ELaNa 20 CubeSats Deployed

Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne system undergoes final preparations on a taxiway at Mojave Air and Space Port ahead of the company’s Launch Demo 2 mission. Taken in late December 2020. Photo: Virgin Orbit/Greg Robinson.
Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne system undergoes final preparations on a taxiway at Mojave Air and Space Port ahead of the company’s Launch Demo 2 mission. Taken in late December 2020. Photo: Virgin Orbit/Greg Robinson.

Today at approximately 3:35 p.m. ET (12:35 p.m. PT), 10 CubeSats began deploying from Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne Rocket into low-Earth Orbit as part of the Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) 20 mission. Virgin Orbit’s 747-00 carrier, Cosmic Girl, took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California at 1:38 p.m. ET (10:38 a.m. PT) today carrying the LauncherOne Rocket and the 10 small research satellites.

CubeSats are a cornerstone in the development of cutting-edge technologies like laser communications, satellite-to-satellite communications, and autonomous movement. The nine CubeSat missions in this launch were developed by the following universities and one NASA center:

  • CACTUS-1 – Capitol Technology University, Laurel, Md.
  • CAPE-3 – University of Louisiana at Lafayette
  • EXOCUBE – California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
  • MiTEE – University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich.
  • PICS (two CubeSats) – Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah
  • PolarCube – University of Colorado at Boulder
  • Q-PACE – University of Central Florida, Orlando, Fla.
  • RadFXSat-2 – Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.
  • TechEdSat-7 – NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

CSLI is an initiative created by NASA to attract and retain students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines. Missions are selected through the CubeSat Launch Initiative and managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Visit our website to learn more and follow us on Twitter at NASA_LSP and Facebook at NASA LSP.

Launch Window Opens for ELaNa 20 Mission

Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne system undergoes final preparations on a taxiway at Mojave Air and Space Port ahead of the company’s Launch Demo 2 mission. Taken in late December 2020. Photo: Virgin Orbit/Greg Robinson.
Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne system undergoes final preparations on a taxiway at Mojave Air and Space Port ahead of the company’s Launch Demo 2 mission. Taken in late December 2020. Photo: Virgin Orbit/Greg Robinson.

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl aircraft and LauncherOne rocket are positioned for takeoff from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, in preparation to launch 10 small NASA-sponsored research satellites, or CubeSats, as part of the agency’s 20th Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) mission.

Cosmic Girl carries the LauncherOne rocket on the underside of the 747-aircraft’s left wing. When Cosmic Girl reaches its specified altitude over the Pacific Ocean, LauncherOne will be released for a controlled drop until the rocket’s NewtonThree first stage engine ignites to start the launch sequence that will send the satellites into low-Earth orbit. The mission has a three-hour launch window from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. ET (10 a.m. to 2 p.m. PT).

Virgin Orbit was one of three companies selected as Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) providers through a contract NASA first awarded in October 2015. This mission, called Launch Demo 2, will be the first time Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket will carry customer payloads. ELaNa missions are managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The 10 CubeSats set to launch on this mission were designed and built by eight different universities in the United States, as well as one NASA center. These include:

  • CACTUS-1 – Capitol Technology University, Laurel, Md.
  • CAPE-3 – University of Louisiana at Lafayette
  • EXOCUBE – California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
  • MiTEE – University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich.
  • PICS (two CubeSats) – Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah
  • PolarCube – University of Colorado at Boulder
  • Q-PACE – University of Central Florida, Orlando, Fla.
  • RadFXSat-2 – Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.
  • TechEdSat-7 – NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

NASA selected and sponsored these providers through the agency’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI). By offering CubeSat developers a relatively low-cost avenue to conduct science investigations and technology demonstrations in space, NASA gives K-12 schools, universities, and non-profit organizations hands-on flight hardware development experience.

Stay connected with the mission on social media, and let people know you’re following it on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram by tagging these accounts:

Twitter: @NASA,  @NASA_LSP, @Virgin_Orbit

Facebook:  NASA, NASA LSP, Virgin Orbit

Instagram:  @NASA, @virgin.orbit

Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich Satellite in Earth Orbit, Mission Begins to Map Sea Levels

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite launches on Nov. 21, 2020, from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite launches on Nov. 21, 2020, from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Image credit: NASA TV

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, carrying the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite, launched at 9:17 a.m. PST (12:17 p.m. EST) on Nov. 21, 2020, from Space Launch Complex-4 at Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) in California.

