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Ed Kyle

Recent Space Launches

07/22/15, 21:02 UTC, Soyuz FG with Soyuz TMA-17M from TB 1/5 to LEO/ISS
07/24/15, 00:07 UTC, Delta 4M+5,4 with WGS 7 from CC 37B to GTO
07/25/15, 12:29 UTC, CZ-3B/YZ-1 with Beidou 3M1S/3M2S from XC 2 to MEO
08/19/15, 11:50 UTC, H-2B-304 with HTV-5 from TA Y2 to LEO/ISS
08/20/15, 20:43 UTC, Ariane 5 ECA with Eutelsat 8WB/Intelsat 34 from KO 3 to GTO
08/27/15, 02:31 UTC, CZ-4C with Yaogan 27 from TY 9 to LEO/S
08/27/15, 11:22 UTC, GSLV-Mk2 with GSAT-6 from SR 2 to GTO
08/28/15, 11:44 UTC, Proton M/Briz M with Inmarsat 5-F3 from TB 200/39 to GTO+
09/02/15, 04:37 UTC, Soyuz FG with Soyuz TMA-18M from TB 1/5 to LEO/ISS
09/02/15, 10:18 UTC, Atlas 5-551 with MUOS 4 from CC 41 to GTO+

Worldwide Space Launch Box Score
as of 08/28/15
All Orbital Launch Attempts(Failures)
2015:  46(3)
2014:  92(4)
2013:  81(3)
2012:  78(6)
Crewed Launch Attempts(Failures)
2015:  3(0)
2014:  4(0)
2013:  5(0)
2012:  5(0)

av056.jpg (12704 bytes)Atlas 5 Launches MUOS 4

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 ground-based users.

It was the 56th Atlas 5 launch and the fifth of 2015. AC-056 was the Atlas 5-551 to fly.

soytma18m.jpg (2766 bytes)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.

p405.jpg (3602 bytes)Proton Returns

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.

gslvd6.jpg (30472 bytes)India Launches Communications Satellite

India’s 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 core.

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.

cz4cyg27.jpg (9236 bytes)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 orbit.

It was the fourth CZ launch of 2015 and the second from Taiyuan.

va225.jpg (18445 bytes)Ariane 5 Lofts Satellite Pair

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. 

h2b5.jpg (13250 bytes)H-2B Launches ISS Cargo

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.

cz3by26.jpg (12332 bytes)China 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 UTC.

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.

d372.jpg (15245 bytes)Delta 4 Launches WGS-7

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 00:07 UTC.

It was the first Delta 4 Medium powered by an upgraded Aerojet-Rocketdyne RS-68A main engine.

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 liftoff.

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.

tma17m.jpg (13441 bytes)Soyuz Launches 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.

crs7c.jpg (8495 bytes)Helium Bottle 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.

va224.jpg (14192 bytes)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.

av055.jpg (16463 bytes)55th 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.

pslvc28.jpg (10080 bytes)PSLV 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 resolution imaging.

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.

progm28m.jpg (9664 bytes)Soyuz 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 2015.

f9-19b.jpg (2675 bytes)Falcon 9 CRS-7 Failure

F9-19/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.

f9-19a.jpg (14342 bytes)F9-19/CRS-7 Liftoff

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.

cz4bgf8.jpg (3182 bytes)Chang Zheng Launch

A Chang Zheng 4B performed China's second orbital launch of 2015 on June 16, 2015. The three-stage rocket boosted an Earth observation satellite identified as "Gaofen 8" into a roughly 470 x 480 km x 97.3 deg sun synchronous orbit from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center. Liftoff from LC 9 took place at 06:22 UTC.

China announced that the satellite would be used for "country surveying, disaster response, agriculture mapping, city planning, land ownership marking and road network planning". The launch, however, was performed as if the satellite had a classified mission, since no detailed information about the mission was provided to news media and public awareness of the launch was only provided by the issuing of drop zone hazard zone warning one day before the liftoff.

CZ-4D weighs nearly 249 tonnes at liftoff and can lift 2.8 tonnes to a sun synchronous low Earth orbit.

r71842.jpg (10794 bytes)Soyuz 2-1b Orbits Kvarts

Russia's Soyuz 2-1b boosted a Kvarts (Persona 1) reconnaissance satellite into orbit from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on June 23, 2015. The 308 tonne, 2.5 stage rocket lifted off from Site 43/4 at 16:44 UTC and lofted its payload into a sun synchronous low earth orbit.

