Category Archives: Space

Amelia Earhart

The sixth Global Positioning System III (GPS III) satellite designed and built by Lockheed Martin has been launched and is propelling to its operational orbit approximately 12,550 miles / 20,197 km above Earth, where it will contribute to the ongoing modernization of the U.S. Space Force’s GPS constellation.

GPS III SV06
GPS III satellite at Lockheed Martin facility outside of Denver, Colorado

GPS III Space Vehicle 06 (GPS III SV06) launched from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 7:24 a.m. EST on January 18, 2023. About 83 minutes after liftoff, U.S. Space Force and Lockheed Martin engineers at the company’s Denver Launch & Checkout Operations Center confirmed signal acquisition of GPS III SV06 and now have the space vehicle «flying» under their control.

GPS III SV06 is the 25th Military-Code satellite introduced to the constellation. The satellite will provide advanced technology to aide Space Force operators in their mission by providing Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) data to military and civil users worldwide.

«Lockheed Martin is incredibly proud to support the Space Force’s GPS team as it continues to add world-class capabilities that underpin U.S. national security with enhanced performance and accuracy», said Andre Trotter, Lockheed Martin vice president for Navigation Systems. «With the last GPS III satellite complete and ready to launch, production of the first GPS IIIF vehicle is underway».

GPS is a satellite-based radio navigation system that delivers the gold standard in PNT services to America’s military, U.S. allies and civil users. The satellites serve as a crucial technological foundation for internet, financial, transportation and agricultural operations, with more than 4 billion users depending on the PNT signals.

GPS III vehicles provide three times greater accuracy and eight times greater anti-jamming capability over existing satellites in the constellation. To better address mission needs and emerging threats, Lockheed Martin intentionally created GPS III with a modular design, allowing new technology and capabilities to be added in the future.

Lockheed Martin has completed production on its original GPS III SV1-10 contract, with the Space Force declaring SV10 Available for Launch on December 8, 2022. GPS III SV06 will soon join SV01-05 in orbit. GPS III SV07-10 are completed and in storage at the company’s facility waiting for the U.S. Space Force to call them up for launch.

Lockheed Martin is also designing and building the GPS III Follow On (GPS IIIF) for the Space Force, which will feature even more innovative capabilities than its predecessors. GPS IIIF satellites will feature an accuracy-enhancing laser retroreflector array, a new search and rescue payload, a fully digital navigation payload and more next-generation technology. In November 2022, Space Systems Command announced it exercised the third production option valued at approximately $744 million for the procurement of three additional GPS IIIF satellites from Lockheed Martin, meaning the company is now contracted to build SV11-20.

USSF-67 mission

Northrop Grumman Corporation’s Long Duration Propulsive Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Secondary Payload Adapter (ESPA) LDPE-3A spacecraft launched successfully in support of the USSF-67 mission. This spacecraft helps advance rapid access to space for the U.S. Space Force and marks the third successful launch in the LDPE program.

LDPE-3A
The ESPAStar platform (as pictured) can accommodate up to six payloads with independent mission objectives (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

The LDPE-3A was built using Northrop Grumman’s ESPAStar, providing rapid access to space by maximizing the available volume inside a launch vehicle. This bus carries hardware for five independent missions, eliminating the need for each mission to wait for a future launch opportunity.

«From conception and development of next-generation space technology, like ESPAStar, to on-orbit command and control, we are prepared to support the full lifecycle of our customer’s missions throughout the ever-evolving threat environment», said Troy Brashear, vice president, national security systems, Northrop Grumman.

Northrop Grumman also designed, developed and implemented the command and control, and mission execution software system for the LDPE program. The software system uses a common baseline across multiple programs, putting more capability in the hands of customer operators at a lower cost.

The ESPAStar product employs a customized version of a standard ESPA ring, providing added propulsion, power and avionic subsystems. A SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch vehicle will deliver LDPE-3A to near-geosynchronous Earth orbit for a one-year mission life.

