||Delta 4 Launches
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
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
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.
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.
Falcon 9 Orbits
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Falcon 9 Debuts
from KSC (February 23, 2017 Update)
SpaceXs 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.
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 between 8,700 and .9,770 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.
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..
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
Falcon 9 Returns
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
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.
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
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
China Kicks Off
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
It was the 38th CZ-3B launch.
Launch Falters (12/29/16 Update)
A Chang Zheng (Long March) 2D failed to properly orbit the first pair of SuperView-1
remote sensing satellites from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on December 28, 2016. The
satellites separated into roughly 214 x 524 km x 97.58 deg orbits, lower than the planned
roughly 500 km circular. The satellites began to spend their own propellant to raise
their low perigees within a day of the launch. If they had been unable to do so,
they would likely have decayed from orbit in several weeks.
The cause of the failure, the first ever for the CZ-2D
variant, was not immediately certain, but the first staging event between stages one and
two appeared to take place about 7 seconds later than planned. The subsequent
payload fairing separation also occurred about 7 seconds late.
It was the first CZ-2D launch from Taiyuan. Liftoff from
LC9 took place at 03:23 UTC.
SuperView-1 will be a civilian remote sensing satellite constellation operated by the
Siwei Star Co. of Beijing. Four 560 kg optical imaging satellites will ultimately comprise
the SuperView-1 constellation. They will operate in 500 km sun synchronous orbits.
It was the 19th DF-5 based CZ launch and 22nd Chinese orbital launch attempt of the year.
Launches Two Comsats
An Ariane 5 ECA orbited two communication satellites from Kourou on December 21, 2016.
Liftoff from ELA 3 took place at 20:30 UTC. The Arianespace VA234 mission placed
6,433.1 kg StarOne D1 and 3,407.5 kg JCSat 15 into geosynchronous transfer orbits. About
28.5 minutes after liftoff, SS/Loral-built StarOne D1 deployed first from atop a Sylda 5
dual payload carrier. SS/Loral-built JCSat 15 separated several minutes later.
Both satellites will raise themselves into geostationary orbits. StarOne D1 will be
positioned at 84 deg West. JCSat 15 will work from 110 deg East.
VA234 was the seventh and final Ariane 5 launch of 2016.
CZ-2D Orbits CO2 Mapper
China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 2D launched TanSat, a high resolution carbon dioxide
mapping satellite, from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on December 21, 2016. The
two-stage hypergolic fueled rocket lifted off from the 43/603 pad at 19:22 UTC. The 620 kg
TanSat entered a sun synchronous earth orbit, along with at least two microsatellites.
It was the 18th DF-5 based CZ launch of the year, four
more than Russia's second-place R-7. It was also China's 21st orbital launch attempt
of the year, one less than the United Staes and two more than Russia. With several
more launches planned, China appears on track to lead the world in calendar year orbital
launch attempts for the first time.
Japan's second Epsilon launch vehicle, the first
improved "Enhanced" variant, boosted the Energization and Radiation in Geospace
(ERG) satellite into an elliptical orbit passing through the Van Allen radiation belts
from Kagoshima on December 20, 2016. ERG, which separated into an orbited targeted to be
219 x 33,200 km x 31.4 deg about 13.5 minutes after liftoff, was nicknamed
"Arase", the name of a river near Kagoshima, upon activation.
Enhanced Epsilon began its E-02 mission with an 11:00 UTC launch from the former M-5 pad
at Uchinoura Space Center. The SRB-A based first stage produced about 219 tonnes of
liftoff thrust to lift the 26 meter tall, 75.3 tonne rocket. The first stage fired for
about 105 seconds. After the burn the entire vehicle coasted for 56 seconds. The payload
fairing separated during the coast at the 2 min 30 sec mark. The second stage, a newly
developed, 15 tonne M-35 solid motor that is 4.2 tonnes heavier than the M-34c motor used
by the original Epsilon on its 2013 inaugural flight, ignited at T+2 min 45 sec and fired
for about 1 min 58 sec, producing about 45 tonnes of thrust.
The vehicle coasted again, building up an axial spin, before the KM-V2c third stage
ignited at T+6 min 42 sec. The stage fired for 1 min 29 sec to insert itself and 365 kg
ERG into the deployment orbit. ERG separated at T+13 min 27 sec.
Enhanced Epsilon features a new second stage that is the same diameter as the first stage.
This allowed the payload fairing to move higher, providing more payload space. The second
and third stages now have fixed, rather than extendible nozzles, a reliability-improving
provision provided by use of longer interstage sections. Avionics was improved and
structures were made lighter. Enhanced Epsilon can lift 30% more mass to orbit than the
original "Test" Epsilon.
Atlas 5 Launches
AV-071, an Atlas 5-431 with three solid rocket motors
and a 4.27 meter diameter extra extended payload fairing orbited EchoStar 19, a Hughes
Network Systems communications satellite, from Cape Canaveral, Florida on December 18,
2016. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41 took place at 19:13 UTC. After two burns by the
Centaur second stage, 6,637 kg Echostar 19 separated into a geosynchronous transfer orbit
targeted to be 204 x 65,000 km x 25.44 deg.
Echostar 19, a Space Systems/Loral 1300 series satellite, carried Ka-band transponders and
antenna arrays capable of creating more than 100 spot beams for 150 gigabit per second or
higher data transfer rates. The satellite will be positied in geostationary orbit at 97.1
After a 4 min 26 sec first stage burn, Centaur fired for 8 min 56 sec. The stage then
coasted for about 9.5 minutes before restarting to perform a 5 min 48 sec burn to reach
its transfer orbit. Echostar 19 separated 32 min 3 sec after liftoff.
