Orbits Yaogan 29
China's Chang Zheng 4C orbited a Yaogan Weixing reconnaissance satellite from Taiyuan
Satellite Launch Center on November 26, 2015. The three-stage hypergolic propellant-fueled
rocket lifted off from LC 9 at 21:24 UTC (05:24 local time on the 27th). The satellite,
identified as Yaogan 29, was boosted toward a 615 x 619 km x 97.8 deg sun synchronous low
The satellite, built by Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST), is thought to
be a roughly two tonne sythetic aperature radar imaging platform.
The launch was another "suprise" flight by China, not announced until several
hours after liftoff. According to a report by Xinhua News Agency, Yaogan 29
"will be mainly used for scientific experiment, land resources survey, crop yield
estimate and disaster prevention and reduction and other fields".
An H-2A-204 with four SRB-A boosters launched Canada's Telstar 12V into geosynchronous
transfer orbit from Tanegashima on November 24, 2015. Liftoff from Yoshinobu Pad 1 took
place at 06:50 UTC. The 4.9 tonne satellite was inserted into a 3,143 x 35,638 km x 19.2
deg orbit about 4 hours and 27 minutes after liftoff.
The F29 flight was the first "H-2A Upgrade" that featured the first use of a
three-burn mission for the second stage. The second stage debuted an upgraded turbopump
cooling system, an improved ullage system that uses vented gaseous propellants, 60%
throttling of the LE-5B engine, and white-coated propellant tanks to keep the stage cool
during the nearly four hour coast to apogee before its third and final burn.
Telstar 12V, an Airbus Eurostar 3000 satellite, carried 52 Ku-band transponders for
service over the Americas.
F29 was only the second flight of the powerful 204
variant. It was the first beyond-low-earth-orbit flight by Japan in 2015. It
was also the first dedicated commercial satellite launch by an H-2 series rocket.
Blue Origin New Shepard Success
On November 23, 2015, Blue Origin's New Shepard "propulsion module" scored a
first by landing vertically under rocket power after reaching an altitude exceeding 100 km
during a suborbital flight. The New Shepard "crew capsule", which separated from
the propulsion module shortly before reaching its own 100.5 km apogee, also landed under
The 17:21 UTC (11:21 am Central Standard Time) launch took place from Blue Origin's West
Texas launch site near Van Horn. The rocket's BE-3 liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine
produced 49,896 kgf (110,000 pounds) of thrust at liftoff. The vehicle experienced 3g
acceleration and Mach 3.72 speed during its ascent. After separating, the capsule
experienced several minutes of weightlessness before beginning its descent. Its parachutes
opened at 6,111 km (20,045 feet) above ground level. The capsule landed at 17:32 UTC.
After separation, the New Shepard propulsion module used its "ring fin" and
eight large drag brakes to control its descent speed and orientation. The terminal
velocity was reduced to 173 meters/sec (387 mph) by the drag features. The BE-3 engine
re-ignited 1,493 meters (4,896 feet) above ground level, throttling and gimballing to slow
the descent to a near hover just before the stage arrived above a concrete landing pad.
Four landing legs extended during the burn. The stage repositioned itself above the center
of the pad before descending for a 1.97 meters/sec (4.4 mph) landing.
New Shepard Propulsion Module Maneuvers for Landing
The success achieved the long-dreamed but never achieved
vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) during a launch from Earth to space, above the
sensible atmosphere at 100 km. Other rockets have performed VTVL from Earth during
tests to less than 5 km. The SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage has achieved controlled
descent from space several times and almost landed under rocket power on the company's
converted barge in early 2015 before toppling and exploding.
It was the second New Shepard flight. During the first
flight on April 25, 2015, the vehicle ascended to 93.6 km (307,000 feet) and the capsule
landed safely, but the propulsion module was destroyed by impact due to a hydraulic system
failure during descent.
The BE-3 engine can deep throttle to only 9,072 kgf (20,000 pounds) of thrust, an
important capability for vertical landing.
Orbits LaoSat 1
A CZ-3B/E launch vehicle orbited LaoSat 1, a communications satellite built in China for
Laos, from Xichang satellite Launch Center on November 20, 2015. The 3.5 stage rocket
lifted off from LC 2 at 16:07 UTC. The rocket's liquid hydrogen-fueled upper stage
inserted the roughly 4.6 tonne China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) DFH-3B series
satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit about 26 minutes after liftoff. The
likely orbit was approximately 190 x 41,800 km x 18.38 deg.
After it propels itself to geosynchronous orbit, Laosat 1 will serve China Asia-Pacific
Mobile Telecommunications Satellite Co., Ltd. and the Lao Ministry of Post and
Telecommunications, offering live satellite TV, wireless broadband access, and
international communications services in Laos.
It was the 13th DF-5 based Chang Zheng launch of 2015, and the sixth by a CZ-3B, currently
China's most-powerful launch vehicle.
Orbits New Early Warning Satellite
Russia's Soyuz 2-1b with a Fregat M upper stage boosted EKS 1, the first of a new early
warning satellite constellation, into orbit from Plesetsk Cosmodrone on November 17, 2015.
The 3.5 stage rocket lifted off from Site 43/4 at 06:34 UTC. Although EKS 1 was initially
thought to be bound for an nearly 24 hour, elliptical "Tundra" orbit, possibly
something like 1,000 x 70,580 km x 63.4 deg, it ended up in a standard 12-hour Molniya
orbit (1,621 x 38,559 km x 63.81 deg).
