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SPACE LAUNCH REPORT
by
Ed Kyle



Space Launch Report Archive

July-September, 2011


p368.jpg (4036 bytes)Proton Orbits QuetzSat 1 for SES

A Proton M/Briz M successfully orbited QuetzSat-1 for SES of Luxembourg from Baikonur Cosmodrome on September 29, 2011.  After an 18:32 UTC liftoff from Area 200/Pad 39, the Briz M upper stage completed five burns during a 9 hour 13 minute mission to deliver the communications satellite to geosynchronous transfer orbit.  The 5,514 kg satellite was a Space Systems/Loral 1300 series platform. 

It was the 368th Proton launch, 67 of which have been for International Launch Services.


cz2ft1-1.jpg (9726 bytes)China Launches Tiangong 1 Docking Module (Updated 10/1/11)

China launched its 8.5 tonne Tiangong 1 spacecraft into orbit from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on September 29, 2011.  The launch, by the first CZ-2FT1 rocket, began at 13:16 UTC from the same SLS Right pad used for crewed Shenzhou launches.  Tiangong 1 entered a 200 x 347 km x 42.76 deg orbit about 10 minutes after liftoff.

Tiangong 1 will serve as a docking target and multi-day orbiting module for the unmanned Shenzhou 8 spacecraft later this year.  If successful, the spacecraft may serve the same purpose for crewed Shenzhou 9 and 10 spacecraft in 2012.

CZ-2FT1 is an improved CZ-2F that is 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-2FT1 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 escape system.

  


mt4-5.jpg (5255 bytes)Minotaur 4 Orbits TacSat 4

Orbital's first Minotaur 4+ successfully boosted the Naval Research Laboratory's TacSat 4 satellite into orbit from Alaska's Kodiak Launch Complex on September 27, 2011.  The 450 kg "Operationally Responsive" UHF communications satellite separated into a 213 x 13,866 km x 63.4 deg elliptical orbit about 28 minutes after the 15:49 UTC liftoff.   TacSat 4 was expected to use its own thrusters to raise its perigee to 805 km, moving itself into a four hour orbit that will provide several hours of "dwell time" above users on the ground.

Minotaur 4+ uses a more powerful Star 48V fourth stage motor in place of the original Orion 38 motor used by Minotaur 4.  The upgrade improves Minotaur 4 performance by up to 250 kg, allowing more than 1.4 tonnes to be orbited from Kodiak.  Both Minotaur variants use surplus Peacekeeper ICBM motors for their first three stages.

It was the third orbital launch mission by a Minotaur 4, and the fifth Minotaur launch overall.  Two suborbital Minotaur 4 launches were performed for DARPA to launch Hypersonic Technology Vehicles, including one on August 11, 2011 from Vandenberg AFB.. 

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


z3sl39.jpg (15205 bytes)Sea Launch Back in Business

After enduring a two year Chapter 11 reorganization, Sea Launch returned to the business of launching satellites on September 24, 2011 when Zenit 3SL-39 lifted off from the company's Odyssey Launch Platform in the equatorial Pacific Ocean with Eutelsat's Atlantic Bird 7.   After the rocket's Blok DM-SL third stage performed two burns during the one hour mission, the 4.6 tonne Astrium E3000-series communications satellite separated into a 1,600 x 35,740 km x 0 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit. 

The new Sea Launch is majority-owned by Russia's Energia Oversea's Limited.  Boeing, which formerly owned 40% of the company, now serves only as a payload processing subcontractor after having lost as much as $500 million on the original money-losing venture. 

It was the 31st Sea Launch mission and the 28th success.   The reorganized company is planning to launch Intelsat 19 in early 2012.    


h2af19.jpg (3977 bytes)Japan Launches Spysat

H-2A-202 mission F19 boosted an Information Gathering Satellite (IGS), believed to be the Optical 4 intelligence gathering imager, into orbit from Tanegashima Space Center on September 23, 2011.  The 2.5 stage rocket lifted off from Yoshinobu Pad 1 at 04:36 UTC.  IGS likely entered a sun synchronous low earth orbit.

It was the first H-2A launch of the year.


va204.jpg (17817 bytes)Ariane 5 Orbits Two Comsats

The 33rd Ariane 5 ECA successfully orbited two commercial communication satellites from Kourou ELA 3 on September 21, 2011.  Arianespace mission AV-204 mission placed 4.63 tonne Arabsat 5C and 3.22 tonne tonne SES-2 into geosynchronous transfer orbit about one-half hour after a 21:38 UTC liftoff.    

