoplanet

About the size of a briefcase, the CubeSat was built to test new technologies but exceeded expectations by spotting a planet outside our solar system.

(JUN 2) PASADENA, Calif. - Long before it was deployed into low-Earth orbit from the International Space Station in Nov. 2017, the tiny ASTERIA spacecraft had a big goal: to prove that a satellite roughly the size of a briefcase could perform some of the complex tasks much larger space observatories use to study exoplanets, or planets outside our solar system. More

Airborne Rocket Launch Conducted, Mission Terminated

Southeastern U.S. from space

A LauncherOne rocket first stage ignites following an airborne launch on May 25. Image courtesy of Virgin Orbit

(MAY 25) Mojave, California - Virgin Orbit, the California-based satellite launch company, conducted a launch demonstration of its innovative air-launched rocket today in the skies over the Pacific Ocean just off the California coast. The company successfully completed all of its pre-launch procedures, the captive carry flight out to the drop site, clean telemetry lock from multiple dishes, a smooth pass through the racetrack, terminal count, and a clean release. After being released from the carrier aircraft, the LauncherOne rocket successfully lighted its booster engine on cue — the first time the company had attempted an in-air ignition. An anomaly then occurred early in first stage flight, and the mission safely terminated. The carrier aircraft Cosmic Girl and all of its crew landed safely at Mojave Air and Space Port, concluding the mission.

“Our team performed their prelaunch and flight operations with incredible skill today. Test flights are instrumented to yield data and we now have a treasure trove of that. We accomplished many of the goals we set for ourselves, though not as many as we would have liked,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart. “Nevertheless, we took a big step forward today. Our engineers are already poring through the data. Our next rocket is waiting. We will learn, adjust, and begin preparing for our next test, which is coming up soon.”

The company’s next rocket is in final stages of integration at its Long Beach manufacturing facility, with a half-dozen other rockets for subsequent missions not far behind. Virgin Orbit’s decision to begin production of multiple rockets well in advance of this test flight will enable the team to progress to the next attempt at a significantly faster pace, shortly after making any necessary modifications to the launch system.

Virgin Orbit

DESI Team Prepares for Instrument's Restart

(MAY 22) The Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI), installed on an Arizona mountaintop, was quickly moving through its testing stages and making headway toward the start of its 5-year observing run as project participants from around the world traveled to attend a DESI collaboration meeting in Tucson, Arizona, in early March. More

Advanced Rocket Motor Tested in Utah

(MAY 12) HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Aerojet Rocketdyne recently completed a successful static-fire test of an advanced large solid rocket motor, called the Missile Components Advanced Technologies Demonstration Motor (MCAT Demo), under contract to the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).

Aerojet Rocketdyne’s MCAT Demo large solid rocket motor design incorporates numerous advanced technologies and materials. The program’s primary goal is to develop technologies to increase propulsion performance and lower manufacturing and operational costs for future applications. In order to meet the goals, the MCAT Demo design consists of a state-of-the-art graphite composite case, an affordable advanced nozzle and high-energy, long-life solid propellant.

“The successful MCAT Demo enables future Air Force ICBMs to deliver higher performance while reducing cost,” said Jason Mossman, Chief of the Motors Branch at AFRL, Edwards Air Force Base. “We are committed to providing world-class technology for Air Force Nuclear Deterrence Operations, and we are very pleased with the outcome of the MCAT Demo.”

During the static firing, the 52-in. diameter MCAT Demo motor fired successfully. Initial post-test inspection indicates that all components functioned as designed. AFRL provided technical and managerial oversight of the MCAT contract.

AFRL facilitated the testing at the Utah Test and Training Range to demonstrate the performance of the Aerojet Rocketdyne MCAT rocket motor. The MCAT Demo motor firing is the first test in a series of strategic-sized motor demonstrations planned in the near future.