A Tundra orbit would have traced and re-traced a giant
figure-eight pattern above the same face of the Earth's surface, spending the majority of
its time high above the northern hemisphere. The Earth rotates beneath a Molniya
orbit, which reaches two apogees on opposite sides of the planet every day.
EKS 1, named Kosmos 2510, is the first of 10 satellites that will be launched to replace
Russia's no-longer functioning OKO early warning satellite constellation.
It was the 13th R-7 orbital launch attempt of the year and was the year's sixth orbital
launch from Plestesk.
Ariane 5 Launch
An Ariane 5 ECA boosted two communications satellites to orbit from Kourou on November 10,
2015. The VA227 mission placed Arabsat-6B and GSAT-15 into geosynchronous transfer orbit
after a 21:34 UTC liftoff from ELA 3. It was the sixth and final Ariane 5 launch of 2015.
Arabsat 6B, an Airbus Eurostar E3000 series satellite, weighed 5,798 kg at liftoff. It
will provide communication coverage of the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia for
Arabsat of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. GSAT 15, built by India's ISRO, weighed 3,164 kg. It is
equipped with 24 Ku band transponders and a navigation signal payload.
A Chang Zheng 4B (CZ-4B) rocket launched China's 28th Yaogan Weixing, a remote sensing
satellite, on November 8, 2015 from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center. The three-stage
hypergolic propellant rocket lifted off from LC 9 at 07:06 UTC.
China announced that Yaogan 28 would be used for "scientific experiments, land
survey, crop yield assessment, and disaster monitoring". Outside analysts suspect
that the satellite, like others in the Yaogan series, also has a military reconnaissance
mission. It most likely has a high resolution electro-optical imager, based on its orbit.
Other satellites of the series use synthetic aperature radar imaging systems.
The CZ-4B used for this launch was fitted with a
large-diameter payload fairing. Yaogan 28 entered a 460 x 482 km x 97.24 deg sun
synchronous orbit. CZ-4B can lift up to 2.8 tonnes to such an orbit.
It was the 12th DF-5 based CZ launch, and the 14th orbital launch by China, during 2015.
Super Strypi Inaugural Failure
Super Strypi, a small solid fuel three-stage rocket developed
by the U.S. Air Force Operationally Responsive Space office, failed shortly after its
inaugural launch on November 4, 2015. The rocket flew straight for about 45 seconds before
appearing to develop a coning motion. The video feed provided by the University of Hawaii
suddenly cut off at about the 60 second mark. Subsequent ground based videos published on
YouTube showed the rocket breaking up after a minute of flight.
The spin-stabilized, 20.4 meter long, 28.12 tonne rocket launched at 03:45 UTC from a rail
launcher at Kokole
Point (LP-41), Barking Sands, Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kauai, Hawaii. On board
for this Operationally Responsive Space (ORS-4) mission were 13 small satellites,
including the University of Hawaii's 55 kg Hiakasat and 12 university and commercial
Cubesats. A roughly 400 km x 94.7 deg insertion orbit was planned.
Super Strypi uses sounding rocket flight techniques to minimize costs. These include fixed
motor nozzles with canted fins on the first stage to induce roll for spin stabilization
and a rail-launcher that aims toward the proper azimuth and flight angle. The methods
result in high accleration forces, with a liftoff thrust to weight ratio of about 4.6.
The first stage used an Aerojet Rocketdyne LEO-46 motor that was 1.3208 meters (52 inches)
in diameter and 12.195 meters long. It produced nearly 130 tonnes of thrust at liftoff and
was designed to burn more than 20.412 tonnes of propellant in 73 seconds. The 22.68 tonne
motor was reportedly based on Atlas 5 booster technology. A flaw in this motor's design
was discovered last year, but the sponsoring agencies decided to accept the odds of
failure in order to complete the test flight attempt.
Super Strypi was the heaviest-ever rail-launched rocket.
China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 3B/E launched the Zhongxing 2C communications satellite
from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on November 3, 2015. Liftoff from LC 3 took place at
16:15 UTC. The satellite was boosted into a 194 x 35,833 km x 27.1 deg geosynchronous
transfer orbit by the liquid hydrogen fueled, YF-75 powered third stage about 25 min
Zhongxing 2C is believed to be a military communication satellite that may weigh 5.1
tonnes or more at liftoff.
It was the year's fifth CZ-3B launch and the 11th DF-5 based CZ flight.
Atlas 5 Orbits GPS 2F-11
a two-stage Atlas 5-401 variant, orbited U.S. Air Force Global Positioning Satellite 2F-11
from Cape Canaveral SLC 41 on October 31, 2015. Liftoff occurred at 16:13 UTC to begin a
3.5 hour mission that placed the 1.63 tonne navigation satellite into a 20426 x 20486 km x
55.03 deg orbit.
climbed on a northeast azimuth from the Cape, paralleling the Eastern Seaboard of the
United States. Centuar performed a 762 second first burn as it flew up the coast and
halfway across the Atlantic to lift itself into an elliptical transfer orbit. After
coasting for just over 3 hours to first apogee south of Australia, Centaur burned again
for about 87 seconds to complete the mission.
2F-11 was the 11th of 12 planned Lockheed Martin 2F series satellites. The company will
also build GPS-3 series satellites that are expected to begin flying in 2017.
was the eighth Atlas 5 launch of 2015 and the 15th orbital attempt from Cape Canaveral
during the year.
Launches Mapping Satellite
China's CZ-2D launched the Tianhui-1C mapping satellite from Jiuquan Satellite Launch
Center on October 26, 2015. The two-stage rocket lifted off from LC 43/603 at 07:10 UTC.
