SpaceX realign near-term manifest ahead of double launch salvo

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SpaceX is deep into pre-launch preparations for two upcoming missions that are set to lift off within a couple of days of each other. Both target launch dates have moved to the right by a matter of days, with the SES-11 mission from KSC’s 39A now tracking an October 7 departure, while on the West Coast the Iridium NEXT-3 mission now has a launch placeholder of October 9.
Launch Date Realignment:

While both pre-launch flows are deemed to be issue-free, changes to the launch date targets are not unusual, especially for the busy Eastern Range.

Notably, it was the SES-11 mission that moved to the right by a few days.

The satellite, also called EchoStar 105, is a spacecraft with 24 Ku-band and 24 C-band transponders that will be used to support the continued development of the U.S. orbital arc media distribution neighborhood and provide coverage over North America, including Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean.

It will ride atop SpaceX’s B-1031.2 booster – conducting its second flight after successfully lofting the CRS-10 Dragon to the International Space Station (ISS) earlier this year – a launch that was the maiden SpaceX launch from 39A since its transformation from its Space Shuttle era.

The launch date was previously tracking a flow that would have involved a Static Fire test on September 29 ahead of an October 2 launch.

That timeline has since moved to an October 2 placeholder for the Static Fire test, ahead of an October 7 launch date. No specific reason has been given for the change to the schedule.

An Atlas V, however, is also vying for the Eastern Range’s attention in the first part of October, with another high-priority NRO mission. The NROL-52 mission is currently evaluating an October 5 launch date, although ULA has yet to confirm a set target due to the classified nature of the payload.

Over on the West Coast, SpaceX is also preparing another Falcon 9 for launch, involving the third set of Iridium NEXT satellites.

This launch follows on from the Iridium NEXT-2 launch that took place in June, with the third launch set to transport another 10 satellites into a constellation that will eventually number 75 spacecraft.

The Falcon 9 involved with the third flight, B-1041.1, was set to undergo a Static Fire test on the SLC-4E pad at Vandenberg on September 30, ahead of an October 4 launch.

However, that schedule has moved to the right by a few days, mirroring the SES-11 realignment by moving to a Static Fire target of October 5, ahead of a launch target of October 9. Iridium and SpaceX are yet to officially update the launch date, although it is now on the Western Range’s schedule.

It is known there are no issues with the payload or rocket, meaning this was a pure schedule realignment.

SpaceX does have separate launch teams for both its East and West coast operations, but can opt to protect its manifest running order with such realignments, as appears to have been the case with these two upcoming missions.

A third launch in October remains on the cards, with the Falcon 9 booster involved with the Koreasat 5A mission set to arrive in Florida in the coming days.

The booster, believed to be called B-1042, was spotted on the test stand at SpaceX’s McGregor test facility in Texas last week. (L2 McGregor Photos and Updates)

This booster will be tasked with lofting the 3,500 kg satellite into a Geostationary Transfer Orbit.

The Thales Alenia Space-built satellite is based on the Spacebus 4000B2 platform and its Ku-band transponders will provide coverage to Korea, Japan, Indochina and the Middle East from its orbital home at 113° East.

A launch date is yet to be assigned to this mission on the Eastern Range schedule.

However, the big question is where this launch will actually take place from, with some initial hope this could be the first launch from a repaired SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral.

SpaceX’s SLC-40 launch complex has been undergoing extensive repairs following the loss of the Falcon 9 and AMOS-6 satellite during a Static Fire accident just over a year ago.

That accident caused extensive damage to the pad’s structures, destroying the TEL (Transporter/Erector/Launcher) that has since been dismantled and also contaminated the “guts” of the launch pad.

Kennedy Space Center’s 39A has been ably coping with SpaceX’s East Coast launches, but requires SLC-40 to return to Falcon 9 launch action to allow engineers to conduct extensive modifications to the 39A TEL ahead of hosting its first Falcon Heavy rocket.

SpaceX is yet to say when SLC-40 is set to return, although source information from the weekend noted a large team of engineers are still working on the new Falcon 9 TEL inside the SLC-40 HIF (Horizontal Integration Facility).

It is understood the framework of the structure has now been welded together, but a large amount of work is still outstanding, including the installation of plumbing, umbilicals and the painting of the erector.

The amount of work yet to be completed on the new TEL means it is increasingly likely the Koreasat 5A will be launched from KSC’s 39A.

Depending on any potential get-ahead work SpaceX can conduct on the 39A TEL inbetween Falcon 9 missions, it is also becoming more unlikely Falcon Heavy will debut in November.

The November target was always notional based on the milestones the new rocket will have to pass before it even reaches launch day.

This will include rollout, fit checks, a Wet Dress Rehearsal (WDR) and a Static Fire test at 39A before it is cleared to enter its first launch day campaign.

With SpaceX’s near-term manifest its main priority, keeping 39A active for the interim will be an obvious decision over any rush to debut Falcon Heavy.

