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Launch Roundup – KuiperSats Placed into Orbit, Spanish Company Makes Breakthrough

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
October 10, 2023
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Launch Roundup – KuiperSats Placed into Orbit, Spanish Company Makes Breakthrough
An Atlas V rocket carrying the Protoflight mission for Amazon’s Project Kuiper lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41 at 2:06 PM EDT on October 6.
Image credit: United Launch Alliance.

Welcome to the Launch Roundup! In this edition, one of Jeff Bezos’ companies sent something into orbit, the Spanish company PLD Space made history, Europe is down to a single operational booster, and SpaceX is preparing to launch NASA’s latest asteroid mission.

KuiperSats launched

The first two satellites in Amazon’s 3,236 broadband constellation were placed into orbit on October 5. The spacecraft were launched aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket, not Blue Origin’s long-delayed New Glenn launcher that Bezos has spent billions of dollars to develop.

It was the first of nine Atlas V launches that Amazon has reserved for deployment of the Kuiper constellation. The company has also purchased:

  • 38 Vulcan launches from ULA,
  • 18 Ariane 6 launches from Arianespace, and
  • 12 New Glenn launches from Blue Origin (with an option for 15 additional rockets).

Recent Launches

DateLauncher – OrganizationPayloads – OrganizationPurpose(s)Launch Site
Oct. 5Long March 2DYaogan 39-03AReconnaissanceXichang
Yaogan 39-03BReconnaissance
Yaogan 39-03CReconnaissance
Oct. 5Falcon 9 – SpaceX22 Starlink – SpaceXCommunicationsCape Canaveral
Oct. 6SpaceShipTwo – Virgin Galactic
Ron Rosano, Trevor Beattie, Namira SalimSpace tourismSpaceport America
Oct. 6Atlas V – ULAKuiperSat-1 – Kuiper SystemsTech demo (communications)Cape Canaveral
KuiperSat-2 – Kuiper SystemsTech demo (communications)
Oct. 7MIURA 1 – PLD Space (Suborbital)Technology device – ZARM*Flight test /microgravity tech testEl Arenosillo
Oct. 8Vega – ArianespaceTHEOS-2 – GISTDA+Earth observationKourou
TRITON – NSPO^Meteorology
10 CubeSatsMultiple
Oct. 9Falcon 9 – SpaceX21 Starlink – SpaceXCommunicationsVandenberg
* German Centre for Applied Space Technology and Microgravity
+ Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (Thailand)
^ Taiwan Space Agency
Source: Wikipedia

Not one of the three launch vehicles has made its maiden flight. Vulcan could fly at the end of this year, Ariane 6’s first flight is scheduled for sometime next year, and Blue Origin might also fly in 2024.

Amazon is in a race against time. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires 50 percent of the satellites to be launched by July 30, 2026, with the remainder placed into orbit by July 30, 2029.

The MIURA-1 rocket takes off on its maiden flight on October 7, 2023. Image credit: PLD Space.
The MIURA 1 rocket takes off on its maiden flight on October 7, 2023. Image credit: PLD Space.

PLD Space’s success

Spanish startup PLD Space launches its MIURA 1 suborbital rocket on its maiden flight from the El Arenosillo Experimentation Centre on October 7. The reusable rocket reached an apogee of 46 km, which was below the 80 km objective. Company officials were nonetheless ecstatic about the flight.

“This launch culminates over 12 years of relentless effort, yet it marks just the start of our journey,” PLD Space’s Co-founder and Launch Director Raúl Torres said in a press release. “This test flight has yielded valuable data, enabling us to validate crucial design elements and technologies that will underpin the development of our MIURA 5 orbital launcher.”

MIURA 5 will be a two-stage, liquid fuel rocket capable of launching 900 kg (1,984 kg) into low Earth orbit or 450 kg (992 lb) into sun-synchronous orbit.

The smaller, single-stage MIURA 1 rocket can carry 100 kg (220 lb) on a suborbital flight. The payload on the maiden flight was a “technological device” tested under microgravity conditions for the German Centre for Applied Space Technology and Microgravity.

A Vega rocket launches 12 satellites into orbit on October 8, 2023. Image credit: ESA-CNES-Arianespace / Optique du CSG - S Martin
A Vega rocket launches 12 satellites into orbit on October 8, 2023. Image credit: ESA-CNES-Arianespace / Optique du CSG – S Martin.

And then there was one

Europe’s next-to-last Vega rocket delivered a dozen payloads into orbit on October 8. The payloads included an Earth observation satellite for Thailand, a weather satellite for Taiwan, and 10 CubeSats for various European customers.

Vega Launch
October 8, 2023

THEOS-2Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (Thailand)Earth observation
TRITONTaiwan Space AgencyMeteorology
ANSER-LeaderNational Institute for Aerospace Technology (Spain)Earth observation
ANSER-Follower 1National Institute for Aerospace Technology (Spain)Earth observation
ANSER-Follower 2National Institute for Aerospace Technology (Spain)Earth observation
CSC-1ISISPACEPayload hosting
CSC-2ISISPACEPayload hosting
ESTCube-2Estonian Student Satellite Foundation/Tartu ObservatoryTechnology demonstration
MACSATOQ TechnologyInternet of Things
NESSCentre National d’études Spatiales/U-SpaceTechnology demonstration
PRETTYEuropean Space Agency/Graz University of TechnologyEarth observation
PROBA V-CCEuropean Space Agency/AerospacelabEarth observation
Source: Wikipedia

Europe is down to one Vega rocket that is scheduled to launch next year. The larger Vega-C booster has been grounded since it failed in December 2022. Officials have said it won’t fly until the fourth quarter of next year. Arianespace has yet to set a 2024 date for the maiden flight of Ariane 6. The Ariane 5 booster was retired in July.

