Korea Reaches Orbit
North Korea returned
to orbit with a successful satellite launch from its Sohae launch site on February 7,
2016. A three-stage Unha 3 rocket carried a Kwangmyongsong ("Star of
Hope") satellite into a roughly 500 km x 97.4 deg sun synchronous orbit after a 00:30
UTC liftoff. Time from liftoff to satellite separation was 567 seconds.
The rocket flew south across the Yellow and East China
Seas during its ascent before skirting the east coast of the Phillipines.
It was the fifth Unha launch, and second success.
Russia Orbits Glonass-M
Russia's Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat rocket boosted a Glonass-M (Uragan-M) navigation satellite into
orbit from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on February 7, 2016. The 3.5 stage rocket lifted off from
Area 43 Pad 4 at 00:21 UTC. After the Soyuz rocket boosted Fregat and its payload into low
earth orbit, the Fregat upper stage performed three burns to lift the 1.415 tonne
satellite into a roughly 19,130 x 19,150 km x 64.8 deg orbit. Spacecraft separation
occurred several hours after launch.
It was the first R-7 launch of 2016.
Last GPS 2F
AV-057, an Atlas 5-401 with no solid rocket boosters and a 4.267 meter (14 foot) diameter
payload fairing, orbited GPS 2F-12, the final 2F series Global Positioning Satellite, from
Cape Canaveral on February 5, 2016. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41 took place at
13:38 UTC. The 1.63 tonne Boeing-built satellite separated into a semisynchronous circular
orbit about 3 hours 23 minutes later.
The RD-180 powered first stage rose on 390.18 tonnes of sea level thrust and burned for 4
minutes 4 seconds before the RL10C powered Centaur second stage took over. Centaur's 10.39
tonne thrust liquid hydrogen fueled engine fired for 12 minutes 44 seconds to lift itself
into a 167 x 20,216 km x 55 deg transfer orbit. After a three hour coast to apogee,
Centaur fired again for about 1 minute 27 seconds to circularize the orbit at 20,459 km.
Delta 4 and Atlas 5 together orbited 12 GPS 2F satellites beginning in 2010. Upgraded GPS
3A series satellites will begin to fly no earlier than 2017.
A CZ-3C/YZ-1 launch vehicle boosted China's Beidou M3-S (Beidou 21) navigation satellite
into orbit from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on February 1, 2016. Liftoff from Pad 2
took place at 07:29 UTC. The 3.5-stage CZ-3C rocket boosted a YZ-1 hypergolic propellant
maneuvering stage and the Beidou 3 series satellite into a transfer orbit. The YZ-1 stage
then fired at apogee some time later to place the satellite into a roughly 21,510 x 21,980
km x 55 deg orbit.
Beidou M3-S weighed 1,014 kg at liftoff. CAS Micro-Satellite Engineering Center in
Shanghai built the satellite.
Russia's Proton M/Briz M (a Phase 3 variant) launched Eutelsat 9B, a communications
satellite, from Baikonur Cosmodrome Site 200 Pad 39 on January 29, 2016. Liftoff took
place at 22:20 UTC. The rocket's Briz M fourth stage performed five burns during a 9
hour 12 minute mission to aim the 5,175 kg Airbus Eurostar 3000 series satellite toward a
4,444 x 35,696 km x 12.18 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit.
Eutelsat 9B is equipped with 66 Ku band transponders and a European Data Relay System
(EDRS) package. It will operate from Eutelsats 9 deg East position.
It was the 410th Proton launch.
Ariane 5 Orbits
An Ariane 5 ECA launched Intelsat 29e into orbit from Kourou Space Center on January 27,
2016. The VA228 mission began with a 23:20 UTC liftoff from ELA 3. VA-228's upper stage
placed the Boeing Satellite Systems 702MP series communications satellite into
geosynchronous transfer orbit after a half-hour mission. The targeted insertion orbit was
250 x 35,546 km x 0.5 deg.
Intelsat 29e weighed 6,552 kg at liftoff. It has 20 C-band, 249 Ku-band, and one Ka-band
transponders. From its 310 deg East geostationary perch, it will provide communication
service over the Americas, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Carribbean.
It was the first Ariane launch of the year.
