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X-37 space plane begins shadowy orbital mission

A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket launched a Boeing-built X-37B space plane today on a semi-secret orbital mission under the management of the recently created Space Force.

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Space Force’s first official orbital mission begins

AEHF-6 launch
United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket launches the AEHF-6 military communications satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. (ULA via YouTube)

The first satellite mission conducted under the name of the U.S. Space Force got underway today with the launch of the AEHF-6 military communications satellite atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket.

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Starliner space taxi meets up with its rocket

Starliner at launch complex
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner space taxi is transported out to United Launch Alliance’s vertical integration facility in Florida, where an Atlas 5 rocket is waiting. (ULA Photo)

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner space taxi was moved to its Florida launch complex and set atop its United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket today in preparation for next month’s uncrewed test mission to the International Space Station.

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SpaceX launches satellite (and catches nose cone)

SpaceX Falcon 9 launch
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from its Florida launch pad. (SpaceX via YouTube)

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launched a Boeing-built, Israeli telecommunications satellite called Amos-17 into geosynchronous transfer orbit today, adding to what’s shaping up as a largesse of liftoffs.

The launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida came at 7:23 p.m. ET (4:23 p.m. PT), toward the end of an 88-minute launch opportunity that was marked by weather concerns. This was a makeup launch for Spacecom, the Israeli satellite operator that lost its Amos-6 spacecraft when a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded on the launch pad in 2016.

Amos-17 is designed to provide enhanced voice, video and data services to customers in Africa and parts of Europe, the Middle East, India and China.

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Satellite enters orbit to watch weather and wildfires

Atlas 5 launch
The GOES-S satellite is launched by an Atlas 5 rocket. (NASA via YouTube)

A next-generation GOES-S weather satellite, the second of its kind, rose into orbit at 2:02 p.m. PT (5:02 p.m. ET) today from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket.

NASA assisted with the preparations for launch, but the satellite will be operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as part of a constellation that also includes GOES-R, now known as GOES-16. The acronym stands for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite.

GOES-16 monitors the eastern United States, much of South America, the Caribbean region and the Atlantic Ocean from NOAA’s GOES-East orbital vantage point, 22,000 miles above Earth.

Once GOES-S is declared operational, late this year, it will occupy the GOES-West position as GOES-17.

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Systima’s pyrovalves debut on spy satellite launch

NROL-52 launch
United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket lofts a payload into space for the NROL-52 mission. (ULA Photo)

After more than a week of delays, the National Reconnaissance Office was glad to see its latest spy satellite go into orbit on Oct. 15 — and so was Kirkland, Wash.-based Systima Technologies.

When a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket launched the NROL-52 satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, Systima’s pyrotechnic valves played a mission-critical role as part of the reaction control system on the rocket’s Centaur upper stage.

“This marks the first flight of Systima’s pyrovalves, RCS hardware, as well as the first time Systima has supported an Atlas 5 launch,” Taylor Banks, Systima’s controller and contracts manager, told GeekWire in an email. “Systima is thrilled to be part of the ULA team and would like to congratulate all that supported the successful mission.”

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Liftoff sends Cygnus cargo ship into orbit

Cygnus-Atlas liftoff
United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket flashes to life on its Cape Canaveral launch pad, sending Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo capsule on the first leg of its journey to the International Space Station. (NASA TV)

Today’s launch of a robotic Cygnus cargo craft to the International Space Station was totally successful. But the first-ever live 360-degree video stream of a rocket launch? Not so much.

The good news is that more than 7,600 pounds of supplies and experiments are now on their way to the station aboard Orbital ATK’s cylindrical transport ship, which is named the S.S. John Glenn in honor of the late space pioneer and senator.

Among the payloads are more than three dozen nanosatellites and a new habitat for growing plants in the station’s weightless conditions, plus experiments to facilitate growing cell cultures and test anti-cancer drugs that activate the body’s own immune system. There’s also the latest in a series of experiments to study how things burn up in space.

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Cygnus cargo ship hooks up to space station

Image: Cygnus capture
The International Space Station’s robotic arm reaches out to grapple Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo ship in a video view with an overlay of computer data. (Credit: NASA TV)

Orbital ATK’s Cygnus commercial cargo ship had a smooth link-up with the International Space Station on March 26, delivering about 7,500 pounds of supplies, equipment, experiments and high-tech gizmos. But a rocket glitch that cropped up while putting the Cygnus into orbit has led United Launch Alliance to postpone the next scheduled liftoff of its Atlas 5 rocket.

The good news is that the Atlas 5’s anomalous rocket engine performance on March 22 had no impact on Cygnus’ sendoff. The uncrewed capsule made its rendezvous right on time, and astronauts used the station’s robotic arm to bring it in for its berthing.

Over the next two months, crew members will unload Cygnus’ cargo – including a 3-D printer, a meteor-watching experiment and tons of more mundane items. Then they’ll fill it back up with trash and send it loose to burn up during atmospheric re-entry. During the descent, mission managers will use an experimental apparatus to set a fire inside the capsule and study how the flames spread.

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Cygnus heads for space station with cool gizmos

Image: Atlas launch with Cygnus
United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket lifts off, sending Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo capsule into space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. (Credit: NASA)

Orbital ATK’s commercial Cygnus cargo capsule was lofted into orbit tonight atop an Atlas 5 rocket, carrying an upgraded 3-D printer, a gecko-type gripper, a fire-starting experiment and tons of other supplies to the International Space Station.

The launch vehicle made an on-time departure from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 11:05 p.m. ET (8:05 p.m. PT). If all goes according to plan, astronauts will grapple the uncrewed Cygnus spacecraft with the station’s robotic arm and pull it in to its berthing port on the Unity node on Saturday.

This will be Orbital ATK’s fourth delivery to the station under the terms of a $1.9 billion contract with NASA, and the second to make use of United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5. Orbital ATK had to turn to the Atlas when its own Antares rocket blew up shortly after launch in October 2014, destroying a Cygnus shipment. A redesigned Antares is expected to make its debut later this spring.

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