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

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2021 July 25 14:36 PDT

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Solar-terrestrial Conditions
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Solar-terrestrial parameters

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3-day K-index Plot

3-day K-index Forecast

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60-day Solar-terrestrial Plot

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Image: www.solen.info


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What's New?
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JUL 25 Vandenberg SFB Launch Schedule updated

Next Vandenberg Launch
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As of July 25

The next Vandenberg SFB missile launch may be a Falcon 9 in July. The vehicle will lift off from Vandenberg and place several Starlink satellites into orbit.

For a complete listing 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.


News
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Breaking Ground

Construction begins for the SOLIS instrument at Big Bear Solar Observatory

Crews pour concrete footings, the first step in the construction of a permanent home for the National Science Foundation's Synoptic Optical Long-term Investigations of the Sun (SOLIS) instrument at Big Bear Solar Observatory in California. SOLIS originally operated in Arizona from 2003 to 2017. Once operational, it will record the Sun’s magnetic field strength and direction, collect spectra from the entire disk of the Sun, and take rapid sequences of full-disk Sun images in different wavelengths. Credit: Wenda Cao, Sergey Shumko and Erika Norro, Big Bear Solar Observatory, NSO/AURA/NSF

SpaceX to Launch Europa Mission

(JUL 23) NASA has selected Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, California, to provide launch services for Earth’s first mission to conduct detailed investigations of Jupiter's moon Europa.

The Europa Clipper mission will launch in October 2024 on a Falcon Heavy rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The total contract award amount for launch services is approximately $178 million.

Europa Clipper will conduct a detailed survey of Europa and use a sophisticated suite of science instruments to investigate whether the icy moon has conditions suitable for life. Key mission objectives are to produce high-resolution images of Europa's surface, determine its composition, look for signs of recent or ongoing geological activity, measure the thickness of the moon’s icy shell, search for subsurface lakes, and determine the depth and salinity of Europa's ocean.

NASA’s Launch Services Program at Kennedy will manage the Europa Clipper launch service. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California leads the development of the Europa Clipper mission in partnership with the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Planetary Missions Program Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, executes program management of the Europa Clipper mission.

For more information about the Europa Clipper mission, visit:

https://europa.nasa.gov/

NASA

Vandenberg Contract Awarded

(JUL 16) United Launch Services LLC, Centennial, Colorado, has been awarded a $10,050,485 firm-fixed-price modification (P00010) to contract FA8811-19-C-0002 for Delta IV heavy launch services. The modification is for Space Launch Complex-6 non-routine facility expenses. Work will be performed at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, and is expected to be completed Sept. 17, 2021. Fiscal 2020 missile procurement fund sin the full amount will be obligated at the time of award. The total cumulative face value of the contract is $1,038,054,046. Space and Missile Systems Center, Lost Angeles Air Force Base, California, is the contracting activity.

Department of Defense

Coastal Clouds

California from space

A thick layer of marine stratocumulus clouds hug the California coast bringing thick fingers of fog onshore, especially over San Francisco. The finger of fog can be seen hanging over much of San Francisco Bay and travelling as far as 40 miles (64.4 km) inland. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on board NASA’s Terra satellite acquired this true-color image during a daylight pass over the region on July 1. Image Credit: MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC

NASA Satellites Aid Vegetation Research at NMSU

(JUL 6) While rangelands and NASA may seem like an unlikely pair, Lara Prihodko, a college associate professor of animal and range sciences at New Mexico State University, is currently working on two projects featuring the collaboration. Prihodko and other researchers from NMSU’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences have turned to satellites to learn more about Earth’s vegetation. More

Virgin Orbit's Tubular Bells Mission Goes Off Without A Hitch

(JUN 30) MOJAVE, CALIFORNIA - Virgin Orbit confirmed it successfully deployed into orbit all 7 customer satellites onboard its LauncherOne rocket during today's Tubular Bells: Part One mission.