The Tianhui-1 satellites use stereo-topographic methods to map the earth's surface from
thier 500 km sun synchronous orbits. They also provide multi-spectral data. They are used
for both civil and military purposes and are operated jointly by China and Brazil.
Previous Tianhui-1 launches took place in 2010 and 2012.
It was the 10th DF-5 based Chang Zheng orbital launch of 2015, the third CZ-2D of the
year, and the 25th CZ-2D since the type began flying in 1992. The launch was also
the year's 60th successful orbital flight of 2015, world-wide.
Russia's Proton M/Briz M launched the Turksat 4B communications satellite from Baikonur
Cosmodrome on October 16, 2015. Liftoff from Area 200 Pad 39 took place at 20:40 UTC,
beginning a 9 hour 13 minute mission that included five Briz M upper stage burns to lift
the 4.924 tonne satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit. Spacecraft separation
occurred in a roughly 9,130 x 35,705 km x 13.24 deg orbit.
Turksat 4B is a Mitsubishi Electric DS2000 series satellite with 36 transponders at 2084
MHz. It will provide direct TV and communication services over Turkey and portions of
Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.
It was the 407th Proton launch and the sixth Proton launch attempt of the year.
China's CZ-3B/E orbited APStar 9 (Asia Pacific Nine), a communications satellite built in
China, from Xichang satellite launch center on October 16, 2015. The enhanced CZ-3B/E,
currently China's most powerful launch vehicle, lifted off from LC 2 at 16:16 UTC.
The rocket's liquid hydrogen-fueled upper stage inserted the roughly 4 tonne DFH-4 series
satellite into a 212 x 41,965 km x ~27 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit about 26 minutes
After it propels itself to geosynchronous orbit, APStar 9 will serve Hong Kong based APT
Satellite Company Limited.
It was the ninth DF-5 based CZ launch, and the 11th orbital launch by China, in 2015.
Secret Atlas 5 Launch
An Atlas 5-401 with no strap on solid motors and a four
meter diameter fairing launched the NROL-55 mission for the National Reconnaisance Office
from Vandenberg AFB Space Launch Complex 3 East on October 8, 2015. The primary,
unannounced payload headed toward an initial orbit inclined 63 degress to the
equator. Thirteen cubesats totalling 28.5 kg in mass were also orbited. No
orbital parameters, payload information, or mission timeline were announced.
The two-stage AV-058 launch vehicle lifted off at 12:49
UTC. Mission success was not announced for several hours, indicating that the
rocket's Centaur upper stage likely performed multiple burns. Analysts suspect
that the payload consisted of a pair of National Ocean Surveillance System satellites in
roughly 1,000 km x 63 deg orbits.
It was the 58th Atlas 5 launch, the 11th Atlas 5 from
Vandenberg, and the 60th known world-wide orbital launch attempt of the year.
Commercial Remote Sensing Mission
China's Chang Zheng 2D, a two-stage rocket, launched the Jilin 1 commercial remote sensing
mission from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on October 7, 2015. Liftoff from LC 43/603
took place at 04:13 UTC. The mission's four satellites were boosted into 640 x 664 km x 98
deg sun synchronous orbits.
The 420 kg Jilin 1 satellite carries a high resoultion optical imager. Two 95 kg
satellites named Lingqiao A and Lingqiao B satellites are equipped with high resolution
video cameras. LQSat is a 54 kg technology demonstration microsatellite that carries a
It was China's 10th orbital launch of 2015.
Atlas 5 Launches Morelos 3
An Atlas 5-421 with two strap-on solid motors and a four meter diameter payload fairing
boosted Mexico's Morelos 3 communications satellite into orbit from Cape Canaveral,
Florida on October 2, 2015. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41 took place at at 10:28
UTC, after a short delay to clear a boat entering the downrange safety zone.
The rocket's Centaur upper stage fired its RL10C-1 engine twice during a two hour, 52
minute mission to lift Morelos 3 into a 4,797 x 35,788 km x 26.991 deg geosynchronous
transfer orbit. The first burn ended at the 18 minute, 9 second mark to boost the AV-059
vehicle into a 181.5 x 31,708 km x 26.965 intermediate orbit where it coasted for 2.5
hours to apogee for the second burn.
Morelos 3 is a 5,300 kg Boeing 702HP satellite with a nearly 22 meter diameter mesh
unfurlable antenna reflector and two solar arrays that stretch more than 41 meters tip to
tip. The satellite will provide L-band communications, primarily for the Mexican
It was the 56th successful Atlas 5 launch in 57 attempts. It was also the sixth
Atlas 5 flight of 2015.
Soyuz Orbits Progress Cargo Ship
Russia's Soyuz U launched Progress M-29M, a robot cargo hauler for the International Space
Station, from Baikonur Cosmodrome on October 1, 2015. The 2.5 stage kerosene fueled rocket
lifted off from Area 1 Pad 5 at 16:49 UTC. Progress M-29M separated about nine minutes
later into a low earth orbit inclined 51.66 deg to the equator. It then maneuvered
during a six hour, four orbit "fast-track" ascent before performing a rendezvous
and docking with the station.
Progress weighed about 7.3 tonnes at liftoff including about 2.8 tonnes of dry cargo,
food, rocket propellant, water and oxygen to the space station.
Long-running Soyuz U was in the process of being phased out in favor of Soyuz 2.1a for
Progress launches, but the type was returned to full service for the time being after a
Soyuz 2.1a failed to properly orbit Progress M-27M on April 28, 2015.
