Tag Archives: Orbital ATK

Stratolaunch tests engines on giant plane

Capitalism in space: Stratolaunch announced today that it has successfully tested the six engines that will fly on the giant plane that it will use as a first stage.

This isn’t that big a deal, since the engines were built for the 747s that were scavenged by Stratolaunch to assemble their giant plane. If those engines didn’t work I would have been very surprised.

The most interesting part of this story is this:

Despite the plane’s giant size, Stratolaunch plans to initially use the aircraft as a platform for Orbital ATK’s Pegasus XL rocket, which is currently launched from a much smaller L-1011 airplane. The Stratolaunch plane will ultimately have the ability to carry three Pegasus rockets that could be launched one at a time on a single flight. An initial launch, the company said in May, could take place as early as 2019.

A recent deal could combine two of Stratolaunch’s partners. Scaled Composites, who developed the aircraft for Stratolaunch, is owned by Northrop Grumman, which announced Sept. 18 a deal to acquire Orbital ATK for $9.2 billion.

This might make Pegasus more affordable for smallsat launches, and provide those smallsat companies much greater launch flexibility. Moreover, the purchase of Orbital ATK by Northrop Grumman appears to work to the advantage of Stratolaunch.

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Federal bureaucracy prevents satellite launch

We’re here to help you! A suite of 8 private commercial cubesats that the Air Force had agreed to launch as secondary payloads on the August 26 launch of a Minotaur rocket were blocked from launch by FAA bureaucracy.

The “interagency partner” that appeared to raise objections was the Federal Aviation Administration, which issued the launch license for the mission. “The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) did not approve Orbital ATK’s request for a license modification to include commercial cubesats on the upcoming ORS-5 launch mission,” Guthrie said. “As a result, Orbital ATK decided not to include commercial cubesats on the launch.”

Asked if the FAA placed any conditions or restrictions on the ORS-5 mission launched on the Minotaur 4, agency spokesman Hank Price said the FAA issued Orbital ATK a license Feb. 10 to launch government payloads on the Minotaur 4 from Cape Canaveral. The launch license contains any and all conditions on the license, Price said, and the FAA does not comment on the “existence or status of launch license applications or modifications until the FAA makes a final decision regarding those requests.”

Industry sources believe the FAA never formally rejected a proposed license modification for the cubesats because it did not go through the official process, but it was informally clear that the agency would have rejected such a modification had it been formally submitted.

Spire officials are trying to figure out why there was any issue at all about commercial cubesats on this launch. “If Spire chose this launch in the place of another commercial offering, I would understand the industry’s concern about fair competition,” Barna said. “But no existing U.S. launch company or new entrant was offering a similar launch. The fundamental intent of the policy is to keep competition fair, and competition just wasn’t a factor here.”

Spire’s problems here demonstrates the difficulties smallsat companies have getting their satellites in orbit, which explains the emergence of a new smallsat rocket industry. The company’s difficulties also illustrates why the launch industry should always be opposed to giving too much regulatory power to government. In this case it really appears that the launch license was denied merely because the bureaucrats involved with approving it at the FAA simply didn’t want to bother dealing with it.

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Northrop Grumman to buy Orbital ATK

Capitalism in space: Aerospace giant Northrop Grumman has made a deal to acquire Orbital ATK for $9.2 billion.

This deal essentially allows Northrop Grumman to return as a player in the space industry. In recent years the company has not been visible in any major way in space. Orbital ATK gives it that.

At the same time, the flexibility and risk-taking seen at Orbital ATK that allowed them to build Antares and Cygnus for crew cargo will likely be more difficult as part of a giant corporation.

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Orbital ATK begins assembly of first orbital repair satellite

Capitalism in space: Orbital ATK has begun the assembly of Mission Extension Vehicle 1, (MEV-1), designed to attach itself to commercial satellites and extend their life.

Controlled by the company’s satellite operations team, the MEV 1 uses a reliable, low-risk docking system that attaches to existing features on a customer’s satellite. The MEV-1 provides life-extending services by taking over the orbit maintenance and attitude control functions of the client’s spacecraft. The vehicle has a 15 year design life with the ability to perform numerous dockings and repositionings during its life span.

They hope to launch before the end of 2018. Meanwhile, the legal battle between Orbital ATK’s effort to build this satellite repair mission and DARPA’s effort to subsidize SSL’s own satellite repair mission continues in Congress with the introduction of two amendments favoring Orbital ATK.

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ULA successfully launches Cygnus to ISS

Capitalism in space: ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket today sucessfully launched Orbital ATK’s Cygnus freighter to ISS.

This success ends a month-long delay for the Atlas 5, which was supposed to put this Cygnus capsule in orbit last month. Hydraulic problems in the rocket and ground systems had to be fixed first.

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Atlas 5/Cygnus launch delayed until mid-April

ULA has delayed its next Atlas 5 launch to send a Cygnus cargo capsule to ISS until mid-April.

Gatens said NASA was now expecting the Cygnus to launch to the station no earlier than the middle of April. “The Orbital launch, the next launch, has slipped due to an investigation of a hydraulic leak in the booster engine compartment that’s in work,” she said. “There are some components being replaced. The investigation is going on and we’re currently targeting no earlier than, probably, a mid-April launch.”

ULA spokeswoman Jessica Rye said March 28 that a new launch date has not been set yet for the mission. “Additional information will be provided once testing to resolve the booster hydraulic issue is complete,” she said.

The launch was initially planned for mid-March. This delay has forced NASA to delay a spacewalk because it involves installing equipment that the Cygnus capsule is bringing to ISS.

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SSL sues Orbital ATK over proprietary in-space servicing technology

Space Systems/Loral has filed a lawsuit against Orbital ATK over that company’s improper access to proprietary information concerning its in-space servicing plans.

At least four confidential SSL documents were viewed and distributed by an Orbital ATK employee working at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, where the data is stored as part of an ongoing SSL partnership with the U.S. space agency, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Orbital declined to comment.

SSL, a subsidiary of Canada-based MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd., said it was informed of the data breach by NASA in December 2016. Orbital acknowledged the unauthorized access of SSL’s data and fired the employee, but did not respond to questions about the scope of the breach or about five other Orbital employees whom NASA said may have read the SSL documents, the lawsuit said.

The two companies are in direct competition for doing in-space robotic servicing of satellites. Last month Orbital ATK sued DARPA for its contract with SSL for this work, claiming the contract violated U.S. policy that forbids DARPA from competing directly against commercial companies. It appears that this new lawsuit is a bit of tit-for-tat.

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Atlas 5/Cygnus launch delayed again

ULA has now delayed the launch of its Atlas 5 rocket, taking Cygnus to ISS, indefinitely because of the discovery of another hydraulic issue, this time with the booster.

This is the third time hydraulic issues have delayed the launch, the second time those problems were related to the booster itself.

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Atlas 5/Cygnus launch delayed until next week due to technical issue

The launch of the next Cygnus freighter to ISS has been delayed by ULA until next week in order to fix “a hydraulic issue found on ground support equipment.”

The launch had been delayed previously because of a hydraulic issue in the rocket itself.

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Decision on new Orbital ATK rocket expected in 2018

The competition heats up? Orbital ATK says it will decide whether it will introduce a new commercial rocket sometime in early 2018.

Orbital ATK has released few details about what is known only as its “Next-Generation Launcher.” The vehicle would use solid-fuel lower stages based on space shuttle solid rocket motor segments developed by the company, as well as solid strap-on boosters. A liquid-oxygen, liquid-hydrogen upper stage would use a version of Blue Origin’s BE-3 engine that company is currently flying on its New Shepard suborbital vehicle.

The rocket’s design has at least superficial similarities to a vehicle concept called Liberty that ATK proposed prior to its merger with Orbital Sciences Corporation. Liberty, with a five-segment shuttle solid rocket booster first stage and a second stage derived from the Ariane 5 core stage provided by Astrium, was itself a commercial spinoff of the cancelled Ares 1 rocket from NASA’s Constellation program. ATK proposed Liberty for NASA’s commercial crew program but failed to win funding.

The decision itself will be based on whether the Air Force remains interested. At the present time the Air Force is investing about half the capital required to develop the rocket. If the Air Force backs out, Orbital ATK will decide against the rocket. If the Air Force support remains firm, they will go ahead with development. Essentially, this story is Orbital ATK lobbying to keep the Air Force support going.

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Orbital ATK prepares Cape Canaveral launchpad for July Minotaur launch

The competition heats up: Orbital ATK crews on Sunday practiced stacking stages on a Cape Canaveral launchpad in preparation for a July Minotaur 4 launch of an Air Force surveillance satellite.

Teams this weekend stacked three inert Peacekeeper missiles stages on a launch stand similar to those that will make up the Minotaur IV rocket’s first three stages. Two more Orion 38 stages will fill out the rocket. On Sunday, the first three stages standing more than 50 feet tall were surrounded by puffy white covers that will keep the right temperature during the launch campaign’s summer heat.

