Tag Archives: Vandenberg AFB

WorldView 4, as seen by WorldView 2

DigitalGlobe, provider of the most detailed satellite imagery available on the commercial market, has completed on-orbit checkout and commissioning of their latest bird: WorldView 4.  WorldView 4 is a twin to WorldView 3, offering an unprecedented 1-foot resolution with its 3.6 foot aperture main telescope.  But since WorldView 3 is completely booked by the US military, WorldView 4 opens up this capability to the public.  In fact, it began acquiring images for paying customers on February 1, so this capability is already very real.

To commemorate the occasion, DigitalGlobe released this spectacular image, shot by WorldView 2, of SLC-3 at Vandenberg AFB right as the Atlas V rocket climbed away with WorldView 4 on board:


Beautiful.  😉

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Falcon 9 has returned to flight!

After the shocking loss of the last Falcon 9, the rocket roared well and truly back into business today.  They had been slightly delayed by the much needed rains that have come to California, but today the weather was suitable and launch occurred on time and on target, with a successful barge recovery at sea of the first stage – the first from Vandenberg.  The Jason-3 launch a year ago was the first attempt to recover a Falcon 9 in the Pacific; it successfully soft-landed, but one of the landing legs failed to lock allowing it to fall over and explode.  This one was flawless, and the barge will return to shore in the next couple of days — I believe to San Diego, since that’s where SpaceX recovers their Dragons.

The payload is the first flight of the Iridium NEXT constellation, which uses a brand-new multi-satellite deployment system that appears to have worked flawlessly, deploying all ten spacecraft correctly into their high inclination orbit.

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Falcon 9 RTF has a launch date!

After the shocking pre-launch explosion of a Falcon 9 last September, destroying the payload and severely damaging the pad, SpaceX has announced a launch date for their return-to-flight.  The SLC-40 pad at Cape Canaveral is still not in usable condition, but SLC-4E at Vandenberg is of course perfectly fine; that’s where the next flight, with 10 Iridum NEXT satellites on board, will launch.

Pending FAA approval after submission of their failure investigation findings, the Iridium launch is expected to occur this Sunday, January 8.  SpaceX has a very full backlog that it will need to start working on right after that, but as SLC-40 will take time to repair, the next Florida launch (Echostar  23) will be from the venerable LC-39A at Kennedy Space Center, on Merritt Island.  LC-39A was originally built for the Saturn V, then modified for the Space Shuttle, and now is nearly ready to support Falcon 9.  Both SLC-4E and LC-39A will be capable of hosting the enormous Falcon Heavy, which SpaceX hopes to fly twice this year if all goes well — one test flight, and then the first operational flight on behalf of the USAF.  Meanwhile, cargo Dragon flights are scheduled to resume in February, and SpaceX tentatively plans to make their first uncrewed test flight of the crewed Dragon later this year.  However, their manifest is so full that even slight delays could push that into 2018.  Their ultimate dream has always been to fly humans, but they are committed to meeting their commercial obligations as well.

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Happy New Year, and Welcome 2017!

Welcome to 2017!  It’s gonna be a heckuva year!  Forget about politics — here’s some of the stuff I’m looking forward to in 2017:

1) Series 10 of Doctor Who!!!!!  More of the Twelfth Doctor (or, as my nine-year-old calls him, “Doctor Eyebrows”), new companions, new adventures . . . I can’t wait!

2) The total solar eclipse across the United States, August 21.  I’ve already made plans; my family will be camping across South Dakota and Wyoming, aiming to observe the event itself in Casper, Wyoming, which is expected to be way busier than it normally is; the longest duration will be closer to the tourist-trap haven of Branson, Missouri, but Wyoming is predicted to have the most reliable weather.  If you have not made plans, well, expect everything to be booked solid already…..  I’ve been anticipating this one for about twenty years.  😉


3) The Falcon 9 return-to-flight mission.  After the shocking launchpad mishap last year, Falcon 9’s had a bit of a downtime, and now has a backlog to process.  They’re looking to return to flight possibly early in January, with a 10-spacecraft launch out of Vandenberg AFB on behalf of the Iridium NEXT constellation.


