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SPACE LAUNCH REPORT
by
Ed Kyle



Recent Space Launches

10/11/17, 22:53 UTC, Falcon 9 v1.2 with EchoStar 105 from KC 39A to GTO
10/13/17, 09:27 UTC, Rokot Briz KM with Sentinel 5p from PL 133/3 to LEO/S
10/14/17, 08:46 UTC, Soyuz 2-1a with Progress MS-07 from TB 31/6 to LEO/ISS
10/15/17, 07:28 UTC, Atlas 5-421 with NROL 52 from CC 41 to GTO?
10/30/17, 19:34 UTC, Falcon 9 v1.2 with Koreasat 5A from KC 39A to GTO
10/31/17, 21:37 UTC, Minotaur-C with 6xSkySat from VA 576E to LEO/S
11/05/17, 11:45 UTC, CZ-3B/YZ-1 with Beidou 3 1&2 from XC 3 to MEO
11/08/17, 01:42 UTC, Vega with Mohammed 6-A from KO ZLV to LEO/S
11/12/17, 12:19 UTC, Antares with Cygnus OA-8 from WI 0A to LEO/ISS
11/14/17, 18:35 UTC, CZ-4C with Fengyun 3D from TY 9 to LEO/S

Worldwide Space Launch Box Score
as of 11/14/17
All Orbital Launch Attempts(Failures)
2017:  75(5)
2016:  85(3)
2015:  86(5)
2014:  92(4)
Crewed Launch Attempts(Failures)
2017:  3(0)
2016:  5(0)
2015:  4(0)
2014:  4(0)


CZ-4D Y21China Orbits Weather Satellite

A three stage Chang Zheng (Long March) 4C launch vehicle successfully orbited the Fengyun 3D weather satellite and the HEAD 1 maritime traffic data communications minisatellite from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in northern China's Shanxi province on November 14, 2017. Liftoff took place at 18:35 UTC UTC from the second CZ pad (Launch Complex 9) at Taiyuan.

The 2.45 tonne primary satellite and the 45 kg secondary satellite were injected into roughly 792 x 812 km x 98.65 deg sun synchronous, near polar orbits.

Three previous Fengyun 3 launches occurred in 2008, 2010, and 2013.

It was the first CZ-4C launch since the August 31, 2016 Gaofen 10 launch failure and the year's first orbital launch from Taiyuan. The flight was performed by CZ-4C number Y21.

Antares OA-8 (NASA)Antares OA-8

Orbital ATK's Antares launch vehicle successfully orbited the company's Cygnus OA-8 cargo hauling spacecraft from Wallops Island, Virginia on November 12, 2017, one day after the first attempt was scrubbed when an aircraft entered restricted airspace downrange. Liftoff from Pad 0A took place at 12:19:51 UTC. It was the second flight of a Antares 230 variant, the redesigned Antares powered by two Energomash RD-181 engines in place of the AJ-26 engines that powered the first five Antares flights. The change was made after an AJ-26 turbopump failure triggered a destructive Antares launch explosion above Pad 0A in 2014.

Cygnus OA-8 was the fifth enhanced Cygnus with a stretched cargo module, but only the second to fly on Antares. Atlas 5 rockets orbited the other three. OA-8 carried 3,229 kg of cargo for the International Space Station, along with 14 Cubesats that with deployer hardware added another roughly 120 kg. According to Orbital ATK, Cygnus OA-8 weighed 6,173 kg at launch, making it the heaviest payload yet launched by Antares. Cygnus OA-8 was named in honor of former astronaut Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the Moon.

The RD-181 engines produced a total of about 392 tonnes of thrust (864,000 lbf) at liftoff to power the nearly 293 tonne rocket off its pad. The Ukrainian-built first stage, Serial No. 8, burned for about 214 seconds. After first stage shutdown, the second stage, interstage, and payload section separated and coasted "up hill" for about 43 seconds before the Orbital ATK Castor 30XL second stage motor ignited to produce an average of about 51 tonnes of thrust during its 163 second burn. The payload fairing separated 12 seconds before second stage ignition. Interstage separation took place 7 seconds before the Castor 30XL burn. Cygnus separated into a 200 x 330 km x 51.63 deg orbit about 9 min 6 sec after liftoff.

Vega VV11 (Arianespace)Vega Orbits Satellite for Morocco

Europe's Vega launch vehicle orbited an earth observation satellite for Morocco, named after King Mohammed VI of that northwest African country, on November 8, 2017. The four-stage rocket lifted off on Arianespace Mission VV11 from the Vega Launch Complex (ZLV) at 01:42 UTC. The roughly 55.5 minute mission included two AVUM fourth stage burns to insert the 1,110 kg Thales Alenia Space built satellite into roughly 630 km sun synchronous orbit.

Vega's P80 solid motor first stage burned for 1 min 57 seconds. Its Z23 solid motor second stage fired for 1 min 47 sec. After a 12 second coast the Z9 solid motor third stage ignited for its 2 min 31 second burn. The payload fairing separated shortly after the third stage ignited. The liquid AVUM fourth stage began its first burn after a 1.5 minute coast.

AVUM completed its first, 7 min 45 sec burn to reach an initial elliptical orbit about 15 min 48 sec after liftoff. After a coast to apogee, the stage restarted at T+52 min 06 sec for a nearly 1 min 51 sec burn to reach a 450 km x 97 deg orbit. Satellite separation took place 55 min 33 sec after liftoff. AVUM performed a third, deorbit burn beginning at T+1 hour 47 min 44 sec.

It was the third Vega launch of the year.

CZ-3B Nov 5, 2017CZ-3B/YZ-1 Orbits Beidou 3 Pair

China's Chang Zheng 3B (CZ-3B) returned to service with a successful launch of two Beidou 3 navigation satellites (Beidou 3 M1 and M2) from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on November 5, 2017. Liftoff took place at 11:45 UTC. It marked a return to service for CZ-3B after a failed June 18, 2017 attempt to place ChinaSat 9A into geosynchronous transfer orbit. That launch suffered a third stage failure caused by a roll control issue.

This time, the CZ-3B liquid hydrogen fueled third stage successfully fired twice to inject the vehicle into a transfer orbit. A hypergolic propellant Yuanzheng 1 (YZ-1) upper stage then inserted the roughly 1 tonne satellites into their final 21,500 km x 55.26 deg orbits about four hours after liftoff.

It was the first launch of operational Beidou 3 satellites, according to Xinhua. The Beidou 3 series will offer improved navigation accuracy compared to previous Beidou and Beidou 2 constellations. Plans call for 18 Beidou 3 satellites to be orbited by the end of 2018 and more than 30 by 2020.

Minotaur-C Launch (OATK)Taurus, Renamed, Returns

Orbital ATK launched its tenth Taurus rocket, rebranded for the first time with the "Minotaur-C" (Commercial) moniker, hauling ten commercial earth observation satellites into orbit from Vandenberg AFB on October 31, 2017. The name change heralded the adoption of Minotaur avionics for flight guidance and control. It was the first Taurus launch since the last failed to orbit NASA's Glory satellite more than 6.5 years ago, on March 4, 2011, and the first to succeed since 2004, after failures in 2009 and 2011.

The Minotaur-C 3210 variant, with a Castor 120 "Zero Stage" topped by three Pegasus XL stages and a 92 inch diameter payload fairing, lifted off from Vandenberg AFB SLC 576 East at 21:37 UTC. Aboard were ten Planet mutispectral earth imaging spacecraft, including six 110 kg SkySat and four 4.08 kg Dove satellites.

Stage Zero provided 163 tonnes of liftoff thrust to boost the 77 tonne, 32 meter tall solid-propellant rocket off of its launch pedestal. After 85.5 seconds, the stage burned out at 49 km altitude and 1,824 m/s velocity.

Stage 1, an Orion 50SXLT motor, then fired for 78.5 seconds to accelerate the vehicle to 4,267 m/s and 144.7 km altitude. After a roughly seven-second coast, the Orion 50XL "Stage 2" motor started to perform a 77.8 second burn, pushing Minotaur-C to 6,667 m/s velocity and 314.9 km altitude, now some 1,165 km downrange. Payload fairing separation took place about 6.5 seconds after "Stage 2" ignition.

After "Stage 2" burnout, the vehicle coasted toward apogee for about 5 min 5 sec, with the reaction control system in the 63 inch diameter avionics skirt providing 3-axis control. "Stage 2" separated about 1 min 4 sec into the coast. The Orion 38 "Stage 3" began its 71 second burn about 9 min 16 sec after liftoff to insert the stage and payload stack into a roughly 507 km sun synchronous orbit.

Satellite separation began at T+13 min 22 sec and ended at about T+19 min 44 sec, with the larger SkySats seperating first. After the first four SkySats separated from atop the Dual Payload Adapter Fairing (DPAF), a bulkhead atop DPAF jettisonned to allow two SkySats inside the DPAF to separate. The four Dove satellites then separated from canisters mounted on the sides of the DPAF.

Failure of the clamshell payload fairing to separate was the cause of both of the previous consecutive failures. In both cases, the payload fairing's extra mass caused the rocket's fourth stage and payload to fall short of orbital velocity. The 2009 failure destroyed NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory. After the 2009 failure, Orbital spent two years re-designing the payload fairing separation system, replacing a hot-gas pressurization system with a cold gas system, to no avail. Subsequent investigation found that a supplier may have provided metallurgically substandard parts for the separation system.

Taurus first flew in 1994. Its first five launches were successful, but the sixth, in 2001, failed when a second stage thrust vector control actuator briefly stuck. NASA lost its QuickTOMS satellite in that mishap, which also destroyed Orbview-4. The seventh Taurus launch, in 2004, successfully orbited Taiwan's ROCSAT-2. Five years passed without a Taurus flight before the T8 failure in 2009.

F9-45 Koreasat 5A Launch (SpaceX)Falcon 9 Launches Koreasat 5A

SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.2 F9-45, using new first stage B1042, launched Koreasat 5A into geostationary transfer orbit from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 Pad A on October 30, 2017. Liftoff took place at 3:34 p.m. EDT (19:34 GMT).

After firing for about 2 min 33 sec to boost the launch vehicle downrange, B1032 separated, turned 180 degrees, and restarted three of its engines about 6.5 minutes after launch for a reentry burn.  The stage performed a 30 second single-engine landing burn to land on the downrange floating platform "Of Course I Still Love You" about 8.5 minutes after liftoff. After the landing, the aft end of the stage was seen engulfed in flames when SpaceX initially cut away from the video feed. A later view showed that the fire had subsequently been extinguished.

Falcon 9's Merlin 1D Vacuum powered second stage performed two burns to boost the 3.7 tonne Thales Alenia Spacebus 4000B2 commuincations satellite into a 285 x 50,185 km x 22.0 deg geosynchronous (supersynchronous) transfer orbit. Koreasat 5A will fire its own thrusters to gradually raise itself into a 35,900 km geostationary orbit positioned at 113 deg East. The satellite will serve Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Guam, Indochina, and South Asia with its 36 Ku-band transponders powered by two solar arrays generating up to 7 kW of power.

The rocket stages were test fired at McGregor, Texas during mid to late September. The first stage was hot-fired for 3.5 seconds at LC 39A on October 26, with the second stage, but no payload, stacked atop the vehicle. The payload, already encapsulated within its fairing, was the added to the top of the Falcon 9 inside the HIF. The rocket rolled to the pad and was erected one day before launch.

SpaceX crews had to scramble to return OCISLY to sea after equipment on board the vessel was damaged by a fire that started on board after the SES-11 first stage landing on October 11.

It was the 19th successful Falcon 9 first stage landing and the 24th landing attempt. Four of the successful landings have been on "Just Read the Instructions" off California, seven at Cape Canaveral LZ 1, and eight on the drone ship "Of Course I Still Love You" off Florida. Sixteen first stages have now been recovered, three having flown twice. All of the recovered stages have been v1.2 types.

AV075 (ULA)Atlas 5 Launches NROL 52

AV-075, Atlas 5-421 with two strap-on solid rocket motors and a four meter diameter extra extended payload fairing, launched NROL 52 for the National Reconnaissance Office from Cape Canaveral, Florida on October 15, 2017. Liftoff on nearly 735 tonnes of thrust took place at 07:28 UTC from Space Launch Complex 41. It was the fifth launch attempt after four scrubs during the previous week. Three were caused by bad weather. One scrub on October 7 was caused by a failed S-band telemetry transmitter, which forced a rollback to the SLC 41 Vertical Integration Facility for repair. It was the most scrubs in the 15-year history of the Atlas 5 program.

NROL 52 was likely deployed into geosynchronous transfer orbit during a mission that was similar to NROL 61 in 2016. While the satellite's mission is classified, some analysts believe that NROL 61 and NROL 52 are new generation data relay satellites designed to transfer the massive volumes of data collected by digital imaging spy satellites that reside in low earth orbit from space to ground stations. Previous satellites of this type, which have flown since the mid-1970s, have been identified as Satellite Data System (SDS) and Quasar, operating in both Molniya and geosynchronous orbits.


