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SPACE LAUNCH REPORT
by
Ed Kyle



Recent Space Launches

11/09/21, 00:55 UTC, Epsilon w/ RAISE 2 from KA M5 to LEO/S
11/11/21, 02:03 UTC, Falcon 9 w/ Crew 3 from KC 39A to LEO/ISS
11/13/21, 12:19 UTC, Falcon 9 w/ Starlink 4-1 from CC 40 to LEO
11/15/21, 09:27 UTC, Vega w/ CERES 1-2 from KO ZLV to LEO
11/18/21, 01:38 UTC, Electron w/ 2xBlackSky from MA 1 to LEO
11/20/21, 01:51 UTC, CZ-4B w/ Gaofen 11-03 from TY 9  to LEO/S
11/20/21, 06:16 UTC, Rocket 3.3 w/ STP-S27AD2 from KD 3B to LEO
11/22/21, 23:45 UTC, CZ-4C w/ Gaofen 3-02 from JQ 43/94 to LEO/S
11/24/21, 06:10 UTC, Falcon 9 w/ DART from VA 4E to HCO
11/24/21, 13:06 UTC, Soyuz 2.1b w/Prichal from TB 31/6 to LEO/ISS
11/24/21, 23:41 UTC, KZ-1A w/ Shiyan 11 from JQ 95B to LEO/S
11/25/21, 01:09 UTC, Soyuz 2.1b/Fregat w/ EKS 5 from PL 43.4 to EEO/M

Worldwide Space Launch Box Score
as of 11/25/21
All Orbital Launch Attempts(Failures)

2021: 120(7)
2020: 114(10)
2019: 102(5)
2018: 114(3)
Crewed Launch Attempts(Failures)
2021:  7(0)
2020:  4(0)
2019:  3(0)
2018:  4(1)


Tundra 5 Launch

Russia's Soyuz-2.1b/Fregat launched an early warning satellite into orbit from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on November 25, 2021. Liftoff from Site 43 Pad 4 took place at 01:09 UTC. After firing to reach a low earth parking orbit, the Fregat M upper stage fired two more times during the 4.5 hour mission to lift its payload into an elliptical “Molniya" orbit of approximately 1,638 x 38,522 km x 63.8 deg.

The satellite is the fifth Tundra (EKS type) early warning satellite designed to detect ballistic missile launches. It was the 18th R-7 launch of the year, third among the world's launch vehicles.



KZ-1A/Shiyan 11

China's KZ-1A launched the Shiyan 11 remote sensing satellite into sun synchronous orbit from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on November 24, 2021. The three-stage solid fuel rocket lifted off from a mobile launcher on a flat pad at Site 95B at 23:41 UTC. It was the third KZ-1A launch of the year and the third since a September 12, 2020 failure. KZ-1(A) has succeeded 14 times in 15 launches.

Expace Technology Co., Ltd., a subsidiary of China Aerospace Science & Industry Corp, handled the launch as a commercial enterprise. KZ-1A can loft 200kg into a 700 km sun synchronous orbit, or up to 300 kg to lower inclincation low earth orbits. It is 20 meters tall, 1.4 meters in diameter, and weighs 30 tonnes at liftoff. A small N2O4/MMH bipropellant insertion fourth stage likely provided final orbit insertion. The fourth stage also likely lowered its orbit after satellite separation.

Progress M-NM RoskosmosPrichal to ISS

Russia's Soyuz 2.1b boosted a new docking module named Prichal (or Node Module, NM) to the International Space Station (ISS) on November 24, 2021. Liftoff from Baikonur Site 31 Pad 6 took place at 13:06 UTC. It is the final planned Russian module to be added for ISS.

The roughly 4 tonne module rode atop a Progress M propulsion module. Total liftoff mass for the combined "Progress M-NM" spacecraft, including 700 kg cargo carried within Prichal, was 8.18 tonnes.


F9-130 DART NASADART

2021's 26th Falcon 9 v1.2 flung NASA's DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) spacecraft into solar orbit from Vandenberg Space Force Base on November 24, 2021. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 4 East took place at 06:10 UTC. Falcon 9's second stage burned for 5 minutes 22 seconds to reach a roughly 230 x 300 km x 64.7 deg parking orbit, then restarted at T+ 28 minutes 37 seconds for a 53 second burn that send the 610 kg satellite and second stage into a 0.938 x 1.069 AU x 3.8 deg heliocentric orbit bound for a planned impact with tiny asteriod Dimorphos, which orbits asteriod Didymos. The pair comprise a binary Near-Earth Asteroid system.

DART, buily by Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), carried 14 kg LICIACube (Light Italian Cube sat for Imaging of Asteroids), an Italian Cube Sat that will separate to image DART's impact.

First stage booster 1063.3, on its third flight, fired for 2 minutes 33 seconds before separating, turning 180 degrees, and performing entry and landing burns to land on OCISLY several hundred km downrange. The two payload fairing halves were expected to be recovered after parachuting into the Pacific Ocean.


CZ-4C/Gaofen 3-02

China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 4C orbited the Gaofen 3-02 earth observation satellite from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on November 22, 2021. The three-stage rocket lifted off from LC 43/94 at 23:45 UTC. It successfully boosted the 2,950 kg, CS-L3000B bus satellite into a 735 x 747 km x 98.4 deg sun synchronous orbit.

Gaofen 3-02 is equipped with a C-band synthetic aperature radar with 1 meter ground resolution. It was developed by the China Academy of Space Technology. Like Gaofen 3-01, launched in 2016, Gaofen 3-02 is part of China's High-definition Earth Observation System (CHEOS).

Astra/NasaSpaceFlight.comAstra Rocket Success

Astra Space's Rocket 3.3 reached orbit for the first time on November 20, 2021. The success came after three previous failed orbital attempts during 2020-21 and the loss of a fourth vehicle in a 2020 prelaunch failure. The small two-stage LOX/Kerosene fueled rocket, identified as LV0007 by the company, lifted off from Alaska's Kodiak Launch Pad 3B at 06:16 UTC. It carried the non-separable US Space Force Space Test Program S27AD2 payload to a 438 x 507 km x 86 deg orbit after an 8.5 minute direct ascent.

Five batttery-powered Delphin main engines powered the 52 inch diameter first stage during its 2 minute 50 second burn. They produced a combined 32,500 lbf thrust at liftoff. After the first stage fell away and the fairing separated, the LOX/Kerosene fueled second stage fired its 740 lbf thrust pressure-fed Aether engine for 5 minutes 25 seconds to reach orbit. Rocket 3.3 stood 43 feet tall at liftoff. It is designed to place at least 100 kg into a near-polar low Earth orbit.

Astra performed two suborbital test launches during 2018 from Kodiak, Alaska, using only live first stages. The first, an Astra Rocket 1.0 flown from Launch Pad 2 on July 21, 2018, reportedly failed about 60 seconds after liftoff.


CZ-4B Launch

China's Chang Zheng (CZ) 4B, tail number Y52, orbited another spy satellite, named Gaofen 11-03, on November 20, 2021. Liftoff of the storable propellant rocket from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center's LC 9 took place at 01:51 UTC. The three-stage storable propellant rocket boosted its payload into a 243 x 695 x 97.5 deg sun synchronous type low Earth orbit. The satellite will likely adjust itself toward a roughly 500 km near-circular orbit after several months if the history of previous Gaofen 11 satellites are a guide.

The satellite carried high resoultion optical imaging equipment. While the mass of the satellite was not announced, CZ-4B is able to lift 2.5 tonnes to a 700 km sun synchronous orbit.

It was the year's fourth CZ-4B launch and the 32nd DF-5 based orbital flight.

Electron 22, RocketLabElectron 22

Rocket Lab's 22nd Electron successfully orbited two BlackSky Global earth observation satellites from Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand on November 18, 2021. It was the second Electron success following the May 15, 2021 failure of Electron 20 with two BlackSky satellites. Liftoff from LC 1 took place at 01:38 UTC. Electron's second stage fired about 1 min 25 sec longer than during previous missions, likely due to lower throttle settings allowed by the light payload. The rocket's Curie third stage inserted the 88 kg payload into its final 420 km x 42 deg orbit about 55 minutes after liftoff.

A 60 cm payload extension facilitated the use of a stacked dual payload arrangement. After its 2 min 27 sec burn, the first stage performed the third Electron first stage recovery experiment. The stage successfully parachuted to the surfact of the Pacific Ocean for ship recovery.

vv20 ArianespaceVega VV20

Europe's Vega launched Arianespace Mission VV20 with three CERES Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) satellites for the French military from Kourou on November 15, 2021. Liftoff from ZLV took place at 09:27 UTC.

Vega's AVUM fourth stage fired its Ukrainian RD-843 engine three times during the mission. The first two placed the stage in a 670 km x 75 deg orbit for deployment of the three 446 kg satellites. The final, orbit-lowering burn by the separated AVUM ended the mission.

It was Vega's third success since the VV17 failure of November 17, 2020.

f9-129 SpaceXStarlink 4-1

A Falcon 9 v1.2 orbited the first group of "Shell 4" Starlink Internet constellation satellites from Cape Canaveral on November 13, 2021. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 took place at 12:19 UTC, following a 24 hour weather delay. The successful launch placed 53 Starlink v1.5 satellites into a roughly 210 x 340 km x 53.2 degree orbit during a direct-ascent, 15.5 minute mission.

Total payload mass was not announced, though some analysts think these upgraded Starlinks, which carry added laser communication systems for transferring data to other Starlinks, may weigh more than the 260 kg originals. Estimates for total payload mass for this flight range from roughly 13.78 tonnes to 15.6 tonnes.

First stage booster 1058.9, on its 9th flight, landed on "Just Read the Instructions" several hundred kilometers downrange. The two payload fairing halves, both also previously-flown, were expected to be recovered after parachuting into the Atlantic Ocean.

Crew 3

Falcon 9 launched the Crew 3 mission to the International Space Station from Kennedy Space Center on November 11, 2021. On board new Crew Dragon C210 "Endurance" were NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, and Kayla Barron, and European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer. It was the third NASA operational commercial crew flight, and the fifth crewed Crew Dragon mission.

Liftoff from LC 39 Pad A took place at 02:03 UTC. Crew Dragon separated from the Falcon 9 second stage about 12 minutes after liftoff to begin its one day trip to dock with ISS.

First stage B1067.2, which previously boosted the CRS-22/Cargo Dragon mission on June 3, 2021, fired its nine Merlin 1D engines for 2 min 36 sec, aiming the vehicle on a northeast trajectory off the eastern U.S. coast, before shutting down and separating. The stage performed entry and landing burns before landing on "A Shortfall of Gravitas" in the Atlantic Ocean. The second stage fired its single Merlin 1D Vacuum engine from T+2 min 47 sec until T+8 min 47 sec to reach a roughly 190 x 210 km x 51.6 deg low earth orbit.

Epsilon Launch

Japan's fifth Epsilon launch vehicle, the fourth improved "Enhanced" variant, orbited RAISE 2 and eight smaller satellites from Kagoshima on November 9, 2021. Liftoff from the former M-5 pad at Uchinoura Space Center took place at 00:55 UTC, starting a roughly 71.5 minute mission.

Epsilon F5's 74.5 tonne SRB-A based first stage produced about 293.6 tonnes of liftoff thrust to lift the 26 meter tall, 95.6 tonne rocket. The first stage fired for 1 min 48 sec. After the burn the entire vehicle coasted until the 2 min 41 sec mark, when the upper stages separated and, four seconds later, the second stage ignited. The payload fairing separated during the coast at T+2 min 31 sec. The 17.2 tonne M-35 solid motor second stage burned out at T+4 min 54 sec.

The vehicle coasted again, building up an axial spin, before the KM-V2c third stage separated at T+6 min 30 sec, igniting four seconds later. The stage burned out at T+8 min 2 sec. The CLPS (Compact Liquid Propulsion Stage) fourth stage separated at T+9 min 54 sec. The hydrazine fueled CLPS stopped the spin, then fired its thrusters producing a total of 20.2 kgf thrust for 1 minute 50 seconds in a burn that began at T+16 min 13 sec. After coasting toward apogee, CLPS started again at T+42 min 17 sec to perform an 8 min 37 sec burn to enter a roughly 560 km x 97.6 deg sun synchronous orbit.

The 110 kg RAISE 2 experimental satellite separated first, followed by 52 kg TeikoSat 4, 4 kg ASTERISC, and the rest. Payload mass totalled 337 kg.

CZ-2D Xichang Launch

China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 2D performed its second launch from Xichang space center on November 6, 2021, sending three Yaogan 35 remote sensing - likely spy - satellites into orbit. Liftoff from LC 3 took place at 03:00 UTC. The two-stage rocket boosted the satellites into roughly 494 x 499 km x 35 deg orbits.

Until 2020, all CZ-2D launches had been from China's Jiuquan or Taiyuan space centers. Xichang typically hosts larger CZ-3 series launches to GTO, but it has in the past handled CZ-2C, also a two stage rocket that is slightly smaller than CZ-2D.

CZ-6 Y8

China's eighth Chang Zheng 6 (CZ-6) orbited an Earth observation satellite named SDGSAT 1 from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on November 5, 2021. Liftoff from LC 16 took place at 02:19 UTC. The three-stage LOX/kerosene rocket lifted its payload into a roughly 500 km sun synchronous low Earth orbit. It was the 100th known orbital launch success of 2021.

A 122 tonne thrust, staged-combustion cycle YF-100 LOX/kerosene engine powered the routhly 103 tonne, three-stage launch vehicle off of its launch pad. YF-100, China's first big LOX/kerosene engine, also powers the country's larger CZ-5 and CZ-7 launch vehicles. 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 hypergolic kick stage fired to circularize the orbit.

CZ-6 is capable of lifting at least 1,080 kg into a 700 km sun synchronous orbit. It is integrated horizontally in a hangar. A large wheeled transporter/erector carries it to its flat launch pad and erects it shortly before launch.


Yaogan 32-02

China's Chang Zheng 2C orbited two Yaogan 32 remote sensing satellites from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on November 3, 2021. Liftoff from LC 43/94 took place at 07:43 UTC. The CZ-2C was topped by a YZ-1S storable propellant upper stage, derived from the YZ-1 stage previously used on CZ-3B/C. The restartable stage performed an apogee burn to insert the two Yaogan 32-02 satellites into nearly 700 km sun synchronous low earth orbit.

Use of the YZ-1S upper stage increases CZ-2C payload to 700 km sun synchronous orbit from 1.2 tonnes to 2 tonnes.

It was the 30th DF-5 based CZ launch of the year.


Progress MS-18

Russia's Soyuz 2.1a launched Progress MS-18 from Baikonur Site 31 Pad 6 on October 28, 2021. Liftoff took place at 00:00:32 UTC. The robot cargo hauler spacecraft aimed toward a two-day ascent to the International Space Station. Progress MS-18 carried 2,551 of cargo, including propellant, pressurized gases, drinking water, and dry cargo.

It was the 16th R-7 launch of the year.

KZ-1A/Gaofen 02F

China's KZ-1A launched the Jilin-1 Gaofen 02F remote sensing satellite into sun synchronous orbit from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on October 27, 2021. Liftoff took place at 06:19 UTC. It was the second KZ-1A launch since a September 12, 2020 failure while attempting to orbit Gaofen 02C - the first failure of the Kuaizhou 1/1A series after 11 previous successes since 2013. The record now stands at 13 successes in 14 launches.

H-2A/QZS-1R

Japan performed its first orbital launch of the year on October 26, 2021 when H-2A F44 boosted the QZS-1R satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit from Tanegashima Space Center. The H-2A-202 vehicle lifted off from Yoshinubo Pad 1 at 02:19 UTC. The rocket's liquid hydrogen fueled second stage performed two burns to lift the 4.1 tonne payload into its insertion orbit.

QZS-1R is part of Japan's Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS), a satellite navigation system. QZS-1R will be renamed Michibiki 1R once it raises itself to geosynchronous orbit and becomes operational.



VA255

The year's second Ariane 5 ECA performed Arianespace mission VA225 on October 24, 2021, lofting two communications satellites into geosynchronous transfer orbit from Guiana Space Center, Kourou, French Guiana. Liftoff from ELA 3 took place at 02:10 UTC. SES 17 and Syracuse 4A separated after the rocket's second stage completed its single, 16-minute-long burn. SES 17, a Thales Alenia Space Spacebus NEO200 satellite, weighed 6,411 kg at launch. Syracuse 4A, a 3,852 kg military comsat, was built by Thales Alenia for France. It rode in the bottom position within the Sylda 5 adapter.

CZ-3B/SJ-21

China's DF-5 launch vehicle series continued its worldwide launch leadership with an October 24, 2021 flight from Xichang. CZ-3B/E Number Y83 boosted Shijian 21, a secretive experimental satellite, into geosynchronous transfer orbit after a 01:27 UTC liftoff from LC 2. Shijjian 21's announced mission was "mainly to test and verify space debris mitigation technologies". Some Western analysts suspect a mission to demonstrate satellite rendezvous for possible disablement.

It was the 29th DF-5 launch of the year, six more than Falcon 9 and fourteen more than R-7. These three launch vehicle families account for about two-thirds of the worldwide orbital launch total for 2021 to date.

