SpaceX Orbits Comsats, Progress Resupply Launch Scrubbed

Soyuz rocket with Progress 68 resupply ship. (Credit: Roscosmos)

SpaceX successfully launched the SES 11 and EchoStar 105 communication satellites on Wednesday evening from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket landed on an off-shore drone ship.

Meanwhile, the launch of Progress 68 resupply ship was scrubbed from Baikonur for an unknown reason. The launch of the Soyuz rocket has been rescheduled for no earlier than Saturday Oct. 14 at 4:46 am EDT (0846 GMT).

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Launch Crews 3-for-3 Today

Falcon 9 launch

Launch crews in the United States, China and Japan are celebrating successful flights to start a busy launch week.

China got things started by launching the Venezuelan Remote Sensing Satellite aboard a Long March 2D rocket from Jiuquan.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 followed up with an early morning launch of 10 Iridium NEXT satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The flight included the 17th successful landing of a Falcon 9 first stage.

The Japanese successfully launched the Michibiki 4 navigation satellite from the Tanegashima Space Center.

Below is the launch schedule for the rest of the month. It is possible that an Atlas V that had been scheduled to launch a national reconnaissance satellite last week will be added to the schedule for later this month. The launch was delayed twice due to weather and the third time because of a faulty telemetry transmitter. ULA has not set a new launch date.

October 11

Falcon 9
Payload: SES 11/EchoStar 105 communications satellite
Launch window: 6:53-8:53 p.m. EDT (2253-0053 GMT)
Launch site: LC-39A, Kennedy Space Center, Florida

October 12

Soyuz
Payload: Progress 68P resupply ship
Launch time: 5:32 a.m. EDT (0932 GMT)
Launch site: Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan

October 13

Rockot
Payload: Sentinel 5p Earth observation satellite
Launch time: 5:27 a.m. EDT (0927 GMT)
Launch site: Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Russia

October 17

Minotaur-C
Payload: 6 SkySat Earth observation satellites
Launch time: 5:37 p.m. EDT; 2:37 p.m. PDT (2137 GMT)
Launch site: SLC-576E, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California

October 30

Falcon 9
Payload: Koreasat 5A communications satellite
Launch window: 3:34-5:58 p.m. EDT (1934-2158 GMT)
Launch site: Cape Canaveral, Florida

Busy Stretch of Launches Coming Up

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Dragon spacecraft on board, (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

There is a busy schedule of launches for the rest of the month. Nine launches are on tap, including seven in the next week. SpaceX is planning three flights this month, including launches from Florida and California within two days next week.

October 7

Atlas V
Payload: NROL-52 reconnaissance satellite
Launch time: 0759 GMT (3:59 a.m. EDT)
Launch site: SLC-41, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida

October 9

Long March 2D
Payload: Venezuelan Remote Sensing Satellite
Launch time: Approx. 12:10 a.m. EDT (0410 GMT)
Launch site: Jiuquan, China

Falcon 9
Payload: Iridium Next 21-30 communications satellites
Launch time: 8:37 a.m. EDT; 5:37 a.m. PDT (1237 GMT )
Launch site: Vandenberg Air Force Base, California

H-2A
Payload: Michibiki 4 navigation satellite
Launch time: Approx. 6 p.m. EDT (2200 GMT)
Launch site: Tanegashima Space Center, Japan

October 11

Falcon 9
Payload: SES 11/EchoStar 105 communications satellite
Launch window: 6:53-8:53 p.m. EDT (2253-0053 GMT)
Launch site: LC-39A, Kennedy Space Center, Florida

October 12

Soyuz
Payload: Progress 68P resupply ship
Launch time: 5:32 a.m. EDT (0932 GMT)
Launch site: Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan

October 13

Rockot
Payload: Sentinel 5p Earth observation satellite
Launch time: 5:27 a.m. EDT (0927 GMT)
Launch site: Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Russia

October 17

Minotaur-C
Payload: 6 SkySat Earth observation satellites
Launch time: 5:37 p.m. EDT; 2:37 p.m. PDT (2137 GMT)
Launch site: SLC-576E, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California

October 30

Falcon 9
Payload: Koreasat 5A communications satellite
Launch window: 3:34-5:58 p.m. EDT (1934-2158 GMT)
Launch site: Cape Canaveral, Florida

Russia to End Rockot Launches

Rockot launch vehicle

The end of the line is coming soon for Russia’s Rockot (Rokot) launch vehicle.