Following launch, the SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage separated and returned to Earth for a vertical landing at VAFB. After arriving in orbit, the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite separated from the rocket’s second stage and unfolded its twin sets of solar arrays. Ground controllers successfully acquired the satellite’s signal, and initial telemetry reports showed the spacecraft in good health. Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will now undergo a series of exhaustive checks and calibrations before it starts collecting science data in a few months’ time.

Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich is a U.S.-European collaboration and one of two satellites that compose the Copernicus Sentinel-6/Jason-CS (Continuity of Service) mission.

Agencies participating in this mission include the European Space Agency, the European Commission, the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), SpaceX, NASA, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The launch was managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Read the full launch day wrap-up on NASA’s Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich blog.

Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich Launches on SpaceX Falcon 9

Image credit: NASA TV

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite lifted off from Space Launch Complex-4 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 9:17 a.m. PST (12:17 p.m. EST) on Nov. 21, 2020. Follow along with continuing coverage on NASA’s Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich blog, on NASA TV, and the agency’s website.

Next-Generation Airlock Prepped for SpaceX CRS-21 Launch

The Nanoracks Bishop Airlock is launching on SpaceX’s 21st commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station. Photo credit: SpaceX

The first commercially funded airlock for the International Space Station is ready for its journey to space. On Saturday, Oct. 10, teams moved the Nanoracks Bishop Airlock to SpaceX’s processing facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Two days later, it was packed in the Dragon spacecraft’s trunk for its ride to the orbiting laboratory.

CRS-21
The airlock will provide payload hosting, robotics testing, and satellite deployment, while also serving as an outside toolbox for astronauts conducting spacewalks. Photo credit: SpaceX

The airlock will provide payload hosting, robotics testing, and satellite deployment, and also will serve as an outside toolbox for crew members conducting spacewalks.

The Bishop Airlock is launching on SpaceX’s 21st commercial resupply services (CRS-21) mission to the space station. This will be the first flight of SpaceX’s upgraded cargo version of Dragon, which can carry more science payloads to and from the space station.

The pressurized capsule will carry a variety of research including studies on the effects of microgravity on cardiovascular cells, how space conditions affect the interaction between microbes and minerals, and a technology demonstration of a blood analysis tool in space. CRS-21 is scheduled to launch aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy’s Launch Complex 39A. Teams are targeting late November or early December for liftoff.

Sentinel-6 Satellite Arrives at Vandenberg for Preflight Checkout

The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite, secured inside a shipping container, arrives at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Sept. 24, 2020, aboard an Antonov cargo aircraft.
The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite, secured inside a shipping container, arrives at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Sept. 24, 2020, aboard an Antonov cargo aircraft. Photo credit: NASA/JPL

The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite, secured inside a shipping container, arrived at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Thursday, Sept. 24, aboard an Antonov cargo aircraft. It was offloaded from the aircraft and moved to the SpaceX Payload Processing Facility for checkout and preflight processing.

The mission is an international partnership and the first launch of a constellation of two satellites that will observe changes in Earth’s sea levels for at least the next decade. Launching atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 Full Thrust rocket, Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich is targeted to lift off from Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex 4 on Nov. 10, 2020.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages NASA’s contribution to the mission. The Launch Services Program, based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for launch management.

Kennedy Engineers Play Major Role in Mars 2020 Mission Success

Mars 2020 Perseverance rover lift off
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 30, 2020, at 7:50 a.m. EDT, carrying NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter. Photo credit: NASA/Tony Gray and Tim Powers

When NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover roared off the pad aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 Thursday, July 30, at 7:50 a.m., there were a lot of energized engineers on the ground at Kennedy Space Center.

Following the successful launch, the Florida spaceport’s Director of Engineering, Shawn Quinn, offered praise to the team’s support of Kennedy’s Launch Services Program (LSP).

“Our LSP engineering team diligently worked through multiple milestones to achieve launch readiness,” Quinn said. “Every mission presents its own unique challenges, including Mars 2020. The engineering team’s response to these challenges was outstanding.”

The team supported critical reviews and tests, such as: the LSP pre-Flight Readiness Review (FRR) Risk Control Board, FRR Launch Management Coordination meeting, systems certification review, and mission dress rehearsal. Engineering technical experts worked through 247 engineering review summaries in support of the historic mission.

