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Safety panel concerned about quality control on Boeing crew capsule

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft that flew on the Orbital Flight Test mission is pictured last November outside the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Alex Polimeni/Spaceflight Now

Members of NASA’s independent panel of aerospace safety advisors raised concerns last week about quality control problems that “seemingly have plagued” Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule program, while urging NASA to closely monitor SpaceX’s plans to reuse Crew Dragon spaceships on astronaut flights to the International Space Station.

An unpiloted test flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft in December ended prematurely after a programming error in the capsule’s mission elapsed timer caused the ship to burn too much fuel shortly after separating from its Atlas 5 rocket.

The unexpected fuel consumption left the Starliner capsule with insufficient propellant to complete its flight to the space station.

The Starliner landed safely in New Mexico two days later, but ground teams identified another software problem in a propulsion controller governing thrusters on the spacecraft’s service module, which jettisons from the Starliner crew module before re-entry into the atmosphere. Mission control uplinked a software patch shortly before re-entry, eliminating a risk that the mis-configured propulsion controller could have caused the jettisoned service module to ram into the crew module after separation.

There were also problems with the Starliner’s communications system during the unpiloted demonstration mission, known as the Orbital Flight Test, or OFT.

An independent review team that investigated the problems during the OFT mission issued 80 recommendations for Boeing and NASA engineers to address software issues, the communications problem, and management oversight shortfalls in oversight that contributed to the problems on last year’s test flight.

Donald McErlean, a seasoned aerospace industry consultant and member of NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, said July 23 that Boeing is making progress toward resolving the technical problems. Boeing plans to fly a second, previously-unplanned Starliner Orbital Flight Test to the space station late this year, followed by a Crew Flight Test in the first half of 2021 with a three-person team of astronauts on-board.

“However, despite this progress, which is definite and in fact measurable, the panel continues to be concerned about quality control problems that seemingly have plagued the Boeing commercial crew program,” said McErlean, a former chief engineer for the U.S. Navy’s aviation programs.

Boeing performed a pad abort test of a Starliner crew capsule last November, the month before the Orbital Flight Test. One of the capsule’s three main parachutes did not deploy after an otherwise-successful test of the spacecraft’s abort engines, and Boeing traced that problem to a missing pin in the parachute’s rigging.

“We realize that the CCP (Commercial Crew Program) has been working with the safety and engineering communities to address these issues, but this is still an issue that the panel will continue to watch closely as OFT and later CFT are conducted,” McErlean said.

The panel recommended NASA’s Commercial Crew Program “maintain a balance” between setting and achieving schedule milestones and ensuring managers make appropriate technical decisions, according to McErlean.

Boeing developed the Starliner spacecraft under contract to NASA, which is seeking to end its sole reliance on Russian Soyuz crew capsules to ferry astronauts to and from the space station. NASA awarded Boeing a $4.2 billion contract and SpaceX received a $2.6 billion deal in 2014 to complete development of the Starliner and Crew Dragon spaceships.

The public-private partnerships were designed to end U.S. reliance on Russian Soyuz spacecraft for crew transportation to and from the space station.

While Boeing still has at least two Starliner test flights — one without crew members and one with astronauts — before the capsule is declared operational, SpaceX is nearing the end of the Crew Dragon development program. The human-rated capsule launched with astronauts for the first time May 30 on the Demo-2 mission, and delivered NASA test pilots Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station the next day.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft approaches the International Space Station on May 31 with astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on-board. Credit: NASA

Hurley and Behnken are scheduled to depart the station Aug. 1 and splash down off the Florida coast Aug. 2, completing a mission spanning more than two months. Once the Crew Dragon is back on Earth, SpaceX and NASA engineers plan to formally certify the SpaceX crew capsule for regular crew rotation missions to the space station, beginning with a launch as soon as late September from the Kennedy Space Center carrying four astronauts to the orbiting research complex for a six-month expedition.

The mission scheduled for launch in late September — known as Crew-1 — will be followed by at least five more operational Crew Dragon missions through 2024.

NASA last month said it will allow SpaceX to reuse Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 boosters for NASA astronaut missions. NASA says SpaceX could begin reusing Crew Dragon vehicles and Falcon 9 first stages on crewed launches beginning with the second post-certification mission, or Crew-2.

The Crew-2 launch is scheduled in February 2021. The Crew-1 mission — SpaceX’s first operational astronaut flight — is slated to fly with a brand new Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket.

Each of SpaceX’s operational crew rotation flights to the space station will carry up to four astronauts, including space fliers from NASA and the space station’s international partners.

NASA has assigned astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker to the Crew-1 mission. Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi will join the U.S. astronauts on the Crew Dragon spacecraft.

“You are seeing the beginning of the rotational use of the commercial crew systems in transporting our astronauts to the ISS,” McErlean said.

In the safety panel’s July 23 public meeting, McErlean said SpaceX currently plans to refurbish and reuse the Crew Dragon spacecraft that is flying on the Demo-2 mission on the Crew-2 mission next year. That crew capsule was named Dragon Endeavour by Hurley and Behnken soon after their launch in May.

SpaceX also aims to reuse the Falcon 9 rocket booster assigned to the Crew-1 mission again on the Crew-2 launch next year, McErlean said.

“So in this case, Crew-2 will be fully utilizing the SpaceX reuse philosophy,” McErlean said. “Although reuse has been successful in prior launches, the use of previously-flown hardware for a human spaceflight mission is unique, and it will create some additional work for NASA, who must address the human certification requirements.”

Boeing also plans to reuse Starliner crew capsules on multiple flights. Unlike the Crew Dragon, which splashes down at sea, the Starliner parachutes to an airbag-cushioned touchdown on land.

McErlean, speaking for the safety advisory panel, said NASA must also keep up with SpaceX’s philosophy of “constantly evolving vehicle designs” with an “ongoing formal safety-related process” to ensure the modifications remain within the agency’s human-rating certification requirements.