Aerojet Rocketdyne

Southeast from Space

Southeastern U.S. from space

On May 5, NASA released this true-color image (click to enlarge) of the Southeastern U.S. as seen by the Terra spacecraft. The satellite's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument recorded the view during a daylight pass over the region on May 2. MODIS was built by the Raytheon Santa Barbara Remote Sensing, Santa Barbara, Calif. Image courtesy of NASA

SpaceShipTwo Completes First Flight From Spaceport America

(MAY 1) LAS CRUCES, N.M.-- Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (“Virgin Galactic” or “the Company”) and The Spaceship Company (“TSC”) today announced the successful completion of its first SpaceShipTwo test flight from Spaceport America. More

Lab Meets Milestone for Ocean Mission

TBD

Space Dynamics Laboratory engineers prepare the engineering test unit of the Short-Wave Infrared Detection Assembly for NASA's PACE spacecraft for shipping in North Logan, UT, in this February 20, 2020 photo. Photo credit: Space Dynamics Laboratory/Allison Bills

(APR 20) LOGAN, UT - The Space Dynamics Laboratory at Utah State University recently delivered to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center an engineering test unit of the Short-Wave Infrared Detection Assembly, a major subcomponent on NASA’s Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem spacecraft. PACE is scheduled to launch in late 2022, and the mission will extend and improve over 20 years of satellite observations by NASA of global ocean biology, aerosols and clouds.

SDL, drawing on its flight-proven heritage in sensor technology, is designing, building and assembling the Short-Wave Infrared Detection Assembly for the PACE instrument known as the Ocean Color Instrument. The OCI is a state-of-the-art optical spectrometer that will measure properties of light over portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. The sensor will enable scientists to view continuous measurements of light made with higher resolution than is currently available.

“The delivery of the engineering test unit for the SWIR Detection Assembly is a critical milestone that will enable NASA to perform several months of rigorous instrument-level testing to prove the flight design currently being built at SDL,” said Gabe Loftus, SDL’s program manager for OCI. “Once launched, the flight-ready instrument will image the ocean from the ultraviolet to the near-infrared spectrum, giving NASA critical information on ocean ecology with unprecedented fidelity.”

The interaction of sunlight and microscopic particulates, such as phytoplankton, found in seawater affects the color of the ocean. Phytoplankton is an essential marine algae species comprising green chlorophyll. By monitoring the distribution of phytoplankton throughout Earth’s oceans via measurements of the color of seawater, scientists can further their understanding of the complex systems that drive ocean ecology. More about the PACE mission can be found at the official NASA PACE website: https://pace.oceansciences.org.

Utah State University

Satellites Flown from Home

(APR 15) LOGAN, UT - The Space Dynamics Laboratory at Utah State University announced that satellite operators are flying NASA spacecraft from their homes to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“By leveraging government-approved secure network services and working within security and information assurance protocols, SDL has the ability to operate spacecraft effectively and securely from anywhere an internet connection exists,” said Tim Neilsen, program manager in SDL’s Commercial and Civil Space Division. “NASA’s Hyper-Angular Rainbow Polarimeter CubeSat and the Compact Infrared Radiometer in Space instrument small satellite, known as HARP and CIRiS respectively, are two science satellites that are now being commanded by SDL satellite operators outside of SDL facilities.”

Measuring approximately 10 centimeters wide, 10 centimeters high, and 30 centimeters long, the HARP satellite was built by SDL to carry the payload built by the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. The objective of HARP is to validate the in-flight capabilities of a highly accurate and precise wide field of view hyper-angular polarimeter for characterizing aerosol and cloud properties. Additionally, HARP will demonstrate that CubeSat-size technology can provide science-quality multi-angle imaging data, paving the way for lower-cost aerosol-cloud instrument development.

Built by Ball Aerospace, CIRiS is collecting, processing, and calibrating infrared images of Earth. The satellite, about the size of a backpack with a mass of approximately 25 pounds, is testing a small, space-based infrared instrument that collects images to be used for a variety of scientific studies, including studies of cloud properties and mapping of soil moisture for measuring local drought conditions.

SDL has been solving the technical challenges faced by the military, science community, and industry for six decades and supports NASA’s vision to reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind.

Utah State University

Korea Haze

Air pollution Yellow Sea

Suspended aerosols colored the air between China and the Korean Peninsula on April 8, 2020 when the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on board NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired this true-color image of the region. The haze, likely a combination of agricultural fires and industrial and urban pollution, appears to blow from mainland China to reach South Korea and beyond. Aqua was launched from Vandenberg AFB, Calif. in 2002. Image Credit: MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC

SMC Awards Launch Service Contract

(APR 10) LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE - EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – The U.S. Space Force’s Rocket Systems Launch Program (RSLP) Office at Kirtland Air Force Base, Albuquerque, New Mexico, part of the Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise, today awarded a $35 million task order to VOX Space, LLC of El Segundo, California, for the Space Test Program-S28 (STP-S28) launch service.

STP-S28 is a complex mission that will deliver a number of technology demonstrations to orbit, such as Space Domain Awareness and communications advancement, and inform future space system development.

VOX Space, a U.S.-incorporated, wholly-owned subsidiary of Virgin Orbit, LLC, will utilize three launches of the LauncherOne rocket to deliver 44 small satellites to low earth orbit. The first launch is tentatively planned for October 2021.

The STP-S28 mission will provide orbital launch services for the Department of Defense’s Space Test Program. The DoD Space Test Program furthers the maturation of space-based warfighter technologies across the DoD enterprise by providing space access solutions for all research and development-related DoD auxiliary payloads on DoD, civil and commercial launches, and for all non-DoD auxiliary payloads seeking launch opportunities on DoD missions.

U.S. Space Force

Raytheon, MDA Sign
Standard Missile-3 Contract

(MAR 30) TUCSON, Ariz. - Raytheon Company (NYSE: RTN) will produce and deliver SM-3® Block IB interceptors under a $2.1 billion, multi-year U.S. Missile Defense Agency contract. It is the first multi-year contract for the SM-3 program, and covers fiscal years 2019–2023.

SM-3 is the only ballistic missile interceptor that can be launched on land and at sea. It is deployed worldwide and has achieved more than 30 exoatmospheric intercepts against ballistic missile targets.

"This procurement deal is a win-win for government and industry," said Dr. Mitch Stevison, Raytheon Strategic and Naval Systems vice president. "Efficiencies gained from this contract will allow us to reduce costs, continue to improve the SM-3 and deliver an important capability to our military."

The Block IB variant achieved full-rate production in 2017. The company has delivered more than 400 SM-3 rounds over the lifetime of the program.

Raytheon

Space Fence Declared Operational

(MAR 27) PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- United States Space Force officials formally declared initial operational capability and operational acceptance of the Space Fence radar system, located on Kwajalein Island in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, March 27, 2020.

Space Fence provides significantly improved space surveillance capabilities to detect and track orbiting objects such as commercial and military satellites, depleted rocket boosters and space debris in low, medium, and geosynchronous Earth orbit regimes.

Before Space Fence, the Space Surveillance Network (SSN) tracked more than 26,000 objects. With the initial operational capability and operational acceptance of Space Fence, the catalog size is expected to increase significantly over time. Information about objects tracked by the SSN is placed in the space catalog on www.space-track.org.

The Space Fence Program Office (AFLCMC/HBQB) operating under the acquisition authority of the Space and Missile System Center awarded a contract to the Lockheed Martin Co. in June 2014 to develop Space Fence. This system is the most sensitive search radar in the SSN, capable of detecting objects in orbit as small as a marble in low earth orbit (LEO).

Space Fence is operated by the 20th Space Control Squadron (SPCS), Detachment 4, at the Space Fence Operations Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and provides data to the 18 SPCS located at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The 18 SPCS uses the data from Space Fence and other sensors within the SSN to maintain the space object catalog and screen operational satellites, both maneuverable and non-maneuverable, against all objects in the space catalog, which includes satellites, rocket bodies and debris.

Space Fence provides precise positional data for Space Domain Awareness to maintain a robust and accurate space object catalog, ensure orbital safety, and provide early warning for conjunction events and indications of potential threats.

Both the 18th SPCS and 20th SPCS are part of the 21st Space Wing, headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The 21st SW is the Department of the Air Force’s only wing providing ground-based missile warning, missile defense and space surveillance data in defense of North America and its allies.

U.S. Space Force

Sandia Supports Hypersonic Flight Test

Hypersonic flight test

A common hypersonic glide body launches during a Defense Department flight experiment at the rocket launch range operated by Sandia National Laboratories in Kauai, Hawaii, March 19. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy)

(MAR 24) ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Sandia National Laboratories employees and contractors saw their work culminate in a hypersonic flight test conducted by the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army on March 19 at the Kauai Test Facility in Hawaii. More

NASA Accepts UC Berkeley Proposal

(MAR 22) NASA has accepted a proposal from the University of California Brekeley (UCB) for an astrophysics Small Explorer (SMEX) mission. UCB will compete with the University of Colorado at Boulder to have its concept developed into a spacecraft and flown in space.