The converted intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) has only two more missions on its manifest before the program ends. In the months ahead, it will launch Sentinel 5P and Sentinel 3B Earth observation satellites for ESA and the European Commission.

The Sentinel 5P launch is set for June. Tass reports the Sentinel 3B flight will likely occur late this year or early 2018.

Rockot is being phased out in favor of the newer Angara-1.2 and Soyuz-2.1v boosters, which are capable of launching lighter payloads.

Rockot is a converted SS-19 ICBM built by Khrunichev and operated by Eurockot Launch Services. Flights are conducted from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia.

The three-stage booster is capable of lifting 1,950 kg (4,299 lb) in low Earth orbit (LEO) and 1,200 kilograms (2,646 lb) into sun synchronous orbit (SSO).

Rockot has launched 30 times, with 27 successes, two failures and one partial failure.

Dnepr launch vehicle. (Credit: ISC Kosmotras)

The retirement of Rockot ends Russia’s second program that used  in converted Soviet-era ICBMs as satellite launchers. In 2015, the country ended a joint program with Ukraine to convert SS-18 missiles into Denpr launch vehicles.

Dnepr was capable of lifting 4,500 kg (9,921 lb) to LEO and 2,300 kg (5,071 lb) to SSO.

The booster was launched 22 times, with 21 successes and one failure. The last flight was on March 25, 2015.

Dnepr launches were conducted out of Yasny in Russia and Baikonur in Kazakhstan.

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Orbital Launch Statistics for 2016

The Soyuz MS-02 rocket is launched with Expedition 49 Soyuz commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos, flight engineer Shane Kimbrough of NASA, and flight engineer Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Ryzhikov, Kimbrough, and Borisenko will spend the next four months living and working aboard the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)
The Soyuz MS-02 rocket is launched with Expedition 49 Soyuz commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos, flight engineer Shane Kimbrough of NASA, and flight engineer Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Part 2 of 2

There were 85 orbital launches in 2016, not including the Falcon 9 that exploded on launch pad prior to a pre-flight engine test. The launches break down as follow:

  • United States: 22 (22-0)
  • China: 22 (20-1-1)
  • Russia: 19 (18-1)
  • Europe: 9 (9-0)
  • India: 7 (7-0)
  • Japan: 4 (4-0)
  • Israel: 1 (1-0)
  • North Korea: 1 (1-0)

For a more detailed description of these launches, please read US, China Led World in Launches in 2016.

Let’s look at launches by booster and spaceport and the flights that were required for human spaceflight.
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USA, China Led World in Launches in 2016

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA)
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA)

Part 1 of 2

The United States and China led the world in orbital launch attempts in 2016 with 22 apiece. The combined 44 launches made up more than half of the 85 flights conducted around the world.

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Another Year, Another Russian Launch Failure

The Progress 65 spacecraft is pictured at its launch pad Nov. 29 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (Credit: Roscosmos)
The Progress 65 spacecraft is pictured at its launch pad Nov. 29 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (Credit: Roscosmos)

They came so close this time.

In another four days, the Russians would have gone a full year without losing a spacecraft in a launch mishap. That’s something that hasn’t happened since 2009-10. In another 30 days, they would have gone an entire calendar year without a launch failure.

The loss of the Progress 65 cargo ship during its launch aboard a Soyuz-U rocket today marks the latest in a string of failures stretching back more than seven years. Since May 2009, Russia has suffered 13 launch failures and four partial failures involving its stable of satellite boosters. (See table below)

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Orbital ATK’s Small Satellite Launch Vehicles Facing Increased Competition

A Minotaur V rocket carrying NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) lifts off from at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit: NASA/Chris Perry)
A Minotaur V rocket carrying NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) lifts off from at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit: NASA/Chris Perry)

Recently, there’s been a bit of a kerfuffle over the use of surplus intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) to launch satellites. Orbital ATK would like to lift the ban on using them to launch commercial satellites, the U.S. Air Force would like to find a way to sell the engines, and an emerging commercial launch industry that doesn’t want what it considers government-subsidized competition.

Now, you’ve probably been wondering a few things. What does Orbital ATK do with these engines? What does it launch on them? And what launch vehicles are in operation or in development to compete with these boosters?

Those are all great questions. And now the answers.

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COMSTAC Recommends Against Lifting Ban on Commercial ICBM Use

A Minotaur V rocket carrying NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) lifts off from at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit: NASA/Chris Perry)
A Minotaur V rocket carrying NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) lifts off from at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit: NASA/Chris Perry)

The FAA Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) voted last week to recommend that the U.S. government maintain its ban on the use of excess ICBM motors for launching commercial satellites. The recommendation to the FAA is a non-binding one.