“With the completion of the Demo-2 mission and appropriate vehicle changes driven by the data gathered during that mission, NASA will have a essentially concluded the required certification process for flying NASA personnel on SpaceX hardware,” McErlean said. “However, it is the panel’s opinion that given the SpaceX approach to hardware upgrades, NASA has to decide by what processes it will continue to monitor vehicle and system changes to ensure that those changes still remain within an appropriately certified safety posture for human spaceflight operations.”

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SpaceX shares video of first double fairing catch

SpaceX’s two fast-maneuvering payload fairing recovery vessels were in the right place at the right time Monday to catch both halves of the nose shroud jettisoned by a Falcon 9 rocket climbing into orbit with South Korea’s Anasis 2 military communications satellite.

The California-based launch company released a pair of videos Tuesday on Twitter, showing views from each of the fairing recovery boats as the vessels steered under the shroud shells descending under parachutes around 40 minutes after the Falcon 9’s liftoff from Cape Canaveral.

The twin recovery ships, named “Ms. Tree” and “Ms. Chief,” were located around 480 miles (775 kilometers) east of Cape Canaveral in the Atlantic Ocean for Monday’s mission.

The Falcon 9 rocket took off from Cape Canaveral at 5:30 p.m. EDT (2130 GMT) Monday with Anasis 2, South Korea’s first dedicated military communications satellite. On the way into orbit, the launcher jettisoned its first stage booster, which descended back to Earth for a pinpoint landing on SpaceX’s drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

Moments later, the Falcon 9’s upper stage ignited and then released the two-piece clamshell-like nose cone that shielded the Anasis 2 satellite from aerodynamic forces and airflow during the first few minutes of the flight. By that time, the rocket was flying at an altitude of about 68 miles, or 110 kilometers, above the densest layers of the atmosphere.

The first stage maneuvered back to Earth using a series of propulsive burns of its main engines, allowing it to target touchdown on the SpaceX landing platform. The booster was making its second launch after its first use helped launch NASA astronauts aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft May 30.

The re-flight of the first stage Monday — 51 days after its May 30 mission — marked the shortest turnaround between flights of a Falcon 9 booster.

The Falcon 9’s fairing shells come back to Earth in a more unguided fashion, using cold gas thrusters to orient themselves for deployment of a steerable parachute, or parafoil, to slow down before reaching the ocean.

The fairing recovery boats are each equipped with a giant net to catch the falling fairing halves. SpaceX has caught one fairing shell on prior missions — and plucked the other half from the ocean — but Monday’s achievement was the first time the company has netted both pieces of the fairing on the same launch.

Catching the fairing with the net helps reduce contamination from sea water, easing refurbishment of the nose cone for reuse on future flights.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket takes off from Cape Canaveral’s Complex 40 launch pad Monday with South Korea’s Anasis 2 satellite. The South Korean flag is seen emblazoned on the Falcon 9’s payload fairing. Credit: SpaceX

The company wants to more regularly reuse the fairing, eyeing it as the next step in reducing launch costs after proving the landing and reuse of Falcon booster stages. The fairing shells flown on Monday’s mission were brand new.

The Falcon 9’s fairing stands about 43 feet (13.1 meters) tall and measures about 17 feet (5.2 meters) in diameter.

SpaceX reused a fairing for the first time on a Falcon 9 launch last November carrying 60 of the company’s own Starlink broadband satellites into orbit. The company has since repeated the feat.

Other launch providers dispose of the fairing, but SpaceX began using a fast-moving boat to steer underneath a fairing following launches from California in early 2018. The efforts chalked up a series of near-misses, prompting engineers to evaluate reusing fairings that fell into the sea.

SpaceX has since added a second fairing recovery vessel to its fleet, and moved the fairing-catching boats to Florida, where the company has a higher launch rate.

The first fairing that SpaceX reused last November was retrieved from the ocean after a Falcon Heavy launch in April 2019.

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, told reporters in 2018 that each new fairing costs around $6 million.

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Watch live: Spacewalkers work to prep space station for future upgrades

STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS & USED WITH PERMISSION

Space station commander Chris Cassidy and Robert Behnken floated back outside Tuesday for their fourth spacewalk in less than a month, this one to complete preparations for future upgrades including the eventual installation of an airlock that will allow commercial experiments to be moved into and out of vacuum as required.

The astronauts originally planned four spacewalks to install replacement batteries in the station’s solar power system, but that work was completed ahead of schedule during three excursions on June 26, July 1 and July 16. The fourth spacewalk was replanned as a result and now includes a variety of unrelated tasks.

Floating in the Quest airlock, Cassidy and Behnken switched their spacesuits to battery power at 7:12 a.m. EDT to officially kick off a planned six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk, the 231st in station history, the seventh so far this year and the 10th for both astronauts.

The first item on the agenda was to install a robotics tool box on a rail-mounted carrier used to move the station’s robot arm from one worksite to another.

After that, Behnken planned to move to the lab’s right-side inboard set of solar arrays to remove a no-longer-needed handling, or “H,” fixtures, one of several that were used to lift and move the stowed arrays before launch. Cassidy planned to detach a second fixture on the far right side of the power truss.

All of them must be removed to make way for future power system upgrades. Behnken attempted to remove the first fixture during the July 16 spacewalk, but he was unable to pull it free. Engineers then developed new procedures and tools, including a 3D-printed wedge, that were expected to help the crew pull off the two fixtures.

Cassidy and Behnken then planned to make their way to the left side of the power truss to prepare the outer hatch of the Tranquility module — the same compartment that features the station’s multi-window cupola — for the later attachment of a commercial airlock.

The Bishop Airlock, designed by Nanoracks as a commercial venture, is scheduled for launch later this year aboard a SpaceX Dragon cargo ship. Once in place, the airlock will enable research payloads and equipment to be robotically moved into and out of the space station, exposing them to the space environment as required.