Arabsat 5C is an EADS Astrium Eurostar E3000 satellite.   SES-2 is a Star 2.4 model built by Orbital. 

A worker's strike delayed the launch, the 60th by an Ariane 5, by one day. 



p367.jpg (10690 bytes)Proton Returns with Milcomsat Launch

A Proton M/Briz M launched Kosmos 2473, the first Garpun military communications satellite, from Baikonur Cosmodrome on September 20, 2011, returning Proton to service about one month after the vehicle failed to place the Express AM4 satellite into its proper orbit.  Kosmos 2473 reached a geosynchronous or geosynchronous transfer orbit about nine hours after the big rocket's 22:47 UTC liftoff from Area 81 Pad 24. 

It was the 367th Proton launch and the fourth of 2011.

 

sls-evolveds.jpg (14314 bytes)NASA Announces SLS Plans

After months of delays, NASA announced its Space Launch System plans on September 14, 2011.  Will NASA be able to afford the new system?


cz3b16.jpg (8620 bytes)China Orbits Communications Satellite

A 3.5 stage CZ-3B orbited Chinasat 1A, a military communications satellite, from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on September 18, 2011.  The rocket lifted off from LC 2 at 16:33 UTC.  After two burns by the vehicle's liquid hydrogen third stage, 5.2 tonne Chinasat 1A separated into a 192 x 35807 km x 27 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit about 25 minutes 41 seconds after liftoff.

It was the first Chang Zheng (Long March) flight since a CZ-2C failed on August 18. 

The launch was the year's 50th orbital attempt worldwide, and the 45th success. 


d356-3.jpg (14696 bytes)Delta 2 Launches GRAIL Toward Moon

Performing what will likely be the last launch from storied Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 17, Delta 356, a 2.5 stage Delta 2-7920H-10C "Heavy" rocket, launched NASA's twin Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft into solar orbit, on a mission bound for eventual lunar orbit, on September 2011.  Liftoff from SLC 17B of the 283 tonne, 38.9 meter tall rocket occurred at 13:09 UTC. 

The blue-green and white rocket rose on 526 tonnes (1.16 million pounds) of thrust provided by its RS-27A main engine augmented by six GEM-46 solid motors.  The six ground lit solids burned out about 78 seconds after liftoff while three air lit GEM-46 motors ignited to perform similar burns.  The RS-27A shut down about 4 minutes 23 seconds into the flight and the AJ10-118K hypergolic, pressure-fed second stage took over.  The second stage and payload reached a 167 km (90 nautical mile) x 29.28 deg parking orbit only 7 minutes 10 seconds after liftoff.   The second stage reignited about 1 hour 6 minutes after liftoff to perform a 4 minute 31.7 second burn that sent GRAIL A and B into a highly elliptical earth orbit. 

d356-4.jpg (13766 bytes)GRAIL A and B, which each weighed 307 kg at liftoff, will reach the Moon after a 3.5 month "trans-lunar cruise" via. the Sun-Earth Lagrange point 1.  Lagrange point 1, named for the Italian-French mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange, is a point in space where gravity between the Sun and Earth balances, allowing for a low-energy transfer to lunar polar orbit.  From low-altitude (55 km) polar orbits, the GRAIL spacecraft will map the Moon's gravitational field to an unprecedented level of accuracy and resolution. The flight is a NASA Discovery Program mission.   Gravity mapping will be performed through the use of precise range-rate measurements between the two spacecraft.  Lockheed Martin built GRAIL for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. 

Complex 17 is the last of Cape Canaveral's original "missile row" sites.  Its first first launch, on January 25, 1957, failed when Thor 101 rose six inches, lost thrust, fell back on pad 17B pad, and exploded.   Complete success did not come until Thor 105 flew on September 29, 1957.  It was the first of what would be many successes for the McDonnell Douglas Thor family.   Thor and its derivatives have flown more orbital missions than any rocket on the planet except for Russia's venerable R-7.

d356-6.jpg (14253 bytes)GRAIL A Deployment

Delta 356 was the 259th Delta to fly from Complex 17 and the 325th, and likely final, launch of any kind from the twin-pad site (not counting Thor 103 which blew up during propellant loading prior to launch).  There were 17 additional Thor launches from Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 18 Pad B during the busy 1958-1960 missile development, space-race period.  The flight was the 718th Thor family launch, which includes launches from about 14 different launch pads on four different launch "bases" in two different hemispheres.