It was the 12th R-7 launch, and 11th success, of 2015. Progress M-29M is the 61st Progress
to visit ISS.
Ariane 5 Orbits Two Satellites
Ariane 5 ECA L580 orbited two communication satellites from Kourou on September 30, 2015.
Liftoff from ELA 3 took place at 20:30 UTC. The Arianespace VA226 mission placed 6,440 kg
Sky Muster and 2,977 kg Arsat 2 into geosynchronous transfer orbit. About 28 minutes after
liftoff, SS/Loral-built Sky Muster deployed first from atop a Sylda 5 dual payload
carrier. INVAP of Argentina-built Arsat 2 separated several minutes later.
Sky Muster will serve Australia's government-owned NBN Co., providing high speed internet
service. Arsat 2 will provide Ku and C-band communication services to Argentina.
VA226 was the fifth Ariane 5-ECA launch of the year to date.
China Launches Navigation Satellite
China's CZ-3B/E launched the Beidou 20 navigation satellite from XiChang Satellite Launch
Center on September 29, 2015. The rocket was the first to use the upgraded LC 3, a launch
pad that has only hosted less powerful rockets until now. Liftoff took place at
Beidou 20 is a 4.2 tonne Beidou 3 series navigation satellite identified as BD-3 I2-S in
some records. It was inserted into a geosynchronous transfer orbit with a 55 deg
inclination and is bound for an "inclined" geosynchronous orbit that will follow
a "figure eight" pattern as it moves north and south of the equator.
It was China's fifth orbital launch of September.
PSLV Launches Space Observatory
India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) orbited the Astrosat space observatory,
along with six microsatellite, from Sriharikota on September 28, 2015. The 4.5 stage
PSLV-XL rocket, flying the C30 mission, lifted off from the First Launch Pad at 03:30 UTC.
PSLV's fourth stage injected the payloads into a 651 x 644 km x 6 deg orbit about 22
minutes after liftoff.
The 1,513 kg Astrosat satellite is Indias first space observatory. It is equipped
with four X-ray instruments and an ultraviolet telescope. Astrosat was built at ISRO's
Satellite Center in Bangalore.
Six small satellites - LAPAN-A2 for Indonesias National Institute for Aeronautics
and Space, ExactView-9 for Canadas exactEarth, and four Lemur-2 satellites for Spire
Global of the United States - also rode to orbit. All together these weighed 118 kg, with
LAPAN-A2 accounting for 76 kg and ExactView 9 for 14 kg.
It was the third PSLV launch of 2015 and the fourth orbital launch of the year from
China Debuts CZ-11
On September 25, 2015, China launched its first Chang Zheng (CZ) 11 - a four-stage solid
fuel rocket - from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. CZ-11 boosted at least four small
satellites into near-polar low earth orbit.
CZ-11 launched at 01:41 UTC from a canister attached to a mobile transporter/erector in a
manner similar to that used by Russia's retired Start-1 launch vehicle, which was itself
based on Russia's Topol ICBM. The new launch vehicle was developed as a quick-reaction
orbital launcher by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT). The rocket is
reportedly 20.8 meters long, and 2 meters in diameter with a 58 tonne launch mass and a
120 tonne liftoff thrust. CZ-11 may be able to lift 700 kg to sun synchronous orbit.
The test flight boosted three small Tianwang-1 satellites and a fourth named Pujian
1 into roughly 480 km orbits at inclinations of 94.2 to 97.3 deg. One object, possibly a
fourth stage with a liquid propulsion was tracked in an elliptical transfer type orbit.
A Russian Rokot/Briz KM launch vehicle orbited three Gonets 3M data relay satellites and
an unidentified military satellite from Area 133 Pad 3 at Plesetsk space center on
September 23, 2015. The three stage rocket lifted off at 22:00 UTC. Its Briz-KM third
stage performed two burns to lift the three 282 kg Gonets satellites and the fourth
satellite into roughly 1,500 km x 82.5 deg orbits.
The first Briz KM burn began about five minutes after liftoff and lasted for about 9.5
minutes to insert the vehicle into an elliptical parking orbit. The second, circulization
burn began about 1.5 hours after liftoff near apogee and lasted for less than one minute.
Spacecraft separation occurred shortly thereafter.
It was the year's second Rokot launch and the 25th Rokot/Briz KM launch since the type
began flying in 2000.
China's New Rocket Debuts
China successfully launched its first Chang Zheng 6 rocket from
Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on September 19, 2015. The three-stage launch vehicle,
powered off its new launch pad by China's new 122 tonne thrust, staged-combustion cycle
YF-100 LOX/kerosene engine, carried 20 microsatellites into sun synchronous orbit during
the test flight. YF-100, China's first big LOX kerosene engine, will also power the
forthcoming, larger CZ-5 and CZ-7 launch vehicles.
Liftoff from LC 16 took place at 23:01 UTC. The first stage burned for about 155 seconds.
The second stage, powered by a YF-115 staged combustion engine producing 18 tonnes of
thrust, burned LOX/kerosene for about 290 seconds. At apogee, a small kick stage, powered
by four 408 kgf thrust YF-85 hydrogen peroxide/kerosene engines, fired to circularize the
CZ-6 was developed by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). It's 3.35
meter diameter first stage carried 76 tonnes of propellant while its 2.25 meter diameter
second stage carried about 15 tonnes of propellant. The 29.237 meter tall rocket is
capable of lifting more than 1,000 kg of payload into a 700 km sun synchronous orbit.
Payloads ride within a 2.6 meter diameter fairing.
