Space and astronomy news and information for the American Southwest. Coverage includes Vandenberg AFB rocket and missile launches.

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2018 April 15 11:53 PDT

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Solar-terrestrial Conditions
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Solar-terrestrial parameters

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3-day K-index Plot

3-day K-index Forecast

Image: NOAA

60-day Solar-terrestrial Plot

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Long-term Solar Flux PlotImage: NOAA

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What's New?
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APR 15 Vandenberg AFB Launch Schedule updated

Next Vandenberg Launch
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As of April 15

The next announced Vandenberg AFB rocket launch is an Atlas V on the morning of May 5. The vehicle is slated to lift off from Space Launch Complex-3E during a 04:05 to 06:05 PDT launch window and send the InSight spacecraft and two communications relay satellites to Mars.

For a complete listing of all recent and past Vandenberg launches, go to Vandenberg AFB Launch History. To access launch photos, videos, and audio reports, visit the Vandenberg Rocket and Missile Launch Multimedia library.

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Indochina Fires

Suomi NPP satellite image of Indochina fires

Numerous fires dot Indochina in this image recorded on April 9 by the Suomi NPP satellite. The spacecraft's Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) sensor detected 2,370 separate hotspots throughout the region. Most likely these fires are agricultural in nature and were set to clear fields, but some could have been started by lightning or set intentionally and got out of control. Suomi NPP was launched from Vandenberg AFB in 2011. NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team, GSFC

Astrophysics CubeSat Demonstrates Big Potential in a Small Package

(APR 12) PASADENA, Calif. - The ASTERIA satellite, which was deployed into low-Earth orbit in November, is only slightly larger than a box of cereal, but it could be used to help astrophysicists study planets orbiting other stars. More

Virgin Galactic Conducts Flight Test

(APR 7) Virgin Galactic successfully conducted the first supersonic, rocket-powered flight of its SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity spacecraft on April 5.

The WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft took off from Mojave, California at 8:20 PDT and climbed to about 46,500 feet above the Sierra Nevada mountains before releasing SpaceShipTwo. Following release, the crew of SpaceShipTwo performed a 30-second burn of its hybrid rocket motor while executing an 80-degree climb.

The maneuver accelerated the spacecraft to a speed of Mach 1.87 and lofted it to a maximum altitude of 84,271 feet. SpaceShipTwo then glided to Mojave, Calif. and made a runway landing.

Brian Webb

Falcon 9 Launched

Falcon 9 Iridium Mission 5 launch

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex-4E at Vandenberg AFB on March 30. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Clayton Wear

(MAR 30) A Falcon 9 rocket carrying several satellites was successfully launched from Vandenberg AFB this morning. The vehicle departed Space Launch Complex 4E on south base at 7:13 a.m. and inserted 10 Iridium NEXT communications satellites into a polar orbit.

Brian Webb

SpaceX Awarded Launch Contract

(MAR 14) Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Hawthorne, California, has been awarded a $290,594,130 firm-fixed-price contract for launch services to deliver the GPS III to its intended orbit. This contract provides launch vehicle production, mission integration/launch operations/spaceflight worthiness and mission unique activities for a GPS III mission, with options for two additional GPS III launch services. Work will be performed in Hawthorne, California; Cape Canaveral Air Force Space Station, Florida; and McGregor, Texas, and is expected to be complete by March 2020. This award is the result of a competitive acquisition and two offers were received. Fiscal 2017 and 2018 space procurement funding in the amount of $96,937,905 will be obligated at the time of award. The Contracting Division, Launch Systems Enterprise Directorate, Space and Missile Systems Center, Los Angeles Air Force Base, California is the contracting activity.

Department of Defense

North Pole

Infrared image of Jupiter's north pole

Jupiter's central cyclone at the planet's north pole and the cyclones that encircle it are visible in this infrared image derived from data from NASA's Juno spacecraft. The colors in this composite represent radiant heat: the yellow (thinner) clouds are about 9 degrees Fahrenheit (-13° Celsius) in brightness temperature and the dark red (thickest) are around -181 degrees Fahrenheit (-118.33° Celsius). The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM

Astronomy Lecture

(MAR 10) The Ventura County Astronomical Society will host a public astronomy lecture from 7:15-9 p.m. on March 16 at the Moorpark College Forum.