Virgin Orbit's 747 carrier aircraft Cosmic Girl took off from Mojave Air and Space Port this morning at approximately 6:50 A.M. PDT/1:50 PM UTC and flew out to a launch site over the Pacific Ocean, about 50 miles south of the Channel Islands. After a smooth release from the aircraft, the LauncherOne rocket ignited and propelled itself towards space, ultimately deploying its payload into a precise target orbit approximately 500km above the Earth's surface.

LauncherOne carried a total of 7 satellites to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) for this rideshare mission: four R&D CubeSats for the US Department of Defense, two optical satellites for SatRevolution, and the Royal Netherlands Air Force's first military satellite.

"Two successful launches and two groups of happy customers in 5 months really speaks to our team's abilities. They're making air launch look easy - and I can tell you from experience that it's not," said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart. "We can now proudly say that 17 satellites launched by our system are up in space exactly in their target orbits. We're looking forward to growing that number tremendously as we push to ramp up our flight cadence in the coming months."

"What an unforgettable experience to be here in Mojave to watch the Virgin Orbit team complete another perfect mission to space. Everything went exactly to plan and the fact that we dropped the rocket from our 747 at 7:47 AM PDT made it particularly fitting. Perfect timing!" said Virgin Orbit founder Richard Branson. "We had customers here from three countries and I congratulate all of them and all of our wonderful team."

Tubular Bells: Part One is named after the first track on Mike Oldfield's 1973 record Tubular Bells, the album that inspired Richard Branson to create Virgin Records and the first ever released by the label.

Virgin Orbit

Early Data

Sentinel-6 sea level data

Six months after liftoff from Vandenberg AFB, Calif., the Sentinel-6 sea level-measuring satellite was poised to make its first data streams available to the public. This map shows sea level measured by the spacecraft from June 5 to 15. Red areas are regions where sea level is higher than normal, and blue areas indicate areas where it's lower than normal. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

AFRL Leaps Forward in NTS-3 Spacecraft Development

(JUN 24) KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFRL) – The Air Force Research Laboratory's Navigation Technology Satellite-3 (NTS-3) satellite navigation program is closer in the development of the spacecraft for its in-space demonstration, thanks to the delivery of its bus that will carry it to space in 2023. More

Rocket Lab to Design Spacecraft for Mars

(JUN 15) Long Beach, California. Rocket Lab, a global leader in dedicated launch and space systems, has been awarded a subcontract by the University of California Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory (UCBSSL) to design two Photon spacecraft for a scientific mission to Mars.

The Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers (ESCAPADE) mission, led by Rob Lillis at UCBSSL, is a twin-spacecraft science mission that will orbit two spacecraft around Mars to understand the structure, composition, variability, and dynamics of Mars' unique hybrid magnetosphere. The mission will leverage its unique dual viewpoint on the Mars environment to explore how the solar wind strips atmosphere away from Mars to better understand how its climate has changed over time.

ESCAPADE is being developed under NASA’s Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration (SIMPLEx) program in the Science Mission Directorate (SMD). The mission is led by UCBSSL with spacecraft design provided by Rocket Lab. The two spacecraft are planned for launch in 2024 to Mars ridesharing aboard a NASA-provided commercial launch vehicle.

Following an 11-month interplanetary cruise, the two Photons (named Blue and Gold) will insert themselves into elliptical orbits around Mars and conduct a 1-year primary science mission. ESCAPADE’s Photons will use the flight-proven Curie propulsion system to perform Mars orbit insertion and will be equipped with other subsystems that enable planetary science, including star trackers and reaction wheels for precision pointing from Rocket Lab’s Sinclair Interplanetary team, as well as ranging transceivers for deep space navigation.

Rocket Lab founder and CEO, Peter Beck says: “This is a hugely promising mission that will deliver big science in a small package. Planetary science missions have traditionally costed hundreds of millions of dollars and taken up to a decade to come to fruition. Our Photon spacecraft for ESCAPADE will demonstrate a more cost-effective approach to planetary exploration that will increase the science community’s access to our solar system for the better.”

ESCAPADE is one of three missions selected in 2019 by NASA’s SIMPLEx program to conduct compelling planetary science and provide more opportunities for flight experience to the science community. ESCAPADE will undergo a NASA preliminary design review in June and a confirmation review in July determining whether the mission proceeds to implementation and flight.

Rocket Lab

Dark Side

Jupiter's moon Ganymede

Craters and other features on Jupiter's moon Ganymede are visible in this image taken by NASA's Juno spacecraft on June 7. A low-light camera on the spacecraft recorded the view of the moon's unlit side which was bathed in sunlight reflected by Jupiter. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott J. Bolton, of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI

Asteroid Hunting Telescope to Continue Development

(JUN 11) NASA has approved the Near-Earth Object Surveyor space telescope (NEO Surveyor) to move to the next phase of mission development after a successful mission review, authorizing the mission to move forward into Preliminary Design (known as Key Decision Point-B). The infrared space telescope is designed to help advance NASA’s planetary defense efforts by expediting our ability to discover and characterize most of the potentially hazardous asteroids and comets that come within 30 million miles of Earth’s orbit, collectively known as near-earth objects, or NEOs.

Following completion of the goal to discover 90 percent of all NEOs larger than 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) in size in 2010, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Act of 2005 (Public Law 109-155) directed NASA to discover 90% of NEOs larger than 140 meters (459 feet) in size. The agency is diligently working to achieve this directive and has currently found approximately 40% of near-Earth asteroids within this size range.

Discovering, characterizing, and tracking potentially hazardous NEOs as early as possible is crucial in ensuring that deflection or other preparations for impact mitigation can be carried out in time. NASA will test one deflection technology – the kinetic impactor – with its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, to be launched later this year. While there are no known impact threats to Earth for the next century, unpredicted impacts by unknown NEOs – such as the 2013 Chelyabinsk event in Russia – still pose a hazard to Earth. Using sensors that operate in the infrared, NEO Surveyor would help planetary scientists discover NEOs more quickly, including ones that could approach Earth during the day from closer to the direction of the Sun – something that is not currently possible using ground-based optical observatories.

NEO Surveyor’s approval to move to this next mission milestone brings the telescope one step closer to launch, which is currently scheduled for the first half of 2026. The mission is being developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California and managed by NASA’s Planetary Missions Program Office at Marshall Space Flight Center, with program oversight by the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO). NASA established the PDCO in 2016 to manage the agency’s ongoing efforts in Planetary Defense.

Jet Propulsion Laboratory


NASA Selects 2 Missions to Study 'Lost Habitable' World of Venus

(JUN 2) NASA has selected two new missions to Venus, Earth’s nearest planetary neighbor. More

Shining Clouds

High-altitude clouds on Mars

High-altitude clouds of ice crystals move across the martian sky in this Curiosity Mars rover image released on May 28. Navigation cameras on Curoisity's mast recorded the display just after sunset on March 31. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Range Contract Awarded

(MAY 24) Range Generation Next LLC, Sterling, Virginia, has been awarded a $15,566,389 cost-plus-fixed-fee modification (P000343) to contract FA8806-15-C-0001 for a telemetry end-to-end processing system. This modification supports an increase in launch and test range requirements. Work will primarily be performed in Western Range at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California; and Pillar Point, California, and is expected to be completed Jan. 19, 2024. Fiscal 2021 Space Force space procurement funds in the full amount are being obligated at the time of award. Space and Missile Systems Center, Peterson AFB, Colorado, is the contracting activity.

Department of Defense

Successful Start of Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument Follows Record-setting Trial Run

(MAY 17) A five-year quest to map the universe and unravel the mysteries of "dark energy" is beginning officially today, May 17, at Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, Arizona. More

Vandenberg AFB Renamed

(MAY 14) VANDENBERG SPACE FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Vandenberg Air Force Base was officially renamed Vandenberg Space Force Base during a U.S. Space Force ceremony held at the base parade grounds, May 14, 2021.