The airlock will be attached to the Tranquility module’s currently unoccupied outboard port. To make way for installation, Cassidy and Behnken planned to remove a thermal cover and protective shields, reposition a variety of cables and clean the common berthing mechanism’s attachment fittings.

Once the airlock preps are complete, Cassidy and Behnken will wrap up the day’s work by routing camera power and data cables and removing a damaged lens filter from an external camera assembly.

Assuming the spacewalk runs the full six-and-a-half hours, Behnken will move up to No. 3 on the list of most-experienced spacewalkers with more than 62 hours of EVA time 10 excursions. Cassidy’s mark will stand at nearly 56 hours, moving him up to eighth on the list.

With the spacewalk complete, the station crew will turn its attention to the launch and docking of a Russian Progress supply ship Thursday. The next major task after that will be preparations for Behnken and Douglas Hurley to return to Earth aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spaceship that carried them into orbit May 30.

The Crew Dragon, developed as a commercial venture, is the first piloted U.S. orbital since the final shuttle flight in 2011. Hurley and Behnken plan to undock from the station’s forward port the evening of Aug. 1 and to splash down in the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean off Florida’s east coast on Aug. 2 to close out a 64-day flight.

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SpaceX delivers South Korea’s first military satellite into on-target orbit

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Monday. Credit: Ken Kremer/SpaceUpClose.com

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket deployed South Korea’s first dedicated military satellite into orbit Monday a half-hour after a fiery launch from Cape Canaveral, helping fulfill an agreement between Lockheed Martin and the South Korean government in exchange for Korea’s purchase of F-35 fighter jets six years ago.

South Korea’s Anasis 2 military communications satellite rocketed away from Cape Canaveral at 5:30 p.m. EDT (2130 GMT) Monday on top of a Falcon 9 launcher. Nine Merlin main engines on the Falcon 9 rocket propelled the 229-foot-tall (70-meter) launcher off the ground, and the Falcon 9 turned east over the Atlantic Ocean, exceeding the speed of sound within about one minute.

Powered by the same first stage booster that launched astronauts May 30 on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, the Falcon 9 thundered into a sunny sky after a 30-minute delay Monday the company attributed to a passing rain shower.

The first stage shut down and separated from the Falcon 9’s second stage about two-and-a-half minutes after liftoff, beginning maneuvers to precisely touch down on SpaceX’s floating landing platform around 400 miles (645 kilometers) east of Cape Canaveral. The reusable first stage landed on target aboard the drone ship “Just Read The Instructions,” ready for return to Florida’s Space Coast for another flight.

The booster used on Monday’s launch set a record for the quickest turnaround time between flights of an orbital-class rocket stage at 51 days. The shortest span between launches of the same Falcon 9 booster was previously 62 days, which SpaceX achieved with a Feb. 17 mission.

NASA achieved a 54-day turnaround time between two launches of the space shuttle Atlantis in late 1985, a record never again matched during the 30-year-long shuttle program. The time elapsed between Atlantis’s landing and next launch was 50 days.

SpaceX may eclipse its rocket turnaround time record again in the coming weeks, with more missions on the company’s jam-packed launch schedule, all using reused rocket stages. The next brand new Falcon 9 booster is not expected to fly before late September.

Meanwhile, SpaceX’s second stage engine ignited two times to inject the Anasis 2 spacecraft into an elliptical transfer orbit stretching thousands of miles above above Earth. The satellite will use its on-board engine to circularize its orbit more than 22,000 miles (nearly 36,000 kilometers) over the equator, where it will provide services for the South Korean military.

John Insprucker, a SpaceX engineer and manager who co-hosted the company’s launch webcast Monday, declared it a “totally successful mission.”

The Anasis 2 spacecraft was manufactured by Airbus Defense and Space in Toulouse, France, and is based on Airbus’s Eurostar E3000 satellite design.

Anasis 2 “will provide secured communications over wide coverage,” Airbus said in a statement.

South Korea procured the satellite — formerly known as KMilSatCom 1 — through an “offset” arrangement to offset South Korea’s purchase of F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin. In exchange for South Korea’s purchase of 40 F-35 fighter jets — a deal reportedly valued at more than $6 billion — Lockheed Martin agreed to provide the Anasis 2 satellite to the South Korean military, among other offsets.

Lockheed Martin ultimately subcontracted the satellite manufacturing deal to Airbus, and booked launch services for Anasis 2 with SpaceX.

“Lockheed Martin is honored to deliver on the promise and commitment made to the Republic of Korea government with the successful launch of the Anasis 2 satellite,” Lockheed Martin said in a statement. “This launch and the expected in-orbit handover later this year are the first milestones signifying the completion of an offset project related to the sale of F-35s to the ROKG (Republic of Korea Government) in 2014.”

Before Anasis 2, South Korea’s military has relied on international and civilian-owned satellites for communications. A dual-use satellite named Anasis 1 launched in 2006 to provide commercial and military telecom services.

Further details about the Anasis 2 satellite are shrouded in secrecy at the wishes of the the spacecraft’s owner — the South Korean government. SpaceX did not broadcast live video of the Anasis 2 satellite deploying from the Falcon 9 rocket, citing a request from its customer.

The Anasis 2 satellite is prepared for shipment to Cape Canaveral from Airbus’s facility in Toulouse, France. Credit: Airbus Defense and Space

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, tweeted later Monday that the company had successfully recovered both halves of the Falcon 9 rocket’s payload fairing using two boats stationed offshore in the Atlantic Ocean.

The twin fairing recovery vessels — named “Ms. Tree” and “Ms. Chief” — were dispatched to positions nearly 500 miles (800 kilometers) east of Cape Canaveral. Both ships are fitted with giant nets to try to catch the fairing halves, which descend under parachutes.

The Falcon 9 released the clamshell-like payload fairing around three-and-a-half minutes after liftoff Monday, once the rocket flew above the dense, lower layers of the atmosphere. The shroud protected the Anasis 2 satellite during the rocket’s initial climb away from Florida.