Progress MS-07 (RSC Energia)Progress MS-07 Launch

Russia's Soyuz 2-1a launched the Progress MS-07 International Space Station cargo hauling mission from Baikonur Cosmodrome on October 14, 2017, two days after a rare last-minute R-7 launch abort. Liftoff from Site 31 Pad 6 took place at 08:46:53 UTC. The 7,428 kg spacecraft carried around 2,697 kg of cargo into an initial low earth orbit inclined 51.67 deg to the equator orbit. The cargo included 1,350 kg dry pressurized materials, 880 kg of propellant for transfer to ISS, 420 kg of water, and 47 kg of oxygen and air.

The October 12 abort prevented use of a planned express ascent to ISS that would have resulted in a docking only 3.5 hours after liftoff. The two-day delay meant that the station's orbital track was no longer aligned for the express trip, requiring use of a standard two-day ascent.

It was the 11th R-7 launch of the year.

Rokot Sentinel 5p (ESA)Rokot Orbits Sentinel 5p

Russia's Rokot/Briz KM launched the European Space Agency’s Sentinel 5 Precursor satellite into sun synchronous orbit from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on October 13, 2017. The 820 kg atmospheric monitoring satellite is a gap-filler that will fill-in for the lost Envisat satellite until a new generation of satellites enters service in several years. Liftoff from Site 133 Pad 3 took place at 09:27 UTC.

Rokot's RD-0233 first stage engine ignited to drive the UDMH/N2O4 fueled, ICBM-based rocket out of its Transport and Launch Container, upward on a rapid ascent into low clouds, and into a pitch toward a northwest heading. The first stage fired for two minutes, then the second stage, powered by a fixed RD-0253 main engine with four RD-0236 verniers, ignited to perform a roughly three minute burn. The payload fairing separated about one minute into the second stage burn. The Briz KM stage then ignited its S5.92 engine to accelerate the payload into an elliptical parking orbit.

After a long coast to apogee, Briz KM re-ignited to circularize the roughly 824 km x 98.7 deg orbit. Spacecraft separation occurred about 1 hour 19 minutes after liftoff.

It was the 27th Rokot/Briz KM launch. The type entered service in 2000, but Rokot is set to be retired soon in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and the war that followed. Ukrainian companies supply avionics for the former Soviet UR-100 missile that comprises the first two Rokot stages.

F9-43 with EchoStar 105/SES 11Falcon 9 Reflies First Stage, Orbits EchoStar 105/SES 11

SpaceX launched its third previously-flown Falcon 9 first stage on October 11, 2017. The stage, B1031.2, boosted the F9-43 mission that lofted the EchoStar 105/SES-11 communications satellite to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 Pad A. B1031 had previously flown during the F9-32 CRS-10 mission from LC 39A on February 19, 2017, when it returned to land at Cape Canaveral Landing Zone 1. After a 22:53 UTC liftoff for EchoStar 105/SES-11, B1031.2 landed this time on the downrange floating platform "Of Course I Still Love You" after performing reentry and landing burns.

The first stage performed a 2 min 35 sec ascent burn before the Falcon 9 second stage fired its Merlin 1D Vacuum engine for 5 min 58 sec to reach a parking orbit. After an 18 min 21 sec coast to the equator above the west African coast, the stage restarted for 59 seconds to accelerate the satellite toward a planned geosynchronous transfer orbit. Spacecraft seperation took place 36 min 7 sec after liftoff.

EchoStar 105/SES-11, a 5,200 kg Airbus Eurostar E3000 satellite, will serve both US-based EchoStar and Luxembourg-based SES. The satellite provides 24 Ku-band transponders for EchoStar and 24 C-band transponders for SES. After raising itself to geostationary orbit, EchoStar 105/SES-11 will serve the Americas from its 105 degrees West orbital slot.

After its first flight, the B1031 stage was examined and refurbished at Cape Canaveral and/or LC 39A. It did not go to McGregor, Texas for a test firing. Instead, it was briefly static test fired with the assembled F9-43 second stage, sans payload, on October 2. A problem in the first stage propulsion section discovered after the test firing forced a launch delay from October 7 to 11.  This caused F9-43 to launch after F9-44, which flew from California on October 9 as originally planned.

It was the 18th successful Falcon 9 first stage landing. Four have been on "Just Read the Instructions" off California, seven at Cape Canaveral LZ 1, and seven on drone ship "Of Course I Still Love You" off Florida. Fifteen first stages have now been recovered, three having flown twice. All of the recovered stages have been v1.2 types.

H-2A F36 (JAXA)H-2A Launches Navsat for Japan

H-2A F36 successfully launched the 4 tonne Michibiki 4 navigation satellite for Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency from Tanegashimi Yoshinobu Launch Complex 1 on October 9, 2017. Liftoff took place at 22:01:37 UTC. F36 flew in the "202" configuration with two strap on "SRB-A" monolithic solid motors and two liquid hydrogen/oxygen core stages. The rocket's second stage performed two burns to inject Michibiki 4 into a geosynchronous transfer orbit.

Michibiki will raise itself into 32,600 x 39,000 x 41 deg "quasi zenith" geosynchronous orbit that will trace a north-south "Figure 8" across the Earth's surface at Japan's longitude. From this orbit, the roughly 4 tonne satellite will be able to augment existing GPS signals, allowing better coverage in urban areas with tall buildings.

It was the fifth H-2A launch of the year, more orbital launches in a calendar year than by any previous Japan launcher.

 F9-44, IridiumNEXT 3 (SpaceX)Falcon 9 Launches IridiumNEXT 3

SpaceX Corporation's Falcon 9 performed its third launch for IridiumNEXT on October 9, 2017 when F9-44 boosted ten IridiumNEXT satellites from Vandenberg AFB in California. The v1.2 variant, using new first stage number B1041, lifted off from Space Launch Complex 4 East at 12:37 UTC to begin an hour-long mission that inserted the 860 kg, Thales Alenia Space-built satellites into roughly 625 km x 86.6 deg orbits. The satellites will raise themselves into 780 km operational orbits.

After a roughly 43 minute parking orbit coast, the Falcon 9 second stage restarted for a brief second, circularization burn at first apogee about 52 minutes 2 seconds after liftoff to complete the powered phase of the flight. Spacecraft separation began at about the 57 minute 6 second mark, with each satellite separating individually separated by about 1.5 minutes.

The first stage performed 3-engine boostback, 3-engine reentry, and single-engine landing burns before landing on the converted barge "drone ship" “Just Read the Instructions”. It was the 17th successful first stage landing. Four have been on JRTI off California, seven at Cape Canaveral LZ 1, and six on drone ship "Of Course I Still Love You" off Florida. Fifteen first stages have now been recovered, two having flown twice. All of the recovered stages have been v1.2 types.

The launch was the third of seven planned IridiumNext Falcon 9 flights that will replace the company's orbiting "Little LEO" communication satellite constellation.

The F9-44 first and second stages were test fired at the company's McGregor, Texas test site during late August or early September, 2017. The first stage was briefly hot fired at SLC 4E on October 5, 2017 with the second stage, but no payload, attached to the top of the rocket.

F9-44 was the 22nd Falcon 9 v1.2 to fly, not including the AMOS 6 launch vehicle destroyed during a pre-launch static test countdown in 2016.

CZ-2D VRSS 2 LaunchChina Launches Satellite for Venezuela

China's 33rd CZ-2D launched the second Venezuelan Remote Sensing Satellite, or VRSS 2, from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China's Gansu province on October 9, 2017. The two-stage hypergolic fueled rocket lifted off from the 603 pad at launch site 43 at 04:13 UTC and aimed its payload toward a roughly 620 x 650 km x 98 deg orbit a little more than 11 minutes later.  VRSS 2 will maneuver itself into a 645 km sun synchronous orbit.

The 942 kg satellite was built by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) for Venezuela's government to map territory, study crops and natural resources, and to provide data for Venezuela's military. Another CZ-2D orbited VRSS 1 in 2012.

It was CZ-2D's first flight since a December 28, 2016 launch from Taiyuan placed two SuperView 1 satellites in low orbits after the first stage suffered a problem that caused it to burn about seven seconds longer than planned.

VA-239 (Arianespace)Ariane 5 Launch

After suffering a last-second launch abort on September 5, Ariane 5 ECA vehicle number L5100 successfully boosted two communication satellites to geosynchronous transfer orbit on its second try from Kourou on September 29, 2017. Arianespace Mission VA239 began with a 21:56 UTC liftoff from from ELA-3. After a single long burn by the ESC-A second stage, 6,438 kg Intelsat 37e separated at T+29 minutes, followed by 3,520 kg BSAT 4a, which rode up inside the rocket's Sylda 5 adapter, at T+47 minutes.

Investigation found that the September 5 launch abort had been caused by an electrical issue in one of the two solid-propellant boosters (EAP) that forced an automatic cut off of the launch sequence after the core stage Vulcain 2 engine had ignited. Ariane 5 had to be rolled back to its assembly building in order to replace the failed component.

Intelsat 37e is a Boeing 702MP satellite with Ku, Ka, and S-band transponders. It will provide high-data-rate communications services to the Americas, Africa, and Europe from its geostationary position at 342 deg East.

GSAT 17 is a Space Systems/Loral 1300-series satellites. It will provide Direct-to-Home television service in Japan using its 24 Ku-band transponders from geostationary orbit at 110 deg East.

At 9,958 kg revenue payload, VA-239 carried the second-heaviest GTO payload yet by an Ariane 5, trailing VA-237 by 11 kg.

It was the year's fifth Ariane 5 launch, and the 64th Ariane 5 ECA flight since the type began flying in 2002.

CZ-2C September 29, 2017CZ-2C Launch


China performed its first orbital launch in nearly three months on September 29, 2017 when its Chang Zheng 2C rose from Xichang Satellite Launch Center's LC 3 with a satellite triplet named Yaogan-30 Group 1.  Liftoff took place at 04:21 UTC.  The "electromagnetic detection" satellites were inserted into 592 x 601 km x 35 deg orbits.
 
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 first CZ-2C orbital launch since 2014, and the first CZ-2C to fly from Xichang since 2004.


Proton 416 (Roskosmos)Proton Launches AsiaSat 9


Russia's Proton M/Briz M launched the AsiaSat 9 communications satellite from Baikonur Cosmodrome on September 28, 2017. The 416th Proton rocket, a "Phase 4" Proton M variant, lifted off from Baikonur's Area 200 Pad 39 at 18:52 UTC to begin a planned 9 hr 13 min ascent phase that included five burns by the Briz M upper stage. The 6,140 kg Space Systems/Loral-built SSL 1300 series satellite was aimed toward a planned 4,050 x 35,786 km x 23.4 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit.

AsiaSat 9 will be stationed at 122 deg East, after it raises itself to geostationary orbit, to serve the Asia-Pacific region using 28 C-band and 32 Ku-band transponders, and a regional Ka-band payload.

It was the year's fourth Proton launch and the 96th flown for International Launch Services.  It was also the year's 60th known orbital launch attempt, world-wide.

AV-072 (ULA)Atlas 5 Launches NROL-42

The second Atlas 541 to fly from Vandenberg AFB, a variant that uses four solid rocket motors and a five meter diameter payload fairing, launched the classified National Reconnaissance Office NROL-42 mission on September 24, 2017. The 522 tonne rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 3 East at 05:49 UTC and quickly flew into a news blackout. Atlas 541 is the most powerful Atlas variant to yet fly from the California base.

Analysts expected the launch to orbit a payload bound for an elliptical 12-hour Molniya type orbit. Potential payloads included communications or signals intelligence satellites (SIGINTs). The flight followed a profile similar to the Atlas 541 NROL-35 launch in December, 2014, which went to a 2,101 x 37,748 km x 62.85 Molniya orbit. The use of Atlas 541 for these missions suggest that the satellites are likely heavier than any previously launched by the U.S. to a Molniya orbit. A previous launch of a "Trumpet"-type SIGINT to 1,120 x 37,600 km x 63.56 deg Molniya orbit used a less-capable Atlas 5-411 with only one strap-on solid motor.

AV-072 was the fifth Atlas 5 launch of the year and the second from SLC 3E.  It was the first Atlas of the year fitted with solid motors.  It was the 73rd Atlas 5 flight and the 63rd consecutive Atlas 5 launch vehicle success.

Glonass M 52 LaunchSoyuz Orbits Glonass Navsat

Russia's Soyuz 2-1B/Fregat launched GLONASS-M (Uragan-M) No.52, a navigation satellite, from Plesetsk Cosmodrome Site 43/4 on September 22, 2017. Liftoff took place at 00:02 UTC.  The satellite was named Kosmos 2522 after reaching orbit.

After the Soyuz rocket boosted Fregat and its payload into low earth orbit, the Fregat upper stage performed three burns to lift the 1.415 tonne satellite into a roughly 19,140 km x 64.8 deg orbit. Spacecraft separation occurred about 3.5 hours after liftoff.

It was the 10th R-7 launch of 2017.


Soyuz MS-06 (NASA TV)Soyuz Launches ISS Crew

Russia's Soyuz FG orbited Russia's Soyuz MS-06 spacecraft from Baikonur, Kazakhstan with three International Space Station crew on September 12, 2017. It was the year's third crewed launch. Liftoff from Baikonur Cosmodrome Area 1 Pad 5 took place at 21:17 UTC. The spacecraft entered a roughly 197 x 255 km x 51.67 deg initial orbit. Onboard were Russia's Alexander Misurkin and NASA's Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba, comprising the Expedition 53/54 crew.