Launches, Lands, Again
On January 22, 2016, Blue Origin made history by reflying, and relanding, its New Shepard
booster and crew capsule. The combined launch vehicle topped 100 km altitude on November
23, 2015 when the booster performed the first successful vertical landing after a flight
above 100 km, to 100.5 km. On Janaury 22, 2016, the hardware repeated the feat from Blue
Origin's West Texas launch site near Van Horn, topping out this time at 101.7 km in
altitude. The crew capsule returned on three parachutes while the BE-3 powered LOX/LH2
booster restarted its engine at about 1,500 meters altitude to land on a circular concrete
BE-3 produces 49,896 kgf (110,000 pounds) of thrust at liftoff and can throttle deeply.
During the unpowered portion of its descent, the New Shepard propulsion module uses its
"ring fin" and eight large drag brakes to control its descent speed and
orientation. The terminal velocity is dropped to less than 200 meters/sec by the drag
It was the third 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
India's PSLV-XL orbited IRNSS 1E, the country's fifth navigation satellite, from
Sriharikota on January 20, 2016. Liftoff took place from the Satish Dhawan Space Center's
Second Launch Pad at 04:01 UTC. The 19 minute, 20 second PSLV C-31 mission boosted the
1,425 kg satellite into a 282 x 20,655 km x 19.21 deg transfer orbit. The satellite will
raise itself to a nearly 36,000 km circular geosynchronous orbit inclined 28 degrees to
the equator. IRNSS 1E will trace a figure-8 pattern over the Earth's surface, centered on
111.75 deg East longitude.
Two more launches this year will complete India's navigation constellation, which will
consist of four satellites in inclined geosynchronous orbit and three in equatorial
It was the 33rd PSLV flight and the 31st success. PSLV began flying in 1993.
Falcon 9 Orbits
Jason 3, Stage Landing Fails
The final SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket boosted Jason 3, an ocean monitoring satellite, into
low earth orbit from Vandenberg AFB on January 17, 2016. Liftoff from fog-enshrouded Space
Launch Complex 4 East (SLC 4E) took place at 18:42 UTC. The first stage burned for about 2
min 34 sec. The second stage then fired for about 6 min 15 sec to place itself into a 175
x 1,321 km orbit. The stage coasted until about 55 minutes after launch, when it fired
again while passing northward above the Indian Ocean east of Africa, for 12 seconds, to
reach a 1,305 x 1,320 km x 66 deg insertion orbit. Jason 3 separated soon after.
Four international agencies partnered for the Jason 3 mission. They include NOAA, NASA,
the French Space Agency CNES (Centre National dEtudes Spatiales), and EUMETSAT
(European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites). Thales Alenia
of France built the 553 kg spacecraft. NASA managed the launch service. Jason 3 will
perform ocean topography using a microwave radiometer and other instruments.
The second stage performed a deorbit burn after spacecraft separation, targeting a
mid-Pacific Ocean impact zone.
After staging, the first stage performed boostback, reentry, and landing burns while
aiming for a converted landing barge floating in the Pacific about 280 km downrange, west
of San Diego, California. The stage landed, but one of the landing legs did not fully lock
in place and the stage fell over. Parts of the destroyed stage remained on the
The first stage performed a static fire at SLC 4E on January 11, 2016 after rolling out
the previous day. The stage had completed its testing at McGregor, Texas in May, 2015, but
had to wait for flight after the mid-2015 Falcon 9 launch failure. The second stage was
tested at McGregor on November 4, 2015 to verify modifications mades after the F9-20
launch failure. It was the 14th success in 15 flights of the Falcon 9 v1.1 variant.
China's CZ-3B/E performed the first orbital launch of 2016 when it boosted Belintersat 1,
a communications satellite for Belarus, into orbit from XiChang on January 15, 2016. The
3.5 stage rocket lifted off from LC 3 at 16:57 UTC to begin a presumably half-hour flight
to geosynchronus transfer orbit.
Belintersat 1, a DFH-4 based satellite, weighed 5,223 kg at launch. Thales Alenia Space
provided the communications payload, which included 20 C-band, 18 Ku-band, and 4 enhanced
Ku-band transponders. The satellite will be stationed at 51.5 degrees East in
It was the 35th CZ-3B launch.
China Orbits GEO
Remote Sensing Satellite
China's CZ-3B/E launched Gaofen 4, a remote sensing satellite, into geosynchronous
transfer orbit from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on December 28, 2015. Liftoff from Pad
2 took place at 16:04 UTC. The liquid hydrogen fueled upper stage fired twice with a coast
between to reach a 205 x 35,807 km x 22.97 deg orbit within about 25 minutes after
Gaofen 4 is China's first dedicated geosynchronous remote sensing satellite. It has
optical and infrared telescopes and can optically image at better than 50 meter
resolution. It weighed 4.6 tonnes at liftoff.
