The planned Feb. 5 launch of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas-V carrying the last of 12 U.S. Air Force/Boeing GPS 2F spacecraft will initiate 2016 Cape Canaveral Spaceport operations this week, with as many as 30 liftoffs and nearly a dozen space vehicle landings planned—the busiest schedule in 15 years.
Those landings will include several SpaceX Falcon 9s and, according to USAF 45th Space Wing’s Launch Group Commander Col. Eric Krystkowiak, perhaps an X-37B landing on the KSC shuttle runway. The X-37B currently in orbit launched from the Cape on an Atlas-V May 20, 2015. Three previous flights have landed at Vandenberg AFB, Calif.
The 3,600-lb GPS IIF-12 is set for launch at 8:38 a.m. EST from Complex 41 on a ULA Atlas-V 401 rocket. The Feb. 5 launch is timed for the opening of a 19-minute launch window. No more GPS satellites will be launched until at least mid-2017, when the more advanced GPS III series begins flight operations.
Follow our GPS 2F-12 Launch Tracker for regular updates and live coverage on launch day.
Twenty-five launches are currently on the unclassified Cape/KSC manifest. However, that does not include a number of Navy/Lockheed Martian Trident II D5 ballistic missiles that will be fired downrange from U.S. and British ballistic missile submarines submerged off the Cape. There are secret Trident test firings every year, but the deteriorating strategic situation with China and Russia may increase the test number this year beyond the four to six normally flown.
Highlights for the coming year include:
- SpaceX Falcon Heavy: Certainly the highlight of 2016 will be the first launch of the 230 ft. tall, 4.5 million lb. thrust Falcon Heavy booster from Launch Complex 39A at KSC. Elon Musk, head of SpaceX, said last week said that the first launch is now planned for late summer. Carrying mostly ballast, the vehicle is to have a liftoff mass exceeding 3 million lbs.
A second launch of the triple body 27 engine Heavy could occur in late 2016 or slip into 2017. It will carry the USAF Space Test Program-2 payload of two main satellites and several other small spacecraft.
The Falcon Heavy will be second in power only to the 7.5 million lb. thrust, 363-foot-tall Saturn V Moon rocket and the space shuttle also with 7.5 million lb. thrust. The man-rated Saturn V was capable of placing 310,000 lb. in low Earth orbit and 107,100 lb. on a trans-lunar injection trajectory. Each of 13 Saturn V launches cost $3.2 billion in current dollars (about $494 million in 1969 dollars).
In comparison, SpaceX says the Falcon Heavy launch cost will be $90 million to place up to 117,000 lb. in low Earth orbit (double the payload of a space shuttle) and 46,700 lb. in geosynchronous transfer orbit.
If successful, the Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful rocket in the world by a factor of two, with more than twice the payload capability of the Delta IV Heavy at one-third the cost, says SpaceX.
The Heavy will also be man-rated and Musk hopes it will be used eventually for both manned lunar and Martian missions. It is also planned to recover all three first stage elements of the Heavy as the second stage of the center core proceeds into orbit.
“We’ve gotten comfortable the the flyback concept is here and something we’re going to work with,” Krystkowiak, said.
- SpaceX Falcon 9: As many as 11 Falcon 9 missions are scheduled for launch, with many of them also planned for recovery of the Falcon 9 first stage core vehicle at the original Atlas Complex 13 where four concrete landing pads have been poured. The Falcon launch schedule is moving somewhat said Musk Jan. 30, in a speech at Texas A&M University.
The first Falcon 9 launch is scheduled for March carrying the SES-9 communications satellite, and during 2016 as many as five Falcon 9’s are to fly International Space Station Crew Resupply (CRS) missions.
Three other Falcon 9s are to launch commercial communications and broadcast satellites including the the 11,700 lb. Spacecom Amos 6 satellite. It was built by Israel Aircraft Industries to serve the Middle East, Africa, England, Scotland, and Central Europe.
