|Space Launch Report Archive
Delta 4 Heavy
Debuts RS-68A Engine
A Delta 4-Heavy, powered for the first time by
higher-thrust RS-68A engines, successfully boosted the NROL-15 payload into orbit from
Cape Canaveral on June 29, 2012. The big, triple core rocket sprung off of its SLC
37B launch pad on nearly 955.28 tonnes (2.1 million pounds) of combined thrust from its
three engines, a roughly 6 percent increase from the previous RS-68 engine thrust.
Liftoff occurred at 13:15 UTC, following a series of holds caused by valve set point
triggers that stopped the automated countdown.
Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne (PWR) developed RS-68A
specifically to be able to lift the NROL-15 payload. The new engine produces 318.43
tonnes of liftoff thrust and 361.52 tonnes of thrust in vacuum. Its vacuum specific
impulse was targeted for 414 seconds, about 6.5 seconds more than the RS-68 value.
The improved performance increases Delta 4 Heavy's performance.
It was the
20th Delta 4 launch, the sixth Delta 4 Heavy flight, and the 35th orbital attempt in 2012
to date, worldwide.
RS-68A will be phased into the entire Delta 4 fleet
starting in 2015. The new engine will allow all of the Medium configurations to use
a standard core, rather than cores tailor made for each type of strap on solid motor set
Secret NRO Satellite
AV-023, an Atlas 5-401 orbited the NROL-38 satellite for
the National Reconnaissance Office from Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 41 on June 20,
2012. The mission flew into a news blackout several minutes after the rocket's
12:28 UTC liftoff. United Launch Alliance announced a successful launch about one
hour later, consistent with the timing of a descending node Centaur second stage restart
for a geosynchronous transfer orbit type mission. Centaur was expected to
subsequently fire again, after payload separation, possibly at first transfer orbit
apogee, to deorbit itself.
It was the 12th flight of an Atlas 5-401, and the 11th
success. The launch was also the 31st Atlas 5 flight. Atlas and Delta have now
performed seven NRO missions in the past two years, and two more NRO launches are expected
The second U.S. Air Force X-37B winged Orbital Test
Vehicle (OTV) returned from orbit and landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base at 12:48 UTC on
June 16, 2012. OTV-2 had been in orbit for 469 days since its March 5, 2011 launch
from Cape Canaveral atop an Atlas 5.
Five tonne OTV-2 carried,
and presumably returned, unidentified, secret experiments in its payload bay during its
mission. The craft deployed a solar array to provide power in orbit.
A third X-37B launch is planned later this year - a mission that will reuse the first
X-37B spacecraft. That vehicle, OTV-1, completed its initial 224 day mission on Dec.
China Orbits Crewed Shenzhou 9
China orbited three astronauts, including the country's
first female space voyager, aboard its Shenzhou 9 spacecraft on June 16, 2012. Jing
Haipeng, who flew aboard Shenzou 7, Liu Wang, and Liu Yang, the first woman to fly aboard
Shenzou. Shenzou 9 is expected to dock with the Tiangong 1 module that has been in
orbit since September 2011. Unmanned Shenzou 8 docked with the module during a
November, 2011 demonstration mission.
A Chang Zheng (CZ) 2F/G launched Shenzhou 9 from Jiuquan
Satellite Launch Center's SLS Right pad at 10:37 UTC. Shenzhou 9 entered a 200 x 330
km x 42 deg initial orbit, from which it will begin maneuvering during a two-day chase of
Tiangong 1. The two will meet in the module's 330 km orbit. Shenzhou 9 will
perform two separate docking maneuvers during a planned two to three week mission.
Shenzhou 9, China's fourth crewed orbital mission, was
orbited by the 10th CZ-2F launcher. It was the second world-wide crewed orbital launch of
NASA X-ray Telescope
A three-stage Pegasus XL air-launched rocket carried
NASA's NuSTAR X-ray telescope to low earth orbit after air-dropping from Orbital Sciences
Corporation's L-1011 aircraft on June 13, 2012. The launch was staged from Kwajalein
Atoll in the Marshall Islands. A little more than 10 minutes after Pegasus XL
dropped from beneath its carrier jet at 16:00 UTC, 350 kg Orbital-built NuSTAR entered a
600 km x 6 deg. orbit.
Pegasus is integrated at Vandenberg Air Force Base, then
ferried to its launch site by the L-1011 carrier aircraft. Launches have been conducted
from Vandenberg, Cape Canaveral, Wallops Island, the Canary Islands, and from Kwajalien in
the South Pacific.
NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array) consists
of a 10 meter long extendible mast with X-ray mirrors on one end and X-ray detectors on
the other. The telescope detects higher energy X-rays than previous orbiting X-ray
telescopes. The launch and satellite cost about $180 million.
It was the first Pegasus launch since 2008, the longest
hiatus in the winged rocket's 22 year history. 41 Pegasus rockets have launched
since 1990, with 36 successes. Only one more Pegasus launch is currently planned, in
Orbits Intelsat 19
Sea Launch performed its first launch of the year, and
second since returning from bankruptcy, on June 1, 2012 when it's Zenit 3SL rocket lofted
Intelsat 19 into geosynchronous transfer orbit from its Odyssey Launch Platform positioned
on the equator at 154 deg West in the Pacific Ocean. The three-stage SL-33 rocket,
comprised of a Ukrainian built Zenit 2S two-stage booster topped by a Russian Blok DM-SL
upper stage, lifted off at 05:23 UTC.
Intelsat 19, a 5.6 tonne Space Systems/Loral 1300E
high-power satellite, was injected into an 870 x 35,636 km x 0 deg orbit about one hour
after liftoff, following the second of two Blok DM-SL burns.
One of the satellite's two solar arrays failed to deploy
after spacecraft separation. A review of sensor data by Sea Launch detected an
unexpected sound inside the payload fairing about 72 seconds after liftoff. Data
also showed nominal payload fairing and spacecraft separation events.
It was the 32nd Sea Launch flight since the company
began operations in 1999.
Sea Launch, largely owned by Russia's RSC Energia
through a subsidiary, has only performed two launches during the past three years, but
plans to increase its flight rate in coming months.
SpaceX's Dragon C2+ successfully ended its mission on
May 31, 2012 when the capsule spacecraft splashed down beneath three parachutes in the
Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California at 15:42 UTC. Dragon had departed
the International Space Station about 7.5 hours earlier, at 08:07 UTC. The cargo
spacecraft carried more than 600 kg of "down" cargo, including experiments and
old equipment. The reentry and splashdown ended Dragon's COTS 2+ demonstration
mission for NASA, opening the way for more cargo flights.
China's Chang Zheng (CZ, or Long March) launch vehicle
family was busy again, launching a Yaogan surveillance satellite from Taiyuan on May 29,
2012. A three-stage CZ-4C rocket performed the launch, boosting Yaogan 15 in to a
1,200 km x 100 deg orbit after a 07:31 UTC lift off.
China's Xinhua news agency reported that Yaogan 15 would
"conduct scientific experiments, carry out land surveys, monitor crop yields and aid
in reducing and preventing natural disasters". Western analysts believe that
Yaogan satellites are military surveillance spacecraft with either optical or radar
imagers. The fact that China did not announce the launch before liftoff is
consistent with the military satellite theory.
The launch was performed by the eighth CZ-4C, serial
number Y10, which was fitted with a 3.35 meter diameter payload fairing. It was the
first CZ-4C launch in more than two years.
It was the 30th orbital launch attempt of 2012.
China Orbits Comsat
China's most capable rocket, a CZ-3B/E, successfully orbited the
Xhongxing 2A communications satellite from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on May 26,
2012. The 457 tonne, 3.5 stage rocket lifted off from LC 2 at 15:56
UTC. After two upper stage burns, the satellite entered a geosynchronous transfer
2A is operated by China Satellite Communications Group Co., Ltd. and was developed by the
China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. It will provide national radio and television service,
among other tasks.
ISS crew successfully captured the SpaceX Dragon C2+
spacecraft on May 25, 2012, after a slight delay due to a LIDAR issue. The 5-7 tonne
spacecraft (SpaceX has not revealed its mass) was susequently berthed to the
It is the first visit by a commercial spacecraft to the
International Space Station.