CZ-6 is integrated horizontally in a hangar. A large wheeled transporter/erector carries
it to its flat launch pad and erects it shortly before launch.
Proton M/DM-03 Orbits Express AM8
A three-stage Proton M with a Blok DM-03 fourth stage successfully boosted the Express AM8
communications satellite into near-geosynchronous orbit from Baikonur Cosmodrome on
September 14, 2015. It was the first success for the Proton M/DM-03 configuration after
failures in 2010 and 2013. Liftoff from Area 81 Pad 24 took place at 19:00 UTC.
The RSC Energia Blok DM-03 stage holds up to 18.7 tonnes of LOX/Kerosene propellant, about
25% more than the 15 tonne capacity of precursor Blok DM-2M stages. The stage performed
three burns during the more than 6.5-hour mission. The 2,100 kg satellite separated at
Express AM8 was built by ISS Reshetnev of Russia using a communcations payload built by
Thales Alenia Space of France. The satellite has 42 transponders in the Ku, C, and
L-bands. It is owned by the Russian Satellite Communications Co., a state-owned Russian
operator providing civilian communications services.
It was the 50th worldwide orbital launch attempt, and 47th success, of 2015.
China Orbits Observation Satellite
A Chang Zheng 2D rocket boosted China's Gaofen 9 earth observation satellite into sun
synchronous orbit from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on September 14, 2015. Liftoff from
Complex 43 Pad 603 took place at 04:42 UTC. After the launch, Gaofen 9 was tracked in a
617 x 664 km x 98 deg orbit.
China announced that the high-resolution optical imaging satellite will be used for
"land surveying, urban planning, land ownership, road network design, crop yield
estimation and disaster prevention and reduction". The official press release also
noted that the satellite data could be used for "other major national strategy and
national defense modernization".
It was the 23rd CZ-2D launch. The two-stage rocket variant began flying in 2003.
CZ-3B Launches Experimental Comsat
China's CZ-3B orbited a new satellite type, describe by China's news services as a
"communication technology experimental satellite", from Xichang
satellite launch center on September 12, 2015. The enhanced CZ-3B, currently China's most
powerful launch vehicle, lifted off from LC 2 at 15:42 UTC.
The rocket's liquid hydrogen-fueled upper stage inserted the satellite, possibly named
"Communications Engineering Test Satellite 1" (TJSSW-1) according to industry
experts, into a 201 x 35,825 km x 27 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit after a roughly
The satellite will be used in part to test Ka-band technology for broadband
It was the fifth CZ launch of 2015. More flights are expected soon as China enters its
typically busiest launch "season".
Soyuz Orbits European Navsats
A Soyuz 2-1b with a Fregat upper stage launched a pair of European Galileo navigation
satellites into orbit from Kourou Space Center on September 11, 2015. Flying the
VS12 mission for Arianespace and the FOC-M3 mission for Europe, the 3.5 stage rocket
lifted off from the ELS pad at 02:08 UTC to begin a 3 hour 48 minute mission that placed
the FM-05 and FM-06 satellites, one weighing 715 kg and one 716 kg, into 23,522 km x
57.394 deg circular orbits.
Fregat performed two burns during the mission. The first, completed 24 minutes
after liftoff, placed the vehicle into an elliptical orbit with a 23,500 km apogee.
The second, which began about 3 hours 39 minutes into the flight, aimed the
stage and spacecraft toward their insertion orbit.
It was the second Galileo launch since a Fregat failure placed two Galileo satellites
into an improper orbit on August 22, 2014.
OHB-System and SSTL built the satellite bus and payload, respectfully, for the Galileo
satellites. After the 2014 failure, these will become the second pair of "Full
Operational Capability" satellites of a planned 22 satellite constellation.
Atlas 5 Launches
The most powerful Atlas 5 variant, an Atlas 5-551 with five strap on solid motors and a
five meter diameter payload fairing, lofted the fourth of five planned U.S. Navy Mobile
User Objective System (MUOS 4) communications satellites into orbit from Cape Canaveral,
Florida on September 2, 2015. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41 took place at at 10:18
UTC, providing a spectacular pre-dawn ascent as the rocket rose into high altitude
sunlight. The 568 tonne rocket's Centaur upper stage fired its RL10C-1 engine three times
during a nearly 3 hour mission to lift MUOS 4 toward a planned 3,819 x 35,786 km x 19.11
deg geosynchronous transfer orbit.
At 6.74 tonnes, the MUOS satellites are the heaviest known payloads launched by an Atlas
5, though the mass of several secret national security payloads launched by the ULA built
rocket have never been published. Lockheed Martin Space Systems is the MUOS prime
contractor. The satellites provide narrowband tactical voice and data communications and
are equipped with a 14-meter diameter reflecting mesh antenna to provide links to
It was the 56th Atlas 5 launch and the fifth of 2015. AC-056 was the Atlas 5-551 to fly.
Soyuz Orbits ISS Crew
A Soyuz FG rocket boosted the Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft
with three crew for the International Space Station from Baikonur Cosmodrome on September
2, 2015. Liftoff from Area 1 Pad 5 took place at 04:37 UTC.
On board were Russia's Sergey Volkov, Europe's Andreas
Mogensen, and Kazakhstan's Aidyn Aimbetov. Their spacecraft will take two days and
34 orbits to reach ISS. The quicker four-orbit ascent used since 2013 was not
possible due to a recent debris avoidance maneuver made by ISS. Once aboard, the
Soyuz TMA-18M crew will increase the number aboard the station to nine.
It was the year's third crewed launch, all by Soyuz. It
was also the 10 orbital launch attempt by Russia's R-7 rocket during 2015.
