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October-December, 2011

r71784.jpg (5414 bytes)Soyuz 2-1a/Fregat Orbits Globalstar Sextet

Russia's R-7 launch system barely missed a beat after a December 23 Soyuz 2-1b launch failure.  On December 28, 2011, a Soyuz 2-1a/Fregat successfully orbited six second-generation Globalstar communication satellites from Baikonur Cosmodrome. 

The four stage rocket lifted off from Area 31 Pad 6 at 17:09 UTC despite high winds, low clouds, and snow cover to begin Starsem Mission ST-24.  The three Soyuz stages boosted Fregat and its 4.2 tonne payload to suborbital velocity.  Fregat fired once to enter a 210 x 923 km x 51.7 deg transfer orbit.  It fired a second time about 50 minutes later to circularize the orbit at 920 km x 52 deg, where the six satellites sequentially separated in pairs.  A final Fregat burn forced the depleted stage into a reentry trajectory.

Soyuz 2-1a uses an RD-0110 third stage engine, freeing it from the Soyuz 2-1b failure investigation since that rocket's failure involved a third stage powered by an  RD-0124 engine.

It was the 19th R-7 launch of 2011, matching China's world-leading CZ family in launch numbers, but not in orbital successes since two R-7 flights failed to reach orbit.  The 19 flights were the most in a calendar year for R-7 since 1993.  ST-24 was the year's 84th orbital launch attempt, and 78th success, world-wide - in both cases the most since 2000.

r71783.jpg (9032 bytes)Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat Launch Fails

An attempt to launch a Meridian communications satellite failed on December 23, 2011 when the third stage of a Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat rocket faltered about seven minutes after launch from Russia's Plesetsk Northern Cosmodrome - about two minutes before the vehicle would have reached orbital velocity.  The payload and Fregat upper stage, along with the rocket's third stage, fell to earth in the "Ordynsky district of Novosibirsk territory" in Siberia, according to Interfax.

Early investigation focused on a potential third stage engine combustion chamber failure.  An RD-0124 staged combustion engine powers the Soyuz 2-1b third stage.  Soyuz U, Soyuz FG, and Soyuz 2-1a  rocket third stages are powered by a less powerful and efficient, but much more proven, gas-generator cycle RD-0110 engine.  It was the first failure of a Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat in seven attempts since the type started flying in 2006, including five flights in 2011.  

It was the 18th Soyuz launch of 2011, and the second failure.  The other incident occurred in August 2011 when a Soyuz-U third stage failed during a Progress freighter launch.  Russia's Proton and Rokot launch systems also each suffered one failure during the year.

cz4b15.jpg (13364 bytes)China Orbits Observation Satellite

A Chang Zheng (Long March) 4B boosted Ziyuan I-02C, a high-resolution remote-sensing satellite, into a 770 km sun synchronous orbit on December 22, 2011.  The launch, from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in northern Shanxi province, China, began from LC 2 at 03:26 UTC.   The 2.1 tonne satellite separated from the rocket's upper stage about 13 minutes later. 

It was China's 19th orbital launch attempt, and 18th orbital success, of 2011, moving China past United States annual launch numbers for the first time. 

Ziyuan I-02C was developed and produced by the China Academy of Space Technology, a subsidiary of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).  It was the first satellite of its type. 

r71782.jpg (6880 bytes)Soyuz TMA-03M Launch

A Russian Soyuz FG rocket successfully orbited three cosmo/astronauts aboard the Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft on December 21, 2011.  Liftoff from Baikonur Cosmodrome Area 1 Pad 5 occurred at 01:16 UTC, beginning a 9 minute ascent to a 51.6 deg low earth orbit.  The crew will join the International Space Station (ISS) Expedition 30 crew, and will stay on board as part of a future Expedition 31 crew.   Soyuz TMA-03M will dock with ISS on December 23.