The successful fairing recovery marked the first time SpaceX achieved a double catch of both fairing halves on the same mission. On previous flights, SpaceX has either caught just one of the fairing shells, or retrieved them after splashing down in the ocean.

Monday’s mission was SpaceX’s 12th launch of the year, but it was the company’s first launch of 2020 dedicated to a customer other than NASA, the U.S. military, or SpaceX’s own Starlink Internet project.

Of SpaceX’s 11 previous missions this year, seven launched clusters of satellites for the company’s own Starlink broadband network. One of those missions carried a rideshare payload of three commercial SkySat Earth-observing satellites for Planet.

Three of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 missions so far in 2020 have been for NASA.

A Falcon 9 flight Jan. 19 launched a Crew Dragon capsule for a high-altitude test of the spaceship’s abort system. A Dragon cargo ship launched March 6 on a Falcon 9 rocket to resupply the International Space Station, and the first Crew Dragon flight with astronauts took off on a Falcon 9 rocket May 30.

SpaceX’s most recent launch before Monday delivered a GPS navigation satellite into orbit for the U.S. Space Force.

The market for large commercial geostationary satellites has experienced a downturn in the last few years, although there are signs that orders to build and launch geostationary communications spacecraft are on the uptick again.

SpaceX has another launch planned for an external foreign customer coming up later this month. Argentina’s SAOCOM 1B radar observation satellite is being prepared for launch at Cape Canaveral on a Falcon 9 rocket as soon as next week.

The launch of SAOCOM 1B was originally scheduled in March, but officials from CONAE — Argentina’s space agency — requested a delay in the launch due to travel and work restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic. Using new physical distancing and safety protocols, crews returned to Cape Canaveral from Argentina earlier this month to resume preparations on the SAOCOM 1B satellite.

SpaceX also has several more Falcon 9 launches with Starlink satellites from Florida’s Space Coast in August. In September, SpaceX is gearing up for a launch with the next Crew Dragon spacecraft to carry astronauts to the space station, and another Falcon 9 flight with a GPS navigation satellite for the U.S. military.

Other missions on SpaceX’s manifest later this year — besides regularly-scheduled flights to add satellites to the Starlink Internet network — include Falcon 9 launches with a Dragon cargo craft to deliver supplies to the space station, commercial communications satellites for Turksat and SiriusXM, a joint U.S.-European oceanography satellite, and a rideshare mission carrying dozens of small satellites into polar orbit.

There is also a launch of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket on the company’s schedule in late 2020. After taking off from the Kennedy Space Center, the heavy-lift rocket will deploy classified payloads into geostationary orbit for the U.S. Space Force.

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SpaceX going for rocket reuse record with South Korean satellite launch

File photo of a Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral’s Complex 40 launch pad. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX aims to re-launch the Falcon 9 booster Monday that catapulted astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken toward the International Space Station in May, this time carrying a South Korean military communications satellite while pursuing a record for the quickest turnaround time between flights of an orbital-class rocket stage.

In a tweet Saturday, the California-based launch company confirmed plans to launch the South Korean Anasis 2 military communications satellite Monday from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The mission was previously scheduled to launch Tuesday, July 14, but SpaceX delayed the launch to address a problem on the Falcon 9’s second stage.

The launch window Monday opens at 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) and runs until 8:55 p.m. EDT (0055 GMT). The official launch weather forecast calls for isolated rain showers at Cape Canaveral on Monday evening, but there’s a 70 percent chance of acceptable conditions for liftoff of the Falcon 9 rocket during the nearly four-hour launch window.

If the Falcon 9 rocket can take off with the Anasis 2 satellite Monday, or some time later this month, SpaceX will break its own record for the shortest turnaround between flights of the same Falcon 9 booster. The shortest span between launches of the same Falcon 9 booster to date has been 62 days, which SpaceX achieved with a Feb. 17 mission.

NASA achieved a 54-day turnaround time between two launches of the space shuttle Atlantis in late 1985, a record never again matched during the 30-year-long shuttle program. The time elapsed between Atlantis’s landing and next launch was 50 days.

Once the Anasis 2 mission is off the ground, SpaceX may eclipse its rocket turnaround time record again in the coming weeks.

Utilizing pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and pad 39A at the nearby Kennedy Space Center, SpaceX has five missions on its launch schedule from Florida’s Space Coast in the next month or so, beginning with the launch of Anasis 2 Monday.

SpaceX’s next launch of satellites for its Starlink broadband network is expected to launch some time in late July, although a firm launch date has not been confirmed by SpaceX. That mission was supposed to launch in late June from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, but SpaceX has called off two launch attempts due to unspecified technical issues with the rocket.

Two commercial Earth-imaging microsatellites from BlackSky are hitching a ride to space on the Falcon 9 rocket with 57 of SpaceX’s own Starlink platforms. An official from Spaceflight, the rideshare launch broker that secured the ride for the BlackSky satellites on the Falcon 9, said Wednesday that the mission was then expected to take off toward the end of July.

SpaceX’s drone ship returns to Florida’s Space Coast on June 2 with the Falcon 9 booster used to launch the Crew Dragon spacecraft. Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now

Argentina’s SAOCOM 1B radar observation satellite was previously scheduled for liftoff as soon as July 25 on a Falcon 9 rocket, and another batch of Starlink satellites — flying in tandem with three Earth-observing satellites from Planet — was expected to launch around the end of July.

Those launches are expected to be delayed as a result of the schedule slips encountered by the previous Anasis 2 and Starlink/BlackSky missions. Another Starlink launch on a Falcon 9 is also planned is also planned later in August from Cape Canaveral.

Schedules for subsequent Starlink missions have not been announced, but SpaceX is booked to launch the next Crew Dragon spacecraft with astronauts to the International Space Station and a GPS navigation satellite as soon as September.