Soyuz MS-06 aimed for a 6 hour, four orbit fast-track ascent to ISS. The MS-06 crew will join Randy Bresnik, Sergey Ryazanskiy, and Paolo Nespoli at the station.

It was the ninth R-7 flight of 2017.

Proton 415 (ILS)Proton Launches Amazonas 5

Russia's Proton M/Briz M launched the Amazonas 5 communications satellite from Baikonur Cosmodrome on September 11, 2017. The 415th Proton rocket, a "Phase 3" Proton M variant, serial number 93565, lifted off from Baikonur's Area 200 Pad 39 at 19:23 UTC to begin a planned 9 hr 12 min ascent phase that included five burns by the Briz M upper stage. The 5,900 kg Space Systems/Loral-built SSL 1300 series satellite was aimed toward a planned 4,450 x 35,286 km x 22.9 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit.

Amazonas 5, built for HISPASAT Group, is equipped by 24 Ku-band transponders and a Ka-band spot beam with spot beams. It will provide fixed and broadband services in South America, Central America and Mexico. The satellite will be positioned at 61 deg West after it raises itself to geostationary orbit.

It was the year's third Proton launch.  It was also the 95th Proton flown for International Launch Services.

F9-42 with OTV-5 (SpaceX)Falcon 9 Launches X-37B

Falcon 9-42, the second v1.2 variant to fly with a "Block 4" first stage, launched the fifth U.S. Air Force X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) mission into orbit from Kennedy Space Center LC 39A on September 7, 2017. Liftoff took place at 14:00 UTC. X-37B entered a low earth orbit likely inclined 40 to 45 deg to the equator after a single burn by the second stage Merlin Vacuum engine.

This was the first X-37B launch by Falcon 9. Atlas 5 performed the first four launches, which are believed to have used two different X-37B spacecraft. The winged robot mini-shuttle, which carries classified payload in its small payload bay, is believed to weigh about 5 metric tons at launch.

First stage B1040 performed a 2 min 23 sec ascent burn before separating from the second stage, turning 180 deg, and restarting three engines for a roughly 34 second boost-back burn that pushed it back towards Florida even as it continued to gain altitude. The stage performed a roughly 20 second three-engine reentry burn starting at about T+6 min 34 sec and a final single-engine landing burn that began about 30 seconds before it settled onto the circular pad at Cape Canaveral Landing Zone 1.  Landing took place about 8 min 14 sec after liftoff.

It was the 16th successful first stage landing and the 7th landing at LZ 1. Fourteen first stages have now been recovered, two having flown twice. All of the recovered stages have been v1.2 types.

The second stage was expected to perform a deorbit burn after payload separation, possibly after performing an extended coast mission.  Its post-reentry remains were to be aimed toward a zone far south of Australia.

The F9-42 stages were test fired at McGregor, Texas during late July or early August, 2017. The first stage engines performed a brief static test at LC 39A on August 31, 2017 before OTV-5 was stacked atop the rocket.

PSLV-C39, ISROPSLV Fails

India's most-reliable launch vehicle, PSLV, suffered its first launch failure since 1997 during an attempt to orbit IRNSS 1H, the country's eighth-planned navigation satellite, from Sriharikota on August 31, 2017. The 4.5-stage PSLV-XL variant, flying the C-39 mission, lifted off from Satish Dhawan Space Center's Second Launch Pad at 13:30 UTC. All of the propulsion elements appeared to work as expected, but the payload fairing failed to separate as planned about 3 minutes 23 seconds after liftoff. The extra mass caused the fourth stage and its still-encapsulated payload to fall short, only reaching a 167 x 6,555 km x 19.18 deg orbit, far short of the planned 675 x 20,650 km x 19.2 deg transfer orbit.

Plans had called for the 1,425 kg satellite to raise itself from the planned subsynchronous transfer orbit to a geosynchronous orbit with a 29 deg inclination, tracing a small figure-8 pattern over the Earth's surface, centered on 55 deg East longitude.

India's first generation navigation constellation consists of four satellites in inclined geosynchronous orbit and three in equatorial geostationary orbits.

It was the 41st PSLV flight and the 18th by a PSLV-XL variant. The failure ended a string of 36 consecutive successes for the PSLV family. No PSLV-XL failures had previously occurred. PSLV began flying in 1993.

Minotaur 4 Launches ORS-5 (OATK)Minotaur 4 Cape Inaugural

Orbital ATK's Minotaur 4 performed its first launch from Cape Canaveral on August 26, 2017 when it boosted the ORS-5 (Operationally Responsive Space) satellite into equatorial low earth orbit. The 87 tonne rocket lifted off from SLC 46 at 06:04 UTC, rising rapidly on 209 tonnes of thrust from the SR-118 first stage motor.

An Orion 38 fifth stage was added to the standard four-stage Minotaur 4 to perform the unusual ascent. ORS-5 only weighed 140 kg, but the fifth stage was needed to perform the largest-ever low earth orbit plane change maneuver to insert the satellite into a 600 km x 0.0 deg orbit.

Minotaur 4 uses surplus Peacekeeper ICBM motors for its first three stages. An Orion 38 motor serves as the fourth stage. On this flight the first stage fired for 0.94 minutes and the second stage for 0.96 minutes before begininng a 0.18 minute coast. The third stage then separated from the second stage and performed a 1.21 minute burn. The stack coasted until the third stage separated at T+13.74 minutes. The fourth stage ignited 0.18 minutes later to begin its 1.11 minute burn to reach orbital velocity, entering a roughly 400 x 600 km x 24.6 deg transfer orbit.  After a coast to the equator, during which three small cubesats deployed, the fifth stage began its 1.15 minute burn at T+25.31 minutes to raise perigee to about 600 km and to reduce inclination to 0 deg.

MIT/Lincoln Labs led the effort to develop ORS-5, which will stare up at the geosynchronous orbit belt to provide an operational demonstration of situational awareness about the movement of satellites operating in the belt.

It was the fourth orbital launch mission by a Minotaur 4, the sixth Minotaur 4 launch, and the seventh launch of a Minotaur 4 or 5. Minotaur 5 uses a Star 48V, rather than an Orion 38, fourth stage motor. Cape Canaveral became the fourth launch range to see a Minotaur 4 or 5. Previous launches took place from Vandenberg AFB, Kodiak, and Wallops Island. It was the first launch from SLC 46 since a Lockheed Martin Athena lifted off in 1999.

Orbital ATK conducts Minotaur 4 launches under the U.S. Air Force's Orbital/Suborbital-2 contract.

F9-40 (SpaceX)Falcon 9 Orbits Formosat 5

Falcon 9 F9-40, a v1.2 variant with a "Block 3" first stage, orbited Formosat 5, an Earth observation satellite for Taiwan’s National Space Organization (NSPO), from Vandenberg AFB on August 24, 2017. First stage number B1038 boosted the rocket from Space Launch Complex 4 East at 18:51 UTC to begin an 11 minute 18 second mission that inserted the 475 kg satellite directly into a roughly 720 km x 98.28 deg sun synchronous orbit.

The first stage fired for 2 minutes 28 seconds. Stage 2 performed a single 6 minute 38 second burn. After staging, the first stage performed a 39 second long 3-engine reentry burn and a 33 second single-engine landing burn before landing on the converted barge "drone ship" “Just Read the Instructions” about 10 minutes 47 seconds after liftoff. The second stage performed a deorbit burn after spacecraft separation.

Formosat 5 carries a primary optical imager and a secondary ionospheric sensor.

It was the 15th successful Falcon 9 first stage landing. Thirteen first stages have now been recovered, two having flown twice. It was the 40th Falcon 9 launch, a number that does not include the AMOS 6 launch vehicle destroyed during a propellant loading test on September 1, 2016.

The first and second stages were test fired at the company's McGregor, Texas test site during late June or early July. The first stage was briefly hot fired at SLC 4E on August 19, 2017 with the second stage, but no payload, attached to the top of the rocket.

H-2A F35 (JAXA)H-2A Launches Navsat for Japan

H-2A F35 successfully launched the 4.7 tonne Michibiki 3 navigation satellite for Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency from Tanegashimi Yoshinobu Launch Complex 1 on August 19, 2017. Liftoff took place at 05:30 UTC. F35 flew in the "204" configuration with four strap on "SRB-A" monolithic solid motors and two liquid hydrogen/oxygen core stages. After a 115 second SRB phase that augmented a 398 second first stage burn, the rocket's second stage performed two burns, of 271 seconds and 250 seconds duration with a 736 second coast between, to inject Michibiki 3 into a geostationary transfer orbit.

Michibiki 3 will raise itself into geosynchronous orbit, augmenting two previous satellites that trace north-south "Figure 8" patterns across the Earth's surface at Japan's longitude.

The launch, which came after a one week delay caused by a problem during propellant loading during the initial launch attempt, was the fourth H-2A launch of the year.

AV-074 (ULA)Atlas Orbits TDRS-M

AV-074, an Atlas 5 two-stage 401 model, successfully orbited NASA's TDRS-M (Tracking and Data Relay Satellite) from Cape Caneveral on August 18, 2017. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41 took place at 12:29 UTC. TDRS-M, a Boeing Space System 601 model that weighed 3.454 tonnes, was aimed toward a 4,640 x 35,787 km x 26.2 deg high perigee geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO). Spacecraft separation took place 1 hour 53 minutes 46 seconds after liftoff.

The RD-180 powered first stage burned for 4 minutes 2 seconds. This was followed by a 13 minute 39 second long Centaur second stage burn that boosted the vehicle into a 183 x 25,672 km x 27 deg parking orbit. After a 1 hour, 30 minute 6 second coast across the equatorial Atlantic, southern Africa, and part of the Indian Ocean, Centaur reignited for a 57 second burn to accelerate TDRS-M into its final orbit.

TDRS-M's arrival at the launch pad was delayed by a few weeks after one of its antennas was damaged on July 14 during processing at Astrotech, the same day that the Centaur stage was stacked atop the first stage at SLC 41.  The launch vehicle ended up standing on its launch platform for more than a month before liftoff.

The launch was the world's 50th known orbital attempt of 2017.  It was also  the fourth Atlas 5 launch of the year, the 62nd consecutive Atlas 5 success, and the 71st success in 72 flights to date.

Proton Launches BlagovestProton Orbits Blagovest (8/21/17 Update)

A Proton M Briz M launched Russia's first Blagovest military communications satellite from Baikonur Cosmodrome on August 16, 2017. The liftoff from Site 81 Pad 24 took place at 22:07 UTC, with no live TV coverage provided.  The Briz M upper stage performed a series of burns (most likely four burns) to insert the satellite into near-geosynchronous orbit.   Upon reaching orbit the satellite was named Kosmos 2520. 

Blagovest ("good news") is an Ekspress-2000 series satellite built by ISS Reshetnev in Zheleznogorsk, Russia, for Russia's Ministry of Defense. It carries Ka and C-band transponders. Europe's Thales Alenia provided attitude control system sensors and communications payload elements. Blagovest 11L is the first of four planned in the series.


Falcon 9 Launches CRS-12


Falcon 9-41, the first v1.2 variant to fly with a "Block 4" first stage, launched Dragon CRS-12 into orbit from Kennedy Space Center LC 39A on August 14, 2017. Liftoff took place at 16:31 UTC. Cargo-hauling Dragon entered a low earth orbit inclined 51.6 deg to the equator after a single 6 min 58 sec burn by the second stage Merlin Vacuum engine. spacecraft separation took place at T+10 min 20 sec.

This 14th Dragon flight used Dragon spacecraft C113, the 13th and final new Dragon spacecraft capsule planned to be manufactured by SpaceX.  Future missions will use refurbished recovered capsules.

Dragon carried 2,910 kg of cargo and packing, including 1,258 kg in its unpressurized trunk. Dragon's total liftoff weight including cargo was likely about 8,400 kg.

First stage B1039 performed a 2 min 25 sec ascent burn before separating from the second stage, turning 180 deg, and restarting three engines for a roughly 55 second boost-back burn that pushed it back towards Florida even as it continued to gain altitude. The stage performed a roughly 14 second three-engine reentry burn starting at about T+6 min 8 sec and a final single-engine landing burn that began about 28 econds before it settled onto the circular pad at Cape Canaveral Landing Zone 1.  Landing took place about 7 min 43 sec after liftoff. 

B1039.1 LandingB1039.1 Landing

It was the 14th successful first stage landing and the 6th landing at LZ 1.   Twelve first stages have now been recovered, two having flown twice.  All of the recovered stages have been v1.2 types.  CRS-12 was the 19th Falcon 9 v1.2 launch and the 20th v1.2 to stand on a launch pad, a tally that includes the AMOS 6 launch vehicle destroyed during propellant loading for a pre-launch static test firing on September 1, 2016. 

The second stage performed a deorbit burn after Dragon separated. Its post-reentry remains were aimed toward a zone south and west of Australia.

The F9-41 stages were test fired at McGregor, Texas during July, 2017. The first stage engines performed a brief static test at LC 39A on August 10, 2017 before Dragon was stacked atop the rocket.



