Mid-Year Global Launch Report: China & USA Continue to Battle for Lead

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the NROL-47 mission lifts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Credit: ULA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The world’s launch providers were extremely busy in the first half of 2018, with China and the United States battling for the lead.

There with 55 orbital launches through the end of June, which amounted to a launch every 3.29 days or 79 hours. The total is more than half the 90 launches attempted in 2017. With approximately 42 missions scheduled for the last six months of the year, the total could reach 97. (more…)

Japan SS-520 Booster Makes Guiness Book of World Records

SS-520 rocket (Credit: JAXA)

TOKYO (JAXA PR — Guiness World Records ® (*1) certified JAXA’s SS-520 No. 5 as the smallest orbital rocket.

Name: smallest orbital rocket
Size: Height 9.54 m, Diameter 0.52 m (representative section)
Description: The smallest orbital rocket is SS-520-5, measuring 9.54 m (31 ft 3.5 in) tall and 0.52 m (1 ft 8 in) in diameter and weighs 2,600 kg (5,732 lb), achieved by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Japan) in Uchinoura Space Center, Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan, launched on 3 February 2018.

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First Quarter 2018 Launch Report: China & USA Battle for Lead

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy begins its first flight. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The world’s launch providers have been extremely busy in the first quarter of 2018, with 31 orbital launches thus far. This is more than one third of the 90 launches conducted last year.

China leads the pack with 10 successful launches. The United States is close behind with a total of nine launches with one failure. The tenth American launch is scheduled for Monday afternoon from Florida.

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Japan Successfully Launches CubeSat With New SS-520 Booster

SS-520 booster (Credit: JAXA)

Japan successfully launched the SS-520 small satellite booster for the first time on Saturday.

JAXA reports the TRICOM-1R satellite successfully separated from the rocket 7 minutes 30 seconds after liftoff from the Uchinoura Space Center. The space agency says the 3U CubeSat, which carries an imaging camera and a store-and-forward communications system, is functioning normally.

It was the second launch attempt for the SS-520, which failed during its maiden flight in January 2017. The upgraded sounding rocket is equipped with a third stage that enables it to place a 3U CubeSat weighing 4 kg (8.8 lb.) into orbit.

Falcon 9 Flight to Kick Off Busy Launch Period

Falcon 9 on the launch pad with Intelsat 35e satellite. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

UPDATE: SpaceX has scrubbed for the day due to the need to replace a sensor on the second stage. The next launch window is Wednesday, Jan. 31.
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A SpaceX Falcon 9 launch scheduled for late this afternoon will kick off a busy period of international launches that will see the inaugural launch of the Falcon Heavy and China’s sixth orbital mission of 2018. SpaceX has four flights scheduled by the middle of February. (Thanks to Spaceflight Now for the schedule.)

Jan. 30

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payload: GovSat 1
Launch Window: 4:25-6:46 p.m. EST (2125-2346 GMT)
Launch Site: SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida

The Orbital ATK-built satellite will provide secure communications as part of the nation’s contribution to NATO. There will be no attempt to recover the Falcon 9’s first stage.

Jan. 31/Feb. 1

Launch Vehicle: Soyuz 2-1a with Fregat upper stage
Payload: Kanopus-V 3 & V4
Launch Time: 9:07:18 p.m. EST Jan. 31 (0207:18 GMT on Feb. 1)
Launch Site: Vostochny Cosmodrome, Russia

The twin satellites will assist Russia in mapping, forest fire detection and disaster response.

Feb. 1

Launch Vehicle: Long March 2D
Payload: CSES
Launch Time: TBD
Launch Site: Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, China

The China Seismo-Electromagnetic Satellite will study how electromagnetic signals in Earth’s atmosphere and ionosphere to determine if they can help predict earthquakes. This joint mission with Italy will be China’s sixth launch of 2018.

Feb. 3

Launch Vehicle: SS-520-5
Payload: TRICOM 1R CubeSat
Launch Window: 12:00-12:20 a.m. EST (0500-0520 GMT)
Launch Site: Uchinoura Space Center, Japan

The second launch of Japan’s upgraded sounding rocket will carry the 3U TRICOM 1R CubeSat, which has an imaging camera and store and forward communications system.