USSF-67 is the third mission for the LDPE program. The Northrop Grumman-built LDPE-1 launched aboard the STP-3 mission in December 2021 and LDPE-2 aboard the USSF-44 mission in November 2022. Northrop Grumman will continue to deliver future ESPAStar spacecrafts, mission systems engineering, ground software systems and hardware platforms for critical USSF missions.

Very High Resolution

Airbus Defence and Space has signed a contract with Poland to provide a geospatial intelligence system including the development, manufacture, launch and delivery in orbit of two high-performance optical Earth observation satellites. The contract also covers the associated ground segment, including Direct Receiving Station in Poland, launch services, training for the Polish team, maintenance and technical support for the space and ground systems.

Airbus S950 VHR
The Airbus S950 satellite was first developed for the Pléiades Neo optical constellation (Copyright Airbus)

Furthermore, the agreement encompasses the delivery of Very High Resolution (VHR) imagery from the Airbus Pléiades Neo constellation as early as 2023.

This contract is the first export success, achieved with the support of the French government, for the Airbus S950 VHR optical satellite which stems from the development of the Pléiades Neo constellation, already operating in orbit with two satellites since 2021. This latest generation system offers a cutting-edge performance of VHR optical capabilities accompanied by a very high agility in orbit.

Jean-Marc Nasr, head of Space Systems at Airbus said: «This contract will provide Poland with one of the world’s most sophisticated satellite Earth observation systems. It strengthens Europe and gives the Polish nation a truly sovereign space capability. We look forward to further developing our cooperation with Poland under the umbrella of the strategic partnership between France and Poland».

Following the launch of the satellites from the European Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana, the imagery coming from the Polish satellites will be directly received in Poland by the infrastructure of the national satellite system, ensuring full autonomy.

This announcement consolidates Airbus’ position as world leader in the export of Earth observation satellite systems and is a major show of confidence in the company’s technology. It is also an endorsement of Airbus’ strategy to invest in the Pléiades Neo constellation, the benchmark for VHR geo-information systems.

The satellites’ assembly, integration and tests will be carried out in Airbus’ clean rooms in Toulouse and launch is planned by 2027. Starting in 2023, Poland will have access to Pléiades Neo imagery directly from Airbus.

Artemis I mission

Two Northrop Grumman Corporation five-segment solid rocket boosters helped successfully launch the first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket from Pad 39B in Kennedy Space Center, Florida as part of the Artemis I mission. This is the first in a series of Artemis missions focused on deep space exploration and establishing a sustainable human presence on and around the moon.

Space Launch System (SLS)
NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, with twin Northrop Grumman solid rocket boosters, lifts off for the first Artemis program launch (Photo Credit: Northrop Grumman)

«The SLS rocket was launched by a powerful 7.2 million pounds/3,265,865 kg of thrust from our solid rocket boosters which are largest, human-rated solid rocket boosters ever built», said Wendy Williams, vice president, propulsion systems, Northrop Grumman. «Northop Grumman has been pioneering in space for over 50 years and our contributions to NASA’s Artemis missions continue our incredible legacy of innovation».

Booster segments for Artemis II, the first crewed mission, and Artemis III, the mission that will land the first woman on the lunar surface, are complete. Artemis IV segments are currently being cast with propellant. Northrop Grumman supplied rocket propulsion for NASA’s Apollo and Space Shuttle programs and developed the five-segment SLS solid rocket booster based on the flight-proven design of the space shuttle boosters. The company will provide ongoing support for SLS and the Artemis missions through 2031.

Orbital Test Vehicle

The Boeing built X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) set a new endurance record after spending 908 days on orbit before landing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 5:22 a.m. ET, November 12, 2022. This surpasses its previous record of 780 days on-orbit.