Quinn also recognized the Engineering’s Construction of Facilities (COF) team for its contributions to facility and infrastructure support.

“The real-time support to the Spaceport Integration and Services directorate in addressing operations and maintenance-related issues and concerns during processing was a critical piece to the success of the mission,” Quinn said.

The team performed facility repairs and upgrades — including replacing obsolete substations, switch gears, chillers, air ventilation and conditioning systems, facility electrical, lighting, and fire protection systems at the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility Mission Operations Support Building, the Multi-Operation Support Building, the Radiothermalisotopic Generator Facility, and Hangar AE — all in support of this historic mission.

Perseverance is now on its way to seek signs of ancient life and collect rock and soil samples for possible return to Earth. Along with the rover is the Ingenuity helicopter, a technology demonstration that will be the first powered flight on Mars.The rover will arrive on the Red Planet on Feb. 18, 2021.

The mission addresses high-priority science goals for Mars exploration, including key astrobiology questions concerning the potential for life on Mars. It not only seeks signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past, but also will search for signs of past microbial life.

Successful Launch Sends Perseverance on Seven-Month Journey to Mars

Mars 2020 Perseverance launch
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket climbs upward after lifting off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 30, 2020, at 7:50 a.m. EDT, carrying NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

By Jim Cawley
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

Not obstacles, not complexity — not even a worldwide pandemic — could keep NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover from blasting off on its historic mission to the Red Planet.

On Thursday, July 30, at 7:50 a.m. EDT, Perseverance lifted off aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 541 rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, bound for a Feb. 18, 2021, arrival to Mars, where it will touch down on the surface of Jezero Crater.

“It was an amazing launch; very successful,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during Thursday’s post-launch news conference at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “It went right on time, it is on a trajectory now that has been done with pinpoint accuracy, and it is, in fact, on its way to Mars.”

Perseverance, which will reach Mars on Feb. 18, 2021, is carrying seven different scientific instruments. Photo credit: NASA/Tony Gray

Due to the alignment of Earth and Mars, the mission’s launch period would have expired on Aug. 15. That placed increased importance on hitting the window; otherwise, the rover would have needed to be stored for two years, until the next favorable alignment.

“(The ULA and Launch Services team) gave us a perfect launch this morning — right down the middle; couldn’t have aimed us any better,” said Matt Wallace, deputy project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “They really pushed hard to keep us on this limited planetary launch window in 2020.”

With its unique and distinct challenges, COVID-19 certainly threatened that timeline. Wallace admitted there have been “very strenuous moments” in the past few months dealing with the pandemic.

“It really took the entire agency to step up and help us; and they didn’t hesitate,” he said. “The team out there — thousands of people — have really made this a special mission. As people have eluded to, ‘Perseverance’ has become a pretty good name for this mission.”

Launch Director Omar Baez of NASA’s Launch Services Program beamed with pride following his team’s flawless effort.

Derrol Nail, left, NASA Communications, and Moogega Cooper, Planetary Protection engineer at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, provide live coverage during Thursday’s launch of the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover. Photo credit: NASA/Frankie Martin

“Fantastic, honored, proud, ecstatic — those are the kind of words I can think of right now,” Baez said. “We hit right at the beginning of the window, and the vehicle performed perfectly. It’s just a proud moment, and I’m glad our program provided what was needed to get this on the way.”

ULA President and CEO Tory Bruno said before the launch that the rocket would leap off of the pad. On a calm, clear, and beautiful Florida day, that’s exactly what happened.

“We ignited, the Atlas performed nominally throughout the mission, and we ended with just an extraordinarily accurate orbital insertion,” Bruno said.

About the size of a car with dimensions similar to the Curiosity rover, Perseverance carries seven different scientific instruments. The rover’s astrobiology mission, developed under NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, will search for signs of past microbial life. It will characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.

The mission marks the first time in history that samples will be collected to bring back to Earth from another planet. Another first: Ingenuity, a twin-rotor, solar-powered helicopter attached to the belly of the rover, will become the first aircraft to fly on another world.

Perseverance will spend at least one Martian year, or approximately two Earth years, exploring the landing site region on the Red Planet. Though the mission has a long way to go, Thursday’s launch sent it off to a terrific start.

“I loved it,” said NASA Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen. “It’s like punching a hole in the sky.”