 

vv10.jpg (19244 bytes)Vega Orbits Earth Observation Satellites

Europe's Vega launch vehicle orbited Optsat 3000 and Venus, two Israeli-built earth observation satellites, from Kourou on August 2, 2017. The four-stage rocket lifted off on Arianespace Mission VV10 from the Vega Launch Complex (ZLV) at 01:58 UTC on a more than 97-minute mission that employed five burns by the AVUM fourth stage to deploy the two satellites into different orbits.

AVUM completed its first, 6 min 17 sec burn to reach an initial elliptical orbit about 14 min 9 sec after liftoff. After a coast to apogee, the stage restarted at T+40 min 37 sec for a nearly 1.5 minute burn to reach a 450 km x 97 deg orbit, where the 368 kg Optsat 3000 satellite separated. AVUM then performed two more burns during the next hour to reach a 720 km x 98 deg orbit, where 264 kg Venus separated. AVUM performed a fifth, deorbit burn beginning at T+1 hour 47 min 19 sec.

Vega's P80 solid motor first stage burned for 1 min 57 seconds. Its Z23 solid motor second stage ignited one second later and burned until the 3 min 40 sec mark. After a 23 second coast the Z9 solid motor third stage ignited for its 2 min 39 second burn. The payload fairing separated shortly after the third stage ignited. After a 1 min 10 sec coast, the liquid AVUM fourth stage began its first burn.

Optsat 3000 is a military optical survelliance satellite for the Itialian Ministry of Defense. Venus, a multi-spectral earth observation satellite, is an Israeli/French collaboration.


soyms05.jpg (10363 bytes)Soyuz Launches ISS Crew

A 2.5 stage Soyuz FG rocket orbited Russia's Soyuz MS-05 spacecraft from Baikonur, Kazakhstan with three International Space Station crew on July 28, 2017. It was the year's second crewed launch. Liftoff from Baikonur Cosmodrome Area 1 Pad 5 took place at 15:41 UTC. The spacecraft entered a roughly 200 km x 51.6 deg initial orbit. Onboard the upgraded spacecraft were Russia's Sergey Ryazanskiy, NASA's Randy Bresnik and ESA's Paolo Nespoli, comprising the Expedition 52/53 crew.

Soyuz MS-05 aimed for a 6 hour, four orbit fast-track ascent to ISS. Ryazanskiy, Bresnik, and Nespoli will join Russia's Fyodor Yurchikhin and NASA's Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson, the longest-space time NASA astronaut, at the station.

It was the eighth R-7 flight of 2017.  It was also the 50th 2.5-stage Soyuz FG launch since the type premiered in 2001.  None have failed.  This 50th consecutive success pushes Soyuz FG incrementally past Delta 2 to the top of the Space Launch Report Launch Vehicle Reliability table.


soy071417.jpg (17869 bytes)Soyuz 2-1a/Fregat Launch

A Soyuz 2-1a/Fregat lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 14, 2017 with Russia's 500+ kg Kanopus V-IK Earth observation satellite and 72 smaller satellites bound for a variety of sun synchronous orbits. Liftoff from Baikonur's Area 31 Pad 6 took place at 06:36 UTC. Fregat fired twice to place Kanopus V-IK into a roughly 479 x 523 km x 97.44 deg orbit during the first hour of the mission.

After two more Fregat burns to reach a 595 x 523 km x 97.44 deg orbit, 24 small satellites were released around 2.5 hours after liftoff. Two more Fregat burns then moved the stage to a roughly 460 x 480 km x 97 deg orbit, where 48 small satellites deployed beginning about 7.6 hours after launch. A seventh and final, deorbit burn took place about 8.25 hours after liftoff.

It was the year's 45th orbital launch attempt, worldwide.


f9-39.jpg (4322 bytes)Falcon 9 Orbits Intelsat 35e (Updated 07/07/17)

The year's tenth Falcon 9 boosted Intelsat 35e to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39 Pad A on July 5, 2017.  Liftoff took place at 23:37 UTC.  The Merlin 1D Vacuum-powered second stage performed two burns to loft the 6.761 tonne communications satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit. It was by far the heaviest GTO payload yet for Falcon 9, a payload requiring use of the third fully-expendable Falcon 9 v1.2 variant, with no landing legs, grid fins, or other recoverable hardware on the first stage.

The first stage fired for about 164 seconds. The second stage then burned for about 346 seconds before beginning a roughly 1,000 second parking orbit coast to the equator. The stage completed its second, 57 second burn at the 27 min 20 sec mark. 

Spacecraft separation took place about 32 minutes after liftoff. F9-39 aimed toward a GTO with a perigee of about 250 km, an apogee of at least 31,230 km, and a 26 deg inclination. A minimum residual shutdown of the second stage was planned, which under best-case conditions could result in an apogee exceeding 35,500 km.  Shortly after the flight, Elon Musk of SpaceX tweeted that a 43,000 km apogee had been achieved.  Tracking data released a day later showed Intelsat 35e in a 296 x 42,742 km x 25.85 deg orbit.

The second stage was an improved "Block 4" type while the first stage appeared to be a standard "Block 3" variant. Cryogenic propellant loading began only 35 minutes before liftoff, a procedure implemented during the past few launches that is designed to minimize propellant temperatures for improved performance.

Boeing Network & Space Systems built the BSS-702MP satellite, which uses C and Ku-band transponders to provide communications services to the Caribbean, Europe to Africa, and Africa.

F9-39 used first stage number B1037. It and its second stage partner were test fired at McGregor, Texas during late May or early June, 2017. The assembled rocket performed a roughly 3 second hot fire at LC 39A on June 29, 2017 with no payload attached. A July 2 launch attempt was halted at T-10 seconds due to a guidance and navigation system issue, forcing a 24-hour turnaround.  The second attempt was also stopped at T-10 seconds by the ground sequencer when it saw a parameter out of range. SpaceX waited 48 hours while determining that the flight hardware had actually not exceeded flight limits.


cz5y2.jpg (9948 bytes)CZ-5 Failure (07/15/17 Update)

Eight months after its successful debut launch, China's second Chang Zheng (Long March) 5 (serial Y2) suffered a launch failure on July 2, 2017 during an attempt to orbit Shijian 18, a heavy (roughly 7.6 tonne) experimental communications satellite, from Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island off China's southern coast.  CZ-5 Y2 was aiming for a 200 x 46,000 km x 19.5 deg target orbit on a mission that would have seen two second stage burns.

The liftoff from Pad 101 took place at 11:23 UTC. The 56.97 meter tall, 2.5 stage CZ-5, currently the world's heaviest rocket, rose cleanly on the combined 1,080 tonnes of thrust produced by 10 engines, two gas generator engines on the 5-meter diameter LH2/LOX core and two staged-combustion engines each on four 3.35 meter diameter kerosene/LOX strap-on boosters. At some point, however, something failed, likely involving first (core) stage propulsion.

The boosters completed their burns and separated cleanly and, apparently, on time, but the core stage continued to fire for more than 1.5 minutes longer than expected. A long burn of this type is consistent with one of the two YF-77 engines suffering a failure at some point during the ascent, but no official announcement of the failure mode was made in the hours following the launch.

Despite the first stage issue, the second stage separated and ignited its two YF-75D LH2/LOX engines that together made 32.6 tonnes of thrust at 438 second specific impulse. The stage was to have performed an initial nearly-five minute burn to reach a low earth parking orbit. It is not clear if the stage completed its burn as planned, but both engines were visible performing their burns in normal fashion in a an on-board view transmitted to the ground. The stage and its payload apparently reentered, unable to make up for the core stage velocity shortfall.

The 31.02 x 5 meter first stage weighed 175.8 tonnes and was powered by two YF-77 LH2/LOX engines that together produced 104 tonnes of liftoff thrust. The stage, which carried 158 tonnes of propellant, was to have burned for 471 seconds, with the YF-77 engines operating at 430 seconds vacuum specific impulse.

The four 26.28 x 3.25 meter strap-on boosters were powered by two YF-100 RP/LOX staged combustion engines that combined to produce 242 tonnes of liftoff thrust for each booster. YF-100 had previously powered China's inaugural CZ-6 and CZ-7 launches. Each booster may have weighed about 165 tonnes at liftoff. The boosters burned for nearly 173 seconds before separating from the still-burning first stage.

The second stage weighed 26 tonnes and carried 22.9 tonnes of propellant.

CZ-5 in its fully developed form will lift as much as 25 tonnes to low earth orbit in 1.5 stage form or 14 tonnes to GTO using 2.5 stages, making it more capable than Proton or Ariane 5 and possibly matching or exceeding Delta 4.


va238.jpg (17514 bytes)Ariane 5 Launch

Ariane 5 ECA vehicle number L591 lofted two communication satellites to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Kourou on June 28, 2017. Arianespace Mission VA238 began with a 21:15 UTC liftoff from from ELA-3. After a single long burn by the ESC-A second stage 5,780 kg Hellasat 3 separated at T+28 minutes 17 seconds, followed by 3,477 kg GSAT 17, which rode up inside the rocket's Sylda 5 adapter, at T+41 minutes 47 seconds.

Hellasat 3 is a Thales Alenia Space Spacebus 4000C4 satellite with Ku, Ka, and S-band transponders. It will provide direct to home TV services. The S-band transponders serve as a second payload named "Inmarsat S EAN" that will serve the European Aviation Network. It will be positioned at 39 deg East in geostationary orbit.

GSAT 17 was built by ISRO/ISAC. It carries C and S-band transponders. It will serve India from 93.5 deg East.

It was the year's fourth Ariane 5 launch, and the 63rd Ariane 5 ECA flight since the type began flying in 2002.


f9-38.jpg (13073 bytes)Falcon 9 Launches IridiumNEXT

SpaceX Corporation's Falcon 9 performed its second launch within roughly 49.5 hours on June 25, 2017 when F9-38 boosted the second set of ten IridiumNEXT satellites from Vandenberg AFB in California. The v1.2 variant, using new first stage number B1036, lifted off from foggy Space Launch Complex 4 East at 20:24 UTC to begin an hour-long mission that inserted the 860 kg, Thales Alenia Space-built satellites into roughly 625 km x 86.4 deg orbits. The satellites will raise themselves into 780 km operational orbits.

After a roughly 43 minute parking orbit coast, the Falcon 9 second stage restarted for a brief second, circularization burn at first apogee about 52 minutes 6 seconds after liftoff to complete the powered phase of the flight. Spacecraft separation began at about the 57 minute 10 seconds mark, with each satellite separating individually separated by about 1.5 minutes.

The first stage performed 3-engine boostback, 3-engine reentry, and single-engine landing burns before landing on the converted barge "drone ship" “Just Read the Instructions”.  The stage descended using, for the first time, enlarged titanium grid fins for flight control.  It was the second successful first stage landing in three West Coast attempts and the 13th successful first stage landing.   Eleven first stages have now been recovered, two having flown twice.

The launch was the second of seven planned IridiumNext Falcon 9 flights that will replace the company's orbiting "Little LEO" communication satellite constellation.

The F9-38 first and second stages were test fired at the company's McGregor, Texas test site during mid-May, 2017. The first stage was briefly hot fired at SLC 4E on June 20, 2017 with the second stage, but no payload, attached to the top of the rocket.

F9-38 was the 37th Falcon 9 launch and the 17th v1.2 variant to fly, not including AMOS 6 launch vehicle destroyed during a pre-launch static test countdown. It was the second v1.2 to fly from VAFB and the first to fly from VAFB with what appeared to be a "Block 4" second stage.

f9-37.jpg (15600 bytes)Used Falcon 9 Orbits Bulgariasat (06/24/17 Update)

SpaceX launched a previously-flown Falcon 9 first stage for the second time on June 23, 2017. The stage, B1029 (flying for the second time as B1029.2), boosted the F9-37 mission that flung the Bulgariasat 1 communications satellite to supersynchronous transfer orbit from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 Pad A. B1029 had previously flown during the F9-30 Iridium Next 1-10 launch from VAFB SLC 4E on January 14, 2017 and landed downrange on the drone ship "Just Read the Instructions".

This time, after a 19:10 UTC liftoff and 2 min 36 sec ascent burn, B1029.2 landed again on a downrange floating platform (named "Of Course I Still Love You", or "OCISLY") after performing three-engine reentry and landing burns.

After the first stage completed its ascent burn, the Falcon 9 second stage fired its Merlin 1D Vacuum engine for 351 sec to reach a parking orbit. After a 19 minute 30 second coast to the equator above the west African coast, the stage restarted for 65 seconds to accelerate the 3,669 kg Bulgariasat 1 satellite toward a planned supersynchronous transfer orbit. Bulgariasat 1 separated from the stage at T+plus 34 minutes, 55 seconds.

From its roughly 210 x 65,640 km x 23.9 deg transfer orbit, the Space Systems/Loral 1300 series satellite will raise itself to geostationary orbit at 1.9 deg East to provide direct broadcast and fixed communication services to Europe, North Africa, and the Middile East using 33 Ku-band transponders.

Following its January flight, the B1029 stage was apparently shipped directly to Florida, with no known testing performed at the company's McGregor, Texas test site. The stage was static test fired for a few seconds at LC 39A with the second stage attached on June 15, 2017.  A planned launch two days later was delayed for a week to replace a faulty valve in the payload fairing.

It was the 12th successful first stage landing and the 6th landing on OCISLY.   Ten first stages have now been recovered, two having flown twice.

