A Quiet Week for Launches as Deadly Hurricane Rips Through Florida

Alpha rocket’s second stage ignites after stage separation. (Credit: Everyday Astronaut webcast)

Old man river’s on the rise
Wash the circles from my eyes
A hurricane is on its way
Oh, you can call it Karla with a K…

“Karla with a K”
The Hooters

A deadly hurricane named Ian (with an “I”) roared through Florida last week, leaving behind a trail of death and destruction across the Sunshine State. The Category 4 storm delayed NASA’s plan to launch its Artemis I mission to the moon until November and forced the postponement of a couple of other launches from the Space Coast.

Ian had weakened by the time it reached NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, sparing the two spaceports serious damage. Two launches by SpaceX and one by United Launch Alliance are scheduled for Oct. 4-6 to clear the launch backlog.

On the other side of the country, the second time was the charm for Firefly Aerospace completed the first successful flight of its Alpha booster. The rocket lit up the sky over California on Saturday after it lifted off from Vandenberg Space Force Base at 12:01 a.m. PDT.

Firefly announced that three payloads were successfully deployed into low Earth orbit. The payloads included two CubeSats and a PocketQube deployer that would deploy five PocketQubes after separation from the second stage.

Firefly Alpha Launch No. 2 Payloads

SatelliteTypeOrganization(s)Purpose
TechEdSat-15 (TES-15)CubeSatNASA Ames/San Jose State UniversityTechnology demonstration
TIS SerenityCubeSatTeachers in Space, Inc.Education
PicoBusPocketQubeLibre Space FoundationPocketQube deployer
FOSSASAT-1BPocketQubeFOSSA SystemsTechnology demonstration
GENESIS-LPocketQubeAMSAT-EAAmateur radio
GENESIS-NPocketQubeAMSAT-EAAmateur radio
QUBIK-1PocketQubeLibre Space FoundationTechnology demonstration
QUBIK-2PocketQubeLibre Space FoundationTechnology demonstration
Firefly capsuleCapsuleFirefly Aerospace128 postcards
Source: Wikipedia

The launch came less than 24 hours after Alpha’s first stage engines shut down as they began to ignite.

“The vehicle went into auto abort after ignition. This is designed into the system to ensure safety,” Firefly tweeted.

Firefly aborted a launch attempt in the final minute on Sept. 11 due to a drop in helium pressure in Alpha’s second stage. Bad weather further delayed the launch until last week.

Alpha failed during its maiden flight in September 2021 after a first-stage engine shut down after liftoff from Vandenberg.

Alpha is capable of launching 1,170 kg (2,579 lb) to a 200-km (124-mile) high low-Earth orbit (LEO) or 745 kg (1,642 lb) to a 500-km (311-mile) high sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). The company plans to upgrade the booster’s capacity to 1,375 kg (3,031 lb) to LEO or 860 kg (1,896 lb) to SSO in June 2023.

Orbital Launches
Sept. 25 – Oct. 1 2022

DateLauncher – OrganizationPayload – OrganizationPurposeLaunch Site
Sept. 26, 2022Long March 2D – CASCYaogan 36-01A, Yaogan 36-01B, Yaogan 36-01C – Chinese Academy of SciencesReconnaissanceXichang (China)
Sept. 26, 2022Long March 6 – CASCShiyan-16A, Shiyan-16B, Shiyan-17 – CAST*, SAST^Technology demonstrationTaiyuan (China)
Oct. 1, 2022Alpha — Firefly Aerospace9 payloads – Various (see below)Various (see below)Vandenberg (USA)
* China Academy of Space Technology (CAST)
^ Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST)

Chinese Launches

Firefly’s Alpha launch was only one of three conducted worldwide last week. That number would likely have been double if not for Hurricane Ian’s rampage through Florida.

A Long March 2D booster launched the Yaogan 36-01A, Yaogan 36-01B and Yaogan 36-01C reconnaissance satellites from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center on Sept. 26.

A Long March 6 launched the Shiyan-16A, Shiyan-16B and Shiyan-17 technology demonstration satellites from the Taiyuan spaceport that same day.

Falcon 9 launches Starlink satellites. (Credit: SpaceX)

Launches to Date

The three launches boosted the global total to 126, with 122 successes and four failures.

U.S. companies have launched 63 launches, accounting for 50 percent of the global total. Astra Space’s Rocket 3.3 were responsible for the two American launch failures.

China has conducted 42 launches, with 41 successes and one failure. The United States and China have combined for for 105 launches, or 83.33 percent of all orbital attempts in 2022.

Orbital Launches by Nation
Jan. 1 – Oct. 1 2022

NationSuccessesFailuresTotalPercentage of Total LaunchesNotes
United States6126350Includes Rocket Lab Electron launches from New Zealand; 2 Crew Dragon and 1 Cargo Dragon flights to ISS; CST-100 Starliner flight to ISS; first successful launch of Firefly Alpha; final flight of Rocket 3.3 (failure)
China4114233.33Crew, cargo and module launches to space station; Reusable Experimental Spacecraft flight; successful maiden flights of Long March 6A and ZK-1A boosters
Russia1301310.3Includes 1 Soyuz ST-B launch from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana conducted by Arianespace; 2 Soyuz crew and 2 Progress cargo launches to ISS; successful maiden flight of Angara 1.2
Europe3032.4Successful Vega-C maiden flight, 2 Ariane 5 launches
India2132.42 Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, Small Satellite Launch Vehicle maiden flight (failure)
Iran1010.8Qased launch vehicle
South Korea1010.8First successful launch of domestically produced orbital launch vehicle (Nuri); rocket failed in maiden flight in 2021
TOTAL1224126100

Russia has launched 13 times, accounting for 10.3 percent of the global total. Europe and India have launched three times apiece, and Iran and South Korea once each.

Japan has yet to launch this year. The nation is scheduled to launch an Epsilon rocket with eight satellites aboard on Thursday, Oct. 6 from Uchinoura Space Center.