South Korea KSLV-2 Inaugural

South Korea's KSLV-2 (Korean Space Launch Vehicle 2), also named "Nuri", failed to reach orbit with a 1.5 tonne dummy satellite during its mostly-successful inaugural attempt on October 21, 2021. The 47.2 meter, 200 tonne, 3-stage LOX/kerosene (Jet-A) home-grown rocket lifted off from the Naro Space Center at 08:00 UTC, powered by four KRE-75, 75 tonne thrust, gas-generator-cycle, turbopump-fed engines.

The 3.5 meter-diameter, 21.6 meter long first stage burned out as planned after 2 min 7 sec. The 13.6 meter long second stage then fired its single 75 tonne thrust engine for 2 min 27 sec. Stage 3, powered by a single 7 tonne thrust engine, then ignited for its planned 521 second burn. For reasons yet to be determined, the stage only fired for 475 seconds according to some reports. Orbital velocity was not achieved. The rectangular aluminum dummy payload did separate as planned and the stage performed an avoidance maneuver after separation.

It was the first flight of the four-engine first stage, which scored a notable success. Plans call for a second Nuri attempt during May 2022.

Lucy Launch

ULA Atlas 5-401 tail number AV-096 launched NASA's Lucy asteriod explorer into solar orbit from Cape Canaveral on October 16, 2021. Liftoff from SLC 41 took place at 09:34 UTC. The single-RL10 powered Centaur stage fired twice during the almost one hour mission to fling the 1,550 kg Lockheed-Martin built spacecraft on an orbit racing away from the sun. Lucy will perform two Earth flybys during the next two years to reach a series of Trojan asteroids orbiting along Jupiter's path. It will visit eight asteriods during its planned 12-year mission.

The Atlas 5 first stage used for AV-096 had previously been stacked for the aborted Boeing Starliner Orbital Flight Test 2 mission with a two-RL10 powered Centaur as part of AV-082. After the August 3 scrub caused by Starliner problems, the Starliner, Centaur stage, and solid rocket motors were de-stacked and the first stage was reassigned to AV-096/Lucy.

It was the third Atlas 5 launch of the year and the first launch beyond Earth orbit by any rocket in the world.

Shenzhou 13

China's CZ-2F orbited Shenzhou 13 with three crew from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on October 15, 2021. The 2.5 stage rocket lifted off from Pad 43/921 at 16:23 UTC. The crew for this first long-duration space station mission included space veterans Wang Yaping and Zhai Zhigang, and rookie Ye Guangfu, all members of China's military.

It was the sixteenth CZ-2F launch and the eighth crew launch by China. It was also China's second crewed flight of the year, a rate not previously achieved.

CZ-2D/CHASE

China's CZ-2D orbited the solar observatory Chinese Hydrogen-Alpha Solar Explorer (CHASE) and 10 microsatellites from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on October 14, 2021. Liftoff from LC 9 took place at 10:51 UTC. The 2-stage, 232 tonne rocket boosted its payloads into roughly 520 km x 98 deg sun synchronous orbits. CHASE weighed 550 kg at liftoff. The rideshare satellites may have added an additional 100 kg, give or take.

Grid fins were included with the first stage, a first for the CZ-2D. The fins were added to steer the first stage toward its ground impact point, an experiment aimed at reducing the size of expendable stage drop box zones.

OneWeb F11

Russia's Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat lofted 36 more OneWeb Internet satellites into orbit on October 14, 2021. Liftoff from Vostochny Cosmodrome Site 1S took place at 09:40 UTC. The nearly four hour Starsem ST36 mission placed the 147.5 kg satellites into 450 km x 84.7 deg orbits. They will later raise themselves into 1,200 km operational orbits. Total deployed payload mass was 5,310 kg.

Fregat's first burn placed the stage and payload into a low Earth transfer orbit. Its second burn, begun at apogee, circularized the orbit. Satellites deployed in nine groups, the last almost four hours after liftoff, separated by Fregat ACS burns. Fregat performed an orbit lowering ACS burn after the final satellites separated.

A total of 358 of a planned 648 OneWeb satellites have now reached orbit.

Soyuz MS-19

A Soyuz 2.1a orbited Soyuz MS-19, the year's fifth crewed space launc - most in a calendar year since 2016 - from Baikonur Cosmodrome on October 5, 2021. Liftoff from Site 31 Pad 6 took place at 08:55 UTC. Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov was joined by actress Ylia Pereslid and director Klim Shipenko on the first three-person all-Russian Soyuz crew since Soyuz TM-28 in August 1998. Pereslid and Shipenko will film scenes for a movie while on ISS.

Soyuz MS-19 reached ISS after a 3-orbit fast-track approach. Shkaplerov had to perform a manual docking after the automatic Kurs-2 system failed.

Atlas 5/Landsat 9

Atlas 5-401 tail number AV092 orbited NASA's Landsat 9 and four Cubesats from Vandenberg Space Force Base on September 27, 2021. The two-stage rocket, topped by a 4 meter diameter fairing, lifted off from Space Launch Complex 3 East at 18:12 UTC, beginning a nearly three hour mission that included four burns by the Centaur upper stage.

The RD-180 powered first stage fired or 4 min 3 sec before falling away. Centaur then burned its RL10 LOX/LH2 engine for nearly 12 min 21 sec to reach the 705 km x 98.2 deg Landsat 9 deployment orbit. The 2.71 tonne Northrop Grumman built remote sensing satellite did not separate until near the end of its first orbit at T+1 hr 20 min 40 sec.

During the next 50 minutes Centaur performed two ten second burns to slightly lower its orbit and to shift inclination. The four Cubesats separated from an ESPA Flight System (EFS) adapter mounted on top of the Centaur stage beginning about 2 hours 14 minutes after liftoff. Centaur perfomed a fourth, deorbit burn shortly before the 3 hour mark of the mission.

CZ-3B Secret Launch

A CZ-3B/E launched from Xichang on September 27, 2021 with an unannounced payload aiming toward an apparently unprecedented orbit for China. Liftoff from Pad 3 took place at 08:20 UTC. Many hours passed with no official announcement from China about the launch. Western tracking systems eventually reported two new objects in orbit, one in a 177 x 40,104 km x 51.04 deg orbit and another in a 209 km x 39,591 km x 51.35 deg orbit. Some reports suggested that the payload was named Shiyan 10 (Test Satellite 10) and that CZ-3B number Y81 performed the launch.

One day after the launch, Xinhua reported that the satellite had failed during the launch but that the launch vehicle had performed normally and reached its planned orbit.

KZ-1A/Gaofen 02D

A KZ-1A boosted high resolution imager Gaofen 02D into a 532 x 545 km x 97.54 deg sun synchronous orbit from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on September 27, 2021. Liftoff took place at 06:19 UTC. It was the first KZ-1A launch since the last failed on September 12, 2020 while attempting to orbit Gaofen 02C - the first failure of the Kuaizhou 1/1A series after 11 previous successes since 2013. The record now stands at 12 successes in 13 launches.

Tianzhou 3

CZ-7 number Y4 launched China's Tianzhou 3 cargo spacecraft toward a same-day docking with China's space station on September 20, 2021. Liftoff from Wenchang Pad 201 took place at 07:10 UTC. The 2.5 stage rocket boosted the 13+ tonne spacecraft into a 200 x 332 km x 41.6 deg orbit. It carried more than 6.5 tonnes of cargo and transferrable propellant for the station to support its next crewed mission.

Inspiration 4

A SpaceX Falcon 9 orbited the first non-NASA U.S. all-private crewed orbital mission from Kennedy Space Center on September 16, 2021. Liftoff from LC 39A took place at 00:02 UTC. First stage B1062.3, on its third flight, performed entry and landing burns to land on drone ship Just Read The Instructions. Crew Dragon C207.2 "Resilience", on its second flight, was inserted into a roughly 190 x 575 km x 51.6 deg orbit. Crew Dragon was expected to later circularize itself into a 575 km orbit for a three-day mission. The mission was planned to end with a splashdown off the Florida coast.

Inspiration 4's crew included Jared Isaacman, CEO of Shift4 Payments, who funded the mission, Hayley Arceneaux, Chris Sembroski, and Dr. Sian Proctor. One of their objectives was St. Jude Children's Research Hospital fundraising.

OneWeb F10

Russia's Soyuz 2.1b/Fregat launched 34 more OneWeb satellites into low Earth orbit from Baikonur Cosmodrome on September 14, 2021. Liftoff from Site 31 Pad 6 took place at 18:07 UTC. The 3 hour 45 minute Starsem ST35 mission placed the 34 satellites, each weighing 147.5 kg, into 450 km x 87.4 deg orbits. Total deployed payload mass was 5,015 kg.

Fregat completed its first burn about 14.5 minutes after liftoff to reach a 140 x 425 km transfer orbit. Its second burn, begun at apogee more than an hour after launch, circularized the orbit. Satellites deployed in nine groups of two to four during the subsequent 2 hours 44 minutes, separated by Fregat ACS burns. Fregat likely performed a deorbit burn several hours after launch. OneWeb launches are taking place about every three weeks at present.

Starlink 2-1

A Falcon 9 v1.2 orbited the first group of "Shell 2" Starlink satellites from Vandenberg Space Force Base on September 14, 2021. Liftoff from foggy Space Launch Complex 4 East took place at 03:55 UTC. The successful launch placed 51 260 kg Starlink v1.5 satellites into a roughly 215 km x 70 deg orbit during a direct-ascent, 15 minutue-long mission. Total payload mass was roughly 13.26 tonnes.

First stage booster 1049-10, on its 10th flight, landed on OCISLY about 640 km downrange. The two payload fairing halves were expected to be recovered after parachuting into the Pacific Ocean.


Soyuz 2-1v Launch

Russia's seventh Soyuz 2-1v launched the Razbeg 1 satellite for Russia's Ministry of Defense from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on September 9, 2021. Liftoff from Pad 4 Site 43 took place at 19:59 UTC. The two-stage Soyuz 2-1v, flying for the second time without a Volga third stage, boosted its payload, named Kosmos 2551, into a 295 x 307 km x 96.34 deg orbit. Razbeg 1 is believed to be a lightweight optical reconnaissance satellite. A predecessor named EMKA was launched by the fourth Soyuz 2-1v during 2018.

The launch was originally planned for July, then August, but unannounced technical problems caused the rocket to be rolled back each time.

Chinasat 9B

China's Chang Zheng (Long March )3B/E orbited Zhongxing 9B (ChinaSat 9B) from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on September 9, 2021. Liftoff from Launch Pad 2 took place at 11:50 UTC. After performing two burns, the liquid hydrogen fueled third stage was placed the 5.1 tonne communications satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit.

The mission presumably replaces Chinasat 9A, which was inserted into a lower than planned orbit on June 18, 2017 when its third stage suffered a roll control issue.

China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) built the DFH-4 series satellite for China Satcom. The satellite will provide direct broadcasting and other services.

CZ-4C Launches Gaofen 5-02

China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 4C orbited Gaofen 5-02, an earth observation satellite, from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on September 7, 2021. The three-stage rocket lifted off from LC 9 at 03:01 UTC. It successfully boosted the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology satellite into a 680 x 691 km x 98.28 deg sun synchronous orbit.

Gaofen 5-02 is a multispectral imaging satellite. It moniters the atmosphere, water and land.

Firefly Aerospace/Everyday AstronautAlpha Inaugural Fails (Updated 9/4/21)

Smallsat launcher Alpha from Firefly Aerospace failed during its inaugural orbital attempt from Vandenberg Space Force Base on September 3, 2021. The 54.12 tonne, 29.74 meter tall, two-stage LOX/kerosene rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 2 West at 01:59 UTC after an aborted attempt about an hour earlier.

Alpha's four Reaver-1 tap-off cycle engines produced about 75 tonnes of thurst at liftoff. The early moments of the flight appeared to go well, but as the vehicle gained altitude it appeared to underperform. Some video views appeared to show a change in the appearance of the engine exhaust flame pattern beginning about 15 seconds after liftoff. The same views appeared to show the rocket's vertical climb rate slowing after that change. Alpha flew on, climbing slowly, for about 2.5 minutes before reaching Max-Q, about a minute later than expected. The rocket then flipped out of control and exploded.

Alpha carried a small, 92.115 kg payload of CubeSats on this test flight, designated FLTA001. A 300 km x 137 deg retrograde orbit was planned. Alpha is designed to carry up to 1,000 kg to a 200 km low inclination low Earth orbit, or 630 kg to a 500 km sun synchronous orbit. Its 1.8 meter diameter stages and 2.2 meter diameter payload fairing are made from carbon composite materials. A single 7.14 tonne thrust Lightning-1 engine powers the second stage.


CRS-23

Flying for the first time in nearly two months, Falcon 9 orbited the third unmanned Cargo Dragon 2 from Kennedy Space Center for the International Space Station on August 29, 2021. Liftoff of SpaceX Cargo Resupply Mission 23 from Launch Complex 39 Pad A took place at 07:14 UTC. The Dragon 2 Cargo capsule carried 1.957 tonnes of cargo.

The CRS-23 spacecraft (C208.2, on its second flight) was the third based on the Crew Dragon 2 design. It did not include the Super Draco abort thruster system or its abort propellant. The interior of the capsule had cargo mounting shelves in place of crew couches. Liftoff mass was not announced, but some reports suggest it was about 12.5 tonnes.

First stage B1061.4 performed boost-back, entry, and landing burns before landing on brand new drone ship "A Shortfall of Gravitas" positioned about 300 km downrange in the Atlantic Ocean. The stage was static fired at LC 39A on August 25. An initial launch attempt was scrubbed by weather on August 28.

Astra/NasaSpaceFlight.comAstra Fails Again

Astra's Rocket 3.3, a small two-stage LOX/Kerosene fueled rocket, failed to reach orbit during its third orbital attempt from Alaska's Kodiak Launch Pad 3B on August 28, 2021, after a 22:35 UTC liftoff. The rocket, identified as LV0006 by the company, may have hung up on the launcher equipment at liftoff, causing one of its five batttery-powered Delphin main engines to shut down less than one second after liftoff.

The rocket tipped, then slid sideways as its four remaining engines continued to fire. After it burned off sufficient propellant, it finally began to rise. Rocket 3.3's guidance and flight control system appeared to maintain control despite possible damage visible near the aft end of the first stage. The rocket reached about 50 km while arcing downrange until its engines were commanded to shut down about 2.5 minutes after liftoff. The launch took place about 24 hours after an aborted first try.

It was the third Astra Rocket orbital launch failure in three tries. A fourth vehicle was lost in a prelaunch failure. All previous orbital attempts took place during 2020. Although designed to place at least 100 kg into a presumably near-polar low Earth orbit, no seperable payload was carried during this orbital flight test. It was the first Rocket 3.3, which is a stretched version of previous Rocket 3.0 to 3.2 models.

Astra performed two suborbital test launches during 2018 from Kodiak, Alaska, using only live first stages. The first, an Astra Rocket 1.0 flown from Launch Pad 2 on July 21, 2018, reportedly failed about 60 seconds after liftoff.

CZ-3B/E TJSW 7

China's CZ-3B/Enhanced orbited the seventh Tongxin Jishu Shiyan Weixing (TJSW 7) communications engineering test satellite from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on August 24, 2021. Liftoff from LC 3 took place at 15:41 UTC. The launch vehicle's LH2/LOX fueled third stage fired twice to send TJSW 7 into geosynchronous transfer orbit. TJSW 7 may be a SIGINT, or a communications satellite, or provide early warning capability, or, maybe all or none of the above.

CZ-3B serial number Y78 performed the launch.

CZ-2C

A CZ-2C with a restartable YZ-1S upper stage orbited three satellites from Jiuquan on August 24, 2021. CZ-2C serial number Y51 and YZ-1S serial number Y2 performed the mission. Liftoff from LC 43/94 took place at 11:15 UTC. The rocket was topped by a 4.2 meter diameter fairing, new for CZ-2C. YZ-1S inserted its payloads into roughly 1,100 km x 86.4 deg orbits.

Payloads included two Ronghe Shiyan Weixing (RSW 01 and 02), which were experimental communications satellites built by China Aerospace and Technology Corporation (CAST). The third satellite may also be an exprimental communications vehicle, in this case built by the Aerospace Dongfanghong Satellite Company Limited (DFH), a subsidiary of CAST.

OneWeb F9

Returning to Baikonur for a OneWeb launch for the first time since that company's bankruptcy, Russia's Soyuz 2.1b/Fregat launched 34 more OneWeb satellites into low Earth orbit from Baikonur Cosmodrome on August 21, 2021. Liftoff from Site 31 Pad 6 took place at 22:13 UTC. The 3 hour 45 minute Starsem ST34 mission placed the 34 satellites, each weighing 147.5 kg, into 450 km x 87.4 deg orbits. Total deployed payload mass was 5,015 kg.

Fregat completed its first burn about 14.5 minutes after liftoff to reach a 140 x 425 km transfer orbit. Its second burn, begun at apogee more than an hour after launch, circularized the orbit. Satellites deployed in nine groups of two to four during the subsequent 2 hours 44 minutes, separated by Fregat ACS burns. Fregat likely performed a deorbit burn several hours after launch.


CZ-4B Launch

China's Chang Zheng (CZ) 4B, serial number Y50, orbited a pair of remote sensing satellites named Tianhua-2 Group 02 A and B on August 18, 2021. Liftoff from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center's LC 9 took place at 22:32 UTC. The three-stage storable propellant rocket boosted the satellite pair into roughly 520 km x 97.5 deg sun synchronous orbits. The satellites will be operated by China's army.

It was the 21st successful DF-5 based orbital launch of 2021, one more than now second-place Falcon 9.