On board Soyuz TMA-03 were Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut André Kuipers, and NASA astronaut Don Pettit.  It was the seventh crewed space launch of 2011 world-wide, and the fourth by Soyuz. 

cz3b18.jpg (5387 bytes)CZ-3B Orbits Nigerian Comsat

The 18th CZ-3B orbited Nigeria's NigComSat 1R communications satellite from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on December 19, 2011.  China's most powerful GTO lifter rose from LC 2 at 16:40 UTC.  The rocket's liquid hydrogen third stage fired twice during a 26 minute mission to place the 5.15 tonne satellite, built by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation China Space Technology Research Institute, into a 203 x 42,007 km x 24.8 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit.  

The satellite replaces NigComSat 1, which failed in orbit in 2008 only about one year after its launch from Xichang. 

It was the 18th Chang Zheng (Long March) flight of 2011, and the 17th success, more than any other launch system in the world.  CZ-3B uses a CZ-3A core augmented by four liquid strap on boosters.   

vs02-Image1.jpg (10519 bytes)Soyuz Orbits Spysats from Kourou

The second Russian Soyuz to fly from Kourou, French Guiana launched six military observation satellites on December 17, 2011.  Liftoff of the Soyuz 2-1A/Fregat from the ELS pad took place at 02:03 UTC.  The rocket, performing the VS02 mission for Arianespace, flew a northbound trajectory toward sun synchronous low earth orbit.  Five of the satellites separated about one hour after liftoff into a 700 km orbit.  These included one tonne Pleiades 1A, a French defense ministry observation satellite, and four 120 kg ELISA (Electronic Intelligence by Satellite) demonstrator satellites.  ELISA test test methods for mapping radar transmitters for France's Defense Procurement Agency.

The Fregat upper stage maneuvered to a lower orbit before a sixth, 117 kg Chilian imaging satellite named Sistema Satelital de Observación de la Tierra (SSOT) separated at 06:39 UTC. 

Soyuz 2-1A/Fregat, called "Soyuz ST-A" by Arianespace, differed from the Soyuz 2-1B/Fregat used for the initial VS01 launch from Kouou in that it's Blok I third stage used an RD-0110 gas generator cycle engine rather than an RD-0124 staged combustion cycle engine.

Arianespace was the contracting authority for the mission.   Russia's TsSKB Progress and NPO Lavochkin built the rocket and performed launch and flight operations.  Russia's TsENKI performed launch operations. 

h2af20.jpg (6266 bytes)H-2A Launches Japan Spysat

Japan's Information Gathering Satellite (IGS) Radar-3 was boosted to sun synchronous orbit by H-2A F-20 on December 12, 2011 from Yoshinobu Launch Complex 1 at the Tanegashima Space Center.  The 202 series rocket, boosted by a pair of SRB-A solid motors, lifted off at 01:21 UTC.

It was the second H-2A launch, and third H-2A or B launch, of 2011.

p372.jpg (6191 bytes)Proton Orbits Comsat Pair

A Proton M/Briz M successfully boosted two communication satellites into orbit from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan on December 11, 2011.  The pair included Russia's 1.15 tonne Luch 5A and Israel's 1.59 tonne Amos 5. 

The 372nd Proton lifted off at at 1117 UTC.  The Briz M fourth stage fired once to reach a low earth parking orbit, then fired three more times during the first 9 hours of the mission to place Luch 5A into a geosynchronous transfer orbit with a high altitude perigee.  The stage fired a fifth time to lift Amos 5 into a near-geosynchronous orbit.  Amos 5 separated about 9 hours 35 minutes after liftoff.

The flight was conducted under Russian government auspices from Baikonur's Area 81 Pad 24. 

cz3a22.jpg (10098 bytes)China Launches Navsat

China added to its navigation satellite constellation on December 1, 2011 when a CZ-3A rocket orbited Beidou 10 (2-I5) from Xichang space center.  The three stage launch vehicle lifted off at 21:07 UTC from Pad 3.  The liquid hydrogen fueled upper stage performed two burns to boost Beidou into a 217 x 35,848 km × 55.06° inclined geosynchronous transfer orbit.

A basic Beidou system is now in orbit.  China plans to add to the network until 30 satellites are in orbit by 2020.