If selected, UCB's Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI) mission would scan our Milky Way galaxy, measuring gamma rays from radioactive elements produced during stellar explosions to map the recent history of star death and element production. It would also measure polarization, to improve our understanding of how distant energetic cosmic explosions produce gamma rays.

John Tomsick at the University of California, Berkeley would be the Principal Investigator.

Brian Webb

Multi-manifest Satellite Vehicle Ready for Integration

(MAR 10) LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – On March 6, the Space and Missile Systems Center's (SMC) Launch Enterprise Mission Manifest Office (MMO) delivered a fully tested and integrated multi-manifest small satellite vehicle (TDO-2) to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) for integration on the AEHF-6 mission, which is the first U.S. Space Force launch.

TDO-2, the multi-manifest small satellite vehicle flying with the AEHF-6 mission, is carrying multiple U.S. Government payloads that will provide optical calibration capabilities, which will support space domain awareness. The Mission of TDO-2 is to support space domain awareness through optical calibration and satellite laser ranging. This capability will assist the nation's warfighters in performing their critical missions. TDO-2 was manufactured by Georgia Institute of Technology and sponsored by Air Force Research Laboratory.

EZ-2 is integrated on the aft-end of the Centaur on the Atlas V 551 launch vehicle where it will deploy the TDO-2 Multi-manifest satellite vehicle approximately 31 minutes after launch. TDO-2 will deploy after main engine cut off (MECO) 2 and prior to the anchor AEHF satellite, which is only the second time this event has occurred during a National Security Space Launch mission. Previously a hosted payload was deployed prior to AEHF-5 successfully separating.

The MMO is increasing space warfighting domain flexibility by enabling the "swap-out" capability of multi-manifest satellites late in the integration process. The AEHF-6 mission will demonstrate this "swap-out" capability by having two qualified and compatible multi-manifest satellites vehicles ready to be substituted, if needed, as late as one month prior to launch. Considering the historical integration timeline for traditional satellites is approximately 24 months, this is just another example of how SMC is driving integration flexibility and responsiveness into the National Security Space planning process and rapidly delivering capability to the warfighter.

Part of SMC's Launch Enterprise, the MMO is blazing the way for innovation in the space warfighting domain and continuing the SMC tradition of innovation in space.

Los Angeles AFB

New Telescope To Look For Laser Pulses From Life Around Other Planets

PANOSETI observatory

Each PANOSETI observatory will house a geodesic dome of 80 innovative telescopes that can image about one-third of the heavens every night in search of sub-second pulses of light from intelligent civilizations in our galaxy. (Graphic courtesy of Shelley Wright, UCSD)

(MAR 5) BERKELEY, Calif. - Are advanced civilizations in our galaxy trying to communicate with us by means of laser blasts? More

SpaceX Selected for Asteroid Mision

(FEB 28) WASHINGTON, DC - NASA has selected SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, to provide launch services for the agency's Psyche mission. The Psyche mission currently is targeted to launch in July 2022 on a Falcon Heavy rocket from Launch Complex 39A at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The total cost for NASA to launch Psyche and the secondary payloads is approximately $117 million, which includes the launch service and other mission related costs.

The Psyche mission will journey to a unique metal-rich asteroid, also named Psyche, which orbits the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. The asteroid is considered unique, as it appears to largely be made of the exposed nickel-iron core of an early planet – one of the building blocks of our solar system.

Deep within rocky, terrestrial planets, including Earth, scientists infer the presence of metallic cores, but these lie unreachably far below the planet's rocky mantles and crusts. Because we cannot see or measure Earth's core directly, the mission to Psyche offers a unique window into the violent history of collisions and accretion that created terrestrial planets.

The launch of Psyche will include two secondary payloads: Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers (EscaPADE), which will study the Martian atmosphere, and Janus, which will study binary asteroids.

NASA's Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center in Florida will manage the SpaceX launch service. The mission is led by Arizona State University. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is responsible for the mission's overall management, system engineering, integration, testing and mission operations. Maxar Space Solutions is providing a high-power solar electric propulsion spacecraft chassis.

