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Eastern Range looks for ways to support additional launches

Falcon 9 double launch

WASHINGTON — As launch activity grows on the Eastern Range in Florida, companies and government agencies are looking at ways to add capacity, largely through incremental improvements.

In a panel discussion at the 47th Spaceport Summit Feb. 23, Brig. Gen. Stephen G. Purdy Jr., commander of the 45th Space Wing and director of the Eastern Range, said the range supported 32 launches in the last 12 months. Those launches came from 55 launch attempts that “went to countdown.”

However, there were 297 requested launch opportunities over that period, of which the range approved 225. “Each one of those are obviously a lot of work and a lot of coordination with a lot of partners,” he said. “There’s a lot of work that goes on just get those launch dates, and that’s going to keep increasing as we get to those expected launch rates in the future.”

Those expected launch rates he referred to came from a study by The Aerospace Corporation that projected a surge in commercial launch activity from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and neighboring Kennedy Space Center in the next few years. “We’re getting up to over 60 launches a year,” said Bob Cabana, director of KSC.

One innovation is the adoption of autonomous flight safety systems on launch vehicles that eliminate the need for tracking and communications system that can take days to reconfigure from one launch attempt to the next. “We were able to go from locking down the range for 72 to 96 hours to being able to support multiple launches in a single day,” said Wayne Monteith, associate administrator for commercial space transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration and a former commander of the 45th Space Wing.

SpaceX uses autonomous flight safety systems for its Falcon 9 launches, which has allowed it to closely schedule launches. The company has, on two occasions, attempted two Falcon 9 launches from Space Launch Complex 40 and Launch Complex 39A on the same day, but weather or technical issues with the rocket prevented both launches from taking place.

“We came very close” to two launches in one day, said Hans Koenigsmann, senior adviser for build and flight reliability at SpaceX, including an attempt in February where two launches were scheduled for less than four and a half hours apart. “This will happen in the near future, that we launch two vehicles from two pads on the same day. It will only increase from there.”

Purdy said the range has set an October 2025 deadline for other vehicle operators to adopt autonomous flight safety systems. That transition will free up an “not insignificant amount of personnel and equipment” currently used for tracking launches.

Other changes are more incremental. Both the Eastern Range and launch companies are studying weather requirements, looking for minor changes that decrease the probability that conditions such as lightning scrub a launch.

“We’ve got multiple projects underway to keep nibbling away at the weather question,” said Purdy, such as reducing the radius around a launch site for lightning from five miles to four miles.

“We’re investing on the technical infrastructure to make the rocket more robust against lightning,” said Scott Henderson, vice president of test and flight operations and Florida site director for Blue Origin. “The idea is that you can launch a rocket any time an airplane is taking off from Orlando’s airport.”

More complex launches, though, are introducing more weather constraints. Koenigsmann said many SpaceX launches have instantaneous launch windows, with no margin for error in the event of bad weather. Crewed launches also require good weather along the trajectory to orbit in the event of an abort, and most SpaceX launches involve a booster landing at sea where weather can be an issue.

Purdy said his weather team is working with SpaceX and others planning ocean landings to better understand weather conditions at sea. That’s included incorporating climatology data along the Eastern Seaboard to see what areas are more likely to have favorable wind and sea state conditions for a landing.

Other tweaks involve procedures. Purdy said each of the 297 requests for a launch date the range received in the last year took “multiple hours” to process. “The range adjudication process is one of our biggest pain points right now,” he said. “An automation process in that people-centric approach is something we’re trying to work cooperatively with the FAA and our other mission partners on.”

The FAA’s commercial space transportation office has taken steps to support higher launch rates through more streamlined regulations, released last fall and scheduled to formally go into effect later this month. That’s needed, Monteith said, because the number of licensed launches is growing far faster than the number of people in his office. “If we don’t plan ahead and adapt, we will become the limiting factor to the growth and success of the U.S. commercial space industry,” he said.

