Long-Delayed Delta IV Heavy Lofts Heavyweight NROL-71 Spy Satellite

ULA’s first flight of 2019 sets off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., at 11:10 a.m. PST Saturday, 19 January. Photo Credit: Brian Sandoval/AmericaSpace

Although relegated last February to second place on the list of the world’s most powerful operational rockets—sitting behind SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy—the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy roared to space earlier today (Saturday, 19 January), more than a month later than planned, due to hydrogen leaks and other technical woes. Already flown on ten occasions, and once in 2018 to loft NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, the triple-cored booster rose ponderously from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-6 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., at 11:10 a.m. PST to deliver the classified NROL-71 payload to orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office. As ULA plans to retire the remainder of its Delta IV Medium fleet in 2019, the Heavy will stand alone as the sole member of the Delta family in operational service, flying about once annually into the 2020s.

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'Old Reliable': 60 Years Since a Weapon of War Became a Rocket for Space

One of the earliest rockets to be launched from Cape Canaveral was the Army’s Redstone missile, which later evolved into the vehicle seen here delivering America’s first man into space. Photo Credit: NASA

Sixty years ago, this week, a weapon of war became a rocket for space. On 8 January 1959, the U.S. Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) received the go-ahead to convert its fearsome Redstone missile—a direct outgrowth of Nazi Germany’s infamous V-2—into a vehicle which would someday transport the first American astronaut into space.

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SpaceX Completes Iridium NEXT Constellation, Kicks Off Ambitious 2019

A reused SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket taking flight with the final set of 10 Iridium NEXT satellites from Vandenberg AFB, CA on Jan 11, 2019. Photo: Brian Sandoval / AmericaSpace.com

Two years to the week since it began its Iridium NEXT journey, SpaceX has successfully lofted the eighth and final batch of global mobile communications satellites into low polar orbit. Liftoff of the Upgraded Falcon 9—which previously saw service to carry the powerful Telstar 18V communications satellite on its uphill climb to Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) last September—occurred during an “instantaneous” window at 7:31 a.m. PST Friday, 11 January, from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. This mission represented the 18th occasion since March 2017 that Falcon 9 hardware has been reused and wrapped up the delivery of 75 Iridium NEXT birds under the terms of the largest single commercial launch-services contract ever signed.

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Camera on Hubble Space Telescope Currently Offline Due to Hardware Problem

The Hubble Space Telescope in orbit. Photo Credit: NASA

NASA has temporarily suspended operations of Wide Field Camera 3 on the Hubble Space Telescope due to a hardware problem, it was reported yesterday.



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A Look Ahead at America in Space in 2019

2019 will mark the highly anticipated return of human spaceflight to U.S. shores, as NASA’s astronauts take flight atop the first commercial vehicles to and from the International Space Station. Pictured here are the first astronauts who will fly the first Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft later this year, posing with their spacecraft as it undergoes processing for flight. From left to right, veteran NASA astronaut Eric Boe, former NASA astronaut and now Boeing Starliner astronaut Chris Ferguson, and NASA rookie astronaut Nicole Aunapu-Mann, an F/A-18 test pilot with more than 2,500 flight hours in over 25 aircraft. Photo: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace.com

Rightly overshadowed by worldwide celebrations of half a century since the first human landing on the Moon, 2019 promises to be a dramatic year for space exploration. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) is expected to kick off in earnest, with inaugural test-flights of the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, followed by the first regular trips to the International Space Station (ISS). United Launch Alliance (ULA) plans nine missions, whilst SpaceX has a full plate of launches scheduled, including as many as two flights by the mammoth Delta IV Heavy and Falcon Heavy boosters.

Elsewhere in the United States, 2019 is expected to include test-flights by the Firefly Alpha and Vector-R smallsat launch vehicles, the first manned mission by Blue Origin’s New Shepard-lofted Crew Capsule 2.0 and the maiden orbital voyage of Virgin Orbit’s Launcher-1.