Vega VV19

Europe's Vega launched Arianespace Mission VV19 with the Airbus Pleiades Neo 4 Earth observation satellite from Kourou on August 17, 2021. Liftoff from ZLV took place at 01:47 UTC. Four secondary satellites from the European Space Agency and Unseenlabs also rode Vega to orbit.

Vega's AVUM fourth stage fired its Ukrainian RD-843 engine five times during the mission. The first two placed the stage in a 614 x 625 x 97.89 deg orbit for deployment of 922 kg Pleiades Neo 4. Two subsequent burns shifted the orbit to 540 x 554 km x 97.55 deg for deployment of the four small rideshare satellites. They included BRO-4 for Unseenlabs and SUNSTORM, LEDSAT, and RADCUBE for the ESA. Combined, the Cubesats likely weighed less than 16 kg.  A fifth deorbit burn ended the mission.

It was Vega's second success since the VV17 failure of November 17, 2020.

GSLV Mk2 Failure

India's GSLV Mk2 failed to orbit the EOS 03 communications satellite from Sriharikota on August 12, 2021. Liftoff of the F10 mission from Satish Dhawan Space Center's Second Launch Pad took place at 00:13 UTC. First and second stage operation were good, but the indigenous liquid hydrogen fueled cryogenic upper stage (CUS) failed to ignite for its first burn. The stage and its 2,286 kg satellite payload fell into the Indian Ocean.

GSLV Mk2 F10 used the second indigenous "CUS-15" stretched upper stage variant, which carries 14.996 tonnes of propellant compared to the 12.8 tonnes of earlier models. Its CE-7.5 engine thrust was increased by about 3.7% and was to have burned longer. The 2.8 meter diameter stage was stretched from 8.47 to 9.89 meters length, increasing total vehicle height to 50.926 meters. The first CUS-15 succeeded during its December 2018 inaugural. The F10 failure was the first GSLV Mk 2 failure since 2010 and the second in ten GSLV 2 missions. The original GSLV, which used a Russian-engined upper stage, failed four times in six launches during 2001-2010.

F10 had rolled back from its pad during 2020 due to an unspecified problem with one of its stages. It was restacked for a March 2021 attempt that also had to be shelved, this time due to the Covid-19 pandemic and due to a spacecraft problem.

Antares/Cygnus NG-16

The 15th Antares launch vehicle - and fifth upgraded Antares 230+ - orbited Northrop Grumman's Cygnus NG-16 cargo spacecraft from Wallops Island, Virginia on August 10, 2021. Liftoff from Pad 0A took place at 22:01 UTC.

Cygnus NG-16 was the 13th enhanced Cygnus with a stretched Thales Alenia Space cargo module and the 10th to fly on Antares. Atlas 5 rockets orbited the other three. NG-16 probably weighed about 7,615 kg at launch, including 3,723 kg of cargo for the International Space Station. Cygnus NG-16 was named in honor of NASA astronaut Ellison Onizuka, who was lost with Shuttle Challenger in 1986.

The first stage RD-181 engines fired for about 3 min 18 sec. The Castor 30XL solid fuel second stage motor fired for about 2 min 45 sec beginning about 4 min 5 sec after liftoff. Cygnus separated at T+538 seconds into a 175 x 343 km x 51.6 deg orbit. The spacecraft is expected to reach ISS after two days in orbit.

Zhongxing 2E

China's Chang Zheng 3B (Enhanced Version) orbited Zhongxing 2E (Chinasat 2E) from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on August 5, 2021. Liftoff from Launch Complex 2 took place at 16:30 UTC. The liquid hydrogen fueled third stage fired twice to boost Zhongxing 2E into a geosynchronous transfer orbit.

Zhongxing 2E is a DFH-4 based communications satellite designed to serve China's military. It likely weighed 5.2 tonnes or more at liftoff.

The launch was the 20th of the year for China's DF-5 based CZ series, matching Falcon 9. It was also the 28th orbital launch attempt by China, one more than the U.S., though the U.S. still leads for the moment in orbital successes 27 to 26. China has logged seven of the world's last 10 launches.

CZ-6 Launch

China's seventh Chang Zheng 6 (CZ-6) orbited 2 multimedia satellites from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on August 4, 2021. Liftoff from LC 16 took place at 11:01 UTC. The satellites were named KL Beta (A&B). The three-stage LOX/kerosene rocket lifted its payload into a roughly 900 km low Earth orbit at 88.98 degrees inclination.

A 122 tonne thrust, staged-combustion cycle YF-100 LOX/kerosene engine powered the routhly 103 tonne, three-stage launch vehicle off of its launch pad. YF-100, China's first big LOX/kerosene engine, also powers the country's larger CZ-5 and CZ-7 launch vehicles. 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 fired to circularize the orbit.

CZ-6 is capable of lifting at least 1,080 kg into a 700 km sun synchronous orbit. It is integrated horizontally in a hangar. A large wheeled transporter/erector carries it to its flat launch pad and erects it shortly before launch.

SQX-1 Fails Again

China's Beijing Interstellar Glory Space Technology Ltd. (iSpace) suffered a second failure of its SQX-1 (Hyperbola-1) launch vehicle from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, this time on August 3, 2021. Liftoff took place at 07:39 UTC. Although all four solid motor stages and liquid attitude control systems fired correctly, the payload fairing failed to separate normally, preventing the achievement of orbital velocity. The rocket's payload was not identified.

SQX-1 succeeded on its July 25, 2019 inaugural flight, but an upgraded version failed on February 1, 2021 when foam insulation, which was designed to fall away after liftoff, struck and retarded one of the four steering grid fins located at the base of the first stage. The foam piece later fell away, causing the grid fin to move suddenly, which caused the rocket to veer away from its desired angle of attack.

The four-stage rocket, possibly based on solid rocket motors from DF-11 or DF-15 ballistic missiles, is 24 meters long, an increase of 3.2 meters from the inaugual version, and 1.4 meters maximum diameter. Liftoff thrust is 42 tonnes and gross liftoff weight likely exceeds 31 tonnes. Payload capability is listed at 300 kg to a sun synchronous orbit, 40 kg more than for the first SQX-1.

Ariane 5 Launch

Ariane 5 ECA L5113 performed the Arianespace Mission VA254 launch from Kourou on July 30, 2021. Liftoff from ELA 3 took place at 21:00 UTC. The mission successfully inserted two communications satellites into geosynchronous transfer orbit.

Star One D2, a Maxar 1300 series satellite, weighed 6,190 kg at launch. It will provide communication services for Brazil's Embratel.

Eutelsat Quantum, a 3,461 kg Airbus Defence and Space satellite, will provide communcation services for Europe.

It was the first Ariane 5 launch in nearly a year. The delay resulted from a need to solve a payload fairing vibration problem that appeared during 2020.

Electron Returns

Rocket Lab's 21st Electron successfully orbited a U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory satellite named Monolith from Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand on July 29, 2021. It was a return-to-flight mission following the May 15, 2021 failure of Electron 20. Liftoff from LC 1 took place at 06:00 UTC. The rocket's Curie third stage inserted the payload into its final orbit within an hour of liftoff.

An investigation determined that the Electron 20 failure began after "an issue occurred" in the second stage engine igniter system about 3 min 20 sec into the flight. The problem corrupted signals in the engine computer which then drove the Rutherford engine’s thrust vector control (TVC) abnormally, causing the engine to shut down. Rocket Lab said that the igniter issue occurs under a "unique set of environmental pressures and conditions" that were not duplicated during ground testing. The company was able to duplicate the problem in testing, allowing modifications to be made in future designs.

Monolith will deploy a sensor package that comprises a "substantial fraction" of the total satellite mass.

CZ-2D Launches Mapping Satellite

China's CZ-2D launched the Tianhui 1-04 mapping satellite from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on July 29, 2021. The two-stage rocket lifted off from LC 43/94 at 04:01 UTC.

The Tianhui-1 satellites use stereo-topographic methods to map the earth's surface from their 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, 2012, and 2015.

It was the 19th DF-5 based Chang Zheng orbital launch of 2021, the third CZ-2D of the year, and the 54th CZ-2D since the type began flying in 1992.

Proton M Launches Nauka

Russia's Proton M, a variant flying for the first time without a fourth stage, orbited Nauka, a multipurpose International Space Station laboratory module, from Baikonur on July 21, 2021. The roughly 700 tonne vehicle lifted off from Area 200 Pad 39 at 14:58 UTC. Nauka, a 20.35 tonne Khrunichev-built self-propelled spacecraft, separated intoa 199 x 375.5 km x 51.6 deg orbit 580.3 seconds after liftoff. The vehicle will raise its orbit toward rendezvous with ISS eight days after launch. Nauka will dock with module "Zvezda".

It was the first Proton launch of the year and only the second since the end of 2019.

CZ-2C/Yaogan 30-10

China's CZ-2C  orbited the tenth set of Yaogan 30 triplet satellites on July 19, 2021. The two stage rocket rose from Xichang Satellite Launch Center's LC 3 at 00:19 UTC. The satellite triplet, named Yaogan-30 Group 10, were inserted into roughly 600 km x 35 deg orbits. Tianqi 15, a small communications satellite, was also orbited.

The satellites may be formation flyers similar to the U.S. NOSS system, which perform a signals intelligence mission designed to monitor surface ship electronic emissions. It was the tenth and final launch for this constellation, all by CZ-2C rockets from Xichang LC 3, since September 29, 2017.

CZ-6 Launch

China's sixth Chang Zheng 6 (CZ-6) orbited 5 SIGINT satellites from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on July 9, 2021. Liftoff from LC 16 took place at 11:59 UTC. The mission was named Ningxia 1 Group 2, with all five satellites launched for Ningxia Jingui Information Technology Company. The three-stage rocket lifted its payload into low Earth orbit at 45 degree inclination.

CZ-6, the first of China's new LOX/kerosene launch vehicle generation, debuted from the same site on September 19, 2015. A single 122 tonne thrust, staged-combustion cycle YF-100 LOX/kerosene engine powered the routhly 103 tonne, three-stage launch vehicle off of its launch pad. YF-100, China's first big LOX/kerosene engine, also powers the country's larger CZ-5 and CZ-7 launch vehicles. 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 fired to circularize the orbit. The third stage used a new engine for the first time during this flight.

CZ-6 is capable of lifting at least 1,080 kg into a 700 km sun synchronous orbit. It is integrated horizontally in a hangar. A large wheeled transporter/erector carries it to its flat launch pad and erects it shortly before launch.

Tianlian 1-5

China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 3C/E orbited Tianlain (Sky Link) 1-5, the fifth such tracking and data relay satellite, from Xichang satellite Launch Center on July 6, 2021. Liftoff from Launch Complex 2 took place at 15:53 UTC. The rocket's liquid hydrogen fueled third stage performed two burns to insert Tianlain 1-5 into a 200 x 41,991 km x 17.5 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit.

Tianlain 1-5, which likely weighed about 2,460 kg at launch, will maneuver into a geostationary orbit where it will provide links between other satellites and ground stations, and between ground stations. China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) developed the DFH-3 (Dongfanghong-3) based satellite. This was the final Tianlian 1 series, and the final DFH-3 series, satellite. China launched Tianlian 2-1, the first second-generation data relay satellite that will eventually replace the Tianlian 1 constellation, during March, 2019.

FY-3E

China's CZ-4C, tail number Y43, boosted Fengyun 3E, a weather satellite, into sun synchronous low Earth orbit on July 4, 2021. Liftoff from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center's LC 43/94 took place at 23:28 UTC. The three-stage, UDMH/N2O4-fueled, 250 tonne rocket placed the 2.25 tonne satellite into a roughly 800 km x 98.67 deg orbit. The third stage lowered its orbit to about 610 x 800 km after spacecraft separation.

It was the 35th CZ-4C launch and 33rd success since the type premiered in 2006.


CZ-2D

China's CZ-2D tail number Y74 orbited five Earth observation satellites from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on July 3, 2021. The two-stage hypergolic propellant rocket lifted off from LC 9 at 02:51 UTC.

Jilin-1 Kuanfu-01B, three Jilin-1 Gaofen-03D, and Xingshidai 10 were inserted into roughly 530 x 544 km x 97.54 deg sun synchronous orbits. The four Jilin-1 constellation satellites will operate for the Chang Guang Satellite Technology Company. Xingshidai 10, an imaging microsatellite, was launched for ADAspace.

OneWeb F8

Russia's Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat lofted 36 more OneWeb Internet satellites into orbit on July 1, 2021. Liftoff from Vostochny Cosmodrome Site 1S took place at 12:48 UTC. The roughly four hour Starsem ST33 mission placed the 147.5 kg satellites into 450 km x 87.4 deg orbits. They will later raise themselves into 1,200 km operational orbits. Total deployed payload mass was 5,310 kg.

Fregat's first burn placed the stage and payload into a low Earth transfer orbit. Its second burn, begun at apogee, circularized the orbit. Satellites deployed in nine groups, the last almost four hours after liftoff, separated by Fregat ACS burns. Fregat performed an orbit lowering ACS burn after the final satellites separated.

It was the eighth OneWeb launch and the fifth since the company emerged from its 2020 bankruptcy. The latter five OneWeb missions have launched from Vostochny. A total of 254 of a planned 648 OneWeb satellites have now reached orbit.

Falcon 9 Transporter 2

A Falcon 9 v1.2 boosted 88 satellites into orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida on June 30, 2021. Liftoff from SLC 40 took place at 19:31 UTC. It was the third near-polar orbit launch by a Falcon 9 from the Cape. Falcon 9 doglegged from south-southeast to south-southwest during its ascent as it flew down the Florida coast. Three Starlink Internet satellites were included in the payload.

After firing for 2 minutes 15 seconds during ascent, first stage B1060.8, on its eighth flight, performed boostback, entry, and landing burns to land at Cape Canaveral's Landing Zone 1.

The second stage performed one, 5 minute 58 second burn to reach an elliptal parking orbit with a roughly 525 km apogee. The stage flew over Cuba and Panama and Antarctica before performing a 2-second restart over the Indian Ocean about 54 minutes 13 seconds after liftoff to reach a roughly 525 km sun synchronous orbit. A more than 30-minute long period of satellite deployments then took place.

B1060.8 was static fired at SLC-40 on June 22 with its second stage, but no payload, attached. The liftoff was delayed by a day after an aircraft strayed into restricted airspace downrange.

LauncherOne

Virgin Orbit's air-launched LauncherOne performed its first operational flight on June 30, 2021. The drop launch, carrying seven CubeSats into low Earth orbit, took place over the Pacific Ocean off California's coast at 14:47 UTC after takeoff from Mojave Air and Space Port. The two-stage, kerosene/LOX fueled rocket dropped from converted 747 "Cosmic Girl" at an altitude of about 10.7 km. LauncherOne's first stage NewtonThree first stage engine fired for about three minutes, followed by a several minute burn of its NewtonFour second stage engine to push the vehicle into an elliptical parking orbit. The second stage reignited at first apogee to circularize the 510 km x 60 deg insertion orbit.

The "Tubular Bells Part One" mission included four US Space Force Space Test Program (STP) satellites as part of the STP-VP27A mission. Two additional payloads were STORK 4 and 5, Earth observation satellites for Poland's SatRevolution. The seventh payload was Brik 2, a Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) satellite.

Progress MS-17

Russia's Soyuz 2.1a launched Progress MS-17 from Baikonur Site 31 Pad 6 on June 29, 2021. Liftoff took place at 23:27 UTC. The robot cargo hauler spacecraft aimed toward a two-day ascent to the International Space Station. Progress MS-17 carried more than 2,400 kg of cargo, including propellant, pressurized gases, drinking water, and dry cargo.

It was the 10th Russian and R-7 launch of the year.

Pion-NKS 901

Russia orbited its first Pion-NKS naval electronic intelligence spy satellite from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on June 25, 2021. A 2.5-stage Soyuz 2-1b lofted the satellite directly into a 195 x 466 km x 67.1 deg orbit following a 19:50 UTC liftoff from Site 43 Pad 4. The satellite was named Kosmos 2550 after reaching orbit.

It was Russia's ninth orbital launch of 2021. All have been performed by R-7 based launch vehicles.


CZ-2C/Yaogan 30-09

China orbited its ninth set of Yaogan 30 triplet satellites on June 18, 2021 with Chang Zheng 2C launch vehicle Y48. The two stage rocket rose from Xichang Satellite Launch Center's LC 3 at 06:30 UTC. The satellite triplet was named Yaogan-30 Group 9. The "electromagnetic detection" satellites were inserted into roughly 600 km x 35 deg orbits. A rideshare satellite or experiment named Tianqi 14 was also orbited.

The satellites may be formation flyers similar to the U.S. NOSS system, which perform a signals intelligence mission designed to monitor surface ship electronic emissions. It was the ninth launch for this constellation, all by CZ-2C rockets from Xichang LC 3, since September 29, 2017.


GPS 3-5

SpaceX Falcon 9 launched GPS 3-5 into a 394 x 20,176 km x 55.0 degree transfer orbit for the U.S. Space Force from Cape Canaveral, Florida on June 17, 2021. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 took place at 16:09 UTC. The second stage performed two burns, the second starting at T+ 1 hr 3 min 35 sec, before GPS 3-5 separated about 1.5 hours after liftoff. The 4.311 tonne Lockheed Martin A2100 series satellite will lift itself into a 22,000 km circular orbit.