(Images: SpaceX, SES, ULA, Boeing and L2 imagery via Gary Blair at McGregor and Brady Kennison at KSC for NASASpaceFlight.com)

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SpaceX gears up for a busy autumn

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX, which has already had a busy year so far, is looking to expand upon its success with a packed launch manifest for the remainder of 2017. Photo Credit: SpaceX

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — October and November are lining up to be busy months for SpaceX. If everything goes according to plan, the NewSpace firm is poised to launch (and land) three Falcon 9 rockets, and it also hopes to carry out the first launch of a “Falcon Heavy” in November. These efforts promise a challenging autumn for Elon Musk’s entrepreneurial space company.

October 2 – SES 11 / EchoStar 105


The first hurdle SpaceX must jump is launching another previously flown Falcon 9 on a flight from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A. This flight is slated to hoist a satellite for one of SpaceX’s regular customers – SES. The Luxembourg-based company already agreed to become the first company to fly a payload on a “flight-proven” first stage, which took place on March 30 this year.

The October 2 payload, known as SES-11 or EchoStar 105, is a communications satellite serving North America, including Mexico, Hawaii, and the Caribbean. EchoStar will be leasing Ku-band services in the satellite’s coverage area, while SES will operate the satellite in the C- and Ka-bands. Situated in geosynchronous orbit (GEO) over 105° West Longitude, the 11,904-pound (5,400-kilogram) satellite replaces a previous SES spacecraft, AMC-15, which has flown in the same orbit since 2004. It also provides backup C-band coverage for AMC-18, which launched in 2006.

To date, SpaceX has not released information about which launch the first stage of this flight was previously used on.

SpaceX, which has already had a busy year so far, is looking to expand upon its success with a packed launch manifest for the remainder of 2017. Photo Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX, which has already had a busy year so far, is looking to expand upon its success with a packed launch manifest for the remainder of 2017. Photo Credit: SpaceX

October 4 – Iridium NEXT 3/4


SpaceX’s next commercial flight comes barely two days later on October 4 at Vandenberg Air Force Base at 6:06 a.m. PDT (9:06 a.m. EDT / 1:06 p.m. UTC). On that flight, Falcon 9 takes up the next ten satellites for the Iridium NEXT constellation. This flight also marks Falcon 9’s third launch for Iridium.

The Iridium 3 flight brings the total number of SpaceX-launched satellites in the constellation up to 30. A total of 66 out of 81 spacecraft are required in low-Earth orbit (LEO) for an operational constellation. The plan is to build an additional 15 satellites, with nine serving as on-orbit spares and another six kept on the ground to be launched if or as needed.

Each Iridium satellite will stay cross-linked to four others, two in the same orbital plane, and one in each adjacent plane. This setup allows traffic to be handed off between spacecraft and ensure a continuous connection.

The satellites’ positions in LEO – 476 miles (780 km) at an inclination of 86.4° – allow the constellation to provide coverage over most of the world more quickly than spacecraft in GEO. These attributes improve service for Iridium’s U.S. Government customers, which include NASA, USAF, FAA, and NOAA.

The constellation serves as an “infrastructure” system capable of supporting hosted payloads for government and scientific organizations.

October 14 – KoreaSat 5A


SpaceX’s third October customer is KT Sat, a Korean satellite communications company. KT Sat’s payload, KoreaSat 5A, is a Ku-band satellite capable of providing communication services from East Africa and Central Asia to southern India, Southeast Asia, the Philippines, Guam, Korea, and Japan. The 7,716-pound (3,500-kilogram) satellite will be placed in GEO at 113° East Longitude. It will provide services ranging from broadband internet to broadcasting services and maritime communications.

KoreaSat 5A will lift off from KSC’s LC-39A.

November – Falcon Heavy Test Flight


In the midst of this hectic launch schedule, SpaceX is also planning for its next big leap in commercial space launch: the first flight of its Falcon Heavy launch vehicle. This massive rocket comprises three Falcon 9 first stages, powered by a total of 27 Merlin engines, and an upper stage powered by a single vacuum-rated Merlin engine.

Elon Musk has downplayed the likelihood of a successful flight, likely owing to the complexity of the vehicle. In addition to the number of engines involved, SpaceX has set the bar for itself even higher, as they plan to return the first stages for Falcon Heavy safely to Earth as well. Perhaps as a way to set expectations, Musk recently posted a “blooper reel” of SpaceX’s various Falcon 9 landing mishaps before getting them right. To date, SpaceX has returned and landed a Falcon 9’s first stage seven times on land and at sea.

So far, SpaceX has static-tested all three first stages designated for Falcon Heavy.

If proven successful, Falcon Heavy will become the biggest kid on the block, with the ability to send 140,660 pounds (63,800 kg) to low-Earth orbit (LEO) compared to the Delta IV Heavys 62,540 pounds (28,370 kg). The only thing close to that capacity is NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), the Block 1 model of which is designed to carry up to 154,323 pounds (70,000 kg) to LEO. SLS’ first flight, Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), is scheduled to fly NASA’s Orion spacecraft around the Moon sometime in early 2019.

