Launch Services Program
Launch Services Program (LSP) is responsible for NASA oversight of launch operations and countdown management, providing added quality and mission assurance in lieu of the requirement for the launch service provider to obtain a commercial launch license. It operates under the Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate of NASA.
|Headquarters||Kennedy Space Center, FL|
|Products||Expendable Launch Vehicles: Atlas V , Delta II, Delta IV, Pegasus, Taurus|
|Website||Launch Services Program|
Since 1990, NASA has purchased expendable launch vehicle (ELV) launch services directly from commercial providers, whenever possible, for its scientific and applications missions. ELVs can accommodate all types of orbit inclinations and altitudes and are ideal vehicles for launching Earth-orbit and interplanetary missions. The Launch Services Program was established at Kennedy Space Center for NASA's acquisition and program management of ELV missions. A NASA/contractor team is in place to meet the mission of the Launch Services Program, which exists to provide leadership, expertise and cost-effective services in the commercial arena to satisfy Agency wide space transportation requirements and maximize the opportunity for mission success.
Primary launch sites are Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida, and Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) in California. Other launch locations are NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, Reagan Test Site at Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska.
- Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland
- Jet Propulsion Laboratory, located at the California Institute of Technology
- NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, in California's Silicon Valley
- NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland
- NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia
- NASA Marshall Space Flight Center at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama
- Several U.S. Universities, launching small research satellites (CubeSats)
- International partners
- Other Government Agencies:
Launch vehicle contractors (LVC)
The Launch Services Program (LSP) is currently awarding new contracts under the NASA Launch Services (NLS) II Contract. Once a year, new launch vehicles can be on (or off) ramped onto the contract. The following vehicles are attached to the NLS II Contract.
- Antares – Orbital Sciences Corporation (OSC)
- Athena I – Lockheed Martin Space Systems
- Athena II – Lockheed Martin Space Systems
- Atlas V – United Launch Alliance (ULA)
- Delta II – United Launch Alliance (ULA) [limited to 5 - 3 already assigned]
- Falcon 1 – SpaceX
- Falcon 9 – SpaceX
- Pegasus XL – Orbital Sciences Corporation (OSC)
- Taurus XL – Orbital Sciences Corporation (OSC)
NASA has specific policies governing launch services. LSP Flight Design provides general information regarding the launch vehicle performance available via existing NASA contracts. This information is all available on publicly available websites.
NASA uses a certification system for rockets launched by its contractors, and for validation purposes it requires the certification process to be "instrumented to provide design verification and flight performance data", with post-flight operations, anomaly resolution process, and a flight margin verification process, with 95% predicted design reliability at 80% confidence.
In addition to providing end-to-end launch services, LSP also offers Advisory Services. This "is a consulting service to government and commercial organizations, providing mission management, overall systems engineering and/or specific discipline expertise; e.g. mission assurance, flight design, systems safety, etc., as requested." This non-traditional service allows LSP to "expand its customer base and assist these customers in maximizing their mission success by using NASA LSP's unique expertise." The four general categories of advisory services are:
- SMART (Supplemental Mission Advisory and Risk Team)
- Design and Development
- Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V)
- Independent Review Teams (IRT)
LSP also works with the Air Force Space Command (AFSPC), via coordination by the LVCs. For launches at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) and Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB), the 45th Space Wing and 30th Space Wing commanders, respectively, are the Launch Decision Authority.
For launches from CCAFS, "Airmen, Air Force civilians and contractors from throughout the 45th Space Wing provided vital support, including weather forecasts, launch and range operations, security, safety, medical and public affairs. The wing also provided its vast network of radar, telemetry, and communications instrumentation to facilitate a safe launch on the Eastern Range." Among work done by AFSPC is Mission Flight Control, which ensures public safety during launch.
The weather conditions acceptable for launch vary by rocket and even the configurations of the rocket. Prior to liftoff are multiple sets of acceptable weather conditions that depend on the state of the rocket, particularly where the rocket is in the fuel loading process.