First stage B1062.2 fired for 2 min 32 sec before shutting down, flipping 180 degrees, and performing entry and landing burns to land on "Just Read the Instructions" floating in the Atlantic about 642 km downrange. The stage previously boosted the GPS 3-4 mission during November 2020. It was the first previously flown Falcon 9 stage used for a GPS launch. The stage performed a static burn at SLC 40 on June 12 with no payload stacked.

A few minutes after spacecraft separation, Falcon 9's second stage performed a third, deorbit burn.

China Crew Launch

China's CZ-2F orbited Shenzhou 12 with three crew from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on June 17, 2021. The 2.5 stage rocket lifted off from Pad 43/921 at 01:22 UTC. Crew members included Nie Haisheng on his third flight, Liu Boming on his second mission, and space rookie Tang Hongbo. Shenzhou 12 was aimed toward rendezvous with China's new space station.

It was the fifteenth CZ-2F launch and the seventh crew launch by China. It was the first crewed Shenzhou mission since 2016.


NROL-111

Rarely-flown Minotaur 1 orbited three satellites for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) from Wallops Island, Virginia on June 15, 2021. The four-stage solid-propellant rocket lifted off from Pad 0B at 13:35 UTC after a roughly 2.5 hour weather delay, beginning the classified NROL-111 mission. NROL-111 likely involves satellites deployed to low Earth orbits at 49.7-ish degrees inclination.

Northrop Grumman integrated the rocket and performed the launch under the U.S. Space Force Orbital/Suborbital Program-3 (OSP-3) contract. Two decommisioned Minuteman missile motors served as the first two stages of the 36.2 tonne rocket. The M55A1 first stage motor made 80 tonnes of vacuum thrust and burned for about one minute before the SR19 second stage motor took over to burn for about 66 seconds. The 61 inch diameter payload fairing separated during the second stage burn. Northrop Grumman's own Orion 50XL and Orion 38 Pegasus motors powered the third and fourth stages, with burn times of 73 and 65 seconds, respectively. The fourth stage coasted for several minutes to apogee before its burn.

It was the 12th Minotaur 1 launch since the type began flying in 2000, but was the first flight since November 20, 2013. Minotaur 1 has now flown six times from Vandenberg and six from Wallops.

Pegasus TacRL 2

Northrop Grumman's Pegasus-XL successfully orbited the Tactically Responsive Launch (TacRL 2) mission for the U.S. Space Force from Vandenberg Space Force Base on June 13, 2021. The winged, three-stage solid motor rocket was dropped from its L-1011 "Stargazer" mother aircraft at 08:11 UTC as it flew 11.9 km above the Pacific Ocean about 250 km off the California coast. Pegasus headed south toward a 405 x 452 km x 97.5 deg sun-synchronous orbit.

Due to the classified nature of the mission, no live coverage of the launch was provided and no details about the satellite were released. The goal of the flight was to demonstrate a rapid, 21-day response to a launch call-up by the USSF.

It was the first Pegasus launch since 2019 and the first from Vandenberg since 2013. One additional Pegasus vehicle currently remains in Northrop Grumman's inventory, but no mission has yet been assigned. The company has said that more vehicles could be built if needed.

CZ-2D Beijing 3

China's CZ-2D orbited the Beijing 3 Earth observation satellite along with three small rideshare satellites from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on June 11, 2021. Liftoff from LC 9 took place at 03:03 UTC. The two-stage rocket placed its payloads into roughly 488 x 502 km x 97.51 deg sun synchronous orbits.

Beijing 3 was built by DFH Satellite Company and Twenty First Century Aerospace.

SXM-8

Falcon 9 boosted the SXM-8 communications satellite into a subsynchronous transfer orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida on June 6, 2021. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 took place at 04:26 UTC. The second stage performed two burns to accelerate the roughly 7 tonne satellite into its insertion orbit for customer Sirius XM. First stage B1061.3 landed on "Just Read the Instructions" after completing its third flight.

B1061 had previously boosted the first two Crew Dragon missions for NASA. The stage was static fired at SLC 40 on June 2 with no payload attached to the second stage.

SXM-8, the fifth non-SpaceX-owned Falcon 9 payload of the year, was inserted into a roughly 235 x 19,379 km x 26.49 deg subsynchronous transfer orbit, roughly 2,200 m/s short of geosynchronous orbit (GEO), from which it will gradually raise itself to GEO at 35,786 km altitude. The Maxar 1300 series satellite presumably includes upgrades provided by builder Maxar Technologies to prevent the on-orbit failure that affected SXM-7 soon after its December 2020 Falcon 9 launch.

It was the 100th Falcon 9 Version 1.2 launch since the type began flying in 2015. All 100 launches have succeeded, but a 101st v1.2 was destroyed on September 1, 2016 in an on-pad explosion during propellant loading for a prelaunch hot fire test. The explosion destroyed the rocket and its AMOS 6 payload and heavily damaged SLC 40.

CRS-22

A brand new Falcon 9 launched the second unmanned Cargo Dragon 2 from Kennedy Space Center toward the International Space Station on June 3, 2021. Liftoff of SpaceX Cargo Resupply Mission 22 from Launch Complex 39 Pad A took place at 17:29 UTC. The Dragon 2 Cargo capsule carried 3.328 tonnes of cargo, including two new solar arrays weighing 1.38 tonnes mounted inside the aft truck section of the spacecraft.

The CRS-22 spacecraft (C209.1, also on its first flight) was the second based on the Crew Dragon 2 design. It did not include the Super Draco abort thruster system or its abort propellant. The interior of the capsule had cargo mounting shelves in place of crew couches. Liftoff mass was not announced, but some reports suggest it was about 12.5 tonnes.

First stage B1067.1 performed boost-back, entry, and landing burns before landing on Of Course I Still Love You positioned about 303 km downrange in the Atlantic Ocean. The stage was not static fired at KSC, a first for a new Falcon 9 first stage. It was acceptance tested during late March, 2021 at the SpaceX McGregor, Texas test site.


China Weather Satellite

China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 3B orbited the second Fengyun 4 series weather satellite, named Fengyun 4B, from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on June 2, 2021. The 3.5 stage Enhanced CZ-3B lifted off from Launch Complex 2 at 16:17 UTC. Fengyun 4B separated into a geosynchronous transfer orbit about one-half hour later after two burns by the liquid hydrogen fueled upper stage.

Fengyun 4B uses China's SAST5000 satellite bus. The roughly 5.3 tonne satellite is designed for a seven year lifespan in geostationary orbit.

CZ-7 Tianzhou 2

China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 7 launched Tianzhou 2, a robot cargo ship bound for country's new space station, from Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island on May 29, 2021. Liftoff from Pad 201, the easternmost of two launch pads at the Center, took place at 12:55 UTC. The launch followed scrubs on May 19 and 20 caused by a LOX leak.

Tianzhou 2 weighed about 13.5 tonnes at liftoff. It carried 4.69 tonnes of cargo and 1.95 tonnes of transferrable propellant to support a planned crewed mission to the space station. The spacecraft docked with the space station about 6.5 hours after liftoff.

It was the fifth CZ-7(A) launch and the third by 2.5 stage CZ-7 variant. CZ-7 uses a 3.35 meter diameter core stage powered by two 122.5 tonne thrust YF-100 RP/LOX staged combustion engines. Four 2.25 meter diameter strap-on boosters, each powered by one YF-100, augment the core to produce a total of 734.1 tonnes (1.618 million pounds) of thrust at liftoff. Four 18 tonne thrust YF-115 RP/LOX staged combustion engines power the 3.35 meter diameter second stage. The 2.5 stage rocket weighed about 594 tonnes at liftoff and stood about 53.1 meters tall.

On this flight, the strap-on boosters shut down and separated about 173 seconds after liftoff. The first stage cut off and separated about 14 seconds later. Stage 2 burned its two fixed main engines until T+577 seconds and the remaining two steerable main engines unitl T+597 seconds. The two-part payload fairing separated at about T+214 seconds, during the Stage 2 burn. Spacecraft seperation into a 356 x 364 km x 41.47 deg orbit took place at T+601 seconds.

OneWeb F7

Russia's Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat M added 36 Internet satellites to the OneWeb constellation on May 28, 2021. Liftoff from Vostochny Cosmodrome Site 1S took place at 17:38 UTC, following a 24 hour delay. The 3 hour 51 minute Starsem ST32 mission placed the 147.5 kg satellites into 450 km x 87.4 deg orbits. They will later raise themselves into 1,200 km operational orbits. Total deployed payload mass was 5,310 kg. The payload deployment system addded another 500 kg of undeployed mass.

Fregat's first burn placed the stage and payload into a low Earth transfer orbit. Its second burn, begun at apogee, circularized the orbit. Satellites deployed in nine groups, the last at T+3 hours 51 minutes, separated by Fregat ACS burns. Fregat performed an orbit lowering ACS burn about 4 hours 50 minutes after launch.

It was the seventh OneWeb launch and the fourth since the company emerged from its 2020 bankruptcy. The latter four OneWeb missions have launched from Vostochny. The Soyuz 2.1b variant with the Fregat upper stage has launched all OneWeb missions beginning with the first operational launch in February 2020.

Starlink 1-28

Falcon 9 orbited 60 Starlink satellites on May 26, 2021, completing the first orbital "shell" of the Internet satellite constellation. Liftoff from Cape Canaveral SLC 40 took place at 18:59 UTC. First stage B1063.2 landed on "Just Read the Instructions" about 630 km downrange in the Atlantic Ocean, following entry and landing burns. The Falcon 9 second stage performed two burns during its one-hour mission to insert its 15.6 tonne payload into a roughly 260 x 300 km x 53 deg orbit.

B1063 first flew during November 2020 to boost Sentinel 6 toward orbit from VAFB SLC 4W. The stage landed at LZ-4 during that first flight. The first stage was static fired at SLC 40 on May 24. Such prelaunch static firings, once the norm for Falcon 9, have become rare. Engine modifications or swapouts on the stage may have prompted the test.

During the past year and a half, SpaceX has honed its payload fairing recovery methods. This flight saw the 40th fairing half reflight and the first "fifth" reflight of a fairing half. The other half was on its third flight. After numerous attempts to "catch" fairing halves in giant ship-mounted nets, with spotty results, fairing halves are now recovered after parachuting into the ocean.

CZ-4B HY-2D Launch

China's CZ-4B (Y48) boosted the Haiyang 2D ocean monitoring satellite into orbit from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on May 19, 2021. Liftoff from LC 43 Pad 94 took place at 04:03 UTC. The 249 tonne, three stage, hypergolic rocket ferried its 1.575 tonne CAST-built satellite into a 940 x 954 km x 66 deg orbit.

Haiyang ("Ocean") 2 is a series of satellites designed to monitor sea surface winds, wave heights, and temperatures using microwave sensors. Another CZ-4B orbited Haiyang 2C on September 21, 2020 from the same pad.


Atlas 5 Orbits SBIRS-GEO 5

Atlas 5 AV-091, an Atlas 5-421 with two strap on solid motors and a four meter diameter extra extended payload fairing (XEPF), orbited the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS)-GEO 5 early warning satellite for the U.S. Space Force from Cape Canaveral SLC 41 on May 18, 2021. Liftoff took place at 17:37 UTC following a scrub one day earlier.

Two Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ-60A strap-on solid rocket boosters augmented the RD-180 core stage thrust at liftoff through the first 90 seconds of flight. AJ-60A boosters are being replaced by Northrop Grumman's new GEM-63 boosters, with three GEM-63s powering the previous Atlas 5 launch, but this flight reverted to AJ-60A. The RD-180 fired for about 4:10 before shutting down. Centaur's single RL10C-1-1 liquid hydrogen fueled engine then fired for about 10:46 to reach a 176 x 4,557 km x 26.17 deg parking orbit. During the subsequent 16 minute coast period, two CubeSats named EZ 2 and EZ 3 were ejected into orbit from Centuar's Aft Bulkhead Carrier.

Centaur restarted at 31:06 for 3:18 to boost itself and SBIRS-GEO 5 into a 923 x 35,776 km x 21.16 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit. The Lockheed Martin built satellite separated about 8.5 minutes later. SBIRS-GEO 5 weighed 4,850 kg at liftoff, about 310 kg more than the previous SBIRS-GEO satellites. It was the first based on the LM-2100 series satellite bus.

Starlink 1-26

Falcon 9-119 orbited the Starlink 1-26 rideshare mission from Kennedy Space Center LC 39A on May 15, 2021. Liftoff took place at 22:56 UTC. The successful launch placed 52 260 kg Starlink satellites and two rideshare satelliites into a roughly 581 x 569 km x 53 deg orbit during a 1.5 hour mission. The rideshares included the 112 kg Capella 6 synthetic aperature radar satellite and the Tyvak 0130 optical remote sensing satellite. Total payload mass was likely more than 13.7 tonnes.

First stage B1058.8, on its eighth flight, landed on OCISLY about 630 km downrange. The second stage performed two burns, a 5 min 59 sec ascent burn to a parking orbit and a 4 sec circularization burn at first apogee at T+54:38, to reach the higher-than-typical-for-most Starlinks orbit. Tyvak and Capella separated beginning at T5+56:53, followed by the Starlink stack about 98 minutes after liftoff.

Electron 20 Failure

Rocket Lab's 20th Electron failed to reach orbit during its May 15, 2021 attempt to place two BlackSky Global Earth observation satellites into orbit from Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand. The second stage tumbled and its 5,800 lbf Rutherford Vacuum engine shut down moments after it separated from the first stage, about 2.5 minutes after liftoff from LC 1A. It was the third Electron failure and its second failure in eight flights.

For the first time, Electron was topped by a twin-satellite adapter system that added a cylindrical extension to its payload fairing. One satellite sat on top of the adapter while the second rode within. Plans called for the two 60 kg satellites to be deployed into a 430 km x 50 deg orbit about 55.5 minutes after liftoff. Deployment would have followed a roughly 3 minute 43 second burn of the Curie powered kick stage.

Plans had also been in place for the second Electron first stage recovery experiment. Rocket Lab reported that the first stage successfully parachuted to the surfact of the Pacific Ocean. Ship recovery efforts were underway.

Starlink 1-27

Falcon 9 launched 60 Starlink satellites on May 9, 2021 on the Starlink 1-27 mission, which jumped ahead of the yet-to-fly Starlink 1-26 payload in flight order. Liftoff from Cape Canaveral SLC 40 took place at 06:42 UTC. First stage B1051.10 successfully landed on "Just Read the Instructions" about 631 km downrange, following entry and landing burns. The Falcon 9 second stage performed two burns during its one-hour mission to insert its 15.6 tonne payload into a roughly 259 x 284 km x 53 deg orbit. SpaceX has now orbited 1,625 Starlink satellites, though not all remain active or in orbit.

B1051 is the first Falcon 9 booster to achieve 10 flights, a long-desired SpaceX goal. It first powered Crew Dragon’s DM-1 demonstration mission on March 2, 2019, then launched the RADARSAT Constellation Mission, SXM-7, and six Starlink missions.

CZ-2C/Yaogan 30-08

China orbited its eighth set of Yaogan 30 triplet satellites on May 6, 2021 with Chang Zheng 2C launch vehicle Y47. The two stage rocket rose from Xichang Satellite Launch Center's LC 3 at 18:11 UTC. The satellite triplet was named Yaogan-30 Group 8. The "electromagnetic detection" satellites were inserted into roughly 600 km x 35 deg orbits. A rideshare satellite or experiment named Tianqi 12 was also orbited.

The satellites may be formation flyers similar to the U.S. NOSS system, which perform a signals intelligence mission designed to monitor surface ship electronic emissions. It was the eighth launch for this constellation, all by CZ-2C rockets from Xichang LC 3, since September 29, 2017.

Starlink 1-25

Falcon 9 added 60 more satellites to the Starlink constellation on May 4, 2021. Liftoff from KSC LC 39A took place at 19:01 UTC. First stage B1049.9 landed on "Of Course I Still Love You" about 630 km downrange, following entry and landing burns. The Falcon 9 second stage performed two burns during its one-hour mission to insert its 15.6 tonne payload into a low Earth orbit inclined 53 deg to the equator.

B1049.9, the oldest operating Falcon 9 first stage, performed a static firing on the pad on May 3. It was the 13th Falcon 9 launch of the year, ten of which have been in-house Starlink missions.

CZ-4C Yaogan 34
China's CZ-4C orbited Yaogan 34, an optical imaging spy satellite, from Jiuquan on April 30, 2021. Liftoff from 43/94 took place at 07:27 UTC. The three-stage rocket placed the SAST-built satellite into a roughly 1,100 km x 63.4 deg orbit. This was the first use of a 4 meter diameter payload fairing on a CZ-4C from Jiuquan.

Starlink 1-24

Falcon 9 orbited 60 more Starlink satellites on April 29, 2021. Liftoff from Cape Canaveral SLC 40 took place at 03:44 UTC. First stage B1060.7 successfully landed on "Just Read the Instructions" about 615 km downrange, following entry and landing burns. The Falcon 9 second stage performed two burns during its one-hour mission to insert its 15.6 tonne payload into a roughly 250x280 km x 53 deg orbit.

B1060 first boosted the GPS 3-3 mission during June 2020. It later boosted Turksat 5A and four Starlink missions. Its most recent flight was on March 24, 2021.

It was the 12th Falcon 9 launch of the year. Nine of those were in-house Starlink missions.

