ULA Aims for Dec 10 Launch with Long-Delayed NROL-44 Mission

NROL-44 will be the 12th flight of the gargantuan Delta IV Heavy. Photo Credit: ULA

United Launch Alliance (ULA) is now targeting Dec 10 to launch the long-delayed NRO-44 mission for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla, following repeated scrubbed launch attempts atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket dating back to August. Liftoff of the 235-foot-tall (72-meter) beast—which comprises three Common Booster Cores mated togetheris set for 5:50-10:30 p.m. EST, pending range availability.



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SBIRS GEO-5 Declared Complete, As GPS III-04 Finishes On-Orbit Checkout in Record Time

SBIRS GEO-5 enters Thermal Vacuum (TVAC) testing in April 2020. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin Corp.

Lockheed Martin Corp. has completed the ahead-of-schedule construction and testing of the fifth geostationary-orbiting Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS GEO-5), with an expectation that this “global guardian” for ballistic missile warning and defense will launch atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V booster sometime next year. Having built the satellite in just five years, it is understood that the elimination of unnecessary programmatic oversight and reporting, a restructured test program and a streamlined production schedule have contributed to this earlier-than-anticipated completion of SBIRS GEO-5.

At the same time, the U.S. Space Force has declared that the fourth Block III Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation and timing satellite—launched on 5 November—has completed its on-orbit checkout in record-breaking time and been turned over to the global user community.



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NASA, SpaceX Watch Weather as Space Station Prepares for Dual-Dragon Ops

With the CRS-21 Dragon spacecraft perched on its nose, B1058 begins the rollout to Pad 39A for its Static Fire Test. Photo Credit: NASA

Unsuitable weather in the form of scattered showers and low cloud remains the overriding concern as SpaceX readies its CRS-21 Dragon cargo mission—the first flight under the second-phase Commercial Resupply Services (CRS2) contract with NASA—for launch to the International Space Station (ISS) this weekend. Liftoff of a previously-flown Falcon 9 core carrying the Dragon is targeted to occur from historic Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, at 11:39 a.m. EST Saturday, with a backup opportunity on Sunday. SpaceX completed a Static Fire Test of the Falcon 9’s nine Merlin 1D+ first-stage engines this morning.



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Like Night Flying: Remembering STS-35, OTD in 1990

After many months of delay, STS-35 finally flew in December 1990. Photo Credit: NASA

When Challenger was lost on 28 January 1986, a tight-knit team of astronauts knew that their own wait for space would be a correspondingly long one. Under an alternate history, STS-61E would have been the next shuttle flight after Challenger, targeted to launch the following 6 March to observe Halley’s Comet and explore the Universe with a powerful battery of three ultraviolet telescopes, known as “ASTRO-1”.

Sadly, it was not to be, and in the aftermath of the disaster ASTRO-1 found itself remanifested as STS-35 and rescheduled to fly in mid-1990. But the road to space remained fraught with difficulty and even when Columbia finally blasted off on 2 December 1990—30 years ago, tonight—it was apparent that the gremlins of misfortune were not yet done with her.



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A Mission Cut Short: Remembering STS-44, OTD in 1991

Atlantis is hoisted, via the Mate/Demate Device (MDD), atop the Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) at Edwards, following her landing from STS-44. Photo Credit: NASA

The Space Shuttle flew many remarkable missions during its 30-year career, delivering satellites into orbit, supporting fundamental scientific research and building the International Space Station (ISS). Thirty-seven of its missions were extended at least 24 hours, their homecoming set back by weather, changed landing sites or the need to gather additional data from their payloads. It granted their astronauts some welcome additional time in the magic microgravity environment. But others were not so lucky.



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The Bringer of Power: Remembering STS-97, OTD in 2000

Twenty years ago, the crew of STS-97 installed the first set of U.S.-built solar arrays, radiators and batteries onto the International Space Station (ISS), transforming it into the brightest artificial object in Earth’s skies. Photo Credit: NASA

Twenty years ago today, power—in the form of two immense, electricity-generating solar arrays, together with associated batteries and radiators—began the long journey to the International Space Station (ISS).



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SpaceX Aims for 100th Mission Success, as B1049 Returns to Port

B1049 takes flight for the record-breaking seventh time on 25 November. She is now safely back home in Port Canaveral. Photo Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

Scorched and scarred from seven high-energy re-entries since September 2018, and with her characteristic “X” emblem hard to discern under the layers of grime, SpaceX’s veteran B1049 Falcon 9 first stage returned safely to Port Canaveral on Saturday—ferried ashore atop the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS), “Of Course I Still Love You”—following her recent record-setting mission.



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Mostly Your Knees: Remembering STS-9, OTD in 1983

STS-9 roars into space on 28 November 1983. Photo Credit: NASA

Since the dawn of the International Space Station (ISS) era, it has become commonplace to see representatives of multiple sovereign countries flying, living and working together in our off-the-planet home. Following the launch of Dragon Resilience, earlier this month, the station’s incumbent Expedition 64 crew—now seven-strong—includes two Russians, four Americans and a Japanese astronaut.

But on 28 November 1983, for the first time in U.S. history, shuttle Columbia launched into orbit with five Americans and a physicist from what was then West Germany. STS-9, launched on this day, nearly four decades ago, marked the first time that a non-American ever flew aboard an American spacecraft.



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Barn Burner: Remembering the Record-Setting Return of Atlantis, OTD in 1985

Atlantis roars into the night at 7:29 p.m. EST on 26 November 1985. Photo Credit: NASA

Earlier this year, a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster shattered a launch-to-launch record which had stood intact and unchallenged for more than three decades. The B1058 core, newly returned from sending Dragon Endeavour crewmen Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station (ISS) on 30 May, flew a second time on 20 July to loft South Korea’s ANASIS-II military communications satellite.

In doing so, it set a new record of 51 days for the shortest interval between two launches by an orbital-class vehicle. And it broke a long-standing record set 35 years ago tonight by shuttle Atlantis. On 26 November 1985, only 54 days after rocketing away from Earth on her maiden voyage, Atlantis launched again in what would remain an unbeaten record throughout the shuttle era.



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Record-Setting 100th Falcon 9 Delivers Starlinks to Orbit, Lands Safely

B1049 springs away from SLC-40 to begin SpaceX’s 100th Falcon 9 launch and its own record-setting seventh flight. Photo Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

Two days later than planned, and despite windy conditions on the Space Coast, SpaceX has successfully lofted another 60-strong batch of Starlink low-orbiting internet communications satellites from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

Already, the Hawthorne, Calif.-headquartered launch service organization had launched the Sentinel-6A Michael Freilich ocean-monitoring satellite atop a brand-new Falcon 9 core from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., on Saturday morning, and three days later—and a continent away—repeated the feat with a second mission from the Space Coast. The second mission launched on time at 9:13 p.m. EST Tuesday and set a raft of new records, including the 100th launch of a Falcon 9 since June 2010.



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