The schedule below includes only Launch Services Program (LSP) primary and advisory missions. The NASA Launch Schedule has the most up to date public schedule of all NASA launches. The NASA KSC News Releases will also have updates on LSP launches and mission accomplishments. The ELaNa Launch Schedule has the upcoming schedule of CubeSat missions, which occur on both NASA and non-NASA launches. A delayed version of the "NASA ELV Payload Safety Missions in work" is released via NASA's Public TechDoc; some of the dates may be obsolete.
|NET||No Earlier Than (Tentative)|
|NLT||No Later Than|
|+||LSP Advisory Mission|
|*||The total cost for NASA to launch the mission includes the launch service, spacecraft processing, payload integration, tracking, data and telemetry, mission unique launch site ground support, and other launch support requirements. All costs listed are approximate. Some spacecraft were awarded as a group, which is why their cost is listed as 1 of a number of spacecraft. Unless the reference specifies otherwise, the value is at award (i.e. when the launch service contract is signed) and does not account for additional costs due to delays and other factors or any cost savings that may have occurred later.|
The engineers at NASA's Launch Services Program are rocket experts. Below are some examples of jobs within LSP that NASA has written articles on.
- Flight Design analysts work on the intended course, or trajectory, of the rocket.
- Telemetry engineers get tracking stations to cover all the mandatory portions of flight. Analysts from many disciplines review this data post-flight.
- Weather Forecasters Balance Experience with Technology
- The Failure Analysis and Materials Evaluation Lab assists the program by examining failures and figuring out what went wrong
The Launch Services Program operates Hangar AE on the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It is LSP's Launch Communications Center. For Florida launches, many of the primary LSP engineers on console are in Hangar AE. For launches from California and other launch sites, many of support LSP engineers are on console there. Launch vehicle contractors and spacecraft engineers will often operate out of the Hangar also. It gathers telemetry for rocket launches beyond those worked by LSP.
Slosh Fluid Dynamics Experiments
SPHERES-Slosh Experiment will be performed on the SPHERES Testbed on the International Space Station. The experiment launched on the Cygnus capsule going to the ISS via Orbital Sciences Corporation Commercial Resupply Services Orb-1 mission on an Antares on 2014.01.09. The Cygnus arrived at the ISS on 2014.01.12 and will spend five weeks unloading the cargo.
The SPHERES-Slosh investigation uses small robotic satellites on the International Space Station to examine how liquids move around inside containers in microgravity. A water bottle's contents slosh around differently in space than on Earth, but the physics of liquid motion in microgravity are not well understood, which affects computer simulations of liquid rocket fuel behavior. LSP leads a team that includes Florida Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The research is sponsored by the Game Changing Development (GCD) program (within NASA Technology Demonstration Office (TDO)'s Space Technology Mission Directorate).
The experiment is a water tank with cameras and sensors that will be mounted between two SPHERES satellites inside the ISS. During testing, the SPHERES will move to purposely agitate the water and cause the fluid inside to slosh around, like it might in a rocket or spacecraft tank during flight. The data collected will be one of a kind. Three initial tests are expected to happen with the first couple months of launch.
"The current inability to accurately predict fuel and oxidizer behavior can result in unnecessary caution, requiring extra propellant to be added along with additional helium for tank pressurization. A better understanding of fluid slosh could not only decrease this uncertainty, but increase efficiency, reduce costs and allow additional payloads to be launched." Understanding from this experiment could help improve design/operations of rocket tanks and control systems.
NASA's Brandon Marsell, co-principal investigator on the Slosh Project: "Modern computer models try to predict how liquid moves inside a propellant tank. Now that rockets are bigger and are going farther, we need more precise data. Most of the models we have were validated under 1 g conditions on Earth. None have been validated in the surface tension-dominated microgravity environment of space." (via Langley Research Center article)
Slosh is the first project on the ISS to use 3D printed materials for its experiment. NASA's Jacob Roth, project manager on the Slosh Project, on the first science session: "The results from our first checkout run are proving interesting. While not too unexpected, the bubble/liquid interaction behavior appears to be exhibiting a slightly different interaction than current models predict." The team will be altering the tests for the second session based on the preliminary results.
