Tag Archives: Kennedy Space Center

SpaceX Successfully Launches The U.S. Air Force’s Secretive X-37B Unmanned Spacecraft Just Before Hurricane Irma Reaches Florida

SpaceX launched the Pentagon’s mysterious X-37B orbital space drone just before the Hurricane Irma hit Florida.

While people prepared for Hurricane Irma, the 45th Space Wing successfully launched a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A at 10 a.m. on Sept. 7.

The Falcon 9, a two-stage rocket designed by SpaceX for reliable and cost-efficient transport of satellites and SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, carried into orbit a U.S. Air Force X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), marking the fifth space flight for the unmanned orbital vehicle program and its first onboard a Falcon 9.

The X-37B program completed its fourth classified mission on May 7, 2017, landing after 718 days in orbit and extending the total number of days spent in orbit to 2,085.

Approximately eight minutes after the launch, SpaceX successfully landed the Falcon 9 first-stage booster back at Landing Zone 1 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

“I’m incredibly proud of the 45th Space Wing’s contributions to the X-37B program,” Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, 45th Space Wing commander, said in a public release. “This marks the fifth successful launch of the OTV and its first onboard a Falcon 9. A strong relationship with our mission partners, such as the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, is vital toward maintaining the Eastern Range as the World’s Premiere Gateway to Space.”

Whilst the “OTV is designed to demonstrate reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operate experiments, which can be returned to and examined on Earth,” the details of its mission remain classified.

Since its first flight in 2010, several theories about the role of the X-37B have emerged: according to someone, the orbital drone is a space-based weapons platform carrying a weaponized re-entry vehicle that could be released over or near a specific target; others believe the OTV is a space ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) platform able to carry a wide variety of sensor packages in its internal cargo bay; some analysts believe that the X-37B is *simply* a research platform used to perform tests in space environment.

OTV-5 was launched by Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center, a historic pad that has been used to support U.S. space programs since the early 1960s: originally built to support the Apollo program, LC-39A supported the first Saturn V launch (Apollo 4), and many subsequent Apollo missions, including Apollo 11 in July 1969. Beginning in the late 1970s, LC-39A was modified to support space shuttle launches, hosting the first and last shuttle missions to orbit in 1981 and 2011, respectively.
In 2014, SpaceX signed a 20-year lease with NASA for the use of Launch Complex 39A. Extensive modifications to LC-39A have been made to support launches of both the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles.

LC-39 along with the rest of KSC facility’s buildings built after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 are supposed to withstand winds between 130 and 135 miles per hour.

 

Shuttle replacement spacecraft’s development, testing and manufacturing video

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) has released a new video which summarizes the development, testing and manufacturing of America’s next generation Space Shuttle: the Dream Chaser spacecraft.

U.S. lost the capability to launch NASA’s astronauts into space after the Space Shuttles were retired in 2011. Since then, American astronauts can travel to the International Space Station thanks to Russia’s Soyuz, with expensive tickets that cost U.S. taxpayers some 60 million USD each…

In three years, Washington could be able to restore its autonomous capability, perhaps thanks to the Dream Chaser spacecraft.

The Dream Chaser is actually one of the three commercial spaceflight transportation systems currently being developed with the financial and technical support of NASA (the other two being Boeing CST-100 and SpaceX Dragon).

NASA should select two, or maybe one of these projects to launch men in space.

Dream Chaser’s first flight is set for Nov. 1, 2016, when the mini-Orbiter will launch atop an Atlas V rocket from Kennedy Space Center.

Although its debut flight as a Space Shuttle replacement will be unmanned, the Dream Chaser is designed to carry up to seven astronauts into orbit.

The spacecraft will just spend one day in orbit before starting re-entry procedure and eventually land on an airfield located in the U.S. West Coast.  Then, the first mission featuring some human presence is planned in 2017.

In the meanwhile, testing, further development and some troubleshooting (you may remember the Dream Chaser suffered a landing gear problem and flipped over at the end of its first test flight in October 2013) continue.

 

 

Top image credit: SNC

 

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[Photo] Space Shuttle Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center

In 2012 we reported about the Space Shuttle Orbiters being moved across the U.S. atop NASA’s modified Boeing 747 SCA (Shuttle Carrier Aircraft).

We followed Discovery’s trip over Washington DC on its way to the National Air & Space Museum, the Enterprise’s New York skyline flyover, and Endeavour’s California tour accompanied by two NASA’s F/A-18 Hornet.

Atlantis, the fourth orbiter built by Rockwell International and last one to be launched within the Shuttle program (as misison STS-135, launched on Jul. 8, 2011) did not move from Cape Canaveral, were it landed for the last time on Jul. 21, 2011 as it went to the Kennedy Space Center visitor complex, on Nov. 2, 2012.

You can see it at the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit, a new 90,000 square-foot, 100 million USD attraction of the KSC where, among all the other things, you can also experience the thrill of a Space Shuttle Launch simulator (quite funny!)

 

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These are the best (air-to-air) pictures of the Discovery mounted atop NASA's Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft

The following pictures were published today on the U.S. Air Force Westover Air Reserve Base Facebook page.

They show the Space Shuttle Discovery mounted atop NASA Shuttle Carrier Aircraft SCA (NASA 905) shortly after take off from Kennedy Space Center, in Florida, at about 7 a.m. EDT on on Apr. 17.

The duo, followed by a T-38 chase plane (whose backseater carried the camera that took the cool images), headed south to fly over Brevard County’s beach communities for residents to get a look at the shuttle before it left the Space Coast for the last time.

Image credit: NASA via Westover Air Reserve Base

The Space Shuttle Enterprise flying over New York City

On Apr. 27, Space Shuttle Enteprise, atop a NASA  B747 SCA (Shuttle Carrier Aircraft) N905NA, from Washington Dulles airport, using radio callsign “Bovic 15 Heavy”, flew over New York City as done on Apr. 17 when Discovery performed a fly over on Washington DC.

Photo Credit: (NASA/Smithsonian Institution/Mark Avino)

Since the modified Boeing 747 is not equipped with ADS-B, the flight could not be tracked on either Flight Radar 24, Flight Aware or Plane Finder. However, radio comms were broadcast on the Internet thanks to Live ATC, whose feed let the world hear the “mothership” as it overflew the Hudson River at altitudes between 1,500 and 3,000 ft, chased by a NASA T-38 (radio callsign “Bovic 18″), before performing a flyover LGA airport and landing at JFK.

As the SCA flew over NYC, other traffic was slightly delayed as shown in this Plane Finder screen capture:

Enterprise was the first Shuttle orbiter ever built for NASA and it was the only one that has never been in space: it was used to perform test flights in the atmosphere and was incapable of spaceflight.

Originally housed at the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Enterprise will be demated from the SCA and placed on a barge that will eventually be moved by tugboat up the Hudson River to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in June.

Here are some of the most interesting pictures posted so far on Flickr, Twitpic, Twitter etc.

Image credit: @chenrisius

Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls