Spacecraft, Rocket Come Together for IXPE Mission

IXPE spacecraft encapsulation
NASA’s Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) spacecraft and nose fairing are brought together for encapsulation inside SpaceX’s Payload Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 2, 2021. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

NASA’s Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) spacecraft recently eclipsed multiple key milestones at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Following a series of “aliveness” tests to verify the health of the spacecraft, teams mated the structure to the payload adapter – a ring that interfaces between the spacecraft and the top of the rocket. Next, multi-layer insulation was installed to provide thermal protection for the spacecraft in space.

After items such as optic and sensitive instrument covers were removed, the nose fairing and the spacecraft were brought together, signaling a major achievement in the mission: encapsulation.

“This is when you mate the spacecraft to the rocket, so it’s the two halves coming together,” said Brett Perkins, launch site integration manager for NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at Kennedy. “There are several critical lifting operations of the spacecraft. You have to be very careful and methodical; a lot of hardware comes together during this timeframe.”

The mission is scheduled to launch no earlier than Thursday, Dec. 9, at 1 a.m. EST, on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. IXPE is the first satellite dedicated to measuring the polarization of X-rays from a variety of cosmic sources, such as black holes and neutron stars.

“IXPE is filling a data gap in polarized X-rays, which we don’t have a lot of information on,” Perkins said. “This mission is a small part of a bigger picture – a bigger effort – to learn more about the universe and how it works.”

On Tuesday, Dec. 7, NASA will hold an IXPE payload briefing at 1 p.m. and a prelaunch news briefing at 5:30 p.m. Live launch coverage will begin Dec. 9 at 12:30 a.m. All will be broadcast on NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website.

Space Test Program 3 Weather Forecast: 90% Chance Favorable

Meteorologists with the U.S. Space Force 45th Weather Squadron predict a 90% chance of favorable weather Sunday, Dec. 5, for launch of the Department of Defense (DOD) Space Test Program 3 (STP-3) mission on United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 551 rocket. The two-hour launch window opens at 4:04 a.m. EST.

Lifting off from Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (CCSFS) in Florida, the ULA rocket will take the DOD’s Space Test Program Satellite-6 (STPSat-6) spacecraft, which hosts NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) and the NASA-U.S. Naval Research Laboratory Ultraviolet Spectro-Coronagraph (UVSC) Pathfinder.

LCRD is about the size of a king-sized mattress and seeks to make operational laser communications a reality. As space missions generate and collect more data, higher bandwidth communications technologies are needed to bring data home, and laser communications systems offer higher bandwidth in a smaller package that uses less power. LCRD will send and receive data over infrared lasers at approximately 1.2 gigabits per second from geosynchronous orbit to Earth.

UVSC Pathfinder is a joint NASA-U.S. Naval Research Laboratory experiment that studies the origins of solar energetic particles, the Sun’s most dangerous form of radiation.

Forecast Details
High pressure will build at the surface over central Florida through Saturday. This will keep the launch area dry all day Friday with light winds and near average temperatures. The surface high retreats into the Atlantic Ocean slightly Sunday into Monday, bringing light winds Sunday coming from the south on Monday, and a slight chance for isolated low topped showers near the coast, especially on Monday. Therefore, the primary concern for launch day is the cumulus cloud rule.

Launch Coverage: Dec. 5
Live coverage and countdown commentary of the launch will begin at 3:30 a.m. EST and air on NASA Television and the agency’s website, as well as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitch, Daily Motion, Theta.TV and the NASA App.

NASA invites the public to register to virtually attend the launch and receive mission updates and activities via email. NASA’s virtual guest program for LCRD includes curated launch resources, notifications about related opportunities, and a virtual guest passport stamp.

Teachers and students can explore the LCRD STEM Tool Kit. The kit includes five activity sheets, each designed for a target grade-level range, a model of STPSat-6 that students and teachers can 3D print, an overview of LCRD, and several other printable items. Many of the toolkit resources are also available in Spanish.

Stay connected with the LCRD mission on social media:
Twitter: @NASA@NASAGoddard@NASALaserComm@NASA_Technology@NASASCaN
Facebook: NASANASAGoddardNASA TechnologyNASA Space Communications and Navigation
Instagram: NASANASAGoddard

IXPE Undergoing Final Processing in Preparation for Spacecraft Mate

IXPE spacecraft arrives at Kennedy Space Center
Teams at Kennedy Space Center are doing final checkouts and testing on the Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) spacecraft. The mission is scheduled to launch no earlier than Thursday, Dec. 9, at 1 a.m. EST, from the Florida spaceport. Photo credit: NASA/Isaac Watson

Weeks of work are paying off for engineers and technicians from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida who have been preparing the agency’s Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) spacecraft since its arrival by truck from Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado, to Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Nov. 5, 2021.

Important activities continue inside SpaceX’s Payload Processing Facility in advance of the next major milestone – mating the spacecraft to the launch vehicle.

“We’ve been doing final checkouts and testing on IXPE prior to mating activities,” said Jake Shriver, mission integration engineer for NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP), based at Kennedy.

IXPE is targeted to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy’s Launch Complex 39A on Dec. 9, at 1 a.m. EST. The mission is NASA’s first dedicated to measuring X-ray polarization. The launch is managed by LSP.

Following mating of the spacecraft to the launch vehicle will be encapsulation, where the fairing halves come together around the spacecraft. A couple of days before launch, the encapsulated assembly will roll out to the pad to be mated to the first- and second-stage rocket boosters.

IXPE will study changes in the polarization of X-ray light through some of the universe’s most extreme sources, including black holes, dead stars known as pulsars, and more. Polarization contains clues that helps scientists better understand these mysterious phenomena.

“I can’t wait for IXPE to get into space and start returning science data,” Shriver said. “The mission is going to do amazing things for the astrophysics and science communities.”

Watch IXPE Prelaunch Activities, Launch on NASA TV

NASA's IXPE mission
IXPE is scheduled to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A no earlier than 1 a.m. EST on Dec. 9, 2021. Credit: NASA

NASA will provide coverage of the prelaunch and launch activities for the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission, scheduled to lift off no earlier than 1 a.m. EST Thursday, Dec. 9, on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA’s Launch Services Program based at Kennedy is managing the launch.

IXPE is the first satellite dedicated to measuring the polarization of X-rays from a variety of cosmic sources, such as black holes and neutron stars.

Live launch coverage will begin at 12:30 a.m. on NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website. On Tuesday, Dec. 7, NASA will hold a payload briefing at 1 p.m. and a prelaunch news briefing at 5:30 p.m.

Click here to view the complete mission coverage.

NASA Announces Date for SpaceX’s 24th Cargo Resupply Mission

A close-up view of SpaceX's cargo Dragon spacecraft atop the Falcon 9 rocket at Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center.
A close-up view of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon capsule atop in the vertical position on June 2, 2021, at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, in preparation for the company’s 22nd Commercial Resupply Services mission for NASA to the International Space Station. Photo credit: SpaceX

NASA and SpaceX are targeting Tuesday, Dec. 21, at 5:06 a.m. EST for launch of the 24th Commercial Resupply Services mission to the International Space Station. The Dragon spacecraft will lift off aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Dragon will bring food, supplies, and scientific investigations to the orbiting crew, including a protein crystal growth study that could improve the delivery of cancer treatment drugs and a handheld bioprinter that could one day be used to print tissue directly onto wounds to faster healing.

The spacecraft will arrive at the station on Wednesday, Dec. 22 at approximately 4:30 a.m. and remain docked for about a month before returning to Earth.

The mission will be covered live on NASA TV, the NASA app, and the agency’s website.

Lift and Mate Operations Complete for Space Test Program 3, Now Targeted for Dec. 5

Teams prepare to lift the STP-3 spacecraft and attach it to the top of ULA's Atlas V rocket.
The Space Test Program-3 (STP-3) mission for the U.S. Space Force’s (USSF) Space Systems Command (SSC) is mounted atop its ride to space, the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket, in preparation for launch. STP-3 will host NASA’s Laser Communication Relay Demonstration (LCRD). LCRD will send and receive data over infrared lasers at approximately 1.2 gigabits per second from geosynchronous orbit to Earth and seeks to make operational laser communications a reality. Photo Credit: United Launch Alliance

NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) moved one step closer to launch on Monday, Nov. 22, after a team of engineers fastened the payload fairing containing its host satellite to a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 551 rocket. Launch is now targeted for Dec. 5, 2021, due to inclement weather during launch vehicle processing.

Teams at Astrotech Space Operations Payload Processing Facility in Titusville, Florida, spent several weeks preparing the satellite before moving it to the United Launch Alliance’s Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) at nearby Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (CCSFS) for the lift and mate operations.

The Space Test Program-3 (STP-3) mission for the U.S. Space Force’s (USSF) Space Systems Command (SSC) is mounted atop its ride to space, the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket, in preparation for launch. Photo credit: United Launch Alliance

Inside the VIF, a team of engineers fastened the payload fairing, which houses the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DoD) Space Test Program Satellite-6 (STPSat-6) spacecraft. LCRD is hosted on STPSat-6. The mission is scheduled to launch on Dec. 5 from Launch Complex 41 on CCSFS, with a two-hour launch window beginning at 4:04 a.m. EST.

The fully stacked rocket and payload stands 196 feet tall and is anticipated to roll out on a mobile launch platform from the VIF to the launch pad on Dec. 3. The rocket’s Centaur second stage and spacecraft will remain attached until 4 minutes, 33 seconds after launch, with deployment of STPSat-6 scheduled about 6 hours, 30 minutes after launch.

NASA’s LCRD payload, hosted on STPSat-6, is about the size of a king-sized mattress and seeks to make operational laser communications a reality. As space missions generate and collect more data, higher bandwidth communications technologies are needed to bring data home, and laser communications systems offer higher bandwidth in a smaller package that uses less power. LCRD will send and receive data over infrared lasers at approximately 1.2 gigabits per second from geosynchronous orbit to Earth.

LCRD is led by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Partners include NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California and the MIT Lincoln Laboratory. LCRD is funded through NASA’s Technology Demonstration Missions program, part of the Space Technology Mission Directorate, and the Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program at NASA Headquarters.

To learn more about the STP-3 launch, visit: www.ulalaunch.com. To stay updated about LCRD and laser communications, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/lasercomms.

NOAA’s GOES-T Arrives in Florida for Processing Ahead of Launch

Secured inside a shipping container, the GOES-T satellite is removed from the holding area of a United States Air Force C-5 cargo plane.
The shipping container holding the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite T (GOES-T) is unloaded from a United States Air Force C-5 cargo plane following its arrival at the Launch and Landing Facility runway at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Nov. 10, 2021. Photo credit: NASA/Gregory B Harland

The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite T (GOES-T) – the third satellite in NOAA’s GOES-R series – is now in Florida, undergoing final preparations ahead of its targeted launch on March 1, 2022. The satellite arrived at the Launch and Landing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Nov. 10, 2021, in a United States Air Force C-5 cargo plane. Shortly after landing at the runway, teams transported it to an Astrotech Space Operations facility in nearby Titusville, where it will remain for processing and final checkouts prior to liftoff.

Upon its arrival at Astrotech, teams removed the spacecraft from its shipping container and attached it to the electrical ground support equipment that they will use to perform multiple tests over the next few weeks to ensure all satellite elements function properly.

A ULA transport boat carrying the first and second stages of the Atlas V rocket that will launch the GOES-T satellite arrives at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) transport boat carrying the first and second stages of the company’s Atlas V 541 rocket arrives at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (CCSFS) in Florida on Nov. 15, 2021. Photo credit: NASA/Daniel Casper

GOES-T will launch aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 541 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (CCSFS). After departing from ULA’s manufacturing plant in Decatur, Alabama, on Nov. 6, the rocket’s first and second stages arrived at CCSFS aboard a transport boat on Nov. 15. When spacecraft testing is complete and teams have conducted the Launch Vehicle Readiness Review, the satellite – once encapsulated in its protective payload fairing – will be placed atop the Atlas V rocket in preparation for liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41.

The GOES-R program is a collaboration between NASA and the NOAA. NASA manufactures and launches the satellites and NOAA funds and operates them and distributes their data to users worldwide. The GOES satellite network helps meteorologists observe and predict local weather events that affect public safety, including thunderstorms, tornadoes, fog, hurricanes, flash floods, and other severe weather. GOES-T will provide critical data for the U.S. West Coast, Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico, Central America, and the Pacific Ocean.