Today’s the Day: Perseverance Being Prepped for Liftoff!

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover aboard sits on the pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 on July 30, 2020. Photo credit: NASA

Good morning, and welcome to today’s live blog coverage of NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover launch! It is a beautiful morning here at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

We are just over an hour away from today’s scheduled 7:50 a.m. EDT liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41. There is a two-hour launch window. Perseverance will blast off aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 541 rocket to embark on its seven-month journey to the Red Planet. NASA’s Launch Services Program, (LSP) based at Kennedy, is managing the launch.

Weather reports have been positive — the U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron predicted an 80% chance of favorable weather conditions for the launch. An updated weather report is expected shortly.

This mission is the culmination of years of dedicated work by thousands of people, including teams from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where the spacecraft was designed and built; Kennedy, where it was assembled; ULA, Lockheed Martin, and scientists from around the world. In the U.S., flight hardware was built in 44 states, involving more than 550 cities, towns and communities.

Perseverance, which will reach Mars on Feb. 18, 2021, is carrying seven different scientific instruments. The rover’s astrobiology mission, developed under NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, will search for signs of past microbial life. Ingenuity, a twin-rotor, solar-powered helicopter attached to the belly of the rover, will become the first aircraft to fly on another world.

NASA Television and the agency’s website will provide live launch coverage starting at 7 a.m. Stay tuned as the mission eclipses multiple milestones — including stage separation, main engine cutoff, and spacecraft separation — or follow along right here at blogs.nasa.gov/Mars2020. NASA will broadcast a post-launch news conference, beginning at 11:30 a.m.

NASA Administrator ‘Exceptionally Excited’ for Mars-Bound Mission

NASA Administrator's briefing for Mars 2020 Perseverance rover launch
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, far left, conducts a briefing at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 29, 2020, in advance of the launch of the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover scheduled for July 30. Joining him, from left are Kennedy Deputy Director Janet Petro, NASA astronaut Zena Cardman, partially hidden, and NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard. Photo credit: NASA/Isaac Watson

By Jim Cawley
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

Bursts of Florida afternoon rain showers could not dampen the spirts of NASA leaders on the eve of a much-anticipated mission to Mars.

“I’m exceptionally excited about what we’re about to do because we’re going to launch Mars 2020 with the Perseverance robot,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during Wednesday’s briefing at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center. “But there is so much more going on here. This is the first time in history where we’re going to Mars with an explicit mission to find life on another world — ancient life on Mars.”

The briefing was held outdoors near the Florida spaceport’s iconic countdown clock. A temporary structure installed on the Press Site lawn shielded participants and limited media from the typical Sunshine State summer downpour.

The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is scheduled to lift off aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket on Thursday, July 30, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida. The two-hour window opens at 7:50 a.m. EDT. NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at Kennedy, is managing the launch.

Despite dealing with significant challenges associated with COVID-19, Kennedy (and its surrounding area) is hosting the second major launch in two months. SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission, carrying NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken to the International Space Station, lifted off from Launch Complex 39A on May 30.

“When we started 2020, we knew we were going to have a big year at the spaceport,” Kennedy Deputy Director Janet Petro said. “And I think the events and the milestones of the next couple days are really going to demonstrate that.”

Developed under NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, the rover will search for signs of past microbial life. Perseverance will reach Mars on Feb. 18, 2021, touching down on the surface of Jezero Crater.

Attached to the belly of the rover and weighing less than four pounds is NASA’s Mars Helicopter, Ingenuity. The twin-rotor, solar-powered helicopter will become the first aircraft to fly on another world.

“Ingenuity is going to transform how we think about exploring worlds in the future,” Bridenstine said.

The rover will collect and store a set of rock and soil samples that could be returned to Earth by future Mars sample return missions. It also will test new technologies to benefit future robotic and human exploration of Mars.

“In 2026, we’re going to launch a mission from Earth to Mars to go pick up those samples and bring them back to Earth,” Bridenstine said. “For the first time in history, we’re doing a Mars sample return mission.”

NASA Television and the agency’s website will provide live launch coverage tomorrow morning, starting at 7. Stay tuned as the mission eclipses multiple milestones — including stage separation, main engine cutoff, and spacecraft separation — or follow along at blogs.nasa.gov/Mars2020. NASA will broadcast a post-launch news conference, beginning at 11:30 a.m.