Credit: Spaceflight

Update: From 30th Space Wing (Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.)

SpaceX Falcon 9 SSO-A launch delayed

SpaceX is standing down from Monday’s launch attempt of Spaceflight SSO-A: SmallSat Express to conduct additional pre-flight inspections.

A red flag continues to be raised by orbital debris specialists regarding the upcoming launch of SSO-A, currently scheduled for a SpaceX Falcon 9 liftoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on November 19.

Targeted for sun-synchronous orbit (SSO), the mission is dubbed SSO-A: SmallSat Express.

Rideshare mission

The bragging rights about the SmallSat Express involve the largest rideshare mission from a U.S.-based launch vehicle, with 25 percent of the customers launching for the first time.

Mission management provider, Spaceflight, has contracted with more than 70 spacecraft from approximately 35 different organizations, all to be propelled skyward by a SpaceX Falcon 9. Spaceflight is a service offering of Spaceflight Industries, based in Seattle, Washington.

The satellites are to be dispersed by SHERPA platforms, free-flying secondary payload dispensers.

Credit: Spaceflight

Space debris on release

“What they [Spaceflight] haven’t shared is how these 70+ satellites are going to be deployed,” says T.S. Kelso of CelesTrak, an analytical group that keeps an eye on Earth-orbiting objects. “I checked with one of the operators—trying to get a head start on how we’re going to ID all of these—and learned that the two SHERPA platforms are going to be released from the Falcon 9 with no attitude control or attitude determination.”

Kelso’s bottom line: “I think this is not only irresponsible from a safety of flight perspective, but it jeopardizes the time and resources of many of the small operators who may never even hear from their satellites,” he told Inside Outer Space.  His guess is that about a third of the satellites to be deployed will basically be space debris on release and there will be difficulties in sorting out this kind of mess.

Credit: Spaceflight

Be prepared for chaos

Kelso spoke extensively with the 18 Space Control Squadron team at last week’s Space Situational Awareness Operators’ Workshop in Denver, tweeting:

“They have next to nothing useful from Spaceflight for the SSO-A launch on Monday. This is totally irresponsible. Be prepared for chaos.”

In reaching out to Spaceflight for comment on my previous article — “Cluttering Space: Upcoming Launch Red Flagged” at:

Christine Melby, a PR spokesperson for Spaceflight, in an email response said: “Thank you for reaching out. At this time we do not have a comment on this article.”

Credit: 18th Space Control Squadron

Space squadron

Meanwhile, a tweet from the 18 Space Control Squadron at Vandenberg that detects, tracks, and identifies all artificial objects in Earth orbit states:

“Check out the SSO-A launch on Monday at #Vandenberg AFB w/ 64+ spacecraft! We’re working closely with all O/Os [owner/operators] to track & catalog the objects ASAP. Thanks to all O/Os for their cooperation, transparency & support for #spaceflightsafety.”

The Combined Space Operations Center (CSpOC) has developed a set of recommendations for optimal CubeSat operations, including launch deployment and identifications. But it appears that the recommendations were not taken seriously by the SSA-O developers.

Those recommendations were based on the proliferation of CubeSats and associated technology that pose unique tracking and identification challenges.

To review the August 2015 document — JSpOC Recommendations for Optimal

CubeSat Operations — go to:

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