This launch is being managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program based at Kennedy in Florida, America’s multi-user spaceport. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center oversees the acquisition of the GOES-R spacecraft and instruments. Lockheed Martin designs, creates, and tests the GOES-R Series satellites. L3Harris Technologies provides the main instrument payload, the Advanced Baseline Imager, along with the ground system, which includes the antenna system for data reception.

Looking forward, NOAA is working with NASA on the next-generation geostationary satellite mission called Geostationary Extended Observations (GeoXO), which will bring new capabilities in support of U.S. weather, ocean, and climate operations in the 2030s. NASA will manage the development of the GeoXO satellites and launch them for NOAA.

Media Accreditation Now Open for SpaceX’s 24th Cargo Launch to Station

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and cargo Dragon spacecraft lift off from Kennedy's Launch Complex 39A for the company's 23rd cargo resupply services mission.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon cargo capsule soars upward after lifting off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 3, 2021, on the company’s 22nd Commercial Resupply Services mission for the agency to the International Space Station. Photo credit: Tony Gray and Kevin O’Connell

Media accreditation is now open for SpaceX’s 24th cargo resupply mission for NASA to the International Space Station. Liftoff of the cargo Dragon spacecraft on a Falcon 9 rocket is targeted for late December from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Media prelaunch and launch activities will take place at Kennedy. Media wishing to take part in person must apply for credentials at https://media.ksc.nasa.gov.  International media residing in the United States must apply by Tuesday, Nov. 23. U.S. media must apply by Monday, Nov. 29.

The cargo Dragon will deliver a variety of investigations to the space station, including a protein crystal growth study that could improve the delivery of cancer treatment drugs; a handheld bioprinter that will test technology that could one day be used to print tissue directly on wounds to accelerate healing; experiments from students at several universities as part of the Student Payload Opportunity with Citizen Science (SPOCS) program; and an investigation from the makers of Tide that examines detergent efficacy in microgravity.

For a link to the full media advisory, click here.

NASA, NOAA Adjust GOES-T Launch Date

An artist's rendering of GOES-R.
An artist’s rendering of GOES-R. Photo credit: NASA

NASA and NOAA are now targeting launch of the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite T (GOES-T) mission March 1, 2022. NASA, NOAA, and United Launch Alliance (ULA) coordinated the new launch opportunity due to shifts with other missions scheduled ahead of GOES-T. The launch previously was scheduled for Feb. 16, 2022.

GOES-T, the third satellite in NOAA’s advanced GOES-R series, will be renamed GOES-18 once it reaches geostationary orbit. After it completes checkout of its instruments and systems, the new satellite will go into operation as GOES West and work in tandem with GOES-16, which operates in the GOES East position.

GOES-T, which arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida Nov. 10, will launch on a ULA Atlas V 541 rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The two-hour launch window will open at 4:38 p.m. EST. NASA’s Launch Services Program is managing the launch.

NOAA manages the GOES-R Series Program through an integrated NOAA-NASA office, administering the ground system contract, operating the satellites, and distributing their data to users worldwide. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, oversees the acquisition of the GOES-R spacecraft and instruments. Lockheed Martin designs, creates, and tests the GOES-R series satellites. L3Harris Technologies provides the main instrument payload, the Advanced Baseline Imager, along with the ground system, which includes the antenna system for data reception.

Looking forward, NOAA is working with NASA on the next-generation geostationary satellite mission called GeoXO, which will bring new capabilities in support of U.S. weather, ocean, and climate operations in the 2030s. NASA will manage the development of the GeoXO satellites and launch them for NOAA.

Space Test Program 3 Launch Update

United Launch Alliance (ULA) is now targeting Dec. 4 to launch the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DoD) Space Test Program Satellite-6 (STPSat-6) spacecraft, which hosts NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD). The two-hour launch window runs 4:04 – 6:04 a.m. EST. STPSat-6 is part of the Space Test Program 3, or STP-3, mission which will launch on a ULA Atlas V 551 rocket from Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

The LCRD technology demonstration is testing an enhanced communication capability called laser communications, which will enable space missions to generate and collect more data. The payload is the size of a king size mattress and will send and receive data via infrared lasers at approximately 1.2 gigabits per second from geosynchronous orbit to Earth. Laser communications systems offer higher bandwidth in a smaller package that uses less power.

To learn more about STP-3, visit: www.ulalaunch.com.

To stay updated about LCRD and laser communications, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/lasercomms.