On August 28, 2015, Russia's Proton boosted the Inmarsat
5-F3 communications satellite toward a planned supersynchronous transfer orbit from
Baikonur Cosmodrome. The planned 15.5 hour mission was a return to flight for
Khrunichev's Proton some 3.5 months after a failed May 16 launch with Mexsat 1. The
705 tonne, four-stage Proton M/Briz M rocket lifted off from Site 200 Pad 39 at 11:44 UTC
to begin a mission that included five planned Briz M upper stage burns.
Proton's RD-0124 propulsion system fired successfully
during the ascent Inmarsat 5-F3 phase. Vibration in an RD-0214 steering engine
turbopump caused the May 16 failure when resulting dynamic loads caused a mounting bracket
to fail, shutting down the steering engine. Roscosmos determined that the cause was
an old design flaw that allowed a slightly unbalanced turbopump shaft to create large
vibrations. To fix the problem, turbopump rotor shaft materials were altered, rotor
balancing methods improved, and the turbopump mount was strengthened.
Briz M fired first to place itself into a 173 km x 51.5
deg parking orbit. It was to fire three more times during the first 4 hours 44 minutes and
three orbits of the mission to aim itself toward a 475 x 65,044 km x 50.5 deg transfer
orbit. After a 10.5 hour coast to apogee, Briz M was to fire a fifth time to reach a 4,341
x 65,000 km x 26.75 deg supersynchronous transfer orbit.
Inmarsat 5-F3 is a 6.07 tonne Boeing BSS-702HP series satellite with 89 Ka-band
transponders. It will provide mobile broadband network service from a geostationary
position at 55 deg West longitude.
Launches Communications Satellite
Indias Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) successfully launched the
GSAT-6 communications satellite from Sriharikota on August 27, 2015. Liftoff from the
Second Launch Pad at Satish Dhawan Space Center took place at 11:22 UTC. The 2,117 kg
satellite separated into geosynchronous transfer orbit about 17 minutes later. The
targeted orbit was 170 x 35,975 km x 19.95 deg.
The GSLV-D6 mission used a "Mk 2" launch vehicle with the third flight of
India's indigenously developed Cryogenic Upper Stage (CUS). The stage carried 12.8 metric
tons (tonnes) of LH2/LOX that provided about 7.5 tonnes of thrust during its single 720
second burn. It was the second GSLV/CUS success.
GSLV-D6 weighed 416 tonnes and stood 49.1 meters tall. Its first stage used four
Vikas-powered L40H strap on boosters and an S139 solid motor core. The 2.1 m x 19.7 m
strap-ons burned 42.6 tonnes of U25/N2O4 for 148.9 seconds, producing a maximum 77.4
tonnes of thrust. The 2.8 x 20.1 m core burned 138.1 tonnes of HTPB propellant for 106
seconds, producing a maximum 491 tonnes of thrust. The boosters do not jettison from the
The 2.8 x 11.6 m second stage Vikas engine burned 39.5 tonnes of U25/N2O4 for 150 seconds,
producing a maximum of 81.4 tonnes of thrust. The payload fairing jettisoned 3 minutes 50
seconds after liftoff, during the second stage burn. GSAT-6 separated about 12 seconds
after the end of the CUS burn.
GSAT-6, built by ISRO, will be used by India's military. It has S and C band payloads. The
S-band payload uses a 6 meter diameter unfurlable antenna - largest ever for ISRO. The
satellite's 45 kgf liquid apogee motor will burn MMH/MON-3 during a series of burns to
reach geosynchronous orbit.
China Orbits Spysat
China's Chang Zheng 4C orbited a Yaogan Weixing electro-optical reconnaissance satellite
from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on August 27, 2015. The three-stage hypergolic
propellant-fueled rocket lifted off from LC 9 at 02:31 UTC. The satellite, identified as
Yaogan 27, was boosted toward a sun synchronous low earth orbit.
The satellite, built by Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST), is thought to
be fifth in a series that began in 2009 and previously included Yaogan 8, 15, 19, and 22.
The satellites weigh a reported 1,040 kg and operate in a roughly 1,200 km x 100.3 deg
It was the fourth CZ launch of 2015 and the second from Taiyuan.
Ariane 5 Lofts
Ariane 5 ECA L579 launched two communication satellites into geosynchronous transfer orbit
from Kourou on August 20, 2015. Liftoff from ELA 3 took place at 20:43 UTC.
The Arianespace VA225 mission placed 5,782 kg Eutelsat 8
West B and 3,200 kg Intelsat 34 into orbit. SS/Loral-built Eutelsat 8 West B
deployed first from atop a Sylda 5 dual payload carrier. Thales Alenia Space-built
Intelsat 34 separated several minutes later.
VA225 was the 50th consecutive Ariane 5-ECA success - the second longest ongoing success
string behind only Delta 2 - and was the fourth Ariane 5 launch of 2015.
Japan's H-2B successfully orbited JAXA's H-2 Transfer Vehicle 5 (HTV 5) ISS cargo hauling
spacecraft from Tanegashima's Yoshinobu Launch Pad No. 2 on August 19, 2015. After an
11:50:49 UTC liftoff and 15 minute ascent, the 531 tonne, 2.5 stage rocket placed the
roughly 16.2 tonne spacecraft (named "Kounotori", or "White Stork", 5)
into a 200 x 300 km x 51.6 deg insertion orbit. Kounotori 5 was expected to gradually
raise its orbit to 400 km to reach the International Space Station on Monday, August 24.
Kounotori 5 carried about 5.7 tonnes of cargo, including 4.7 tonnes in the forward
pressurized compartment and 1 tonne in the mid-unpressurized compartment. Cargo included
food and crew supplies, scientific hardware, spare parts, a cosmic ray experiment package,
spacewalk equipment, and computer parts. About 200 kg of late cargo was added to the
manifest after the Falcon 9/CRS-5 launch failure.
H-2B lifted off on about 1,100 tonnes of thrust, including about 180 tonnes thrust from
its twin LH2/LOX LE-7A core main engines and about 920 tonnes of thrust produced by its
four SRB-A monolithic solid motors. The SRB-As ignited at liftoff and burned out 1 minute
54 seconds after liftoff. The LE-5A engines ignited about five seconds before liftoff and
cut off at T+5 min 47 sec. The second stage's single LH2/LOX 14 tonne thrust LE-5B engine
performed a single burn that lasted 8 minutes 19 seconds.
It was the fifth H-2B since the type began flying in 2009, the 40th H-2 family launch
since 1994, and the 40th orbital attempt worldwide in 2015.
Orbits Navsat Pair (Updated 7/27/15)
China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 3B orbited two Beidou 3M series navigation satellites
from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on July 25, 2015. The 3.5 stage rocket, topped for
the first time by a Yuanzheng 1 fourth, maneuvering stage, lifted off from LC 2 at 12:29
The satellites, named Beidou 3 M1-S and Beidou 3 M2-S, were the first third-generation
medium altitude type. They weighed about 1,014 kg each at launch.
CZ-3B's LH2/LOX third stage boosted the payloads into a
186 x 18,390 km x 54.97 deg transfer orbit. Yuanzheng 1 then fired its 660 kgf thrust
UDMH/N2O4 engine to lift the satellites first into a roughly 186 x 22,000 km orbit and
then a second time to circularize the orbit at 22,000 km about 3.5 hours after
liftoff. YZ-1 performed a final disposal burn to raise its orbit above the
operational Beidou altitude.
Delta 4 Launches
The 30th Delta 4 launch vehicle, a Delta 4M+5,4 with four solid rocket motors and a five
meter diameter Delta cryogenic second stage (DCSS), lofted Wideband Global SATCOM No. 7
into supersynchronous transfer orbit from Cape Canaveral Florida on July 24, 2015. The
66.3 meter tall liquid hydrogen fueled rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 37B at
It was the first Delta 4 Medium powered by an upgraded Aerojet-Rocketdyne RS-68A main
DCSS performed two burns. The first placed the vehicle in a 185 x 6,852 km x 25.6 deg
parking orbit about 20 minutes after liftoff. After a 9.5 minute coast, the second, 3
minute 19 second burn pushed the 5.987 tonne Boeing 702 series satellite into a 440 x
66,838 km x 24.2 deg transfer orbit. Spacecraft separation occurred 42 minutes after
WGS-7 will provide 500 MHz range, X-band, and 1 GHz range (Ka-band) communication links
for the Australian Defence Force on a mission that was funded by Australia. It can support
up to 3.6 Gbps data transmission rates.
It was only the second Delta 4 launch of 2015 and the first in four months.
New ISS Crew
A Soyuz FG launch vehicle successfully boosted the Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft with three
crew for the International Space Station from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan on July 22,
2015. Liftoff from Area 1 Pad 5 took place at 21:02 UTC. Soyuz TMA-17M flew a fast track
six hour approach to the station before docking at 02:45 UTC on July 23.
The crew included Russia's Oleg Kononenko, Japan's Kimiya Yui, and NASA's Kjell Lindgren.
One of the Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft's two solar arrays failed to deploy after orbital
insertion. It finally shook lose and deployed when the vehicle docked to ISS.
It was the second crewed orbital launch of 2015.
Support Eyed in Falcon 9 Failure
On July 20, 2015, Elon Musk, head of SpaceX, announced
preliminary investigation results of the company's June 28 Falcon 9/CRS-7 launch failure.
Musk said that a strut supporting one of the high pressure composite overwrapped pressure
vessel (COPV) helium bottles inside the second stage liquid oxygen (LOX) tank is believed
to have failed as vehicle acceleration passed 3.2 Gs, allowing the bottle to break free.
As a result of the failure, enough helium was released to rapidly overpressurize the tank.
The bottles hold helium at 5,500 psi.
Mr. Musk also revealed that the CRS-7 Dragon capsule, which broke away from the
disentegrating rocket, transmitted data until it fell below the horizon and could have
been saved if a parachute could have been ejected. Flight software did not have a mode for
such a contingency, but Musk said that future versions would have such software.
The 2 foot long, one inch thick strut failed at only 20% of its 10,000 pound rated
strength. During its investigation, SpaceX tested a large number of the struts and found a
few that failed below the rated strength due to metallurgical weaknesses. SpaceX will
replace the struts, which are also used in first stages, with stronger struts from a
different manufacturer. The company will also improve its quality control processes
to assure strut strength.
Musk said that the next launch will not occur until September at the earliest, depending
on reviews by NASA, the FAA, the U.S. Air Force, and commercial customers.
50th Ariane 5
ECA Orbits Two Satellites
Ariane 5 ECA L578 launched two satellites into geosynchronous transfer orbit from Kourou
on July 15, 2015. Liftoff from ELA 3 took place at 21:42 UTC. The Arianespace VA224
mission orbited the 2,043 kg MSG 4 (Meteosat Second Generation) weather satellite and the
5,565 kg Star One C4 communications satellite. Star One C4 deployed first from the top of
a Sylda dual payload carrier.