Orbital launches on the Eastern Range are today performed primarily by two companies, SpaceX and United Launch Alliance. Several more companies, though, are either building new launch facilities or have announced plans to launch from Cape Canaveral, including Blue Origin, Firefly Aerospace and Relativity. That will make launch coordination more complicated.

Henderson noted that Blue Origin’s Launch Complex 36, which will host New Glenn launches starting no earlier than late 2022, is near SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1, where some Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters land. Blue Origin has to clear LC-36 during a SpaceX landing, while SpaceX will have to clear Landing Zone 1 during a New Glenn launch.

“As we add more launch providers, that’s going to be more dynamic,” he said. “We’re going to have to figure out a way to do that.”

Koenigsmann was not concerned. “I just don’t see anybody else doing that level of launches right now” compared to SpaceX, he said, expressing optimism that SpaceX and others can find solutions to any future scheduling issues. “After all, we land on ships, right? How hard can that be.”


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Falcon 9 launches Starlink satellites

Falocn 9 Starlink launch

WASHINGTON — SpaceX successfully launched another set of Starlink satellites Feb. 4 in the first of back-to-back Falcon 9 launches scheduled from Cape Canaveral.

The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 1:19 a.m. Eastern from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Its payload of 60 Starlink satellites separated from the rocket’s upper stage 65 minutes later.

The rocket’s first stage landed on a droneship in the Atlantic Ocean eight and a half minutes after liftoff. The booster was on its fifth flight, having been used most recently for the launch of the Turksat 5A satellite Jan. 8.

The launch is the first of two back-to-back Falcon 9 Starlink missions from Florida. A second Falcon 9 is scheduled to launch Feb. 5 from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, also carrying 60 Starlink satellites.

For a time, SpaceX planned launching both rockets Feb. 4, less than four and a half hours apart. The company said late Feb. 2 that the launch doubleheader was pending favorable weather and range approvals. While the 45th Space Wing announced Feb. 3 that it approved SpaceX’s launch plans, the company announced later that day it was delaying the launch from LC-39A, which had been scheduled for 5:36 a.m. Eastern, by a day for additional pre-launch checks.

The last time two launches took place from the Eastern Range, which includes Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and KSC, in a single day was in November 1966, with launches of NASA’s Gemini 12 mission and its Atlas Agena docking target 99 minutes apart. SpaceX proposed carrying out two Falcon 9 launches in one day in August 2020, but one of the two launches was scrubbed by weather.

This launch brings the total number of Starlink satellites in orbit to 1,022, according to statistics kept by Jonathan McDowell of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian. The company passed the milestone of 1,000 Starlink satellites launched last month, but more than 60 of those satellites have deorbited since their launches.


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45th Space Wing to attempt three launches in three days, on pace for 39 in 2020

WASHINGTON — For the first time since 2001, Cape Canaveral will attempt to launch three rockets over three days.

Scheduled for Aug. 27 is a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy National Reconnaissance Office mission. On Aug. 28 a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch the SAOCOM 1B satellite for Argentina’s space agency followed by another Falcon 9 Starlink launch on Aug. 29.

It this works out, it will be historic, said Brig. Gen. Doug Schiess, commander of the 45th Space Wing that oversees the Florida space coast ranges.

Three launches in a week has not been done in Florida since 2001, Scheiss said Aug. 25 during a video call with reporters.

That year, a Titan 4 launched Aug. 6th, a Delta 2 on Aug. 8 and the the NASA Space Shuttle on Aug. 10.

Schiess said that if the current manifest holds, the Florida Space Coast will see 39 launches in 2020, compared to 18 launches in 2019 and 24 in 2018.

“And so the launches are continuing to increase, that’s due to national security space missions and a huge part due to our commercial missions,” said Schiess.

The manifest for the next three months has a Sept. 30 GPS satellite launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9, another NRO mission on a ULA Atlas 5 sometime in October, the first operational launch of the SpaceX Crew Dragon Oct. 23 and in November a ULA Atlas 5 launch of Boeing’s Starliner capsule uncrewed test mission.