SpaceX also was approached to fly two private citizens around the Moon in late 2018. Assuming a successful flight of Falcon Heavy in November, SpaceX’s ambitious flight will still face challenges, including testing of the Dragon spacecraft’s crew capability, demonstrating the functionality of their spacesuit, maintaining life-support system over lunar-mission durations, and completing its existing Commercial Crew tasks for NASA. If SpaceX accomplishes all the work it set out for itself this autumn, the reward will be more hard work.

 

Tagged: EchoStar 105 Falcon 9 Falcon Heavy Iridium-3 KoreaSat 5A Lead Stories SES-11

Bart Leahy

Bart Leahy is a freelance technical writer living in Orlando, Florida. Leahy’s diverse career has included work for The Walt Disney Company, NASA, the Department of Defense, Nissan, a number of commercial space companies, small businesses, nonprofits, as well as the Science Cheerleaders.

SpaceX launches Pentagon’s secretive autonomous space drone

WASHINGTON – In the Pentagon’s vast arsenal there is little quite like it: a super-secret space drone that looks like a miniature version of the space shuttle, but orbits the Earth for months, even years, at a time. Doing what? The Air Force won’t say.

On the tarmac, the X-37B, as it is called, looks tiny, standing not much taller than a person. Its wingspan measures less than 15 feet, and it weighs in at just 11,000 pounds. But over the course of six flights, it has proved to be a rugged little robotic spacecraft, spending a total of nearly six years, probing the hard environment of the high frontier.

On Sept. 7, after a successful morning launch at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the X-37B headed yet again to the vital real estate known as low Earth orbit, home to the International Space Station and all sorts of military and commercial satellites. The mission is slated to last 270 days, but the Air Force warned in a statement that “the actual duration depends on test objectives, on-orbit vehicle performance and conditions at the landing facility.”

In other words, there’s no telling how long the thing will be up there.

There’s also no telling what the spaceplane will be doing.

On a fact sheet, the Air Force says that, “the primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold: reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth.”

On this flight, the Air Force will say only that the mission is to carry small satellites, “demonstrate greater opportunities for rapid space access and on-orbit testing of emerging space technologies.” The service also said it would test experimental electronics in a weightless environment.

But at a time when space is becoming a contested environment, having an orbiting spaceplane with the potential to keep a lookout on weather or the enemy or satellites, all while testing new technologies, could be highly beneficial.

The mission is also significant because it marked the first time SpaceX has been chosen to launch for the Air Force – a coup for the California firm started in 2002 by tech entrepreneur Elon Musk.

The launch took place as the Pentagon sounds the alarm about the importance of defending the ultimate high ground should war break out in space. More recently, the House has even pushed for the creation of a separate “Space Corps” within the Air Force designed to focus exclusively on the beyond.

The provision, included in the House’s version of the defense spending bill, comes amid concerns that Russia and China are quickly eroding the advantage that the United States has held in orbit for years.

“Space has become so critical to the way we fight and win wars, it can no longer be subordinate,” U.S. Rep. Mike D. Rogers, R-Ala., who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, said at an event this week at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The Space Corps would focus on “space domination,” he said, with a dedicated leadership and resources that would allow it to move more nimbly than the Pentagon bureaucracy.

“The Air Force is about as fast a herd of turtles as far as space is concerned,” he said. “What Russia and China are doing is startling.”

The X-37B was launched on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX also successfully landed the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket on a landing pad on the Cape – a bit of rocket artistry that Musk and others have said could help dramatically lower the cost of space travel. By now the feat is becoming routine for the company, which plans to reuse its boosters instead of throwing them away after each launch, as had been the traditional practice.

SpaceX Swipes Boeing’s Military Space Shuttle Business | Business Markets and Stocks News

The scoreboard this month reads Boeing (NYSE: BA) — 5: SpaceX — 1.* So why is SpaceX grinning, and Boeing is groaning?

On Sept. 7, Boeing’s X-37B military “drone” space shuttle lifted off from Cape Canaveral on its fifth mission for the U.S. Air Force. (What mission would that be, you ask? Top Secret). But for the first time ever, Boeing — which built the X-37B — didn’t have a hand in actually launching the spacecraft it built.

This could be the beginning of a bad trend for Boeing.

Meet the X-37 robotic space shuttle. Boeing built it — and Boeing just lost a chance to launch it. Image source: NASA.

Winning before beginning (to compete)

You see, in all previous launches, X-37B had lifted off aboard Atlas 5 launchers operated by Boeing and its partner in United Launch Systems, Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT). For this month’s launch, however, the U.S. Air Force awarded the X-37B launch contract to SpaceX.