4) Possibly also the Falcon Heavy maiden flight.  Resembling a Delta IV Heavy, and likewise comprised of three cores strapped together, the Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful rocket in the world when it finally launches.  It’s a crucial element of SpaceX’s larger aspirations – they still have Mars in their sights.

5) November 13, there will be a very close conjunction of Jupiter and Venus.  They’ll be closer together than the width of the full moon in the sky, a rare visual treat.

6) New Mythbusters, perhaps?  With the annual Mythbusters Mega-Marathon underway, I’ve got Mythbusters on the brain; but it would be lovely to get some new ones.  Jamie and Adam have moved on, but Discovery is running a sort of game show to select their successors.  Should be interesting!  Expect explosions!

Talking of stuff on the screen, there are some awesome-looking movies coming:

7) LEGO Batman!  Really, ’nuff said.  😉

8) Beauty and the Beast looks pretty amazing too:

9) Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.  Luc Besson is amazing, and this movie is seriously his baby.  The comic book it’s based upon was a huge inspiration and influence to him growing up, so this should be pretty spectacular.

So, there’s a taste of stuff to look forward to in the new year!  There’s definitely some cool stuff coming our way.  😉  How about you?  What are you looking forward to in 2017?


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Atlas V launches with WorldView 4, and Soyuz MS-03 rolls to the pad

Here are some pretty rocket videos to enjoy.  😉  First, from last week, the Atlas V launch of the WorldView 4 commercial imaging satellite, from Vandenberg AFB:

And then, in preparation for launch this week, here’s the Soyuz MS-03 rocket stack rollout at Baikonur Cosmodrome:

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Vandenberg Wildfire Status: 70% Contained, One Fatality

A sad update on the Vandenberg wildfire: although crews as of this morning had the fire 70% contained, it has now claimed its first victim.  Well, not directly.  A firefighter responding to the fire was killed when his water truck overturned on the way in to fight the fire.  The Santa Ana winds fanning the fire also make it more difficult for top-heavy firefighting equipment to navigate the dangerous roads in the area.  Keep his family in your thoughts; the firefighters who tackle wildfires are a special breed, who take extra risks the rest of us would never contemplate.

Crews are making significant progress fighting the fire, however, and off-base evacuation orders have now been lifted.  The base is expected to soon return to normal operations.  What everybody really needs down there, though, is some rain.  The longstanding Southern California drought has greatly elevated the fire risks.

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Delta IV makes a rare retrograde launch

Blasting off a couple of days ago from Vandenberg AFB in California, a cryogenic Delta IV Medium+ launched the NROL-45 spacecraft into orbit.  NROL-45 is an undisclosed payload for the National Reconnaissance Office.  Delta IV is famous for a slightly disconcerting tendency to set its own first stage insulation on fire, particularly in the Heavy variant, but this Medium + still managed to launch in a huge fireball, with flames still alight on its scorched first stage insulation.  The insulation’s function is to reduce boiloff of the cryogenic propellants while it sits on the pad, so the fact that it has caught on fire is not a big a deal as you might think, and the rocket boasts a flawless track record (minus a slightly subpar orbit for the demonstration payload on the first Heavy launch).

The really interesting thing about this launch was that it was retrograde — against the rotation of the Earth.  The amateur satellite spotting community believes this payload to be Topaz 4, a radar-imaging spacecraft that continues the legacy of the Lacrosse constellation, although spotters have not yet offered an opinion on why it must orbit retrograde.  Retrograde orbits are very unusual because they are costly in terms of propellant and usually don’t offer any particular advantage unless one has a very restricted lane in which to launch — Israel launches exclusively retrograde satellites due to unfriendly neighbors to the north, east, and south who would not tolerate an overflight, but that is a unique situation.

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