Delta 356 was the 95th consecutively successful Delta 2 flight.  One more Delta 2 launch, from Vandenberg Air Force Base, remains on the schedule.  Unassembled parts remain for five additional Delta 2 rockets.  These may or may not be funded for NASA missions.  If they do fly, they will most likely be used for polar missions from Vandenberg, meaning that Delta 356 is very likely the last Thor-family launch from Cape Canaveral.


r7-1775.jpg (6469 bytes)Soyuz Progress Launch Fails (Updated 9/09/2011)

Russia's Soyuz U failed to deliver the Progress M-12M space station cargo ship to orbit on August 24, 2011.   It was the first known launch failure of a Progress cargo spacecraft since the type began flying in 1978.  134 successful Progress launches were performed prior to this loss.

The 2.5 stage rocket lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome at 13:00 UTC and flew normally until the vehicle suffered an upper stage propulsion system failure and commanded an engine shutdown 325 seconds after liftoff, about 25 seconds into the upper stage burn and about 200 seconds before orbit was to be achieved.   Debris from the upper stage and payload were subsequently found in the Altai Region in southern Siberia.

On August 29, 2011, Roscosmos officials stated that a malfunctioning RD-0110 gas generator had caused the failure.  The gas generator drives the turbopump, which forces propellant into the engine's four main combusion chambers.  It also provides hot gases for the engine's four steering vernier nozzles and pressurizes the propellant tanks.  Hot gas from the gas generator pressurizes the kerosene tank directly and heats oxygen to pressurize the liquid oxygen tank.

Roscosmos updated its investigation results on September 9, when it announced that the fuel supply to the gas generator had been restricted or "choked" due to a "production defect".  The agency planned to examine available engines to determine if the defect was an isolated case.

Progress M-12M, identified as Progress P44 on NASA ledgers, carried 2.66 tonnes of cargo for the International Space Station (ISS), including dry cargo, propellant, water and oxygen.  ISS cargo planning reportedly accounts for such failure possibilities, at least in the short term. 

It was the world's third consecutive orbital launch failure.  The failure was the first for the Soyuz U launcher since October 15, 2002, ending a streak of 54 consecutive Soyuz U successes.


cz2c34.jpg (6667 bytes)CZ-2C Fails to Orbit Shi Jian 11-04 (Updated 9/05/11)

View of Previous, July 29, 2011 CZ-2C Launch from Jiuquan

China suffered a launch failure on August 18 when a CZ-2C rocket failed to orbit the Shi Jian 11-04 satellite from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.  The failure reportedly occurred at altitude shortly after the second stage began its phase of flight.    

On September 5, 2011, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation announced that the failure had been caused by the malfunction of a connection between a servo mechanism and one of four swiveling vernier engines used to steer the second stage while its fixed main engine fires.  The problem caused the stage to fly out of control about 170 seconds after liftoff, about 50 seconds into the second stage burn.

The CZ-2 family of rockets has been among the world's most reliable.  This was the first CZ-2 series failure since 1974, and the first-ever failure of a CZ-2C variant in 35 launches since 1975. 

Chinese space officials quickly announced that the planned launch of Tiangong 1, an 8.5 tonne unmanned space module to expected dock with the unmanned Shenzhou-8 spacecraft later this year, will not be delayed by the failure.  Both spacecraft will be launched by CZ-2F rockets from Jiuquan.   



p366.jpg (7044 bytes)Express AM4 Launch Fails (Updated 8/30/11)

Contact was lost with the Express AM4 communications satellite and with its attached Briz M upper stage about six hours after the pair were launched by a Proton M rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome Area 200 Pad 39 on August 17, 2011.  Telemetry stopped after the fourth of five planned Briz M upper stage burns planned to occur during a 9 hour mission designed to insert the European built satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit. 

Express AM4 was a 5.775 tonne Eurostar E3000 satellite built by EADS Astrium for Russia.  Proton M/Briz M had achieved 23 consecutive successes prior to this launch.

One object was initially tracked from the flight in a 143 x 11,338 km x 49.48 deg orbit.  The object had a substantially lower perigee than expected for either the Briz M/Express AM4 combination or the Briz M drop tank that was expected to be released prior to the fourth burn, but on August 19 the object was identified as the drop tank.

Two additional objects were also found by August 19.  Express AM4 was located in a 1005 x 20,315 km x 51.3 deg orbit.  Briz M was found in a 697 x 20,239 km x 51.2 deg orbit.  Both were far from the 420 x 35,616 km x 49.1 deg orbit they were expected to occupy after the fourth Briz M burn.

On August 30, 2011, Roscosmos and ILS announced that an investigation had determined that an error in the sequencing of the Briz M guidance system operation was responsible for the failure.   ILS stated that the time interval used to "manipulate the gyro platform into position" was too short.  Presumably, this described a guidance platform alignment step.  The error was in the guidance and control program, though it was not clear if the error was a bad specification or a coding error.  With an improperly aligned guidance platform, Briz M mis-aimed itself into an improper series of orbits.          


dnepr17-2.jpg (6044 bytes) Dnepr Orbits Eight Payloads

The 17th Dnepr launch vehicle carried eight small satellites into orbit from Yasny launch base in Russia's Orenburg Region on August 17, 2011   The three-stage converted ICBM lifted off from an underground silo at 07:12 UTC and completed its mission in a little more than 16 minutes.

Placed into a 700 km sun synchronous orbit were the Sich-2 (Ukraine), Nigeriasat-2 and Nigeriasat-X (Nigeria), RASAT (Turkey), EDUSAT (Italy), Aprizesat-5, Aprizesat-6 (USA) satellites, and the BPA-2 Advanced Avionics Unit (Ukraine).

Russian missile crews performed the launch for ISC Kosmotras.


cz4b13.jpg (9202 bytes)China Launches Oceansat

China launched an ocean dynamic environment monitoring satellite named Haiyang 2 (Ocean 2) into orbit from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on August 15, 2011.  The 13th Chang Zheng (Long March) 4B rocket boosted the satellite into sun synchronous orbit from LC 2 after a 22:57 UTC liftoff. 

Haiyang 2 will use microwave sensors to monitor sea state, surface winds, and surface temperature.  

It was China's 8th orbital launch, and the first from Taiyuan, in 2011.


cz3b12.jpg (8572 bytes)China Orbits Communications Satellite for Pakistan

A 3.5 stage CZ-3B   launched Pakistan's PAKSAT-1R communications satellite from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on August 11, 2011.  Liftoff from LC 2 occurred at 16:15 UTC.   PAKSAT-1R entered a 200 x 41,985 km x 24.8 deg transfer orbit about 26 minutes later.

It was the first commercial satellite built and launched by China for an Asian customer. 

The CZ-3B-15 flight was the 7th orbital launch by China in 2011 and the 5th 2011 orbital launch from Xichang, matching Cape Canaveral's total.


va203.jpg (8368 bytes)Ariane 5 Orbits Two Comsats

An Ariane 5 ECA launched two more commercial communication satellites into orbit from Kourou in French Guiana on August 6, 2011.  The Arianespace AV-203 mission boosted 5.35 tonne ASTRA 1N and 2.91 tonne BSAT-3c/JCSAT-110R into geosynchronous transfer orbit after a 22:52 UTC liftoff from ELA 3.  The satellites were inserted into a 249.7 x 35,957 km x 2.01 deg orbit. 

ASTRA 1N was an EADS Astrium Eurostar E3000 satellite built for Europe's SES ASTRA.  BSAT-3c/JCSAT-110R was a jointly-owned Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems A2100A satellite built for Japan's B-SAT Corporation and SKY Perfect JSAT Corporation.  Both satellites will provide direct TV broadcast services.


av029.jpg (3205 bytes)Atlas 5 Launches Jupiter Orbiter

NASA's Jupiter-bound Juno spacecraft was launched into solar orbit by an Atlas 5 from Cape Canaveral's LC 41 on August 5, 2011.  AV-029, a "551" model with a 5-meter diameter RUAG Space payload fairing, five Aerojet solid rocket motors, a core booster powered by an RD AMROSS RD-180 engine, and a Centaur upper stage boosted by a single Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RL-10A engine, lifted off at 16:25 UTC.  Centaur performed two burns to accelerate 3.625 tonne Juno into an elliptical solar orbit. 

The first, six-minute long burn put the stage and spacecraft into a 225 x 193 km x 28.8 deg parking orbit.  After a 31 minute coast, Centaur restarted and performed a nine-minute long burn over the Indian Ocean to reach escape velocity.  Juno separated from Centaur as the pair passed over western Australia.

Juno's solar orbit will take it past the orbit of Mars before returning it to fly by Earth during October 2013.  The Earth flyby will accelerate Juno toward Jupiter.  It will enter orbit around Jupiter in 2016. 

