SpaceX Ruled Roost in 2017, Boosting U.S. to No. 1 in Global Launches

Falcon 9 carries the Dragon cargo ship into orbit. (Credit: NASA TV)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

SpaceX had a banner year in 2017, launching a record 18 times and helping to propel the United States to the top of the global launch table with a perfect 29-0 record. The U.S. total made up 32.2 percent of 90 orbital launches worldwide, which was an increase over the 85 flights conducted in 2016.

The 29 American launches were a leap of seven over the 22 flights conducted the previous year. This is the highest number of American orbital launches since the 31 flights undertaken in 1999. However, that year the nation’s launch providers suffered four failures whereas they were perfect in 2017.

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Missions to Moon, Mars, Mercury & More Set for 2018

This artist’s concept shows the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft passing by Earth. (Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona)

Updated with SpaceX’s Red Tesla launch.

An international fleet of spacecraft will be launched in 2018 to explore the Moon, Mars, Mercury and the Sun. Two sample-return spacecraft will enter orbit around asteroids while a third spacecraft will be launched to search for asteroids that contain water that can be mined.

NASA will also launch its next exoplanet hunting spacecraft in March. And the space agency will ring in 2019 with the first ever flyby of a Kuiper Belt object.

And, oh yes, Elon Musk is launching his car in the direction of Mars.
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Ariane 5 Orbits Four Galileo Satellites

Ariane 5 launch on Dec. 12, 2017. (Credit: Arianespace)

KOUROU, French Guiana (Arianespace PR) — Arianespace has successfully launched satellites 19, 20, 21 and 22 in the Galileo constellation, using an Ariane 5 heavy launcher on behalf of the European Commission (DG GROW) and under a contract with the European Space Agency (ESA).

The launch took place on December 12, 2017 at 3:36 p.m. (local time) from the Guiana Space Center (CSG), Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.
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Busy Launch Week With Flights to ISS, Electron Test

The Soyuz MS-06 spacecraft launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

We’ve got a busy launch week coming up with a new three-man crew headed for the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX launching a Dragon resupply mission to the station, and Rocket Lab attempting the second flight test of its Electron small-satellite launcher. Europe and China are also launching satellites this week.

December 10

Launch Vehicle: Long March 3B
Payload: Alcomsat 1 communications satellite (Algeria)
Launch Time: Approx. 1635 GMT (11:35 a.m. EST)
Launch Site: Xichang, China

December 10/11

Launch Vehicle: Electron
Payloads: 3 Planet and Spire CubeSats
Launch Window: 0130-0530 GMT on 11th (8:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m. EST on 10/11th)
Launch Site: Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand
Webcast: http://www.rocketlabusa.com

December 12

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payload: Dragon (CRS 13 mission)
Launch Time: 1646 GMT (11:46 a.m. EST)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
Webcast: http://www.spacex.com and http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv/

Launch Vehicle: Ariane 5
Payloads: Galileo 19-22 navigation satellites
Launch Time: 1836:07 GMT (1:36:07 p.m. EST)
Launch Site: ELA-3, Kourou, French Guiana
Webcast: http://www.esa.int

December 17

Launch Vehicle: Soyuz
Payload: Soyuz spacecraft with Anton Shkaplerov (Roscosmos), Scott Tingle (NASA) and Norishige Kanai (JAXA)
Launch Time: 0720 GMT (2:20 a.m. EST)
Launch Site: Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan
Webcast: http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv/

Proton’s Competitiveness Threatened by High Insurance Costs

A Proton takes a nose dive at Baikonur. (Credit: Tsenki TV)

The Proton rocket’s’s string of failures and its year-long grounding following a 2016 launch anomaly have raised payload insurance rates so high  for the booster that its commercial viability is threatened.

Insurance premiums for launches of International Launch Services’ Russian Proton rocket, which satellite operators and insurers say is a necessary third leg for the commercial market — the SpaceX Falcon 9 and the ArianeGroup Ariane 5 being the other two — total about 12% of the insured value.

That compares with 3-4% for Ariane 5 and 4-5% for the Falcon 9.