Now, that news in and of itself isn’t a total shock. SpaceX and United Launch Alliance have been butting heads for several months now — ever since the Air Force certified SpaceX to launch payloads for it, in fact. In one notable clash, in May 2016, SpaceX bid against the Boeing-Lockheed joint venture for the right to launch a GPS satellite for the Air Force. SpaceX bid $82.7 million, or “40% less” than the best price the Air Force had hoped to extract from ULA — and won the contract. Chances are, if both SpaceX and ULA had entered similar bids to launch X-37B, the result would have been the same.

What was really curious about this contract, though, is that ULA apparently wasn’t offered a chance to compete at all. In a published statement, United Launch Alliance asserted that “ULA did not have the opportunity to bid for the Air Force’s fifth X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) mission.” 

Now, when asked by Reuters, the Air Force declined to confirm Boeing’s story that the Air Force awarded the contract to SpaceX without soliciting other bids. But assuming the story is true, that would mean that SpaceX did not really “beat” ULA in winning this contract. Given that ULA and SpaceX are the only two space launch companies certified to launch national security missions, and given that ULA was not allowed to bid, the X-37B contract would have gone to SpaceX by default.

What it means for Boeing (and Lockheed Martin)

The big question is “why?” According to the Air Force, the main reason it has certified both SpaceX and ULA to launch USAF payloads is to ensure the service has “flexible and responsive launch options” to choose from when launching its satellites. (A secondary objective, almost certainly, is to lower its launch costs by forcing SpaceX and ULA to compete on price). But if that’s what the Air Force wants to accomplish, then why would it not invite ULA to bid for the X-37B contract?

Was it because the Air Force already knows that ULA cannot compete with SpaceX on price? Or does the answer perhaps lie in ULA’s creative use of the phrase “did not have the opportunity?” Parsed one way, what ULA might really have been saying was that it didn’t have the opportunity — i.e. ability — to match SpaceX’s prices, and so decided not to bid at all.

Either way, as more than one dozen Air Force space launch contracts, come up for bid between now and 2019, the outlook doesn’t look good for Boeing and Lockheed. Whether the Air Force is rejecting the possibility of ULA being able to compete with SpaceX out of hand, or whether ULA is recusing itself, either way, it looks like a lot of money could slip through ULA’s fingers — and into SpaceX’s pocket instead.

*By the way, following its successful launch of X-37B this month, SpaceX successfully relanded its Falcon 9 launcher back at Cape Canaveral — its 16th such successful landing of a used rocket. So the scorecard for landing reusable rockets now stands at SpaceX — 16: Boeing and Lockheed Martin — 0.

10 stocks we like better than Boeing

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Rich Smith has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

SpaceX Swipes Boeing’s Military Space Shuttle Business — The Motley Fool

The scoreboard this month reads Boeing (NYSE:BA) — 5: SpaceX — 1.* So why is SpaceX grinning, and Boeing is groaning?

On Sept. 7, Boeing’s X-37B military “drone” space shuttle lifted off from Cape Canaveral on its fifth mission for the U.S. Air Force. (What mission would that be, you ask? Top Secret). But for the first time ever, Boeing — which built the X-37B — didn’t have a hand in actually launching the spacecraft it built.

This could be the beginning of a bad trend for Boeing.

X-37B drone space shuttle

Meet the X-37 robotic space shuttle. Boeing built it — and Boeing just lost a chance to launch it. Image source: NASA.

Winning before beginning (to compete)

You see, in all previous launches, X-37B had lifted off aboard Atlas 5 launchers operated by Boeing and its partner in United Launch Systems, Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT). For this month’s launch, however, the U.S. Air Force awarded the X-37B launch contract to SpaceX.

Now, that news in and of itself isn’t a total shock. SpaceX and United Launch Alliance have been butting heads for several months now — ever since the Air Force certified SpaceX to launch payloads for it, in fact. In one notable clash, in May 2016, SpaceX bid against the Boeing-Lockheed joint venture for the right to launch a GPS satellite for the Air Force. SpaceX bid $82.7 million, or “40% less” than the best price the Air Force had hoped to extract from ULA — and won the contract. Chances are, if both SpaceX and ULA had entered similar bids to launch X-37B, the result would have been the same.

What was really curious about this contract, though, is that ULA apparently wasn’t offered a chance to compete at all. In a published statement, United Launch Alliance asserted that “ULA did not have the opportunity to bid for the Air Force’s fifth X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) mission.” 

Now, when asked by Reuters, the Air Force declined to confirm Boeing’s story that the Air Force awarded the contract to SpaceX without soliciting other bids. But assuming the story is true, that would mean that SpaceX did not really “beat” ULA in winning this contract. Given that ULA and SpaceX are the only two space launch companies certified to launch national security missions, and given that ULA was not allowed to bid, the X-37B contract would have gone to SpaceX by default.

What it means for Boeing (and Lockheed Martin)

The big question is “why?” According to the Air Force, the main reason it has certified both SpaceX and ULA to launch USAF payloads is to ensure the service has “flexible and responsive launch options” to choose from when launching its satellites. (A secondary objective, almost certainly, is to lower its launch costs by forcing SpaceX and ULA to compete on price). But if that’s what the Air Force wants to accomplish, then why would it not invite ULA to bid for the X-37B contract?