Plans called for the mobile gantry to be rolled back on rails to its launch position before the stages are taken down on Monday.

Orbital ATK has been prevented from expanding its Minotaur 4 market beyond military launches because the rocket uses these available but now unused Peacekeeper missiles and is thus very inexpensive. Their competitors have been their influence in Congress to forbid their use commercially.

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Orbital ATK sues DARPA over its satellite repair program

Orbital ATK has filed a lawsuit against the Defense Department’s DARPA division over its satellite repair program that is apparently going to award a contract to a Canadian company to develop a system for using robots to repair orbiting satellites.

Orbital argues that the federal program, called the Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites, would unfairly compete with its own privately funded effort, a system called the Mission Extension Vehicle 1, backed by at least $200 million from investors. The company has set up at a production facility in Northern Virginia, with a launch planned for next year.

DARPA wants to build out a government-funded program of its own, and is close to awarding a contract to a company that Orbital views as a competitor. In a contract announcement briefly posted on the agency’s website, DARPA said it is awarding a $15 million contract to Space Systems/Loral (SSL), a U.S. subsidiary of Canadian aerospace firm MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates. DARPA spokesman Jared B. Adams said the contract award was posted in error and elements of the deal are still being worked on.

In its lawsuit, Orbital alleges that the contract violates federal policy against creating government space programs that compete with existing commercial ones. “The U.S. National Space Policy explicitly directs government agencies to avoid funding activities that are already in development in the commercial marketplace,” the company said in a statement. “Orbital ATK will continue to pursue all available options to oppose DARPA from moving forward with this illegal and wasteful use of U.S. taxpayer dollars.”

DARPA normally pushes projects that no one is doing, either because the work is too experimental or can’t yet make a profit. In this case however it appears that this is not the case. Worse (from a political perspective), they are awarding the contract to a non-American company. I would not be surprised if Congress soon steps in and shuts this particular DARPA project down.

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Orbital ATK’s Pegasus launches successfully

Orbital ATK’s Pegasus rocket was successfully launched today from the bottom of its L-1011 airplane, placing in orbit a NASA constellation of eight smallsat satellites designed to study hurricanes.

he use of an eight-satellite constellation will allow for more frequent observations, allowing for a better characterization of the early stages in a cyclone’s formation and of the storm’s eventual decay. Once in orbit, the satellites will be spaced evenly around their orbital plane, achieving an angular separation of around 45 degrees from each other. The CYGNSS satellites were built by the Southwest Research Institute and the University of Michigan, while their deployer was developed by Sierra Nevada Corporation. Each satellite has a mass of 28.9 kilograms (63.7 lb), with an overall payload mass of 345.6 kilograms (761.8 lb) including the deployer. The CYGNSS mission is expected to last a minimum of two years.

This was the first Pegasus launch since 2013. I’m not sure why it has not been getting more business, but it does have another launch now scheduled for June.

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Cygnus fire experiments a success

The fire experiments that were done on the Cygnus cargo freighter after it left ISS two weeks ago have been declared a success.

Saffire-II burned nine different samples, in an effort to gauge the flammability of various materials in a microgravity environment. These 12-by-2-inch (30 by 5 centimeters) samples included silicon of different thicknesses; a cotton-fiberglass blend; plexiglass; and Nomex, a commercially available material that’s used in spacecraft on cargo bags and as a fire barrier, NASA officials said. Everything went well during the experiment, they added: All nine samples burned as planned, and the Saffire-II team collected more than 100,000 images. All data had come back down to Earth by Friday (Nov. 25), at which point Saffire-II achieved “complete mission success,” NASA officials wrote in an update.

This was the second set of fire tests. There are plans for a third on a future Cygnus freighter.

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Atlas 5 to launch Cygnus in March

NASA has ordered Orbital ATK to use ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket for its next Cygnus cargo run to ISS in order to maximize the cargo that the capsule can deliver.

A Cygnus reached the station last month with over 5,000 pounds of supplies after launching atop Orbital ATK’s own Antares rocket. It was the first such flight for the booster in two years, a lull instigated by the 2014 explosion of an Antares and Orbital ATK’s decision to replace the main engines with a different design. But the more-powerful Atlas 5 rocket can launch over 7,700 pounds of provisions inside a Cygnus, and the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday night that NASA has pushed Orbital ATK to buy another Atlas 5 for its greater lift capacity and reliability record.