It was the 17th DF-5 based Chang Zheng (Long March) launch of 2015, more than any other
launch vehicle family. It was also the 8th CZ-3B launch of the year, another record, all
flown from Xichang. The flight was China's 19th orbital success of the year, one
more than the United States. Rockets using Russian first stages tallied 24 successes
to top the list.
Russia's Proton orbited the Ekspress AMU1 communications satellite from Baikonur
Cosmodrome on December 24, 2015. The 705 tonne, four-stage rocket lifted off from Site 200
Pad 39 at 21:31 UTC to begin a 9 hour 12 minute mission that included five burns by the
Briz M upper stage.
Briz M fired first, just after the three Proton stages completed their burns, to place
itself into a 182 km x 51.6 deg parking orbit. It fired three more times during the first
3.8 hours and two orbits of the mission to place itself into a 442 x 35,814 km x 49.1 deg
geosynchronous transfer orbit. After a 5.4 hour coast to first apogee, Briz M fired a
fifth time to raise the perigee and reduce inclination. Ekspress AMU1 separation was aimed
toward a 4,362 x 35,793 km x 22.5 deg transfer orbit.
Ekspress AMU1 is a 5.7 tonne Airbus Eurostar E3000 series satellite with up to 70 Ku and
Ka band transponders. From its geostationary position at 36 deg East, it will provide
broadcasting services across the European part of the Russian Federation and sub-Saharan
It was the year's 85th orbital launch attempt and 80th
success, and the year's 18th orbital launch attempt from Baikonur, one more than second
place Cape Canaveral. The launch was Proton's 8th of the year and its 7th success.
9 Launches, Lands
SpaceX returned its Falcon 9 to service on December 22,
2015 when it boosted 11 Orbcomm satellites into orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida. For
the first time, a Falcon 9 first stage boosted back and landed near its launch site. The
landing took place at Landing Zone 1 at the former site of Launch Complex 13.
The two-stage kerosene/LOX rocket, sidelined since a June launch failure, returned in
upgraded form with higher thrust engines, a stretched second stage and interstage, and
supercooled, condensed propellant. The improved rocket, identified by SpaceX as a
"Falcon 9 v1.1 Full Thrust", was the 20th Falcon 9 to fly and the 21st produced.
Liftoff from SLC 40 took place at 01:29 UTC. The now 69.799 meter (229 foot) tall rocket,
about 1.524 meters (5 feet) taller than v1.1, rose on 694 metric tons (1.53 million
pounds) of thrust produced by its nine Merlin 1D first stage engines. Previous Falcon 9
v1.1 first stages produced 600 metric tons (1.323 million pounds) of thrust.
First Stage Lands at LZ-1 About 10 Minutes After Liftoff
The first stage fired for 2 minutes 20 seconds,
separating four seconds later. The second stage ignited its improved Merlin Vacuum engine
at 2 minutes 35 seconds to begin a nearly eight minute burn to reach a roughly 620 x 660
km x 47 deg orbit.
The eleven 172 kg Orbcomm satellites separated in sequence from their center-mounted
support pillar beginning 15 minutes and ending 20 minutes after liftoff.
Meanwhile, the first stage performed a roughly 30 second boostback burn beginning about 3
minutes 50 seconds after launch and a 20 second reentry burn about 8 minutes after launch,
both using three engines. A final, roughly 32 second single-engine landing burn using only
the center engine took place just before the landing, about 10 minutes after
The stage landed near the center of the circular landing
zone. A small fire burned at the base of the stage for at least a half-minute after
the center Merlin 1D engine shut down.
First Stage Shortly After Landing
After spacecraft deployment, the upgraded second stage
Merlin Vacuum engine restarted both to test its restart capability for future missions and
to deorbit the stage in the Southern Ocean south of Australia.
After the mission, Elon Musk announced that the
recovered first stage would be used, if possible, for propellant loading and static fire
testing at the rebuilt LC 39 Pad A. SpaceX has no plans to re-fly the stage.