Was it because the Air Force already knows that ULA cannot compete with SpaceX on price? Or does the answer perhaps lie in ULA’s creative use of the phrase “did not have the opportunity?” Parsed one way, what ULA might really have been saying was that it didn’t have the opportunity — i.e. ability — to match SpaceX’s prices, and so decided not to bid at all.

Either way, as more than one dozen Air Force space launch contracts, come up for bid between now and 2019, the outlook doesn’t look good for Boeing and Lockheed. Whether the Air Force is rejecting the possibility of ULA being able to compete with SpaceX out of hand, or whether ULA is recusing itself, either way, it looks like a lot of money could slip through ULA’s fingers — and into SpaceX’s pocket instead.

*By the way, following its successful launch of X-37B this month, SpaceX successfully relanded its Falcon 9 launcher back at Cape Canaveral — its 16th such successful landing of a used rocket. So the scorecard for landing reusable rockets now stands at SpaceX — 16: Boeing and Lockheed Martin — 0.

Rich Smith has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

SpaceX to kick off October with two launches and landings in 48 hours

SES-11 to be the last launch from LC-39A ahead of pad modifications for Falcon Heavy

After successfully weathering Hurricane Irma, SpaceX is preparing to remedy a slow month with three or even four launches in October.

Beginning on October 2nd, schedules have firmed up for the launch of SES-11 aboard a refurbished Falcon 9 first stage. SES, a Luxembourg-based satellite communications company, took the courageous and pioneering step of purchasing the first reused Falcon 9 for a commercial launch, culminating in the successful SES-10 mission in March 2017. Following that successful first reuse, SpaceX would later launch Bulgariasat-1 aboard a similarly-refurbished booster. SES-11 will become the third commercial reuse of an orbital rocket when it launches early next month from SpaceX’s LC-39A launch pad, and is currently expected to attempt a landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

If all goes as planned, SpaceX will launch a second Falcon 9 as few as 36 hours after the SES-11 mission, this time carrying the third batch of 10 Iridium NEXT satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. All ten satellites have arrived at SpaceX’s VAFB facilities and will be attached to the payload dispenser and later encapsulated inside Falcon 9’s payload fairing over the next two weeks. The Iridium-3 launch will also see the Falcon 9 first stage land aboard SpaceX’s second drone ship, and is bound to be reminiscent of the two back-to-back launches SpaceX conducted on both coasts earlier this summer.

Iridum NEXT satellites being attached to the payload dispenser at SpaceX’s VAFB facilities. (Iridium)

Meanwhile, SpaceX has received an FCC license for first stage recovery activities beginning on October 14th, which meshes well with a scheduled launch date for KoreaSat-5, also 10/14. This date is dependent upon a number of variables that are currently hard to account for, and may slip further into October due to work expected to begin at the LC-39A pad after the launch of SES-11. Confirmed by Chris Bergin of NASASpaceflight.com, SpaceX is planning for SES-11 to be the last mission from the venerable launch pad for several weeks at a minimum, likely closer to several months.

This downtime is meant to begin at the same time LC-40, SpaceX’s second East coast pad, is reactivated for Falcon 9 launches. In the best-case scenario, this will allow the company to continue business as usual as it modifies LC-39A for Falcon Heavy, which is expected to begin on-pad testing later this year and potentially conduct an inaugural launch as early as November. As such, KoreaSat-5’s Falcon 9 may end up being the pathfinder SpaceX uses to solve the problems and squash the bugs that will inevitably arise while activating a new launch pad. Delays ought to be expected.

Following KoreaSat-5, the next SpaceX launch is not yet clear but will likely be Iridium-4, NEXT satellites 31-40. Including the three launches discussed above, SpaceX is likely to conduct 7-8 more launches before the end of 2017, not counting Falcon Heavy’s inaugural launch due to uncertainty.

SpaceX to kick off October with two launches and landings in 48 hours

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Taiwan Formosat-5 SpaceX contract looks like an anomaly, not a pathfinder

Taiwan’s Formosat-5 Earth observation satellite is separated from the SpaceX Falcon 9 upper stage on Aug. 25. The launch was several years late as SpaceX transferred it from the since-abandoned Falcon 1e rocket to the much larger Falcon 9. As part of its contract with Taiwan’s National Space Policy Office (NSPO), SpaceX agreed to refund up to 10% of the contract’s value in the event of delays. Credit: SpaceX video.

PARIS — Taiwan’s National Space Policy Office, with an annual budget of just $35 million, is no heavyweight in the global space market but it nonetheless realized an exploit that larger satellite fleet owners can only envy: inserting a launch-delay penalty into a contract with a major launch-service provider.

With a new generation of rockets being readied for introduction from most of the world’s major rocket developers — Arianespace, Blue Origin, China Great Wall Industry Corp., the Indian Space Research Organization, International Launch Services, SpaceX and United Launch Alliance — launch delays are likely to become even more an issue than they are now.

