- Parabolic Arc
- September 26, 2023
Launch Roundup – Rocket Lab’s Electron Fails, Firefly Alpha Aces Rapid Launch
Welcome to the Launch Roundup! The failure of a Rocket Lab Electron rocket temporarily sent the company’s stock plunging, Firefly Aerospace launched a satellite on 24-hours’ notice, a new crew arrived at the International Space Station (ISS), and Stoke Space conducted its first hop.
Electron launch fails
Rocket Lab’s webcast showed what the company said was a nominal Electron launch through first stage separation. Sparks could be seen as the second stage engine began to ignite and appeared to shut down. The stage plunged into the atmosphere, taking Capella Space’s Acadia 2 Earth observation satellite with it.
It was the fourth failure in 40 launches of the two-stage orbital Electron rocket. Rocket Lab also successfully launched a suborbital version of Electron named HASTE on its maiden flight in July.
Two previous Electron failures were the result of anomalies in the second stage. On Electron’s maiden flight in May 2017, the range safety officer destroyed the rocket after telemetry from the second stage was lost. The problem was traced to a bug in ground software; the booster was operating nominally. The rocket carried no payload on its first flight.
“We are deeply sorry to our partners Capella Space for the loss of the mission,” Rocket Lab said in a press release. “We are working closely with the FAA and supporting agencies as the investigation into the root cause commences. The Electron rocket has previously delivered 171 satellites to orbit across 37 successful orbital missions. We will identify the issue swiftly and implement corrective actions and return to the pad shortly.”
Firefly aces test
Firefly Aerospace launched the US Space Force’s VICTUS NOX space domain awareness mission aboard a Firefly Alpha rocket with only 24-hours notice last week.
“Upon receiving the notice to launch and orbit requirements from the U.S. Space Force, Firefly completed all final launch preparations, including trajectory software updates, payload encapsulation, transport to the launch pad, mating to Alpha, and fueling, within 24 hours. Alpha then launched at the first available window, 27 hours after receipt of launch orders,” Firefly said in a press release.
“Today was an incredible success for the Space Force, the Firefly team, and our nation after nailing this complex responsive space mission,” said Firefly CEO Bill Weber. “Our combined commercial and government team executed the mission with record speed, agility, and flexibility, adding a critical capability to address national security needs.”
|Date||Launcher – Organization||Payloads – Organization||Purpose(s)||Launch Site|
|Sept. 14||Firefly Alpha – Firefly||Victus Nox – Space Systems Command||Space domain awareness||Vandenberg|
|Sept. 15||Soyuz-2.1a – Roscosmos||Soyuz MS-24 – Roscosmos||ISS crew||Baikonur|
|Sept. 15||Falcon 9 – SpaceX||22 Starlink – SpaceX||Communications||Cape Canaveral|
|Sept. 17||Long March 2D – CASC*||Yaogan 39-02A||Reconnaissance||Xichang|
|Sept. 19||Electron – Rocket Lab|
|Acadia – Capella Space||Earth observation||Mahia|
The Pentagon is seeking to develop the ability to quickly launch satellites into space as part of its tactically responsive space (TacRS) effort.
“The success of the VICTUS NOX mission not only proves a key aspect of the United States’ TacRS capability but provides true utility to the warfighter. Working closely with our Assured Access to Space team and industry partners, the Space Safari team continues to demonstrate how TacRS enables us to quickly respond to urgent on-orbit needs,” said Col. Bryon McClain, program executive officer for the US Space Force’s Space Domain Awareness and Combat Power directorate.
It was Firefly Alpha first fully successful launch. The booster failed on its maiden launch in September 2021. The rocket succeeded in deploying seven education satellites in October 2022; however, most of the spacecraft reentered the atmosphere about a week later because they were released in a lower-than-planned orbit.
New ISS crew arrives
Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub and American astronaut Loral O’Hara arrived at ISS aboard the Soyuz MS-24 spacecraft on September 15. The crew will stay aboard the orbiting laboratory for six months.
There are now 10 crew members on the station. Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin, and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio are scheduled to return to Earth aboard Soyuz MS-23 on September 27 after 371 days in space.
Stoke Space hops
On September 17, Stoke Space’s Hopper2 rocket conducted a 15-second flight that reached 30 ft (9.1 m) in altitude at the company’s test site in Moses Lake, Washington.
“The test successfully demonstrated our novel hydrogen/oxygen engine, regeneratively cooled heat shield, and differential throttle thrust vector control system, as well as our avionics, software, and ground systems, Stoke Space said in a press release.
“This test was the last test in our Hopper technology demonstration program. We successfully completed all of the planned objectives,” the company added. “We’ve also proven that our novel approach to robust and rapidly reusable space vehicles is technically sound, and we’ve obtained an incredible amount of data that will enable us to confidently evolve the vehicle design from a technology demonstrator to a reliable reusable space vehicle.”
SpaceX is looking to launch 65 Starlink broadband satellites in a five-day period beginning on September 20. The company previously launched as many as 60 Starlink version 1 satellites at a time, but the newer V2 Mini spacecraft are larger and heavier.
|Date||Launcher – Organization||Payloads – Organization||Purpose(s)||Launch Site|
|Sept. 20||Falcon 9 – SpaceX||22 Starlink – SpaceX||Communications||Cape Canaveral|
|Sept. 23||Falcon 9 – SpaceX||22 Starlink – SpaceX||Communications||Cape Canaveral|
|Sept. 25||Falcon 9 – SpaceX||21 Starlink – SpaceX||Communications||Vandenberg|
|Sept. 26||Long March 4C – CASC*||TBA||TBA||Jiuquan|
Launches by nation
The United States leads the world in successful launches (76) and failures (5). The 81 attempts represent more than half of the 153 launches conducted worldwide. The global launch record stands at 145 successes and eight failures.
China is in second place with 43 launches, and is on its way to meeting the nation’s goal to launch more than 60 times this year. Russia is in third place with 13 launches, followed by India with seven.
Launches by company/agency
SpaceX leads the world with 66 launches and nearly 1,850 payloads placed in space. The company’s only failure was the maiden launch of Starship/Super Heavy in April.
Launches by Company/Agency
|China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)||30||0||30||108||0|
|Rocket Lab (USA)||7||1||8||19||1|
|Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)||7||0||7||51||0|
|Galactic Energy (China)||5||0||5||19||0|
|Strategic Rocket Forces (Russia)||3||0||3||3||0|
|CAS Space (China)||1||0||1||26||0|
|Korea Aerospace Research Institute (South Korea)||1||0||0||7||1^|
|Northrop Grumman (USA)||1||0||1||4||0|
|Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (Japan)||2||0||2||3||0|
|United Launch Alliance (USA)||2||0||2||4||0|
|Firefly Aerospace (USA)||1||0||1||1||0|
|Israel Aerospace Industries||1||0||1||1||0|
|Space Pioneer (China)||1||0||1||1||0|
|Virgin Orbit+ (USA)||0||1||1||0||9|
|ABL Space Systems (USA)||0||1||1||0||2|
|Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency||0||1||1||0||1|
|National Aerospace Development Administration (North Korea)||0||2||2||0||2|
|Relativity Space (USA)||0||1||1||0||0|
^ Deployment failure
+ Company defunct
SpaceX has launched 1,447 Starlink satellites into orbit on 39 Falcon 9 flights this year. The company has launched 5,113 Starlink satellites since February 2018.
^ Includes 106 dedicated launches, two Transporter rideshare missions, and two test satellites as launched as secondary payloads.
* Does not include 16 secondary payloads from other companies.
China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) remained in second place with 30 launches. Russia’s Roscosmos hit double digits with the launch of the Soyuz MS-24 crew to ISS.
Launches by booster
The Falcon 9 has launched 62 times, exceeding the 61 launches the company conducted in 2022. SpaceX has launched Falcon Heavy three times and Starship/Super Heavy once.
Launches by Booster
|Long March 2C, 2D||China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.||14||0||14|
|Soyuz-2.1a, 2.1b||Roscosmos, Russia Strategic Rocket Forces||10||0||10|
|Ceres-1, 1S||Galactic Energy||5||0||5|
|Long March 3B/E||China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.||4||0||4|
|Long March 4C||China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.||5||0||5|
|Long March 7, 7A||China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.||2||0||4|
|LVM III||Indian Space Research Organisation||2||0||2|
|PSLV||Indian Space Research Organisation||3||0||3|
|Atlas V||United Launch Alliance||1||0||1|
|Delta IV Heavy||United Launch Alliance||1||0||1|
|Firefly Alpha||Firefly Aerospace||1||0||1|
|GSLV Mk II||Indian Space Research Organisation||1||0||1|
|H-IIA||Mitsubishi Heavy Industries||2||0||2|
|Long March 2F||China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.||1||0||4|
|Long March 4B||China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.||1||0||1|
|Long March 6, 6A||China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.||2||0||4|
|Long March 11||China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.||1||0||1|
|Nuri||Korea Aerospace Research Institute||1||0||1|
|Shavit 2||Israel Defense Forces||1||0||1|
|SSLV||Indian Space Research Organisation||1||0||1|
|Soyuz-2.1v||Russia Strategic Rocket Forces||1||0||1|
|Chollima-1^||National Aerospace Development Administration||0||2||2|
|H3^||Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency||0||1||1|
|RS1^||ABL Space Systems||0||1||1|
|Terran 1*^||Relativity Space||0||1||1|
* Launch vehicle retired
+ Company defunct
The Long March 2C and Long March 2D boosters have launched a total of 14 times. Russia’s Soyuz-2.1a and Soyuz-2.1b have flown 10 times, with Rocket Lab’s Electron in fourth place with eight launches.
Launches by spaceport
Florida has hosted 49 orbital launches this year due to SpaceX’s increased launch cadence. There have been 20 launches from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.
Launches by Spaceport
|Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport||3||0||3|
|Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska||0||1||1|
|Guiana Space Centre (French Guiana)||2||0||2|
|Naro (South Korea)||1||0||1|
|Sohae (North Korea)||0||2||2|
+ Rocket Lab Electron launches
^ Final Virgin Orbit launch, company defunct
China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center has hosted 23 launches. The Xichang and Taiyuan spaceports in second and third place with nine and eight launches, respectively.