“The establishment of the U.S. Space Force is a significant step forward in the recognition of space as a warfighting domain,” said Lt. Gen. Stephen Whiting, Space Operations Command commander. “Renaming Air Force installations where space operations is the primary mission more closely reflects the overall mission of the base. Renaming these installations is critical to building a distinct culture and identity for the Space Force.”

Maj. Gen. Deanna Burt, Combined Force Space Component Command commander and Space Operations Command deputy commander, was the presiding officer for the renaming ceremony, which also included redesignating the 30th Space Wing as Space Launch Delta 30, a unit of the Space Force aligned under Space Operations Command.

“I am delighted to be with you here today as we take another step in building the structure of our United States Space Force,” said Burt. “For decades, Vandenberg Air Force Base has been a focal point – indeed, in many cases, the starting point for space operations across the Department of Defense and the Department of the Air Force. It has long been known as “Space Country”, and that moniker is well-earned.”

Vandenberg Space Force Base

Minuteman Launch Aborted

(MAY 5) BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile test launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, experienced a ground abort prior to launch. The cause of the ground abort is currently under investigation, and Air Force Global Strike Command is assessing the potential to reschedule the launch. The Air Force adheres to strict protocols while performing operational test launches, only launching when all safety parameters with the test range and missile are met. The test launch program helps the command evaluate the Minuteman III and gather data to keep the system effective.

Air Force Global Strike Command

ULA Successfully Launches NROL-82 Mission

(APR 26) Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. – A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle carrying the NROL-82 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) lifted off from Space Launch Complex-6 on April 26 at 1:47 p.m. PDT. To date ULA has launched 143 times with 100 percent mission success.

“The unmatched power of the Delta IV Heavy again demonstrated its role as the nation’s proven heavy lift vehicle precisely delivering this critical NRO asset to its intended orbit,” said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Government and Commercial Programs. “We are honored to support National Security space and thank our mission partners for their continued trust and teamwork.”

The Delta IV Heavy is recognized for delivering high-priority missions for the U.S. Space Force, NRO and NASA. The vehicle also launched NASA's Orion capsule on its first orbital test flight and sent the Parker Solar Probe on its journey to unlock the mysteries of the sun.

This was the 42nd launch of the Delta IV rocket, the 13th in the Heavy configuration and ULA’s 31st launch with the NRO.

This Delta IV Heavy was comprised of three common core boosters each powered by an Aerojet Rocketdyne (AR) RS-68A liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine, producing a combined total of more than 2.1 million pounds of thrust. The second stage was powered by an AR RL10B-2 liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine.

ULA’s next launch is the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) GEO Flight 5 mission for the U.S. Space Force, scheduled for May 17, 2021, from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida.

United Launch Alliance

Second Flight

Ingenuity Helicopter

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter hovers above Mars on April 22 during its second flight. The flight lasted 51.9 seconds and added several new challenges including a higher maximum altitude, longer duration, and sideways movement. This image is a frame from video recorded by NASA's Perseverance Mars rover. Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

ULA to Launch NROL-82 Mission

Delta IV Heavy heavy-lift performance required for mission

(APR 23) Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. – A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket is in final preparations to launch the NROL-82 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) to support national security. The launch is on track for April 26 from Space Launch Complex-6 at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Launch is planned for 1:46 p.m. PDT. The live launch broadcast begins at 1:26 p.m. PDT on April 26 at www.ulalaunch.com.

“ULA is proud of our long-standing history supporting national security space. The unmatched performance of the Delta IV Heavy is essential for launching some of our nation’s most critical national security space missions and we look forward to delivering this critical asset to space,” said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Government and Commercial Programs. “It takes a cross-functional team to support a national security launch and we would like to thank our mission partners for their continued trust, collaboration and teamwork.”

