Upcoming launch year to be a blast


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CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION. Fla. -- With scheduled missions to the sun and the moon and the inaugural launches of Falcon 9 vehicles from Cape Canaveral AFS, 2008 looks to be an exciting year of Eastern Range operations.

Although a fluid document that's always subject to change, the Eastern Range manifest is currently loaded with about 20 missions -- an exciting mix of national security, scientific and commercial launches, that should light up the skies of the Space Coast and inspire space enthusiasts around the world.

Among the most intriguing of these launches are the first launches of the Falcon 9 rocket by a company called "SpaceX," from refurbished facilities at Space Launch Complex 40.

The first launch is expected in the June time frame with a demonstration flight, that if successful, could be followed by at least two more Falcon 9 flights during the year. One of those flights would be a test flight for NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services system that will coordinate delivery of crew and cargo to the International Space Station at the conclusion of the space shuttle program.

This year should also see the final three launches of a global positioning system satellite on the venerable Delta II rocket. The launches are currently set for March, June and September. After that, GPS satellites will be launched aboard Atlas V boosters. Other national security launches on the manifest include the second launch of a WGS satellite on an Atlas V, the first launch of another advanced military communications spacecraft called the Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite or AEHF, also on an Atlas V and the launch of a National Reconnaissance Office payload.

In terms of NASA scientific missions, up to five space shuttle missions are on the docket. Four of those flights will be to the International Space Station. The fifth will be a mission to service the Hubble Telescope. In addition, NASA is set to launch a mission called GLAST to deploy the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope.

With GLAST, astronomers will have a superior tool to study black holes and cosmologists will gain valuable data about the birth and early evolution of the universe. Finally, NASA plans to launch ambitious missions from Cape Canaveral AFS on Atlas V rockets to study the sun (Solar Dynamics Observatory) and to pave the way to for man's return to the moon (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite). A weather satellite called GOES-O is also on tap to be launched on a Delta IV for NASA and NOAA in the July time frame.

The only purely commercial mission on the Eastern Range schedule is the launch of a mobile communications satellite for ICO of North America. This launch is currently set to fly on an Atlas V in late March.

"2008 will present the Air Force's Eastern Range with golden opportunities to show its flexibility and agility to the world," said Brig. Gen. Susan Helms, commander of the 45th Space Wing, which oversees the Eastern Range. "No other space complex in the world supports a wider variety of missions as efficiently, effectively and safely as the Eastern Range. We're looking forward to another great year."

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