It was the 8th Atlas 5 flight of the year and the 67th launch vehicle success in 68
attempts during the 14 year Atlas 5 program.
Orbital ATK's air-launched Pegasus rocket returned to service after a three year hiatus by
successfully orbiting NASA's Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS), a
constellation of eight small satellites, from Cape Canaveral, Florida on December 15,
2016. Stargazer, the L-1011 mother ship, took off from the Cape Skid Strip before
drop-launching the three-stage Pegasus-XL off the coast at 13:37 UTC.
Pegasus fired its first two stages in succession. The third stage, still attached to the
second stage, then coasted for 3 minutes 49 seconds before separating and beginning its
orbital insertion burn. CYGNSS reached orbit in just over 8 minutes. The eight satellites
were deployed in pairs beginning about 13 minutes after launch. The target orbit was
510 km x 35 deg.
Southwest Research Institute and the University of Michigan built the 28.9 kg satellites.
Together with their Sierra Nevada Corporation deployer, total payload mass was 345.6
It was the 43rd Pegasus launch, the 33rd Pegasus XL, and the year's 80th orbital launch
Orbits Weather Satellite
China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 3B orbited the first of a new weather satellite family
from XiChang Satellit Launch Center on December 10, 2016. The 3.5 stage CZ-3BE, tail
number Y42, lifted off from Launch Complex 3 at 16:11 UTC. Fengyun 4A separated into a
geosynchronous transfer orbit about one-half hour later after two burns by the liquid
hydrogen fueled upper stage.
Fengyun 4A uses China's new SAST5000 satellite bus. It is designed for a seven year
lifespan in geostationary orbit. CZ-3BE, until this year China's most-powerful rocket, can
lift 5.5 tonnes to GTO, suggesting that Fengyun 4A weighed more than 5 tonnes at liftoff.
It was China's 20th orbital launch attempt of 2016, and
H-2B Orbits ISS
Japan's H-2B launched JAXA's H-2 Transfer Vehicle 6 (HTV 6) ISS cargo hauling spacecraft
from Tanegashima's Yoshinobu Launch Pad No. 2 on December 9, 2016. After a 13:26 UTC
liftoff and 15 minute ascent, the 531 tonne, 2.5 stage rocket placed the roughly 15 tonne
spacecraft (named "Kounotori", or "White Stork") into a 200 x 300 km x
51.6 deg insertion orbit. Kounotori 6 was expected to gradually raise its orbit to 400 km
to reach the International Space Station on Tuesday, December 13.
Kounotori 6 carried about 3.9 tonnes of cargo, including about 2.6 tonnes in the forward
pressurized compartment and 1.3 tonne in the mid-unpressurized compartment. Cargo included
food and crew supplies, scientific hardware, and spare parts.
H-2B lifted off on about 1,100 tonnes of thrust, including about 180 tonnes thrust from
its twin LH2/LOX LE-7A core main engines and about 920 tonnes of thrust produced by its
four SRB-A monolithic solid motors. The solid motors ignited at liftoff and burned out 1
minute 52 seconds after liftoff. The LE-5A engines ignited about five seconds before
liftoff and cut off at T+5 min 47 sec. The second stage's single LH2/LOX 14 tonne thrust
LE-5B engine performed a single burn that lasted 8 minutes 19 seconds.
It was the sixth H-2B flight since the type began flying in 2009. It was also the 12th
launch attempt and 11th success for ISS in 2016.
Delta 4 Launches
Delta 376, 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. 8 into supersynchronous
transfer orbit from Cape Canaveral Florida on December 7, 2016. The 66.3 meter tall liquid
hydrogen fueled rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 37B at 23:53 UTC.
DCSS performed two burns of its 11.23 tonne thrust RL10B-2 LOX/LH2 engine during the
ascent. The first placed the vehicle in a 185 x 6,078 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 435 x 44,377 km x 27
deg transfer orbit. Spacecraft separation occurred 41 minutes 44 seconds after liftoff.
WGS-8 will provide up to 11 Gbps data transfer rates for the U.S. military using X-band
and Ka-band transponders and on-board data processors.
It was the fourth Delta 4 launch of 2016, a mark achieved in only two previous years.
It was also the 25th flight of the Delta 4 Medium, single-core type, all of which
Lofts Resourcesat 2A
PSLV-C36, an XL version of Indian Space Research
Organizaion's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, boosted 1,235 kg Resourcesat 2A into a sun
synchronous orbit from Sriharikota, India on December 7, 2016. The remote sensing
satellite will provide multispectral imaging to monitor resources for India.
Liftoff from the First Launch Pad at Satish Dhawan Space Center took place at 04:55 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 1,028 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 496 seconds during its insertion burn. Resourcesat 2A
separated 1,075 seconds after liftoff into a 821 x 822 km x 98.7 deg orbit.
It was the sixth PSLV launch of the year.
Europe's Vega launch vehicle launched Turkey's Gokturk 1, a high resolution optical
imaging satellite, into sun synchronous orbit from Kourou Space Center on December 5,
2016. The nearly one hour VV08 Arianespace mission began with a 13:51 UTC liftoff from the
ZLV pad on nearly 137 tonnes of solid motor thrust.
Vega's first three solid motor stages fired in succession during the first 6 minutes 36
seconds of the flight, with a 17 second pause between the second and third stage burns.
The AVUM storable liquid fourth stage and payload then coasted for 1 minute 45 seconds
before beginning its first, 6 minute 20 second, 250 kgf burn to reach an initial transfer
orbit. Following a nearly 40 minute coast, AVUM fired its RD-843 engine again for 1 minute
42 seconds to reach an approximate 700 km x 98.11 deg orbit.
Thales Alenia Space built the 1,060 kg Proteus-platform satellite for Turkey's defense
It was the year's second Vega flight.
U/Progress MS-04 Failure
The penultimate Soyuz U launch vehicle launched Russia's Progress MS-04 robotic cargo
hauler toward the International Space Station from Baikonur Cosmodrome on December 1,
2016. Liftoff from Area 1 Pad 5 took place at 14:51:52 UTC.
Telemetry was lost at T+383 seconds, during the third stage burn, according to TASS.
Nominal third stage cutoff should have occurred at about T+526 seconds. The
vehicle was at 180 km altitude when the failure occurred. A destructive reentry
followed, with objects falling into Russia's Tuva region.
Progress MS-04 would have docked with ISS after a two
day ascent. The multi-module spacecraft weighed about 7,290 kg at liftoff, including 2,444
kg of cargo. It was the third Progress launch of the year.
After the launch, only one more Soyuz U launch vehicle remains. Soyuz U, which has
been in service since 1973, is the most oft-flown launch vehicle variant of all time.
The type is being replaced by Soyuz FG and Soyuz 2 models.
Launches Tianlian 1-4
China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 3CE (a G2 variant) orbited Tianlain (Sky Link) 1-4, the
fourth such tracking and data relay satellite, from XiChang satellite Launch Center on
November 22, 2016. Liftoff from Launch Complex 2 took place at 15:24 UTC. The rocket's
liquid hydrogen fueled third stage performed two burns to insert Tianlain 1-4 into a
geosynchronous transfer orbit.
Tianlain 1-4, which likely weighed about 2,460 kg at launch, will maneuver into a
geostationary orbit where it will provide links between other satellites and ground
stations, and between ground stations. China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) developed
the DFH-3 (Dongfanghong-3) based satellite.
5 Orbits GOES-R
AV-069, an Atlas 5-541 with four solid rocket boosters
and a five meter payload fairing, boosted GOES-R, the first of a new generation of weather
satellites, into orbit on November 19, 2016 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Liftoff
from Space Launch Complex 41 took place at 23:42 UTC after an hour delay to investigate
unspecified launch vehicle and/or range issues. The 5,192 kg Lockheed A2100 series
satellite separated into a 8,099 x 35,286 km x 10.6 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit
about 3.5 hours later.
The Centaur second stage fired its RL10C-1 engine three
times during the mission. The first burn put the stage and payload into a 167 x 540
km x 28.1 deg parking orbit 736 seconds after liftoff. The second burn began 1,319
seconds after liftoff and lasted 336 seconds, resulting in a 187 x 32,717 km x 25.68 deg
transfer orbit. The final 93 second burn at apogee began 12,453 seconds after
GOES-R will use its own LEROS-1C Hydrazine/MON engine to
raise itself to geostationary orbit.
Russia's Soyuz FG launched the Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft from Baikonur, Kazakhstan with three
International Space Station crew on November 17, 2016. Liftoff from Baikonur Cosmodrome
Area 1 Pad 5 took place at 20:20 UTC. About nine minutes later, the Soyuz FG second stage
inserted Soyuz MS-03 into a low earth orbit at the 51.6 deg ISS inclination.
Onboard the upgraded spacecraft were Russia's Oleg
Viktorovich Novitskiy, Europe's Thomas Pesquet, and NASA's Peggy Whitson. They will serve
during ISS Expeditions 50 and 51.
It was the third Soyuz MS model spacecraft with improved, navigation, communications, and
computer systems that were previously introduced on unmanned Progress MS flights. Soyuz
MS-03 will take two days before its schedule ISS rendezvous to allow for systems testing.
It was 2016's fifth crewed orbital launch and the second crewed Soyuz flight in just under
Orbits Four Navsats
L594, the first Ariane 5 ES version tailored to launch Europe's Galileo satellites,
successfully orbited four of the navigation beacons from Kourou on November 17, 2016. The
Arianespace VA233 mission lifted off from ELA 3 at 13:06 UTC. Ariane 5's EPS storable
propellant stage performed two burns, with a more than three-hour coast between, to insert
the 15th through 18th Galileo satellites into a 22,925 km x 54.57 deg orbit. Total payload
mass was 2,865 kg, not including the new, 430 kg Airbus Safran dispenser that held the
satellites atop the EPS/VEB until their separation.
Ariane 5 ES was tweaked from its earlier ATV launch configuration to handle Galileo. Dry
mass was shaved from the Vehicle Equipment Bay (VEB). EPS carried a full 10 tonne
propellant load, and the propellant was heated before launch. The 2.957 tonne-thrust
MMH/N2O4 EPS Aestus engine fired for about 11 minutes during its first burn and for about
6.5 minutes during its second burn.
It was the year's 70th known orbital launch attempt, and
69th success. It was also the 6th Ariane 5 ES.
Launches Weather Satellite
A Chang Zheng (Long March ) 2D rocket orbited Yunhai 1, a new generation weather
satellite, for China from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on November 11, 2016. The
two-stage storable propellant rocket lifted of from LC 43/603 at 23:14 UTC. Yunhai 1
separated into a sun synchronous low earth orbit after the ascent phase.
It was the 15th DF-5 based CZ orbital launch attempt of the year, including eight from
Jiquan. It was also the 18th orbital launch attempt and 17th success of 2016, by China.
Orbits WorldView 4
Atlas 5 AV-062, a 401 variant with a four meter diameter payload fairing and no solid
rocket boosters, orbited WorldView 4 for DigitalGlobe from Vandenberg AFB on November 11,
2016. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 3 East took place at 18:30 UTC.
The rocket's 390 tonne thrust first stage RD-180 main
engine fired for 243 seconds before the first stage completed its work. Centaur then took
over, its LH2/LOX RL10C engine burning for 687 seconds during a direct ascent to the
planned 610 x 628 km x 97.96 deg sun synchronous deployment orbit. Payload fairing
separation took place 267 seconds after liftoff.
WorldView 4, a 2,485 kg Lockheed Martin LM-900 series earth imaging satellite, separated
from Centaur less than four minutes after Centaur shutdown. It joins WorldView 1 through 3
and GeoEye 1 in the DigitalGlobe constellation.
In addition to WorldView 4, four cubesats deployed from Centaur about 2 hours 11 minutes
after liftoff. After the final deployment, Centaur fired to send itself into solar
One WorldView 4 launch attempt was scrubbed on September 16 by a hydrogen leak in launch
pad ground support equipment. The more than 12,000 acre Canyon Fire that began a few days
later at Vandenberg AFB caused a longer delay. After firefighting ended, base
infrastructure had to be methodically checked out during October before the launch
campaign could resume.
China's four-stage solid fuel CZ-11 launched an X-ray pulsar navigation experimental
satellite namved XPNAV 1, along with several microsatellites, into low earth orbit from
Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China on November 9, 2016. Liftoff from a
canister attached to a mobile transporter/erector parked on a flat pad took place at 23:42
UTC. The site was likely one of two flat pads built in recent years northeast of the CZ-2F
XPNAV 1 (X-Ray Pulsar Navigation, or Maichong Xing Shiyan Weixing), a 240 kg satellite
built by affiliates of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporationk will test
on-orbit satellite navigation by measuring periodic X-rays from pulsars. Up to four
additional microsatellites, one of which may have remained attached to the CZ-11 fourth
stage, also entered orbit. The U.S. tracked objects from the launch in a 500 km
circular orbit and in a 500 x 1,000 km orbit.
It was the second known CZ-11 flight, following an inaugural launch on September 25, 2015.
The 58 tonne rocket may be based on China's DF-31 series solid fuel ballistic missile,
because the canister used to launch CZ-11 is similar to launch canisters used by the
road-mobile DF-31A. CZ-11 is reportedly 20.8 meters long (other reports suggest 18.7
meters), and 2 meters in diameter with a 58 tonne launch mass and a 120 tonne liftoff
thrust. Its fourth stage has demonstrated in-space maneuvering capability. CZ-11 may
be able to lift 350 kg or more to sun synchronous orbit.
China launched its first Chang Zheng (Long March) 5 from Wenchang Satellite Launch Center
on Hainan Island off China's southern coastline on November 3, 2016, debuting a powerful
new launch capability after nearly two decades of development.
The liftoff, from Pad 101, the westernmost of two new launch pads at the Center, took
place at 12:43 UTC after about 2 hours 43 minutes of holds. A YZ-2 (Yuanzheng) restarable
hypergolic upper stage and Shijian 17 experimental ion-propulsion satellite that together
may have weighed 12 tonnes or more topped the 2.5 stage CZ-5 vehicle on this inaugural
test flight. Shijian 17 itself likely weighed nearly 4 tonnes.
The initial, half-hour phase of the flight used two
second stage burns to put the YZ-2/Shijian 17 combination into a 178 x 29,127 km x 19.5
orbit. YZ-2 fired immediately after second stage separation to inserted Shijian 17 into a
212 x 35,802 km x 19.5 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO). About six hours
after launch, YZ-2 performed an apogee kick burn to insert Shijian into
At more than 870 tonnes, CZ-5 became the world's highest active gross liftoff weight
launch vehicle. It's 5 meter diameter LH2/LOX core stage and four 3.35 meter diameter
kerosene/LOX strap-on boosters produced a total 1,080 tonnes liftoff thrust using a total
of 10 liquid rocket engines. The rocket stood 56.97 meters tall.
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, burned for 471 seconds, with the YF-77 engines operating at 430
seconds vacuum specific impulse.
Vehicle Y-1 Rollout
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 during the previous 14 months. 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 12 x 5 meter second stage was powered by two YF-75D LH2/LOX engines that together made
32.6 tonnes of thrust at 438 second specific impulse. Similar YF-75 engines have powered
CZ-3A and CZ-3B upper stages for years. The stage weighed 26 tonnes and carried 22.9
tonnes of propellant. It performed an initial 355 second burn to reach a low earth parking
orbit, then restarted after a 592 second coast to the first equator crossing. The
345 second long second burn lofted the payload to an orbit that was about 300 meters per
sec short of GTO.
The YZ-2 stage added an initial 80 second burn to reach
the GTO velocity. According to some accounts, this burn was planned as an early test
of the new stage, which may have produced 1.33 tonnes total thrust at 316 seconds specific
impulse. At first apogee about 6 hours 11 minutes after liftoff, the stage began a
40 second burn to circularize the orbit. Shijian 17 separation took place around the
6 hour 14 minute mark.
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.
Japan's H-2A successfully boosted the country's Himawari 9 weather satellite into
geosynchronous transfer orbit on November 2, 2016. H-2A-202 F31 lifted off from Yoshinobu
launch complex Pad 1 at Tanegashima at 06:20 UTC. Himawari 9 separated about 28 minutes
later into a 245 x 35,855 km x 22.39 deg orbit.
The 3,500 kg satellite was launched by a now-standard H-2A variant that uses two
monolithic composite case SRB-A boosters to augment the LH2/LOX core stage LE-7A engine
thrust during the first 98 seconds of flight. The rocket's four-meter diameter payload
fairing separated at T+245 seconds. First stage cutoff occurred at T+396 seconds. The
LE-5B powered LH2/LOX second stage then performed two burns totalling 519 seconds, with a
roughly 9 minute coast between, to complete the ascent.
It was the 30th H-2A success in 31 flights, the second H-2A launch of 2016, and the 65th
known orbital launch attempt of the year.
Russia's 2.5 stage Soyuz FG launched the Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft from Baikonur, Kazakhstan
with three International Space Station crew on October 19, 2016. Liftoff from Baikonur
Cosmodrome Area 31 Pad 6 took place at 08:05 UTC. Soyuz MS-02 entered a low earth orbit at
the 51.6 deg ISS inclination. Onboard the upgraded spacecraft were Russia's Sergey
Nikolayevich Ryzhikov and Andrei Borisenko and NASA astronaut Robert Shane Kimbrough,
comprising the Expedition 49/50 crew.
It was the second Soyuz MS model spacecraft with improved, navigation, communications, and
computer systems that were previously introduced on unmanned Progress MS flights. Like
Soyuz MS-01, Soyuz MS-02 will take two days before its schedule ISS rendezvous to allow
for systems testing.
It was 2016's fourth crewed orbital launch, 12th R-7 launch, and ninth launch to ISS.
Orbital ATK's Antares launch vehicle returned to flight on October 17, 2016, successfully
orbiting the company's Cygnus OA-5 cargo hauling mission from Wallops Island, Virginia.
The success came two years after the previous Antares exploded above Pad 0A, damaging the
pad and forcing a re-design of the launch vehicle itself. The resulting "Antares
230" retained the basic structure and avionics of the original, but gained two new
Energomash RD-181 engines in place of the AJ-26 engines that powered the first five
flights. An AJ-26 turbopump failure triggered the 2014 explosion.
Cygnus OA-5 was the third enhanced Cygnus with a stretched cargo module, but the first to
fly on Antares. Atlas 5 rockets orbited the first two enhanced Cygnus spacecraft on
Missions OA-4 and OA-6 during the two-year Antares stand-down. OA-5 carried a total 2,209
kg of cargo for the International Space Station, along with 133 kg of packaging. The
spacecraft weighed about 6,163 kg at liftoff, easily making it the heaviest-ever Antares
payload . Cygnus OA-5 was named in honor of former astronaut Alan Poindexter, who flew two
space shuttle missions.
Two RD-181 engines powered the Antares 230
Ukrainian-built first stage during its 23:45 UTC liftoff, each producing about 186 tonnes
of sea level thrust to lift the roughly 300 tonne launch vehicle and payload. The first
stage burned for about 200 seconds. After first stage shutdown, the second stage and
payload section separated and coasted for about 45 seconds before the Castor 30XL second
stage motor ignited to produce an average of about 51 tonnes of thrust during its roughly
160 second burn. It was the first in-space test of Castor 30XL, which had previously
attempted a debut on the failed 2014 launch. Just before second stage ignition, the
payload fairing and interstage sections separated.
Cygnus separated into a 214 x 362 km x 51.62 deg orbit at the 541.31 second mark. The
spacecraft will wait in orbit until October 23 to approach ISS to allow for the next
crewed Soyuz mission docking.
Another Antares first stage performed a roughly 30 second-long static fire test of the new
RD-181 engined Antares on Pad 0A on May 31, 2016. That stage will be used on a future
A Chang Zheng 2FY (CZ-2FY) launch vehicle boosted China's Shenzhou 11 with two Chinese
crew into orbit from Jiuquan space center on October 16, 2016. It was China's sixth crewed
flight, but the first since June, 2013. Liftoff from LC 43 Pad 921 at the Mongolian desert
base occurred at 23:30 UTC. The 7.7 tonne spacecraft separated into a low earth orbit
about 10 minutes later.
On board were Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong. Jing Haipeng, who flew previously on Shenzhou 7
and Shenzhou 9, is China's most experienced astronaut. They are slated to dock with
China's Tiangong 2 orbital module, where they will stay for up to 30 days. Tiangong 2 was
launched from the same pad on September 15, 2016.
It was the 13th CZ-2F launch. The rocket has only served Shenzhou and Tiangong since its
first flight in 1999.
Orbits Australian, Indian Satellites
Ariane 5 ECA L585 orbited communication satellites for Australia and India from Kourou on
October 5, 2016. Liftoff from ELA 3 took place at 20:30 UTC. The Arianespace VA231 mission
placed 6,405 kg Sky Muster 2 and 3,404 kg GSAT 18 into geosynchronous transfer orbits.
About 28.5 minutes after liftoff, SS/Loral-built Sky Muster 2 deployed first from atop a
Sylda 5 dual payload carrier. GSAT 18, built by Indian Space Research Organization,
separated several minutes later.
Sky Muster 2 will serve Australia's government-owned NBN Co., providing high speed
internet service. GSAT 18 will provide communication services for India.
VA231 was the fifth Ariane 5-ECA launch of 2016 and the 58th since the type premiered in
Orbits Eight Satellites
India's PSLV boosted the SCATSAT 1 weather satellite and seven smaller non-Indian
co-passenger satellites into sun synchronous orbits from Satish Dhawan Space Centre,
Sriharikota on September 26, 2016. The standard "G" series 4.5 stage rocket,
fitted with six of the smaller S9 strap-on solid rocket motors for the first time since
2011, lifted of from the First Launch Pad at 03:42 UTC, beginning a complex 2 hour 15
minute mission that saw three burns by the hypergolic bipropellant PS4 fourth stage.
The four stage rocket's stages fired in succession to reach the initial, 720 km SCATSAT 1
orbit, into which the primary payload separated about 17.5 minutes after liftoff. The PS4
stage fired two more times, at about 1 hour 22 minutes and 2 hours 11 minutes into the
mission, to reach a 670 km orbit where, after a dual payload adapter was jettisonned, the
remaining satellites separated. They included 102 kg Alsat-1B, 110 kg Alsat-2B, and
microsatellites Alsat Nano, Pathfinder 1, NLS 19, PISat, and Pratham. The satelites were
from Algeria, Canada, USA and India. Total payload mass was 675 kg.