Feb. 6

Launch Vehicle: Falcon Heavy
Payload: Tesla Roadster
Launch Window: 1:30-4:30 p.m. EST (1830-2130 GMT)
Launch Site: LC-39A, Kennedy Space Center, Florida

The inaugural flight of the Falcon Heavy will send a red Tesla Roadster into deep space.

Feb. 10

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payload: Paz
Launch Time: 9:22 a.m. EST; 6:22 a.m. PST (1422 GMT)
Launch Site: Vandenberg Air Force Base, California

Built by Airbus Defense and Space, Hisdesat’s Paz satellite will provide radar imaging as well ship tracking and weather data. The flight will use a previously-flown first stage.

Feb. 11

Launch Vehicle: Soyuz
Payload: Progress 69P
Launch Time: 3:58 a.m. EST (0858 GMT)
Launch Site: Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan

Resupply mission to the International Space Station.

Feb. 14

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payload: Hispasat 30W-6
Launch Window: TBA
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral, Florida

The Hispasat 30W-6 satellite, built by Space Systems/Loral, will provide communications services over Europe, North Africa and the Americas.

A Look Back at the Space Year That Was

Total solar eclipse photographed from NASA Armstrong’s Gulfstream III. (Credit: (NASA/Carla Thomas)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

I realize it’s a bit late, but here’s a look back at the major developments in space in 2017.

I know that I’m probably forgetting something, or several somethings or someones. Fortunately, I have eagle-eyed readers who really seem to enjoy telling me just how much I’ve screwed up. Some of them a little too much….

So, have at it!  Do your worst, eagle-eyed readers!

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Some Rocket Launches to Watch in 2018

The world’s most powerful booster is set to make a flight test sometime in January. If all goes well, 27 first stage engines will power the new booster off Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The three first stage cores will peel off and land for later reuse while the second stage continues into space.

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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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SpaceX to Close Out U.S. Launch Year on Friday

Falcon 9 launch (Credit: SpaceX)

Heads up, SoCal!

SpaceX is set to close out the year with a night launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Friday. The The Falcon 9 booster with 10 Iridium Next communications satellite is set to take off at 5:27 p.m. PST. It will be the company’s 18th launch attempt of the year and the 29th for U.S. launch providers.

The SpaceX mission is one of six launches set for the rest of the rest of the year (see list below). If all flights go forward in the next 10 days, there will be a total of 91 orbital launches worldwide in 2017.

Thank you to Spaceflightnow.com for this update list of launches.

December 22/23

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payloads: Iridium Next 31-40 communications satellites
Launch Time: 0127:23 GMT on 23rd (8:27:23 p.m. EST; 5:27:23 p.m. PST on 22nd)
Launch Site: Vandenberg Air Force Base, California

SpaceX will not attempt to recover the Falcon 9 first stage on this flight.

Launch Vehicle: H-2A
Payloads: GCOM-C & SLATS environmental satellites
Launch Tme: 0126:22-0148:22 GMT on 23rd (8:26:22-8:48:22 p.m. EST on 22nd)
Launch Site: Tanegashima Space Center, Japan

Launch Vehicle: Long March 2D
Payload: Unidentified military satellite
Launch Time: Approx. 0400 GMT on 23rd (11:00 p.m. EST on 22nd)
Launch Site: Jiuquan, China

Dec. 26

Launch Vehicle: Zenit 3F
Payload: AngoSat communications satellite
Launch Time: 1900 GMT (2:00 p.m. EST)
Launch Site: Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan

Dec. 27/28

Launch Vehicle: SS-520-5
Payload: TRICOM 1R communications & imaging CubeSat
Launch Window: 0330-0515 GMT on 28th (10:30 p.m.-12:15 a.m. EST on 27th/28th)
Launch Site: Uchinoura Space Center, Japan

Second attempt to launch the SS-520 microsat booster after the first failed in January.

TBD

Launch Vehicle: March 2D
Payloads: Superview 1-03 and 04 Earth observation satellites
Launch Time: TBD
Launch Site: Taiyuan, China

And Soyuz Makes Six….