- Space Station Live: Fluid Motion Study Using Mini-Satellites - Reel NASA Interview with LSP's Dr. Paul Schallhorn to explain the experiment
- Space to Ground - 1/17/14 - Reel NASA update on ISS includes launch of SPHERES-Slosh
The 2008-2010 slosh related tests on SPHERES were performed with a single SPHERES spacecraft and, in some cases, the addition of a battery pack Velcroed on to the SPHERES spacecraft. These tests were to better understand the physical properties of the SPHERES spacecraft, notably the mass properties, prior adding any tanks to the system. Some of the tests also attempted to excite and then sense slosh within the SPHERES CO2 tank. Florida Tech designed the slosh experiments for Test Sessions 18/20/24/25.
|Date||Session||Slosh-related Tests on the SPHERES ISS Testbed||Report||ISS Expedition||Media|
|2008.09.27||13||P221 Tests 2 & 5: Fuel Slosh – Sat only & Batt Proof Mass||17|
|2008.10.27||14||P236, Tests 7 & 8: Fluid Slosh, Rotate 2: Sat Only & Batt Proof Mass||18|
|2009.07.11||16||P251, Test 2 Fluid Slosh - X Nutation & Test 3 Fluid Slosh - Rotation Rate High||20|
|2009.08.15||18||P264, Tests A/2, B/3 Fluid Slosh - Z Motion Fluid Slosh (full tank/partially used tank)||20|
|2009.12.05||20||P20A, Fluid Slosh Test 3/4: Z Reverse T1/T2, Test 5/6: Fluid Slosh Spin Z Forward/Reverse||21|
|2010.10.07||24||P24A, Tests 4/5: Fluid Slosh: Lateral/Circular Motion||25|
|2010.10.28||25||P311, Tests 2/3/5: Fluid Slosh: Z Translation/X Translation/X Rotation||25|
|2014.01.22||54||Slosh Checkout (1st SPHERES-Slosh Test Session)||38||Expedition 38 Image Gallery|
|2014.02.28||58||Slosh Science 1 (2nd SPHERES-Slosh Test Session)||38|
|2014.06.18||60||Slosh Science 2 (3rd SPHERES-Slosh Test Session)||40||Expedition 40 Image Gallery|
|2015.07||Slosh Science 3 (4th SPHERES-Slosh Test Session)||44|
|2015.08.07||Slosh Science 4 (5th SPHERES-Slosh Test Session)||44|
|2015.09.10||77||Slosh Science 5 (6th SPHERES-Slosh Test Session)||45|
|2015.11.12||Slosh Science 6 (7th SPHERES-Slosh Test Session)||45|
The Cryogenic Orbital Testbed (CRYOTE) is a collaboration between NASA and commercial companies to develop an orbital testbed that will demonstrate cryogenic fluid management technologies in space environments. "The testbed provides an in-space environment in which the fluid transfer, handling, and storage of liquid hydrogen (LH2) and/or liquid oxygen (LO2) can be demonstrated."
The research is funded by the NASA Innovative Partnership Program (IPP) in the Office of the Chief Technologist. "The partners involved in the development of this system include United Launch Alliance (ULA), Sierra Lobo, Innovative Engineering Solutions (IES), Yetispace, and NASA Glenn Research Center, Kennedy Space Center, and Marshall Space Flight Center."
Outreach Support to the Public
NASA's Launch Services Program Educational Outreach provides awareness to students, teachers and the public about NASA's exciting spacecraft missions and how the world benefits from them. Distance learning via video conference connects students to LSP experts
The office also coordinates activities and educational booths at events for NASA and the public. The outreach is performed by both members of the LSP Educational Outreach Office and LSP experts throughout the program.
The LSP Educational Outreach Office created the Rocket Science 101 Game. Students can pick a NASA mission, select the right rocket, and build a rocket to send the spacecraft into orbit. There are three different levels for varying ages and it is available for the computer and Apple/Android devices.
NASA and the Launch Services Program are partnering with several universities to launch small research satellites. These small satellites are called CubeSats. CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) provides opportunities for small satellite payloads to fly on rockets planned for upcoming launches. As of February 2015, CSLI has selected 119 spacecraft since 2010.
Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) and is a part of CSLI. ELaNa manifests the CubeSats selected by CSLI onto upcoming rocket launches. CubeSats were first included on the launch of LSP missions in 2011. ELaNa missions are not manifested exclusively on LSP missions; they have been a part of NRO/military launches and ELaNa V will be on an International Space Station resupply launch. ELaNa mission numbers are based on the order they are manifested; due to the nature of launching, the actual launch order differs from the mission numbers.