Launch Complex 13 supported 51 Atlas missile and Atlas
Agena orbital launches from 1958-1978. The site's mobile service tower was demolished in
2005 and its blockhouse in 2012. SpaceX subsequently built an 86 meter (282 foot) diameter
landing pad centered on the spot where the original Atlas missile service tower parked
A Soyuz 2-1a launch vehicle boosted Russia's upgraded Progress MS cargo hauling spacecraft
toward the International Space Station on December 21, 2015. Liftoff from Baikonur's
snow-covered Area 31 Pad 6 took place at 08:44 UTC. Progress MS safely separated into low
earth orbit about 9 minutes later.
It was the first Soyuz-2.1a Progress launch since an April attempt failed after the upper
stage suffered structural failure that caused Progress M-27M to spin out of control at
spacecraft separation. The design was beefed up after the failure.
Progress MS included upgrades to the spacecraft's command, telemetry, navigation, video
communications, and docking systems. An improved Kurs rendezvous radar and a new link to
Russian data relay satellites was also included. Space debris shielding was improved,
along with latching mechanisms used to attach the Progress to ISS.
Progress MS (Progress 62P in NASA's system) carried 2,610 kg of cargo, including 870 kg of
propellant, 420 kg of water, 1,272 kg of dry cargo, and 48 kg of oxygen and air.
A Soyuz 2-1b with a Fregat upper stage orbited a pair of European Galileo navigation
satellites from Kourou Space Center on December 17, 2015. Flying the VS13 mission for
Arianespace and the FOC-M4 mission for Europe, the 3.5 stage rocket lifted off from the
ELS pad at 11:51 UTC to begin a 3 hour 48 minute mission that placed the FM-08 and FM-09
satellites, one weighing 717 kg and the other 717.5 kg, into 23,222 km x 54.946 deg
Fregat performed two burns during the mission. The
first, beginning 10:24 minutes and completed 23:32 minutes after liftoff, placed the
vehicle into an elliptical orbit with a 23,500 km apogee. The second, which began about
3:38:25 hours into the flight and lasted for 4:32 minutes, inserted the stage and
spacecraft into a circular orbit.
OHB-System and SSTL built the satellite bus and payload, respectfully, for the Galileo
satellites. After a 2014 failure that placed two satellites into an improper orbit, these
will become the third pair of properly placed "Full Operational Capability"
satellites of a planned 22 satellite constellation. Including the mis-placed pair
and four initial operating capability test satellites launched in 2011 and 2012, there are
now 12 Galileo satellites in orbit.
Russia's Roscosmos was in charge of range operations for the launch. TsENKI handled
systems engineering. Crews from RKTs-Progress (Soyuz) and NPO Lavochkin (Fregat) handled
A CZ-2D boosted the DArk Matter Particle Explorer (DAMPE) into orbit from China's Jiuquan
Satellite Launch Center on December 17, 2016. The 1,900 kg satelite, named Wukong
("Monkey King") after a character in a classic Chinese tale, will detect
high-energy particles in space using an adanced imaging calorimeter. Its main objective is
to measure electrons and photons with much higher energy resolution than before to look
for potential Dark Matter signatures. DAMPE/Wukong is one of five missions of the
Strategic Pioneer Research Program in Space Science of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
The two-stage CZ-2D lifted off from LC 43/603 at 00:12 UTC. The rocket's second stage
placed Wukong into a 500 km sun synchronous orbit. After spacecraft separation, the second
stage performed a propellant blowdown to reduce its altitude, hastening its reentry.
It was the year's 16th DF-5 based Chang Zheng launch, and the 4th by CZ-2D. The
success, the 26th in 26 flights by CZ-2D, moved the launch vehicle past Ariane 5 ECA on
the Space Launch Report reliability list. It also
moved China past the United States in numbers of orbital successes for 2015.
Orbits Singapore Satellites
A core-alone PSLV variant launched six satellites for Singapore from Satish Dhawan Space
Center at Sriharikota, India on December 16, 2015. The PSLV-C29 mission boosted the TeLEOS
1 earth observation satellite and five smaller satellites into a 550 km x 15 deg orbit
designed to maximize passes over Singapore.
Liftoff from the First Launch Pad took place at 12:30 UTC with the four stage rocket
flying an east/southeast azimuth. The first three stages fired in succession during the
first 6 minutes 8 seconds. After a nearly nine-minute coast, the fourth stage ignited to
perform the final orbital insertion. The MMH/MON-3 hypergolic stage completed its burn 17
minutes 25 seconds after liftoff. Spacecraft separation took place over the subsequent
TeLEOS 1 is a 400 kg Earth imager built by Singapore's ST Electronics. Secondary
satellites included 123 kg VELOX CI, 78 kg Kent Ridge 1, 13 kg VELOX II, and two cubesats
that together likely weighed less than 10 kg.
