Update for 1: 30 a.m. EDT: Rocket Lab has successfully launched the NROL-199 spy satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office, with satellite deploy expected at around 2 a.m. EDT (0600 GMT). The next launch on Aug. 4 is the United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V mission carrying the SBIRS GEO 6 missile warning satellite. That webcast will begin above at 6 a.m. EDT (1000 GMT) for a 6: 29 a.m. EDT (1029 GMT) launch.
Update for 7 a.m. EDT: United Launch Alliance has successfully launched the SBIRS GEO-6 missile-tracking satellite for the U.S. Space Force, with satellite deploy expected around 9: 30 a.m. EDT (1330 GMT). The next launch on Aug. 4 is Blue Origin’s NS-22 mission that will carry six passengers to suborbital space. That webcast will begin above around 8: 50 a.m. EDT (1250 GMT) for a 9: 30 a.m. (1330 GMT) launch.
Rocket fans, rejoice! If you’re a fan of spaceflight, then Thursday (Aug. 4) will be a banner day with no less than four different rockets launching missions off planet Earth.
Rockets built by Rocket Lab, the United Launch Alliance, Blue Origin and SpaceX will launch into space today (if all goes well). The China National Space Administration may also launch two rockets of its own on Thursday, according to some media reports.
Related: How rockets work: a complete guide
Rocket Lab’s Antipodean Adventure
The space action begins in the wee hours of Thursday morning (Aug. 4), when Rocket Lab will launch a small (and classified) spy satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). An Electron rocket will launch the mission, called NROL-199, from Rocket Lab’s launch site on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula.
Liftoff is scheduled for 1 a.m. EDT (0500 GMT), and you can watch it on Space.com and via Rocket Lab’s own website (opens in new tab). The livestream will appear on this page at launch time, with Rocket Lab expected to begin the webcast 15 minutes before liftoff.
The NROL-199 mission, which Rocket Lab calls “Antipodean Adventure,” is the second of two back-to-back reconnaissance missions the company is flying for the NRO. Rocket Lab launched the NROL-162 mission on July 13.
United Launch Alliance Atlas V launch of SBIRS GEO 6
Next up on Thursday’s launch docket is a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket mission. That flight, which is scheduled to launch at 6: 29 a.m. EDT (1029 GMT), will launch the sixth and last Space Based Infrared System Geosynchronous Earth Orbit satellite for the U.S. Space Force.
Called the SBIRS GEO 6 for short, the satellite is designed to serve as a missile detection early warning system for the Space Force’s Space Systems Command. It will launch from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. ULA will webcast the launch live on YouTube and its website, beginning about 20 minutes before liftoff. You can get launch updates beginning at 11 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT) tonight at the ULA mission page (opens in new tab).
“Equipped with powerful scanning and staring infrared surveillance sensors to protect our nation 24/7, the SBIRS spacecraft continue to serve as the tip of the spear for global missile warning as ballistic missile threats proliferate around the world,” ULA wrote in a mission overview (opens in new tab). “These infrared sensors, and others in a constellation of persistent overhead satellites, collect data that allow the U.S. military to detect missile launches, support ballistic missile defense, expand technical intelligence gathering and bolster situational awareness on the battlefield.”
Blue Origin’s NS-22 space tourist flight
Space tourists will launch on the third mission of the day on Thursday as Blue Origin counts down to its 22nd mission to space.
A Blue Origin New Shepard rocket will launch the NS-22 space tourist flight from the company’s Launch Site One near Van Horn, Texas. The mission will carry six passengers on a trip to suborbital space, offering them sweeping views of Earth below and a few minutes of weightlessness before returning home.
Liftoff of Blue Origin’s NS-22 mission is set for 9: 30 a.m. EDT (1330 GMT), with a live webcast expected to begin an hour earlier at 8: 30 a.m. EDT (1230 GMT). You can watch that live on this page, as well as on YouTube (opens in new tab) or directly from Blue Origin’s website. (opens in new tab)
NS-22 will mark Blue Origin’s sixth space tourist flight since the company began crewed launches. Riding on this mission will be:
- Coby Cotton, co-founder of the YouTube channel Dude Perfect;
- Sara Sabry, founder of the Deep Space Initiative and the 1st Egyptian to fly in space;
- Mário Ferreira, an entrepreneur who will be the first Portuguese person in space;
- Vanessa O’Brien, a British-American explorer who has climbed Mt. Everest and dived to Challenger Deep in the ocean;
- Clint Kelly III, founder of DARPA’s Autonomous Land Vehicle project to research autonomous driving technology;
- Steve Young, a businessperson and restauranteur who serves with the Space Coast Conservation Association.
SpaceX’s Danuri moon probe launch for South Korea
SpaceX will close Thursday’s rocket launch quartet by lofting the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter mission for South Korea on a Falcon 9 rocket. Liftoff is scheduled for 7: 08 p.m. EDT (2308 GMT) from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. SpaceX’s launch webcast will begin about 15 minutes before liftoff on the company’s webpage (opens in new tab). You’ll also be able to follow it live on the KARI YouTube page (opens in new tab).
Also known as Danuri, the South Korean moon mission is the country’s first ever to aim beyond low Earth orbit. The mission will send an orbiter to the moon to study magnetic anomalies on the lunar surface and search for landing sites for future missions.
The spacecraft carries six different instruments to study the moon and is expected to spend a year in lunar orbit studying the moon’s magnetic signature, search for water ice on the surface and test Earth-to-moon communications technologies. The mission is overseen by scientists with the Korea Aerospace Research Institute.
Danuri will mark SpaceX’s second launch to the moon, after the company’s 2019 launch of the Israeli Beresheet moon lander. While SpaceX successfully delivered Beresheet to the moon, the Israeli-built lander ultimately crashed into the lunar surface. Israel’s Beresheet 2 mission is expected to follow in 2024.
SpaceX will launch the Danuri orbiter on a ballistic trajectory to the moon, with the spacecraft destined for an orbit about 60 miles (100 kilometers) above the lunar surface.
China’s two rocket launches
As if those four missions weren’t enough, China may launch a new Earth-observation satellite and an experimental space plane on two different rockets on Thursday.
According to the site Everyday Astronaut (opens in new tab), a Chinese Long March 4B rocket could launch the country’s Terrestrial Ecosystem Carbon Inventory Satellite mission to study Earth overnight on Aug. 3-4 from the Taiyuan Satellite Launching Center. A Long March 2F rocket may also launch an experimental reusable space plane from China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center later on Thursday, Everyday Astronaut reported. If those launches are confirmed, Space.com will have recaps of the missions.
Whew! That’s a lot of launches in one 24-hour period, so buckle up, space fans. It’s going to be a long, and launch-filled, Thursday.
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Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com’s Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter.