|Delta 4 Boosts
Secret Satellite for NRO
A Delta 4 rocket
sprang toward orbit with a National Reconnaissance Office payload from Cape Canaveral's
Space Launch Complex 37B on March 11, 2011. Flying the NROL-27 mission was Delta
353, a Delta 4 Medium+(4,2) variant with two GEM 60 strap-on solid rocket motors and a
four meter diameter upper stage. Delta 353 lifted off at 23:38 UTC to begin a
mission likely lasting several hours.
The payload is believed by some analysts to be a
Satellite Data System communications satellite bound for geostationary orbit.
NROL-27 was the fourth NRO launch since Sept. 20, 2010,
a program surge likely to have cost several billion dollars. An Atlas 5 launched
NROL-41 from Vandenberg AFB on that date. Delta 4 Heavies launched NROL-32 from Cape
Canaveral on November 21, 2010 and NROL-49 from Vandenberg on January 20, 2011.
Delta 353 was the seventh Delta 4M+4,2 and the 16th
Delta 4 flight.
Atlas 5 Launches
Second X-37B Space Plane
Atlas 5 AV-026, a 501 model with no strap-on boosters
and a 5 meter diameter payload fairing, orbited the second X-37B space plane for the U.S.
Air Force on March 5, 2011. The two-stage rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral SLC
41 at 22:46 UTC to begin the OTV-2 (Orbital Test Vehicle) mission. The purpose of
the likely months-long mission was not announced.
According to the U.S. Air Force, X-37B weighed about 5
tonnes at liftoff. Less than 0.3 tonnes can likely be carried inside the X-37B
payload bay. During this ascent the Centaur stage burned until its first cutoff
about 17 minutes after liftoff, when it was at an altitude of about 360 km. Since
Atlas 5-501 is capable of lifting perhaps 8 tonnes to LEO from Cape Canaveral, it seems
likely that the stage was used to change the orbital plane during the ascent, as it did
during the first X-37B mission.
AV-026 was the 24th Atlas 5 flight, and the 14th
Taurus XL Fails
Orbital Sciences' ninth Taurus rocket failed to deliver
NASA's Glory satellite to orbit on March 4, 2011. It was the rocket's second
consecutive failure, the prior failure having occurred in 2009. Failure of the
clamshell payload fairing to separate was the cause of both of the 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. Even if orbit had been
achieved, the satellite would have been trapped in its fairing. The lost mission
cost a reported $424 million.
Taurus XL "T9", a 3110 model with a Castor 120
"Zero Stage" topped by three Pegasus XL stages, lifted off from Vandenberg AFB
SLC 576 East at 10:09 UTC. Six seconds after the third ("Stage 2") stage
ignited just under three minutes into the flight, the payload fairing failed to separate.
The upper stages continued to fire as velocity gradually fell short of the planned
result. The upper stage/payload composite likely reentered into the Southern
After 2009's "T8" Taurus failure destroyed
NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory, Orbital spent two years re-designing the payload
fairing separation system, replacing a hot-gas pressurization system with a cold gas
Glory would have mapped aerosol particulates in the
atmosphere, part of an effort to improve climate change models.
NASA's last three attempts to use Taurus have failed.
Taurus first flew in 1994. The all-solid fuel
rocket's 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.
2-1b/Fregat Launches Glonass-K
The fourth Soyuz 2-1b, topped by a Fregat upper stage,
successfully launched a Glonass-K navigation satellite for Russia on February 26,
2011. The rocket lifted off from Plesetsk Northern Cosmodrome Area 43 Pad 4 at 03:07
UTC. About 3.5 hours later, Fregat fired for the final time and 935 kg Glonass-K
separated into a 19,100 km circular orbit.
The launch provided some recovery from the December 5,
2010 Proton failure that destroyed three Glonass satellites. Russian President
Dmitry Medvedev fired two top space officials after the cause was determined to be an
improper propellant loading of that rocket's Blok DM-03 upper stage.
Discovery's Final Launch
NASA's Space Shuttle Discovery (OV-103) performed its
final liftoff on February 24, 2011 from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A.
The orbiter carried seven crew on the STS-133 mission aimed to carry supplies to the
International Space Station.
Discovery, flying for the 39th time, carried the
Permanent Multipurpose Module and Express Logistics Carrier 4, both of which will be
attached to ISS during the STS-133 mission.
Discovery, the third NASA Space Shuttle orbiter to fly
into space, lifted off for the first time on August 30, 1984 on the STS-41D mission.
Highlights of Discovery's life include orbiting and servicing the Hubble Space
Telescope, launching the Ulysses spacecraft and the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite,
performing the first DoD Shuttle mission, and performing multiple missions to both Mir and
ISS. Discovery flew more times than any other orbiter. She will be retired to
the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum when the Shuttle program ends.
One more Shuttle flight remains on the schedule, with a
second flight possible if funding becomes available.
Ariane 5 Launches ATV-2 with ISS Cargo
Ariane 5 Launcher Number 544, an Ariane 5ES model flying
the 200th Arianespace mission, orbited Europe's ATV-2 (Automated Transfer Vehicle) from
Kourou Space Center on February 16, 2011. Following the 21:51 UTC liftoff from ELA
3, the L544 Storable Propellant Stage performed two burns, with a 45 minute coast between,
to lift ATV-2 to a 255 x 262 km x 51.6 deg orbit during a one-hour mission.