X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV)
The Boeing-built X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 5:22 a.m. ET, November 12, 2022 (Photo credit: Boeing/U.S. Space Force)

With the successful completion of its sixth mission the reusable spaceplane has now flown over 1.3 billion miles/2,092,147,200 km and spent a total of 3,774 days in space where it conducts experiments for government and industry partners with the ability to return them to Earth for evaluation.

For the first time, the vehicle carried a service module to augment the number of payloads it can haul. The module separated from the OTV prior to de-orbiting ensuring a safe and successful landing.

«This mission highlights the Space Force’s focus on collaboration in space exploration and expanding low-cost access to space for our partners, within and outside of the Department of the Air Force (DAF)», said General Chance Saltzman, Chief of Space Operations.

The sixth mission was launched atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in May 2020. Hosted experiments included a solar energy experiment designed by the Naval Research Lab, as well as a satellite designed and built by cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy in partnership with the Air Force Research Laboratory. The satellite, dubbed FalconSat-8, was successfully deployed in October 2021 and remains on orbit today.

This mission also hosted multiple NASA experiments including the Materials Exposure and Technology Innovation in Space (METIS-2), which evaluated the effects of space exposure on various materials to validate and improve the precision of space environment models. This was the second flight for this type of experiment. Mission 6 also hosted a NASA experiment to evaluate the effects of long-duration space exposure on seeds. This experiment informs research aimed at future interplanetary missions and the establishment of permanent bases in space.

«Since the X-37B’s first launch in 2010, it has shattered records and provided our nation with an unrivaled capability to rapidly test and integrate new space technologies», said Jim Chilton, senior vice president, Boeing Space and Launch. «With the service module added, this was the most we’ve ever carried to orbit on the X-37B and we’re proud to have been able to prove out this new and flexible capability for the government and its industry partners».

The X-37B program is a partnership between the U.S Department of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office and the U.S. Space Force. Boeing designed and manufactured the spaceplane and continues to provide program management, engineering, test and mission support from sites in Southern California, Florida and Virginia.

In 2020, the X-37B received the Robert J. Collier Trophy for advancing the performance, efficiency and safety of air and space vehicles.

Cislunar Patrol System

The Air Force Research Laboratory has awarded a $72 million contract to Advanced Space LLC to demonstrate space situational awareness, object detection and tracking in the region of the Moon, supporting a resurgence of interest in lunar exploration and development across civil, commercial and international space agencies.

Cislunar Highway Patrol System (CHPS)
AFRL awards contract for pioneering spacecraft in region of Moon

AFRL’s Space Vehicles Directorate awarded the contract to support the lab’s Oracle spacecraft program, previously called the Cislunar Highway Patrol System, or CHPS. The project has been renamed Oracle after the Oracle of Delphi in ancient Greece. The high priestess of the Oracle would channel the knowledge of Apollo and provide wisdom and foresight to those with whom she would consult.

The name was chosen to acknowledge the accomplishments of the Apollo program and the U.S. Space Force’s commitment to support NASA as they return to the Moon. The Oracle spacecraft is projected to launch in late 2025, with two years of on-orbit experimentation.

«Our primary goals for the program are to advance techniques to detect previously unknown objects through search and discovery, to detect small or distant objects, and to study spacecraft positioning and navigation in the XGEO realm», said Doctor James Frith, Oracle principal investigator.

AFRL often uses the term XGEO to refer to the space beyond geosynchronous orbit out to the Moon, 10 times further than the traditional operational regime for U.S. Space Force and U.S. Space Command. Oracle will operate in the vicinity of Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 1, at a range of about 320,000 kilometers, or about 200,000 miles from Earth. The current Space Surveillance Network has a mixture of sensors on Earth or in traditional orbits like GEO. It is optimized to track satellites at GEO and below, or within distances of 36,000 kilometers, or 22,369 miles.

«Oracle is the culmination of years of ongoing research at AFRL into how to detect and track objects in XGEO given the vast distances, challenges of lunar and solar exclusion, and complexity introduced by the Moon’s gravity», Frith said.