CZ-5B Begins China's Space Station

China's 1.5-stage CZ-5B orbited the country's Tianhe core space station module from Wenchang on Hainan Island on April 29, 2021. Liftoff from Pad 101 took place at 03:23 UTC. The 22.5 tonne module, China's heaviest-ever orbiting payload, was boosted to a 171 x 382 km x 41.47 deg low Earth orbit in about eight minutes. It was the second CZ-5B flight.

The 53.7 meter tall rocket rose on the combined 1,080 tonnes of thrust produced by 10 engines; two YF-77 gas generator engines on the 5-meter diameter LH2/LOX core and two YF-100 staged-combustion engines each on four 3.35 meter diameter kerosene/LOX strap-on boosters. The boosters separated about 173 seconds after liftoff. The core stage burned all the way to orbit.

Vega VV18

Europe's Vega returned to flight with the successful launch of Arianespace Mission VV18 carrying the Airbus Pleiades Neo 3 Earth observation satellite from Kourou on April 29, 2021. Liftoff from ZLV took place at 01:50 UTC. Five secondary satellites from the U.S., Norway, and France also rode Vega to orbit.

Vega's AVUM fourth stage fired its Ukrainian RD-843 engine four times during the mission. The first two placed the stage in a 628 km x 97.89 deg orbit for deployment of 920 kg Pleiades Neo 3. Two subsequent burns shifted the orbit to 613 km x 97.79 deg for deployment of the five small rideshare satellites. They included 16 kg Norsat 3 from Norway, Aurora Insight's Bravo satellite, two Spire CubeSats, and Tyvak Nano-Satellite System's ELO Alpha.

It was Vega's first flight since the VV17 failure of November 17, 2020. During that flight, the AVUM stage tumbled out of control shortly after its first ignition because control cables had been improperly installed. Telemetry indicated that cables to two thrust vector control actuators had been inverted. Commands meant for one had been routed to the other, and vice versa.

CZ-6 Launch

China's fifth Chang Zheng 6 (CZ-6) orbited 9 microsatellites from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on April 27, 2021. Liftoff from LC 16 took place at 03:20 UTC. The rideshare mission included the Qilu 1 and Qilu 4 remote sensing satellites along with seven smaller satellites. The three-stage rocket lifted its payload into sun synchronous orbit.

CZ-6, the first of China's all-new launch vehicle generation, debuted from the same site on September 19, 2015. A single 122 tonne thrust, staged-combustion cycle YF-100 LOX/kerosene engine powered the routhly 103 tonne, three-stage launch vehicle off of its launch pad. YF-100, China's first big LOX/kerosene engine, also powers the country's larger CZ-5 and CZ-7 launch vehicles. 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 orbit.

CZ-6 is capable of lifting 1,080 kg into a 700 km sun synchronous orbit. It is integrated horizontally in a hangar. A large wheeled transporter/erector carries it to its flat launch pad and erects it shortly before launch.

Delta 4 Heavy Launch

A Delta 4 Heavy launched NROL-82, a classified satellite thought by some analysts to be a KH-11 spy satellite, into orbit from Vandenberg AFB on April 26, 2021. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 6 took place at 20:47 UTC. The liquid hydrogen-fueled triple-core rocket headed south on a trajectory consistent with a likely sun synchronous low Earth orbit.

It was the 13th Delta 4 Heavy launch and 12th success. Three more Delta 4 Heavy flights remain before the type is replaced by ULA's Vulcan.

Soyuz OneWeb F6

A Russian Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat M added 36 Internet satellites to the growing OneWeb constellation on April 25, 2021. Liftoff from Vostochny Cosmodrome Site 1S took place at 22:14 UTC. The 3 hour 51 minute Starsem ST31 mission placed the 147.5 kg satellites into 450 km x 87.4 deg orbits. Total deployed payload mass was 5,310 kg. The payload deployment system addded another 500 kg of undeployed mass.

Fregat's first burn placed the stage and payload into a low Earth transfer orbit. Its second burn, begun at apogee, circularized the orbit. Satellites deployed in nine groups, the last at T+3 hours 51 minutes, separated by Fregat ACS burns. Fregat performed an orbit lowering ACS burn about 4 hours 50 minutes after launch.

It was the sixth OneWeb launch and the third since the company emerged from its 2020 bankruptcy. Those three OneWeb missions have launched from Vostochny.

Crew 2

Falcon 9 launched the Crew 2 mission to the International Space Station from Kennedy Space Center on April 23, 2021. On board Crew Dragon C206 "Endeavour" were NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, all space veterans. It was the second operational commercial crew flight, and the third crewed Crew Dragon mission.

Liftoff from LC 39 Pad A took place at 09:49 UTC. Crew Dragon separated from the Falcon 9 second stage about 12 minutes after liftoff to begin its one day trip to dock with ISS.

First stage B1061.2, which previously boosted the Crew 1 mission, fired its nine Merlin 1D engines for 2 min 36 sec, aiming the vehicle on a northeast trajectory off the eastern U.S. coast, before shutting down and separating. The stage performed entry and landing burns before landing on "Of Course I Still Love You" in the Atlantic Ocean. The second stage fired its single Merlin 1D Vacuum engine from T+2 min 47 sec until T+8 min 47 sec to reach a roughly 190 x 210 km x 51.6 deg low earth orbit.

The first stage was static fired at LC 39A on April 17. "Endeavour" previously flew the Demo 2 crewed mission launched May 30, 2020.

Soyuz MS-18

A Soyuz 2.1a orbited Soyuz MS-18, the year's first crewed space launch, from Baikonur Cosmodrome on April 9, 2021. Liftoff from Site 31 Pad 6 took place at 07:42 UTC. Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei rode the spacecraft to orbit during its 8 minute 44 second ascent. Soyuz MS-18 then performed a three-orbit fast track ascent to the International Space Station.

CZ-4B/Shiyan 6-03

China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 4B Y49 orbited Shiyan 6-03 from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on April 8, 2021. Liftoff from LC 9 took place at 23:01 UTC. The satellite was inserted into a roughly 1,000 km x 99.5 deg sun synchronous orbit.

The mission of Shiyan Weixing 6-03 was described by offical new reports from China to be for "space environmental surveys and experiments on related technologies". The first two DFH-built Shiyan 6 satellites flew on CZ-2D rockets from Jiuquan to lower altitude orbits.

Starlink 1-23

Falcon 9 orbited 60 more Starlink satellites on April 7, 2021. Liftoff from Cape Canaveral SLC 40 took place at 16:34 UTC, the first daylight launch since January 24. First stage B1058.7 successfully landed on "Of Course I Still Love You" about 615 km downrange, following entry and landing burns. The Falcon 9 second stage performed two burns during its one-hour mission to insert its 15.6 tonne payload into a roughly 270 km x 53 deg orbit.

Once again, no prelaunch static firing was performed.

B1058 first boosted the DM-2 Crew Dragon mission on May 30, 2020. It subsequently powered ANASIS 2, Starlinks 1-12 and 1-20, CRS-21 Cargo Dragon, and Transporter 1. Its most recent flight was on March 11, 2021.

It was the tenth Falcon 9 launch of the year. Eight of those were in-house Starlink missions.

Gaofen 12-02

China's CZ-4C orbited Gaofen 12-02, an Earth observation satellite, from Jiuquan satellite launch center on March 30, 2019. Liftoff from LC43/94 took place at 22:45 UTC. The three-stage CZ-4C (Y36) used its restartable third stage to place Gaofen 12-02 into a nearly 600 km x 97.8 deg sun synchronous orbit.

The Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. developed Gaofen 12-02, one of a series of Earth observation satellites.


Soyuz Orbits OneWeb F5

Russia's Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat M orbited 36 more OneWeb Internet satellites from Vostochny Cosmodrome on March 25, 2021. Liftoff from Site 1S took place at 02:47 UTC. The 3 hour 10 minute Starsem ST30 mission placed the 36 satellites, each weighing 147.5 kg, into 450 km x 87.4 deg orbits. Total deployed payload mass was 5,310 kg. The payload deployment system addded another 500 kg of undeployed mass.

Fregat completed its first burn at 15 min 29 sec to reach a 150 x 427 km x 87.4 deg transfer orbit. Its second burn, begun at apogee 1 hour 13 minutes 40 seconds after liftoff, circularized the orbit. Satellites deployed in six groups of four during the subsequent roughly 1.5 hours, separated by Fregat ACS burns. Fregat performed an orbit lowering ACS burn about 3 hours 10 minutes after launch.

It was the fifth OneWeb launch. The first three took place before the company's March 2020 bankruptcy. OneWeb emerged from Chapter 11 during late November 2020 after it was sold to a group led by Bharti Global and the British government. The two subsequent OneWeb launches have now launched from Vostochny.

Starlink 1-22

Falcon 9 continued its recent torrid launch pace, orbiting 60 more Starlink satellites on March 24, 2021. Liftoff from Cape Canaveral SLC 40 took place at 08:28 UTC. First stage B1060.6 successfully landed on "Of Course I Still Love You" about 630 km downrange, following entry and landing burns. The Falcon 9 second stage performed two burns during its one-hour mission to insert its 15.6 tonne payload into a roughly 250 x 290 km x 53 deg orbit.

Once again, no prelaunch static firing was performed.

B1060 first boosted the GPS 3-3 mission on June 30, 2020. It subsequently powered Starlinks 1-11, -14, and -18 and Turksat 5A.

Electron 19

Rocket Lab's 19th Electron boosted six nanosatellites to orbit from Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand, on March 22, 2021. Liftoff from LC 1 took place at 22:30 UTC. After performing three burns to distribute the payloads into 550 km and 450 km orbits at 45 degree inclination, the rocket's Curie-powered third stage transitioned itself into a Photon pathfinder satellite mission named Pathstone. The overall mission was named "They Go Up So Fast".

Payloads included a 56 kg BlackSky Global satellite, 6U Centauri 3, 3U Myriota 7, 1U Veery Hatchling, The University of New South Wales’s Canberra Space M2 12U satellite for the Royal Australian Air Force, and 3U Gunsmoke-J for the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command. Not including Photon/Pathstone, total payload mass was likely less than 90 kg.

Soyuz Rideshare Launch

Russia's Soyuz 2.1a/Fregat launched a 38-satellite rideshare mission into low Earth orbit from Baikonur Cosmodrome on March 22, 2021. Liftoff from Site 31 Pad 6 took place at 06:07 UTC, beginning a nearly five-hour mission that featured multiple Fregat burns to deploy satellites into three different orbits.

Soyuz was painted white and blue, the first Soyuz rocket painted white since 1975's Apollo Soyuz Test Mission. GK Launch Services, a subsidiary of Russia's government Roscosmos agency, coordinated the flight, which carried satellites from 18 countries.

South Korea's 500 kg CAS500-1, a remote sensing satellite, was the primary payload. It separated first into a roughly 499 km x 97.4 deg sun synchronous orbit about 64 minutes after liftoff. A set of four 100 kg GRUS-1 imaging satellites from Japan separated next, about 2 hours 50 minutes after launch, into a 592 km x 97.73 deg orbit. The remaining satellites were placed into a 550 km x 97.57 deg orbit at mission's end.

Starlink 1-21

SpaceX orbited 60 more Starlink satellites on March 14, 2021, completing the eighth Falcon 9 launch of the year. The launch put Starlink 1-21 into low Earth orbit after a 10:01 UTC liftoff from Kennedy Space Center LC 39A. First stage B1051.9 performed the first "ninth" Falcon 9 booster launch and landed successfully on "Of Course I Still Love You" about 630 km downrange, following entry and landing restart burns by up to three of the nine first stage Merlin 1D engines. The Falcon 9 second stage performed two burns during its one-hour mission to insert its 15.6 tonne payload into a roughly 250 x 290 km x 53 deg orbit.

The Starlink 1-21 campaign did not include a static firing on the pad, a practice that is becoming less common with previously flown Falcon 9 rockets.

B1051 boosted the first, unmanned Crew Dragon flight on March 2, 2019. It subsequently powered RCM from Vandenberg AFB and Starlinks 1-3, 6, 9, 13, and 16 and SXM-7 from Florida during 2019-2021. It was a reuse record for a complete liquid propellant first stage. At least two Space Shuttle booster segments flew 12 times, but SRBs were disassembled after each flight and not reflown in complete sets. Space Shuttle orbiter Discovery flew 39 times to orbit and back, disposing an External Tank each time.

It was the 90th Falcon 9 v1.2, and 110th Falcon 9, orbital launch attempt. Both of the payload fairing halves used on this mission had also prevously flown, during the January 24, 2021 Transporter 1 launch.

CZ-4C/Yaogan 31-04

China's CZ-4C number Y42 orbited the Yaogan 31-04 triplet from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China on March 13, 2021. Liftoff from LC 94/43 took place at about 02:20 UTC. The three-stage hypergolic propellant-fueled rocket boosted the satellites into roughly 1,100 km x 63.41 deg orbits. The satellites are thought to be formation flyers that triangulate the location of radio emitters, most likely used to track naval ships. Yaogan 31-03 was orbited during February, 2021 and Yaogan 31-02 during January 2021. Yaogan 31-01 was launched during 2018.

It was the fifth DF-5 based CZ launch of the year.

CZ-7A Succeeds

China's CZ-7A, an upgraded version of its previously-flown CZ-7 with a cryogenic third stage added, scored its first success during its second launch on March 11, 2021. The 3.5 stage rocket boosted the secret Xinjishu Yanzheng-6-02 (XJY-2-02) satellite, named Shiyan 9 (Experiment 9) upon reaching orbit, into a geosynchronous transfer orbit during a roughly one-half-hour mission. Liftoff from LC 201 at Wenchang Space Launch Center took place at 17:51 UTC. The third stage performed two burns, with the second taking place about 20-30 minutes after liftoff.

The first CZ-7A failed during its inaugural flight on March 16, 2020 due to a failure that appeared to occur during the early moments of the second stage burn. The true cause was only officially revealed after the second CZ-7A succeeded. One of the four first stage strap-on booster engines faltered after LOX cavitation began at the LOX tank outlet at T+168 seconds, 5 seconds before the YF-100 engines were supposed to shut down. When the combined first stage and boosters separated, they veered due to the unequal thrust, knocking the vehicle out of its proper attitude which led to an an explosion shortly after staging.

CZ-7A uses a 3.35 meter diameter core stage powered by two 122.5 tonne thrust YF-100 RP/LOX staged combustion engines. Four 2.25 meter diameter strap-on boosters, each powered by one YF-100, augment the core to produce a total of 734.1 tonnes (1.618 million pounds) of thrust at liftoff. Four 18 tonne thrust YF-115 RP/LOX staged combustion engines power the 3.35 meter diameter second stage. Two YF-75 engines produce a combined 16.3 tonnes thrust to power the third, 21 tonne LH2/LOX stage. Two previous, successful CZ-7 launches, with no cryogenic third stage, took place in 2016 and 2017.

Starlink 1-20

SpaceX orbited 60 more Starlink satellites on March 11, 2021. The 110th Falcon 9 launch put Starlink 1-20 into low Earth orbit after a 08:13 UTC liftoff from Cape Canaveral SLC 40. First stage B1058.6 performed its sixth launch and landed successfully on "Just Read the Instructions" some 630 km downrange, following entry and landing restart burns using three of the nine first stage Merlin 1D engines. The Falcon 9 second stage performed two burns to insert its 15.6 tonne payload into a roughly 250 x 290 km x 53 deg orbit.

The Starlink 1-20 campaign included a full vehicle propellant loading rehearsal and a static test firing of the first stage at SLC 40 on March 8.

B1058 boosted the first crewed Dragon 2 mission on May 30, 2020. It subsequently powered ANASIS 2, Starlink 1-12, the CRS-21 Dragon 2 cargo mission, and Transporter 1, all from Florida during 2020-21. All of its landings have been on drone ships downrange.

Starlink 1-17

On March 4, 2021, Falcon 9 v1.2 stack number 108 finally orbited Starlink 1-17 after weeks of delay that saw Starlinks 1-18 and 1-19 skip ahead of it in launch order. Liftoff from KSC LC 39A took place at 08:24:54 UTC. First stage B1049.8 performed its eighth launch and landed successfully on Of Course I Still Love You some 630 km downrange. The Falcon 9 second stage performed two burns to insert its 15.6 tonne payload into a roughly 250 x 290 km x 53 deg orbit.

The first stage recovery was an improvement on the previous, February 16, Starlink 1-19 flight result, which suffered a premature Merlin 1D engine shutdown during the final seconds of its B1059.6 first stage ascent, leading to the loss of the stage during reentry. SpaceX subsequently announced that the cause of the loss was a burn-through of one of the flexible boots located where the engine penetrates the base of the stage. The burn-through caused overheating in the engine compartment, which caused the engine shut down and appeared to result in a fire at the end of the attempted entry burn. Meanwhile, that Starlink's ascent to orbit mission was successful.

The Starlink 1-17 campaign began with an aborted static fire attempt on January 29, 2021. A static firing was accomplished on January 31, but unspecified problems discovered at that time led to an extended stand-down. The vehicle was finally rolled out for a second static firing at LC 39A on February 24.  A March 1 launch attempt was aborted at T-1 minute 24 seconds for unspecified reasons.

B1049 first flew on September 10, 2018 when it boosted the Telstar 18V mission. It launched Iridium NEXT 8 on January 11, 2019, then boosted Starlinks 0.9, 1-2, 1-7, 1-10, and 1-15 during 2019-2020. All of its landings have been on drone ships downrange.