SpaceX currently has five Falcon 9 boosters in its inventory, and the company has flown two brand new first stages in its 11 missions so far this year. At least two more new Falcon 9 first stages are scheduled to enter service in the coming months, with SpaceX’s next launch of astronauts and the next launch of a U.S. military GPS navigation satellite, both currently planned no earlier than September.

A Falcon Heavy launch planned in late 2020 with a clandestine U.S. military payload will fly with three Falcon rocket boosters, all brand new. SpaceX officials said in December that the company planned to build around 10 new Falcon first stages in 2020.

With its success in reusing Falcon 9 booster stages, the company has ramped up production of Falcon 9 second stages, which are new on each mission.

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, has previously said he wants to launch, recover and re-launch Falcon 9 booster twice within a 24-hour period. But Musk has not recently repeated those comments, instead focusing on SpaceX’s larger, next-generation Starship launch vehicle to make the next leap in reusable rocket technology.

The Falcon 9 booster assigned to the Anasis 2 mission is designated B1058. The launch Monday will mark SpaceX’s 12th mission of the year, and the second to use the B1058 vehicle.

During its launch with astronauts May 30, the 156-foot-tall first stage detached from the Falcon 9’s upper stage and the Crew Dragon spacecraft around two-and-a-half minutes after liftoff. While the Crew Dragon accelerated into orbit, the booster fired engines in a series of maneuvers to land vertically on SpaceX’s drone ship parked in the Atlantic Ocean less than 10 minutes into the mission.

The drone ship returned to Florida’s Space Coast with the booster on its deck June 2, and SpaceX took the rocket back to a refurbishment facility at Cape Canaveral for inspections and preparations for its next mission.

SpaceX plans to recover the booster again after Monday’s launch.

The company’s drone ship “Just Read The Instructions” is in position around 400 miles (645 kilometers) east of Cape Canaveral, and two vessels have been dispatched into the Atlantic Ocean to retrieve the Falcon 9’s two-piece payload fairing.

The Anasis 2 satellite is prepared for shipment to Cape Canaveral from Airbus’s facility in Toulouse, France. Credit: Airbus Defense and Space

The Anasis 2 spacecraft awaiting launch Monday was manufactured by Airbus Defense and Space in Toulouse, France, and transported to Cape Canaveral last month on an Antonov An-124 cargo plane. Based on Airbus’s Eurostar E3000 satellite design, Anasis 2 “will provide secured communications over wide coverage,” Airbus said in a statement.

The spacecraft will launch into an elliptical, egg-shaped transfer orbit stretching tens of thousands of miles above Earth. The satellite’s on-board propulsion system will circularize its orbit at an altitude of more than 22,000 miles (nearly 36,000 kilometers) over the equator to reach a geostationary position, where Anasis 2 will remain over a fixed geographic location, circling the planet at the same rate as Earth’s rotation.

South Korea purchased the satellite — formerly known as KMilSatCom 1 — through an arrangement to offset South Korea’s purchase of F-35A fighter jets from Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin ultimately subcontracted the satellite manufacturing deal to Airbus.

Before Anasis 2, South Korea’s military has relied on international and civilian-owned satellites for communications.

Further details about the Anasis 2 satellite are shrouded in secrecy at the wishes of the the spacecraft’s owner — the South Korean government.

Citing a request from its customer, SpaceX said Saturday that its launch webcast for the Anasis 2 launch will end after landing of the Falcon 9’s first stage booster, expected around eight-and-a-half minutes after liftoff. At that time, Anasis 2 and the Falcon 9’s upper stage should be in a low-altitude parking orbit, coasting until restart of the second stage’s Merlin engine at T+plus 26 minutes, 32 seconds.

After a 56-second second stage burn to send Anasis 2 into a higher orbit, the spacecraft will separate from the Falcon 9 rocket at T+plus 32 minutes, 29 seconds.

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Watch live: Spacewalk begins for another round of space station battery swap outs

STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS & USED WITH PERMISSION

Now in the home stretch of a complex, multi-year upgrade, two space station astronauts floated outside the lab complex Thursday and pressed ahead with the third of four spacewalks the current crew is carrying out to complete the replacement of aging batteries in the station’s solar power system.

Station commander Chris Cassidy and astronaut Robert Behnken began the excursion at 7:10 a.m. EDT, switching their spacesuits to battery power while still inside the Quest airlock. That officially kicked off the 230th spacewalk, or EVA, since ISS assembly began in 1998, the sixth so far this year and the 11th devoted to battery replacement work since 2017.

For identification, Behnken, call sign EV-1, is wearing a suit with red stripes while Cassidy, EV-2, is using an unmarked suit.

After checking safety tethers and collecting tools, the astronauts headed for the far right end of the lab’s power truss to continue work started during spacewalks June 26 and July 1 to replace 12 older nickel-hydrogen batteries at the base of the outboard set of solar arrays with six more powerful lithium-ion power packs.

The space station is equipped with four huge solar wings, two at each end of the power truss, that feed electricity into eight power distribution channels. Twelve nickel-hydrogen batteries at the base of each wing, six per power channel, keep the station functioning when it’s in orbital darkness.

Starting in January 2017, astronauts began replacing the old batteries with more powerful lithium-ion units. Because they are more efficient, only six lithium-ion batteries are needed at the base of each solar wing, along with circuit completing adapter plates to take the place of batteries that were removed but not replaced.

During spacewalks in 2017 and 2019, spacewalking astronauts replaced all 24 nickel-hydrogen batteries used by the left and right inboard arrays. The left-side outboard solar wing was upgraded during spacewalks in 2019 and earlier this year, leaving just the right-side outboard set — 12 batteries feeding two power channels — for Cassidy and Behnken.

They completed the battery work for one power channel during their two earlier spacewalks.

During Thursday’s outing, they planned to remove five of the six remaining nickel-hydrogen batteries and to install all three of the remaining lithium-ion units, along with a final three adapter plates. They also planned to install a high-definition camera boom on the power truss.

