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ULA and SpaceX win shares of Space Force launches

The U.S. Space Force designated United Launch Alliance and SpaceX as the winners of a multibillion-dollar competition for national security launches over a five-year period, passing up a proposal from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture in the process.

Northrop Grumman and its OmegA rocket also lost out in the Phase II competition for the National Security Space Launch program.

ULA will receive a 60% share of the launch manifest for contracts awarded in the 2020-2024 time frame, with the first missions launching in fiscal 2022, said William Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics.

SpaceX will receive the other 40%.

The competition extended through the creation of the U.S. Space Force, whose Space and Missile Systems Center will be in charge of executing the launches in partnership with the National Reconnaissance Office.

The five-year Phase II program provides for fixed-price but indefinite-delivery contracts, which means there isn’t a specified total payout. But Roper said it’d be reasonable to estimate that somewhere around 32 to 34 launches would be covered, which would translate to billions of dollars in business.

Three launches were assigned today: ULA is scheduled to launch two missions known as USSF-51 and USSF-106 for the Space Force in 2022, while SpaceX has been assigned USSF-67 in mid-2022.

ULA’s two contracts amount to $337 million, and SpaceX’s contract is worth $316 million. Roper said details about the payloads are classified.

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SpaceX launches Starlink and BlackSky satellites

After weeks of delay, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket sent up 57 more satellites for its Starlink broadband internet constellation, with two BlackSky planet-watching satellites hitching a ride.

The launch was originally scheduled for June, but had to be put off several times due to technical concerns, weather delays and range schedule conflicts. This time around, the countdown proceeded smoothly to liftoff from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at 1:12 a.m. ET Aug. 7 (10:12 p.m. PT Aug. 6).

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Astronauts reach space station in SpaceX capsule

SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour
A camera mounted on the International Space Station shows SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Endeavour capsule hooked up to a port on the station’s Harmony module. (NASA via YouTube)

For the first time in nearly nine years, astronauts have arrived at the International Space Station in a spaceship that was made in the USA.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, which was christened Endeavour soon after Saturday’s launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, hooked up with the station at 7:16 a.m. PT today.

Endeavour brought NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the station’s Harmony port, prompting space station commander Chris Cassidy to ring the naval bell that’s part of the tradition for welcoming space crews.

“Dragon arriving,” Cassidy declared.

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Trump hails SpaceX launch after seeing it firsthand

Donald Trump in VAB
President Donald Trump delivers remarks in Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building with a mockup of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule in the background. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

President Donald Trump held up America’s space effort as a unifying endeavor for a divided nation after becoming only the third sitting president to witness the launch of American astronauts in person.

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Astronauts give their capsule a storied name

Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley
NASA astronauts Doug Hurley (foreground) and Bob Behnken (background) provide a tour of their Crew Dragon space taxi. (NASA via YouTube)

The two NASA astronauts who rode SpaceX’s first crew-carrying Dragon capsule to orbit today named their spacecraft, continuing a tradition that goes back to the earliest days of America’s space effort.

“I know most of you, at SpaceX especially, know it as Capsule 206,” Hurley said over a space-to-ground video link a few hours after launch. “But I think all of us thought that maybe we could do a little bit better than that. So, without further ado, we would like to welcome you aboard capsule Endeavour.”

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SpaceX sends NASA astronauts on historic trip

Falcon 9 launch
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, sending NASA astronauts into orbit in a Crew Dragon capsule. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

SpaceX launched two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station today, becoming the first company to send humans to orbit on a commercial spaceship.

The Falcon 9 rocket’s liftoff from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 3:22 p.m. ET (12:22 p.m. PT) marked a feat that Americans hadn’t been able to do since NASA retired the space shuttles in 2011: sending astronauts into orbit from a U.S. launch pad rather than relying on the Russians.

“It is absolutely our honor to be part of this huge effort to get the United States back in the launch business,” NASA astronaut Doug Hurley told SpaceX Mission Control just before liftoff.

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Weather complicates SpaceX’s launch plans

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine takes a question during a briefing at Kennedy Space Center’s countdown clock with NASA astronaut Nicole Mann standing behind him. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

NASA and SpaceX are keeping a close eye on the weather in Florida and beyond as they get set for a second attempt to launch two NASA astronauts in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule on May 30. Or maybe May 31.

During a briefing held today at the billboard-sized countdown clock at Kennedy Space Center, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said mission managers were weighing whether to skip the first opportunity and go for the one after that instead.

The forecast for May 31 is slightly better, with a 60% chance of acceptable weather as opposed to 50% for May 30. Rain and thick clouds are the primary concerns.

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Weather forces delay for SpaceX crewed launch

Air Force One and SpaceX rocket
Air Force One flies above Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, carrying President Donald Trump to witness SpaceX’s Crew Dragon launch. Liftoff was postponed until Saturday due to weather concerns. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

The countdown for SpaceX’s first crewed launch to the International Space Station ran down to less than 17 minutes, but because the weather didn’t cooperate, history will have to wait until May 30 at the earliest.

SpaceX called off the launch of its Falcon 9 rocket with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken sitting inside the Crew Dragon capsule on top, and President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence waiting in the wings. Liftoff would have marked the first-ever use of a privately owned spaceship for a crewed orbital launch, the first launch of NASA astronauts from U.S. soil since the space shuttles were retired in 2011, and the official start of a renaissance for U.S. spaceflight.

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NASA chief sees unifying moment in SpaceX launch

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, topped by the Crew Dragon capsule, lies in a prone position at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for its final pre-flight checkout. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

President Donald Trump plans to be on hand for the historic test launch of NASA astronauts in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, but NASA’s chief says the achievement transcends partisan lines.

“It’s not just going to unite Republicans and Democrats, it’s going to unite the world,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who was a GOP congressman from Oklahoma before Trump chose him to take the space agency’s top post. “The whole world is going to be watching this particular launch.”

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Will weather clear for SpaceX Dragon launch?

SpaceX Dragon
The sun rises with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule sitting atop a Falcon 9 rocket at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (SpaceX Photo / Ben Cooper)

Mission managers have cleared the final paperwork for SpaceX’s first-ever crewed launch, aimed at sending two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule.

The stage is now set for the first NASA mission to send humans into orbit from U.S. soil since the retirement of the space shuttle fleet in 2011.

Only one big question remained after today’s launch readiness review, which looked at all the technical issues surrounding the scheduled May 27 liftoff from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“We’re burning down the final paper,” Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s commercial crew program, told reporters during a teleconference. “All the teams were ‘go,’ and we’re continuing to make progress toward our mission. Now the only thing we need to do is figure out how to control the weather.”

Today’s weather forecast called for a 60% chance of scrubbing the launch due to concerns about rain and clouds at the launch site. The weather was rainy at the Cape today, but Mike McAleenan, launch weather officer for the 45th Weather Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base, said the outlook was improving.

“If I was to issue the forecast today, right now, we would probably be down to a 40% chance of violation. … So we have some hope for launch day,” McAleenan said.

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