AV-029 was the 27th Atlas 5 and the second Atlas 5-551.   The ULA rocket performed the year's first launch directly to solar orbit. 


cz2c34.jpg (6667 bytes)CZ-2C Launches Experimental Satellite

China's 34th Chang Zheng (Long March) 2C  rocket launched an experimental satellite named Shijian 11-02 into orbit from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China on July 29, 2011.  The two-stage hypergolic propellant rocket lifted off from the SLS-Left pad at 07:42 UTC.  Shijian 11-02 was injected into a 689 x 705 km x 98.13 deg sun synchronous orbit about 10 minutes later.

Shijian 11-02 was developed by China Space Co., Ltd. for China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.  China Space stated that the satellite was designed to conduct scientific experiments in space.

CZ-2C is one of the world's most reliable launch vehicles, having never failed since entering service in 1975.  The rocket has been modified over the years to fly with upgraded engines and a stretched upper stage.

It was the sixth CZ launch of 2011 and the world's 40th orbital attempt of the year. 

cz3a21.jpg (6060 bytes)China Orbits Beidou Navigation Satellite

China launched another Beidou navigation satellite into orbit from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on July 26, 2011.  The 21st CZ-3A rocket boosted Beidou 2-I4 into an inclined geoysynchronous transfer orbit after lifting off from Pad 3 at 21:44 UTC.  The launch was delayed slightly by a thunderstorm. 

It was the fifth CZ launch of 2011.   Three-stage CZ-3A is capable of lifting more than 2.6 tonnes to the achieved orbit. 

China plans to launch about two-dozen more Beidou satellites to complete the initial constelltion. 


z3f2.jpg (3729 bytes)Zenit Launches Radio Astronomy Satellite

The second Zenit 3F, a two-stage Zenit 2SB80 vehicle with an improved Fregat SB third stage, successfully orbited Russia's Spektr-R radio astronomy satellite from Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 18, 2011.   The rocket lifted off from Area 45 Pad 1 at 02:31 UTC.   After two Fregat SB burns and about 3.5 hours, the intricate 3.66 tonne Spektr-R satellite was deployed into a roughly 430 x 340,000 km x 51.4 deg elliptical earth orbit.  

Spektr-R features a 10 meter diameter antenna reflector designed to unfold like a giant umbrella.  With its reflector covered in gold foil insulation, the satellite presented a flower-like appearance during pre-launch preparations.  . 

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. 

It was the 73rd Zenit launch.  The Ukrainian built rocket began flying in 1985.
  


d355.jpg (13165 bytes)Delta 4 Lifts GPS-2F-2

Delta 355, a Delta 4M+2,4, with a four meter diameter upper stage and payload fairing and two strap on solid motors, successfully orbited GPS 2F-2 for the U.S. Air Force on July 16, 2011. 

The giant orange rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral SLC 37B at 06:41 UTC and flew toward the southeast.  The Delta Cryogenic Upper Stage fired its RL10B-2 engine three times during the 3.5 hour mission to lift 1,542 kg GPS 2F-2 into a 20,430 x 20,465 km x 55 deg orbit. 

It was the 17th Delta 4 launch and the 12th Medium to fly. 


p365.jpg (4315 bytes)Proton Launches Satellite Pair

A Proton M/Briz M launched two communications satellites, SES 3 and Kazsat 2, from Baikonur on July 15, 2011, performing for the first time a shared payload mission for International Launch Services.

The 365th Proton lifted off from Area 200 Pad 39 at 23:16 UTC. Its Briz M upper stage performed five burns before dropping 3,112 kg SES-3 into a 3,690 x 35,786 km x 24.7 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit about eight hours after liftoff.  The upper stage coasted for another 84 minutes before firing for a sixth time.  It deposited 1,270 kg Kazsat 2 directly into a circular 35,786 km geosynchronous orbit about 8 hours 24 minutes after liftoff.

SES-3 was built by Orbital Sciences for Luxembourg's SES World Skies.  Kazsat 2 was built by Khrunichev for Kazakhstan. 

It was the 66th ILS Proton mission.


pslvc17.jpg (4809 bytes)India's PSLV Orbits Communications Satellite

India's 19th Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) launched GSAT-12A, a communications satellite for INSAT, into a sub-geosynchronous transfer orbit from Sriharikota on July 15, 2011.  A PSLV-XL variant, the second of its type to fly, performed the launch.  PSLV-XL was boosted by six 13.5 meter long strap on solid boosters that each carried nearly 12 tonnes of propellant.  Previous versions were 11.3 meters long and carried 9 tonnes of propellant.  At liftoff the four stage rocket stood 44 meters tall and weighed about 320 tonnes.