About 67.5 minutes after launch, the fourth stage was slated to perform an experimental
restart for a 4 second burn.
C29 was the fourth PSLV launch of 2015 - more than any previous calendar year - and the
80th orbital launch attempt of the year world-wide.
Launches ISS Crew
Soyuz TMA-19M Launch, NASA/Joel Kowsky
A Soyuz FB launch vehicle lifted the Soyuz TMA-19M
spacecraft into orbit with three crew for the International Space Station on December 15,
2015. Liftoff from Baikonur Area 1 Pad 5 took place at 11:03 UTC to begin a
"fast-track" six-hour ascent to the station.
On board, comprising the Expedition 46-47 crew, were Russia's Yuri Malenchenko, NASA's Tim
Kopra, and Britain's Tim Peake, the first official British astronaut. Helen Sharman was
the first UK citizen to orbit earth when she flew to Russia's Mir space station in 1991 on
a privately-funded Soyuz passenger program. Several other astronauts with joint UK-US
citizenship have also flown, but Tim Peake is the first UK-funded astronaut.
It was 2015's fourth crewed orbital launch, all by Soyuz to ISS.
Russias Proton-M/Briz M launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome on December 13, 2015 with
a Garpun military communications satellite. Liftoff from Area 81 Pad 24 took place at
00:19 UTC to begin a nine-hour mission that placed Garpun 12L into near-geosynchronous
orbit. The Briz-M upper stage likely performed three burns during the ascent phase.
Garpun (Russian "Harpoon") is a data relay satellite to support Russia's digital
reconnaisance satellites. They are built by Reshetnev (ex-NPO PM) in Zheleznogorsk. The
first Garpun was launched in 2011. The satellites may weigh about 3 tonnes, give or
The launch was performed by a Phase I Enhanced Proton-M refitted with RD-276 engines that
are usually only used by Phase II or later Enhanced Protons. The Enhanced Proton-M began
flying in 2004, with Phase II appearing in 2007, followed by more staged improvements
every few years. One of the most important enhancements was the Phase II replacement of
first stage RD-275 engines with higher-thrust RD-276 engines.
It was the year's 78th orbital launch attempt and the
What may have been the final Ukrainian/Russian Zenit flew from Baikonur Cosmodrome with
the Electro L2 weather satellite on December 11, 2015. The 460 tonne, 57.4 meter tall
Zenit 3F rocket, boosted by the world's most powerful liquid rocket engine, rose from Site
45/1 at 13:45 UTC to begin a nearly nine-hour mission designed to directly insert the
1,855 kg satellite into geosynchronous earth orbit.
The three-stage launch vehicle, also identified as a Zenit 2SB80/Fregat SB, was powered
off the pad by a four-chamber staged-combustion kerosene/LOX Energomash RD-171M engine
developing 740 tonnes of thrust at sea level. The first stage burned for 2 minutes
25 seconds before the Zenit 2M second stage RD-0120 engine, augmented by a four-nozzle
RD-8 steering engine, took over, producing about 101 tonnes of total thrust. RD-0120 is
also a staged-combustion LOX/RP engine, with a 350 second specific vacuum impulse.
Second stage shutdown occurred 8 minutes 34 seconds after liftoff, leaving the Fregat SB
upper stage and its payload in a roughly 167 x 554 km x 51.35 deg parking orbit. The
storable propellant Fregat stage coasted until the 1 hour 14 minutes 34 second mark, when
it performed an 8 minute 25 second burn to move into a 280 x 4,306 km x 50.4 deg
intermediate orbit. The stage jettisonned its drop tanks shortly after the first burn.
After completing a second orbit, Fregat SB performed a 58 second long, second burn that
began 3 hours 26 minutes 17 seconds after liftoff. The burn pushed the vehicle into a 338
x 35,911 km x 48.6 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit. Fregat SB coasted in this orbit to
apogee, where it reignited at 8 hours 46 minutes 35 seconds mission elapsed time for an
8.8 minute burn to enter a roughly 35,425 x 35,793 km x 0.5 deg orbit. Spacecraft
separation occurred a few minutes later.