It was China's 17th orbital launch of the year, and the 16th success, most ever for China in a calendar year.


cz2c36.jpg (10223 bytes)China Sets Launch Mark

A Chang Zheng 2C rocket launch from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on November 29, 2011 upped China's 2011 orbital attempt total to a new calendar year record of 16.    The rocket boosted YaoGan Weixing 13, a remote sensing satellite, into a 505 x 510 km x 97.1 deg orbit after an 18:50 UTC liftoff from Taiyuan's second pad. 

Western analysts believe that the satellite is part of a military reconnaissance network in which it may work in conjuction with another satellite already in orbit.

One of China's earlier 2011 launches failed.  As a result, the CZ-2C launch only tied China's 2010 record of 15 orbital launch successes.

r71780s.jpg (10025 bytes)Soyuz 2-1B/Fregat Launches Glonass M

A Russian Soyuz 2-1B/Fregat orbited a Glonass M navigation satellite on November 27, 2011.  The four stage rocket flew from Site 43/4 at Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia, lifting off at 08:26 UTC.  Fregat performed three burns to insert Glonass M into a 19,300 km circular orbit.  The 1,414 kg satellite separated at 12:03 UTC.

It was the fifth Glonass M satellite orbited during the past two months, bringing Russia's total active Glonass constellation up to 30 satellites.   The flight was the 15th R-7 launch attempt of 2011 and the 74th orbital worldwide attempt of the year, matching last year's total.

av028.jpg (3397 bytes)Atlas 5 Powers Mars Science Laboratory

AV-028, an Atlas 5-541 with four strap on solid motors and a five meter diameter payload fairing, successfully boosted NASA's 3.839 tonne Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) from Cape Canaveral, Florida toward Mars on November 26, 2011.  Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41 occurred at 15:02 UTC.  MSL separated into solar orbit 44 minutes later, after the Centaur stage performed two burns.

MSL carries the 0.9 tonne nuclear powered Curiosity Rover, which is expected to begin exploring Mars surface after landing in August 2012.  

It was the fifth Atlas 5 launch of 2011 and the 18th and final planned U.S. orbital launch attempt of the year.  AV-028 was the first flight of a "541" Atlas 5 variant.

p371.jpg (10366 bytes)Proton Boosts AsiaSat 7

A Proton M/Briz M orbited AsiaSat 7, a 3.813 tonne communications satellite, from Baikonur Cosmodrome on November 25, 2011.  The big four-stage rocket lifted off from Area 200/Pad 39 at 19:10 UTC to begin a 9 hour 13 minute, 4-burn Briz M mission that lifted AsiaSat 7 into a 13,814 x 35,586 km x 0 deg targeted geostationary transfer orbit.  The Space Systems/Loral 1300 series satellite will provide television and VSAT services from 105.5 degrees east in the Clarke Belt.  

It was the 371st Proton launch since 1965, and the 8th Proton launch of 2011.  The Khrunichev rocket has scored five successes since suffering an August  failure.

cz2d15.jpg (8238 bytes)China Launches Two Satellites

A two-stage CZ-2D orbited two satellites from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China's Gansu Province on November 20, 2011.  Chuangxin 1-03 and Shiyan Satellite 4 were boosted into roughly 800 km x 98.4 deg sun synchronous orbits after a 00:15 UTC liftoff, dawn local time, from SLS 4 Left. 

Chuangxin 1-03, built by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, is designed to collect water, hydrological and meteorological data.  Shiyan Satellite 4, developed by the Chinese Research Institute of Space Technology, carries space technolgy experiments.  

It was the 15th CZ-2D launch, and the 15th launch attempt by China in 2011.

r71779.jpg (4331 bytes)Soyuz Orbits ISS Crew

A Soyuz FG successfully orbited Soyuz TMA-22 with three crew bound for the International Space Station from Baikonur Cosmodrome on November 14, 2011.  Anton Shkaplerov, Anatoliy Ivanishin, and Dan Burbank rode the 7.2 tonne spacecraft into orbit after launching in a snowstorm from Area 1 Pad 5.  It was the first crewed launch since the Shuttle finale in July.  

The Soyuz mission had been delayed for several weeks while Russian teams worked, first to isolate the cause of an August Soyuz-U failure during the Progress M-12M launch, and then to conduct a precursor unmanned Soyuz U flight with Progress M-13M at the end of October to verify performance of the RD-0110 third stage engine that failed in August.