PSLV C38 mission launches (Credit: ISRO)

The failure of a Russian Soyuz booster to orbit a weather satellite and 18 CubeSats on Tuesday was the sixth launch mishap of the year. That total includes five total failures and one partial failure out of 79 orbital launches.

On Jan. 14, the maiden launch of Japan’s SS-520 microsat booster failed after takeoff from the Uchinoura Space Centre. JAXA said controllers aborted second-stage ignition after losing telemetry from the rocket. The booster was carrying the TRICOM-1 nanosat.

A second launch has been scheduled for Dec. 25. The SS-520 is an upgraded version of a Japanese sounding rocket.

The maiden flight of Rocket Lab’s Electron booster failed after launch from New Zealand on May 25. Company officials said controllers terminated the flight after faulty ground equipment lost telemetry from the booster, which was functionally nominally. Rocket Lab is gearing up for a second launch attempt that could occur in December.

China’s Long March 3B suffered a partial failure on June 19 after launch from Xichang. An under performing third stage left the ChinaSat 9A communications satellite in a lower-than-planned orbit. The spacecraft reached its proper orbit using on board propulsion, with a reduction of its orbital lifetime.

On July 2, a Chinese Long March 5 booster failed after liftoff from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center.  The rocket was carrying an experimental geostationary satellite named Shijian 18. It was the second launch and first failure for China’s largest booster. Officials have no announced the cause of the failure.

India’s PSLV rocket suffered a rare failure when the payload shroud failed to separate during a launch on Aug. 31. The IRNSS-1H regional navigation satellite was lost. The booster is set to return to service on Dec. 30.

Japan Sets Date for Second SS-520 Microsatellite Launcher

JAXA SS520 sounding rocket. (Credit: JAXA)

TOKYO (JAXA PR) — The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will conduct a demonstration experiment of a microsatellite launch by SS-520 No. 5 as follows.

Experiment Period: December 25 (Mon.), 2017 thru January 31 (Wed.), 2018
Experiment Site: Uchinoura Space Center (Kimotsuki-cho, Kimotsuki-gun, Kagoshima Pref. Japan)
Scheduled Launch Date and Time: Between 10:00 to 14:15 on December 25 (Mon.) , 2017 (Japan Standard Time)
Description of Experiment: In response to the failure of SS-520 No. 4 experiment in January this year, a retry demonstration will be held for the development of rockets and satellites using civil engineering technology. The experiment has been approved by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, as part of its SERVIS project (Space Environment Reliability Verification Integrated System).

The SS-520 No. 5 is a three-stage rocket that is a modification of the SS-520 two-stage sounding rocket.

TRICOM-1R satellite (Credit: JAXA)

TRICOM-1R is a new generation satellite, that is produced based on the nanosatellites Hodoyoshi No. 3 and 4., which are approved by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry as part of its SERVIS project (Space Environment Reliability Verification Integrated System). The Experiment Team is planning to operate the TRICOM-1R for the following missions.

  • Store and Forward mission, where TRICOM-1R stores data transmitted from the ground and forwards data to the ground as the satellite positions above the ground control.
  • Take photographs of the Earth with its onboard camera.
  • Immediate observation mission which autonomously carries out observations of the Earth immediately after the launch and the insertation into the orbit, and sends the observation data to the ground upon the first communication with the ground station.

Canon, JAXA Team for Microsat Launcher

JAXA SS520 sounding rocket. (Credit: JAXA)
JAXA SS520 sounding rocket. (Credit: JAXA)

Canon, best known for its high-quality cameras, is getting into the space business. It is working with the Japanese space agency JAXA to upgrade a sounding rocket to launch microsats into orbit.

The company’s experience designing and manufacturing devices such as digital cameras will help the team choose the best rocket parts as well as make key control instruments smaller and lighter.

Systems for changing the rocket’s orientation or separating stages once in space have already been developed. IHI unit IHI Aerospace is handling development of key engine parts such as fuel injectors.

The three-stage rocket is an upgrade to JAXA’s two-stage SS-520, which carries instruments for research observations. Measuring 52cm in diameter and less than 10 meters in length, the new version will cost less than one-tenth as much to launch as leading rockets and is expected to be used to lift microsatellites in orbit.

An initial launch is slated for early next year from the Uchinoura Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture.

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