Dragon is now demonstrating objectives originally
intended for a standalone "C3" mission.
Dragon Nears ISS
SpaceX Dragon C2+ flew near and past the International
Space Station on May 24 as its Demonstration Mission continued. During the flyby,
Dragon demonstrated communications with the ISS crew, who commanded a strobe light on the
spacecraft. Plans remained on track for a May 25 rendezvous that would lead to ISS
capturing and berthing Dragon with its robotic arm.
During the flyby, the ISS crew photographed Dragon in
flight for the first time.
Falcon 9 Orbits
The third SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully orbited
the company's first fully functional Dragon spacecraft on the COTS C2+ Demonstration
Mission for NASA on May 22, 2012. The two stage, kerosene fueled rocket lifted off
from Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 40 at 07:44 UTC, beginning an ambitious mission
that, if fully implemented, would see the spacecraft docked to the International Space
Station for two weeks.
It was Falcon 9's first night launch. The liftoff
ended a 17 month hiatus for the launch vehicle as SpaceX worked to prepare Dragon for the
The launch occurred three days after a last second
launch abort that was caused by a faulty helium purge check valve on the launcher's center
Merlin 1C engine. Crews identified the problem and replaced the valve while Falcon 9
remained vertical on the pad.
first stage burned for three minutes, its second stage for an additional 6 minutes 14
seconds, to inject Dragon into a 297 x 346 km x 51.6 deg phasing orbit. Dragon's
twin solar arrays, on their inaugural flight, deployed shortly after spacecraft
separation. The arrays were attached to Dragon's "trunk", an aft module
attached to the cone shape spacecraft that was also on its first fully configured flight.
Dragon carried 460 kg of demonstration cargo for ISS.
Plans call for it to return 620 kg of cargo when it reenters and splashes down in
the Pacific Ocean. But the ISS docking is contingent on Dragon successfully
completing a series of demonstration maneuvers for NASA during the first two days of its
mission, before it will be allowed to approach ISS for a capture berthing.
Launches in Five Hours
Proton M/Briz M with Nimiq 6
Three orbital launches took place within about five
hours on May 17, 2012. The burst of flights accounted for more than 11% of the
world's year-to-date orbital liftoffs.
A Soyuz U performed the first launch from Plesetsk Site 16 Pad 2 at 14:05 UTC.
The payload was not announced by Russia's War Department, but analysts believed it
was a Kobot M optical photo-reconnaissance satellite. The satellite entered a 187 x
225 km x 81.38 deg orbit. It was the 435th and final Soyuz U to fly from Plestesk.
The first such liftoff took place in May 1973.
H-2A-202 F21 at Tanegashima
A Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H-2A performed the second
launch, for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), from LC 1 at Yoshinobu Launch
Complex, Tanegashima Space Center. The 2.5 stage F21 vehicle, flying in a
"202" configuration with two strap on SRB-A boosters, lifted off at 16:39 UTC
with the 1.99 tonne Global Changing Observation Mission SHIZUKU (GCOM-W1) and
KOMPSAT-3 (the Korean Multi-purpose Satellite), an electro-optical imaging
satellite for the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI). The payloads were
boosted into roughly 700 km sun synchronous orbits. Two small microsatellites were
A Proton M/Briz M performed the third launch. It
lifted off from Area 81 Pad 24 at Baikonur Cosmodrome at 19:12 UTC with Telesat of
Ottawa's Nimiq 6 communications satellite. Nimiq 6, a 4.5 tonne Space Systems/Loral
satellite, was aimed toward a geosynchronous transfer orbit using a planned nine hour,
five-burn Briz M upper stage mission.
Ariane 5 ECA Launcher No. L562 successfully orbited a
pair of communications satellites for companies based in Japan and Vietnam on May 15,
2012. Flying Arianespace Mission VA206, the 2.5 stage rocket lifted off from ELA 3
at Kourou Space Center at 22:13 UTC with JCSAT-13 forJapans SKY Perfect JSAT
Corporation and VINASAT-2 for Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Group.
Both satellites were Lockheed Martin A2100 types.