Two of the new batteries should be connected by the end of the spacewalk. The final new battery will be tied into the power channel next week, after the last nickel-hydrogen battery is removed.

NASA planners originally thought the battery work would take two spacewalks per power channel, but Cassidy and Behnken ran well ahead of schedule during their first two EVAs and most of the battery work was expected to be completed Thursday.

During next week’s spacewalk, the astronauts plan to finish the battery work; make preparations for installation of a commercial research airlock; install a tool storage box; and remove two of six no-longer-needed ground-handling fixtures at the base of the solar wings to clear the way for future upgrades.

Assuming the final two spacewalks run exactly six-and-a-half-hours each as planned, Behnken will move up to third on the list of most experienced spacewalkers with 62 hours and 41 minutes of EVA time over 10 outings. Cassidy’s 10-spacewalk mark will stand at 56 hours and 22 minutes, moving him up to eighth in the world.

Cosmonaut Anatoly Solovyev holds the all-time spacewalk record with 78 hours and 21 minutes over 16 EVAs. Retired astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria is second with 67 hours and 40 minutes over 10 excursions.

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Falcon 9 launch of South Korean military satellite postponed

EDITOR’S NOTE: Updated at 2:15 p.m. EDT (1815 GMT) with SpaceX statement.

The Anasis 2 satellite is prepared for shipment to Cape Canaveral from Airbus’s facility in Toulouse, France. Credit: Airbus Defense and Space

The planned launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket Tuesday from Cape Canaveral of a South Korean military communications satellite has been delayed in order to address an issue on the launcher’s second stage, and potentially replace the hardware if necessary, officials said Monday.

“Standing down from tomorrow’s launch of Anasis 2 to take a closer look at the second stage, (and) swap hardware if needed,” SpaceX tweeted Monday. “Will announce new target launch date once confirmed on the range.”

It’s the second SpaceX mission to be postponed indefinitely in recent days as the company tries to cut turnaround times for reused rockets and produce new upper stages at a rapid rate to to meet a fast-paced launch schedule in the coming weeks.

SpaceX on Saturday test-fired the Falcon 9 rocket assigned to launch South Korea’s Anasis 2 communications satellite, and the company confirmed the mission was on track for liftoff Tuesday from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The launch window Tuesday was to open at 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) and close at 8:55 p.m. EDT (0055 GMT).

But sources said Monday morning that the mission would be delayed, and SpaceX confirmed the delay in a tweet Monday afternoon.

And the Eastern Range, which oversees launch operations from Cape Canaveral, on Monday canceled launch hazard area notices for offshore airline and marine traffic that were associated with Tuesday’s launch opportunity.

The Anasis 2 spacecraft was manufactured by Airbus Defense and Space in Toulouse, France, and transported to Cape Canaveral last month on an Antonov An-124 cargo plane. Based on Airbus’s Eurostar E3000 satellite design, Anasis 2 “will provide secured communications over wide coverage,” Airbus said in a statement.

The launch of Anasis 2 is one of five missions SpaceX has planned through early August. A Falcon 9 launch from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, a few miles north of pad 40, was to take off Saturday with a cluster of commercial satellites for SpaceX’s Starlink broadband fleet and BlackSky’s Earth-imaging constellation, but SpaceX called off the countdown “to allow more time for checkouts.”

The Falcon 9 launch with the Starlink and BlackSky satellites was initially targeted for launch June 26, but SpaceX scrubbed the launch attempt that day and was similarly vague about the reason, again citing the need for “additional time for pre-launch checkouts.”

A Falcon 9 rocket — without its payload fairing — fired up on Cape Canaveral’s Complex 40 launch Saturday for a pre-flight test-firing. Credit: William Harwood/CBS News

Two more SpaceX missions were slated to launch later in July from launch pads on Florida’s Space Coast.

Argentina’s SAOCOM 1B radar observation satellite was scheduled for liftoff as soon as July 25 on a Falcon 9 rocket, and another batch of Starlink satellites — flying in tandem with three Earth-observing satellites from Planet — were expected to launch around the end of July.

Another Starlink launch on a Falcon 9 was planned in early August. Schedules for subsequent Starlink missions have not been announced, but SpaceX is booked to launch the next Crew Dragon spacecraft with astronauts to the International Space Station and a GPS navigation satellite as soon as September.

The launch dates for those missions could be delayed as a ripple effect from the back-to-back postponements of the Starlink/BlackSky mission and the Anasis 2 flight.

The Anasis 2 mission will use a Falcon 9 first stage that previously flew May 30 to carry aloft NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. The booster, designated B1058, landed on SpaceX’s drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean, and then returned to Port Canaveral for refurbishment ahead of its second flight.

In order to achieve the rapid-fire launch cadence planned in the coming weeks, SpaceX is aiming to cut its turnaround time for reused rockets. The shortest span between launches of the same Falcon 9 booster to date has been 62 days, which SpaceX achieved with a Feb. 17 mission.

If the Anasis 2 launch had gone ahead Tuesday, the booster for that mission would have launched on its second flight just 45 days after its first flight May 30.

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, has previously said he wants to launch, recover and re-launch Falcon 9 booster twice within a 24-hour period. But Musk has not recently repeated those comments, instead focusing on SpaceX’s larger, next-generation Starship launch vehicle to make the next leap in reusable rocket technology.

The Falcon 9 booster from the Crew Dragon Demo-2 launch will be reused for the Anasis 2 mission. Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now

SpaceX currently has five Falcon 9 boosters in its inventory, and the company has flown two brand new first stages in its 11 missions so far this year. At least two more new Falcon 9 first stages are scheduled to enter service in the coming months, with SpaceX’s next launch of astronauts and the next launch of a U.S. military GPS navigation satellite, both currently planned no earlier than September.

