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The Week in Launches: SpaceX and CASC Launch 3X Apiece, New Chinese Rocket Fails & Ariane 5 Flies Again

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
December 19, 2022
A SpaceX Faclon 9 launches the O3b mPOWER FM21 and O3b mPower FM22 communications satellites from Cape Canaveral on Dec. 16, 2022. (Credit: SpaceX)

Last week was a busy one with SpaceX launching three times in less than two days, China going three-for-four with the failure of a new booster on its maiden flight, and Europe conducting its fourth launch of the year.

Orbital Launches
Dec. 12-18, 2022

DateLauncher – OrganizationPayload – OrganizationPurpose(s)Launch Site
Dec. 12Long March 4C – CASC*Shiyan-20A, 20B – CAST^Tech demoJiuquan
Dec. 13Ariane 5 – ArianespaceGalaxy 35, 36 –
MTG-I1 –
GEO comsat, MeteorologyKourou
Dec. 14Zhuque-2+
– LandSpace
14 rideshareMultipleJiuquan (FAILED)
Dec. 14Long March 2D – CASCYaogan-36-04A, 04B, 04C – CAS^^ReconnaissanceXichang
Dec. 16Long March 11 – CASC*Shiyan-21 – SAST**Tech demoXichang
Dec. 16Falcon 9 – SpaceXSWOT++
Earth observationVandenberg
Dec. 16Falcon 9 – SpaceXO3b mPOWER
FM21, FM22 –
CommunicationsCape Canaveral
Dec. 17Falcon 9 – SpaceX54 StarlinkBroadbandKennedy
* China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation
^ China Academy of Space Technology
+ Maiden launch
** Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology
++Surface Water and Ocean Topography
^^ Chinese Academy of Sciences
Source: Wikipedia

SpaceX Launches

SpaceX conducted its 57th, 58th and 59th launches of the year on Friday and Saturday.

A Falcon 9 first stage lands after launching the NASA/CNES SWOT satellite. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX launched the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite for NASA and the French space agency CNES from Vandenberg Space Force Base early Friday morning. The satellite’s mission is to conduct the first global survey of Earth’s surface water, provide data on ocean surface topography, and measure how water bodies change over time.

Later on Friday, a Falcon 9 rocket launched the O3b mPOWER FM21 and O3b mPower FM22 communications satellites from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. They are the first two spacecraft of an initial constellation of 11 high-throughput, low-latency O3b mPower satellites.

Twenty-four hours later, a Falcon 9 orbited 54 Starlink broadband satellites from Kennedy Space Center. It was the first stage’s record 15th flight. SpaceX has launched 1,668 Starlink spacecraft on 33 dedicated launches this year. SpaceX has placed 3,612 Starlink satellites into orbit since the first launch in February 2018.

Earlier this year, Elon Musk set a goal for the company to launch 60 times in 2022. SpaceX has two launches scheduled in the days after Christmas.

Zhuque-2 rocket on the launch pad. (Credit: LandSpace)

Chinese Launches

China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC) launched six satellites on three boosters last week. The launches included:

  • Long March 4C — Shiyan-20A and Shiyan-20B technology demonstration satellites for the China Academy of Space Technology,
  • Long March 2D — Yaogan-36 04A, Yaogan-36 04B and Yaogan 04C reconnaissance satellites for the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and
  • Long March 11 — Shiyan-21 technology demonstration satellite for the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology.

CASC has launched 51 times this year, putting the state-owned company eight flights behind SpaceX.

The maiden launch of LandSpace Technology Corp.’s Zhuque-2 (ZQ-2) rocket failed after liftoff from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Dec. 14. Media reports say that while the first stage performance was nominal, the second stage vernier engine malfunctioned. Fourteen rideshare payloads were lost in the accident.

ZQ-2 is a two-stage rocket that will be capable of placing 4,000 kg (8,818 lb) into a 200 km (124-mile) high orbit or 2,000 kg (4,409 lb) into a 500 km (311-mile) high sun-synchronous orbit. The booster’s first stage uses four TQ-12 engines powered by liquid oxygen and methane (methalox). The second stage uses a TQ-12 engine and a TQ-11 engine that will act as a vernier thruster.

LandSpace is among a handful of commercial companies that are seeking to serve launch market in the wake of the Chinese government’s decision to allow private firms to build rockets.

An Ariane 5 rocket launches the Galaxy 35 and Galaxy 36 geosynchronous communications satellites for Intelsat and the MTG-I1 meteorology satellite for Eumetsat. (Credit: Arianespace)

European Launch

An Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket launched the Galaxy 35 and Galaxy 36 geosynchronous communications satellites for Intelsat and the MTG-I1 meteorology satellite for Eumetsat.

Galaxy 35 and 36 will provide Intelsat media customers in North America with high-performance media distribution capabilities. Th C-band spacecraft will support collegiate and professional football, auto racing, baseball, golf, boxing and professional wrestling events.

MTG-I1 will help meteorologists rapidly detect and forecast severe weather events to provide timely warnings to affected areas. The European Space Agency developed the satellite for EUMETSAT in cooperation with an industrial consortium led by Thales Alenia Space and OHB.

There are only two more launches planned for Ariane 5, which is being replaced by the Ariane 6 booster late next year.

The ISS Progress 82 cargo craft blasts off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazkakhstan beginning a two-day trip to the space station. (Credit: RSC/Energia)

Orbital Launches for Year

There have been 181 launches conducted worldwide, with 174 successes, six failures and one partial failure.

Orbital Launches by Nation

NationSuccessesFailuresPartial FailuresTotalPercentage of Total
United States82218546.96
South Korea10010.55

The United States and China have combined for 147 launches or 81.22% of the total. The total rises to 169 launches (93.37%) when Russia’s 22 flights are added in. The rest of the world has combined for only 12 launches (6.63%).

Japan is set to end the year without a single successful launch. That puts the country behind South Korea and Iran.

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