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
Long March 3B
AIST & Calibration Spheres
3 Rodnik communications satellites
Long March 4B
The successful launch of Gaia marks the beginning of a five-year mission during which the observatory will survey a billion stars to allow astronomers to produce “the largest, most precise three-dimensional map of our galaxy.” Gaia will survey about 1 percent of the galaxy’s 100 billion stars.
The Russians will debut the new Soyuz 2-1v launch vehicle on Dec. 23. The “light” version of the venerable booster dispenses with four booster rockets on the first stage. It also features first-stage NK-33 engines that are left over from the Soviet manned lunar program from the early 1970’s.
Russia has two other launches scheduled for December. A Rockot will boost three military communications satellites from Plesetsk on Christmas Day. The following day, Baikonur will close out its year with a Proton launch of the Express AM5 satellite.
There will be little holiday rest for the folks at SpaceX. The company’s delayed launch of the Thaicom 6 satellite is now scheduled for New Year’s Eve. It would be the company’s fourth launch of the year and its second commercial communications satellite mission.
If successful, the Falcon 9 mission will be America’s 20th launch of the year. United Launch Alliance flew 11 missions of its Atlas V and Delta IV rockets while Orbital Sciences Corporation flew five missions.
China has two Long March flights scheduled. It’s not clear whether they will get both flights in this year given the failure of a Long March 4D booster on Dec. 9. Officials say one of two upper stage engines cut out early. The failure is under investigation.
There have been 75 orbital launches around the globe in 2013, with three failures. In addition to the Long March 4D accident, a Sea Launch Zenit booster fell into the Pacific Ocean in February and a Russian Proton crashed at Baikonur in July.