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SpaceX teams at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station are set to kick off the year’s first Space Coast rocket launch tonight.

A Falcon 9 rocket carrying the secretive Zuma payload, known only as a government mission managed by Northrop Grumman, is set for liftoff during a two-hour window at Launch Complex 40 that opens at 8 p.m.

Weather is 80 percent “go,” according to the Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron.

Residents and spectators can expect a powerful sonic boom tonight as the rocket’s first stage descends for a propulsive landing at Cape Canaveral’s Landing Zone 1 about eight minutes after liftoff.

In central Florida?

If you’re under clear skies, you can look to the state’s east coast to spot Falcon 9 launch from Cape Canaveral. You don’t, however, need clear skies to feel and hear the window-rattling sonic boom during first stage descent.

Contact Emre Kelly at aekelly@floridatoday.com or 321-242-3715. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook at @EmreKelly.

Article by Emre Kelly at Florida Today, Complete Article [ HERE ]

Live Video provided by SpaceX on Youtube

  • Falcon Heavy ‘megarocket’ will launch from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida later this month
  • The rocket boasts 27 engines and three separate re-usable cores that will return to Earth after liftoff
  • It will carry the billionaire’s cherry red 2008 Tesla Roadster, which will be fired toward Mars
  • The upcoming test launch is one of SpaceX’s most technically complex challenges to date

Elon Musk has announced SpaceX will launch ‘the world’s most powerful rocket’ later this month with his own electric car on board.

The Falcon Heavy ‘megarocket’ will fire beyond orbit from the former Apollo 11 moon rocket launchpad at the Kennedy Space Centre near Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Musk said the launch vehicle will blast off at the ‘end of the month’ on an unmanned mission with a unique payload – the billionaire’s cherry red 2008 Tesla Roadster, which will be fired toward Mars.

The rocket will use 27 engines and three separate re-usable cores that will return to Earth after liftoff during the test flight, which is set to be one of the firm’s most technically complex challenges to date.

Before the maiden launch, a full test firing of the rocket’s engines is expected next week, Musk said.

‘Falcon Heavy now vertical on the former Apollo 11 moon rocket launchpad,’ he wrote on Instagram on Thursday.

‘At 2,500 tons of thrust, equal to 18 Boeing 747 aircraft at full throttle, it will be the most powerful rocket in the world by a factor of two. Excitement on launch day guaranteed, one way or another.

‘Hold-down test fire next week. Launch end of the month.’

Musk said the launch vehicle will blast off at the 'end of the month' on an unmanned mission with a unique payload - the billionaire's cherry red 2008 Tesla Roadster, which will be fired toward Mars. Pictured is the car strapped into the Falcon Heavy's main module   Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-5238433/Elon-Musk-SpaceX-launch-Falcon-Heavy-rocket-month.html#ixzz53RyOtZ00  Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

Musk said the launch vehicle will blast off at the ‘end of the month’ on an unmanned mission with a unique payload – the billionaire’s cherry red 2008 Tesla Roadster, which will be fired toward Mars. Pictured is the car strapped into the Falcon Heavy’s main module

When it lifts off for the first time in late January, the Falcon Heavy will become the most powerful rocket in the world thanks to its 5.1 million pounds of thrust generated through 27 Merlin engines.

The vast rocket, which is ultimately three Falcon 9 rockets linked together, will have the combined thrust to eventually launch 140,000 pounds (63,500kg) of cargo into orbit.

The mission marks SpaceX’s most ambitious project to date.

Musk founded SpaceX in 2002, with the aim of reducing space transportation costs and enabling the colonisation of Mars.

The 46-year-old South African is also the CEO of Tesla, and predicts Falcon Heavy’s payload will stay in deep space for a while.

A photo of the unusual cargo – Musk’s cherry red 2008 Tesla Roadster – was released last month.

Images released by SpaceX show an original Roadster perched on a large cone inside the Falcon Heavy on what appears to be a secure mount to keep it stationary as the rocket makes its maiden flight.

‘Test flights of new rockets usually contain mass simulators in the form of concrete or steel blocks. That seemed extremely boring,’ Musk said in December.

‘Of course, anything boring is terrible, especially companies, so we decided to send something unusual, something that made us feel.

‘The payload will be an original Tesla Roadster, playing Space Oddity, on a billion year elliptic Mars orbit.’