In 2014, as a part of the White House Maker Initiative, CSLI announced its intention to launch 50 small satellites from 50 states within five years. As of July 2014, there were 21 "rookie states" that had not previously been selected by the CSLI
In October 2015, NASA's LSP, with funding partnered by Earth Science Division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, "awarded multiple Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) contracts to provide small satellites (SmallSats) -- also called CubeSats, microsats or nanosatellites -- access to low-Earth orbit." Three companies received $4–7 million firm fixed-price contracts. The intention of the VLCS contracts is to provide alternatives to the current rideshare-type approach for launch of small satellites.
|Launch Date (GMT)||Fact Sheet||CubeSats Deployed||Mission||Vehicle||Launch Site|
|NET 2019||ELaNa XX||12||TBD||Virgin Galactic||Mojave, CA|
|(U/R)||ELaNa-XIII||2||FORMOSAT-5||Falcon 9||Vandenberg Air Force Base Space Launch Complex 4 East (VAFB SLC-4E)|
These two high school STEM teams are sponsored and mentored by NASA's Launch Services Program.
FIRST Robotics: Team 1592 - Bionic Tigers
FIRST Robotics Competition Team 1592 (the Bionic Tigers) is out of Cocoa High School (CHS) and Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy. The founding mentors of the team were Analex contractors working for LSP; the team has had NASA LSP engineering mentors ever since 2006.
Merritt Island High School StangSat
Merritt Island High School, in partnership with California Polytechnic State University, has a team building a CubeSat as part of Kennedy Space Center's Creating Understanding and Broadening Education through Satellite (CUBES) pilot project. The team's StangSat was accepted by the CubeSat Launch Initiative and launched 25 June 2019 as part of ELaNa XV, via the Space Test Program, on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.
On June 15, 2013, the team launched an engineering unit of StangSat on the Prospector-18 rocket; the suborbital flight took off from the Friends of Amateur Rocketry site in California's Mojave Desert. The other satellites on board were Rocket University Broad Initiatives CubeSat, or RUBICS-1 (KSC); PhoneSat (ARC); and CP-9 (CalPoly). Though the parachute deployed early, resulting in a hard landing, all four satellites were able to collect usable data.
The team will be only the second high school to launch a satellite into orbit, after Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology's TJ3Sat in November 2013 (another ELaNa mission).
NASA's Launch Services Program has social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter. In addition to maintaining a YouTube playlist specifically for LSP on its channel, NASA's Kennedy Space Center social media accounts frequently post LSP news. NASA has compiled a page will all its flagship social media accounts across lots of different platforms. The spacecraft section of this page has accounts for many of the spacecraft launched by NASA LSP.
NASA Public Affairs posts pictures and videos of NASA LSP spacecraft and rockets as they go through processing and launch. A launch blog is also stood up for each launch campaign and is always updated on launch day by Kennedy Space Center Public Affairs.
Since NASA Socials were started in 2009, NASA LSP has participated in many for the launch of its missions: Juno, GRAIL, NPP, MSL, KSC 50th/MSL Landing, RBSP, MAVEN and more. NASA Socials allow social media followers to receive VIP access to NASA facilities and speakers. The participants post about their experiences with NASA, performing outreach to their networks. NASA LSP has provided speakers for these events, along with tour guides and other support. NASA Socials were formerly known as Tweetups.
NASA has created many apps, some of which feature NASA LSP and its spacecraft. One popular app is Spacecraft 3D, which features several spacecraft launched by LSP. Developed by JPL, the app allows uses to take 3D tours of many JPL spacecraft using a printed piece of paper and their phone or tablet. Users can rotate and zoom in on the spacecraft, along with deploying movable parts of the spacecraft such as solar arrays, masts, and booms. By deploying and retracting these parts, a user can get a sense of how the spacecraft goes from the launch configuration on top of the rocket to operation configuration when it's collecting scientific data.
LSP management, business office, and most engineers work in the Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy Space Center. Engineers involved with telemetry work at Hangar AE, which is across the Banana River on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
LSP also maintains resident offices at:
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- United Launch Alliance site Launch Vehicle provider
- Space X site Launch Vehicle provider
- Orbital site Launch Vehicle provider
- Lockheed Martin: Space Systems Launch Vehicle Provider
- Air Force Space Command
- Space Flight Now Provides Space News including Launch Coverage