This Month in Space: July
We’ve officially reached Summer’s halfway point, and every day seems to be hotter than the last. The air is humid, the mosquitoes are buzzing — and so were the month’s space news headliners.
Let’s take a look at just some of July’s exciting space news.
Historic Launchpad Towers Demolished
Two of Cape Canaveral’s oldest launch towers came crashing down after being demolished July 5 by the U.S. Air Force. The $2 million demolition project is part of the ongoing effort to remove over 30 launch complex facilities to make room for private rocket launch companies to set up shop.
After 325 launches over more than 60 years, the twin Launch Complex 17 towers had long been considered local landmarks. The towers were most famous for being used to assemble the Delta 2 rockets.
The 20-story historic launchpad towers served as the launch site for many other exciting projects; including NASA’s first communications satellite, Echo-1, and several exploratory missions that sent rovers to Mars.
The now-demolished Complex 17 launch pad will serve as the new home for Moon Express, a private company that plans to fly regular missions to the Moon.
Kepler Telescope Nears the End of its Space Mission
After 9 years hunting planets beyond our solar system, NASA’s Kepler telescope has detected that it is beginning to run low on fuel.
The Kepler telescope’s flight controllers have placed the spacecraft into hibernation mode in an effort to conserve enough energy to successfully extract the last remaining planetary observations from the telescope.
NASA expects to awaken the telescope Aug. 2 so that the data collected can be safely transmitted back to Earth.
System engineer Charlie Sobek compared the process of figuring out when to bring the telescope out of hibernation to trying to decide when to gas up your car — “Do you stop now? Or try to make it to the next station?” he joked.
Ready to take the Kepler’s spot is NASA’s newest planet hunting telescope, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite – Or TESS for short.
This next generation planet hunter launched earlier this year and is projected to start transmitting data to Earth in early 2019.
NASA Looking to Relocate Pegasus XL Launch to Florida
NASA and Northrop Grumman’s Pegasus XL rocket launch was scheduled to liftoff from a remote island in the Pacific Ocean in June of 2017 but was delayed because of sudden unusual telemetry data being transmitted from the rocket.
After several attempts at trying to fix the issue, the mission overseers decided that it was better to be precautious and fully understand the problem before trying to set a new launch date.
Although the Pegasus XL rocket is now expected to be fully functional in just a matter of weeks, scheduling a launch site slot has proven to be harder than it sounds. This is due to the launch range being completely booked for the foreseeable future.
Because of this, the Pegasus’ launch is now being rescheduled to take off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in late September.
NASA is Now Seeking Proposals for Second Mobile Launch Pad
This month NASA issued a call to construct a second mobile launch platform at Kennedy Space Center.
NASA says that the Mobile Launcher 2 would be similar in nature to the existing mobile launch platform but it would be built specifically for the taller SLS Block 1B rocket and for future versions of the SLS Block rocket.
Although NASA has yet to give a cost estimate for how much it would cost to build the second mobile launch pad, the U.S. Senate’s fiscal 2019 bill already states that it will be awarding NASA an additional $255 million.
The Mobile Launcher 2 would be scheduled to begin launching missions for the Space Launch System rockets starting in the early 2020’s.
SpaceX Just Got One Step Closer to an Unmanned Flight
After passing a series of thermal vacuum tests, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft has arrived in Cape Canaveral to await its flight debut.
The first of the Crew Dragon’s test flights will be an unmanned trip to the International Space Station that will serve as a benchmark for how the Crew Dragon vehicle performs once launched. This first test trip is scheduled for sometime in August.
SpaceX officials have yet to confirm the exact date of the second Crew Dragon launch, which will be SpaceX’s first crewed flight. SpaceX officials believe it will take place sometime in December 2018.
Keep up with all upcoming Space Coast launch dates by regularly checking our launch schedule.