The launch was the third for Zenit 3F, all
successful. It was the 83rd Zenit launch (the first took place in 1985) and the 45th Zenit
to fly with a third stage. A total of 36 launches took place from the Sea Launch Odyssey
launch platform during the 1999-2014 period. Thirteen Zenit launches failed, all but two
of which involved the first two Zenit stages.
Zenit was the last, and most advanced, space launch vehicle developed by the former Soviet
Union. Its development was begun byDnepropetrovsk, Urkraine-based NPO Yuzhnoe during the
1970s. The two-stage Zenit-2 variant launched the USSR's Tselina-2 electronic intelligence
satellites, while the Zenit-2 first stage was selected to serve as a strap-on booster for
the Energia heavy-lift launcher.
The collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the Energia/Buran program, and a series of
Zenit failures during the 1990s, including one that destroyed the Baikonur 45/2 launch
pad, made Zenit's future uncertain. No launches took place in 1996 as Russia began
tapering off Zenit 2 military service due to Zenit's Ukrainian production. Zenit
managed an unlikely rebirth, however when Sea Launch began flying in 1999. Sea
Launch, and its Land Launch subsidiary, flew as many as a half-dozen times per year, but a
series of launch failures contributed to a 2009 bankruptcy. The final Sea Launch mission
took place in 2014, shortly after a civil war broke out in Ukraine that severely strained
After a cease fire gradually took hold, Ukrainian
technicians were able to travel to Baikonur to prepare the 83rd Zenit for launch.
One more Zenit launch vehicle remains. It was delivered before the Ukrainian war and
assigned to a 2017 launch of Spektr-R, but its future remains uncertain.
China's CZ-3B/E launched Zhongxing 1C, a military communications satellite, into
geosynchronous transfer orbit from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on December 9, 2015.
Liftoff from Pad 3 took place at 16:46 UTC. The liquid hydrogen fueled upper stage fired
to reach GTO about a half-hour after liftoff.
Zhongxing (or "Chinasat") 1C is likely based on China's DFH-4 satellite bus. It
may have weighed up to 5.2 tonnes at liftoff.
It was the 15th DF-5 based Chang Zheng (Long March) launch of 2015, more than any other
launch vehicle family year to date. It was also the 7th CZ-3B launch of the year,
another record, all flown from Xichang.
Atlas 5 Boosts
Orbital Cargo Ship
AV061 Liftoff. New, Under Construction CST-100 Starliner Access Tower Visible on
United Launch Alliance's Atlas 5 boosted Orbital-ATK's
Cygnus cargo hauler toward the International Space Station on December 6, 2015, after
three days of weather delays. The Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-4) launch (also called
OA-4), one of two planned to fill in in the wake of Orbital-ATK's 2014 Antares rocket
failure, boosted the first enhanced Cygnus with a longer pressurized module packed with
3,513 kg of cargo, including packing.
The AV-061 Atlas 5-401 featured an extra extended payload fairing that increased vehicle
height to 59.13 meters. Liftoff from Cape Canaveral SLC 41 took place at 21:44 UTC. The
Centaur second stage performed a roughly 13.75 minute long burn to insert itself and
Cygnus into a roughly 230 km x 51.6 deg orbit. Payload separation occurred about 21
minutes after liftoff. Centaur was expected to perform a subsequent deorbit burn.
Enhanced Cygnus Arrives ISS on December 9
Cygnus weighed 7,492 kg at liftoff, including the cargo
and 828 kg of service module propellant. It was the heaviest known Atlas 5 payload to
date. In addition to its stretched, 5.1 meter long by 3.05 meter diameter
pressurized cargo module, the spacecraft's service module sported new, lighter weight,
circular solar arrays.
Cygnus arrived at ISS on December 9, where it was
captured by the Space Station Remote Manipulator
System (SSRMS) robotic arm. Astronaut Kjell used the SSRMS to move Cygnus to the
Earth-facing port of the Node 1 Unity module.
Orbital ATK contracted the Atlas launch only about one year before liftoff, in the wake of
the Antares failure. It was the 60th Atlas 5 launch, the 59th success, and the ninth
Atlas 5 flight of 2015, matching 2014's record.
2-1v Fails to Deploy Submarine Hunter (Dec. 7 Update)
Russia's Soyuz 2-1v performed its second launch on December 5, 2015 from Plesetsk
Cosmodrome. The two stage rocket, topped by a multiple-restart Volga third stage,
carried the 441 kg Kanopus-ST satellite and a small radar calibration sphere toward a
roughly 702 km sun synchronous orbit following a 14:09 UTC liftoff from Site 43 Pad 4.