Sources told Spaceflight Now that the Atlas 5 would launch the OA-7 mission in March and that Orbital ATK was working with Kennedy Space Center to book facility time to process the Cygnus.
It was not immediately clear if NASA or Orbital ATK would pay for the extra costs associated with the Atlas 5 rocket.

This decision by NASA to favor Atlas 5 here over Antares illustrates some of the commercial weaknesses of Antares. Orbital ATK’s decision to launch the rocket from Wallops Island in Virginia had some political advantages, putting their launch facilities in the state and congressional district of legislators whose approval they were soliciting. The decision, however, limited the cargo capacity of the rocket because of the site’s higher latitude. This might also help explain why Orbital ATK has as yet failed to find any other customers for Antares, besides NASA.

I also wonder whether some political pressure from other legislators who favor ULA also helped influence this decision. The political game is brutal these days in Washington and almost nothing connected to the federal government is done anymore without some crony and corrupt political maneuvers in the background.

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Antares successfully launches Cygnus

After two years of redesign, Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket tonight successfully put a Cygnus cargo capsule into orbit.

Considering that every single one of the vehicles that fly to ISS (Soyuz, Dragon/Falcon 9, Cygnus/Antares, HTV) has been experiencing some issue that has delayed each of their launches, this success tonight must be a relief to managers and engineers in both Russia and the U.S.

Next comes a manned Soyuz launch on Wednesday.

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Russia gets two contracts for Proton

The competition heats up: Russia has signed two new contracts using its newly announced Proton-Medium rocket configuration.

Both contracts are for the same launch. The primary payload will be a Intelsat communications satellite. The secondary payload will be Orbital ATK’s first Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-1), which is actually more significant and somewhat ground-breaking.

The MEV-1 provides life-extending services by taking over the propulsion and attitude control functions. Satellites have an average of 15 years of life on orbit, before they need to be replaced. The vehicle itself has a 15-year design life with the ability to perform numerous dockings and undockings during its life span. “Rather than launching new satellites, operators can extend the life of healthy in-orbit satellites, providing enhanced flexibility through Orbital ATK’s scalable and cost-efficient capabilities,” noted Our simple approach minimizes risk, enhances mission assurance, and enables our customers to realize the maximum value of their in-orbit satellite assets.”

The launch of MEV-1 will involve in-orbit testing and a demonstration to be performed with an Intelsat satellite. MEV-1 will then relocate to the Intelsat satellite scheduled for the mission extension service, which is planned for a five-year period. Intelsat will also have the option to service multiple satellites using the same MEV.

If MEV-1 proves successful, Orbital ATK will have built, launched, and made money from the first robot repair satellite. While at first glance this success suggests that satellite companies will need to launch fewer satellites, thus reducing the market demand for rockets, what it will really do is make the orbiting satellite more useful and profitable, thus encouraging new players to enter the market. The demand for satellites will increase, thus increasing the demand for rockets.

Ain’t freedom and private enterprise grand?

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Stratolaunch to use Orbital ATK’s Pegasus rocket

The competition heats up? Vulcan Aerospace and Orbital ATK announced today that they are renewing their partnership, using Pegasus in conjunction with Stratolaunch to put satellites into orbit.

Under a multiyear “production-based partnership,” the companies said, Orbital ATK will provide “multiple” Pegasus XL air-launch rockets to be used with the Stratolaunch aircraft, which, when completed, will have the largest wingspan of any plane ever built.

With the Pegasus XL rockets, the Stratolaunch aircraft will be able to launch small satellites weighing up to 1,000 pounds, according to the firms’ joint statement released Thursday. Pegasus rockets already have done this kind of work: Orbital ATK has used them to launch satellites from the belly of its Stargazer aircraft.

This deal suggests to me that Vulcan Aerospace has a problem. It couldn’t find anyone to build a large rocket for Stratolaunch and this deal was therefore conjured up to paper over this problem. First , it appears that the reason Orbital ATK originally backed out was that they didn’t want to build the new rocket. Maybe they had engineering concerns. Maybe they were worried about cost or management. Regardless, they didn’t want to build it.

Second, using Stratolaunch with Pegasus seems pointless if the satellite weigh is still limited to only 1,000 pounds. That’s the payload capacity of Pegasus using Orbital ATK’s L-1011 Stargazer airplane. Why bother switching to Stratolaunch if the giant plane doesn’t give you any benefits?

Thus, it appears to me that what has happened is that Vulcan needed some rocket to use with Stratolaunch so that they could squelch the rising doubts about the company. This deal gives them that. It also probably gives Orbital ATK some extra cash to get them to agree to do it.