For more information about the Psyche mission, visit:

https://www.nasa.gov/psyche

NASA

Apache Point Observatory Open House

(FEB 27) SUNPOT, NM - Apache Point Observatory (APO), which is normally closed to the public, will be hosting an Open House on March 7th, 2020. It will be a free event, open to everyone, and will include daytime tours of APO, science activities and demonstrations

Daytime tours will last from 2-5 PM, and will include tours of the 2.5-m and 3.5-m telescope, as well as viewing of the Sun through smaller solar telescopes, and family-friendly hands-on activities. From 5 PM-Midnight, the Sunspot Visitors Center will be hosting family-friendly hands-on demonstrations, activities, and telescope viewings with graduate students from the NMSU Astronomy Department.

Light refreshments will be provided.

If you have any questions about this event, please contact APO at 575-437-6822. The observatory is located at 2001 Apache Point Road, Sunspot, NM 88349-0059.

New Mexico State University

Liquid Methane Engine Tested

Liquid methane rocket engine test

The Masten 25k lbf thrust Broadsword rocket engine. (Masten Space Systems photo/Matthew Kuhns)

(FEB 18) EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – The Air Force Research Laboratory, NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, and Masten Space Systems Inc. successfully tested a liquid methane rocket engine, the first of its kind tested at AFRL.

AFRL and Masten signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement in December 2018. The agreement enabled Masten to test the Broadsword 25K engine at AFRL's rocket testing facility at Edwards Air Force Base in Test Area 1-125 and complete NASA's Tipping Point contract requirement of a ten second hot fire test.

The Broadsword 25K engine required a large supply of high-pressure gaseous nitrogen to pressure feed their engine. AFRL's Aerospace Systems Directorate and their Rocket Propulsion Division at Edwards AFB has the capability at Test Area 1-125 to deliver a large supply of high-pressure gaseous nitrogen.

The hot fire campaign started in July 2019 with four hot fire tests before the final test of 10 seconds of combustion. These hot fire tests validated the tune ignition and start-up transients of the engine. The culmination of testing ended Dec. 10, 2019 when Masten completed their Broadsword 25K engine test of 10 seconds of steady state combustion. The success of these hot fire tests validated Broadsword's startup transient and steady state performance with the new technology developed under the Tipping Point program.

The Tipping Point public-private partnership is an innovative way NASA helps industry develop promising space technologies that could benefit future commercial and government missions.

Air Force Research Laboratory

USS Maine Successfully Tests
Trident II D5LE Missile

(FEB 13) PACIFIC OCEAN — The U.S. Navy conducted a scheduled, one-missile test flight of an unarmed life-extended Trident II (D5LE) missile from USS Maine (SSBN-741), an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine, on the Western Test Range off the coast of San Diego, California, today. More

Minuteman III Launches from Vandenberg

Minuteman II launch from Vandenberg AFB

An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during a developmental test at 12:33 a.m. Pacific Time Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Clayton Wear)

(FEB 5) VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launched during a developmental test Wednesday, Feb. 5, at 12:33 a.m. Pacific Time from North Vandenberg.

This Minuteman III launch, conducted by Air Force Global Strike Command, was made possible by Vandenberg's extensive range support. This launch is the first that Vandenberg has hosted since it became a part of the United States Space Force. The 30th Space Wing provides critical technical capabilities in support of space launch and test customers to include telemetry and radar, command and control, optics, and communication.

Col. Kris Barcomb, 30th Operations Group commander, was the launch decision authority.

"We are very proud to have accomplished this operation with our long-standing mission partner, Air Force Global Strike Command," said Barcomb. "We look forward to building on this launch as we continue to provide robust, safe and reliable capabilities critical to the testing and evaluation of the ICBM program, and many space and range programs to come."

Col. Anthony Mastalir, 30th Space Wing commander, has a vision for Vandenberg Airmen to lead the next generation of space lift and range capabilities.

"Our Airmen remain laser-focused on the flawless execution of our launch and range missions," said Mastalir. "I am extremely proud of the continued collaboration between the 30th Space Wing and the 576th Flight Test Squadron, culminating in another successful demonstration of our steadfast commitment to mission success."

Vandenberg AFB

Wednesday Missile Launch

(FEB 1) Media sources report the Air Force Global Strike Command and U.S. Space Force have scheduled a Minuteman III missile for launch from Vandenberg AFB early next Wednesday. The unarmed ICBM is slated to lift off from north base February 5 during a 00:08-06:08 PST launch window.