The Delta IV Heavy is the nation’s proven heavy lifter, delivering high-priority missions for the U.S. Space Force, NRO and NASA. The vehicle also launched NASA's Orion capsule on its first orbital test flight and sent the Parker Solar Probe on its journey to unlock the mysteries of the Sun.

This Delta IV Heavy is comprised of three common core boosters each powered by an Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-68A liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine producing a combined total of more than 2.1 million pounds of thrust. The second stage is powered by an AR RL10B-2 liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine.

This will be the 42nd launch of the Delta IV rocket and the 13th in the Heavy configuration. To date ULA has launched 142 times with 100 percent mission success.

With more than a century of combined heritage, ULA is the nation’s most experienced and reliable launch service provider. ULA has successfully delivered more than 140 missions to orbit that aid meteorologists in tracking severe weather, unlock the mysteries of our solar system, provide critical capabilities for troops in the field, deliver cutting-edge commercial services and enable GPS navigation. For more information on ULA, visit the ULA website at www.ulalaunch.com, or call the ULA Launch Hotline at 1-877-ULA-4321 (852-4321).

United Launch Alliance

Spacecraft Production Facility Opens

(APR 15) IRVINE, Calif. -- ICEYE, the global leader in persistent monitoring of Earth from its constellation of radar imaging satellites, today announced that it has opened a new manufacturing facility in Irvine, California. The company's U.S. headquarters will host the production of multiple spacecraft simultaneously and also contain a research and development lab, offices, and a customer engagement space. Importantly, the Irvine location also houses a Mission Operations Center for monitoring and operating U.S. licensed spacecraft.

"With our new production facility in the U.S., we will add significant next-generation capabilities to our space and ground segments," said Jerry Welsh, CEO of ICEYE US. "This will provide us with the most reliable operational foundation, and give us the flexibility and efficiency to best accommodate the requirements of our U.S. government customers."

At any given time, most of the Earth is covered in clouds or darkness. Unlike traditional Earth observation satellites, ICEYE's small radar imaging satellites can form high-resolution images of areas of the Earth in daylight, at night, and through cloud cover. They can 'see' any part of the Earth multiple times a day. ICEYE has successfully launched 10 missions to date and operates the world's largest fleet of commercial synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites.

ICEYE

ARRW Flight Test Unsuccessful

(APR 6) EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, California -- The Air Force had a setback in demonstrating its progress in hypersonic weapons April 5 when its first booster vehicle flight test encountered an issue on the aircraft and did not launch.

A B-52H Stratofortress took off over the Point Mugu Sea Range intending to fire the first booster test vehicle for the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon program. Instead, the test missile was not able to complete its launch sequence and was safely retained on the aircraft which returned here.

"The ARRW program has been pushing boundaries since its inception and taking calculated risks to move this important capability forward. While not launching was disappointing, the recent test provided invaluable information to learn from and continue ahead. This is why we test," said Brig. Gen. Heath Collins, Armament Directorate Program Executive Officer.

This would have been the eighth flight test for the ARRW program following seven captive carriage missions. Objectives for the test included demonstrating the safe release of the booster test vehicle from the B-52H as well as assessing booster performance, booster-shroud separation, and simulated glider separation. The 419th Flight Test Squadron and the Global Power Bomber Combined Test Force, both here, were involved in the testing. Since the vehicle was retained, engineers and testers will be able to explore the defect and return the vehicle back to test.

The ARRW program aims to deliver a conventional hypersonic weapons capability to the warfighter in the early 2020s. The weapon system is designed to provide the ability to destroy high-value, time-sensitive targets. It will also expand precision-strike weapon systems' capabilities by enabling rapid response strikes against heavily defended land targets.

U.S. Air Force

Close Inspection

BioSentinel satellite

The BioSentinel satellite is inspected following a test at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. The spacecraft is scheduled for launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a deep space flight that will go past the Moon and into an orbit around the Sun. It’s one of 13 CubeSats that will launch aboard Artemis I, the first flight of the Artemis program’s Space Launch System. Photo by NASA/Dominic Hart

Vandenberg AFB Preferred Location for Training Unit

(APR 1) WASHINGTON -- Acting Secretary of the Air Force John Roth selected Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, as the preferred location for the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, a new intercontinental ballistic missile, Formal Training Unit.

