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)

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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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Year in Review: Launch Industry Disrupted in 2014

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SpaceX Founder Elon Musk has long talked about disrupting the launch industry with low prices and technological innovations. In 2014, the impacts of those efforts were felt far and wide as competitors responded to the threat the California company posed to their livelihoods.

ULA Pivots. With SpaceX reeling off one successful launch after another, ULA pivoted on several fronts. One was to announce efforts to significantly reduce costs on its highly reliable but pricey Atlas V and Delta IV boosters. But, even that proved to be insufficient as SpaceX threatened ULA on several fronts.

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Russia Briefs: Vostochny, Angara, Super-Heavy & Asteroid Defense

Roscosmos head Oleg Ostapenko tours Vostochny. (Credit: Roscosmos)
Roscosmos head Oleg Ostapenko tours Vostochny. (Credit: Roscosmos)

Some brief items on the Russian space program:

Vostochny Construction Accelerated: Work on Russia’s new Vostochny spaceport will now be done on a 24-hour basis with the addition of more workers. “The number of workers will be increased manifold at the spaceport regardless natural and weather conditions,” Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said. The goal is to conduct the first rocket launch from Vostochny in 2015 and the first human mission in 2018. (ITAR-TASS: http://en.itar-tass.com/russia/728230)

Angara Launch Scheduled: After 19 years in development, the first launch of Russia’s new Angara 1.2 rocket will take place between June 25 and 30 from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome.  Angara is a family of modular launch vehicles designed to lift light to heavy payloads and to replace the Proton, Zenit, Rockot and Dnepr boosters. (ITAR-TASS: http://en.itar-tass.com/non-political/728637)

Russia Nears Decision on Super-Heavy Booster. Roscosmos chief Oleg Ostapenko says the agency is nearing a decision on a design for a new super-heavy launch vehicle. The initial version of the launch vehicle would launch 80 metric tons to low-Earth orbit (LEO) with future variants lofting 160 tons or more to LEO. (ITAR-TASS: http://en.itar-tass.com/russia/717993)

Rogozin Wants Asteroid Defense. During a visit to Chelyabinsk, Deputy Prime Minster Dmitry Rogozin called for Russia’s best minds to develop anti-asteroid technologies to protect Earth. “This is a dangerous phenomenon. Those who think that we know everything about the far reaches of deep space and that no catastrophe will happen are seriously wrong,” Rogozin said. In February 2013, a meteorite exploded over Chelyabinsk, causing extensive damage and injuries. (ITAR-TASS: http://en.itar-tass.com/russia/727565)

Russia 2013 Space Year in Review

Expedition 37 takes off for the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)
Expedition 37 takes off for the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Russia once again led the world in orbital launches in 2013, keeping the International Space Station supplied with a study stream of crew members and cargo while earning hard currency with commercial satellite launches.

Although the vast majority of Russia’s launches were successful, the spectacular failure in July of a Proton rocket — which nosedived into the ground shortly after liftoff — accelerated efforts to reform the nation’s failure-prone space program. By the end of the year, the Russian space agency Roscosmos had a new leader and a major effort was underway to consolidate a large part of the bloated and inefficient space sector under a single government-owned company.

During 2013, Russia introduced a new variant of its venerable Soyuz rocket while also making progress on constructing a new spaceport in the Far East and developing a larger human spacecraft to replace the Soyuz transport and a heavy-lift booster to facilitate deep space exploration.

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Busy Holiday Launch Schedule Set for End of 2013

Zarya, the first component of the International Space Station, launches flawlessly at 1:40 a.m. EST on November 20, 1998, from Kazahkstan (Credit: NASA)
Proton rocket launch (Credit: NASA)

Today’s successful launch of ESA’s Gaia spacecraft from French Guiana kicked off a busy global holiday flight schedule for the final days of 2013. Seven launches are on the schedule through New Year’s Eve, although it’s not clear whether all of them will be conducted.

LATE DECEMBER LAUNCHES

#

Date

Launch Vehicle

Launch Site

Nation

Payload

Result

76

12/19/13

Soyuz

Kourou

Europe/Russia

Gaia

Success

77

12/20/13

Long March 3B

Xichang

China

Tupac Katari

78

12/23/13

Soyuz 2-1v

Plesetsk

Russia

AIST & Calibration Spheres

79

12/25/13

Rockot

Plesetsk

Russia

3 Rodnik communications satellites

80

12/26/13

Proton

Baikonur

Russia

Express AM5

81

12/31/13

Falcon 9

CCAFS

USA

Thaicom 6

82

TBD

Long March 4B

Taiyuan

China

Gaofen 2

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Busy Launch Week Begins on Monday with MAVEN Flight

Launch of Atlas V NRO satellite on June 20, 2012. (Credit: ULA)
Launch of Atlas V NRO satellite on June 20, 2012. (Credit: ULA)

The numbers are impressive.

  • 6 launches
  • 6 launch vehicles
  • ~ 40 satellites
  • 5 spaceports
  • 4 nations
  • 7 days.

That is the week in rocketry that will begin on Monday. The highlights include:

  • NASA’s MAVEN orbiter will study Mars’ atmosphere and climate (Monday, Nov. 18 at 1:28 p.m. EST — Cape Canaveral, Florida );
  • Minotaur I will set a new record for the number of satellites launched into space with by sending the military’s STPSat 3 and 29 CubeSats into orbit (Tuesday, Nov. 19 from 7:30 to 9:15 pm EST — Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, Virginia);
  • SpaceX will attempt to put its first communications satellite into geosynchronous orbit using its upgraded Falcon 9 rocket (Monday, Nov. 25 at 5:37 pm EST — Cape Canaveral, Florida).

Three additional launches will take place from Russia and Kazakhstan over that 7-day period. A table with all scheduled launches is below along with a map showing East Coast residents how they can view Minotaur I’s night launch on Tuesday.

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