Before the launch, Elon Musk tweeted, "Falcon 9 will experience its highest ever reentry force and heat in today's launch. Good chance rocket booster doesn't make it back".  After the flight, he tweeted that the first stage had returned "extra toasty" and had landed hard on OCISLY, using almost all of the "emergency crush core" in the landing legs. The stage was visible in video views standing near the edge of the deck, exhibiting a slight lean.


soy2-1v3.jpg (22520 bytes)Soyuz 2-1v Launch (06/24/17 Update)

Russia's third Soyuz 2-1v launched with a classified payload from Plesetsk on June 23, 2017. Liftoff from Pad 4 Site 43 took place at 18:04 UTC. The two-stage Soyuz 2-1v was topped by a Volga third stage. Volga performed an initial burn as the vehicle headed north above the Arctic Ocean to reach an elliptical parking orbit. The stage fired again at some point during the next 1.5 hours, presumably to circularize the orbit. The satellite, identity and purpose unannounced, was named Kosmos 2519 upon reaching orbit.

The satellite was subsequently tracked in a roughly 660 km by 98 deg sun synchronous orbit. 

It was the first Soyuz 2-1v launch since December 5, 2015, when Volga reached its planned orbit with Kanopus ST, but then failed to separate from the satellite when one of four clamps on Volga failed to open. The Volga stage was used to deorbit the useless satellite after about two days in orbit. The first Soyuz 2-1v/Volga launch successfully placed a small test payload into orbit on December 28, 2013. All missions have launched from Plesetsk 43/4.

pslvc38.jpg (16684 bytes)PSLV Orbits Cartosat 2E/Nanosats (06/23/17 Update)

PSLV-C38, an XL version of Indian Space Research Organizaion's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, boosted 712 kg Cartosat 2E and 30 nanosatellites that together weighed about 243 kg into sun synchronous orbits from Sriharikota, India on June 23, 2017.

Liftoff from the First Launch Pad at Satish Dhawan Space Center took place at 03:59 UTC. The 4.5-stage, 321 tonne, 44.4 meter tall rocket fired its four stages (solid, liquid, solid, and liquid fueled, respectively) in succession during the first 16 minutes of the ascent, with a 10 second coast before fourth stage ignition. Six strap-on solid motors (four ground lit and two air lit) augmented thrust during the first stage burn. The liquid MMH/MON-3 fourth stage fired for about 7 minutes 39 seconds during its insertion burn.

Satellite deployment into roughly 500 km x 97.45 deg orbits took about eight minutes, beginning with the cartographic mapping Cartosat 2e at T+16 minutes 41 seconds.

It was the 40th PSLV and the 17th PSLV-XL.  

cz3b40.jpg (6825 bytes)CZ-3B Leaves ChinaSat 9A in Low Orbit (Updated 07/14/17)

China's Chang Zheng (Long March )3B/E launched Zhongxing 9A (ChinaSat 9A) from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on June 18, 2017. Liftoff from Launch Pad 2 took place at 16:08 UTC. After performing two burns, the launch vehicle's liquid hydrogen fueled third stage was slated to place the 5.1 tonne communications satellite in a geosynchronous transfer orbit.  However, no announcement of mission success was made as the hours passed.   Finally, more than 12 hours later, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation announced that the launch had failed to place the satellite in its intended orbit due to a problem with the third stage. 

Subsequent tracking data showed the second stage and payload in roughly 193 x 16,350 km x 25.68 deg orbits, well short of the typical 35,800-plus km apogee.  CASC reported that the satellite had deployed its solar arrays and antennas.  It seemed unlikley that Zhongxing 9A would be able to make up the roughly 550 m/s delta-v shortfall.

The orbit suggested that the third stage had suffered a problem that affected its second burn.  Typical failure modes for such results include propulsion system and flight control issues.  A mid-July report stated that the stage had suffered a roll control issue.

It was the third orbital launch vehicle failure in less than a year for China's DF-5 based launch vehicle family. It was also the first CZ-3B or 3C failure since August 31, 2009 after 40 consecutive successes.

China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) built the DFH-4 series satellite. China Satcom was to operate ChinaSat 9A from a 92 degrees East position in geostationary orbit. The satellite was equipped with 22 Ku-band transponders designed to provide direct broadcasting and other services.

It was the 40th CZ-3B launch and the third this year. 




cz4by31.jpg (9321 bytes)HXMT Launch

China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 4B orbited the Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope (HXMT) from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on June 15, 2017. Liftoff of CZ-4B serial number Y31 from Pad 43, Site 603 took place at 03:00 UTC.  HXMT, a 2.5 tonne 3-axis controlled satellite, was targeted toward a roughly 550 km x 43 deg low earth orbit.

HXMT is China's first orbiting X-ray astronomy telescope. It will map X-ray emitting objects like black holes, pulsars, and neutron stars. The Chinese Academy of Space Technology (CAST) assembled the satellite, incorporating a payload module developed by IHEP and Tsinghua University.

Two microsatellites, weighing a combined total of 87 kg (other reports suggested 130 to 150 kg) were orbited along with XMHT.




progms06.jpg (8695 bytes)Russia Launches ISS Cargo (Updated)

Russia's Soyuz 2-1a launched the Progress MS-06 International Space Station cargo hauling mission from Baikonur Cosmodrome on June 14, 2017. Liftoff from Site 31 Pad 6 took place at 09:20:13 UTC. The roughly 7,300 kg spacecraft carried around 2,500 kg of cargo by some accounts - 2,398 kg, 2,450 kg, and 2,739 kg by other accounts - into a 193 x 240.8 km x 51.67 deg initial orbit. The heaviest account, attributed to NASA, said that cargo included 1,392 kg dry pressurized materials, 880 kg of propellant for transfer to ISS, 420 kg of water, and 47 kg of oxygen and air.  The lighter accounts only gave 620 kg for propellant.

The flight marked a return to Soyuz 2-1a for Progress after three final launches by Soyuz-U, one of which (Progress MS-04 on December 1, 2016) failed to reach orbit. It was the 69th Progress launch meant to reach ISS and the 158th Progress launch since the program began in 1978.

p413.jpg (13056 bytes)Proton Returns

Nearly one year after its last flight, Russia's Proton M/Briz M finally returned to flight on June 8, 2017. The 413th Proton rocket, a "Phase 4" Proton M variant, lifted off from Baikonur's Area 81 Pad 24 at 03:45 UTC with Echostar 21, beginning a planned 9 hr 13 min ascent phase that included five burns by the Briz M upper stage. The 6,871 kg Space Systems/Loral-built SSL 1300 series satellite was aimed toward a 2,300 x 35,786 km x 30.5 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit.

During the previous Proton flight, on June 9, 2016, one of the four second stage main engines shut down nine seconds early, causing a small delta-v shortfall that had to be made up by the Briz M upper stage. The make-up was possible because the Intelsat 31 payload was relatively light. An investigation found defects in RD-0210, RD-0211, and RD-0214 second and third stage engines made at the Voronezh Mechanical Factory due to a change in a solder used in the production process. The company also made Soyuz U and Soyuz FG third stage engines that fell under investigation after a December 1, 2016 Soyuz/Progress launch failure.

Echostar 21, the heaviest GTO payload yet launched by Proton, will be positioned at 10.25 degrees East after it raises itself to geostationary orbit. From there it will serve a European Internet Protocol based mobile communications network.



gslvmk3d1.jpg (17384 bytes)First GSLV Mk3 Orbital Launch (06/07/2017 Update)

India's GSLV Mk 3, for the first time topped by a live third stage, successfully boosted GSAT 19 to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Sriharikota on June 5, 2017. The D1 mission was the second GSLV Mk3 flight but the first orbital attempt. GSLV Mk3 had previously performed a successful inaugural suborbital flight with a dummy third stage on December 18, 2014. GSLV Mk3 D1 lifted off from the Second Launch Pad at 11:58 UTC.

Now India's most powerful rocket, GSLV Mk3 (formerly known as LVM3) is capable of lifting 4 tonnes to GTO or 10 tonnes to low earth orbit. GSAT 19, a communications technology demonstration satellite, weighed 3,136 kg on this development flight, less than the rocket's capability but still the heaviest satellite yet launched by India.

The satellite was targeted toward a 170 x 35,975 km x 21.5 deg transfer orbit.  GSAT 19 was subsequently tracked in a 163 x 34,592 km x 21.5 deg orbit, about 13 m/s short of the goal.  A small shortfall of this amount on an inaugural direct-to-GTO mission was apparently acceptable.

The 640 tonne GSLV Mk3 consisted of two S200 solid rocket boosters, an L110 hypergolic liquid core stage powered by two Vikas 2 engines, and a C25 LH2/LOX upper stage powered by a single Indegenous Cryogenic Engine.

The solid boosters together weighed 472 tonnes and provided 1,050 tonnes of liftoff thrust. They were 3.2 meters in diameter and 26.2 meters tall. They burned for 2 min 20 sec and provided all of the initial thrust.

The 125 tonne, twin-engine core stage ignited at T+1 min 54 sec, about 26 seconds before the solids burned out and separated. The core, which acted like a second stage, provided about 163 tonnes of thrust for 3 min 23 sec. It separated at T+5 min 20 sec, by which time the vehicle had reached 168 km altitude and 4,430 m/s velocity.

The 33 tonne Cryo Stage ignited two seconds after Core Stage separation. Its 20 tonne thrust CE-20 engine was expected to perform a single, 10 min 43 sec burn to push GSAT 19 to its 10,260 m/sec insertion velocity, but the stage apparently cut off a bit more than 19 seconds early.  Spacecraft sepration took place at T+16 min 20 sec.

f9-36.jpg (12112 bytes)Falcon 9 Launches CRS-11

Falcon 9-36, a v1.2 "Block 3" variant, boosted CRS-11, with the first "used" Dragon cargo spacecraft, back into orbit from Kennedy Space Center LC 39A on June 3, 2017. Liftoff took place at 21:07 UTC. Dragon entered a low earth orbit inclined 51.6 deg to the equator after a single 6 min 38 sec burn by the second stage Merlin Vacuum engine. spacecraft separation took place at T+10 min 20 sec.

On this, the 13th Dragon flight, Dragon spacecraft C106, which performed the CRS-4 mission in 2014, became the first Dragon to fly a second time. After its 2014 flight, the capsule was refurbished and its heat shield replaced. Dragon carried 2,708 kg of cargo, including 1,593 kg in its unpressurized trunk. Dragon's total liftoff weight including cargo was likely about 8,200 kg.

First stage B1035 performed a 2 min 22 sec ascent burn before separating from the second stage, turning 180 deg, and restarting three engines only 13 seconds after separation for a boost-back burn that pushed it back towards Florida even as it continued to gain altitude. The stage performed a three-engine reentry burn starting at T+6 min 10 sec and a final single-engine landing burn that began a few seconds before it settled onto the circular pad at Cape Canaveral Landing Zone 1. Landing took place at T+7 min 27 sec.   It was the 11th successful first stage landing and the 5th landing at LZ 1.   Ten first stages have now been recovered, one having flown twice.

The second stage performed a deorbit burn after Dragon separated. Its post-reentry remains were aimed toward a zone south and west of Australia.

The F9-36 stages were test fired at McGregor, Texas during March, 2017. The first stage engines performed a brief static test at LC 39A on May 28, 2017 before Dragon was stacked atop the rocket. A June 1 launch attempt was scrubbed by weather conditions.

It was the 100th launch from LC 39A, a total that includes 82 Space Shuttle, 12 Saturn 5, and 6 Falcon 9 liftoffs
.

va237.jpg (8942 bytes)Ariane 5 Dual Satellite Launch

The 62nd Ariane 5 ECA boosted two communication satellites to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Kourou on June 1, 2017. Arianespace Mission VA237 began with a 23:45 UTC liftoff from from ELA-3. On board were 6,418 kg ViaSat 2 and 3,551 kg Eutelsat 172B, their 9,969 kg combined mass setting a record for a commercial GTO launch. ViaSat 2 separated about 29.5 minutes after launch. Eutelsat 172B, housed inside the rocket's Sylda 5 adapter, separated just under 42 minutes after liftoff.

ViaSat 2 is a Boeing 702HP satellite with a Ka-band payload. Positioned at 70 deg West, it will provide about 300 Gigabits per second total communications capacity, more than any other commercial communications satellite.

Eutelsat 172B is the first Airbus Defense and Space all-electric Eurostar E3000e satellite to fly on Ariane 5. It will serve the Asia-Pacific region from 172 deg East using 14 C-band, 36 Ku-band, and 11 Ku-band transponders.




h2af34.jpg (11056 bytes)H-2A Launches Navsat for Japan

H-2A F34 successfully launched the 4 tonne Michibiki 2 navigation satellite for Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency from Tanegashimi Yoshinobu Launch Complex 1 on June 1, 2017.  Liftoff took place at 00:17 UTC.  F34 flew in the "202" configuration with two strap on "SRB-A" monolithic solid motors and two liquid hydrogen/oxygen core stages.  The rocket's second stage performed two burns to inject Michibiki 2 into a 250 x 36,140 km x 31.9 deg transfer orbit.   

Michibiki will raise itself into 33,100 x 38,500 x 44 deg "quasi zenith" geosynchronous orbit that will trace a north-south "Figure 8" across the Earth's surface at Japan's longitude.  From this orbit, the satellite will be able to augment existing GPS signals, allowing better coverage in urban areas with tall buildings.