If all goes according to plan, the Falcon Heavy will lift off and enter Earth’s orbit, before two of its booster rockets separate off and return to Earth at Cape Canaveral in controlled landings.

The rocket’s central core will then separate from the main module, containing Musk’s car, and begin its own controlled descent back to Earth, landing on the firm’s ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ drone ship in the Pacific Ocean.

The main module will continue its trajectory into ‘deep space’, the billionaire said, with a destination set for the orbit of Mars 140 million miles (225 million kilometres) away.

Musk has said the payload ‘will be in deep space for a billion years or so if it doesn’t blow up on ascent.’

In a Washington, D.C., speech last July the Tesla founder which said Falcon Heavy is one of the most difficult and technically complex projects SpaceX has ever undertaken.

‘There’s a lot of risk associated with Falcon Heavy,’ he said during the 2017 International Space Station Research and Development Conference.

‘Real good chance that the vehicle doesn’t make it to orbit. I want to make sure to set expectations accordingly.’

Musk has spent the proceeding months building up hype for the historic launch with a series of social media posts.

Last month he posted an image to Twitter of people stoof next to a landed Falcon Heavy rocket to give an idea of the vehicle’s scale.

He tweeted: ‘Falcon Heavy launching from same @NASA pad as the Saturn V Apollo 11 moon rocket.

‘It was 50% higher thrust with five F-1 engines at 7.5M lb-F.

‘I love that rocket so much.’

He also confirmed the rocket will have a ‘max thrust at lift-off is 5.1 million pounds or 2300 metric tons,’ adding the first mission will run at 92 per cent capacity.

‘Falcon Heavy to launch next month from Apollo 11 pad at the Cape.

‘Will have double thrust of next largest rocket. Guaranteed to be exciting, one way or another,’ Musk originally posted.

Article by DailyMail, Complete Article [ HERE ]

Florida wildlife officials are working to rescue sea turtles in the Cape Canaveral area, such as this one rescued this week. The turtles are being held in pools at Playalinda Beach at Canaveral National Seashore. (Photo: Karrie Minch, FWC)

Florida wildlife officials are working to rescue sea turtles in the Cape Canaveral area, such as this one rescued this week. The turtles are being held in pools at Playalinda Beach at Canaveral National Seashore. (Photo: Karrie Minch, FWC)

Some sea turtles are chilling out at the Canaveral National Seashore.

Rescuers brought several sea turtles, stressed from this week’s cold water in the Indian River Lagoon, to warm up Friday in rehabilitation pools at a staging area at Playalinda Beach. They rescued seven  “cold-stunned” sea turtles Friday from the Mosquito Lagoon: six green sea turtles and one loggerhead sea turtle.

“The vast majority of animals will be warmed and released as soon as conditions allow, which is expected to be within a week or two (based on current weather predictions),” Michelle Kerr, a spokeswoman with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said Friday via email. “At that time they will be tagged and given health assessments.”

Wildlife officials don’t expect as many as in January 2010, when they rescued thousands of sea turtles in Brevard County, bringing the exhausted reptiles to a maintenance building at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, which overlays NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

“We had 2,000 come through,” Refuge Manager Layne Hamilton said of the mass turtle stranding in 2010. “We’ll just have to wait and see what happens. It’s not like it was in 2010, when it just stayed cold.”

That year, severe, extended cold had dire ecological consequences on the lagoon. Frigid waters killed off much of a common seaweed-like “drift” algae, pulsing excess nitrogen and phosphorus from the dead algae into the water. Then phytoplankton fed off those nutrients, blocking sunlight to seagrass on the lagoon bottom, killing more than half the lagoon’s seagrass — prime shrimp, fish and crab habitat, and key food source for manatees.

Florida wildlife officials are working to rescue sea turtles in the Cape Canaveral area, such as this one rescued this week. The turtles are being held in pools at Playalinda Beach at Canaveral National Seashore. (Photo: Karrie Minch, FWC)

Florida wildlife officials are working to rescue sea turtles in the Cape Canaveral area, such as this one rescued this week. The turtles are being held in pools at Playalinda Beach at Canaveral National Seashore. (Photo: Karrie Minch, FWC)

For sea turtles, the threat comes when their internal temperature dips below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The cold–blooded reptiles rely on external sources of heat to set their body temperature. If they can’t swim to warmer waters in time, they can die.

