Solar Orbiter Arrives at Kennedy from Europe

The Solar Orbiter spacecraft is placed on a truck for transportation from the Launch and Landing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the Astrotech Space Operations facility in nearby Titusville on Nov. 1, 2019.
The Solar Orbiter spacecraft is placed on a truck for transportation from the Launch and Landing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the Astrotech Space Operations facility in nearby Titusville on Nov. 1, 2019. Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Solar Orbiter spacecraft arrived at the Launch and Landing Facility, formerly known as the Shuttle Landing Facility, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard an Antonov cargo plane from Munich, Germany, on Nov. 1. Upon arrival at the Florida spaceport, the spacecraft was offloaded and transported to the Astrotech Space Operations facility in nearby Titusville, where it will spend the next few months undergoing final preparations, tests and checkouts for liftoff.

Solar Orbiter is an ESA mission that will study the Sun, its outer atmosphere and solar winds. Using high spatial resolution telescopes, the spacecraft will observe the Sun’s atmosphere up close and compare these observations with measurements taken around the spacecraft. Due to its unique orbit, Solar Orbiter will provide the first images of the Sun’s poles. NASA’s Launch Services Program based at Kennedy is managing the launch.

Although developed independently, ESA’s Solar Orbiter and NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, which launched Aug. 12, 2018, are natural teammates. Solar Orbiter’s comprehensive science instruments and unique orbit will help scientists place NASA’s Parker Solar Probe’s measurements in context. By working together in this way, the two spacecraft will collect complementary data sets allowing more science to be gathered from the two missions than either could manage on its own.

The spacecraft’s mission to the Sun is planned for launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V-411 rocket from SLC-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Feb. 5, 2020, at 11:15 p.m. EST.

Core Stage Pathfinder Departs Kennedy

Backdropped by clouds lit by sunrise, NASA’s Pegasus barge departs the Launch Complex 39 turn basin wharf.
Backdropped by clouds lit with sunrise, NASA’s Pegasus barge departs the Launch Complex 39 turn basin wharf. Photo credit: Cory Huston

NASA’s Pegasus barge, with the 212-foot-long Space Launch System (SLS) rocket core stage pathfinder secured inside, departed the Launch Complex 39 turn basin wharf at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Oct. 31, 2019.

The 212-foot-long Space Launch System (SLS) rocket core stage pathfinder is moved inside the Pegasus barge on Oct. 28, 2019, in preparation for departure.
The 212-foot-long Space Launch System (SLS) rocket core stage pathfinder is moved inside the Pegasus barge on Oct. 28, 2019, in preparation for departure. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The pathfinder is a full-scale mock-up of the rocket’s core stage. It was used by the Exploration Ground Systems Program and its contractor, Jacobs, to practice offloading, moving and stacking maneuvers inside the Vehicle Assembly Building using ground support equipment to train employees and certify all the equipment works properly. The pathfinder was at Kennedy for about a month.

The barge is carrying the pathfinder back to the agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana.

ICON Successfully Launches from Pegasus XL Rocket

Northrop Grumman’s L-1011 Stargazer aircraft, with the company’s Pegasus XL rocket attached beneath, takes off from the Skid Strip runway at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Oct. 10, 2019. NASA's Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) is secured inside the rocket's payload fairing
Northrop Grumman’s L-1011 Stargazer aircraft, with the company’s Pegasus XL rocket attached beneath, takes off from the Skid Strip runway at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Oct. 10, 2019. NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) is secured inside the rocket’s payload fairing. Photo credit: NASA/Frank Michaux

A Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket launched NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, satellite at 9:59 p.m. EDT on Oct. 10 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) to study the dynamic zone in our atmosphere where terrestrial weather from below meets space weather from above.

The satellite was attached to the Pegasus XL rocket, which hitched a ride on the company’s L-1011 Stargazer aircraft. Once the aircraft reached an altitude of 39,000 feet, the rocket was dropped, with ignition occurring five seconds after.

ICON is expected to improve the forecasts of extreme space weather by utilizing in-situ and remote-sensing instruments to survey the variability of Earth’s ionosphere. The mission also will help determine the physics of our space environment, paving the way for mitigating its effects on our technology, communications systems and society.

For more, visit https://www.nasa.gov/icon.

Teams Prepare for ICON Launch Tonight

Northrop Grumman’s L-1011 Stargazer aircraft has arrived at the Skid Strip at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Oct. 1, 2019.
Northrop Grumman’s L-1011 Stargazer aircraft has arrived at the Skid Strip at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Oct. 1, 2019. The company’s Pegasus XL rocket, containing NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON), is attached beneath the aircraft. ICON will study the frontier of space – the dynamic zone high in Earth’s atmosphere where terrestrial weather from below meets space weather above. Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

The Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) will launch tonight on a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket from the company’s Stargazer L-1011 aircraft. The Stargazer will take off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 8:33 p.m. EDT.

The first launch attempt for ICON is 9:30 p.m. EDT. Follow live coverage here on the blog as well as on NASA TV and on the web at http://nasa.gov/live beginning at 9:15 p.m. EDT.

ICON Launch Targeted for Oct. 10

Technicians extend the solar array on NASA's Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) during a deployment test inside Building 1555 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Aug. 10, 2019.
Technicians extend the solar array on NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) during a deployment test inside Building 1555 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Aug. 10, 2019. Photo credit: NASA/Randy Beaudoin

NASA and Northrop Grumman currently are preparing the agency’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON spacecraft, and the Pegasus XL rocket at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for ferry to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida by the L-1011 Stargazer aircraft on Oct. 1, 2019. The launch has been rescheduled to Oct. 10, 2019, following the completion of a joint NASA/Northrop Grumman investigation into a Pegasus sensor reading that was not within normal limits during previous ferry and launch attempt flights. The cause of the issue is understood, and the flight hardware has been modified to address the issue. Two L-1011 flights with Pegasus were conducted to verify the effectiveness of the modification with no issues. Functional tests are being performed on NASA’s ICON spacecraft, which utilizes Northrop Grumman’s LEOStar-2 platform, to ensure that the ICON spacecraft is ready for the upcoming integration activity, ferry flight and launch. As always, mission success for Pegasus and ICON is the top priority.

Kennedy Space Center and Visitor Complex Reopen After Hurricane Dorian

An aerial survey of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida was conducted after Hurricane Dorian skirted the Space Coast area.
An aerial survey of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida was conducted after Hurricane Dorian skirted the Space Coast area. Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston

The workforce is returning to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida after a close brush with Hurricane Dorian earlier in the week. After the storm passed to the east of the spaceport overnight between Tuesday, Sept. 3, and Wednesday, Sept. 4, Kennedy’s Damage Assessment and Recovery Team checked out the center’s facilities and infrastructure. Officials determined the center received some isolated damage and limited water intrusion, along with some beach erosion, although the storm surge was less than expected.

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex also reopens today, Friday, Sept. 6.

Kennedy Space Center Prepares for Approach of Hurricane Dorian

Hurricane Dorian, right, as viewed from the GOES-East satellite on Friday, Aug. 30, 2019.
Hurricane Dorian, right, as viewed from the GOES-East satellite on Friday, Aug. 30, 2019. Image credit: NOAA/NESDIS/STAR/GOES-East

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida continues to monitor the approach of Hurricane Dorian. The storm is expected to make its closest approach to the Kennedy/Cape Canaveral Air Force Station area early next week. Essential personnel are making their final preparations to secure center facilities and infrastructure.

Once the storm has passed, the center’s Damage Assessment and Recovery Team will check out spaceport facilities and infrastructure. After that assessment, the center will make plans to reopen once officials determine employees can safely return.

Kennedy Monitoring Hurricane Dorian

Hurricane Dorian, right, as viewed from the GOES-East satellite on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019.
Hurricane Dorian, right, as viewed from the GOES-East satellite on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019. Image credit: NOAA/NESDIS/STAR/GOES-East

As Hurricane Dorian continues its trek toward the southeastern U.S., Kennedy Space Center has entered HURCON IV status, kicking off hurricane preparedness activities at the spaceport.

What impacts could be expected from Dorian? Visit .

Northrop Grumman Becomes First Commercial Partner to Use VAB

A model of Northrop Grumman’s OmegA launch vehicle is flanked by the U.S. flag and a flag bearing the OmegA logo during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Aug. 16 in High Bay 2 of the Vehicle Assembly Building. Photo credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett

After spending more than 50 years supporting NASA’s human spaceflight programs, the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), a landmark at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is getting its first commercial tenant.

Northrop Grumman will assemble and test its new OmegA rocket inside the massive facility’s High Bay 2, one of four high bays in the building. Officials with NASA, Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Air Force gathered in High Bay 2 on Aug. 16 to celebrate the partnership with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by legislative representatives and spaceport employees.

From left to right, Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, Northrop Grumman Vice President and OmegA Capture Lead Kent Rominger, and Col. Thomas Ste. Marie, vice commander of the U.S. Air Force’s 45th Space Wing, cut the ribbon in High Bay 2.

The company also is modifying mobile launcher platform-3 (MLP-3) to serve as the launch vehicle’s assembly and launch platform. Both the VAB and MLP-3 were originally built for the Apollo Program and went on to enable the three-decade Space Shuttle Program. The VAB also will be the assembly site for NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, which will carry the Orion spacecraft on Artemis missions to the Moon.

“With OmegA, we truly are standing on the shoulders of the giants of space history,” said Kent Rominger, Northrop Grumman’s vice president and capture lead for the OmegA launch system, as well as a veteran of five space shuttle flights. “This event marks that partnership with [Kennedy] at this phenomenal spaceport.”

Northrop Grumman signed a Reimbursable Space Act Agreement with NASA for use of the facilities. The company is developing the OmegA rocket, an intermediate/heavy-class launch vehicle, as a part of a launch services agreement with the U.S. Air Force.

A model of the Northrop Grumman OmegA rocket, an intermediate/heavy-class launch vehicle, stands in High Bay 2.

Kennedy has transformed from a government-only space launch complex to the nation’s premier multi-user spaceport. Today, the space center has more than 90 active agreements with private-sector partners, sharing its array of unique facilities and resources through partnerships with government and commercial organizations.

This latest agreement brings Northrop Grumman into the fold.

“We have a great partnership with Northrop Grumman; we have a great partnership with all our partners,” said Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana. “It’s a great pleasure to be able to be here today and cut the ribbon after signing this historic agreement to utilize this awesome facility to support our nation’s space program.”

The addition of Northrop Grumman’s OmegA rocket to the stable of vehicles processed and launched from the spaceport continues a long legacy that defines the local community.

“This whole area has been home to innovation and the drive to be bolder,” said Col. Thomas Ste. Marie, vice commander of the U.S. Air Force’s 45th Space Wing. “These efforts, government and contractor, have fueled the economies and the imagination and, really, the spirit of this community that we like to call the Space Coast.”

Liftoff: SpaceX Dragon en Route to Space Station

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft lift off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on the company's 18th commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft lift off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on July 25, 2019. Image credit: NASA TV

At 6:01 p.m. EDT on July 25, 2019, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launched from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida carrying the uncrewed Dragon spacecraft on the company’s 18th Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-18) mission.

Due to arrive at the International Space Station on July 27, the Dragon spacecraft contains multiple supplies, equipment and material critical for supporting science and research investigations at the space station.