It was the third H-2A launch of the year and the 30th known 2017 orbital launch attempt by all rockets world-wide.



soy-eks2.jpg (13304 bytes)Russia Launches Early Warning Satellite

Russia's Soyuz-2.1b/Fregat launched an early warning satellite into orbit from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on May 25, 2017. Liftoff from Site 43 Pad 4 took place at 06:33 UTC. After reaching a low earth parking orbit, the Fregat M stage fired multiple times to lift its payload into an elliptical “Tundra” orbit of approximately 1,620 x 38,500 km x 63.4 deg.

The satellite, named Kosmos 2518, is believed to be an EKS type early warning satellite designed to detect ballistic missile launches.

A Tundra orbit is an elliptical geosynchronous orbit that traces a figure-8 pattern over the earth twice each day. The satellite spends most of its time at high altitude essentially hovering over high latitudes in such orbits.

It was the year's fifth R-7 launch.


electron1.jpg (16825 bytes)Electron Inaugural Falls Short of Orbit


Rocket Lab's Electron rocket fell short of orbit in its inaugural test launch from New Zealand on May 25, 2017. The new small launch vehicle, named "It's a Test", lifted off from Rocket Lab's Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula of New Zealand's North Island at 04:20 UTC. The 17 meter tall, 1.2 meter diameter rocket, its innovative carbon composite case propellant tanks filled with kerosene and liquid oxygen, was slated to steer toward a south, south-east azimuth, rising on about 15.65 metric tons of thrust from its nine equally-innovative, electric-motor-pump-fed Rutherford engines.

Electron carried test instrumentation, rather than a revenue payload, on this test flight.

The launch was not broadcast live and post-launch information was limited.  Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s CEO, reported that Electron had a good first stage burn, stage separation, second stage ignition, and fairing separation, but orbital velocity was not achieved.

A 300 x 500 km x 83 deg orbit was planned. The company did not give a cause for the failure.  It did release several videos showing portions of the first stage flight.  An on-board video showed a roll developing during ascent.  

Plans called for the first stage to burn for 2 minutes 30 seconds. Stage separation was to take place four seconds after first stage shutdown. The second stage's single vacuum-optimized Rutherford engine was then slated to fire for 4 minutes 48 seconds to reach orbital velocity.

The launch took place after several days of weather delays.

Although orbit was not achieved, Mr. Beck expressed satisfaction with the results of the heavily instrumented test flight- the first of three such test flights currently planned.

vs17.jpg (9703 bytes)Soyuz 2.1a/Fregat Orbits SES 15

A Soyuz 2.1a/Fregat - also known as Soyuz ST-A for its Kourou application - orbited the all-electric SES 15 communications satellite from Kourou's Guiana Space Center on May 18, 2017. Liftoff of the Arianespace VS17 mission from the Soyuz launch zone (ELS) took place at 11:54 UTC, beginning a roughly 5.4 hour mission to spacecraft separation.

The Fregat upper stage performed two burns to accelerate the 2,302 kg Boeing 702SP satellite into a 2,207 x 31,349 km x 5.99 deg orbit. The atypical geosynchronous transfer orbit was selected to allow the all-electric, low thrust satellite to more easily and quickly raise itself to geostationary orbit by starting with a higher perigee to reduce drag. SES 15 will take about 6-7 months to raise its orbit.

The Soyuz rocket's four boosters jettisoned at T+1 m 58 s.  The fairing jettisoned at T+ 3 m 39 s.  The central core "second stage" burned out and separated at T+4 m 47 s.  The "third stage" completed its work at T+ 8 m 49 s.  Fregat performed its first burn starting at T+ 9 m 49 s and ending at T+23 m 34 s.  Fregat coasted to apogee where, at T+4 h 57 m 35 s it began a 52 second burn.   Spacecraft separation took place at T+5 h 18 m 28 s. 

It was the 17th Soyuz launch from Kourou and the second GTO mission.

f9-35.jpg (13118 bytes)Falcon 9 Orbits Inmarsat 5 F4 (May 16 Update)

The year's sixth Falcon 9 boosted Inmarsat 5 F4 to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39 Pad A on May 15, 2017. Liftoff took place at 23:21 UTC. The Merlin 1D Vacuum-powered second stage performed two burns to loft the 6.086 tonne communications satellite into a supersynchronous transfer orbit.  It was the heaviest GTO payload yet for Falcon 9.

According to the SpaceX press kit, the first stage burned for 2 min 45 sec. The second stage then fired for 5 min 42 sec before beginning a nearly 18.5 minute parking orbit coast to the equator. The stage completed its second, 56 second burn at the 27 min 55 sec mark. Spacecraft separation occurred 31 minutes 48 seconds after liftoff into a 381 x 69,839 km x 24.5 deg orbit.

F9-35 was the second Falcon 9 v1.2 flown in fully expendable mode, with no landing legs, grid fins, or other recoverable hardware on the first stage. Expendable mode was needed to accomodate the heavy GTO payload. 

The second stage exhibited the same external appearance as the improved second stage used during the prior NROL 76 launch, leading outside observers to wonder if this was the second example of a "Block 4" upper stage.  Additionally, cryogenic propellant loading began only 35 minutes before liftoff, compared to the previous 45 minutes, a new procedure designed to minimize propellant temperatures for improved performance.

Boeing Network & Space Systems built Inmarsat 5 F4, which uses Ka-band transponders to provide broadband communications services. 

The rocket used first stage number B1034.  It and its second stage partner were test fired at McGregor, Texas during March 2017.  The assembled rocket performed a roughly 3 second static test at LC 39A on May 11 with no payload attached.

gslvf09.jpg (19550 bytes)GSLV Orbits GSAT 9

India's GSLV boosted its GSAT 9 communications satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit from Satish Dhawan Space Center, Sriharikota on May 5, 2017. Liftoff of the GSLV F09 mission from the Second Launch Pad took place at 11:27 UTC. GSAT 9 separated about 17 minutes later, after a roughly 12-minute burn by the rocket's liquid hydrogen fueled third stage. For unknown reasons, ISRO banned press coverage of the launch.

ISRO-built GSAT-9 weighed 2.23 tonnes at liftoff. It carries 12 Ku-band transponders to provide communications services to India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

It was the fifth GSLV Mk 2 launch, using India's own LH2/LOX Cryogenic Upper Stage engine, and the 11th GSLV flight.  It was also the 25th known orbital launch attempt of 2017.




va236.jpg (11681 bytes)Ariane 5 Launches Comsats

Ariane 5 ECA L589, performing Arianespace mission VA236, launched two communication satellites - Brazil's SGDC and Korea's Koreasat 7 - from Kourou Space Center on May 4, 2017. Liftoff from ELA 3 took place at 21:50 UTC. The satellites separated into geosynchronous transfer orbits about one-half hour later.

VA236 was delayed by nearly six weeks after French Guiana residents blockaded the space center as part of a social movement. The blockades were finally removed after the French government signed agreements with the protesters.

SGDC was a 5,735 kg Thales Alenia Space Spacebus 4000C4 satellite. It will serve Brazil's government, providing both civil and military communications service, using its 57 Ka and X-band transponders at a 75 deg West geostationary position.

Koreasat 7, the lower passenger, was a 3,680 kg Thales Alenia Space Spacebus 4000B2 satellite. It's Ka-band transponders will work from 116 deg. East for KT SAT, Korea's satellite service provider.


f9-34.jpg (15596 bytes)Falcon 9 Orbits NROL 76

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 orbited NROL 76, a secret payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 Pad A on May 1, 2017.  Liftoff took place at 11:15 UTC, following an aborted attempt one day earlier caused by a faulty LOX outlet temperature sensor.  

Falcon 9 headed on a northeast azimuth.  No coverage was provided of the second stage performance as the flight entered a press blackout.  Elon Musk tweeted about 22 minutes after launch that the payload had been successfully orbited, hinting at a low earth orbit for NROL 76.

After completing its 2 min 17 sec ascent burn, the shortest such burn yet for a v1.2 variant, the first stage did a 180 deg flip and performed 40 second long 3-engine boostback burn.  It flipped again before performing a roughly 24 second long 3-engine entry burn and a 30 second long single engine landing burn.  The stage landed at Cape Canaveral Landing Zone 1 just under 9 minutes after liftoff.  It was the tenth successful first stage landing and the fourth landing at LZ 1.  Nine first stages have now been recovered, one having flown twice.

The second stage was expected to perform a deorbit burn nearly 4 hours after liftoff.  A targeted zone for the stage to fall was listed off the southeast coast of Africa.  The delayed deorbit may be to allow for a long coast experiment.

This 33rd Falcon 9 flight was performed by the F9-34 vehicle, which used first stage number B1032.   The shorter than normal first stage burn, along with design changes visible externally on the second stage, initiated speculation that this was the first so-called "Block 4" Falcon 9 with liftoff thrust increased from the prior 694 tonnes, but no confirmation has to date been provided.

The vehicle's stages were test fired at McGregor, Texas, apparently during February, 2017.   The first stage performed a brief static firing at LC 39A on April 25, 2017.  The first and second stages without payload were stacked for the test.

It was the fifth Falcon 9 launch of the year and the fourth from LC 39A.  The pad has now hosted a total of 98 launches, including 12 Saturn 5 and 82 Space Shuttle liftoffs.


cz7y2.jpg (13349 bytes)China Orbits Heaviest Payload

China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 7 launched Tianzhou 1, a robot cargo ship bound for the Tiangong 2 space station, from Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island on April 20, 2017. Liftoff from Pad 201, the easternmost of two new launch pads at the Center, took place at 11:41:35 UTC. Including propellant, Tianzhou 1 weighed 12.91 tonnes, making it the heaviest payload ever launched by a rocket from China, and the heaviest payload launched by any nation so far this year.

Tianzhou 1 was loaded with several tonnes of propellant. It will test automatic docking equipment when it attempts to dock with Tiangong 2 in a 42 deg inclination low earth orbit two days after launch. The mission is a test of procedures for China's planned full-scale space station, which the country may begin to launch in 2018.

It was the second CZ-7 launch, following a June, 2016 debut. CZ-7 is one of three of China’s Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology's (CALT) new family of launchers, which include the smaller CZ-6 and the larger CZ-5.

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 weighs about 594 tonnes at liftoff and stands about 53.1 meters tall. It can lift 13.5 tonnes to 200 x 400 km x 42 deg orbit or 5.5 tonnes to a 700 km sun synchronous orbit.

On this flight, the strap-on boosters shut down and separated about 174 seconds after liftoff.  The first stage cut off and separated about 10 seconds later.  Stage 2 burned its main engines for about 389 seconds.   Its vernier engines burned for about 20 more seconds after the main engines shut down.  Spacecraft sepration took place shortly after the verniers shut cut off, about 10 minutes after liftoff.

ms04.jpg (3725 bytes)Soyuz Launches ISS Crew

A 2.5 stage Soyuz FG rocket orbited Russia's Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft from Baikonur, Kazakhstan with two International Space Station crew on April 20, 2017. It was the year's first crewed launch. Liftoff from Baikonur Cosmodrome Area 1 Pad 5 took place at 07:14 UTC. The spacecraft entered a roughly 200 km x 51.6 deg initial orbit. Onboard the upgraded spacecraft were Russia's Fyodor Yurchikhin and NASA's Jack Fischer, comprising the Expedition 51/52 crew.

After a 6 hour, four orbit fast-track ascent, Soyuz MS-04 docked with ISS at 13:18 UTC.   Yurchikhin and Fischer will join NASA's Peggy Whitson, ESA's Thomas Pesquet, and Russia's Oleg Novitskiy at the station.

Russia cut the normal three crew complement down to two on this mission to save money. Cargo replaced the missing crew member. Fewer Progress launches will be needed to support Russia's reduced ISS crew complement.

It was the first R-7 flight of a re-engined rocket with crew since a Soyuz-U RD-0110 upper stage engine suffered a turbopump failure on December 1, 2016 while attempting to orbit Progress MS-04. Investigators found manufacturing defects and unqualified alloys in other engines from the same production batch. The investigation led to the replacement of engines from a bad production lot.


av070.jpg (17403 bytes)Atlas 5 Launches Cygnus OA-7

United Launch Alliance's Atlas 5 launched Orbital-ATK's Cygnus cargo hauling spacecraft toward the International Space Station on April 18, 2017. The OA-7 Commercial Resupply Services flight was the third Atlas-launched Cygnus as part of orbital ATK's plan to catch up in the wake of the company's 2014 Antares rocket failure. OA-7 used an enhanced Cygnus with a longer pressurized module packed with 3,376 kg of cargo. An additional 83 kg of unpressurized cargo, consisting of several cubesats, was also carried. Including cargo, Cygnus weighed a reported 7,225 kg.

The 59.13 meter tall AV-070 Atlas 5-401 used an extra extended payload fairing. Liftoff from Cape Canaveral SLC 41 took place at 15:11:26 UTC. The rocket flew a northeastward track off the Eastern U.S. Seaboard. Centaur performed a single, 13 min 45 sec burn to insert itself and Cygnus into a roughly 230 km x 51.6 deg orbit. Payload separation occurred about 21 minutes after liftoff. Centaur performed a subsequent deorbit burn.