Arktika 1

Russia's Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat orbited Arktika 1, the first of a new type of Arctic region weather satellite, into a 12-hour elliptical Molniya orbit from Baikonur Cosmodrome on February 28, 2021. Liftoff from Site 31 Pad 6 took place at 06:55 UTC. The Fregat upper stage performed three burns during a multiple-hour mission to boost the 2.1 tonne Arktika M type satellite into its orbit.

Several more Arktika launches are planned, aiming to create a constellation of satellites to monitor Russia's Arctic regions.

PSLV C51

India's third PSLV-DL variant orbited Brazil's Amazonia 1 Earth observation satellite along with 18 microsatellites from Satish Dhawan Space Center at Sriharikota on February 28, 2021. Liftoff from the First Launch Pad took place at 04:54 UTC. PSLV-DL uses two PS0M-XL strap-on solid motors.

The 4.5 stage rocket, performing mission number C51, fired its strap-on motors for 1 minute 10 seconds, its S139 first stage solid motor for 1 minute 50 seconds, its Vikas-powered UDMH/N2O4 fueled second stage for 2 minutes 33 seconds, and its PS3 solid motor third stage for 3 minutes 52 seconds (including coast) to boost its MMH/MON fueled fourth stage on a coast toward apogee where its twin L-2-5 engines ignited to provide the orbital insertion. The 700 kg satellite separated into a roughly 750 km x 98.51 deg sun synchronous orbit. Two more PS4 fourth stage engine firings then lowered the orbit to roughly 500 x 560 km x 97.38 deg for the deployment of the 18 microsatellites.

CZ-4C/Yaogan 31-03

China's CZ-4C, tail number Y32, orbited the Yaogan 31-03 triplet from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China on February 24, 2021. Liftoff from LC 94/43 took place at 02:22 UTC. The three-stage hypergolic propellant-fueled rocket boosted the satellites into roughly 1,100 km x 63.41 deg orbits. The satellites are thought to be formation flyers that triangulate the location of radio emitters, most likely used to track naval ships. Yaogan 31-02 was orbited in January 2021. Yaogan 31-01 was launched during 2018.

It was the fourth DF-5 based CZ launch of the year.


Antares/Cygnus NG-15

The 14th Antares launch vehicle - and fourth upgraded Antares 230+ - boosted Northrop Grumman's Cygnus NG-15 cargo spacecraft into orbit from Wallops Island, Virginia on February 20, 2021. Liftoff from Pad 0A took place at 07:36:50 UTC.

Cygnus NG-15 was the 12th enhanced Cygnus with a stretched Thales Alenia Space cargo module and the ninth to fly on Antares. Atlas 5 rockets orbited the other three. NG-15 probably weighed about 7,700 kg at launch, including 3,810 kg of cargo for the International Space Station. Cygnus NG-15 was named in honor of NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson.

The RD-181 engines produced 392 tonnes of thrust to power the nearly 293 tonne rocket off its pad. The Ukrainian-built first stage burned for about 198 seconds. After first stage shutdown, the upper composite separated at T+204 seconds and coasted upward. The shroud and interstage adapter separated at 234 and 239 seconds, respectively. At about T+247 seconds the Northrop Grumman Castor 30XL second stage motor ignited to produce an average of about 51 tonnes of thrust during its roughly 167 second burn. Cygnus separated at T+532 seconds into a 180 x 360 km x 51.66 deg orbit.

Like Antares 230, the Antares 230+ first stage is powered by two Energomash RD-181 engines in place of the AJ-26 engines that powered the first five Antares flights. Antares 230+ uses a stronger first stage structure to allow full-thrust operation through much of its burn. In addition, unneeded dry mass was stripped from the first and second stages and a single-piece interstage was implemented.

Starlink 1-19

SpaceX orbited another group of 60 Starlink satellites from Cape Canaveral on February 16, 2020. Falcon 9 v1.2 liftoff took place at 03:59 UTC from Space Launch Complex 40. First stage B1059.6, performing its sixth flight, boosted the flight during its first 2 min 32 sec. After separating, the stage flipped and performed a three-engine entry burn, but flames were visible streaming from the base of the stage after the end of the burn. The stage did not survive to perform its planned landing on Of Course I Still Love You parked about 630 km downrange.

The second stage fired from 2:44 to 8:47 to reach a parking orbit. It restarted at 45:31 for one second to reach its roughly 250 x 280 km x 53 deg insertion orbit. The 15.6 tonne payload separated at T+64:28.

1059.6 previously boosted CRS-19, CRS-20, the Starlink 1-8 rideshare mission, SAOCOM-1B, and NROL-108 during 2019-2020. It was the first loss of a first stage in 11 months and follows 24 consecutive first stage recoveries.

Progress MS-16

Russia's Soyuz 2.1a launched Progress MS-16 from Baikonur Site 31 Pad 6 on February 15, 2021. Liftoff took place at 04:45 UTC. The robot cargo hauler spacecraft ascended to a two-day, 33-orbit ascent to the International Space Station. Progress MS-16 carried about 2,460 kg of cargo, including 600 kg of propellant, 40.5 kg of pressurized gases, 420 kg of drinking water, and 1,400 kg of dry cargo. The cargo included a repair kit for a leak on the Zvezda service module.

It was the second Russian and R-7 launch of the year.

CZ-3B TJSW 6

China's CZ-3B/Enhanced orbited the sixth Tongxin Jishu Shiyan Weixing (TJSW 6) communications engineering test satellite from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on February 4, 2019. Liftoff from LC 3 took place at 15:36 UTC. The launch vehicle's LH2/LOX fueled third stage fired twice to send TJSW 6 into geosynchronous transfer orbit. TJSW 6 may be a SIGINT, or a communications satellite, or provide early warning capability, or, maybe all or none of the above.


Starlink 1-18

A Falcon 9 v1.2 boosted the 18th operational group of 60 Starlink internet satellites from Kennedy Space Center, Florida on February 4, 2021. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 took place at 06:19 UTC. This flight jumped ahead in sequence after the Starlink 1-17 launch campaign was delayed. The latter Falcon 9 stood at KSC LC 39A while the Starlink 1-18 liftoff took place a few miles down the coast. Falcon 9's second stage performed two burns to reach the low Earth deployment orbit. The Starlinks separated at about 65 minutes after liftoff. They will ultimately move themselves to 550 km operational orbits. Total deployed payload mass was about 15,600 kg.

First stage B1060.5, on its fifth flight, fired for 2:33 before separating, flipping, and performing entry and landing burns to land on "Of Course I Still Love You" about 630 km downrange. No prelaunch static test fire was performed. B1060 previously boosted GPS 3-3, Starlinks 1-11 and 1-14, and Turksat 5A during 2020-21. Turnaround from the Turksat 5A mission was only 27 days.

The second stage fired for 6 minutes 6 seconds to reach an elliptical parking orbit. It restarted at T+45 minutes 55 seconds for only one second to raise the orbit perigee.

Soyuz 2-1b Orbits Lotos S1 805

A Soyuz 2-1b launch vehicle orbited Russia's Lotos S1 No. 805 signals intelligence satellite from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on February 2, 2021. Liftoff of the 2.5 stage rocket from Site 43/4 took place at 20:45 UTC. Lotos S1 805, a 6 tonne satellite built by TsSKB Progress using a Yantar type bus, was inserted into an initial 240 x 899 km x 67.14 deg orbit. The satellite will later raise itself into a 900 km circular operational orbit.

The Arsenal bureau developed the ELINT payload carried by Lotos S1 805.

It was Russia's first launch of 2021.

SQX-1 Fails (Updated March 7, 2021)

China's Beijing Interstellar Glory Space Technology Ltd. (iSpace) suffered a failure of its SQX-1 (Hyperbola-1) launch vehicle from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on February 1, 2021. Liftoff took place at 08:15 UTC. The failure occurred shortly after liftoff. After rising cleanly from its launch stand, the rocket began a pitch program, but then, possibly while accelerating through MaxQ, something happened to the front part of the rocket. The vehicle disentegrated soon after. No payload had been announced for the flight. It was the second SQX-1 orbital attempt, following an inaugural success on July 25, 2019.

On March 1, iSpace announced that an investigation had determined that a piece of foam insulation, which was designed to fall away after liftoff, had struck and retarded one of the four steering grid fins located at the base of the first stage. The foam piece later fell away, causing the grid fin to move suddenly, which caused the rocket to veer away from its desired angle of attack.

The four-stage rocket, possibly based on solid rocket motors from DF-11 or DF-15 ballistic missiles, was 24 meters long, an increase of 3.2 meters from the inaugual version. It retained its 1.4 meter maximum diameter. Liftoff thrust was 42 tonnes. Gross liftoff weight likely exceeded 31 tonnes. Payload capability was listed at 300 kg to a sun synchronous orbit, 40 kg more than for the first SQX-1.

During 2018, iSpace conducted two suborbital tests as part of its development effort. One, which was 8.4 meters long, weighed 4.6 tonnes, and used standard fins, was named SQX-1S. The other, which used four grid fins for atmospheric steering, was named SQX-1Z.

Yaogan 31 Launch

China's CZ-4C, tail number Y31, orbited the Yaogan 31-02 triplet from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China on January 29, 2021. Liftoff from LC 94/43 took place at 04:47 UTC. The three-stage hypergolic propellant-fueled rocket likely boosted the satellites toward a 1,100 km x 63.4 deg orbit. The satellites are thought to be formation flyers that triangulate the location of radio emitters, most likely used to track naval ships. Yaogan 31-02 entered an orbital plane that was 48 degrees east of the Yaogan 31-01 group that was launched in 2018.

It was the second DF-5 based CZ launch of the year.

Falcon 9 Transporter 1

A Falcon 9 v1.2 boosted a record 143 satellites into orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida on January 24, 2021. Liftoff from SLC 40 took place at 15:00 UTC. It was the second near-polar orbit launch by a Falcon 9 from the Cape during the past year. Prior to these flights, it had been 51 years since such a southbound launch had flown from Florida. Falcon 9 doglegged from south-southeast to south-southwest during its ascent as it flew down the Florida coast.

After firing for 2 minutes 28 seconds during ascent, first stage B1058.5, on its fifth flight, performed entry and landing burns to land on the "Of Course I Still Love You" drone ship down range.

The second stage performed one, 5 minute 55 second burn to reach a roughly 230 x 540 km parking orbit. The stage flew over Cuba and Panama and Antarctica before performing a 2-second restart over the Indian Ocean about 54 minutes 35 seconds after liftoff to reach a roughly 540 km sun synchronous orbit. A more than 30-minute long period of satellite deployments then took place. Payload included 133 commercial and government CubeSats, microsats, and orbital transfer vehicles, along with 10 Starlink satellites.

The first stage prevously launched the Demo 2 Crew Dragon mission, ANASIS 2, Starlink 1-12, and the CRS-21 Dragon 2 cargo mission, all during 2020 from Florida. The stage was not static test fired prior to this launch.

Starlink 1-16

A Falcon 9 v1.2 boosted the 16th operational group of 60 Starlink internet satellites from Kennedy Space Center, Florida on January 20, 2021. Liftoff from Launch Complex 39 Pad A took place at 13:02 UTC. The Falcon 9 second stage performed two burns to reach the low Earth deployment orbit. The Starlinks separated at about 64 minutes after liftoff. They will ultimately move themselves to 550 km operational orbits. Total deployed payload mass was about 15,600 kg.

First stage B1051.8, on its fleet-leading eighth flight, fired for 2:32 before separating, flipping, and performing entry and landing burns to land on "Just Read the Instructions" some 633 km downrange. No prelaunch static test fire was performed. B1051 previously boosted the Dragon 2 Demo-1 mission in March, 2019, followed by the RADARSAT Constellation Mission from Vandenberg AFB during June 2019, Starlinks 1-F3, 1-F6, 1-F9, and 1-F13 during 2020, and SXM-7 in December, 2020.

The second stage fired for 6 minutes 2 seconds to reach an elliptical parking orbit. It restarted at T+45 minutes 35 seconds for only one second to raise the orbit perigee.

Electron Mystery Satellite

Rocket Lab’s 18th Electron orbited a mysterious satellite built by Germany's OHB from New Zealand's Mahia Peninsula LC 1 on January 20, 2021. The three-stage Electron/Curie rocket, named "Another One Leaves the Crust", lifted off at 07:26 UTC, beginning a one-hour mission that lofted the satellite into a low Earth orbit. OHB refused to identify the satellite owner, and only revealed the "GMS-T" satellite name after the launch.

The first stage fired for about 2 minutes 30 seconds and the second for about 6 minutes 9 seconds to insert the storable propellant Curie upper stage and payload into an ellipical transfer oribt. Curie coasted to apogee where, beginning at T+66:07, it fired for 3 minutes 21 seconds to circularize the orbit. The satellite separated about one 70 minutes after liftoff.

CZ-3B/Tiantong 1-03

China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 3B/E orbited the third Tiantong 1 mobile communications satellite (Tiantong 1-03) from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on January 19, 2021. Liftoff from Launch Complex 2 took place at 16:25 UTC. The satellite, which may have weighed 5 tonnes or more, was inserted into a geosynchronous transfer orbit after two burns by the rocket's liquid hydrogen fueled upper stage.

After it raises itself to geostationary orbit, the satellite will provide mobile communications coverage to China, the Middle East, Africa, and the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Tiantong 1-03 provides S-band mobile communications services for China SatCom. It was developed by the Chinese Academy of Space Technology. The first Tiantong 1 was launched on August 5, 2016, followed by the second on November 12, 2020.

LauncherOne Success

Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne reached orbit for the first time on January 17, 2021 after a 19:39 UTC drop release from Virgin Orbit's Cosmic Girl 747 carrier aircraft off the California coast. Ten NASA cubesats rode the innovative, 25.855 tonne rocket to orbit during its Launch Demo 2 flight. The success came about eight months after the first LauncherOne failed shortly after its LOX/Kerosene NewtonThree engine ignited.

This time, the 21.3 meter long, two-stage rocket's first stage engine ignited cleanly and completed its 33.34 tonne-thrust, roughly 3-minute burn. The second stage NewtonFour engine then provided 2.27 tonnes of thrust for about 5 minutes 56 seconds to reach a transfer orbit. After a coast to apogee, NewtonFour restarted for roughly 4.3 seconds at about T+55 minutes 46 seconds to reach its 492 x 518 km x 60.7 deg insertion orbit. After the Cubesats separated, the second stage performed a final orbit lowering burn or maneuver, ending up in a 415 x 504 km orbit. The cubesats were part of the 20th Educational Launch of NanoSatellites (ELaNa 20) mission. Total deployed payload mass was 23.86 kg.

It was the first successful orbital launch by a liquid-fueled, air-drop-launched rocket.

F9-105 SpaceXTurksat 5A

A SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.2 boosted the Turksat 5A communications satellite into an elliptical, likely supersynchronous, transfer orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida on January 8, 2021. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 took place at 02:15 UTC. The Falcon 9 second stage fired twice to loft the 3.5 tonne Airbus Defense and Space E3000EOR series satellite into its insertion orbit. Turksat 5A deployed 33 min 4 sec after liftoff.

First stage B1060.4, flying for the fourth time, fired for 2 min 34 sec before flipping to perform entry and landing burns before landing on the Just Read the Instructions droneship floating 673 km downrange in the Atlantic Ocean. It will be the 70th successful stage recovery if B1060.4 returns safely to port. The stage previously boosted the GPS 3-3 and Starlink 1-11 and 1-14 missions during 2020. The second stage fired from 2 min 38 sec to 8 min 02 sec to reach a parking orbit, then restarted at T+26 min 51 sec for a 70 sec-long insertion burn. The previously-flown fairing halves separated at T+3 min 37 sec. Retreival ships Ms. Tree and Ms. Chief waited 786 km downrange to attempt recovery.

VS25 ArianespaceSoyuz Orbits CSO 2

Russia's Soyuz 2.1a/Fregat performed the Arianespace VS25 mission from Kourou Space Center on December 29, 2020, carrying the CSO 2 French defense imaging satellite into sun synchronous orbit. The satellite will peform high resolution imaging in the visible and infrared bands.

Liftoff from the Soyuz launch complex (ELS) took place at 16:42 UTC. The 2.5 stage Soyuz completed its ascent 8 min 49 sec after liftoff. About one minute later, Fregat began the first of its four planned burns. The first placed the vehicle into an elliptical parking orbit. Near first apogee Fregat ignited for its second burn beginning at T+54 minutes 7 seconds after liftoff. This burn circularized the orbit at about 480 km with a 97.3 degree inclination. The 3,562kg Airbus Defense and Space/Thales Alenia Space satellite separated at T+59:37. Fregat performed two subsequent maneuvering burns to separate from CSO 2 and to lower the orbit of the spent stage.

The liftoff was delayed one day by unacceptable high altitude winds. It was the 15th and final R-7 based launch of 2020, completing the 64th year of flight by Korolev's trailblazing rocket.

CZ-4C Y35CZ-4C/Yaogan 33

China's CZ-4C number Y-35 orbited the Yaogan 33 synthetic aperture radar satellite and a secondary payload from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on December 28, 2020. Liftoff from Site 43 Pad 94 took place at 15:44 UTC. The CZ-4C restartable third stage fired twice to reach a sun synchronous low earth orbit, then fired again to lower the orbit of the spent stage for future reentry.