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SES Selects Arianespace for Launch of SES-17

An Ariane 5 rocket soars into orbit on Dec. 29, 2010. Credits: ESA / CNES / Arianespace / Photo Optique vidéo du CSG

PARIS (Arianespace PR) — SES has selected Arianespace to launch its high-power, high-throughput satellite SES-17 on an Ariane 5 in 2021 from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana. This was announced by SES and Arianespace in Paris today.

SES-17 is a powerful satellite delivering high-speed inflight connectivity and high-powered data services over the Americas and the Atlantic Ocean. SES-17 is the 53rd satellite entrusted to Arianespace for launch by SES (Euronext Paris and Luxembourg Stock Exchange: SESG).

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Engineers Identify Cause of Ariane 5 Launch Abort

The Ariane 5 launcher for Arianespace Flight VA239 – outfitted with the Intelsat 37e and BSAT-4a satellite passengers – approaches its launch zone at the Spaceport in French Guiana. (Credit: Arianespace)

KOUROU, French Guiana (Arianespace PR) — Just after the ignition of Ariane 5’s main stage Vulcain engine, the on-board computer detected an anomaly affecting electrical equipment on one of the two solid-propellant boosters (EAP). This anomaly led to an interruption of the automated lift-off sequence.

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Ariane 5 Suffers Abort After Engine Ignition

KOUROU, French Guiana (ESA PR) — In the last seconds of Ariane Flight VA239 launch countdown as the Vulcain cryogenic main stage engine was being ignited, the checkout process detected an anomaly on the launcher, interrupting the final countdown.

The Ariane 5 launcher and payload Intelsat 37e and BSAT-4a immediately switched to a safe mode. Data analysis is underway to determine the cause of the anomaly. In parallel, the launcher will be transferred to the Final Assembly Building – where it will be returned to a flight-ready condition.

Arianespace will set a new launch date as soon as possible and apologizes to its customers for this delay.

Mid-Year Launch Report: U.S. (& SpaceX) in the Lead

Screenshot of SpaceX Falcon 9 Bulgaria 1 satellite launch. (Credit: SpaceX)

We are now halfway through 2017, so it seems like a good time to take a look at the year in orbital launches.

ORBITAL LAUNCHES THROUGH JUNE 2017
NATIONSUCCESSES
FAILURES
PARTIAL FAILURESTOTAL
United States130013
Russia8008
China6017
Europe5005
India4004
Japan3104
New Zealand0101
TOTAL392142

A total of 42 launches have been conducted thus far, with 39 successes, two failures and one partial failure. The two failures were inaugural flight tests of new boosters.

American companies have launched 13 times. Nine of those flights have been conducted by SpaceX, giving the company more launches than anyone else thus far. United Launch Alliance successfully three three Atlas V boosters and one Delta IV rocket.

Russia has conducted eight launches. Included in the total are two Russian Soyuz flights conducted from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana.

China is close behind with seven launches. Six flights were successful, but a Long March 3B booster suffered a partial failure earlier this month that left a spacecraft in a lower-than-planned orbit.

LAUNCHES BY VEHICLE THROUGH JUNE 2017
LAUNCH VEHICLENATIONSUCCESSES
FAILURES
PARTIAL FAILURESTOTAL
 Falcon 9United States9009
 Soyuz 2Russia6006
 Ariane 5 Europe4004
 Atlas VUnited States 300 3
 H-IIAJapan3003
 Long March 3BChina2013
 PSLVIndia2002
 Delta IV United States1 001
 GSLV Mk II India 1 001
 GSLV Mk III India 1 001
KT-2 China 1 001
 Kuaizhou 1 China 1 001
 Long March 2D China 1 001
 Long March 7 China 1 001
 Proton Russia 1 001
 Soyuz-2.1vRussia 1 001
 VegaEurope 1001
 Electron New Zealand0101
 S-520-4 Japan010 1
TOTAL392142

Europe follows with five successful launches, including four using the Ariane 5 booster and one using the Vega launcher.

India launched four times, with the highlight being the successful first orbital test of the new GSLV Mk. III booster. The launch vehicle — the nation’s most powerful to date — had been previously tested during a suborbital flight without an upper stage.