If was the 20th launch attempt from Baikonur in 2011, and the 70th world-wide during the year.

cz4b14.jpg (13516 bytes)CZ-4B Orbits Observation Satellite

A CZ-4B rocket launched China's Yaogan 12 earth observation satellite, along with a microsatellite, into sun synchronous orbit on November 9, 2011.  The three-stage launch vehicle lifted off from the second CZ pad at Taiyaun space center China's northern Shanxi province at 0321 UTC.  Yaogan 12 entered a 483 x 491 km x 97.4 deg orbit.

Western observers often speculate that Yaogan spacecraft are used for military reconnaissance, but China says that they are used for "scientific experiments", "surveys on land resources" estimates of "crop yield and help with natural disaster-reduction and prevention."

z3fg-1.jpg (14514 bytes)Russia's Mars Mission Falters 

Russia's ambitious Phobos-Grunt mission faltered in low Earth orbit on November 8, 2011, shortly after launch atop a two-stage Zenit 2SB rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome Site 45 Pad 1, Kazakhstan.  Liftoff occurred at 20:16 UTC. 

The Phobos-Grunt payload, which consisted of an orbiting spacecraft, a lander intended to land on the Martian moon Phobos, a soil return spacecraft, and an "MDU" propulsion unit similar to a Fregat SB stage, was boosted into a 207 x 347 km x 51.6 deg parking orbit by the two-stage Zenit.  The entire vehicle, including rocket, MDU, and spacecraft, was identified as a "Zenit 2FG". 

However, after coasting for 2.5 hours and more than 1.5 orbits, the MDU did not perform its planned first burn, which would have moved the spacecraft into a 250 by 4,170 km orbit.  Neither did a planned second burn occur some 2 hours later to boost Phobos-Grunt out of Earth orbit toward Mars.  The cause of the problem was being studied on November 9.  Still to be determined is if a failure, if one occurred, would be assigned to the launch vehicle or spacecraft.

p370.jpg (2057 bytes)Proton Orbits Navsat Triplet

A Proton M with a Briz M upper stage successfully placed three Glonass-M (Uragan-M) navigation satellites into orbit after a November 4, 2011 launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome.  Liftoff from Area 81 Pad 24 occurred at 12:51 UTC, early daylight at Baikonur. 

Briz M performed four burns during a nearly six-hour mission to lift Glonass-M Nos. 43-45, totaling 4.245 tonnes combined, into circular 19,100 km orbits.  The success helps offset a failed Glonass launch in December, 2010.

It was the 50th flight of the Proton M/Briz M combination.  Forty six of the flights, which began in 2001, have been successful.

cz2f8.jpg (8842 bytes)Unmanned Shenzhou 8 Flies Toward Docking

China launched the Shenzhou 8 spacecraft on an unmanned docking test flight from the Jiuquan space center on October 31, 2011.  A Chang Zheng (Long March) 2F rocket lifted off at 21:58 UTC to boost 8.08 tonne Shenzhou 8 into a two-day chase orbit aimed toward a planned docking with the Tiangong 1 spacecraft launched one month prior from the same site.   The three-piece spacecraft was injected into a 200 x 330 km x 42.780 deg orbit.  

If successful, the planned automatic docking and 17 day mission will serve as a test for subsequent manned Shenzhou visits to Tiangong 1 next year. 

r71778.jpg (5423 bytes)Soyuz U Returns to Service

Russia's Soyuz U successfully orbited Progress M-13M, loaded with 2.6 tonnes of cargo for the International Space Station (ISS) from Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan on October 30, 2011.   Liftoff from Area 1 Pad 5 took place at 10:11 UTC. 