“Nearly 100 turtles have been rescued so far,” Kipp Frohlich, director of FWC’s division of habitat and species conservation, said in a press release Wednesday. “We are also monitoring the Mosquito Lagoon and other areas of the state to see if sea turtles are being impacted there.”

Sea turtles typically begin to migrate south by late October. For unknown reasons, however, some don’t leave early enough. Turtles foraging in the shallows and inlets are most susceptible, because water temperatures there can dip faster than in deeper waters.

Water temperatures in the lagoon already have dropped to the mid 50s this week, according to temperature monitors operated by the St. Johns River Water Management District.

Temperatures were expected to drop low enough to “stun” sea turtles in the Mosquito Lagoon over the weekend. FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg has tanks to temporarily hold sea turtles. FWC staff coordinated with staff from Canaveral National Seashore, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and NASA, to search for turtles and to transport them to holding tanks or rehabilitation facilities, if needed, FWC officials said.

Some turtles that are stranded locally would be taken to the Brevard Zoo. In 2014, the zoo, in partnership with the Sea Turtle Preservation Society, opened a $150,000, 2,400-square-foot Sea Turtle Healing Center.

Seven years ago, sea turtles, manatees and fish endured one of the deadliest cold snaps for Florida marine life on record. In January 2010, cold killed hundreds of turtles, manatees and untold fish statewide. Dozens of pelicans, gulls, terns, baby raccoons and other chilled critters were brought into the Florida Wildlife Hospital & Sanctuary in Palm Shores.

In east-central Florida, average daily temperatures in the first two weeks of January 2010 dipped to about 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Then on Jan. 20, a one-day record of 17 manatees were reported dead from cold stress, according to FWC. From January to April that year, 58 manatees were rescued and a record 503 manatee carcasses were found in state waters, surpassing the previous record of 429 set in 2009.

It may be weeks before manatees show symptoms from this week’s cold snap, FWC officials said.

Manatees exposed to prolonged water temperatures below 68 degrees Fahrenheit can rapidly succumb to hypothermia, or suffer a longer-lasting chronic debilitation, called “cold-stress syndrome,” which also can be fatal. Cold exposure can cause emaciation, skin lesions, abscesses, dehydration, digestion disorders, internal abscesses and secondary infections.

Some economically important fish species also could perish in this week’s cold, especially snook, which are more sensitive to cold water.

Contact Waymer at 321-242-3663 or jwaymer@floridatoday.com Follow him on Twitter@JWayEnviro and at facebook.com/jim.waymer

Help animals

If you see dead or sick manatees, sea turtles or other wildlife, don’t touch or try to rescue them yourself. Contact Florida’s wildlife alert hot line at 1-888-404-3922 or the Sea Turtle Preservation Society at 321-206-0646.

If you see injured birds, call the Florida Wildlife Hospital & Sanctuary at 321-254-8843.

Article by Jim Waymer, Florida Today, Complete Article [ HERE ]

Team Vandenberg supported the successful launch of 10 Iridium satellites on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex-4, Oct. 9, at 5:37 a.m. PDT Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Ian Dudley)

Team Vandenberg supported the successful launch of 10 Iridium satellites on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex-4, Oct. 9, at 5:37 a.m. PDT Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Ian Dudley)

The U.S. National Reconnaissance Office is poised to launch a secret payload, code-name Zuma, this weekend on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, if the weather doesn’t get in the way.

California-based SpaceX, headed by Elon Musk, announced via Twitter the launch — which has been repeatedly delayed since November — has been pushed back to Jan. 7.

“Team at the Cape completed additional propellant loading tests today. Extreme weather slowed operations but Falcon 9 and the Zuma spacecraft are healthy and go for launch — now targeting January 7 from Pad 40 in Florida,” the company tweeted Thursday, referencing Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The NRO’s mission payload, Zuma, remains shrouded in mystery. The agency has denied it is carrying a satellite. The payload is some sort of “spacecraft” that will conduct a low-Earth orbit, according to the mission’s press release.

In September, the U.S. Air Force‘s covert X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle hitched a ride for the first time aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, marking the fifth mission for the experimental craft.

The company also is planning to launch its Falcon Heavy rocket soon.

The heavy-lift booster rocket will make its operational, maiden flight sometime this month. Musk intends to send his 2008 Tesla Roadster deep into space atop of the rocket, the CEO announced Thursday via Instagram.