Dr. Luisa Rebull of Cal Tech will discuss how anyone can access the vast amount of research-quality astronomy data and interpret it like the pros.

The Moorpark College Forum is located at 7075 Campus Rd, Moorpark, CA 93021. Parking and admission are free.

Brian Webb

NASA InSight Mission to Mars Arrives at Launch Site

(FEB 28) NASA's InSight spacecraft has arrived at Vandenberg Air Force Base in central California to begin final preparations for a launch this May. More

Falcon 9 Paz Launched from Vandenberg

Falcon 9 Rocket Launch

A Falcon 9 rocket carrying Spain's Paz spacecraft and two secondary payloads climbs into the dawn sky on February 22 following liftoff from Vandenberg AFB, Calif. Patti Gutshall took this photo of the event from Santa Barbara using a Nikon D800E camera and zoom lens set to 175mm. Image copyright 2018, Patti Gutshall. Used with permission

(FEB 22) VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Team Vandenberg successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a PAZ payload from Space Launch Complex-4 here, Thursday, Feb. 22, at 6:17 a.m. PST.

Col. Greg Wood, 30th Space Wing vice commander, was the space launch commander.

"This launch was a testament to the hard work of Team Vandenberg, SpaceX and Spain," said Wood. "I am proud of everyone involved that continues to pave the way for our nation's access to space."

Vandenberg AFB

Dawn Launch

(FEB 21) The February 22 launch of a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg AFB could provide an interesting light show visible over a wide area.

The rocket is scheduled to lift off at 06:17 PST during an instantaneous launch window. The Falcon will carry Spain’s Paz earth-imaging satellite and two secondary payloads into a nearly-polar orbit. The window is very short because of the need to precisely position Paz with respect to other spacecraft to form an earth-observation satellite constellation.

Launch occurs about 24 minutes before Vandenberg sunrise. Weather permitting, the Falcon 9’s bright orange flame should be visible in western California at least as far away as San Luis Obispo and Santa Monica.

A computer simulation by Rick Baldridge for a previous launch opportunity shows the rocket will exit the Earth’s shadow and climb into sunlight at about T+2 minutes 10 seconds.

That would make the launch especially interesting as the Falcon 9’s exhaust plume is illuminated by the Sun while suspended in a semi-dark sky. Such a display could be visible from San Francisco to Baja California.

Brian Webb

Red Moon

Total Lunar Eclipse

The full moon turns red as it passes through the earth's shadow before sunrise on January 31. Jason Nguyen took this image of the colorful event from his rooftop in Santa Ana, Calif. using a Fuji xt2 camera with a 100-400 lens and 2x teleconverter. Image copyright 2018, Jason Nguyen. Used with permission

Wednesday Morning Eclipse

(JAN 28) If the weather cooperates, early risers in the Southwest can enjoy a total lunar eclipse on the morning of January 31.

The key times (in Pacific Time) for this event are as follows:

        03:48 Partial eclipse begins

        04:42 Totality begins

        05:30 Mid-eclipse

        06:08 Totality ends

        07:11 Partial eclipse ends

Experts predict that the normally gray moon will probably be bright orange in color during totality. To see the eclipse, you won't need any special equipment, the unaided eye will suffice. However, you will have a better view if you use binoculars or a small telescope.

Brian Webb

Possible February Light Show

(JAN 21) Sky watchers in parts of California and Mexico may be treated to an interesting dawn light show next month thanks to a rocket launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is slated to lift off from south base no earlier than February 10 and carry Spain’s Paz satellite into orbit.

Liftoff is currently scheduled for 06:22 PST, 31 minutes before sunrise at Vandenberg. Although Falcon 9 night launches are easily visible over a wide area due to the rocket’s brilliant flame, this launch could have an added dimension: The Twilight Effect.