Launch viewing will be hampered during most of the launch window by the nearly full moon. During that time, the event should be easily to the unaided eye for at least 50 miles. Observers with an unobstructed horizon who know exactly where to look may see the launch more than 100 miles away. If the launch happens between moonset and dawn, it should be visible over a much wider area.

If liftoff occurs late in the window, some sky watchers may be treated to an interesting display as the missile's exhaust is illuminated at high altitude by the sun while suspended in a dark sky as seen from the ground.

Brian Webb

Mars Aeroshell

Mars 2020 aeroshell

The heat shield (left) and back shell (right) that comprise the aeroshell for NASA's Mars 2020 mission are prepared at Lockheed Martin Space in Denver, Colorado, which manufactured the aeroshell. The aeroshell will encapsulate and protect the Mars 2020 rover and its descent stage both during their deep space cruise to Mars and during descent through the Martian atmosphere, which generates intense heat. Image courtesy of Lockheed Martin Space

Planet Hunting Instrument Sees First Light

(JAN 14) UCI astronomer Paul Robertson recently celebrated "first light" for NEID, a new exoplanet hunting instrument he helped develop. Installed at the 3.5-meter WIYN telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona's Sonoran Desert, NEID is an extremely precise radial velocity spectrometer. Its initial observations were of 51 Pegasi, a sunlike star that, in 1995, was found to have a planet in its orbit; the discovery led to the 2019 Nobel Prize in physics for Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz. According to Robertson, NEID detects exoplanets by measuring the small wobble these bodies exert on their host stars; astronomers can determine planetary mass by measuring the size of the periodic Doppler shift in the star's rotation velocity. Earlier instruments clocked speeds down to 1 meter per second, but NEID was built to register motions three times slower than that, enabling it to find planets close to the mass of Earth, which exerts a 0.1-meter-per-second tug on our sun. "NEID achieving first light is an exciting development because it means we're close to opening the instrument for science operations," said Robertson, UCI assistant professor of physics & astronomy. "This is great for the whole exoplanet science community because NEID is available for use to astronomers all over the world. It's the only ultra-precise Doppler instrument that's so accessible to the community." Robertson led implementation of NEID's thermal control system, which keeps the temperature of the optics stable to better than half a millikelvin (less than 0.0005 degree). "This temperature stability is crucial, as any thermal expansion or contraction of the optical system would create measurement shifts that would mask the signals of orbiting exoplanets," he said. Robertson is also deputy project scientist in charge of the NEID team's guaranteed time observer survey, which is designed to search for Earthlike planets orbiting nearby stars. Exoplanets discovered with NEID will help identify targets for follow-up observations with upcoming facilities such as NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, which will be able to detect and characterize the atmospheres of transiting exoplanets. NEID is funded by the joint NASA/NSF exoplanet research program NN-EXPLORE.

University of California Irvine

Californian Completes Astronaut Training

Astronaut Johnny Kim

Los Angeles native Dr. Jonny Kim joined NASA's astronaut corps on January 10 after successfully completing astronaut candidate training. Photo courtesy of NASA

(JAN 12) A Los Angeles native who recently completed two years of astronaut training is one of 11 new astronauts welcomed into NASA's astronaut ranks on Friday.

Dr. Jonny Kim, a U.S. Navy lieutenant, was born and grew up in Los Angeles. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy, then trained and operated as a Navy SEAL, completing more than 100 combat operations and earning a Silver Star and Bronze Star with Combat V. Afterward, he went on to complete a degree in mathematics at the University of San Diego and a doctorate of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Kim was a resident physician in emergency medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Kim's astronaut candidate training included instruction, practice, and testing in spacewalking, robotics, International Space Station systems, T-38 jet proficiency, and the Russian language.

Brian Webb

X-15 Lecture Scheduled

(JAN 4) Michelle Evans, author of the bestselling book "The X-15 Rocket Plane, Flying the First Wings into Space" will give a free lecture on the X-15 program on January 16.

The IEEE will host the event at the Cal Lutheran Center for Entrepreneurship, 31416 Agoura Road, in Westlake Village.

Pizza and networking begins at 6:30 p.m. and the presentation is scheduled to start at 7:00 p.m.

Register at www.ieee-bv.org/meet/2020-01-aes

For more information about the lecture, go to https://www.ieee-bv.org/flyer/2020-01-aes

IEEE

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