A previous Yaogan 33 failed to reach orbit during a May 22, 2019 launch attempt from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center. The launch reportedly failed due to structural resonance between the third stage and its relatively heavy Yaogan 33 remote sensing payload, possibly during the reignition of the third stage. Yaogan 29, believed to be the first of this type of SAR satellite, was orbited from Taiyuan on November 26, 2015. Both previous launches were performed by CZ-4C launch vehicles, but this flight was the first from Jiuquan for this payload type.

It was the 25th DF-5 based CZ launch of 2020, matching Falcon 9's world-leading orbital launch total, though the CZ-2,3,4 family suffered one launch failure during the year versus no failures for Falcon 9. The launch did cement China's first place orbital launch standing among the world's nations for 2020, with 35 successes in 39 attempts.

CZ-8 Y1CZ-8 Inaugural

China debuted its CZ-8 medium-lift launch vehicle on December 22, 2020. The 2.5-stage, 50.3 meter tall, 356 tonne rocket boosted five satellites into sun synchronous orbit after an 04:37 UTC liftoff from Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on China's Hainan island. The primary payload was 3 tonne XJY-7, a classified remote sensing technology test satellite. Hisea 1, a 180 kg C-band sythetic aperture radar satellite was also orbited, along with three nanoosatellites.

CZ-8 uses the CZ-7 3.35 meter diameter core with its twin YF-100 staged combustion kerosene/LOX engines, but augmented by only two of the 2.25 meter diameter liquid strap-on boosters, each using a single YF-100, rather than CZ-7's four. The CZ-7 second stage is not used. Instead, a 3 meter diameter liquid hydrogen/LOX dual YF-75-powered upper stage that is used by CZ-3A/B and CZ-7A serves as a second stage. CZ-8 is designed to lift 4.5 tonnes to a 700 km sun synchronous orbit, or 2.5 tonnes to geosynchronous transfer orbit, slightly less than existing CZ-3A capability. This launch achieved a roughly 510 km x 97.4 deg sun synchronous orbit.

On this flight the YF-100 engines throttled down for the first time, to 77.5% at Max-Q. The two boosters shut down and separated at T+172 seconds. The core burned until T+208 seconds. The payload fairing separated at T+215 seconds, shortly after second stage ignition. Stage 2 shut down at T+479 seconds to reach a temporary ascent trajectory. The stage performed a second burn from t+885 to 1030 seconds to reach its insertion orbit.

F9-104 NROL-108 SpaceXFalcon 9 Orbits NROL 108

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 orbited NROL 108, a secret payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 Pad A on December 19, 2020. Liftoff took place at 14:00 UTC, following an aborted attempt two days earlier caused by a slightly high second stage LOX pressure reading.

Falcon 9 headed on a northeast azimuth that some analysts believed indicated a 50-52 deg inclination low Earth orbit similar to NROL 76, which was launched by a Falcon 9 on May 1, 2017. No coverage was provided of the second stage performance as the flight entered a press blackout. The NRO announced a successful launch several hours after the liftoff.

After completing its short, 2 min 18 sec ascent burn, first stage B1059.5, on its fifth flight, flipped and performed a 3-engine boostback burn. It flipped again before performing a 3-engine entry burn, following by a single engine landing burn. The stage landed at Cape Canaveral Landing Zone 1 about 8 minutes 15 seconds after liftoff. It was the 69th successful first or booster stage landing and recovery. B1059 previously boosted the CRS-19 and 20 Dragon missions, Starlink 1-8, and SAOCOM 1B during 2019-20.

F9-104 B1059.5 Landing SpaceX B1059.5 Lands at Cape Canaveral LZ-1

The second stage was expected to perform a deorbit burn sometime after satellite separation. A targeted zone for the stage to fall was listed in the Pacific Ocean near the equator south of Baja California.

It was the 25th Falcon 9 orbital flight of the year, a record for the rocket. One additional Falcon 9 performed the suborbital Crew Dragon In-Flight Abort test during the year. It was also the 30th orbital launch from Cape Canaveral and KSC during 2020, a number not seen since 1966 when 31 orbital attempts were made, but only 29 of those 1966 attempts made orbit while all 30 flights in 2020 succeeded.

ST29  RoscosmosSoyuz Orbits OneWeb 75-110

Russia's Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat M orbited 36 more OneWeb Internet satellites into low Earth orbit from Vostochny Cosmodrome on December 18, 2020. Liftoff from Site 1S took place at 12:26 UTC. The 3 hour 10 minute Starsem ST29 mission placed the 36 satellites, each weighing 147.5 kg, into 440 km x 87.4 deg orbits. Total deployed payload mass was 5,310 kg. The payload deployment system addded another 500 kg of undeployed mass.

Fregat completed its first burn at 15 min 29 sec to reach a 150 x 427 km x 87.4 deg transfer orbit. Its second burn, begun at apogee 1 hour 13 minutes 40 seconds after liftoff, circularized the orbit. Satellites deployed in six groups of four during the subsequent roughly 1.5 hours, separated by Fregat ACS burns. Fregat performed a deorbit burn about 3 hours after launch.

It was the first OneWeb launch since March 21, 2020. The company declared bankruptcy soon after that launch. It emerged from Chapter 11 during late November after it was sold to a group led by Bharti Global and the British government.

The flight was the 100th orbital launch success of 2020.

PSLV-XL C50 ISROPSLV/CMS 1

India's PSLV-XL orbited the CMS 1 government communications satellite from Sriharikota on December 17, 2020. Liftoff of the C50 mission from the Second Launch Pad at Satish Dhawan Space Center took place at 10:11 UTC. The 4.5-stage rocket boosted the 1,410 kg satellite into a 284 x 20,650 km x 17.86 degree subsynchronous transfer orbit.

CMS 1, previously known as GSAT 12R, will raise itself to geostationary orbit to replace GSAT 12. It will serve India and nearby islands.

Four of the PSOM-XL strap-on solid motors ignited with the PS1 solid motor first stage at liftoff. The other two ignited at T+25 seconds. The PSOMs separated in pairs at T+69, 70, and 92 seconds. First stage PS1 cutoff at T+109 seconds and the hypergolic liquid fueled PS2 second stage ignited one second later for its 2 min 34 sec burn. The payload fairing separated at T+3 min 23 sec during the burn. Solid fuel HPS3 fired next, for 6 min 14 sec. The PS4 monomethyl hydrazine fueled fourth stage then fired for 8 min 35 sec to reach the insertion orbit. CMS 1 separated at T+20 min 11 sec.

Rocket 3-2 AstraAstra Rocket Falls Short of Orbit

Astra's Rocket 3.2, a small two-stage LOX/Kerosene fueled rocket, failed to reach orbit during its second orbital attempt from Alaska's Kodiak Launch Pad 3B on December 15, 2020, after a 20:55UTC liftoff. The mission proceeded past staging through most of the second stage burn, but the stage shut down about 12-15 seconds short of the burn time needed to achieve its planned 380 km x 98.1 deg orbit. The cause was improper propellant mixture ratio, which caused the kerosene to be depleted while significant LOX remained.

The company's earlier, March 2020 attempts to fly Rocket 3.0 for the Darpa Challenge failed to produce a launch after multiple countdowns. A final, March 23 attempt ended with a prelaunch failure that destroyed the rocket and started a fire at the launch site. A September 12, 2020 orbital launch attempt by Rocket 3.1 failed about 20 seconds into flight due to oscillations introduced by the guidance system.

Astra Rocket stands 11.6 meters tall and is 1.32 meters diameter. Its probably weighs 10-11 tonnes at liftoff, rising on 14.275 tonnes of thrust provided by its five battery-powered Delphin rocket engines . It uses an "ultra-low-cost" metal structure. Although designed to place at least 100 kg into a presumably near-polar low Earth orbit, Astra 3.2 carried no payload during this orbital flight test.

Astra performed two suborbital test launches during 2018 from Kodiak, Alaska, using only live first stages. The first, an Astra Rocket 1.0 flown from Launch Pad 2 on July 21, 2018, reportedly failed about 60 seconds after liftoff. The second, an Astra Rocket 2.0, failed shortly after its November 29, 2018 attempt from the same pad.

Electron F17Electron 17

Rocket Lab’s 17th Electron orbited the StriX-a sythetic aperature radar (SAR) imaging satellite from New Zealand's Mahia Peninsula LC 1 on December 15, 2020. The three-stage Electron/Curie rocket, named "Owl's Night Begins", lifted off at 10:09 UTC, beginning a one-hour mission that lofted the 150 kg satellite into a routhly 495 x 513 km x 97.37 deg synchronous orbit.

The first stage fired for about 2 minutes 27 seconds and the second for about 6 minutes 12 seconds to insert the storable propellant Curie upper stage and payload into an ellipical transfer oribt. Curie coasted to a 500 km apogee where, beginning at T+52:28, it fired for 1 minute 54 seconds to circularize the orbit. The satellite separated about one hour after liftoff.

StriX-a is the first of a planned Synspective constellation of more than 30 small SAR satellites designed to scan cities across Asia.

It was the seventh Electron launch and sixth success of 2020.

Angara A5 Flight 2 RoscosmosAngara A5 Test

Russia's Angara A5 performed its second test flight on December 14, 2020. The 773 tonne 3.5 stage rocket lifted off from Site 35/1 at 05:50 UTC, rising on 980 tonnes of thrust from its five Energomash RD-191 kerosene/LOX engines. It carried a dummy payload mass simulator named IPM, aimed toward a near-geosynchronous orbit during a nine-hour mission that included five burns by the Briz-M upper stage. After achieving its target orbit, Briz-M performed its fifth burn to raise itself and its dummy payload to a higher, "burial" orbit.

It was the first Angara A5 flight since the first on December 23, 2014. The long delay was caused in part by a shift in URM-1 manufacturing from Krunichev near Moscow to PO Polyot neaq Omsk. The second flight was essentially a repeat of the first, part of the process of certifying the new rocket to replace long-lived Proton. It will eventually fly from Vostochny Cosmodrome.

Angara A5 consists of five 2.9 meter diameter URM-1 (Universal Rocket Module) units clustered to form a core stage surrounded by four booster stages. The core first stage is topped by a 3.6 meter diameter URM-2 second stage and a Briz M third stage. Each URM-1 is powered by a single chamber, 196 tonne thrust RD-191 staged combustion kerosene/LOX engine. RD-191 is derived from the four-chamber Energomash RD-171 engine that powered the Zenit launcher. URM-2 is powered by a 30 tonne thrust LOX/kerosene RD-0124 engine. This staged-combustion engine was developed to power the upgraded Soyuz-2 third stage. The Briz-M hypergolic propellant third stage has flown for years atop Proton-M boosters.

After liftoff, the core throttled down while the four strap-on boosters burned at full thrust. The boosters separated about 3.5 minutes into the flight. The core stage separated less than two minutes later. After the second stage burned out at about the 12 minute 26 second mark (it fell into the western Pacific Ocean), the first Briz-M burn inserted the stage and payload into a low earth orbit with a 63 deg inclination. Subsequent burns moved the vehicle into an initial elliptical transfer orbit. The fourth burn circularized the orbit at geosynchronous altitude.

F9-103 SXM-7 SpaceXSXM-7

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket reached orbit for the 100th time on December 13, 2020 when it boosted the SXM-7 communications satellite into a subsynchronous transfer orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 took place at 17:30 UTC. The second stage performed two burns to accelerate the roughly 7 tonne satellite into its insertion orbit for customer Sirius XM . Meanwhile, first stage B1051.7, flying for the seventh time, landed on the Just Read the Instructions drone ship after completing its portion of the ascent.

B1051 had previously boosted Crew Dragon Demo 1, RADARSAT Constellation, and four Starlink missions, during 2019-20. One of the payload fairing halves had also flown before, during the ANASIS 2 mission in July 2020.

The first stage was static fired at SLC 40 on December 7. A December 11 launch attempt was aborted with less than one minute remaining in the countdown due to a ground equipment issue.

SXM-7 was inserted into a roughly 249 x 19,515 km x 27 deg initial subsynchronous transfer orbit from which it will gradually raise itself to geosynchronous orbit at 35,786 km altitude.

Delta 385 ULADelta 4 Heavy Launch

A United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy boosted the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) L-44 mission (NROL-44) into what was likely a geosynchronous orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida on December 11, 2020. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 37B took place at 01:09 UTC. ULA's success annoucement came more than 6 hours later, consistent with the time needed for the Delta 4 upper stage to perform a three-burn geosynchronous insertion mission. Analysts believe the payload is an ADVANCED ORION (Mentor) SIGINT satellite.

Delta 385 experienced a long, challenging launch campaign. It was erected at the pad during November, 2019 for propellant loading testing during January, 2020. This allowed ULA crews to shift back to Atlas missions during the ensuing months. After the NROL-44 payload was stacked, the rocket experienced a series of scrubs and aborts. An August 27 attempt was stopped by pneumatic issues during fueling. An August 29 countdown ended in an abort at T-3 seconds that shut down one of the three RS-68A engines. A pad pressure regulator failure was the cause. ULA replaced all three regulators during the ensuing weeks. A September 30 countdown ended in another abort, this time at T-7 seconds just before the engines started. This abort was caused by a faulty sensor.

Pad swing arm hydraulic issues had appeared during the September 30 countdown, so ULA decided to spend several weeks resolving that problem before performing the final, successful countdown.

It was the 12th Delta 4 Heavy launch. Four more Delta 4 Heavy launches remain on the schedule with the last expected during 2024.

CZ-11/GECAM

China's four-stage solid fuel CZ-11 launched the Gravitational Wave High-energy Electromagnetic Counterpart All-sky Monitor (GECAM) into low earth orbit from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on December 9, 2020. It was the second CZ-11 launch from Xichang. Liftoff took place at 20:14 UTC.

GECAM is a two-satellite mission designed to measure the "electromagnetic counterparts of gravitational waves, high-energy radiation from fast radio bursts, various gamma-ray bursts, and magnetar flares", according to the National Space Science Center under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

It was the 11th known CZ-11 flight since the type premiered on September 25, 2015. The 58 tonne rocket may be based on China's DF-31 series solid fuel ballistic missile. CZ-11 is reportedly 20.8 meters long (other reports suggest 18.7 meters) and 2 meters in diameter with a 120 tonne liftoff thrust. Its fourth stage has demonstrated in-space maneuvering capability. CZ-11 may be able to lift 350 kg or more to sun synchronous orbit. This was the first CZ-11 assembled at the CZ-11 Sea Launch home port at Haiyang, Shandong.

F9-102 CRS-21 NASADragon 2 Cargo

The 100th Falcon 9 to attempt orbit boosted the first unmanned Cargo Dragon 2 from Kennedy Space Center toward the International Space Station on December 6, 2020. Liftoff of SpaceX Cargo Resupply Mission 21 from Launch Complex 39 Pad A took place at 16:17 UTC. The Dragon 2 Cargo capsule carried 2.972 tonnes of cargo, including the 1.09 tonne Bishop Airlock mounted inside the aft truck section of the spacecraft.

The CRS-21 spacecraft was the first based on the Crew Dragon 2 design. It did not include the Super Draco abort thruster system or its abort propellant. The interior of the capsule had cargo mounting shelves in place of crew couches. Liftoff mass was not announced, but some reports suggest it was about 12.5 tonnes. It was the first time that NASA had used a crew-type spacecraft to carry cargo, something the USSR and Russia have done with Soyuz and Progress since the 1970s. The use of a common spacecraft promises engineering advantages and possible monetary savings over the long run.

F9-102 NASAFirst stage B1058.4 provided the first 2.5 minutes of boost before separating, flipping 180 degrees, and performing entry and landing burns to land of the Of Course I Still Love You drone ship positioned about --- km downrange in the Atlantic Ocean. The stage previously boosted the DM-2 Crew Dragon mission - the first with crew, ANASIS 2, and Starlink 1-12, all since May 30, 2020. The stage performed a prelaunch static firing at LC 39A on December 3 with CRS-21 attached. A December 5 launch attempt was scrubbed by weather conditions downrange.

It was the 99th Falcon 9 to reach orbit out of those 100 attempts, a total that includes a low-orbit partial failure that lost a secondary payload in 2012. A 101st Falcon 9 performed a suborbital crew abort test in early 2020. A 102nd Falcon 9 was destroyed with its AMOS 6 payload during pre-launch propellant loading for a static firing attempt at SLC 40 in 2016. The first five Falcon 9's were much different than the current variant. They were smaller, powered by Merlin 1C engines, and not designed for first stage recovery.

CZ-3B/G5Gaofen 14

China's CZ-3B/E, flying for the first time as an enhanced "G5" variant with an extended payload fairing, boosted Gaofen 14, a "surveying and mapping satellite", from Xichang on January 6, 2020. Liftoff from LC 3 took place at 03:58 UTC. For the first time, CZ-3B/E flew south, south-west toward a sun synchronous Earth orbit. The 3.5 stage rocket usually flies on an east azimuth from Xichang toward geosynchronous transfer orbit.

Gaofen 14 may carry an optical remote sensing system built in Belarus. It will operate from 500 km altitude.

Soyuz Fregat buildup HTBGonets-M Launch

Russia's Soyuz 2.1b/Fregat M orbited three more Gonets M communication satellites and at least one classified satellite from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on December 3, 2020. Liftoff from Site 43 Pad 3 took place at 01:14 UTC. The Fregat M stage aimed to boost all four satellites into 1,400 km x 82.5 deg orbits during a roughly 2 hour mission that likely included two Fregat M burns.