A Falcon Heavy launch planned in late 2020 with a clandestine U.S. military payload will fly with three Falcon rocket boosters, all brand new. SpaceX officials said in December that the company planned to build around 10 new Falcon first stages in 2020.

With its success in reusing Falcon 9 booster stages, the company haas ramped up production of Falcon 9 second stages, which are new on each mission.

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SpaceX test-fires Falcon 9 rocket launch next week with Korean military satellite

A Falcon 9 rocket — without its payload fairing — fired up on Cape Canaveral’s Complex 40 launch Saturday for a pre-flight test-firing. Credit: William Harwood/CBS News

Hours after calling off a launch of a different rocket from a nearby launch pad, SpaceX’s launch team loaded a Falcon 9 rocket with propellant Saturday and fired its nine main engines on pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, setting the stage for a liftoff with a South Korean military satellite as soon as Tuesday amid a busy stretch of missions for the California-based rocket company.

SpaceX ground crews raised the Falcon 9 rocket vertical on pad 40 Saturday morning. An automated computer-controlled sequencer commanded super-chilled, densified kerosene and liquid oxygen into the Falcon 9 Saturday afternoon.

The countdown culminated in ignition of the rocket’s nine Merlin 1D main engines at 6 p.m. EDT (2200 GMT). The engines throttled up to full power, generating 1.7 million pounds of thrust for several seconds while clamps restrained the Falcon 9 on the launch pad.

Onlookers observed a plume of exhaust coming from the rocket and confirmed the the test-firing occurred. SpaceX was expected to officially release an update on the outcome of the static fire test after a quick-look data review.

The Falcon 9 will be lowered and rolled back inside SpaceX’s hangar near pad 40, where technicians will attach a European-made communications satellite named Anasis 2 built for the South Korean military.

Assuming the final days of launch preparations go according to plan, SpaceX plans to launch the mission Tuesday during a nearly four-hour window opening at 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) and extending until 8:55 p.m. EDT (0055 GMT).

The static fire test Saturday for the Anasis 2 mission occurred the same day SpaceX planned to launch a Falcon 9 rocket from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, located a few miles north of pad 40. SpaceX announced Saturday morning that it called off the launch from pad 39A “to allow more time for checkouts.”

SpaceX tweeted that teams “working to identify the next launch opportunity” for the mission from pad 39A, which will loft SpaceX’s next 57 Starlink broadband Internet satellites and a pair of commercial BlackSky Earth-imaging microsatellites.

The Starlink/BlackSky launch was supposed to take off June 26, but SpaceX delayed the mission to conduct additional pre-launch checkouts. A launch attempt Wednesday was scrubbed minutes before liftoff by poor weather.

The company has not disclosed any details about the nature of the problems — other than weather — that have delayed the Starlink/BlackSky mission. As of Saturday evening, it was not clear whether SpaceX might proceed with Tuesday’s planned Anasis 2 launch next, or if there might be another opportunity to launch the Starlink/BlackSky mission as soon as Monday.

SpaceX has launched 11 Falcon 9 missions so far this year, most recently on June 30, when a Falcon 9 rocket took off from pad 40 with a U.S. military GPS navigation satellite.

The Anasis 2 satellite is prepared for shipment to Cape Canaveral from Airbus’s facility in Toulouse, France. Credit: Airbus Defense and Space

Developed by Airbus Defense and Space, the Anasis 2 satellite is shrouded in secrecy at the wishes of the the spacecraft’s owner — the South Korean government.

Anasis 2 is based on the Eurostar E3000 spacecraft platform made by Airbus, but details about its performance have been kept under wraps. The Anasis 2 satellite is expected to launch into an elliptical transfer orbit, then use its on-board propulsion system to reach a circular orbit at geostationary altitude more than 22,000 miles (nearly 36,000 kilometers) over the equator.,

South Korea purchased the satellite — formerly known as KMilSatCom 1 — through an arrangement to offset South Korea’s purchase of F-35A fighter jets from Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin ultimately subcontracted the satellite manufacturing deal to Airbus.

Before Anasis 2, South Korea’s military has relied on international and civilian-owned satellites for communications.

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Photos: Falcon 9 rocket launches from Florida with GPS navigation satellite

The first launch by SpaceX for the U.S. Space Force on June 30 carried the third in a new line of modernized GPS navigation satellites into orbit from Cape Canaveral.

The 9,505-pound (4,311-kilogram) GPS 3 SV03 spacecraft rode into orbit inside the payload shroud of a Falcon 9 rocket, on the way to replace an aging GPS satellite launched in May 2000.

These photos show the Falcon 9 rocket firing off pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 4:10:46 p.m. EDT (2010:46 GMT). Nine Merlin 1D engines, burning a mixture of kerosene and liquid oxygen, powered the Falcon 9 into the sky with 1.7 million pounds of thrust.

The launch marked the 88th flight of a Falcon 9 rocket since SpaceX debuted its workhorse launch vehicle in June 2010. It was the 11th Falcon 9 flight so far in 2020.

Read our full story for details on the June 30 launch.

Credit: SpaceX
Credit: SpaceX
Credit: SpaceX
Credit: SpaceX
Credit: SpaceX
Credit: SpaceX
Credit: SpaceX
Credit: Lockheed Martin
Credit: SpaceX
Credit: Lockheed Martin
Credit: SpaceX
Credit: SpaceX

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Coronavirus work stoppage likely to delay launch of NASA X-ray astronomy mission

Artist’s concept of the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer. Credit: NASA

A nearly three-month stoppage of on-site work due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus at NASA’s Marshall Space Fight Center in Alabama is expected to push back the launch of the IXPE X-ray astronomy satellite from May 2021 until some time later next year, a senior space agency official said.

The Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer, or IXPE, mission is assigned to launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. IXPE is designed to measure the polarization of high-energy cosmic X-rays, collecting data that will allow astronomers to study the unseen environment around black holes, neutron stars and pulsars, the extremely dense collapsed remains left behind by exploding stars.