Insurance underwriters have begun preparing policies that would pay premiums in the event of a major launch delay, although their cost and structure — and what premiums would attach to which launch-service providers — remain to be seen.

Launch delay = business loss

Up to now, insurers and commercial satellite operators have structured many business-loss policies, which would be calculated on the revenue lost by a launch failure or a launch delay.

But as underwriters seek to generate new streams of revenue at a time of sustained low space-insurance premiums, a launch-delay policy may perform about the same task.

As a government agency, Taiwan’s NSPO was not worried about lost revenue. But it nonetheless placed into its launch-service agreement with SpaceX a clause stipulating up to a 10% launch-price refund as a penalty for delays.

NSPO originally contracted for the SpaceX launch in 2010 for a late-2013 launch. But SpaceX subsequently decided to scrap its smaller Falcon 1e rocket in favor of development of the much larger Falcon 9.

Falcon 9 delays and payload-development issues on the NSPO side — this was the first Taiwan effort in satellite components — forced multiple delays that were compounded by Falcon 9 failures in 2015 and 2016.

H.P. Chang, Formosat-5 program manager, conceded here Sep. 15 during the World Space Business Week conference that NSPO debated long and hard about switching vehicles.

Depending on when the decision was made, that would have been difficult. NSPO paid just $23 million to launch the 450-kilogram Formosat-5 with SpaceX. Chang said the entire Formosat-5 program, including satellite development by a 50-member group of Taiwanese companies and universities, was $65 million, not far from double the agency’s entire annual budget.

Whether the agency could have found a less-expensive launch opportunity into the 720-kilometer-altitude orbit intended for Formosat-5 is unclear, even if SpaceX agreed to refund the entire launch price.

From Falcon 1e to Falcon 9, with no price increase

“People ask us why we didn’t change launcher,” Chang said. “The contracted price was $23 million, and it is a $65-million launch vehicle that is taking us to orbit. We did have serious discussions about using a different launch vehicle. But after this process we decided to stick with SpaceX. It was a tough conversations between myself and SpaceX.”

Chang said he appreciated SpaceX’s keeping to its commitment to launch aboard a Falcon 9 after the retirement of Falcon 1e, despite the fact the launch-service provider was likely losing its shirt on the deal.

SpaceX originally had scheduled to launch a 90-satellite tug, called Sherpa, with Formosat-5, but Sherpa owner Spaceflight Industries pulled out of the launch after multiple Falcon 9 delays.

In the event, Formosat-5 launched solo on the SpaceX Falcon 9 in a striking waste of good rocket capability that highlighted the fact that the growing smallsat industry’s ability to take advantage of launch opportunities remains a work in progress:

http://bit.ly/2vHmoG3

Several of the world’s principal commercial launch-service providers, speaking Sept. 12 at the conference, were asked whether they would be willing to embed delay-related refunds into their contracts. None of them wanted to touch the subject.

“For this part, we really appreciate SpaceX,” Chang said. “We do in fact have as part of the [contract] terms and conditions, this arrangement. The penalty is up to 10%. It was a tough contract negotiation. When we signed the contract, SpaceX was just a startup company and they were going to use the Falcon 1e. But they had as a provision that if they could not use Falcon 1e, they would use Falcon 9.”

NSPO is now working on a six-satellite program called Formosat-7/COSMIC-2, in partnership with the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The U.S. side is responsible for the launch and has selected the Falcon Heavy rocket, also years late but now scheduled to make its inaugural flight, with a demonstration payload, in November.

The [Formosat-7] program has 12 satellites,” Chang said. “The first six will be launched in 2Q 2018 by SpaceX Falcon Heavy, which will have its first launch in November. This launch deal was worked out with the US Air Force, so we cannot say much about that, but we hope for another launch success. This will be the first one after the demo flight.”

The Formosat-5 is healthy in orbit but has shown initial image blur. Chang said he was hopeful that the image quality issue could be fixed. The satellite is designed to operate for five years.

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Peter B. de Selding

Peter B. de Selding

Peter de Selding is a Co-Founder and editor for SpaceIntelReport.com. He started SpaceIntelReport in 2017 after 26 years as the Paris Bureau Chief for SpaceNews where he covered the commercial satellite, launch and the international space businesses. He is widely considered the preeminent reporter in the space industry and is a must read for space executives. Follow Peter @pbdes

Boom! SpaceX’s Rocket Landing Blooper Reel Is Epic … and Explosive (Video)

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk likes reusability. With 16 successful rocket landings under its belt, along with two reused rockets and one reused Dragon spacecraft, Musk’s rocket company has made giant leaps in reusable booster technology for sure.

But an amazing new video from the company, which Musk has touted as a mere “blooper reel,” shows just how hard it is to launch rockets into space and land them safely again. Musk posted the video — called “How Not to Land a Rocket” — on Twitter today (Sept. 14). SpaceX’s most recent rocket landing occurred Sept. 6 after the launch of an Air Force X-37B space plane.