What has been planned as the year’s final Falcon 9 mission in December, 2016 is to to be a full up unmanned test of a man rated Falcon/Dragon mission in advance of manned Falcon/Dragon missions starting later in 2017. This demo flight itself may slip into early 2017.
- ULA Atlas V: As many as nine Atlas Vs are to be launched from the Cape starting Feb. 5.
Other Atlas V missions planned for 2016 include a Cygnus ISS resupply in March; the MUOS-5 military communications satellite in May; the secret National Reconnaissance Office NROL-61 Satellite Data System type relay satellite in June; the Space Based Infrared GEO-3 spacecraft in July; the Osiris-Rex sample return mission to the asteroid Bennu in September; the GOES-R geosynchronous weather satellite in October; Echostar 19 in November; and the AEHF-4 military satcom in December.
- ULA Delta IV’s: Three Delta IVs are to launch at least four military spacecraft from the Cape in 2016.
They include a massive Delta IV Heavy carrying the secret NROL-37 likely an Orion eavesdropping payload in May, followed by a Delta IV Medium in late July carrying two Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP) satellites and a late September or October Delta IV Medium carrying Wideband Gapfiller WGS-8 military satcom.
- Orbital ATK Pegasus XL: For the first time in 13 years the OSC Stargazer L-1011 will be used in October at the Cape to drop a Pegasus XL booster carrying eight small CYGNSS Cyclone Global Navigation Satellites and their carrier, to measure the mechanisms of tropical cyclone intensification, one of the great unknowns in forecasting hurricanes.
- Commercial Startups: Companies including Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin development will be moving some operations to Launch Complex 36.
Masten Space Systems propulsion programs and eventually XCOR Aerospace with its LYNX runway launched sub orbital spaceplane are planning moves to the Cape from Mojave, Calif., in 2016—so is, possibly, the FireFly Space Systems small launcher program based in Austin, Texas.
The FireFly small satellite launcher envisions a Minuteman shaped launcher powered by an aerospike engine using Lox and kerosene propellants.
The Salvo and Alasa Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency F-15-launched small launcher programs that were planned to operate over the Eastern Range in 2016 were instead canceled in late 2015.
The rapid response small satellite launchers were to be fueled by a new NA-7 mono-propellant composed of nitrous oxide and acetylene (AmericaSpace report June 16, 2015). But safety concerns caused by two propellent explosions forced the termination of the rocket programs. DARPA says, however, research on NA-7 will continue.
As GPS IIF-12 was being prepared for launch at the Cape, the 2nd Space Control Squadron at Schriever AFB, Col. commanded the oldest serving GPS satellite into a residual orbit in advance of moving it into a graveyard orbit in October where it will be shut down.
That nearly 26-year-old spacecraft, GPS IIA-10, was launched from Pad 17 here in 1990 on board a Delta II rocket.
The new GPS IIF-12 will be positioned at about 12,710 mile altitude in Slot 1 of the GPS F-plane to take the place of the GPS IIR-6 satellite, launched on a Delta II in 2000. That satellite will be moved into a residual service slot.
The satellites in the GPS constellation are arranged into six equally-spaced orbital planes surrounding the Earth in 55 deg. orbits. Each plane contains four “slots” occupied by a total of 24 satellites. This 24-slot arrangement ensures users can view at least four GPS spacecraft from virtually any point on the planet, says the Air Force.
In addition to ending the IIF series that was launched starting in May, 2010, “this GPS IIF-12 satellite represents the end of a legacy as it will be the last of the 61 GPS satellites processed here at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station,” Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, 45th Space Wing commander said earlier (AmericaSpace Oct. 13, 2015). “This culminates an incredible 27-year legacy at our Area 59 Satellite Processing Facility,” he said.
The satellite was delivered to the Cape from Boeing’s Satellite Development Center in El Segundo, Calif., on Oct. 8 aboard an Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft.
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