Polar launch the first since 1969

SpaceX will launch Argentina’s SAOCOM 1B — an Earth observation satellite designed to provide radar imagery — to a polar orbit and will fly a southerly trajectory.

“It’s been decades since that’s been used,” said Schiess.

The last polar launch from the Cape was in February 1969 — the ESSA-9, also known as TOS-G, a meteorological satellite on a three-stage Delta rocket, a 45th Space Wing spokesman said.

After launching SAOCOM 1B, SpaceX will attempt to land the Falcon 9 booster on land at Landing Zone 1, rather than on a droneship at sea. The last time that happened was when SpaceX flew the CRS-20 Commercial Resupply Service mission to the International Space Station in March 2020.

Schiess said the southerly trajectory flight for the polar orbit mission was approved by the Federal Aviation Administration and does not pose a threat to the populations of southern Florida or Cuba as the rocket flies over those areas.

‘We have done an extensive amount of work to make sure that we’re safe,” said Schiess.

SpaceX has launched satellites to polar orbits from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, but wanted to do this one from the Cape, said Schiess, because its payload “processing was here and it made more sense.”

The 45th Space Wing uses southerly trajectories for submarine ballistic missile tests, Schiess said, and noted that Vandenberg Air Force Base is the “premier location to launch to polar and I don’t see that changing.”


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SpaceX is targeting Saturday, June 13 at 5:21 a.m. EDT, 9:21…

SpaceX is targeting Saturday, June 13 at 5:21 a.m. EDT, 9:21 UTC, for launch of its ninth Starlink mission, which will include 58 Starlink satellites and three of Planet’s SkySats. Falcon 9 will lift off from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and a backup opportunity is available on Sunday, June 14 at 4:59 a.m. EDT, 8:59 UTC. This mission marks SpaceX’s first SmallSat Rideshare Program launch. 

Falcon 9’s first stage previously supported Dragon’s 19th and 20th resupply missions to the International Space Station. Following stage separation, SpaceX will land Falcon 9’s first stage on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship, which will be stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. Half of Falcon 9’s fairing previously flew on the JCSAT-18/Kacific1 mission, and the other half previously flew on SpaceX’s third Starlink mission.

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Bumper V-2 Launch (July 24, 1950) A new chapter in space flight…

Bumper V-2 Launch

Bumper V-2 Launch 
(July 24, 1950) A new chapter in space flight began in July 1950 with the launch of the first rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida: the Bumper 8. Shown above, Bumper 8 was an ambitious two-stage rocket program that topped a V-2 missile base with a WAC Corporal rocket. Or in other words, it was a German V2 Rocket just without the warhead but with measurement equipment instead, e.g., a photo camera (which made the first picture of the Earth from space in history of humankind). The upper stage was able to reach then-record altitudes of almost 400 kilometers, higher than even modern Space Shuttles fly today. Launched under the direction of the General Electric Company, Bumper 8 was used primarily for testing rocket systems and for research on the upper atmosphere . Bumper rockets carried small payloads that allowed them to measure attributes including air temperature and cosmic ray impacts. Seven years later, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I and Sputnik II, the first satellites into Earth orbit. In response, in 1958, the US created NASA . *Image Credit*: NASA Image Number: 66P-0631

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SpaceX Demo-2 Launch (NHQ202005300125) by NASA HQ PHOTO A…

SpaceX Demo-2 Launch (NHQ202005300125)

SpaceX Demo-2 Launch (NHQ202005300125) by NASA HQ PHOTO
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley onboard, Saturday, May 30, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Demo-2 mission is the first launch with astronauts of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. The test flight serves as an end-to-end demonstration of SpaceX’s crew transportation system. Behnken and Hurley launched at 3:22 p.m. EDT on Saturday, May 30, from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. A new era of human spaceflight is set to begin as American astronauts once again launch on an American rocket from American soil to low-Earth orbit for the first time since the conclusion of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)