An additional goal of Oracle is to help mature AFRL’s green propellant Advanced Spacecraft Energetic Non-Toxic, or ASCENT, that will carry a refueling port. While there are no specific plans yet to refuel Oracle, AFRL wants to encourage civil and commercial development of on-orbit refueling services.

«We have a great deal to learn when it comes to operating, navigating and communicating from cislunar space and the more distant XGEO region», said Colonel Jeremy Raley, the director of AFRL’s Space Vehicles Directorate. «We look forward to working with Advanced Space LLC, as we deliver novel space capabilities, thereby providing a safe and sustainable cislunar environment».

Vulcan Centaur

Northrop Grumman Corporation has delivered the first two 63-inch-diameter/160-centimeter- diameter extended length Graphite Epoxy Motors (GEM 63XL) to Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida.

GEM 63XL
Northrop Grumman Delivers First GEM 63XL Solid Rocket Boosters to Support Vulcan First Flight

The solid rocket boosters will support the inaugural flight of United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Vulcan Centaur rocket planned for first quarter 2023. At approximately 72-feet-long/22-meters-long, and weighing over 117,000 pounds/53,070 kg, the GEM 63XL is the longest monolithic single-cast solid rocket motor ever produced. Together the two boosters will provide nearly one million pounds of additional thrust for ULA’s Vulcan rocket with each booster contributing over 463,200 pounds/210,104 kgf of thrust at launch.

Artemis Moon Missions

Lockheed Martin is now under contract to deliver three Orion spacecraft to NASA for its Artemis VI-VIII missions, continuing the delivery of exploration vehicles to the agency to carry astronauts into deep space and around the Moon supporting the Artemis program.

Orion
NASA Orders Three More Orion Spacecraft From Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor to NASA for the Orion program and has completed two Orion vehicles – EFT-1 which flew in 2014, and Artemis I, which is weeks away from its launch to the Moon – and is actively building vehicles for the Artemis II-V missions.

«Lockheed Martin is honored to partner with NASA to deliver Orion spacecraft for NASA’s Artemis missions. This order includes spacecraft, mission planning and support, and takes us into the 2030s», said Lisa Callahan, vice president and general manager for Commercial Civil Space, Lockheed Martin. «We’re on the eve of a historic launch kicking off the Artemis era and this contract shows NASA is making long-term plans toward living and working on the Moon, while also having a forward focus on getting humans to Mars».

This order marks the second three missions under the agency’s Orion Production and Operations Contract (OPOC), an Indefinite-Delivery, Indefinite-Quantity (IDIQ) contract for up to 12 vehicles. A breakout of these orders includes:

  • 2019: NASA initiates OPOC IDIQ and orders three Orion spacecraft for Artemis
  • missions III-V.
  • 2022: NASA orders three additional Orion spacecraft missions for Artemis VI-VIII for $1.99 billion.
  • In the future: NASA can order an additional six Orion missions.

Under OPOC, Lockheed Martin and NASA have reduced the costs on Orion by 50% per vehicle on Artemis III through Artemis V, compared to vehicles built during the design and development phase. The vehicles built for Artemis VI, VII and VIII will see an additional 30% cost reduction.

«We’re achieving substantial cost savings from Artemis III through Artemis VIII by extensive structure and system reuse and incorporating advanced digital design and manufacturing processes», said Tonya Ladwig, Orion vice president and program manager at Lockheed Martin Space. «The Artemis II vehicle will reuse select avionics from the Artemis I crew module, and that reuse will continue to dramatically increase to where the Artemis III pressure vessel capsule will be entirely refurbished for the Artemis VI mission».

Additionally, the company will drive out cost from these production vehicles through material and component bulk buys from suppliers and an accelerated mission cadence.

With the Artemis I Orion spacecraft currently on top of the Space Launch System rocket, there are two other Orion vehicles undergoing assembly at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Artemis II and III. Work is well under way on the Artemis IV craft including welding the pressure vessel together at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans and the heat shield at Lockheed Martin’s facility near Denver, and work has already begun on the Artemis V vehicle.

