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.
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.
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.
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.
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;
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
The Russian Rockot launch vehicle, whose name means “roar”, will continue to do so for at least another seven years:
The German-Russian company offering commercial launch services using converted Russian SS-18 missiles said it has enough usable missile hardware to continue operations through the end of the decade and is maintaining prices at between 30 million and 32 million euros ($39 million-$44.6 million) per launch.
Bremen, Germany-based Eurockot Launch Services GmbH, a joint venture between Astrium of Germany and Khrunichev of Russia, is presenting itself as a low-cost alternative to Europe’s new government-backed Vega rocket, and to the Russian-Ukrainian Dnepr vehicle, whose price is similar but whose future availability is unclear….
Poetsch said Eurockot is interested only in those missiles made in the 1990s. He said that among those, there are about 80 remaining whose condition has been checked and that are available to Rockot — enough to continue service to the end of the decade.
The spectacular crash of Russia’s Proton rocket on Tuesday — with the loss of three navigation satellites — was simply the latest in a series of launch failures that have bedeviled the Russian and Ukrainian space industries over the last 30 months.
The table below shows a tale of woe that began in December 2010 and has resulted in the loss of 15 spacecraft and cost the heads of the Russian space agency Roscosmos and launch vehicle builder Khrunichev their jobs.
RUSSIAN & UKRAINIAN LAUNCH FAILURES SINCE DECEMBER 2010
Dec. 5, 2010
3 GLONASS satellites
Crashed in Pacific Ocean
Block-DM overfilled with fuel making it too heavy to send satellites into orbit
Feb. 1, 2011
Stranded in useless orbit
Failed restart of Breeze-KM
Aug. 18, 2011
Stranded in useless orbit
Breeze-M under performance
Aug. 24, 2011
Block-I (3rd stage)
Progress M-12M freighter
Burned up over Siberia
Blocked fuel line in third stage
Sept. 27, 2011
ICBM (Possibly Avangard)
Missile failed during initial test, crashed 5 miles from launch site
Failure of first stage
Nov. 9, 2011
Stranded in Earth orbit, re-entered atmosphere
Fregat upper stage failure
Dec. 23, 2011
Re-entered over Siberia
Failure of Block-1 third stage engine
Aug. 23, 2012
Telkom 3 (Indonesia), Express MD2
Satellites stranded in useless orbits; Breeze-M later exploded, creating large debris field
Dec. 8, 2012
Placed satellite in wrong orbit; satellite reached planned orbit using on-board propellant
Early shutdown of Breeze-M
Jan. 15, 2013
3 Strela 3M Rodnik satellites
One satellite reportedly lost, two others placed in orbit; controllers unable to maneuver upper stage to lower orbit for rapid re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere
Following the failure of a Proton rocket earlier this month, Khrunichev published figures on its launches and success rate for the past five years to correct what it saw as erroneous information circulating in the media.
The data and analysis below is based on that information. I have added success rate percentages, rewritten Khrunichev’s information to make it more readable, and added my own analysis.
The overall picture is one of a company struggling with quality control on its own upper stages, with the resulting loss of about 10 percent of its launches.