It was the second Soyuz 2.1b/Fregat M to orbit Gonets M satellites, which weigh about 280 kg each at launch, or 840 kg total. The mass of the classified satellite was unknown, but previous Soyuz 2.1b/Fregat M vehicles have lofted more than 1.4 tonnes to similar orbits from Plesetsk in the past. Satellite numbers 30, 31, and 32 were launched on this mission. The satellites perform store and dump messaging. Now-retired Rokot performed earlier Gonets M launches.

VS24 ArianespaceSoyuz Kourou Launch

Russia's Soyuz 2.1a/Fregat performed the Arianespace VS24 mission from Kourou Space Center on December 2, 2020, carrying the FalconEye 2 optical Earth observation satellite for the Armed Forces of the United Arab Emirates (UAEAF) into sun synchronous orbit. Liftoff from the Soyuz launch complex (ELS) took place at 01:33 UTC. The 2.5 stage Soyuz completed its ascent 8 min 48 sec after liftoff. About one minute later, Fregat began the first of its three planned burns. The first placed the vehicle into an elliptical parking orbit. As first apogee approached, Fregat ignited for its second burn just under 55 minutes after liftoff. This burn circularized the orbit at about 611 km. The 1,190 kg Airbus Defense and Space/Thales Alenia Space satellite separated at T+58:45. Fregat performed an orbit lowering burn a bit less than an hour later.

The liftoff was delayed twice by weather and once by a data link issue during the three days before liftoff took place. Prior to that, the flight was delayed by months after an oxidizer leak was discovered involving a Fregat thruster. A decision was made to replace the stage, but the Covid-19 epidemic halted the entire campaign until late Fall. FalconEye 2 itself had originally been slated to fly on Vega, but was moved to Soyuz after the 2019 Vega failure. It was 2020's first Soyuz launch from Kourou.

H-2A F43H-2A Orbits Data Relay Satellite

Japan's H-2A boosted the classified Japan Data Relay Satellite (JDRS 1) into geosynchronous transfer orbit from Tanegashima on November 29, 2020. The H-2A-202 variant with two SRB-A strap on solid boosters began the F43 mission from Yoshinobu Pad 1 at 07:25 UTC. Webcast coverage of the mission ended shortly after liftoff. The second stage likely performed two burns during a roughly half-hour mission. About an hour after launch, MHI Launch Services confirmed that spacecraft separation had occurred.

JDRS 1 will raise itself to geostationary orbit, where it will relay data from both military and civil satellites that operate in low Earth orbit. It is equipped with a lasar communications system that can transmit data at up to 1.8 gigabits per seconds.

It was the third H-2A flight of the year. The final H-2B also flew from Tanegashima during 2020.

F9-101 SpacceX100th Falcon 9 Launch

The 100th SpaceX Falcon 9 launch boosted the 15th operational group of 60 Starlink internet satellites from Cape Canaveral, Florida on November 25, 2020. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 took place at 02:13 UTC. For the first time in several Starlink missions, the Falcon 9 second stage performed a single ascent burn, this time reportedly aiming for a roughly 210 x 360 km x 53 deg deployment orbit. The Starlinks separated at about T+14 minutes 44seconds. They will ultimately move themselves to 550 km operational orbits. Total deployed payload mass was about 15,600 kg.

First stage B1049.7, on its fleet-leading seventh flight, fired for 2:32 before separating, flipping, and performing entry and landing burns to land on "Of Course I Still Love You" some 634 km downrange. The stage was static test fired on the pad on November 21, one day after an aborted attempt. B1049, the oldest currently active Falcon 9 first stage, previously boosted Telstar 18V, Iridium NEXT 8, and Starlinks v1-2, -7, and -10, with the first launch on September 10, 2018.

It was the 80th Falcon 9 v1.2 launched since 2015, and the 79th orbital flight. One additional v1.2 performed the suborbital Crew Abort test in early 2020 while an 81st Falcon 9 v1.2 was destroyed during propellant loading for the AMOS 6 pre-launch static firing test during 2016. Falcon 9 v1.1 flew 15 times during 2013-16, failing once. The original, much smaller, Merlin 1C Falcon 9 v1.0 variant launched five times during 2010-13, suffering one launch vehicle failure that lost a secondary payload but still managed to orbit its primary cargo Dragon payload.

CZ-5 Y5 Chang'e 5CZ-5 Chang'e 5

China's CZ-5 launched Chang'e 5, intended to return a sample from the Moon, from Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on November 23, 2020. The 870 tonne, 2.5-stage rocket lifted off from Pad 101 at 20:30 UTC. CZ-5's liquid-hydrogen-fueled second stage fired its twin YF-75 engines twice to accelerate the 8.2 tonne spacecraft into a trans-lunar trajectory, from which it will steer itself toward lunar orbit.

The four kerosen/LOX boosters burned out about 177 secoonds after liftoff and separated two seconds later. The core stage fired its twin YF-77 LH2/LOX engines for a total of about 487 seconds. The second stage ignited three seconds later and fired for about 250 seconds to reach a parking orbit. The stage restarted about 1,677 seconds after liftoff for a roughly 233 second insertion burn. Chang'e 5 separated about 2,185 seconds after liftoff.

Chang’e spacecraft are named for a moon goddess in Chinese folklore. It is the first attempt to return lunar samples since 1976.

F9-100 NASASentinel 6 Launch

A brand new SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket orbited the ESA/NASA Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite, the first of two identical satellites designed to precisely measure global sea-level trends, from Vandenberg AFB on November 21, 2020. Liftoff from VAFB SLC-4E took place at 17:17 UTC. The Falcon 9 second stage performed two burns to insert the 1,192 kilogram Airbus Defence and Space-built satellite into a 1,336 km x 66 deg orbit about 53 and a half minutes after liftoff. The non-sun-synchronous orbit will allow the satellite to revisit areas at different times of the day and night, providing an opportunity to measure sea levels at all hours of the day.

Sentinel 6 was named Michael Freilich for the former director of NASA’s Earth Science Division.

B1063.1 NASAB1063.1 Lands at VAFB LZ4

First stage B1063.1 fired for a brief 2 min 17 sec before performing boost-back, entry, and landing burns to land at Landing Zone 4 adjacent to the launch site. The second stage burned for 5 min 50 sec to reach an initial elliptical transfer orbit. After a coast to apogee, the stage restarted for about 10 seconds at T+ 53 min 18 sec to circularize the orbit. Sentinel 6 separated moments later.

The Falcon 9 stages were acceptance tested at McGregor, Texas, likely during July, 2020. The assembled rocket was briefly static test fired at VAFB SLC 4E on November 17. The second stage was expected to deorbit over the South Pacific during the second orbit.

It was the first West Coast Falcon 9 launch since June 12, 2019.

Electrron 16 Rocket LabElectron 16

Rocket Lab’s Electron launched for the 16th time on November 20, 2020, with 29 tiny Cubesats and a mass simulator in the shape of a small gnome statue. Liftoff from New Zealand's Mahia Peninsula LC 1 took place at 02:20 UTC. The three-stage Electron/Curie rocket, named "Return to Sender”, boosted a total active payload of only about 45-50 kg into a 500 km x 97.3 deg sun synchronous orbit during the roughly one-hour mission.

In a first test of its type for Electron, the first stage, after separating, fired thrusters to orient itself for reentry, then deployed drouge and main parachutes and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean less than 13 minutes after liftoff. A ship recovered the floating stage. The stage will be inspected as part of an effort to develop a reusable first stage that in the future would be recovered in mid-air by a helicopter.

The first stage fired for about 2 minutes 33 seconds and the second for about 6 minutes 7 seconds to insert the storable propellant Curie upper stage and payload into an ellipical transfer orbit. Curie coasted to a 500 km apogee where, beginning at T+49:38, it fired for about 90 seconds to circularize the orbit. The satellites separated around one hour after liftoff.

VV17 ArianespaceVega VV17 Fails

Europe's Vega suffered its second failure in its past three launches while attempting to orbit two Earth observation satellites on November 17, 2020. The AVUM liquid upper stage appeared responsible.

The VV17 mission for Arianespace lifted off from the Kourou's ZLV pad at 01:52:20 UTC. Spain's SEOSAT-Ingenio and France's TARANIS topped the rocket inside its fairing. The plan was for Vega to place SEOSAT-Ingenio into a 670 km x 98.09 deg sun-synchronous orbit and TARANIS into a 700 km x 98.19 deg sun-synchronous orbit during a 1 hour 42 minute mission that would have included four AVUM burns.

Vega’s three solid propellant motors fired successfully, but AVUM suffered a problem during its first burn, which was intended to place the stage and payload into an initial elliptical parking orbit. The problem caused loss of mission, with AVUM and its payload apparently falling short of orbit.

Within hours, Arianespace reported that the upper stage had tumbled out of control shortly after ignition because control cables had been improperly installed. Telemetry indicated that cables to two thrust vector control actuators had been inverted. Commands meant for one had been routed to the other, and vice versa.

Crew 1 F9-99 NASACrew Dragon Launch

Falcon 9 launched the Crew 1 mission to the International Space Station from Kennedy Space Center on November 16, 2020. On board Crew Dragon C207 "Resilience" were NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker along with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi. All but Glover were space veterans. It was the first operational commercial crew flight.

Liftoff from LC 39 Pad A took place at 00:27 UTC. Crew Dragon separated from the Falcon 9 second stage about 12 minutes after liftoff to begin its one day trip to dock with ISS.

First stage B1061.1 fired its nine Merlin 1D engines for 2 min 37 sec, aiming the vehicle on a northeast trajectory off the eastern U.S. coast, before shutting down and separating. The stage performed entry and landing burns before landing on the "Just Read the Instructions" drone ship about 9 min 29 sec after liftoff. The second stage fired its single Merlin 1D Vacuum engine from T+2 min 48 sec until T+8 min 50 sec to reach a roughly 190 x 210 km x 51.6 deg low earth orbit.

The first stage was static fired at McGregor, Texas, on April 24, 2020. Two of its Merlin 1D engines were replaced after close inspection in the wake of the GPS 3-4 booster abort problem. B1061.1 performed a brief static test firing at LC 39A on November 11, 2020 with Crew Dragon stacked atop the vehicle.

AV-090/NROL-101 ULAAtlas 5/NROL-101

United Launch Alliance Atlas 5-531, boosted by the first three Northrop Grumman GEM-63 solid rocket motors, orbited NROL-101 for the U.S. National Reconnaisance Office from Cape Canaveral, Florida on November 13, 2020. Liftoff from SLC 41 took place at 22:32 UTC. The AV-090 vehicle, topped by a Medium height, 5 meter diameter fairing stood 62.8 meters tall.

AV-090 flew sharply northeast, skirting the Eastern Seaboard and apparently overflying Newfoundland. It appeared bound for a relatively high inclination orbit, possibly a Molniya type, 12-hour orbit, though that is speculation. The classified mission could be a data relay satellite, or it could be something else. Mission success was not announced until about 2.5 hours after liftoff, indicating a possible long coast to Centaur restart and/or payload separation.

AV-090 performed a wet dress rehearsal at SLC 41 on October 21. The payload was stacked five days later. A November 5 launch attempt was scrubbed by LOX ground system problems.

GEM 63 is 63 inches diameter and 66 feet (20.12 m) long. The booster, which replaces the original Aerojet AJ-62, burns 44.23 tonnes of propellant for 94 seconds, producing up to 168.54 tonnes of thrust. A stretched, more-powerful GEM 63XL version is slated to boost ULA's upcoming Vulcan Centaur

CZ-3B/E Y-73CZ-3B Orbits Comsat

China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 3B/E orbited the second Tiantong 1 mobile communications satellite (Tiantong 1-02) from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on November 12, 2020. Liftoff from Launch Complex 2 took place at 15:59 UTC. The satellite, which may have weighed 5 tonnes or more, was inserted into a geosynchronous transfer orbit after two burns by the rocket's liquid hydrogen fueled upper stage.

After it raises itself to geostationary orbit, the satellite will provide mobile communications coverage to China, the Middle East, Africa, and the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Tiantong 1-02 provides S-band mobile communications services for China SatCom. It was developed by the Chinese Academy of Space Technology. The first Tiantong 1 was launched on August 5, 2016.

PSLV-C49 ISROIndia Launch

After enduring a long year fighting Covid-19, India returned to space for the first time during 2020 with a PSLV launch of the EOS-1 radar Earth observation satellite from Satish Dhawan Space Center at Sriharikota on November 7, 2020. Liftoff from the First Launch Pad took place at 09:37 UTC during a rainstorm. It was the second flight of a PSLV-DL variant, which uses two PS0M-XL strap-on solid motors.

The 4.5 stage rocket, performing mission number C49, fired its strap-on motors for 1 minute 10 seconds, its S139 first stage solid motor for 1 minute 50 seconds, and its Vikas-powered UDMH/N2O4 fueled second stage for 2 minutes 13 seconds to boost its MMH/MON fueled fourth stage on a coast toward apogee where its twin L-2-5 engines ignited to provide the orbital insertion. The 628 kg EOS-1 satellite separated into a 575 km x 36.9 deg orbit. Nine nanosatellites were also orbited.

Ceres-1 Y1Ceres-1 Inaugural

China's Ceres-1 launch vehicle performed its first launch successfully from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on November 7, 2020, placing a small, 50 kg data transfer satellite named Tianqi 11 into a 500 km x 97.4 deg sun synchronous orbit.

Ceres-1, a 31 tonne, 19 meter tall rocket uses three HTBD solid motors topped by a liquid propellant fourth stage. It is able to lift 230 kg to 700 km sun synchronous orbits, or 350 kg to a 200 km lower inclination orbit. A commercial company, Galactic Energy, developed and launched the rocket. It is likely based in part on existing China missile technology. Its first two stages, for example, share the same 1.4 meter diameter dimension as China's DF-21/25/26 IRBM family.

The first stage GS-1 motor produces 60 tonnes thrust during a 74 second burn. The GS-2 second stage makes 28 tonnes thrust for 70 seconds. The GS-3 third stage produces 8.8 tonnes thrust for 69 seconds. The liquid fourth stage uses low-thrust, pressure-fed engines for insertion burns and can fire for up to 310 seconds. Ceres-1 launched from a simple steel launch stand standing on a flat pad.

Galactic Energy is the fourth commercial Chinese company to make an orbital attempt since the first in 2018. Landspace failed in October 2018, followed by OneSpace in March 2019. The iSpace company became to the first to succeed with its Hyperbola 1 launcher during July 2019.

CZ-6 Y3CZ-6 Launch

China's fourth Chang Zheng 6 (CZ-6) orbited 13 microsatellites from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on November 6, 2020. Liftoff from LC 16 took place at 03:19 UTC. On board were ten 37.5 kg Satellitelogic NuSats for Argentina and three small satellites for China. The three-stage rocket lifted a total payload of at least 500 kg into a 500 km x 97.5 deg sun synchronous orbit.

CZ-6, the first of China's all-new launch vehicle generation, debuted from the same site on September 19, 2015 and flew again on November 21, 2017 and November 13, 2019. A single 122 tonne thrust, staged-combustion cycle YF-100 LOX/kerosene engine powered the routhly 103 tonne, three-stage launch vehicle off of its launch pad. YF-100, China's first big LOX/kerosene engine, also powers the country's larger CZ-5 and CZ-7 launch vehicles. 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 orbit.

CZ-6 is capable of lifting 1,080 kg into a 700 km sun synchronous orbit. It is integrated horizontally in a hangar. A large wheeled transporter/erector carries it to its flat launch pad and erects it shortly before launch.

F9-96 GPS 3-4 SpaceXGPS 3-4

The 100th SpaceX Falcon 9-family launch boosted GPS 3-4 into a 419 x 22,440 km x 55 degree transfer orbit for the U.S. Space Force from Cape Canaveral, Florida on November 5, 2020. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 took place at 23:24 UTC. The liftoff ended a long-delayed campaign that included a static test on September 25 and a last-second aborted launch attempt on October 3. That auto-abort at T-2 seconds resulted from prematurely high pressure buildup in two Merlin 1D first stage engine gas generators.

The October 3 abort forced a fast-paced investigation that found a previously unknown Merlin 1D flaw. The two engines were removed and sent to McGregor, Texas for testing, where the problem was reproduced. Testing discovered that a production process masking lacquer material had blocked a vent hole leading to a relief valve in the engine's gas generators. Two new Merlin 1D engines took their place on the brand-new B1062.1 booster. The flaw was found to affect other boosters built after B1060.

The GPS 3-4 satellite was sent back to Astrotech in Titusville, Florida for battery charging while another Falcon 9 launched from SLC 40. The campaign restarted with a new static test at SLC 40 on October 31 and with return of the satellite to the launch complex on November 1.

Falcon 9 climbed on a northeast track up the Eastern seaboard. Its B1062.1 first stage fired for 2 min 31 sec before flipping 180 degrees to perform entry and landing burns to land on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship floating in the Atlantic Ocean. The second stage fired for 5 min 25 sec to reach a parking orbit. It restarted about 63 min 32 sec after liftoff, firing for 45 seconds to reach its insertion orbit. GPS 3-4 separated about 25 minutes later while the 4,311 kg spacecraft was in view of ground stations in Hawaii and California.

It was the 96th Falcon 9 orbital attempt. One additional Falcon 9 performed a suborbital crew abort test. Three Falcon Heavy launches increase the total to 100.


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