It was the first Soyuz U launch since an identical rocket failed during the Progress M-12M flight on August 24, 2011.  That failure was caused by an obstruction of kerosene fuel feed to the RD-0110 third stage engine gas generator.  Roscosmos subsequently examined available engines and determined that the defect was an isolated case.

d357.jpg (5695 bytes)Thunder God Finale

The last planned Thor-family Delta launched NASA's National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) Preparatory Project (NPP) mission into sun synchronous orbit from Vandenberg AFB Space Launch Complex 2 West on October 28, 2011. Liftoff occurred at 09:48 UTC.  Delta's second stage fired twice to place 1,970 kg NPP into a 824 km x 98 deg orbit during a 59 minute flight.   The second stage then performed two final burns (evasive and depletion), the final planned work by the 54 year old Thor rocket family.

Delta 357 was a Delta 2-7920-10C with nine strap-on motors on a two-stage core vehicle topped by a 10 foot diameter composite payload fairing.   It was the 151st and final planned Delta 2, the 340th Thor-family Delta, the 606th Thor family orbital launch, and the 719th launch of any type by a Thor family rocket.   It was also the 96th consecutive Delta 2 success.  The Thor family performed more orbital launches than any other rocket in the world except for Russia's R-7.   Delta 2's retirement coincides with the end of NASA's Space Shuttle.  The shut down of the two systems, which together accounted for a majority of U.S. launches in recent years, will slash future U.S. launch numbers.

Unassembled parts for up to five more unassigned Delta 2 vehicles exist, but their GEM-46 "Heavy" type solid motors cannot fly from SLC 2 West.  Potential Delta 2 payloads require near polar orbits that require launch from Vandenberg.  GEM motor production would have to be restarted for any such launches.   United Launch Alliance has nonetheless said that it intends to offer Delta 2 in competition for several NASA missions.  Any launches, if purchased, won't occur for several years at the earliest.    

Ball Aerospace  built NPP using a BCP2000 bus.   The satellite carries several new sensors originally developed for NPOESS, a program subsequently restructured into the  Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), whose first satellite is scheduled in 2015.

p369.jpg (6059 bytes)Russian Rockets Soar from Two Continents

Proton Launches ViaSat 1

In a span of less than two days, Russia's two busiest orbital launch vehicles, Krunichev's Proton and TsSKB Progress's Soyuz, successfully orbited western satellites from launch pads located on opposite sides of the planet.   The launches highlight the expanding reliance by Western countries on Russian space launch hardware. 

A Proton M/Briz M launched ViaSat 1 from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan on October 19, 2011.  The big hypergolic propellant rocket lifted off from Area 200 Pad 39 at 18:48 UTC, beginning a 9+ hour mission that lifted the 6.74 tonne satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit.  ViaSat 1 was a  Space Systems/Loral 1300 series spacecraft built for ViaSat, Inc of Carlsbad, California.   It was the heaviest GEO satellite ever launched on a Proton and was the "highest throughput" satellite yet launched with more than 140 Gbps data capacity, "more than all satellites covering North America". 

r7-1777.jpg (7834 bytes)Soyuz VS01 Launch

The Soyuz launch took place on October 21, 2011 from a brand new launch pad at, for Soyuz, a brand new launch site.  A Soyuz 2-1B/Fregat launched two European Galileo navigation satellites from the new Soyuz Launch Complex (ELS) at the Guiana Space Center (CSG) in French Guiana.  The 3.5 stage rocket lifted off at 10:30 UTC on a 3 hour, 49 minute, 27 second mission that featured two burns of the Fregat upper stage to insert the satellite pair into 23,000 km x 54.7 deg orbits. 

Astrium GmbH of Germany led the production team of Galileo PFM and FM2, which together comprised the Galileo IOV-1 payload for the Arianespace VS01 mission.  Together the satellites totaled 1.4 tonnes mass.

Arianespace was the contracting authority for the mission.   Russia's TsSKB Progress and NPO Lavochkin built the rocket and performed launch and flight operations.  Russia's TsENKI performed launch operations. 

The Soyuz Launch Complex at Kourou is similar to Soyuz sites at Baikonur and Plesetsk, but features an additional vertical mobile service tower used to vertically mate the payload to the rocket on the pad.