Kvarts, a military digital imaging satellite, is believed to weigh about 6.5 tonnes. Two previous Kvarts launches by Soyuz 2-1b from Plestesk took place, one in 2008 and another in 2013.

It was the seventh R-7 based launch of 2015 and sixth success. R-7 leads the world in launch totals so far this year.

vv05.jpg (10790 bytes)Vega Orbits Sentinel 2A

Europe's Vega performed its fifth launch on June 23, 2015. The VV05 mission boosted 1,130 kg Sentinel 2A, an earth observation satellite for Europe, into a 786 km x 98.5 deg sun synchronous orbit from Kourou space center. The four stage rocket lifted off from ZLV (Vega Launch Zone) at 01:52 UTC and headed north across the Atlantic Ocean.

Vega's first three solid motor stages burned in succession during the first 6 minutes 14 seconds of the mission to lift the upper stage and payload to orbital velocity. The AVUM (Attitude & Vernier Upper Module) stage then fired its hypergolic bipropellant Ukrainian built engine for about 8.8 minutes to reach an elliptical transfer orbit.

After a 35.5 minute coast to apogee, AVUM performed a 2+ minute burn to circularize the orbit for Sentinel 2A separation.

Airbus Defence and Space of Toulouse, France built Sentinel 2A. The four-stage small/medium payload launcher was jointly developed by the Italian Space Agency and the European Space Agency (ESA). ELV S.p.A., a joint venture of Italy’s AVIO S.p.A. and the Italian Space Agency (ASI), is the Vega prime contractor.

Sentinel-2A was the second Copernicus program satellite launched from Kourou. Sentinel-1A was launched by a Soyuz rocket from Kourou on April 3, 2014.

r71841.jpg (3657 bytes)Soyuz 2-1a Launches Kobalt-M

Russia's Soyuz 2-1a launched what may be the final film-return Kobalt-M reconnaissance satellite into orbit from Plestesk Cosmodrome on June 5, 2015. The 2.5 stage rocket lifted off from Site 43/4 at 15:24 UTC. Upon reaching orbit, the satellite was expected to be designated Kosmos 2505.

Russian Aerospace Defense combat troops performed the launch. It was the first launch of a Soyuz-2.1a since a failed attempt to 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.

va223.jpg (18068 bytes)Ariane 5 Orbits Two Comsats

Ariane 5 ECA L577 launched two communication satellites together weighing 9.2 metric tons into geosynchronous transfer orbit from Kourou on May 27, 2015. The Arianespace VA223 mission orbited DirecTV 15 and Sky Mexico 1 during a roughly 34.5 minute mission that began with a 21:16 UTC liftoff from ELA 3.

DirecTV 15 is a 6,200 kg Airbus Defense and Space-built Eurostar E3000 satellite with Ku-, Ka- and R-band transponders for U.S. DirecTV customers.  Orbital ATK built 3,000 kg SKY Mexico 1 based on its GEOStar-2 platform. Sky Mexico 1 has Ku- and R-band transponders.  

It was the 49h Ariane 5 ECA and the 79th Ariane 5.

av054.jpg (8347 bytes)Atlas 5 Launches AFSPC-5

AV-054, an Atlas 5-501 with no solid boosters and a 5.4 meter diameter payload fairing, orbited the AFSPC-5 (Air Force Space Command) mission for the U.S. Air Force from Cape Canaveral, Florida on May 20, 2015. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41 took place at 15:05 UTC. The mission flew into a media blackout shortly after the Centaur second stage RL-10C-1 engine ignited.

When the media blackout began, the vehicle was on a northeast track consistent with previous AFSPC flights that carried five tonne X-37B spaceplanes into low earth orbits inclined about 40 degrees to the equator. This flight was also described as an X-37B launch by the Air Force, but no confirming images of an X-37B payload for this mission were provided as they had been during three previous missions.  Amateur observers were able to track the AFSPC-5 primary payload, the claimed "OTV-4" satellite, in a 312 x 325 km x 38 deg orbit within a week of the launch.

Publicized secondary payloads included a Hall effect thruster for the Air Force, a NASA materials exposure payload, an "UltraSAT" payload comprised of ten microsatellites for NASA, the Pentagon, and universities, and LightSail-A, a prototype solar sail by the Planetary Society. UltraSAT remained attached to the Centaur stage after AFSPC-5 separation, presumably allowing its payloads to be deployed into a different orbit after Centaur performed a second burn.

p404.jpg (10796 bytes)Proton Fails Again (Updated May 30, 2015)

Russia's Khrunichev-built Proton M/Briz M launch vehicle suffered another launch failure on May 16, 2014, almost exactly a year after an eerily similar failure, while attempting to boost the MexSat-1 communications satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit. The failure occurred during the third stage burn about 490 to 498 seconds after an 05:47 UTC liftoff from Baikonur Cosmodrome Area 200 Pad 39. The similar May 15, 2014 failure occurred 540 seconds after liftoff.