Astronomers hope IXPE will reveal the spin of black holes, and yield new discoveries about the extreme magnetic fields around a special type of neutron star called magnetars.

In order to obtain the sensitivity required for the X-ray research, the IXPE observatory will host three identical X-ray telescopes that will be extended after launch on a 13-foot (4-meter) boom. Built at Marshall Space Flight Center, the mirror module assemblies at the end of the boom will focus X-rays onto detectors provided by ASI, the Italian space agency.

Paul Hertz, head of NASA’s astrophysics division, said June 23 that work on assembling the mirrors at Marshall was delayed after the space center in Huntsville, Alabama, was closed to all non-essential personnel in March amid escalating numbers of coronavirus cases in the area.

After developing new safety protocols, teams resume in-person work on the mirrors in late May, Hertz said in a presentation to NASA’s Astrophysics Advisory Committee.

Hertz said IXPE was “probably the most seriously impacted” by the coronavirus pandemic of all of NASA’s Explorer-class missions, a set of small-to-medium size scientific spacecraft designed to pursue questions in astrophysics and solar physics.

“The reason is COVID hit right when we were integrating the mirrors down at the Marshall Space Flight Center, and that is the critical path,” Hertz said. “So when Marshall shut down for three months, nothing happened on the critical path for three months.”

Some work on IXPE has continued, Hertz said.

Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado, kept working on the IXPE spacecraft bus, which will host the X-ray mirrors and detectors. And Italian scientists providing the mission’s X-ray detectors finished their work and prepared them for shipment to the United States, once international travel restrictions allow Italian team members to accompany the hardware to help integrate it into the spacecraft.

“The collective safety of our IXPE team continues to be the number one priority,” said Molly Porter, a NASA spokesperson. “We’re slowly and methodically resuming mission-critical work that cannot be done off site. This includes several tasks for the in-house production of IXPE’s mirror modules at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

“We are still assessing COVID-19’s impacts to cost and schedule,” Porter said.

The team at Marshall will assemble, calibrate and test the mirrors before shipping the flight units to Ball Aerospace for integration on the spacecraft, Hertz said.

NASA also anticipates a budget impact to the IXPE mission from the delay.

“So IXPE did have a three-month delay,” Hertz said. “This happened right at the peak burn rate for IXPE, and we would have completed work and rolled staff off, but the work didn’t complete, so we didn’t roll staff. So not only was it a schedule hit, it was also a budget hit.”

NASA selected IXPE to become the next in the agency’s line of Small Explorer missions in January 2017. At the time, NASA said the IXPE mission would cost $188 million, covering development of the spacecraft and its X-ray telescope payload, a launch vehicle, and two years of operations.

NASA last year signed a $50.3 million contract with SpaceX to launch the IXPE satellite on a previously-flown Falcon 9 booster from the Kennedy Space Center. According to Porter, IXPE is currently predicted to weigh around 743 pounds (337 kilograms) at launch, and will deploy off the Falcon 9 rocket into an unusual 335-mile-high (540-kilometer) equatorial orbit with an inclination of 0.2 degrees.

The orbit hugging the equator will minimize the X-ray instrument’s exposure to radiation in the South Atlantic Anomaly, the region where the inner Van Allen radiation belt comes closest to Earth’s surface.

“I think that certainly IXPE was the most impacted (of NASA’s Explorer missions) because of the timing of when work stopped,” Hertz said. “They were at the worst time for us to stop work of all of our small missions.”

File photo of a Falcon 9 rocket taking off from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: SpaceX

NASA’s other Explorer-class missions being prepared for launch have experienced fewer impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.

GUSTO, a high-altitude balloon-borne infrared telescope to study the interstellar medium, remains on track for launch from Antarctica in December 2021. NASA’s SPHEREx satellite is scheduled for launch in 2024 on a mission to survey galaxies and search for clues about the formation of ices that could seed life on planets.

Hertz said two major subcontractors working on the SPHEREx mission could not start work on schedule due to the coronavirus pandemic. That caused some delays, but the SPHEREx mission is still relatively early in development, not in the peak phase of assembly and testing like IXPE.

It is too early to know how the coronavirus-related delays might affect NASA’s budget for astrophysics missions, Hertz said.

“We don’t actually know what the final impact will be because we don’t know what the trajectory is for the country and all of our industry partners and academic partners for recovering from the pandemic and getting back to work,” Hertz said. “So for some missions, it’s easy to see like IXPE because there’s a single path right now as we’re integrating it up.

“For the Explorers, we’ll be able to handle the impacts within the resources that I think we have within the program,” he said.

Hertz said he believes NASA’s budget for the James Webb Space Telescope, which has cost more to develop than any space science mission in history, also has “adequate” funding reserves “to encompass all possible predictions of what the COVID impact is.”

“I hope that doesn’t come back to bite me, but right now it does look like we have in place appropriate reserves on Webb,” Hertz said.

NASA established a new budget for Webb in 2018 that covered an expected development cost of $8.8 billion. That does not include international contributions or operating costs after the observatory’s launch.

Like IXPE, Webb experienced a slowdown in work due to the coronavirus. Teams worked at about 40 percent efficiency for several months, but starting staffing at higher levels in June to prepare for a series of key ground tests later this year.

Webb’s launch is expected to be delayed from its previous target of March 30, 2021, but NASA has not yet released an updated schedule.

More than half of the this year’s budget for NASA’s astrophysics program goes toward the James Webb Space Telescope and the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, formerly known as WFIRST. Those are NASA’s next two “great observatories.”

The Roman telescope is scheduled for launch in 2025.

“On Roman, I’m just unsure of what the impact (from COVID-19) will be because Roman is doing fine today, but there’s some work that’s not getting done today, so it’s being deferred into the future,” Hertz said. “But that work is funded. So whether we’re just redistributing the work and the money, and it’s not really a cost growth, or whether there’s inefficiencies that amount to something substantial on Roman, I think it’s too early for us to tell.”

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