Japan also launched four times with three successes. The maiden flight test of Japan’s new SS-520-4 nanosat launcher failed in January, destroying some CubeSats.

New Zealand made the orbital launch list for the first time this year. The maiden flight test of Rocket Lab’s Electron booster failed to orbit an inert mass. Rocket Lab is a U.S.-New Zealand company.

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ESA Signs Contracts to Improve Ariane 5, Vega Boosters

Vega launch vehicle (Credit: ESA–Stephane Corvaja, 2015)

PARIS (ESA PR) — ESA Director of Space Transportation, Daniel Neuenschwander, signed five contracts with industry at the Paris Air and Space show in France this week.

“Five contracts, one goal: to consolidate space transportation services and capacities for the benefit of Europe’s competitiveness,” he commented.

Contracts signed with ELV SpA and Airbus Safran Launchers will improve launch performance and flexibility, and maintain the competitiveness of Europe’s current and future space transportation systems.

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Busy Launch Week Ahead: Japan, USA, Europe & India

Ariane 5 launch (Credit: Arianespace)

There is a busy week in launches ahead, with four flights planned from Japan, India, South America and the United States.

Thursday, June 1

H-2A
Tanegashima Space Center, Japan
Launch Time: 0020 GMT (8:30 p.m. EDT — May 31)

The booster will launch the Michibiki 2 navigation satellite, which is part of a constellation that will provide regional navigation services.

Falcon 9
LC-39A, Kennedy Space Center, Florida
Launch Time: 2155 GMT (5:55 p.m. EDT)

SpaceX will launch a Dragon resupply mission to the International Space Station for NASA.

Ariane 5
ELA-3, Kourou, French Guiana
Launch Window: 2345-0045 GMT (7:45-8:45 p.m. EDT)

Arianespace will launch the ViaSat 2 and Eutelsat 172B communications satellites.

Monday, June 5

GSLV Mk.3
Satish Dhawan Space Center, Sriharikota, India
Launch Time: 1208 GMT (8:08 a.m. EDT)

ISRO has placed the GSAT 19E experimental communications satellite aboard the first orbital flight test of the nation’s largest booster.  The space agency conducted a suborbital test of the GSLV Mk. 3 in December 2014. The new rocket is capable of placing 8 metric tons into low Earth orbit and 4 metric tons to geosynchronous transfer orbit.

Launches to Resume from French Guiana

Ariane 5 launch (Credit: Arianespace)

Launches will soon be resuming from French Guiana with the end of a general strike.

Thanks to the “Accord de Guyane” agreement signed April 21 by French and French Guianese officials, launch service provider Arianespace says it will be able to soon resume launch activity and can make up for delays by using previously scheduled downtime over the next two months.

“Now that an agreement has been reached, we are fully ready to resume our operations in [the Guiana Space Centre, or CSG],” an Arianespace official told SpaceNews via email April 21. “We aim to make up for the accumulated delays on the three campaigns that were under way, without impacting the rest of our manifest, by taking advantage of the CSG’s availability in May and most of June, since there were no launches scheduled those months.”

[….]

“We believe it will take about eight working days (after resumption of operations) to carry out the VA236 launch that was originally scheduled for March 21,” the Arianespace official added.

The company declined to say when exactly operations would resume.

Residents of the French overseas department have been striking over a lack of jobs, high crime and other problems.
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Arianespace, Intelsat and SKY Perfect JSAT Sign New Launch Services Agreement

TOKYO, 20 April 2017  (Arianespace PR) – Arianespace announced today that it will launch Horizons 3e, a satellite belonging to the Horizons joint venture owned by Intelsat (NYSE: I) and SKY Perfect JSAT. Arianespace will orbit this Boeing-built payload in the launch period starting late 2018 on an Ariane 5 from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana.

Horizons 3e will complete Intelsat’s global EpicNG network. The high-throughput satellite’s C-band and Ku-band transponders will provide 22 Gbps+ in growth capacity for aeronautical and maritime mobility applications spanning from Asia and the Pacific to North America. Horizons 3e is also expected to support further development of specialty networks for governments. The spacecraft will weigh 6,500 kg. at liftoff.

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