MSG 4 is a spin-stabilized satellite built by Thales Alenia Space for Europe's Eumetsat.
Star One C4 was built by Space Systems/Loral with 48 Ku-band transponders for Brazil's
Embratel Star One.
It was the 50th Ariane 5 ECA and the 80th Ariane 5.
Atlas 5 Orbits GPS 2F-10
The 55th Atlas 5 rocket, a two-stage 401 variant, orbited U.S. Air Force Global
Positioning Satellite 2F-10 from Cape Canaveral SLC 41 on July 15, 2015. Liftoff occurred
at 15:36 UTC to begin a 3.5 hour mission that placed the 1.63 tonne navigation satellite
into a 20,200 km x 55 deg circular orbit.
Atlas climbed on a northeast azimuth from the Cape, paralleling the Eastern Seaboard of
the United States. Centuar performed a 762 second first burn as it flew up the coast and
halfway across the Atlantic to lift itself into an elliptical 176 x 20,279 km x 55 deg
transfer orbit. After coasting for just over 3 hours to first apogee south of Australia,
Centaur burned again for about 87 seconds to complete the mission.
GPS 2F-10 was the 10th of 12 planned Lockheed Martin 2F series satellites. The company
will also build GPS-3 series satellites that are expected to begin flying in 2017.
It was the fourth Atlas 5 launch of 2015 and the first from Cape Canaveral since the June
28, 2015 Falcon 9 CRS-7 launch failure.
Launches Five Satellites
India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) orbited
five British-built satellites from Sriharikota on July 10, 2015. The 4.5 stage PSLV-XL
rocket, flying the C28 mission, lifted off from the First Launch Pad at 16:28 UTC. The
fourth stage injected the payloads into a 647 km x 98.06 sun synchronous orbit about 17
minutes 20 seconds after liftoff.
Three Disaster Monitoring Constellation (DMC) satellites were the primary payload for this
launch. The Surrey Satellite Technology SSTL-300 satellites, identified as DMC3-1, DMC3-2,
and DMC3-3, each weighed 447 kg at liftoff. The satellites are capable of 1-meter
Two small technology demonstration satellites also rode to orbit. They included CBNT 1, a
91 kg satellite built by SSTL to test earth observation methods, and DeorbitSail, a 7 kg
cubeSat that will deploy a 16 square meter sail to test drag generating methods.
Orbits Crucial ISS Cargo Ship
Russia's Soyuz U launched Progress M-28M, a vital unmanned cargo spacecraft for the
International Space Station, from Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 3, 2015. The 2.5 stage
kerosene fueled rocket lifted off from Area 1 Pad 5 at 04:55 UTC. Progress M-28M separated
about nine minutes later into a 193 x 245 km x 51.66 deg orbit from which it will maneuver
over two days to rendezvous and dock with the station.
Progress weighed about 6.9 tonnes at liftoff including about 2.4 tonnes of dry cargo,
food, rocket propellant, water and oxygen to the space station. The cargo is badly needed
in the wake of three ISS cargo ship failures - one each by Antares/Cygnus, Soyuz/Progress,
and Falcon 9/Dragon - during the past eight months. The last cargo success had been Dragon
CRS-6 on April 14, 2015, one of five cargo successes by Dragon and Progress since the
October 28, 2014 Antares/Cygnus Orb-3 launch failure.
Long-running Soyuz U was in the process of being phased out in favor of Soyuz 2.1a for
Progress launches, but a Soyuz 2.1a failed to properly orbit Progress M-27M on April 28,
2015. That failure involved a problem at spacecraft separation that sent the Progress into
an uncontrollable spin. An investigation pointed toward some type of unexpected, damaging
pogo, vibration, or structural resonance issue during the final seconds of the upper stage
burn that was unique to the Soyuz 2-1a/Progress M-27M combination.
It was the eighth R-7 launch, and seventh success, of
9 CRS-7 Failure
The 19th SpaceX Falcon 9 suffered a launch failure about
2 minutes 19 seconds after liftoff from Cape Canaveral SLC 40 on June 28, 2015. The
flight, carrying cargo for the International Space Station, lifted off at 14:21 UTC.
The Falcon 9 v1.1 steered into clear skies and headed downrange with no obvious problems
during the first two minutes of flight, but a cloud of white vapor suddenly expanded from
the front of the vehicle at the 2:19 mark, and pieces were visible breaking off of the
vehicle, even as the first stage engines continued thrusting. The rocket quickly
broke up and was enveloped by a larger explosion.
An hour or so after launch, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk
reported via. Twitter that the second stage liquid oxygen tank had become overpressurized
and failed due to "counterintuitive" reasons that were still under
investigation. At the time of the failure the second stage was being prepared to
begin its portion of the flight, with the Merlin Vacuum engine in a chilldown phase.
It was the first failure of a Falcon 9 v1.1 in 14
flights, the first Falcon 9 to fail to reach orbit, and the second failure of any type of
a Falcon 9.
The failure was the third involving an ISS cargo carrier
during the last 8 months, placing the station in a potential cargo-shortage danger.
The loss reduced the planned on-board cargo margin by at least one month.
ULA Announces Vulcan
At the 31st Space Symposium on April 13, 2015 , United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced
that its Next Generation Launch System (NGLS) would be named "Vulcan",
after the Roman god of fire.
The company also revealed plans for a step-by-step Vulcan
development process that would keep some existing EELV elements in service for years while
quickly phasing out others.
See Older Launch Reports in the Space Launch Report