JCSAT-13 with 44 Ku-band transponders weighed 4.53 tonnes. VINASAT-2 with 24 Ku-band
transponders weighed 2.97 tonnes. The pair were inserted into 250 x 35,927 km x 1.97
deg transfer orbits.
Russia's Soyuz FG boosted three cosmo/astronauts into
orbit aboard the Soyuz TMA-04M spacecraft on May 15, 2012. Liftoff from Baikonur
Cosmodrome Area 1 Pad 5 occurred at 03:01 UTC, beginning a 9 minute ascent to a 51.6 deg
low earth orbit. The crew will join the International Space Station (ISS) Expedition
On board Soyuz TMA-04 were Russian cosmonauts
Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin and NASA astronaut Joseph Acaba. It was the first crewed space launch of 2012.
Launch System vies for NASA Commercial Crew
ATK, Astrium, and Lockheed Martin
team to offer Liberty, a Commercial Crew competitor.
NASA spacecraft have already returned to the Moon, and more
are on the way.
China Orbits Remote Sensing Satellite
China successfully launched Yaogan 14,
reportedly a remote-sensing satellite, from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in the
northern province of Shanxi, on May 10, 2012. A three-stage CZ-4B carried the
satellite into a 470 km sun synchronous orbit after an 07:06 UTC liftoff from Tayuan's
second CZ-4B pad, which first saw use in 2008.
In addition to Yaogan 14, a microsatellite
named Tiantuo I was also orbited. Tiantou, built by the National University of
Defense Technology, weighed only 9.3 kg. It has a naval Automatic Identification
System receiver, a small camera, and other experimental equipment.
A CZ-2D orbited China's Tianhui I-02 mapping satellite
from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China's Gansu province on May 6,
2012. The two-stage rocket lifted off from the Left pad at Launch Area 4 at 07:10
UTC and placed its payload into a 493 x 504 km x 97.36 deg sun synchronous orbit a little
more than 11 minutes later.
The satellite was built by the China Aerospace Science
and Technology Corporation (CASC) to perform land resource surveys and mapping.
It was the 16th flight of the hypergolic fueled CZ-2D.
The type first flew in 1993. It has performed 16 flights with no failures.
Atlas 5 Orbits
AEHF-2 for Air Force
An Atlas 5-531 orbited the Advanced Extremely
High Frequency-2 (AEHF-2) satellite for the United States Air Force from Cape Canaveral
Space Launch Complex 41 on May 4, 2012. Liftoff occurred at 18:42 UTC. About
51 minutes later, after two burns by the rocket's Centaur upper stage and an extended
coast period, AEHF-2, a 6.17 tonne Lockheed Martin A2100 series communications satellite,
seperated into a 222 x 50,244 km x 20.7 deg supersynchronous transfer orbit.
Prior records identified the rocket as
"AV-031", but for the first time an Atlas Centaur flew without a tail number
decal, preventing vehicle number confirmation. ULA stopped providing numbers for its
Atlas and Delta rockets this year, ending a practice that dated to the dawn of the Space
Age. It was the 30th Atlas 5 launch, the 60th United Launch Alliance mission, and
the 20th launch attempt worldwide in 2012 to date. .
This was the second Atlas 5-531, which uses a 5-meter
diameter Swiss built RUAG payload fairing, three Aerojet solid rocket motors strapped to a
Russian Energomash RD-180 powered Atlas first stage, and a Centaur liquid hydrogen upper
stage with a single PWR RL10A engine.
Predecessor AEHF-1 suffered an on-board hydrazine
propulsion system failure after its successful 2010 launch by the first Atlas 5-531,
forcing it to use its Hall Current Thrusters over an extended period to reach its
China orbited two navigation satellites on April 30,
2012 from Xichang Satellite Launch Center. A Chang Zheng 3B (CZ-3B) rocket perfomed
the mission, lifting off from LC 2 at 20:50 UTC with the Compass-M3 and Compass-M4
satellites. The satellites were inserted into a planned approximate 240 x 21,575 km
x 55 deg. transfer orbit.
India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C19),
boosted RISAT 1, the country's first home-built radar imaging satellite, into orbit from
the first launch pad of Satish Dhawan Space Center, Sriharikota on April 26, 2012.