“Long road to reusabity of Falcon 9 primary boost stage,” Musk wrote on Twitter. “When upper stage & fairing also reusable, costs will drop by a factor >100.” [Watch a Supercut of 5 Amazing SpaceX Rocket Landings!]

He teased the video’s arrival last week: “Putting together SpaceX rocket landing blooper reel. We messed up a lot before it finally worked, but there’s some epic explosion footage.”

“Epic” is right.

The video is set to a soundtrack of John Philip Sousa’s “The Liberty Bell” march (which also served as the theme song for “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”). It shows a series of rocket-landing fails dating back to 2013 as SpaceX tried repeatedly to perfect the technology needed to land the first stage of its two-stage Falcon 9 rockets back on Earth.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 Reusable rocket explodes during test flight on Aug. 22, 2014.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 Reusable rocket explodes during test flight on Aug. 22, 2014.

Credit: SpaceX

The early Falcon 9 booster landing attempts were over the open ocean, with the rockets either slamming into the sea hard, or hovering over the waves before tipping over. Another clip shows the dramatic explosion of SpaceX’s prototype first stage for landings, the Falcon 9 Reusable (or F9R). That booster exploded in August 2014 over McGregor, Texas, when an engine sensor failed.

In the new video, Musk is seen touring the F9R wreckage. “Rocket is fine,” a caption reads. “It’s just a scratch.”

SpaceX’s next rocket failures occurred at sea as the company tried to land the Falcon 9 booster on a drone ship. In September 2014, a rocket ran out of liquid oxygen before touchdown, and crashed. In January 2015, another booster ran out of hydraulic fluid and made a spectacular nighttime crash into the drone ship.

“Well, technically it did land,” a video caption reads. “Just not in one piece.”

A sticky throttle valve doomed a rocket-landing try in April 2015. The booster gets so close to a successful landing, then falls over and explodes.

“Look, that’s not an explosion … it’s just a rapid unscheduled disassembly,” the video states.

SpaceX achieved its first successful rocket landing in December 2015, but the blooper video initially skips that milestone. Instead, it skips straight to January 2016, when a landing leg collapsed during touchdown, causing the Falcon 9 booster to tip over and explode.

In March 2016, a landing engine burn failed, and the booster slammed into its landing platform.

“The course of true love never did run smooth,” a video caption reads.

Then comes a strange sight. During a May 2016 rocket landing, the booster can be seen hopping about on its drone ship. SpaceX attributes the weird rocket dance to a radar glitch that damaged the landing legs. The booster had an obvious tilt when the drone ship finally reached its port in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

A June 2016 rocket landing failed when the booster ran out of propellant.

Only after the June crash does the new SpaceX video return to its first successful rocket landing, in December 2015. That mission launched a Dragon cargo ship for NASA, and then returned to Earth to make a smooth landing at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

SpaceX made its first successful drone ship landing in April 2016.

“You are my everything,” the SpaceX video states.

SpaceX and Musk have long pursued reusable rockets to lower the cost of spaceflight. It’s a core part of the company’s goal to colonize Mars with giant reusable spaceships.

SpaceX successfully launched two used Falcon 9 rockets earlier this year. The company has also seen two other failures. A Falcon 9 rocket failed in June 2015 during a Dragon cargo ship launch for NASA. In September 2016, a rocket exploded on SpaceX’s launchpad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station ahead of a preflight test.

Earlier this year, Musk said SpaceX is studying the potential for a completely reusable Falcon 9 rocket. That would mean reusing the rocket’s upper stage, as well as its protective payload fairing (the nose cone). The fairing alone costs about $5 million, Musk has said.

SpaceX is also building a much larger rocket, the Falcon Heavy, which will consist of three Falcon 9 boosters for its first stage. All three of those rockets are designed to land after launch, Musk has said.

The first Falcon Heavy test flight is expected to launch in November.

Editor’s Note: Space.com senior producer Steve Spaleta contributed to this report.

Email Tariq Malik at tmalik@space.com or follow him @tariqjmalik Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.

SpaceX’s worldwide satellite broadband network may have a name: Starlink

SpaceX has filed trademark applications for the word “Starlink” to describe its planned satellite broadband network.

SpaceX filed applications with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on August 21 to have Starlink trademarked for “wireless broadband communication services,” “high-speed wireless Internet access,” and other services related to its upcoming satellite network.

The trademark applications were surfaced by a user on Reddit and then made the rounds in news articles. SpaceX is also seeking an additional trademark on “SpaceX” specifically for the satellite network, in addition to the SpaceX trademarks it already owns for aerospace launch vehicles, rockets, and services for launching payloads into space.

A trademark search on the USPTO site for SpaceX turns up trademarks for other well-known SpaceX projects, including “Hyperloop,” Dragon,” and “Falcon,” but it doesn’t turn up any other possible names for the satellite broadband network.