It was the first time that PSLV had inserted payloads into two separate orbit altitudes
and it was the longest PSLV mission to date.
Europe's Vega launch vehicle boosted five mapping
satellites, one for Peru and four for Terra Bella, a Google company, into sun synchronous
orbits from Kourou Space Center on September 16, 2016. The nearly two hour mission began
with a 01:43 UTC liftoff from the ZLV pad on nearly 137 tonnes of solid motor thrust.
Vega's P80 first stage fired for 114 seconds and its Zefire 23 second stage for 104
seconds. After a 21 second coast, the Zefiro 9 third stage fired for 162 seconds,
completing the solid motor phase of the ascent. The AVUM storable liquid fourth stage then
coasted for 86 seconds before beginning its first, 363 second, 250 kgf burn to reach an
initial transfer orbit. Following a nearly 24 minute coast, AVUM fired its RD-843 engine
again for 89 seconds to reach a 491 x 508 km x 97.4 deg orbit where SkySat 4, 5, 6, and 7,
the Terra Bella satellites, were released. During the next hour, AVUM fired twice more to
reach PeruSAT 1's 667 x 684 km x 98.2 deg insertion orbit. After PeruSAT separation, AVUM
was expected to finish the mission with a fifth, orbit-reduction burn.
The four Space Systems/Loral-built SkySat satellites, which rode atop the Vega Secondary
Payload Adaptor, weighed 110 kg each. They will provide sub-meter resolution mapping
images of the Earth. PeruSAT 1, an Airbus Defence and Space AstroBus satellite, weighed
430 kg. PeruSAT-1 is Perus first Earth observation satellite.
China Orbits Tiangong 2
China launched its 8.5 tonne Tiangong 2 space lab into
orbit from Jiuquan Satellite
Launch Center on September 15, 2016. The launch, by the second CZ-2FT
launch vehicle, took place at 14:04 UTC from the same LC 43/921 pad used for crewed
Shenzhou launches. Tiangong 2, believed to weigh about 8.5 tonnes at launch, entered
a low earth orbit about 10 minutes after liftoff.
Tiangong 2 will serve as a small space station for the manned
Shenzhou 11spacecraft beginning in October, 2016. A 30 day crewed mission is
planned. During the mission, an unmanned cargo ship named "Tianzhou" is
expected to visit.
CZ-2FT is an improved CZ-2F equipped with longer strap-on boosters
that each carry nearly 3 tonnes more propellant than their predecessors. The
boosters burn for 155 seconds, about 18 seconds longer than the previous boosters,
allowing CZ-2FT to boost up to 8.6 tonnes to LEO. The rocket also uses a 12.7 x 4.2
meter payload fairing in place of the usual CZ-2F Shenzhou spacecraft and its launch
It was the first Tiangong launch since the first on September 29,
Launches Israeli Spysat
Israel's Shavit-2 rocket launched Ofeq 11, a
reconnaissance satellite, into a retrograde low earth orbit from Palmachim Air Base on
September 13, 2016. Liftoff took place at 14:38 UTC. Ofeq 11, a 400 kg optical imaging
satellite built by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI Ltd), was reported later in the day to
have suffered some problems in orbit, but no details were provided. The launch
itself was apparently successful. A 600 km retrograde orbit was expected.
The launch was jointly carried out by IAI and the
Defense Ministrys Space Administration, which is a part of the Administration for
the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure. It was the first Shavit
launch since 2014. It may have been the 11th Shavit launch attempt since 1988.
Atlas 5 Launches
Atlas 5 AV-067, a 411 variant with one solid rocket booster and a 4 meter (14 foot)
diameter large payload fairing, launched NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft into solar orbit
from Cape Canaveral, Florida on September 8, 2016. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41
took place at 23:05 UTC. After two burns by the Centaur stage RL10A-4-2 engine, with the
second burn preceded by a 22.5 minute coast and followed by a 15 minute coast, 1,529 kg
OSIRIS-REx separated about 55.5 minutes after liftoff.
OSIRIS-REx, which stands for "Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource
Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer", is designed to perform a seven year
mission to asteroid Bennu, a 492 meter diameter near-Earth asteroid. It will collect
samples from Bennu in 2020 and return them to Earth in a return capsule.
It was the 65th Atlas 5 launch and the 4th by a 411 variant. It was also the 55th
consecutive Atlas 5 launch success. AV-067 was stacked in the SLC 41 VIF in early
August and performed a wet dress rehearsal on the pad without a payload during August 25
Orbits Insat 3DR
India's Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle orbited the Insat 3DR weather satellite
from Satish Dhawan Space Center at Sriharikota on September 8, 2016. The GSLV Mk 2
variant, flying the GSLV-F05 mission, lifted off from the Second Launch Pad at 11:20 UTC.
The 3.5 stage rocket placed 2,211 kg Insat 3DR into a 170 x 35,975 km x 20.6 deg
geosynchronous transfer orbit. Insat 3DR will use its own propulsion system to reach
a circular 35,786 km x 0 deg geostationary orbit, positioned at 75 deg East longitude.
The 3.5 stage, 415 tonne rocket, India's most-powerful operational launcher, rose on about
770 tonnes of thrust generated by its solid motor core and four Vikas 2 powered liquid
strap-on boosters. The Vikas 4 powered second stage took over after about 2.5 minutes. At
T+4 min 49 sec, the liquid hydrogen fueled "Cryogenic Upper Stage" third stage,
powered for the fourth time by an Indian-developed CE-7.5, 7.495 tonne thrust engine,
began a 12 minute burn to reach the deployment orbit.