Landsat 9

NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) officially marked the handover and commencement of operations of the Landsat 9 Earth observation satellite. Landsat 9 was designed, built and tested by Northrop Grumman Corporation at its Gilbert, Arizona satellite facility and was launched into orbit aboard an Atlas V rocket in September 2021. The satellite completed its systems verification and commissioning in late July 2022.

Landsat 9
The Landsat 9 (background) and the Joint Polar Satellite System-2 (JPSS-2) satellites in Northrop Grumman’s Gilbert, Arizona satellite manufacturing facility

«Northrop Grumman-built satellites like Landsat 9 are vital to tracking the state of our planet», said Mike Witt, chief sustainability officer, Northrop Grumman. «The data they collect is vital to analyzing, predicting and addressing changes to ecosystems, helping us to better understand the role sustainability plays in securing a safer world».

Landsat 9 will collect space-based images and data that will aid researchers in areas including agriculture, geology, land use mapping, forestry, global change research and water resource management. The Landsat images further support international emergency and disaster relief to save lives of those in areas most affected by natural disasters. Landsat 9 is based on Northrop Grumman’s flight proven LEOStar-3 platform and extensively leverages the design of the Landsat 8 spacecraft, which has been in service since 2013.

«Landsat 9 continues the uninterrupted monitoring of our Earth by building on the 50-year legacy of the NASA and USGS Landsat system», said Steve Krein, vice president, commercial and civil satellites, Northrop Grumman. «This is the fourth Landsat satellite built by Northrop Grumman that plays a critical role of global observation for monitoring, understanding and managing Earth’s natural resources».

American-built first-stage

Northrop Grumman Corporation and Firefly Aerospace have joined forces to provide an American-built first-stage upgrade for the Antares rocket and a new medium launch vehicle to serve commercial, civil and national security space launch markets.

Antares
Northrop Grumman Teams with Firefly Aerospace to Develop Antares Rocket Upgrade and New Medium Launch Vehicle

«Through our collaboration, we will first develop a fully domestic version of our Antares rocket, the Antares 330, for Cygnus space station commercial resupply services, followed by an entirely new medium class launch vehicle», said Scott Lehr, vice president and general manager, launch and missile defense systems, Northrop Grumman. «Northrop Grumman and Firefly have been working on a combined strategy and technical development plan to meet current and future launch requirements».

Firefly’s propulsion technology utilizes the same propellants as the current Antares rocket, which minimizes launch site upgrades. The Antares 330 will utilize seven of Firefly’s Miranda engines and leverage its composites technology for the first stage structures and tanks, while Northrop Grumman provides its proven avionics and software, upper-stage structures and Castor 30XL motor, as well as proven vehicle integration and launch pad operations. This new stage will also significantly increase Antares mass to orbit capability.

«Firefly prides itself on being a disrupter in the new space industry and collaborating with a proven space pioneer like Northrop Grumman will help us continue that disruption», said Peter Schumacher, interim CEO, Firefly.

The Antares 330 performance upgrade will enable Northrop Grumman to continue to support the company’s current contracts while planning for future mission capabilities.

Firefly Aerospace is an emerging end-to-end space transportation company focused on developing a family of launch vehicles, in-space vehicles, and services to provide industry-leading affordability, convenience, and reliability to its government and commercial customers. Firefly’s launch vehicles, combined with their in-space vehicles, such as the Space Utility Vehicle (SUV) and Blue Ghost Lunar Lander, provide the space industry with a single source for missions from LEO to the surface of the Moon and beyond.

Northrop Grumman is a technology company, focused on global security and human discovery. Our pioneering solutions equip our customers with capabilities they need to connect, advance and protect the U.S. and its allies. Driven by a shared purpose to solve our customers’ toughest problems, our 90,000 employees define possible every day.