The FTU for the current ICBM is located at Vandenberg AFB.

The GBSD is expected to replace all operational Minuteman III missiles by 2036 and is being designed to maximize the use of existing infrastructure.

"The Minuteman III weapon system has been a bedrock of U.S. national security for more than five decades, but if one looks ahead to the next 50 years, the question of investing in nuclear modernization is as relevant as ever," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr. "We are fully committed to the GBSD Program of Record, which will ensure our nation’s nuclear force is ready to meet the warfighting needs of today and tomorrow."

GBSD will have increased performance, extended range, enhanced security and improved reliability to provide the United States with an upgraded and broader array of options to maintain a robust, flexible, tailorable and responsive nuclear deterrent.

A final basing decision will be made after a required environmental impact analysis.

U.S. Air Force

ULA Delta IV Heavy to Launch NROL-82

(MAR 26) Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. – The launch of the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy NROL-82 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office is scheduled for no earlier than April 26, 2021 from Space Launch Complex-6 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

United Launch Alliance

Satellite Breakup Confirmed

(MAR 20) The U.S. Space Force's 18th Space Control Squadron (18SPCS) yesterday confirmed the breakup of the NOAA 17 environmental satellite. The 18SPCS reported the event occured on 2021 March 10 at 0711 UTC, 16 associated pieces were being tracked, and there was no indication of a collision.

NOAA-17 was launched from Space Launch Complex 4-west at Vandenberg AFB, California on 2002 JUN 24 aboard a Titan II rocket and placed into a nearly-polar orbit. The spacecraft was decommissioned in 2013.

Brian Webb

Persian Gulf

Persian Gulf

The blue waters of the Persian Gulf are colored with swirls of greens and teal in this Aqua spacecraft image released March 10. Clouds of green swirling near the shore appears to be sediment that has been washed into the water from the land. Aqua was launched from Vandenberg AFB in 2002. Image courtesy MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC

Serendipitous Juno Detections Shatter Ideas About Origin of Zodiacal Light

(MAR 9) PASADENA, Calif. - Look up to the night sky just before dawn, or after dusk, and you might see a faint column of light extending up from the horizon. That luminous glow is the zodiacal light, or sunlight reflected toward Earth by a cloud of tiny dust particles orbiting the Sun. More

Space Force and SMC Launch Rocket

(MAR 3) LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE – EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The U.S. Space Force (USSF) and the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC)'s Launch Enterprise successfully launched an experimental research payload for the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) aboard a Terrier-Terrier-Oriole (TTO) Sounding Rocket from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility (WFF) in Virginia earlier today.

The successful mission was full of many firsts for SMC's Small Launch and Targets Division. This was the first USSF small launch mission for 2021, the first AFRL dedicated partnership launch from WFF, the first sounding rocket launch under the Sounding Rocket Program-4 contract, and the first USSF sounding rocket launch with Space Vector Corporation.

The TTO vehicle was built by Space Vector, a small business, and Kratos Space and Missile Defense who were responsible for the integration, interface and mission planning for the launch.

"This mission is a great example of the innovation in SMC contracting and using Small Launch contracts to expand our capability and provide support in launching experimental missions," stated Lt. Col. Ryan Rose, chief of the Launch Enterprise's Small Launch and Targets Division and Mission Director for today's launch. "Congratulations to the entire government and industry team on successfully executing this important mission, and launching in only 16 months from contract award during the challenging conditions presented this past year."

The U.S. Space Force's Space and Missile Systems Center, located at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, California, is the center of excellence for acquiring and developing military space systems. SMC's portfolio includes space launch, global positioning systems, military satellite communications, a defense meteorological satellite control network, range systems, space-based infrared systems, and space domain awareness capabilities.

Space and Missile Systems Center

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

Past News

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