It was the 10th GSLV flight, and the fifth success, including successes during the
most-recent three launches. It was the third success in four launches by GSLV Mk 2,
which uses the Indian-developed third stage engine.
Falcon 9 and
AMOS 6 Destroyed in Pre Launch Test (9/8/16 Update)
A Falcon 9 rocket 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. The test was planned to assure all was ready
for a September 3 launch that would have placed 5.5 tonne AMOS 6 in geosynchronous
Reports indicate that propellant loading was nearly
completed and the test was about eight minutes away when a powerful explosion destroyed
the rocket and satellite at about 9:07 AM Eastern Time. A series of smaller
explosions occurred during the following minutes as a fire raged at SLC 40 and a large
plume of black smoke drifted across the Florida space center. It was the largest pad
explosion in the history of Cape Canaveral/Kennedy Space Center.
A few hours after the explosion, Elon Musk tweeted that
the failure appeared to have begun at the second stage liquid oxygen tank. SLC 40
was reported to have been heavily damaged, knocking it out of service. A day after
the failure, SpaceX announced that East Coast launch campaigns would move to Kennedy Space
Center Launch Complex 39 Pad A, which should be ready to support operations beginning in
The AMOS 6 launch would have been the 29th Falcon
launch, and the ninth by a Falcon 9 v1.2 variant. The AMOS 6 first stage was test
fired at McGregor, Texas on August 5, 2016 and arrived at Cape Canaveral some time after
Launch Apparently Fails
China's attempt to orbit its Gaofen 10 earth observation
satellite apparently failed on August 31, 2016. The three-stage CZ-4C launch
reportedly took place from LC 9 at the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center at 18:55 UTC.
Photos of debris from the first stage and payload fairing laying in or near their expected
impact zones were posted hours later, but the satellite and upper stage were not tracked
in orbit, hinting at a possible issue during the flight of one of the upper stages.
China's state-controlled media had not even reported that a launch took place at all some
It was the first orbital launch failure of 2016, and
China's first orbital failure since December 2013. The failure ended a string of 65
consecutive orbital launch successes world-wide since early December 2015. The
previous best such string was 69 consecutive successes spanning the end of 1988 and the
beginning of 1989.
Launches Intelsat Pair
The 57th Ariane 5 ECA, flying the VA232 Arianespace mission, orbited two Intelsat
communication satellites from Kourou Space Center on August 24 2016. Intelsat 33e
and Intelsat 36 separated into geosynchronous transfer orbit about a half hour after the
22:17 UTC liftoff from ELA 3.
Together, the satellites weighed 9,853 kg at liftoff, bettering the previous Ariane 5 GTO
payload record set in June. Intelsat 33e, a 6,600 kg Boeing Space Systems 702MP
series satellite, has 20 C, 249 Ku, and 1 Ka band transponders to provide communication
services for Europe and Africa. Intelsat 36, a 3,253 kg Space Systems/Loral 1300
series satellite, will provide service to Africa and South Asia from 68.5 deg East using
34 Ku band transponders.
It was the fourth Ariane 5 launch of 2016.
Delta 4 Boosts
Delta 375, a Delta 4M+4,2 with a four meter diameter second stage and fairing and two
GEM-60 strap-on solid motors, launched two Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness
Program satellites into near-geosynchronous orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida on August
19, 2016. The 62.8 meter tall rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 37B at 04:52
UTC. The RL 10B-2 powered upper stage likely fired three times during a six hour ascent to
complete the mission.
GSSAP is the U.S. Air Force neighborhood watch program that uses multiple
surveillance satellites to monitor other satellites and debris in geosynchronous or
near-geosynchronous orbit. The satellites orbited on this flight were GSSAP 3 and GSSAP 4.
It was the 24th Delta 4 Medium, and the 33rd Delta 4, to fly.
Orbits Quantum Science Satellite
China launched its Quantum Science Satellite, named "Mozi" after a fifth century
Chinese scientist, from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on August 15, 2016. The Chang
Zheng (CZ) 2D rocket lifted off from the 43/603 pad at 17:40 UTC. The 600+ kg satellite
entered a 500 km sun synchronous earth orbit.
"Mozi" will perform quantum entanglement experiments.
It was the 11th DF-5 based CZ launch of the year, matching the world-leading year-to-date
R-7 total. With the flight, China had performed five of the world's last ten orbital
Falcon 9 Orbits
JCSAT 16 (8/16/16 Update)
The 28th Falcon 9, and 8th Falcon 9 v1.2, boosted JCSAT 16, for SKY Perfect JSAT, into
geosynchronous transfer orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida on August 14, 2016. Liftoff
from Space Launch Complex 40 took place at 05:26 GMT. Thirty two minutes later, after two
second-stage burns totalling 410 seconds duration, the 4.6 tonne Space Systems/Loral 1300
series satellite separated into a 184 x 35,912 km x 20.85 deg transfer orbit.
After performing its 153 second boost, the first stage separated from the second stage,
reoriented itself, deployed four grid-fins, and, after coasting for several minutes above
the atmosphere, reignited three of its Merlin 1D engines for a 23 second reentry burn. The
center engine ignited alone for a final landing burn as the stage deployed four legs and
landed, about 9 minutes after liftoff, on the converted landing barge "Of Course I
Still Love You" positioned about 645 km downrange in the Atlantic Ocean.
It was the sixth Falcon 9 first stage recovered in eleven attempts.
After raising itself to geostationary orbit, JCSAT 16 will initally be positioned at 162
degrees East longitude to stand in for Superbird 8, which was damaged in transit to its
planned Ariane 5 launch earlier this year. When Superbird 8 is repaired and launched,
JCSAT 16 will move to 150 deg East. The satellite has Ku and Ka band transponders.