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'Could Not Have Survived': 20 Years Since NASA's Ill-Fated Mars Polar Lander

Mars Polar Lander was targeted for touchdown close to the south pole of the Red Planet for detailed inspection of its terrain, past and present climatic conditions and weather. Its failure severely jeopardized NASA’s plans of exploring the planet. Image Credit: NASA

Twenty years ago, this week, the familiar high-pitched scream of a Delta II echoed across the marshy Florida landscape. At 3:21 p.m. EST on 3 January 1999, NASA’s Mars Polar Lander roared into a blustery, cloud-covered sky from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-17B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Its mission was to alight on Planum Australe—close to the Red Planet’s south pole—whereupon it would employ a robotic arm to dig into the layered terrain of Mars’ unexplored polar landscape and deploy a pair of microphones for soil-moisture experiments. A minute into the flight, the Delta II’s four strap-on boosters were discarded and the first, second and third stages performed perfectly, injecting the 640-pound (290 kg) spacecraft out of Earth’s gravitational “well” and onto an 334-day journey to Mars.

Eleven months later, that hope crumbled to nothing.

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New Horizons' Historic Flyby of Ultima Thule Reveals 'Entirely New Kind of World'

The first detailed image of Ultima Thule, showing two rounded lobes with a bright “neck” connecting them. It was taken at 5:01 Universal Time on Jan. 1, 2019, just 30 minutes before closest approach from a range of 18,000 miles (28,000 kilometers), with an original scale of 730 feet (140 meters) per pixel. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has just completed its newest flyby – of the Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) called Ultima Thule (aka 2014 MU69). New Horizons sped past the small but intriguing little world at 12:33 a.m. EST on Jan. 1, 2019. The event marks a milestone for the most distant object in the Solar System ever to be visited by a spacecraft from Earth. The good news was first reported during a NASA press conference on January 1. The flyby has revealed an “entirely new kind of world” according to today’s follow-up press conference.



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'From American Cheese': Remembering Apollo 8, 50 Years On (Part 3)


Truly the voyage of Apollo 8 over the Christmas period in 1968 carried with it the most profound message of the Greatest Story Ever Told: a message of peace, goodwill and harmony to the inhabitants of Planet Earth. Photo Credit: NASA

Five decades ago, in December 1968, three men were launched atop the most powerful rocket ever brought to operational status—the Saturn V—to begin a mission more adventurous, more audacious, more challenging and more dangerous than had ever been attempted. As described in last weekend’s AmericaSpace history article, and in Part 1 of this series, Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders roared away from their Home Planet and re-lit the third stage of their launch vehicle in an event somewhat innocuously described as “Trans-Lunar Injection” (TLI). That six-minute firing propelled them out of Earth’s gravitational clutches for the first time in history and set them on course to visit our closest celestial neighbor, the Moon.

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New Horizons On Final Approach to Historic New Years Flyby of Ultima Thule

Ultima Thule as seen by New Horizons on Christmas Eve. Still just a bright dot now, but soon will be seen up close for the first time ever. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is now only two days away from a historic rendezvous with its next target – Ultima Thule. At 4 billion miles away, the Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) will soon become the most distant thing in the Solar System ever visited by humanity, and New Horizons is locked on and on final approach at nearly 1 million miles per day for its close encounter on Jan. 1, 2019.



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'He Lost His Record': Remembering Apollo 8, 50 Years On (Part 2)

View of Earth from Apollo 8, showing the day-night terminator crossing from Brazil to the north-eastern United States. Photo Credit: NASA

Five decades have now passed since the largest and most powerful rocket ever brought to operational status—the gigantic Saturn V—set off from Earth, bound for another world, with a human crew aboard. At 7:51 a.m. EST on 21 December 1968, Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders roared aloft from Pad 39A at Cape Kennedy in Florida to begin the first piloted voyage to the Moon. In doing so, their six-day flight would court both drama and controversy and would clear a significant hurtle as the United States worked to fulfil a presidential goal of landing a man on the lunar surface, before the end of the decade. And as outlined in last weekend’s AmericaSpace history article, the lunar mission of Apollo 8 was only a few months in the making.

 


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