ATV-2, named "Johannes Kepler", weighed 19.7
tonnes at liftoff, making it the heaviest Ariane payload to date. The spacecraft
carried 7.084 tonnes of payload for the International Space Station, including 1.6 tonnes
of dry cargo, 0.1 tonnes of oxygen, and 4.534 tonnes of propellant that will either be
transferred to ISS (0.85 tonnes) or used by ATV-2's propulsion system to raise the
After spacecraft separation, the upper stage performed a
third burn to lower its orbit.
L544 was the second Ariane 5ES, the 27th Ariane to fly
with a Storable Propellant Stage, and the 56th Ariane 5 launch overall.
Launches Secret NRO Payload
A four stage Minotaur 1 rocket launched NROL-66, a secret National Reconnaissance Office payload, into orbit from
Vandenberg Air Force Base on February 6, 2011. The solid fuel vehicle lifted off at
12:26 UTC from Space Launch Complex 8. The launch was not webcast and no details
about the payload or its orbit have been released.
Minotaur 1 combines two surplus Minuteman 2 ICBM booster
stages with two Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL upper stages and a Pegasus XL payload fairing.
A Pegasus XL avionics assembly, mounted atop Stage 4, provides vehicle
guidance and control. The vehicle can put 340 kg into a 740 km sun synchronous low
earth orbit from Vandenberg.
The NROL-66 flight used the ninth Minotaur 1 rocket.
All nine flights have reportedly been successful.
KM Launch Failure
Russia's Rokot/Briz KM failed to correctly orbit a
defense geodetic satellite, named GEO-IK-2-11, on February 1, 2011. The three stage
rocket lifted off from Plesetsk Area 133 Pad 3 at 14:00 UTC. Russian tracking
systems initially failed to detect signals from the satellite when expected about 95
minutes after launch, but later did make contact. U.S. tracking systems showed an
object in a 311 x 1,058 km x 99.46 deg orbit, consistent with the expected transfer orbit
prior to a Briz KM insertion burn to a planned 1,000 km circular orbit.
Rokot's Briz-KM third stage is powered by a re-ignitable
main engine that burns N2O4/UDMH to produce 2,000 kgf thrust in vacuum at a specific
impulse of 325.5 seconds. The engine can burn for up to 1,000 seconds. The stage
usually performs a burn during the initial ascent phase to reach a transfer or parking
orbit, then restarts one or more times to insert its payload into the final planned orbit.
The failure was the second for Rokot/Briz KM in 16
Orbits Progress M-09M
Progress M-09M, bound for the International
Space Station with supplies, flew from Baikonur Cosmodrome's Area 1 Pad 5 on January 28,
2011. A 2.5 stage Soyuz-U launch vehicle carried the cargo-hauler into orbit during
its nine-minute ascent. Liftoff occurred at 01:31 UTC..
Progress M-09M will join Japan's HTV-2,
launched six days prior, at ISS.
Japan's space agency JAXA launched its second HTV cargo
spacecraft toward the International Space Station on January 22, 2011. The second
H-2B launch vehicle performed the mission, lifting off from Tanegashima Pad 2 at 05:38
UTC. H-2B's second stage completed its single burn 14 minutes, 20 seconds after
liftoff to insert the 16 tonne spacecraft into a 200 x 300 km x 51.6 deg
HTV-2 carried 5.3 tonnes of cargo, composed of 4 tonnes
pressurized and 1.3 tonnes unpressurized.
H-2B consists of a 5.2 meter diameter core stage,
powered by two LE-7A engines, augmented by four SRB-A strap on motors. The second
stage is essentially an H-2A upper stage. A new 5.1 meter diameter payload fairing
tops the rocket. The rocket stands 56.6 meters tall and weighs 531 tonnes at
Delta 4 Heavy
Orbits Reconnaissance Satellite
Delta 352 was the first Delta 4 Heavy to fly from
Vandenberg AFB Space Launch Complex 6. It boosted NROL-49, believed to be an
electro-optical reconnaissance satellite weighing 13 to 17 tonnes, into a near-polar orbit
on January 20, 2011. Delta 352's upper stage reportedly de-orbited itself into the
Pacific Ocean after completing about one orbit of the planet.
First Zenit 3F/Fregat Launches Russian Weather
Flying for the first time with an improved Fregat SB
third stage, a Zenit 3F (also called Zenit 3SLBF), successfully boosted Russia's first
Electro-L weather satellite directly into geosynchronous orbit from Baikonur Cosmodrome on
January 20, 2011. The rocket lifted off from Area 45 Pad 1 in snowy winter
The Zenit 3F consisted of a Zenit 2SB80 two-stage
booster topped by a Fregat SB third stage. A propellant drop tank has been added to
the standard Fregat stage to create Fregat SB. With the tank, Fregat can carry up to
7.1 tonnes of hypergolic propellant for its 2 tonne thrust S5.92 engine.
Fregat and payload were inserted into a parking orbit by
Zenit. Fregat then performed three burns during a 12 hour mission to lift Electro-L
into its deployment orbit. The drop tank was jettisoned after the first burn.
Fregat burned a fourth time to move to a slightly lower orbit after payload separation.
It was the first Zenit launch since November 30,