PSLV-C17 lifted off from Sriharikota's Second Launch Pad at 11:18 UTC.  Its first three stages, burning solid, liquid, and solid propellants respectively, fired in succession.   Its hypergolic liquid fourth stage then coasted for 2 minutes 25 seconds before igniting its twin engines to produce about 1.49 tonnes of thrust during a nearly 9 minute long burn.  1.41 tonne GSAT-12A separated into a 282 x 21,000 km x 17.9 deg transfer orbit about 20 minutes 25 seconds after liftoff.     

It was only the second time that a PSLV had launched a geostationary-bound satellite.   The first was Metsat in 2002.

st23.jpg (3770 bytes)Soyuz/Fregat Orbits Six Globalstar Satellites

A Soyuz 2-1a/Fregat orbited six Globalstar-2 satellites from Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 13, 2011.  Liftoff of the Starsem ST-23 mission occurred from Area 31 Pad 6 at 02:27 UTC.  After two Fregat burns, the satellites were released into orbit at about 04:05 UTC. 

Each of the six satellites weighed about 650 kg at liftoff.  They joined six previous Globalstar-2 satellites in orbit.  An additional 12 satellites will be launched, likely this year.

It was the 1,774th R-7 launch.


cz3-7.jpg (6273 bytes)China Launches Data Relay Satellite

China launched its second data relay satellite, named Tianlian I-02, from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on July 11, 2011.   The satellite was launched by a Chang Zheng (Long March) 3C from Pad 2 at 15:41 UTC.  The rocket's cryogenic third stage performed two burns to place Tianlian I-02 into a 203.7 x 42,204.5 km x 18.04 deg transfer orbit.  The satellite will subsequently raise itself into a circular geosynchronous orbit.

Tianlian I-02 joins China's first data relay satellite, Tianlian I-01 launched April 25, 2008.  The satellites, developed by the China Academy of Space Technology, serve a similar purpose to NASA's TDRS satellites. They will support China's first planned space docking, of Tiangong-1 and Shenzhou-8, later this year.



sts135-1.jpg (9361 bytes)sts135-2.jpg (6433 bytes)Atlantis Begins Final Shuttle Mission

Space Shuttle Orbiter Atlantis began NASA's 135th and final Space Shuttle mission on July 8, 2011.  The orbiter, with four crew and cargo for the International Space Station, lifted off from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A at 15:29 UTC.  Atlantis entered an initial 225 x 58 km x roughly 51 degree orbit after its three Space Shuttle Main Engines shut down.  A brief "OMS-2" burn about 25 minutes later pushed Atlantis into a 230 x 158 km orbit.

Atlantis' all veteran crew included commander Christopher Ferguson, pilot Douglas Hurley, flight engineer Rex Walheim and mission specialist Sandra Magnus.

Atlantic carried a cargo module in its payload bay stuffed with 3,919 kg of supplies for ISS.  STS-135, a flight added as a cargo hauling mission using the final, spare External Tank originally alloted to the STS-335 "contingency mission", will leave the module at the station in the hope of bridging NASA's coming cargo/crew launch capability gap. 

Orbital Sciences and SpaceX are working on cargo hauling contracts, but their launches are delayed and their spacecraft still must prove themselves in orbit.  NASA has yet to identify its specific plans for future crew transportation.  It could be five or six years or longer before astronauts fly from the United States again, leaving NASA, and all ISS partners, dependant on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft and launch systems.

The Shuttle finale means the end of thousands of jobs at KSC.  More than 3,000 are expecting to be laid off on July 22, after Atlantis returns to a planned KSC landing.

cz2c33.jpg (4095 bytes)China Orbits Research Satellite

A CZ-2C rocket launched a research satellite named Shi-Jian 11-03 (SJ-11-03) into sun synchronous low earth orbit from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on July 6, 2011.  The two-stage rocket lifted off from SLS-Left at 04:28 UTC.  SJ-11-03 entered a roughly 700 km x 98.2 deg orbit.   The satellite will perform "scientific research and technological experiments" according to China's news agency Xinhua.

It was the 33rd CZ-2C launch.  China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) developed and manufactured the ICBM based launch vehicle.