Cygnus OA-7 was dubbed "S.S. John Glenn" in memory of the late astronaut.

The launch was originally planned for March 27, but was delayed five days before launch by ground and flight vehicle hydraulic system problems. A hydraulic return line was found to have ruptured on the Atlas first stage while technicians were troubleshooting the ground system issue.

It was the 71st Atlas 5 launch, the 70th success, and the 61st consecutive success.


cz3by43.jpg (8606 bytes)China Orbits Experimental Comsat

A Chang Zheng (Long March) 3B/E rocket orbited Chinasat 16, an experimental communications satellite, from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on April 12, 2017. Liftoff from Launch Pad 2 took place at 11:04 UTC. The rocket's liquid hydrogen fueled upper stage performed two burns to accelerate its payload into a geosynchronous transfer orbit.

The 4.6 tonne China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) DFH-3 satellite is equipped with a Ka-band communications payload and an electric propulsion system, both firsts for China. It will be positioned at 110.5 degrees East.

It was the 40th consecutive success by the CZ 3B/3C variant.

f9-33a.jpg (9884 bytes)Falcon 9 Reflies First Stage, Orbits SES 10 (March 31, 2017 Update)

SpaceX launched a previously-flown Falcon 9 first stage for the first time on March 30, 2017. The stage, B1021, boosted the F9-33 mission that lofted the SES 10 communications satellite to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 Pad A. B1021 had previously flown during the F9-23 CRS-8 mission on April 8, 2016, when it landed downrange on a converted barge. After a 22:27 UTC liftoff, B1021 repeated the feat, landing again on the downrange floating platform after performing reentry and landing burns.

After the first stage completed its 2 min 38 sec ascent burn, the Falcon 9 second stage fired its Merlin 1D Vacuum engine for 345 sec to reach a parking orbit. After a 17 min 55 sec coast to the equator above the west African coast, the stage restarted for 53 seconds to accelerate the 5,282 kg SES 10 satellite toward a planned 218 x 35,410 km x 26.2 deg transfer orbit.  SES 10 separated from the stage 32 min 03 sec after liftoff.   The second stage ended up in a 217 x 33,395 km x 26.3 deg orbit, suggesting that a slightly lower than planned apogee was achieved, but SpaceX announced that it had met customer requirements.

After raising itself to geostationary orbit, Airbus Defense and space-built SES 10 will serve Latin America, using 55 Ku-band transponder equivalents, from 67 deg West.

After the flight, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced that the company had, in another first, directed one of the two payload fairing halves to a landing zone in a test of future payload fairing recovery.  The fairing had been equipped with a cold gas thruster system.  Eventually, steerable parachutes and inflatable shock absorbers will be used to bring the fairings down to recoverable ocean landings.

It was the first reflight of a complete orbital-class liquid fueled rocket stage.  Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket had previously reflown, but on much less taxing suborbital missions.  Reusable Space Shuttle orbiters brought back three main engines (SSMEs) and avionics, but expended the large external propellant tank that fed the three SSMEs.  Space Shuttle solid rocket boosters were also recovered and reused, but they were disassembled after each flight and the motor segments never stayed together to fly again as a unit.

After its 2016 flight, the B1021 stage was partially disassembled (its engines were removed, for example) and was shipped back to the SpaceX factory in Hawthorne, California.  After the engines were re-installed and other refurbishment work completed, the stage was shipped to the company's McGregor, Texas test site.  There, it was test-fired on January 25, 2017, completing what appeared to be a standard test cycle for a Falcon 9 first stage.  The new second stage was also test fired in late January or early February.  After shipment to LC 39A's Horizontal Integration Facility, the assembled F9-33 rocket performed a five-second static test at LC 39A on March 27, 2017, with no payload installed. 


d377.jpg (17870 bytes)Delta 4 Launches WGS-9

Delta 377, a Delta 4M+5,4 with four solid rocket motors and a five meter diameter Delta cryogenic second stage (DCSS), lofted Wideband Global SATCOM No. 9 into supersynchronous transfer orbit from Cape Canaveral Florida on March 19, 2017. The 399 tonne, 66.3 meter tall liquid hydrogen fueled rocket rose from Space Launch Complex 37B at 00:18 UTC on 829.7 tonnes (1.829 million pounds) of thrust created by its RS-68A first stage engine and its four GEM-60 solid motors.

DCSS performed two burns of its 11.23 tonne thrust RL10B-2 LOX/LH2 engine during the ascent. The first placed the vehicle into a 185 x 6,100 km x 27.6 deg parking orbit about 20 minutes after liftoff. After a 9.5 minute coast to the equator the second, roughly 3.5 minute burn pushed the 5.987 tonne Boeing 702 series satellite into a 431 x 44,290 km x 27 deg transfer orbit. Spacecraft separation occurred about 41 minutes 45 seconds after liftoff.

WGS-9 was jointly purchased by Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and New Zealand. It will provide up to 11 Gbps data transfer rates for the military of these nations and for the U.S. military using X-band and Ka-band transponders and on-board data processors.

DCSS was expected to perform a deorbit burn at about T+1 hour 11 min 44 sec, leading to destructive reentry at about T+12 hours 12 min. 

It was the first Delta 4 launch of 2017.  It was also the 35th Delta 4 flight. Only one more WGS launch is currently listed on the Delta 4 backlog, along with only three more Medium variant launches, as United Launch Alliance works toward retirement of the type.


h2af33.jpg (4611 bytes)H-2A Launches Radarsat

An H-2A boosted Japan's Information Gathering Satellite (IGS) Radar 5 to a sun synchronous orbit on March 17, 2017. Liftoff from Yoshinobu Launch Complex 1 at Tanegashima Space Center took place at 01:20 UTC. The 202 series rocket, tail number F33, was boosted by a pair of SRB-A solid motors.

It was the second H-2A launch of 2017.

IGS Radar 5 is a radar reconnaissance satellite built by Mitsubishi Electric that will be operated by the Cabinet Satellite Information Center. It will support Japan's national defense and aid in civil natural disaster monitoring.



f9-31.jpg (18784 bytes)Falcon 9 Orbits Echostar 23

A SpaceX Falcon 9 boosted Echostar 23 to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39 Pad A on March 16, 2017. Liftoff took place at 06:00 UTC. The Merlin 1D Vacuum-powered second stage performed two burns to accelerate the roughly 5.6 tonne communications satellite into a 179 x 35,903 km x 22.43 deg geosynchronous transfer orbitd.

According to the SpaceX press kit, the first stage burned for 2 min 43 sec. The second stage then fired for 5 min 36 sec before beginning a nearly 18 minute parking orbit coast to the equator. The stage completed its second, 1 minute burn at the 27 min 19 sec mark. Spacecraft separation occurred 34 minutes after liftoff.

F9-31 was the first Falcon 9 v1.2 flown in fully expendable mode, with no landing legs, grid fins, or other recoverable hardware on the first stage. Expendable mode was needed to accomodate the heaviest-ever Falcon 9 GTO payload.

Space Systems/Loral built Echostar 23, using its SSL-1300 bus. The satellite has 32 Ku-Band transponders, as well as Ka- and S-Band transmitters. It will raise itself to a geostationary orbit at 45 degrees West.

The rocket used first stage number B1030. It and its second stage partner were test fired at McGregor, Texas during mid to late November, 2016. They were stored in the LC 39A hangar when the CRS-10 Dragon launch moved ahead of Echostar 23 in launch order. The assembled rocket performed a roughly 3 second static test at LC 39A on March 9 with no payload attached, after a scrubbed attempt two days earlier. A March 14 launch attempt was scrubbed by high winds about 38 minutes before T-0.



vv09.jpg (24381 bytes)Vega Orbits Sentinel 2B

Europe's Vega launch vehicle orbited the Sentinel 2B earth observation satellite for Arianespace and ESA from Kourou on March 7, 2017. The four-stage rocket lifted off from the Vega Launch Complex (ZLV) at 01:49 UTC, beginning a nearly 58 minute mission that deployed the 1,130 kg Airbus-built satellite into a 786 km x 98.57 deg sun synchronous orbit.

Sentinel 2B is the fourth Copernicus program satellite. It will be positioned in an orbit opposite to Sentinel 2A, which was launch by a Vega in June 2016.

Vega's P80 solid motor first stage burned for 1 min 55 seconds. Its Z23 solid motor second stage ignited one second later and burned until the 3 min 39 sec mark. After a 12 second coast the Z9 solid motor third stage ignited for its 2 min 41 second burn. The payload fairing separated shortly after the third stage ignited.

After a 1 min 51 sec coast, the liquid AVUM fourth stage began a 7 min 4 second burn to enter an elliptical parking orbit. The stage and payload then coasted over the Arctic before performing a second, two-minute burn beginning 55 min 7 sec after liftoff. This burn circularized the orbit. Sentinel 2B separated about 50 seconds after the burn ended. AVUM was scheduled to perform an orbit reduction burn about an hour later.


KT2-1.jpg (2484 bytes)China Launches Another New Rocket

China debuted the KT-2 (Kaitou 2) orbital launch vehicle on March 2, 2017. The solid-fuel, likely three-stage launch vehicle lifted off from the CZ-11 flat pad at Jiuquan space center at 23:53 UTC. KT-2 injected a small test satellite named TK-1 (Tiankong) into a 381 x 403 km x 96.9 deg sun synchronous orbit.

Xinhua reported that the TK-1 satellite was developed by CASIC to be used for "remote sensing, telecommunications and experiments in minisatellite-based technologies".

China Aerospace Science & Industry Corporation (CASIC) also reportedly developed the launch vehicle. KT-2 may be based on the DF-31 mobile ICBM family, but that has yet to be determined. According to Xinhua, KT-2 is one of five launch vehicles planned for development by CASIC. It is capable of lifting 350 kg to a low inclination low earth orbit or 250 kg to a 700 km sun synchronous orbit.

CZ-11, a similar DF-31 based rocket that first flew in 2015, was developed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT). Two smaller, DF-21 based launchers, both by CASIC, have also flown: Kuaizhou 1(A) beginning in 2013 and KT-1, which failed in two attempts during 2002-2003.


av068.jpg (12125 bytes)Atlas 5 Launches Classified Payload

Atlas 5 AV-068, a 401 variant with no solid fuel boosters and a four-meter fairing, launched the NROL-79 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office from Vandenberg AFB Space Launch Complex 3 East on March 1, 2017. Liftoff took place at 17:49 UTC.

United Launch Alliance ended its webcast after the Centaur second stage separated from the Atlas first stage and ignited its RL10-C1 engine. The unannounced payload appeared aimed toward an initial orbit inclined 63 degrees to the equator. No orbital parameters, payload information, or mission timeline were announced. Mission success itself was not announced for several hours, indicating that the rocket's Centaur upper stage likely performed multiple burns.

Amateur observers suspected that the mission placed a pair of Intruder (third generation NOSS) type satellites into roughly 1,000 x 1,200 km x 63.4 deg orbits for the purpose of pinpointing mobile radio signal emitter locations on the world's oceans.

The launch had been delayed for more than a month after a problem was found with the Atlas 5 Centaur stage when propellants were loaded during a wet dress rehearsal (WDR).   After the unspecified problem was fixed, the launch vehicle was subjected to a second WDR to certify its readiness for flight.

It was the 70th Atlas 5 launch and the 60th consecutive success.




progms05.jpg (8054 bytes)Soyuz-U Finale (February 23, 2017 Update)

Russia's long-lived Soyuz-U launch vehicle performed its final flight on February 22, 2017 when it boosted the Progress MS-05 robotic cargo hauling spacecraft into orbit from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. Liftoff took place at 05:58 UTC from snow-covered Area 1 Pad 5.

It marked a return to flight after the previous Soyuz-U's RD-0110 upper stage engine suffered a turbopump failure on December 1, 2016 while attempting to orbit Progress MS-04. Investigators found manufacturing defects and unqualified alloys in other engines from the same production batch.

Progress MS-05 carried 2,395 kg of cargo, including dry cargo, propellant, water, and oxygen. The loaded spacecraft weighed nearly 7,300 kg at liftoff.

Soyuz-U, an improved, standardized version of earlier R-7 based launch vehicles, first flew in 1973. It orbited recoverable Soviet Zenit and Yantar spy satellites from Baikonur and Plesetsk and manned Soyuz spacecraft from Baikonur, including the Soyuz 19 Apollo Soyuz Test Project spacecraft in 1975. In 1978, it launched the first of many unmanned Progress cargo spacecraft, this one to the Salyut 6 manned space station. It was Russia's primary crew launch vehicle until the Soyuz TM-34 launch in 2002. Since then, Progress has been its most common payload.

A total of 786 Soyuz-U launch vehicles have flown, including 10 that carried Ikar or Fregat upper stages on Globalstar and European Space Agency Cluster missions beginning in 1999. The number does not include the Soyuz-U/Soyuz T-10-1 pre-liftoff fire that resulted in the escape tower firing to save the crew, but destroying the launch vehicle, on September 26, 1983. A total of 765 of the launches were successful, making Soyuz-U one of the world's most reliable orbital launch vehicles. Soyuz-U flew 47 times in 1979, including two failures, and 40 or more times each year from 1978 to 1984. It ranks as the most oft-flown, and longest-lived launch vehicle variant of the Space Age.