Korea and the United States also depend on Russian launchers.  Korea's KSLV uses a Russian Angara first stage.  In the U.S., Atlas 5 is powered by a Russian main engine, Taurus 2 uses a Russo-Ukranian first stage, and NASA relies on Soyuz to launch its astronauts to the International Space Station.

pslvc18.jpg (5504 bytes)PSLV Orbits Earth Observation Satellite

India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, vehicle PSLV-C18, orbited the Indo-French Megha-Tropiques satellite along with three microsatellites from the first launch pad of Satish Dhawan Space Center, Sriharikota on October 12, 2011.  The combined 1,047 kg payload was inserted into an 865 km x 20 deg orbit about 22 minutes after the 05:31 UTC liftoff.

Megha-Tropiques has a microwave imager, a microwave sounder, an optical sensor, and a GPS occulation sounder.  The instruments will measure moisture profiles in the tropical atmosphere. 

PSLV-C18 was the seventh flight of a "core-alone", or PSLV-CA configuration without solid strap-on motors.  It was also the 18th successfull PSLV in 20 flights.   

One of the microsatellites, named Vesselsat, will be used by Orbcomm to test Automatic Ship Identification (AIS) systems for that company's next-generation satellite constellation. 

cz3b17.jpg (15518 bytes)CZ-3B Orbits W3C for Eutelsat

The 17th CZ-3B orbited Europe's W3C communications satellite from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on October 7, 2011.  The 3.5 stage rocket, China's most powerful GTO launcher, lifted off from LC 2 at 08:21 UTC in a rare daytime launch.  The rocket's liquid hydrogen third stage fired twice during a 25.7 minute mission to place the 5.4 tonne Thales Alenia Space Spacebus 4000C3 satellite, built for Eutelsat, into a 206 x 35,973 km x 26.1 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit.   The Spacebus 4000 series is designed to be "ITAR free" with no U.S. manufactured components, allowing it to be launched by China.

It was the 12th Chang Zheng (Long March) flight of 2011, more than any other launch system in the world.   It was also the 45th launch by the CZ-3A family of rockets.  CZ-3B uses a CZ-3A core augmented by four liquid strap on boosters.   

The launch was the year's 60th orbital attempt worldwide, and the 55th success.

z76-1.jpg (20936 bytes)Land Launch Zenit Boosts Intelsat 18

  • A Ukrainian/Russian Zenit 3SLB/DMSLB, flying for Land Launch, successfully orbited Intelsat 18 from Baikonur Cosmodrome on October 5, 2011.   The three stage kerosene/liquid oxygen fueled rocket lifted off from Area 45 Pad 1 at 21:00 UTC.  The 3.2 tonne Orbital Sciences Corporation Star 2.4E satellite separated into geosynchronous transfer orbit about 6.5 hour later, after the Energia Blok DM-SLB stage completed three burns.

    Intelsat 18 will provide direct broadcast TV coverage and network services using Ku-band and C-band transceivers. 

    The Blok DM-SLB stage fired once to boost itself and its payload into a 182 x 692 km x 51.4 deg parking orbit.  It fired a second time about 1 hour 20 minutes after liftoff to boost itself into a 198 x 35,832 km x 48.9 deg orbit.   The final burn raised the transfer orbit perigee to 5,517 km and reduced the orbit's inclination to 19.5 deg.

    It was the first Zenit Land Launch mission since 2009.   Two Zenit 2F vehicles with Fregat upper stages flew earlier this year.  A Sea Launch Zenit flew in September.

r7-1776.jpg (5716 bytes)Soyuz 2-1B/Fregat Orbits Glonass M

A Russian Soyuz 2-1B with a Fregat upper stage successfully orbited a Glonass M navigation satellite on October 2, 2011.  The four stage rocket lifted off from Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia at 20:15 UTC.  The Fregat stage fired three times to insert Glonass M into a 19,300 km circular orbit.  The 1,414 kg satellite separated at 23:47 UTC.

It was the first R-7 flight since an August 24, 2011 failure during the Progress M-12M launch attempt.  Soyuz 2-1B, however, uses a more advanced RD-0124 third stage engine.  The Soyuz U version that failed had a faulty RD-0110 engine system.  Crewed launches by Soyuz will not resume until an RD-0110 flies a successful unmanned mission, possibly in late October.