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Launch Roundup – Indian Chandrayaan-3 Lunar Lander Tops the Bill

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
July 11, 2023
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Launch Roundup – Indian Chandrayaan-3 Lunar Lander Tops the Bill
ISRO’s Chandrayaan-3 moon lander
Image credit: ISRO.

India’s second mission to land on the Moon and a Chinese company’s attempt to fly the world’s first methane-powered rocket headline this week’s Launch Roundup.

An Indian LVM III rocket is scheduled to liftoff with the Chandrayaan-3 lunar lander on July 14 at 5:05 AM EDT (09:05 UTC/14:35 IST). The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will webcast the launch.

Chandrayaan-3 will carry instruments to study the lunar environment and deploy a small rover to explore the surface. The mission’s payloads include:

  1. Radio Anatomy of Moon Bound Hypersensitive ionosphere and Atmosphere (lander)
  2. Chandra’s Surface Thermo physical Experiment (lander)
  3. Instrument for Lunar Seismic Activity (lander)
  4. Laser Retroreflector Array (lander)
  5. Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (rover)
  6. Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscope (rover)
  7. Spectro-polarimetry of HAbitable Planet Earth (propulsion module)

Chandrayaan-3 is scheduled for an August 23 or August 24 arrival. The lander and rover are scheduled to operate for one lunar day, which is about 14 Earth days.

The mission is a replacement for Chandrayaan-2, which crashed while descending to the lunar surface in September 2019. Chandrayaan-3 lacks its predecessor’s orbiter, which continues to return data about the Moon.

Upcoming Launches

DateLauncher – OrganizationPayloads – OrganizationPurpose(s)Launch Site
July 12Zhuque-2 – LandSpaceTBAFlight testJiuquan
July 13Falcon 9 – SpaceX Starlink – SpaceX CommunicationsCape Canaveral
July 14LVM-III – ISROChandrayaan-3Lunar landerSatish Dhawan
July 14Electron – Rocket LabTelesat LEO 3 – TelesatTech demoMahia
2 Lemur-2 – Spire Global Earth observation
4 Starling – NASATech demo
July 20Ceres-1 – Galactic EnergyTBATBAJiuquan
July 22Falcon 9 – SpaceXStarlink – SpaceXCommunicationsCape Canaveral
July 23PSLV – ISRODS-SAR – DSTA*Earth observationSatish Dhawan
ORB-12 STRIDER – OrbAstroTech demo
July 24Falcon Heavy – SpaceXJupiter 3 – EchoStarCommunicationsKennedy
* Defence Science and Technology Agency
Source: Wikipedia

LandSpace of China will make another attempt to launch its Zhuque-2 rocket on July 12. The rocket, which is fueled by methane and liquid oxygen, failed on its maiden launch last December after its second-stage vernier engines shut down prematurely.

To date, no launch vehicles powered by methane have successfully reached orbit. SpaceX’s Starship/Super Heavy booster and Vulcan Centaur’s first-stage BE-4 engines use methane.

Rocket Lab is set to conduct its sixth orbital launch of the year from the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand on July 14. The Electron booster will carry four Starling satellites for NASA, a pair of Lemur-2 spacecraft for Spire Global, and Telesat’s LEO 3 communications satellite.

NASA’s Starling mission is designed to test how small swarms of satellites can work together in a synchronized manner without resources from the ground. The spacecraft will test maneuvering, communications, navigation, and autonomous coordination.

Final Ariane 5 launch in July 2023
The final Ariane 5 lifts off. Image credit: ESA-CNES-Arianespace/ Optique Video du CSG – P Piron.

Recent Launches

Europe’s venerable Ariane 5 bowed out in style on July 5 when it launched the Heinrich Hertz communications satellite for the German Aerospace Center and the Syracuse 4B communications satellite for France’s Directorate General of Armament.

Ariane 5, which first flew in June 2006, finished its 17-year career with a record of 112 successes, two failures, and three partial failures.

The retirement of Ariane 5 leaves Europe temporarily without a launch vehicle capable of lifting large payloads. Its successor, Ariane 6, is not scheduled to launch until late this year or early 2024. Ariane 6 will be capable of launching 10,350 kg (22,818 pounds) into low Earth orbit.

Recent Launches

DateLauncher – OrganizationPayloads – OrganizationPurpose(s)Launch Site
July 5Ariane 5 -ArianespaceHeinrich Hertz – DLR+CommunicationsKourou
Syracuse 4B – DGA^Communications
July 7Falcon 9 – SpaceX48 Starlink – SpaceXCommunicationsVandenberg
July 9Long March 2C – CASC*Space-based Internet Technology Demonstrator – CAST++Tech demoJiuquan
July 9Falcon 9 – SpaceX22 Starlink – SpaceXCommunicationsCape Canaveral
+ German Aerospace Center
^ Directorate General of Armament (France)
* China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation
++ China Academy of Space Technology
Source: Wikipedia

Vega-C, which can lift up to 2,200 kg (4,850 pounds), remains grounded as officials continue to investigate how it failed on its most recent flight last December.

The smaller Vega booster, which can orbit 1,500 kg (3,307 lb), is Europe’s only operational launch vehicle. Its next flight is scheduled for September.

SpaceX launched 70 Starlink broadband satellites from spaceports in Florida and California. The Falcon 9 first stage on the July 9 flight launched and landed for a record 16th time.

Falcon 9 launches Euclid telescope
A Falcon 9 launches Europe’s Euclid space telescope on July 1, 2023. Image credit: ESA webcast.

Launches by Nation

The number of launch attempts has passed 100, with 96 successes and six failures. The world is on course to equal or exceed the 186 launches conducted in 2022.

The United States leads the world with 56 launches, putting the nation on a pace to launch 100 times. American companies conducted 87 launches last year.

Orbital Launches by Nation

United States5245654.9%
South Korea1011.0%
North Korea0111.0%

Chinese officials have spoken of launching more than 60 times this year. However, they have only managed 26 flights with the year more than half over.

Russia is in third place with nine launches, followed by India with four. Europe and Japan are tied for fifth place with two launch attempts apiece.

Starship lifts off from Starbase in Texas.
Starship lifts off from Starbase in Texas. Image credit: SpaceX webcast.

Launches by Company/Agency

SpaceX has accounted for 47 of 56 launches conducted by US companies this year. Falcon 9 has flown 44 times and Falcon Heavy twice without failure. The maiden flight of Starship/Super Heavy failed in April.

Rocket Lab has launched five times, and United Launch Alliance conducted the only other successful American launch this year. Three U.S. companies – ABL Space Systems, Relatively Space, and Virgin Orbit – experienced launch failures.

Launches by Company/Agency

SpaceX (USA)461471,4980
CASC* (China)200201240
Roscosmos (Russia)707490
Rocket Lab (USA)505110
ISRO (India)404420
Strategic Rocket Forces (Russia)20220
Arianespace (Europe)20230
CAS Space (China)101260
Galactic Energy (China)10110
ExPace (China)20250
i-space (China)10000
KARI (South Korea)10071
MHI^ (Japan)10110
Ministry of Defence (Israel)10110
Space Pioneer (China)10110
United Launch Alliance (USA)10110
Virgin Orbit++ (USA)01109
ABL Space Systems (USA)01102
JAXA (Japan)01101
NADA** (North Korea)01101
Relativity Space (USA)01100
* China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation
~ Korea Aerospace Research Institute
^ Mitsubishi Heavy Industries
++ Company defunct
** National Aerospace Development Administration

The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation leads all Chinese companies with 20 launches. Five other Chinese companies – CAS Space, ExPace, Galactic Energy, i-space, and Space Pioneer – have combined for six flights.

Rounding out the top five are Russia’s Roscosmos with seven launches and India’s ISRO with four flights.

SpaceX Launches by Payload

SpaceX’s 46 successful flights have placed nearly 1,500 payloads into space. More than half the flights – 24 – have been dedicated to placing 1,103 Starlink satellites and two secondary payloads into orbit.

SpaceX Payloads by Type
Through July 9, 2023

Launch Payloads/PurposeLaunchesPayloads
Starlink broadband241,103
Transporter rideshares3241
OneWeb broadband396
Military communications110
ISS crew15*
ISS crew commercial15*
ISS cargo22
Military communications, tech demo12
GPS navigation11
Flight Test (Starship)10
CubeSats (Cargo Dragon)^12
Iridium NEXT (OneWeb)^5
Satellite deployer, dummy satellite (Starlink)^2
TEMPO pollution monitoring (Communications)^1
* Crew Dragon plus 4 crew members
^ Secondary payload(s)

Thirteen launches were dedicated to placing 124 communications satellites into orbit for commercial and military customers. The majority of those payloads – 96 – were for OneWeb’s 636-satellite broadband constellation.

Three Transporter rideshare missions carried 241 payloads into orbit for commercial, government, and academic customers from around the world.

SpaceX launched the Crew-6 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA and the private Ax-2 mission to the orbital facility for Axiom Space. Two Cargo Dragons carried equipment and supplies to ISS as well as 12 CubeSats for deployment from the station.

Rocket Lab Electron launch vehicle lifts off from New Zealand
An Electron launches two BlackSky satellites from New Zealand on March 24, 2023. Image credit: Rocket Lab.

Launches by Booster

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket remains the most-flown booster in the world with 44 flights. The company has conducted two successful Falcon Heavy launches and one unsuccessful Starship/Super Heavy flight.

Launches by Booster

Launch VehicleCompany/AgencySuccessesFailuresTotal
Falcon 9SpaceX44044
Long March 2C, 2DChina Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.909
ElectronRocket Lab505
Soyuz-2.1a, 2.1bRoscosmos, Russia Strategic Rocket Forces505
Long March 3B/EChina Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.303
Falcon Heavy SpaceX202
Kuaizhou 1AExPace202
Long March 4CChina Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.202
Long March 7, 7AChina Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.202
Ariane 5Arianespace202
Ceres-1Galactic Energy101
Delta IV HeavyUnited Launch Alliance101
H-IIAMitsubishi Heavy Industries101
Hyperbola 1i-space101
Long March 2FChina Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.101
Long March 4BChina Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.101
Long March 6China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.101
Long March 11China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.101
LVM IIIIndian Space Research Organisation101
NuriKorea Aerospace Research Institute101
PSLVIndian Space Research Organisation101
Shavit 2Israel Defense Forces101
SSLVIndian Space Research Organisation101
Soyuz-2.1vRussia Strategic Rocket Forces101
Tianlong-2^Space Pioneer101
Chollima-1^National Aerospace Development Administration011
H3^Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency011
LauncherOne*Virgin Orbit+011
RS1^ABL Space Systems011
Starship/Super Heavy^SpaceX011
Terran 1*^Relativity Space011
* Launch vehicle retired
^ Maiden flight
+ Company defunct

China has launched its Long March 2C and Long March 2D rockets nine times. There have also been five launches each of Rocket Lab’s Electron booster and Russia’s Soyuz-2.1a and Soyuz-2.1b rockets.

Six launch vehicles – Chollima-1, H3, LauncherOne, RS1, Starship/Super Heavy, Terran 1, and Tianlong-2 – made their maiden flight this year. Only Tianlong-2 succeeded on its first flight.

Relativity retired the Terran 1 booster to focus work on a larger rocket. Flights of LauncherOne ended when Virgin Orbit went out of business.

Launches by Spaceport

Florida remains the busiest launch site in the world, with a combined 34 launches originating from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Vandenberg Space Force Base is in second place among American spaceports with 14 launches.

Launches by Spaceport

Cape CanaveralUSA26127
Mid-Atlantic Regional SpaceportUSA202
Pacific Spaceport Complex – AlaskaUSA011
Europe’s SpaceportFrench Guiana202
Satish DhawanIndia404
Mahia PeninsulaNew Zealand303
NaroSouth Korea101
SohaeNorth Korea011

Rocket Lab has launched twice from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia and three times from its spaceport in New Zealand.

The Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center leads all Chinese spaceports with 15 launches. The nation’s three other spaceports have hosted 11 launches.

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