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Redesigned Antares launch scheduled for Oct 13

NASA and Orbital ATK have now set October 13 as the date for the first Antares launch in two years.

Though ISS is not short of supplies, this quote underlines the difficulty of the particular situation now.

While the space station has plenty of food, water, experiments and other provisions, NASA officials are eager for the Antares rocket to resume flights as all of the research outpost’s other servicing vehicles are facing delays.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which launches the company’s Dragon cargo craft, is grounded after a launch pad explosion Sept. 1, and Dragon resupply missions to the space station may not start up again until early next year.

The Japanese HTV cargo freighter was supposed to blast off Sept. 30 with several tons of supplies, including new lithium-ion batteries for the space station’s electrical system. But that launch has been delayed until at least December after Japanese engineers discovered a leak during an air tightness test in August.

And a Soyuz crew capsule that was supposed to launch Sept. 23 with three new space station residents will not lift off until at least Oct. 19 after Russian workers discovered a technical problem on the vehicle. The Soyuz delay will likely push back the launch of Russia’s next unpiloted Progress cargo freighter from Oct. 20 until late November or early December.

Even with numerous redundent methods for hauling cargo to ISS, it is still possible for them all to have problems all at once.

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Orbital ATK aims for October 9-13 Antares launch

Orbital ATK and NASA have now scheduled the first Antares/Cygnus launch since the rocket’s failure in October 2014 for no earlier than October 9.

Orbital ATK is targeting Oct. 9-13 for the launch of the company’s upgraded Antares 230 rocket. Liftoff will occur from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport to send the OA-5 Cygnus spacecraft, called S.S. Alan G. Poindexter, to the International Space Station (ISS). According to a news release from the company, a more specific date and time will be selected upon completion of final operational milestones and technical reviews. Launch times on these dates range from 10:47 p.m. EDT Oct. 9 to 9:30 p.m. EDT Oct. 13 (2:47 GMT Oct. 10 to 1:30 GMT Oct. 14).

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Antares return now set for October

The competition heats up: The first flight of Orbital ATK’S redesigned Antares rocket since the 2014 launch failure is now expected to occur in October.

Originally planned for August, the launch had been delayed partly because of technical issues uncovered during a May static fire test and partly because of scheduling complications with other launches to ISS.

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Orbital ATK delays Antares-Cygnus launch until September

In the heat of competition: Orbital ATK has once again pushed back the launch of the first upgraded Antares rocket since its launch failure in October 2014, this time until September.

Due to a variety of interrelated factors, including the company’s continuing processing, inspection and testing of the flight vehicle at Wallops Island, and NASA’s scheduling of crew activities on the International Space Station in preparation for upcoming cargo and crew launches, Orbital ATK is currently working with NASA to target a window in the second half of September for the launch of the OA-5 mission. A more specific launch date will be identified in the coming weeks.

This press release suggests that all is well, and that the delay is mostly because of scheduling issues with NASA and ISS. However, it is also very vague, which suggests to me that the company has been also working through the results of the static fire test they did in May and might have needed more time to work out the kinks..

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Iridium’s next generation constellation of satellites

The competition heats up: Iridium prepares the first 10 of a total of 81 new satellites for launch on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 in September.

The Iridium Next program is a $3 billion investment by Iridium, according to Matt Desch, Iridium’s chief executive officer. Iridium’s purchase of 81 satellites represents approximately $2.2 billion of that cost, Desch said, and the company’s launch contract with SpaceX for seven Falcon 9 flights was valued at $492 million when the parties signed it in 2010. That was the largest commercial launch contract in history until last year’s 21-launch order by satellite Internet provider OneWeb with Arianespace.

The first 10 Iridium Next satellites will fly on a Falcon 9 rocket in September, followed by a second launch as soon as December with the next batch. Iridium managers will give the go-ahead for the second launch once the first 10 satellites finish initial in-orbit tests, Desch said. The other five launches should occur about once every two months next year to fill out the Iridium Next fleet 485 miles (780 kilometers) above Earth. Iridium’s contract with SpaceX calls for all the missions to fly on newly-built Falcon 9s, a situation unlikely to change any time soon since insurance arrangements for the initial launches have been finalized.

But Desch said he is open to purchasing reused Falcon 9 boosters in the future “if they’re the right price.”

To meet this schedule SpaceX’s launch schedule will have to ramp up considerably from its present rate of one launch about every three weeks.

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