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How to Watch the Sentinel-3A Launch on Tuesday

Sentinel-3 is ejected from the Breeze upper stage of the ROCKOT launcher. (Credit: ESA–Pierre Carril)
Sentinel-3 is ejected from the Breeze upper stage of the ROCKOT launcher. (Credit: ESA–Pierre Carril)

PARIS (ESA PR) — Live from ESA, follow the event to celebrate the launch of the third satellite for Europe’s Copernicus environment monitoring programme.

The first in the two-satellite mission, Sentinel-3A, is set for launch from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia on 16 February at 17:57 GMT.

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ESA Teams Prepare for Critical Days

ESA's José Morales is Spacecraft Operations Manager for Sentinel-3A, a Copernicus satellite set for launch in February 2016. (Credit: ESA)
ESA’s José Morales is Spacecraft Operations Manager for Sentinel-3A, a Copernicus satellite set for launch in February 2016. (Credit: ESA)

DARMSTADT, Germany (ESA PR) — Moments after Sentinel-3A separates from its rocket, a team of European mission control specialists will assume control, shepherding the new spacecraft through its critical first days in space.

Carrying a suite of cutting-edge instruments, Sentinel-3A is set to join the Sentinel-1A radar satellite and the Sentinel-2A high-resolution optical satellite in orbit to monitor the health of our planet.

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Russians Doubt Reusable Boosters, Look to Phase Out Rockot Launches

Falcon 9 launch and landing. (Credit: SpaceX)
Falcon 9 launch and landing. (Credit: SpaceX)

Russia doesn’t seem overly impressed by the recent progress by SpaceX and Blue Origin in developing reusable launch vehicles. At according to TsNIIMash, which is the company’s main research institute.

“The economic feasibility of reusable launch systems is not obvious. First and foremost it will depend on how often launches will be made. At the moment it is hard to forecast which way the market of launch services will go when reusable space rockets become available. The designers are still to demonstrate the real costs of production and of making reusable stages for re-launching,” a TsNIIMash spokesman said.

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Russia Led in Launch Successes and Failures in 2015

Flight VS13 was the 13th Soyuz liftoff performed from French Guiana since this vehicle’s 2011 introduction at the Spaceport. (Credit: Arianespace)
Flight VS13 was the 13th Soyuz liftoff performed from French Guiana since this vehicle’s 2011 introduction at the Spaceport. (Credit: Arianespace)

Russia continued its dominance of the global satellite launch industry in 2015, conducting 29 of 86 orbital launches over the past 12 months. It also maintained its lead in botched launches, suffering two failures and one partial failure.

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Years of Failures Haunt Russian Space Program

Holy shi'ski! The rocket...it go KABOOMSKI! (Credit: Tsenki TV)
Proton rocket falls to Earth at Baikonur in July 2013. (Credit: Tsenki TV)

Sixteen botched launches in six years.

That’s the Russian space program’s sad record since May 2009. The failure of a Proton rocket earlier today with the loss of a Mexican communications satellite was yet another sign of the prolonged crisis affecting Russia’s once powerful space program.

The crash came less than three weeks after a botched launch left a Progress supply freighter spinning end over end like an extra point before it burned up in Earth atmosphere. There was also news today that another Progress cargo ship attached to the International Space Station failed to fire its engine as planned to boost the station’s orbit.

The list of Russian launch accidents over the last six years includes:

  • 13 complete failures resulting in the loss of all payloads;
  • 3 partial failures that left spacecraft in the wrong orbits;
  • complete loss of 20 spacecraft;
  • 6 Russian GLONASS navigation satellites destroyed; and,
  • an ambitious Mars mission left stranded in Earth orbit.

The table below shows the full extent of the damage.

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Russia Looks to Phase Out Rockot Launch Vehicle

Rockot launch vehicle
Rockot launch vehicle

It looks like we can add Rockot to the list of satellite launch vehicles that the Russians will be phasing out.

Russian media are reporting that the converted ballistic missile will be replaced by Angara and Soyuz-2.1v launch vehicles, which have had their initial flight tests over the past 14 months.

In addition to the availability of alternatives, there’s another reason for phasing out the Rockot: it depends upon components from Ukraine, with whom Russia is in conflict.

Media reports say that nation has banned export of Rockot parts in retaliation for the Russian annexation of Crimea and its support for rebel forces in eastern Ukraine.

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