Psyche spacecraft
Psyche spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU.

Upcoming launches

NASA will launch the Psyche asteroid mission aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy on October 12. The spacecraft will explore the metal-rich 16 Pysche asteroid that orbits between Mars and Jupiter.

The launch is scheduled for 10:16 AM EDT (14:16 UTC). NASA’s live launch broadcast will begin at 9:30 AM EDT (13:30 UTC), and will air on YouTubeXFacebookTwitchDaily Motion, the NASA, and NASA’s UHD Channel.

Upcoming Launches

DateLauncher – OrganizationPayloads – OrganizationPurpose(s)Launch Site
Oct. 12Falcon Heavy – SpaceXPsyche – NASAAsteroid orbiterKennedy
TBDFalcon 9 – SpaceX22 Starlink – SpaceXCommunicationsCape Canaveral
Oct. 15Falcon 9 – SpaceX22 Starlink – SpaceXCommunicationsCape Canaveral
Oct. 19Falcon 9 – SpaceX22 Starlink – SpaceXCommunicationsCape Canaveral
Oct. 22Falcon 9 – SpaceXO3b mPOWER 5 – SESCommunicationsCape Canaveral
O3b mPOWER 6 – SESCommunications
Source: Wikipedia

SpaceX has four other launches scheduled over the next 12 days, three of which will carry Starlink broadband satellites.

Launches through October 9, 2023. Image credit: Parabolic Arc.

In order to make the roundups easier to read, we have changed the format of the various tables throughout the article to list only the top performers (companies, launch vehicles, spaceports, etc.) in each category. We will publish full results once per month.

Launches by nation

There have been 165 launches conducted worldwide in 2023, with 156 successes and nine failures. The world’s launch providers are well on their way to exceeding the 187 launches conducted last year.

2023 & 2022 Orbital Launches
Through October 9, 2023

Nation2023 Record2023 Total2022 Record2022 Total
South Korea1-011-0-01
North Korea0-2200
Credit: Wikipedia

US companies have exceeded last year’s total of 87 launches. They are one short of the 84 fully successful launches conducted in 2022.

China is on its way to meeting its goal of launching at least 60 times this year. Russia’s total is lagging behind last year’s results, while India is on the verge of setting a new record for launches in a calendar year.

Falcon Heavy launches in January 2023.
Falcon Heavy launches in January 2023. Image credit: SpaceX.

Launches by company/agency

SpaceX remains far ahead of every other provider with 72 launches and nearly 2,000 payloads successfully placed into orbit. Elon Musk’s company is aiming to launch 100 times this year. SpaceX launched 61 times in 2022.

Launches by Company/Agency
Top 6 Providers

SpaceX (USA)711721,97712*
China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)320321120
Roscosmos (Russia)10010550
Rocket Lab (USA)718191
Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)707510
Galactic Energy (China)516191
Subtotal, Top Providers13231352,23314
Total, All Providers15691652,31529
* Space tug and deployment failures unrelated to launch vehicle
^ Deployment failure
+ Company defunct
Source: Wikipedia

China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation is in second place with 32 launches of Long March rockets, followed by Roscosmos with 10 flights. No other launch provider has reached double digits.

Launches by booster

Five boosters/booster families are responsible for 66.7 percent of all launches in 2023. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 remains well ahead of competitors, with 68 Falcon 9 launches and three Falcon Heavy flights.

Launches by Booster
Top 6 Vehicles

Launch VehicleCompany/AgencySuccessesFailuresTotal
Falcon 9/HeavySpaceX71071
Long March 2C, 2DChina Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.15015
Soyuz-2.1a, 2.1bRoscosmos, Russia Strategic Rocket Forces10010
ElectronRocket Lab718
Long March 4CChina Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.606
Subtotal, Top Launch Vehicles1091110
Total, All Boosters1569165
Source: Wikipedia

Launches by spaceport

Five spaceports are responsible for 111 of 165 launches this year, representing 67.3 percent.

Launches by Spaceport
Top 5 Launch Sites

Launch Site20232023 Total20222022 Total
Cape Canaveral (USA)43-14436-2-038
Jiuquan (China)24-12523-2-025
Vandenberg (USA)22-02215-0-1*16
Kennedy (USA)10-01019-0-019
Xichang (China)10-01016-0-016
Total, All Launch Sites156-9165178-7-1186
* 1 partial failure
Source: Wikipedia

Cape Canaveral Space Force Station remains the busiest spaceport in the world with 44 launches. When NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is added to the total, Florida has hosted 54 flights or 32.7 percent of all launches worldwide. Fifty-seven orbital launch attempts originated from the state in 2022.

Vandenberg Space Force Base has hosted 22 launches, three more than in 2022. SpaceX has a number of additional flights scheduled during the rest of the year.

The Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center has equaled its total from 2022 with 25 launches. Xichang spaceport is in a distant second with 10 launches.

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