We asked SpaceX today whether Starlink will definitely be the name of its upcoming broadband service and whether it has any update on when the service will launch. We’ll update this story if we get a response.

Cable-like latencies

Previously, SpaceX has said its satellites will provide gigabit speeds at latencies of around 25ms. Those latencies are about as low as cable Internet service; typically, that wouldn’t be possible with satellites, but SpaceX plans to use low-Earth orbits.

SpaceX VP of satellite government affairs Patricia Cooper described the company’s broadband plans in a Senate Commerce Committee hearing in May. She said that SpaceX will begin testing the satellites within months and launch one prototype before the end of this year.

The launch of 4,425 operational satellites is slated to begin in 2019 with the system reaching full capacity in 2024.

SpaceX has also proposed an additional 7,500 satellites operating even closer to the ground, saying that this will boost capacity and reduce latency in heavily populated areas. But Cooper offered no specific timeline for this part of the project during the May hearing.

SpaceX is not the only company seeking to build a low-Earth, high-capacity satellite broadband network. A company called OneWeb was the first to seek Federal Communications Commission approval for such a system, and it received a key approval in June. OneWeb, which intends to use 720 satellites, is planning to start offering broadband services in Alaska as early as 2019. Another company called LeoSat says it is launching up to 108 low-Earth-orbit satellites.

Satellite arrives for October SpaceX launch

  • SpaceX launches, lands Falcon 9 on X-37B mini-shuttle mission

    SpaceX launches, lands Falcon 9 on X-37B mini-shuttle mission

  • Minotaur IV rocket launches from Cape

    Minotaur IV rocket launches from Cape

  • Atlas V rocket launches from Cape with NASA satellite

    Atlas V rocket launches from Cape with NASA satellite

  • SpaceX Falcon 9 launches from KSC, lands at Cape

    SpaceX Falcon 9 launches from KSC, lands at Cape

  • Video: SpaceX launches Falcon 9 on third try

    Video: SpaceX launches Falcon 9 on third try

  • SpaceX Falcon 9 launches from KSC, lands on drone ship

    SpaceX Falcon 9 launches from KSC, lands on drone ship

  • SpaceX launches Falcon 9 from KSC, lands at Cape

    SpaceX launches Falcon 9 from KSC, lands at Cape

  • SpaceX launches satellite size of a double-decker bus

    SpaceX launches satellite size of a double-decker bus

  • SpaceX launches Falcon 9 from KSC, nails landing

    SpaceX launches Falcon 9 from KSC, nails landing

  • Atlas V rocket blasts off on mission with Cygnus spacecraft

    Atlas V rocket blasts off on mission with Cygnus spacecraft

  • SpaceX launches, lands 'flight proven' Falcon 9

    SpaceX launches, lands ‘flight proven’ Falcon 9

  • Delta IV rocket launches from Cape Canaveral

    Delta IV rocket launches from Cape Canaveral

  • SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches from Kennedy Space Center

    SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches from Kennedy Space Center

  • Falcon 9 blasts off from KSC, lands at Cape

    Falcon 9 blasts off from KSC, lands at Cape

  • Atlas V rocket blasts off with missile detection satellite

    Atlas V rocket blasts off with missile detection satellite

A commercial satellite has arrived in Cape Canaveral for the Space Coast’s next launch, planned in early October by a SpaceX rocket that will be lifting off for the second time.

Jointly owned by Luxembourg-based SES and Colorado-headquartered EchoStar Corp., the more than 11,000-pounds communications satellite was shipped from Toulouse, France, but manufacturer Airbus Defense and Space. 

The satellite known as EchoStar 105/SES-11 will provide digital television and broadband data services in North America, including the United States, Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The mission will re-use a Falcon 9 rocket that launched a NASA supply mission to the International Space Station in February.

[SpaceX files ‘Starlink’ trademark for satellite internet constellation]

[Northrop to acquire rocket launcher Orbital ATK]

It will be the third time SpaceX has launched a previously flown — or what the company calls “flight proven” — booster, as it aims to make reusing rockets more routine.

SES was the customer for the first of those flights back in March, also used a rocket from a ISS resupply mission launched about a year earlier.

In June, a Falcon rocket that had launched commercial satellites in January lifted off again with a Bulgarian communications satellite. 

The upcoming launch from pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center is tentatively expected in the first week of October, but no date has been announced.

[SpaceX celebrates Falcon 9 landing failures in fiery blooper reel]

SpaceX separately is targeting an Oct. 4 launch of Iridium Communications satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Vandenberg at 10:38 p.m. this Thursday (1:38 a.m. Friday Eastern time) will host United Launch Alliance’s attempt to deliver a classified U.S. intelligence mission to orbit on an Atlas V rocket.

ULA plans to follow that flight with another Atlas V launch of a National Reconnaissance Office mission from Cape Canaveral in October.

Contact Dean at 321-242-3668 or jdean@floridatoday.com. And follow on Twitter at @flatoday_jdean and on Facebook at facebook.com/jamesdeanspace.

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