After first two stages fired to reach a roughly 220 x 709 km x 98.17 deg transfer orbit,
Volga fired at apogee to circularize the orbit.
The satellites were designated Kosmos 2511 and 2512, but
on December 6, Russian media reported that one of the satellites had failed to separate
from Volga. The identity of the affected satellite was not initially reported, but
later in the day one source claimed that Kanopus-ST, the primary payload, had failed to
separate. One of the clamps on Volga reportedly failed to release. The Volga
stage apparantly performed a "deorbit" burn with the satellite still attached on
December 6. With the payload still in place, the burn was only able to lower the
perigee to a little more than 100 km. Actual deorbit was expected to take a few days
as atmospheric friction slowed the vehicle.
Kanopus-ST, a military payload, carried a UHF microwave radiometer that may have been
attempting to test methods for tracking submerged submarines, among other uses. Submarine
detection from LEO typically focuses on the detection of "internal wave" effects
on or near the surface.
Soyuz 2-1v, which first flew on December 28, 2013, stands 44 meters tall and weighs about
157 tonnes at liftoff. It uses a Soyuz 2-1b third stage as a second stage. The first stage
is newly developed except for the top portion of the upper LOX tank, which is borrowed
from the Soyuz 2-1b core stage. A single chamber NK-33A staged combustion LOX/kerosene
engine, augmented by a four-chamber RD-0110R steering engine, powers the first stage. At
liftoff, the engines combine to produce more than 179 tonnes of sea level thrust. About
88% of the total thrust is produced by the NK-33A, an engine originally created as part of
the Soviet Union's N1 lunar rocket program during the 1970s.
The first stage kerosene tank and the lower part of the LOX tank are 2.66 meters in
diameter, fatter than the old Soyuz core's 2.15 meters diameter. The common upper tank
section still flares out to 2.95 meters in diameter, allowing both Soyuz launcher types to
share launch pad equipment.
The first stage burns for about 250 seconds. The Blok I second stage fires its staged
combustion LOX/kerosene engine for about 270 seconds.
Soyuz 2-1v can lift 2.85 tonnes to a 200 km x 51.6 deg orbit from Baikonur, or 1.4 tonnes
to an 835 km sun synchronous orbit from Plesetsk.
NK-33A is similar to the engine that suffered a turbopump failure during the dramatic 2014
Antares launch failure. Additional testing was performed on the engine during
mid-2015 in the wake of the failure. Future plans call for NK-33A to be replaced by
the Energomash RD-193.
Europe's sixth Vega launched the LISA Pathfinder gravity wave technology demonstrator
satellite from Kourou on December 3, 2015. The VV06 mission placed the 1,906 kg spacecraft
into a 207 x 1,540 km x 5.96 deg orbit 1 hour, 45 minutes and 33 seconds after its 04:04
UTC liftoff from ZLV.
ESA's LISA Pathfinder is a technology demonstrator that will test methods for measuring
gravitational waves. It was designed to be a precursor to an ESA/NASA Laser Interferometer
Space Antenna (LISA) mission, but LISA was cancelled in 2011 when NASA withdrew from the
Airbus Defense and Space built the spacecraft. It
contains two chambers where test masses will float while their positions are carefully
measured. The 483 kg spacecraft will use a 1,423 kg liquid bipropellant hypergolic
propulsion module, derived from the E2000 satellite platform, to gradually boost itself
toward a halo orbit around the Earth-Sun L1 Lagrange point, 1.5 million km from Earth. The
spacecraft science module will separate from the spent, now roughly 210 kg propulsion
module after the two-month propulsion phase is complete.
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 near-orbital velocity. The
AVUM (Attitude & Vernier Upper Module) stage then fired its hypergolic bipropellant
Ukrainian built engine for about 8 minutes 54 seconds to reach an initial, roughly 200 x
1,200 km orbit.
After a roughly 85 minute coasting period, AVUM ignited again to perform a 1 minute 34
second insertion burn. Spacecraft separation took place less than 3 minutes later. AVUM
performed a 7 second "deorbit" burn about 10 minutes after separation that
actually only slightly shifted its orbit away from the payload.
LISA Pathfinder was Vega's heaviest payload to date.
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.
See Older Launch Reports in the Space Launch Report