An analysis of lighting conditions by amateur astronomer extraordinaire Rick Baldridge shows if the launch occurs at 06:22 PST on February 10, the rocket will climb out of the Earth’s shadow and into sunlight at T+ 2 minutes 15 seconds.

If this is the case, the launch could be especially interesting as the Falcon 9’s exhaust plume is illuminated by the Sun while suspended in a semi-dark sky. If the sky is clear, such a display could be visible in western California from San Francisco to San Diego and in Baja California.

Brian Webb

Delta IV NROL-47 Launched from Vandenberg

(JAN 12) VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Team Vandenberg successfully launched a United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket carrying a National Reconnaissance Office payload from Space Launch Complex-6 here, Friday, Jan. 12, at 2:11 p.m. PST.

Col. Greg Wood, 30th Space Wing vice commander, was the space launch commander.

"This was an incredibly important launch for the 30th Space Wing and our mission partners," said Wood. "The entire team - the 30th Space Wing, the National Reconnaissance Office, United Launch Alliance, and others - worked hand-in-hand to ensure this launch was safe and successful. This was an outstanding effort by everyone."

This satellite was launched aboard a Delta IV Medium (5,2) configuration Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle. Established by the U.S. Air Force, the EELV program provides assured access to space for Department of Defense and other government agencies.

Vandenberg AFB

Delta IV NROL-47 Delayed

(JAN 11) VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - The United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket carrying a National Reconnaissance Office payload from Space Launch Complex-6, was delayed today due to an issue with a ground system valve.

The launch is rescheduled for Friday, Jan. 12, with a window beginning at 1:00 p.m. PST.

Vandenberg AFB

Launch Scrubbed

(JAN 10) Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. – The launch of a United Launch Alliance Delta IV carrying the NROL-47 mission was scrubbed today due to high ground winds.

The launch is planned for Thursday, Jan. 11, from Space Launch Complex-6 at Vandenberg Air Force Base. The forecast shows a 90 percent chance of favorable weather conditions for launch. The launch time is 1:00 p.m. PT.

United Launch Alliance

Winter Storm

Winter Storm

Millions of people along the East Coast of the United States faced snow and ice, gusty winds, power outages, travel delays, school closings, and flooding as a rapidly-intensifying Nor’easter plowed northward during the first week of 2018. The Suomi-NPP spacecraft took this nighttime image of the storm at 10:30 p.m. PST on January 3. In this view, the clouds are lit from above by the nearly full Moon and from below by the lights of the heavily populated East Coast. Suomi-NPP was launched from Vandenberg AFB in October 2011. Image Credit: NASA/NASA Earth Observatory

SMC, Orbital ATK Sign Agreement

(JAN 4) LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, El Segundo, Calif. -The Space and Missile Systems Center and Orbital ATK have signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) as part of the company's effort to certify its Next Generation Launcher for National Security Space (NSS) missions. This cooperative agreement facilitates data exchanges and protects proprietary and export-controlled data. The CRADA will be in effect until all non-recurring design validation activities are complete.

The purpose of certification is to provide the Air Force with high confidence that launch providers are capable of meeting launch requirements for NSS missions according to the New Entrant Certification Guide (NECG). Formal design and mission reliability assessments ensure the launch system's ability to provide the necessary payload mass-to-orbit, orbital insertion accuracy and other requirements to place a healthy payload into its intended orbit.

While certification does not guarantee a contract award, it does enable a company to be awarded competitive launch services contracts.

Currently, ULA's Delta IV and Atlas V, and SpaceX's Falcon 9 Upgrade are the only certified launch vehicles for sending NSS payloads into orbit. Having multiple certified launch vehicle providers and multiple families of launch systems bolsters the U.S.' continued assured access to space.

The Space and Missile Systems Center, located at Los Angeles Air Force Base, California, is the U.S. Air Force's center for acquiring and developing military space systems. Its portfolio includes the Global Positioning System, military satellite communications, defense meteorological satellites, space launch and range systems, satellite control networks, space based infrared systems and space situational awareness capabilities.

Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center

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