The 4.1 meter diameter third stage is powered by an RD-0212 propulsion system that consists of a single fixed RD-0213 engine that produces 59 tons thrust for about 232 seconds and a four-nozzle RD-0214 vernier/steering engine that produces 11.7 tonnes of vacuum thrust for about 247 seconds. A single turbopump feeds propellant to the four steering engine nozzles.  The stage typically ignites about 327 seconds into a launch.

Mexsat 1, also known as Centenario, was a 5,325 kg Boeing 702HP GEM series satellite with L and Ku-band transponders.

A failure investigating commission was quickly formed as Proton was again stood down.  It was the 48th Proton launch system failure and the 404th Proton launch.  Eight of the failures had occurred since 2010 inclusive, a period that had seen 53 Proton launches.

On May 29, 2015, the Roscosmos Agency Commission investigating the incident announced its conclusions regarding the cause of the failure.   It concluded that the RD-0214 third stage steering engine turbopump had failed due to "increased vibration loads occurring as a result of the imbalance of the turbo pump unit rotor caused by the degradation of its material properties at high temperatures, and improper balancing".  As a result of the findings, Roscosmos ordered Khrunichev Space Center to change materials used for the turbopump rotor shaft, to revise turbopump rotor balancing methods, and to upgrade the turbopump mount to the engine frame.

dragonpa.jpg (6877 bytes)Dragon Pad Abort Test

SpaceX performed a Crew Dragon pad abort test from Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 40 on May 6, 2015. The test demonstrated basic operation of a launch abort sequence designed to pull the crewed spacecraft away from a Falcon 9 rocket in the event of a failure. The test was a key milestone in the company's commercial crew development effort for NASA.

The Crew Dragon capsule and its attached trunk were boosted off a specially constructed launch stand at 13:00 UTC by eight Super Draco engines that produced about 54.4 tonnes of thrust for just under six seconds. The spacecraft steered toward the ocean during the thrusting period, and rose to nearly 1,500 meters before the trunk separated, the capsule rotated, and parachute deployment began. Crew Dragon landed about 1,200 meters offshore and was recovered by crews on boats and a barge. The test lasted less than two minutes.

Elon Musk reported after the test that one of the Super Dracos, which burn pressure-fed N2O4/MMH, underperformed, leaving the capsule slightly short of its planned velocity and altitude, but the test objectives were achieved. SpaceX plans to reuse the test vehicle on a high-speed in-flight abort test from Vandenberg AFB in coming months.

progm27m.jpg (6678 bytes)Progress Launched, Lost in Orbit

A Soyuz 2-1a boosted Russia's Progress M-27M unmanned cargo spacecraft into orbit, intended for same-day docking with the International Space Station, from Baikonur Cosmodrome on April 28, 2015. Shortly after separating into orbit, however, contact was lost with the Progress spacecraft.  Later, Progress was found to be spinning, out of control, end over end in its insertion orbit.  Russian controllers spent a day considering how or if control might be restored.  On April 29 controllers declared the mission a total loss after finding the Progress propellant manifold system unpressurized. 

The 2.5 stage kerosene fueled rocket lifted off from Area 31 Pad 6 at 07:-09 UTC. Progress M-27M reached a low earth orbit about nine minutes later.  The spacecraft was subsequently, and incorrectly, tracked in a 120 x 314 km x 51.65 deg orbit, which was off from the nominal 193 x 238 km x 51.67 deg.  Later tracking updates showed a closer-to-nominal 188 x 260 km orbit.  

Progress subsequently reentered over the South Pacific Ocean at 02:04 UTC on May 8. 

It was not immediately clear if the problem was due to a launch vehicle or spacecraft issue. An Interfax report late on launch day hinted that officials were looking at a possible upper stage problem that may have resulted in a mis-timed or unplanned spacecraft separation.  A telemetry drop out reportedly occured 1.5 seconds before the planned separation.  U.S. tracking systems subsequently detected dozens of objects in orbit near the upper stage.  Russian officials noted that the Soyuz 2-1a upper stage had over-shot the planned insertion orbit apogee.