The type was originally replaced for manned launches by Soyuz FG, but now both the "U" and "FG" types are being supplanted by Soyuz 2 launch vehicles, which use modern digital avionics.


f9-32a.jpg (22350 bytes)Falcon 9 Debuts from KSC (February 23, 2017 Update)

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 orbited the CRS-10 Dragon spacecraft with cargo for the International Space Station from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 Pad A on February 19, 2017.  It was the first Falcon 9 launch from the converted NASA Saturn 5/Space Shuttle launch site.  Liftoff took place at 14:39 UTC, following an aborted attempt one day earlier caused by out of range readings from the second stage thrust vector control system. 

Falcon 9's second stage boosted Dragon into a 51.6 deg low earth orbit, with stage cutoff occurring about 9 min 5 sec after liftoff and spacecraft separation taking place about one minute later.  While the second stage was performing its 393 second long burn, the first stage did a 180 deg flip and performed 3-engine boostback burn.  It flipped again before performing a 3-engine entry burn and a single engine landing burn that began about 7 min 33 sec after liftoff.  The stage landed at Cape Canaveral Landing Zone 1, performing the first daylight landing, and third overall, at the site.  The second stage was expected to perform a deorbit burn after spacecraft separation. 

f9-32c.jpg (4631 bytes)The CRS-10 Dragon (Dragon spacecraft No. 12) carried about 2,490 kg tonnes of cargo, including 1,530 kg inside the pressurized capsule and 960 kg attached to the unpressurized trunk section.  SpaceX does not announce total spacecraft mass, but based on early publications by the company and on more recent expert estimates, CRS-10 Dragon likely weighed more than 8,400 kg at liftoff, including cargo.

Spacecraft berthing at ISS was scheduled to occur on February 22, but a 24 hour delay resulted from a problem with Dragon's GPS-based guidance system.  The berthing took place successfully on February 23. 

The flight was performed by the F9-32 vehicle, a v1.2 (or "Block 3") variant, which used first stage number B1031.   The vehicle's stages were test fired at McGregor, Texas, apparently during December, 2016.   The first stage performed a brief static firing at LC 39A on February 12, 2017 after a scrubbed attempt the day before.  The first and second stages without payload were stacked for the test.

With the flight, Falcon 9 became the first launch vehicle family to perform a second orbital flight in 2017.   

For Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, SpaceX added a large horizontal processing hangar just south of the SLC 39A fence line and replaced the crawlerway ramp with dual rail tracks for a transporter erector launcher (TEL) to roll upon while carrying rockets up to the pad.   The flame trench was rebuilt and reconfigured, with exhaust now exiting only toward the north, and large "rainbirds" were added to spray water on the launcher during liftoff.  Additional changes to the pad are planned to support Commercial Crew launches, including installation of a crew access arm on the fixed service tower.  

Falcon Heavy is not expected to debut from LC 39A until after Cape Canaveral SLC 40 is restored to service sometime after mid-2017.   Meanwhile, SpaceX hopes to perform a first unmanned flight of its Dragon 2 Commercial Crew spacecraft from LC 39A by year's end.  An improved "Block 5" Falcon 9 being developed to launch Dragon 2 will perform the launch.

It was the 95th launch from LC 39A, a number that includes 12 Saturn 5 and 82 Space Shuttle liftoffs, the most recent by Shuttle Atlantis on July 8, 2011 for STS-135 mission.


pslvc37.jpg (7997 bytes)PSLV Orbits Cartosat 2D/Nanosats

PSLV-C37, an XL version of Indian Space Research Organizaion's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, boosted 714 kg Cartosat 2D and 103 nanosatellites that together weighed 664 kg into a 505 km x 97.46 deg sun synchronous orbit from Sriharikota, India on February 15, 2017.  The mission set a record for numbers of satelites on a single launch. 

Liftoff from the First Launch Pad at Satish Dhawan Space Center took place at 03:58 UTC. The 4.5-stage, 321 tonne, 44.4 meter tall rocket fired its four stages (solid, liquid, solid, and liquid fueled, respectively) in succession during the first 1,008 seconds of the ascent, with a 10 second coast before fourth stage ignition. Six strap-on solid motors (four ground lit and two air lit) augmented thrust during the first stage burn. The liquid MMH/MON-3 fourth stage fired for about 505 seconds during its insertion burn.

Satellite deployment took about 11 minutes, beginning with the cartographic mapping Cartosat 2D at T+17.5 minutes with the last separation at about the 28 minute 43 second mark..



va235.jpg (17671 bytes)Ariane 5 Launches Two Comsats

A 2.5 stage Ariane 5 ECA orbited two communication satellites from Kourou on February 14, 2017.   Liftoff from ELA 3 took place at 21:39 UTC. The Arianespace VA235 mission placed 6,000 kg Sky Brasil 1 and 3,550 kg Telkom 3S into geosynchronous transfer orbits. The second stage completed its single burn at T+25 minutes to reach the insertion orbit.   Airbus-built Sky Brasil 1 (an E3000 bus) deployed first from atop the Sylda 5 dual payload carrier at T+27 minutes. Thales Alenia-built Telkom 3S (a Spacebus 4000B2) separated 12 minutes later.

Both satellites will raise themselves into geostationary orbits where they will proide HDTV and other services.  Sky Brasil will be positioned at 43.1 deg West.  Telkom 3S will work from 118 deg East. 

VA235 was the 60th Ariane 5 ECA launch, and 59th success.  



vs16.jpg (10584 bytes)Soyuz Orbits Hispasat 36W-1

A Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat (also designated Soyuz ST-B) rocket launched the Hispasat 36W-1 communications satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit from Kourou, French Guiana on January 28, 2017. Liftoff from the ELS pad took place at 01:03 UTC. The VS16 mission for Arianespace was the first GTO launch by Soyuz from Kourou.

Germany's OHB System AG built the 3,220 kg "SmallGEO" platform satellite. Hispasat 36W-1 will be stationed at 36 deg West to provide communication services to Spain, Portugal, the Canary Islands and South America.

After a 9 minute 23 second ascent by the 2.5 stage R-7 launch vehicle, the mission finished with a single burn by the Fregat MT upper stage, which began 10 min 23 seconds, and ended 28 minutes, after liftoff. The burn boosted the satellite toward a targeted 250 x 35,736 km x 5.44 deg orbit. 

Spacecraft separation took place 32 minutes 10 seconds after liftoff.


h2af32.jpg (13381 bytes)Japan Launches Milcomsat

H-2A F-32, an H-2A-204 with four SRB-A solid rocket motors, orbited Japan's first dedicated military communications satellite from Tanegashima Space Center on January 24, 2017. Liftoff from Pad 1 took place at 07:44 UTC. The LE-5B powered second stage performed two burns to place the DSN 2 satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit within about one-half hour of liftoff.

DSN Corporation, a subsidiary of SKY Perfect JSAT Corporation, built and will operate DSN 2 as part of an X-band satellite communications system for the Japanese Ministry of Defense.  The mass of the payload was not released, but  H-2A-204 can lift up to 5.7 tonnes to geosynchronous transfer orbit.

It was the 31st H-2A success in 32 launches since the program began in 2001.


av066.jpg (13137 bytes)Atlas 5 Orbits SBIRS GEO 3

AV-066, a basic Atlas 5-401 variant, launched the third Space Base Infrared System Geosynchronous Earth Orbit satellite (SBIRS GEO 3) into orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida on January 21, 2017. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41 took place at 00:42 UTC..

Centaur fired twice to insert the 4.54 tonne, Lockheed-Martin-built early warning satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit.

The launch campaign included a record short, 13-day period from first stage stacking to rollout. An initial launch attempt 24 hours earlier was scrubbed by a sensor issue and by an aircraft intruding on a downrange safety zone.

ss520-4.jpg (6258 bytes)Sounding Rocket Orbit Try Fails

Japan's SS-520-4, a small experimental three-stage orbital launcher based on an existing two-stage sounding rocket, failed during its inaugural attempt from Uchinoura Space Center at Kagoshima on January 14, 2017. The solid-fueled rocket zipped skyward from its rail launcher at the KS sounding rocket pad at 23:33 UTC, aiming to place Tricom 1, a 3kg Cubesat, into a 180 x 1,500 km x 31 deg orbit after a rapid ascent lasting just over four minutes.

The first stage burn appeared to be good, ending after about 31 seconds, but the second stage never ignited as planned after a 140 second coast. Reports indicated that telemetry was lost even before first stage cutoff. Second stage ignition needed to be enabled from the ground, which was impossible without an established downlink. The vehicle apparently fell into the expected first stage drop zone, indicating that the first stage propulsion phase had more or less succeeded.

SS-520-4 (SS-520 serial number 4) weighed about 2.6 tonnes at launch, which would have made it the lightest-ever orbital rocket had it succeeded. The rocket was 9.54 meters long and 0.52 meters diameter.  It's first stage HTPB solid fuel motor produced about 18 tonnes of liftoff thrust.

The launch was to be a one-off experiment, so no additional SS-520-4 orbital attempts are expected.


f9-30.jpg (10368 bytes)Falcon 9 Returns to Flight

Ending a four-month failure investigation stand-down, SpaceX Corporation's Falcon 9 launch vehicle returned to service on January 14, 2017, orbiting ten IridiumNEXT satellites from Vandenberg AFB in California. The v1.2 variant, informally designated F9-30 by outside observers (it used first stage number B1029), lifted off from Space Launch Complex 4 East at 17:54 UTC to begin a hour-long mission that inserted the 860 kg, Thales Alenia Space-built satellites into roughly 610 x 620 km x 86.4 deg orbits. The satellites will raise themselves into 780 km operational orbits.

After a 43 minute, 16 second coast, the Falcon 9 second stage restarted for a brief second, circularization burn at first apogee about 52 minutes 31 seconds after liftoff to complete the powered phase of the flight. Spacecraft separation began at about the 59 minutes 16 seconds mark, with each satellite separating individually separated by about 1.5 minutes.

The first stage performed boost-back, reentry, and landing burns before landing on the converted barge "drone ship" “Just Read the Instructions”. It was the first successful first stage landing in two West Coast attempts. Six previous first stage recoveries had been made after Cape canaveral liftoffs.

The launch was the first of seven planned IridiumNext Falcon 9 flights that will replace the company's orbiting "Little LEO" communication satellite constellation.

Falcon 9 had been grounded since F9-29 and its $200 million AMOS 6 satellite payload were destroyed during a pre-launch propellant loading and hot fire test exercise at Cape Canveral on September 1, 2016. SpaceX determined that the cause was sudden overpressurization of the second stage liquid oxygen (LOX) tank due to the failure of a composite overwrapped pressure vessel (COPV) containing pressurized helium that was mounted inside the LOX tank. Improper control of subcooled-LOX temperatures may have been involved. Elon Musk of SpaceX suggested that LOX froze within or beneath the composite overwrapping, causing loss of COPV structural integrity.

SpaceX performed cryogenic loading tests, with some leading to failure, of small test vessels at its McGregor, Texas test site to confirm the failure mode. The company also changed its propellant loading procedures, more than doubling the LOX loading time.

The F9-30 first and second stages were test fired at the company's McGregor, Texas test site during late October and early November, 2016. The first stage was hot fired at SLC 4E on January 5, 2017 after a scrub the previous day. The IridiumNEXT payload was not atop the vehicle during the wet dress rehearsal and hot fire exercise.

F9-30 was the 29th Falcon 9 launch and the ninth v1.2 variant to fly, not including the lost AMOS 6 launch vehicle. It was the first v1.2 to fly from VAFB.



kz1a-1.jpg (6082 bytes)Kuaizhou 1A Launch

China's Kuaizhou 1A (KZ-1A), an improved variant of previously-flown Kuaizhou 1, flew for the first time on January 9, 2016 from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The three-stage solid fuel rocket lifted off from a mobile launcher on a flat pad at 04:11 UTC. Three satellites, including remote-sensing JL-1 and CubeSats XY-S1 and Caton-1, separated into sun synchronous orbits.

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. The three solid motor stages weigh 16.621 tonnes, 8.686 tonnes, and 3.183 tonnes and have 65 second, 62 second, and 55 second burn times, respectively. The first two stages are 1.4 meters diameter. The third stage is 1.2 meters diameter. 1.2 and 1.4 meter diameter fairing are available. This launch appeared to use the 1.4 meter fairing.

A small N2O4/MMH bipropellant insertion fourth stage provided final orbit trim during a roughly 13 minute long period that included nearly six minutes of low-thrust burn.  Spacecraft separation began about 17.7 minutes after liftoff.


cz3b38.jpg (9275 bytes)China Kicks Off 2017

China performed the first orbital launch of 2017 with a CZ-3B/E launch from XiChang on January 5. The 3.5 stage rocket carried TJSW 2 (Tongxin Jishu Shiyan Weixing, or Communications Engineering Test Satellite) aloft from LC 2 at 15:18 UTC. TJSW 2 entered a geosynchronous transfer orbit about one-half hour later after two burns by the liquid hydrogen-fueled third stage.

Like the first TJSW launched September 12, 2015, TJSW 2's appears to have a classified purpose.  The first TJSW was used, in part, to test Ka-band technology for broadband communications.

It was the 38th CZ-3B launch.




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