If the launch of the Falcon Heavy is successful, it will make the rocket the most powerful in the world thanks to its 27 Merlin engines, which produce roughly 5.1 million pounds of thrust.

That is “equal to approximately eighteen 747 aircraft. Only the Saturn V moon rocket, last flown in 1973, delivered more payload to orbit,” according to SpaceX.

Falcon Heavy is scheduled to lift off from the Kennedy Space Center’s launch complex 39A, originally built for the historic Apollo missions.

— Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

At its Hawthorne, California, headquarters in June 2014, SpaceX unveiled a mockup of its Crew Dragon capsule designed to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station. (Photo: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)

At its Hawthorne, California, headquarters in June 2014, SpaceX unveiled a mockup of its Crew Dragon capsule designed to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
(Photo: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)

In a sign that astronaut launches from Florida are growing nearer, SpaceX recently leased an Air Force facility where it will prepare Dragon capsules to fly crews to the International Space Station.

The 45th Space Wing said work on the capsule called Crew Dragon or Dragon 2 would take place in Area 59, a former satellite processing facility on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

“This summer, they should be receiving their first Dragon 2 capsule, which will directly support NASA and the return of astronauts (launching into orbit) from U.S. soil,” said Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, the Wing commander, at a recent transportation summit in Port Canaveral.

It’s unclear when SpaceX or Boeing will be ready to launch test flights of astronauts under NASA contracts.

The most recent public schedules show unmanned test flights of SpaceX’s Dragon in April and Boeing’s Starliner in August. Test flights with two-person crews would follow in August and November, respectively.

Those dates, however, are considered optimistic and likely to slip, maybe even to 2019.

Until then, NASA will continue to rely exclusively on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS, as it has since the space agency retired the shuttle program in July 2011.

A Global Positioning System satellite launched in early 2016 was the last spacecraft the Air Force readied for flight at Area 59, located near the Skid Strip south of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Industrial Area.

“This GPS IIF-12 satellite represents the end of a legacy as it will be the last of the 61 GPS satellites processed here at CCAFS,” Monteith said then. “This culminates an incredible 27-year legacy at our Area 59 Satellite Processing Facility.”

The Air Force in 2014 announced plans to close the facility as a cost-saving measure and potentially make it available for commercial use.

Overall, Monteith said the Air Force has now leased or licensed over one million square feet of facilities to the commercial sector through the Commercial Space Launch Act.

“Another way that we are breaking down barriers and removing impediments to the growth of the commercial industry,” he said. “At the end of the day, it also benefits the taxpayer.”

NASA also has transferred numerous former shuttle facilities to commercial tenants or government agencies such as the Air Force or Space Florida. They include the lease of historic launch pad 39A to SpaceX, where Falcon 9 rockets are slated to launch the crew-carrying Dragons on their way to the ISS.

On Dec. 15, a Falcon 9 launched a cargo version of the Dragon to the ISS for the 13th time under a NASA resupply contract.That Dragon is targeting a Jan. 13 return to Earth with a Pacific Ocean splashdown.

Contact Dean at 321-242-3668

or jdean@floridatoday.com.

Twitter: @flatoday_jdean

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Article by James Dean, Florida Today, Complete Article [ HERE ]

The Air Force has opened a “polar corridor” that would allow certain rockets to launch spacecraft from Cape Canaveral into north-south orbits circling the poles, a development that could bring more launches to Florida.

Polar launches historically have been flown from Vandenberg Air Force Base on California’s Central Coast, where a small number of missions each year fly south over the Pacific Ocean toward Antarctica.

Cape launches most often head east to send satellites on their way around the equator. Polar trajectories have been avoided since a 1960 Navy launch inadvertently dropped a Thor rocket stage on Cuba, reportedly killing a cow.

But now, says Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, commander of the 45th Space Wing, “We can shoot south.”

No near-term missions plan to use the new polar corridor, but over time it could lead to more Cape launches and consolidation of the nation’s launch infrastructure.

Both the military and commercial launchers could save money by no longer having to maintain and staff infrastructure sites on both coasts.

“Adding polar missions to the Cape’s manifest might be very attractive to the Air Force, especially as they consider a new round of base closures in the near future,” said Edward Ellegood, an analyst at Saalex Solutions, a range operations contractor at Kennedy Space Center.