After Progress deployed its solar arrays, it was supposed to pressurize its propellant system and deploy its Ku band antenna.  Contact was lost before either step could be confirmed, and no telemetry was received during the first two or three orbits.  Later, an on board video briefly transmitted from Progress showed it in a longitudinal (head over heels) spin, completing one revolution about every six seconds.    

Progress weighed about 7,289 kg at liftoff.  The ship carried 2,769 kg of dry cargo, food, rocket propellant, water and oxygen meant for ISS.

It was the year's fifth R-7 launch, a total that includes two Progress and one Soyuz launch to ISS.

f9-17.jpg (13283 bytes)Falcon 9 Launches TurkmenAlem 52E

The 13th Falcon 9 v1.1 to fly, and the 12th to be built, successfully boosted the TurkmenAlem 52E communications satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida on April 27, 2015. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 took place at 23:03 UTC after a half-hour weather delay.

The 4,500 kg Thales Alenia Space Spacebus 4000 series satellite was released about 32 minutes 15 seconds after liftoff, following a second burn of the Falcon 9 second stage, toward a targeted 180 x 36,600 km x 25.5 deg orbit. The satellite is the first satellite launched for the government of Turkmenistan.

The flight was originally shelved only a few days before its planned March 21, 2015 date when concerns were raised about helium pressurization bottles in the first stage LOX tank after an anomaly was detected in other hardware at the Hawthorne, California Falcon 9 factory. As a result, the F9-17 vehicle (12th Falcon 9 v1.1 and 17th Falcon 9) being prepared for TurkmenAlem 52E was pulled from the SLC 40 hangar back to the SpaceX hangar in the Cape Canaveral industrial area. This allowed the F9-18 vehicle to move ahead in the queue to perform the CRS-6 launch on April 14. F9-17 quickly returned to SLC 40, where it performed a static test firing on April 22.

va222.jpg (20476 bytes)Ariane 5 Launches Comsat Pair

Ariane 5 ECA L576 launched two communication satellites into geosynchronous transfer orbit from Kourou on April 26, 2015. Arianespace mission VA222 orbited Thor 7 for Telenor and Sircal 2 for Telespazio during a 34 minute 23 second mission that began with a 20:00 UTC liftoff from ELA 3.

Space Systems/Loral built 4.6 tonne Thor 7, which rode above the 4.4 tonne Thales Alenia Space-built Sircal 2 on a Sylda 5A dual payload fairing.

Sircal 2 will serve Italy’s military in the UHF and SHF bands. Thor 7, an SSL 1300 series satellite, will provide Ka-band maritime service coverage over the North Sea, the Norwegian Sea, the Red Sea, the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean.

It was the year's first Ariane 5. It was the 48th Ariane 5 ECA and the 78th Ariane 5.

f9crs6.jpg (12551 bytes)Falcon 9 Launches Dragon CRS-6

A SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket successfully orbited the company's Dragon spacecraft on the CRS-6 (Cargo Resupply Services) mission from Cape Canaveral, Florida on April 14, 2015. The 63.4 meter tall two-stage rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at 20:10 UTC and steered on a
northeastward track. The first stage shut down its nine Merlin 1D engines about 159 seconds after liftoff and the second stage Merlin Vacuum engine began a 408 second burn to boost the vehicle into a 199 x 364 km x 51.65 degree orbit.

Dragon carried 2,015 kg of cargo for the International Space Station, a total that included 117 kg of packing material. The spacecraft likely weighed about 9,350 kg at liftoff, including cargo and the weight of two solar array fairings that were jettisonned shortly after reaching orbit.

After about five weeks at ISS, Dragon will return to a Pacific Ocean splashdown loaded with 1,370 kg of return cargo, packaging materials, and trash.

It was the second launch attempt for CRS-6. The first attempt was scrubbed by approaching weather on April 13. The rocket's first stage performed an on-pad hot-fire test on April 11.

The CRS-6 mission, complete with its launch vehicle, had moved ahead of the previously-processed Turkmensat mission when a potential problem was found with that rocket's helium pressurization system a few days before its planned launch on March 21. The CRS-6 launch vehicle was then swapped with the Turkmensat rocket so that CRS-6 was launched by the 18th Falcon 9 launch vehicle although it was the only the 17th Falcon 9 to fly.

After the first stage separated, it performed a three-burn recovery experiment aiming toward a landing on a converted barge floating in the Atlantic Ocean about 330 km downrange.  The stage landed on the barge, but apparently landed hard and disentegrated.

vulcan-561.jpg (6692 bytes)ULA Announces Vulcan

Vulcan 561

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 Archive