The F9-28 stages were tested at McGregor, Texas in mid-July and arrived at the Cape during
the week of July 26. The rocket was rolled out without its payload for a first stage
static fire test on August 11.
It was the 50th orbital launch of 2016. All have
Launches Gaofen 3
China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 4C orbited the Gaofen 3 earth observation satellite from
Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on August 9, 2016. The three-stage rocket lifted off from
LC 9 at 22:55 UTC. It successfully boosted the 2,950 kg, CS-L3000B bus satellite into a
735 x 747 km x 98.41 deg sun synchronous orbit.
Gaofen 3 was equipped with a C-band synthetic aperature radar with 1 meter ground
resolution. It was developed by the China Academy of Space Technology.
China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 3BE orbited a mobile communications satellite named
Tiantong 1, the first of its type, from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on August 5, 2016.
Liftoff from Launch Complex 3 took place at 16:22 UTC. The satellite was inserted into a
geosynchronous transfer orbit after two burns by the rocket's liquid hydrogen fueled upper
After it raises itself to geostationary orbit, the satellite will provide mobile
communications coverage to China, the Middle East, Africa, and the Indian and Pacific
It was the ninth DF-5 based CZ launch, and 10th orbital launch by China, of 2016.
Atlas 5 Orbits
Atlas 5 AV-065 successfully boosted NROL-61 into geosynchronous transfer orbit for the
U.S. National Reconnaissance Office on July 28, 2016. The Atlas 5-421 vehicle with two
strap-on solid rocket motors and a 4-meter diameter Extra Extended Payload Fairing (XEPF),
lifted off from Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 41 at 12:37 UTC. The rocket's Centaur
upper stage performed two burns prior to satellite separation, followed by a third,
While the satellite's mission is classified, some analysts believe that NROL-61 is a new
generation data relay satellite 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
It was the fourth Atlas 5 launch of the year.
Launches CRS 9
F9-27 Liftoff from SLC 40
The 27th Falcon 9 orbited the Dragon 11 spacecraft on
NASA's CRS 9 International Space Station cargo hauling mission on July 18, 2016. After
performing the initial boost, the rocket's first stage performed three-engine boost back
and reentry burns and a single-engine landing burn and landed at Cape Canaveral's Landing
Zone 1. It was the fifth first stage to land successfully and the second to fly back
and land at Cape Canaveral.
Liftoff took place at 04:45 UTC from SLC 40. Falcon 9 aimed on a northeast azimuth during
its nine minute ascent. Dragon was targeted toward a 200 x 360 km x 51.6 deg orbit. The
spacecraft carried nearly 2,222 kg of cargo, including the first of two international
docking adapters, to allow commercial crew spacecraft dockings, in the unpressurized trunk
section. Combined Dragon and cargo mass was about 9.5 tonnes.
During the ascent, the first stage fired for 141 seconds, with stage separation three
seconds later. Stage 2 ignited at 152 seconds to begin its 390 second burn to orbit.
The first stage boost back burn began only 21 seconds after first stage main engine
cutoff, after a rapid maneuver to align the stage thrust vector back toward Cape
Canaveral. This three-engine burn lasted more than 50 seconds. The stage
coasted on a sligthly lofted trajectory before beginning its 18-plus second entry burn at
the 361 second mark. 458 seconds after liftoff, the final landing burn began and
continued for about 31 seconds until the stage settled on its Landing Zone 1 circular
concrete pad. Elon Musk soon reported that the stage appeared to be in good
Landing at LZ-1
Dragon separated from the second stage at the 577 second
mark. The spacecraft's solar arrays deployed about 1.5 minutes later. The
second stage subsequently performed a reentry burn that targeted a Southern Ocean zone
south of Australia.
The F9-27 first stage had performed a static firing at
SLC 40 on July 16. Both stages had been test fired at McGregor, Texas during June.
It was the year's 10th orbital launch from Cape
Canaveral, more than any other launch center this year to date.
U Orbits Progress MS-03
One of the final Soyuz U launch vehicles orbited Russia's Progress MS-03 robotic cargo
hauler toward the International Space Station from Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 16, 2016.
Liftoff from Area 31 Pad 6 took place at 21:41 UTC. It was the second Progress launch of
the year and the 45th orbital flight worldwide in 2016.
Progress MS-03 will dock with ISS on July 18 if plans hold. The multi-module spacecraft
weighed 7,281 kg at liftoff, including 2,405 kg of cargo.
After the launch, only two more Soyuz U launch vehicles remain. Both should fly by the end
of 2017. Soyuz U, which has been in service since 1973, is, with 774 launch attempts to
date, the most oft-flown launch vehicle variant in history. The type is being replaced by
Soyuz FG and Soyuz 2 variants.
Launches ISS Crew
A 2.5 stage Soyuz FG rocket orbited Russia's Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft from Baikonur,
Kazakhstan with three International Space Station crew on July 7, 2016. Liftoff from
Baikonur Cosmodrome Area 1 Pad 5 took place at 01:36 UTC. The spacecraft entered a
230 x 190 km x 51.6 deg initial orbit. Onboard the upgraded spacecraft were Russia's
Anatoly Ivanishin, Japan's Takuya Onishi, and NASA's Kate Rubins, comprising the
Expedition 48/49 crew.
This first example of the Soyuz MS model spacecraft features improved, navigation,
communications, and computer systems that were previously introduced on unmanned Progress
MS flights. Since it is the inaugural crewed flight, Soyuz MS-01 will take a 34 orbit, 51
hour journey before its schedule ISS rendezvous.
It was 2016's second crewed orbital launch, and was the 10th R-7 launch of the year.
See Older Launch Reports in the Space Launch Report Archive