“This would also be a boon for the commercial launch industry in Florida,” said Ellegood. “United Launch Alliance, SpaceX, Orbital ATK and Blue Origin could reduce the costs associated with operating facilities and deploying personnel to the West Coast for only a few missions per year.”

The Eastern Range began analyzing options for polar launches as a wild fire raged near Vandenberg in September 2016. The fire damaged power and communications lines and delayed a commercial mission by two months.

How could the 45th Space Wing support national security missions if fires closed Vandenberg for 12, 18 or 24 months, Monteith asked his safety and flight analysts?

First, they looked north, but Newfoundland proved too difficult an obstacle. Turning their attention south, a path materialized.

“They crunched numbers for about eight months, and I am confident we can go south,” said Monteith.

Monteith did not detail the precise trajectory, but said it involved “a little jog shortly off the pad” to turn south once offshore, “and then we’d skirt Miami.”

The rocket’s first stage would drop safely before reaching Cuba, he said. The second stage would be so high up by the time it flew over the island that no special permissions would be required.

There is one condition: southbound rockets must be equipped with automated flight termination systems, in which onboard computers command rockets to self-destruct if they should veer off course.

Otherwise, exhaust plumes could disturb the destruct signals sent by traditional systems, requiring down range tracking equipment that the Air Force has eliminated over the years.

Today, only SpaceX’s single-stick Falcon 9 rocket could fly the polar corridor, and the company has no stated plans to use it, even as it is midway through an eight-launch campaign from Vandenberg for Iridium Communications.

But every big rocket is expected to be equipped with automated destruct systems within a decade. United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan, Blue Origin’s New Glenn — both still in development — and SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy might be cleared to fly south within a few years.

Blue Origin, which has a contract to launch OneWeb satellites into polar orbits in the 2020s, does not yet have a Vandenberg launch site and says those missions could launch from the Cape.

“New Glenn has the capability and performance to launch customers into polar orbit from Florida,” the company said in a statement. “We are working diligently to finish our launch site at Launch Complex 36 so we can meet the market demands of commercial, civil, and national security customers from the Space Coast.”

Brian Holz, CEO of OneWeb Satellites, which next year will start building satellites at KSC, said a polar launch option from Florida would benefit rocket and satellite providers.

“From a OneWeb Satellites perspective, having the satellite manufacturing located next door to a launch facility that has such flexibility would be a huge benefit,” he said.

Beyond satellite launches, the corridor could open opportunities to rendezvous with the International Space Station as it flew to the north or south.

KSC’s Launch Services Program, which launches NASA’s planetary probes and science missions, said it was not involved in the trajectory analysis and that it was up to rocket companies to select launch sites.

The Cape’s southern corridor may be about more than geography.

Though Vandenberg typically hosts just a few orbital rocket launches a year (but eight in 2017), getting on its schedule can be a challenge. The base must prioritize test flights of Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles and Missile Defense Agency interceptors, and is not as accustomed to quick turnarounds between launches.

In addition, Monteith said his counterpart leading the 30th Space Wing does not enjoy the same level of support found on the Space Coast.

“He was talking about things that I have no experience with whatsoever, and that is almost an adversarial relationship with the local community and state on bringing in new business and fostering commercial growth,” Monteith said at a Dec. 12 transportation conference at Port Canaveral. “They are at a crossroads.”

Monteith, on the other hand, is touting improvements that would enable up to 48 Cape launches annually within five years, up from 19 this year.

Of course, the Cape also is vulnerable to natural disasters. The 45th Space Wing is still cleaning up damage from a second hurricane in as many years.

Whatever operational challenges exist at Vandenberg, Matt Desch, CEO of Iridium Communications, which just completed its fourth launch of the year from Vandenberg with SpaceX and preparing for four more next year, said he’s happy with the site.

He praised Monteith’s can-do, customer-focused attitude, but said he’s not looking for alternatives. Plus, he joked, the Vandenberg area offers some post-launch advantages.

“I’m not a complainer about California,” he said. “And I’ve got to tell you, they’ve got awesome vineyards. The celebrations afterwards are fantastic.”

Contact Dean at 321-242-3668 or jdean@floridatoday.com. And follow on Twitter at @flatoday_jdean and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/FlameTrench.

Article by James Dean, Florida Today, Complete Article [ HERE ]