The 1,858 kg satellite, heaviest ever launched by a PSLV, was inserted into a 480 km x
97.55 deg orbit about 18 minutes after the 00:17 UTC liftoff.
RISAT 1 has a C-Band synthetic aperature radar (SAR)
imager, designed to peer through clouds and darkness to map the Earth's surface.
PSLV-C19 was the third PSLV-XL flight using stretched
solid strap-on motors to augment the four stage core vehicle. It was the 19th
successfull PSLV launch in 21 attempts.
Comsat for Abu Dhabi
A Russian Proton M/Briz M rocket successfully boosted
the Y1B communications satellite into geostationary transfer orbit on April 23, 2012 for
Al Yah Satellite Communications (Yahsat) of Abu Dhabi. Proton lifted off from
Baikonur Cosmodrome Area 200 Pad 39 at 22:18 UTC. After a 9 hour, 12-minute, 5-burn
Briz M mission, Y1B, a 6.05 tonne Astrium Eurostar E3000 spacecraft, separated. Y1B
will deliver Ka-band communications for commercial and government users.
It was the 55th Proton M/Briz M flight, the 72nd Proton
mission for International Launch Services and the 376th Proton launch overall.
Soyuz U Launches
Russia launched its Progress M-15M cargo spacecraft
toward the International Space Station (ISS) from Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan on
April 20, 2012. A 3-stage Soyuz U rocket lifted the Progress, with its 2.4 tonnes
of cargo, aloft from Area 31 Pad 6 at 12:50 UTC.
Progress M-15M was inserted into a 193.68 x 256.52 km x
51.63 deg. inclination orbit, from which it will gradually ascend to meet ISS during a two
day flight. The spacecraft carried propellant, oxygen, food, experiment equipment,
hardware for the Russian segment, and packages for the ISS crew. Current ISS
crewmembers include Russian cosmonauts Anton Skaplerov, Anatoly Ivanishin, and Oleg
Kononenko, NASA astronauts Daniel Burbank and Donald Pettit, and European astronaut Andre
North Korean Launch
Fails [Updated 4/20/12]
North Korea attempted to orbit a satellite with an Unha (or "Galaxy",
identified as "Unha 3") rocket from its new Sohae Satellite Launching Station near Tongchang-ri
in the northwest corner of the country on April 12, 2012, but
the launch was reported by U.S. and South Korean officials to have failed. A
"flare" was reportedly observed more than one minute after 22:38:55 UTC liftoff
and the rocket fell into the North China Sea. Fragments fell into an area near the
planned first stage drop zone, around 190-200 km west of Kunsan, South Korea, indicating
that something went wrong around the time of staging between the first and second stages.
One report suggested that the "flare" came from the
upper section of the rocket (third stage or payload fairing) and that the first stage
completed its burn, continuing its flight after the "flare" for perhaps another
"Unha 3" was aimed toward the south in an attempt to
place its 100 kg Kwangmyongsong 3 ("Bright Shining Star") satellite into
near-polar Earth orbit.
The 80+tonne three-stage rocket, similar in appearance to the
"Unha 2" launched in 2009, was exhibited by the North Koreans to international
media several days before the launch, the first time outsiders have been allowed to see
this long-range rocket. Media personnel were not notified of the launch before it
took place and were unable to observe the flight or the failure. In a break from
past launch failure denials, North Korea announced the failure in a state television
broadcast several hours after the attempt.
Launches with Secret Spysat
Delta 359, a Delta 4M+5,2 with two GEM-60 solid boosters, a
five-meter upper stage, and a five-meter payload fairing, lifted off from Vandenberg AFB
with a secret National Reconnaisance Office satellite on April 3, 2012. Delta 359
headed on a southwest azimuth with the NROL-25 mission payload, toward what analysts
expected to be a 123 degree inclination retrograde orbit. A similar orbit was
used for the 2010 Atlas 5 AV-025 launch of NROL-41, which was believed to be a Future
Imaging Architecture radar imaging satellite. NROL-41 was subsequently observed by
amatuers in a 1,100 km x 123 deg circular orbit.
Delta 359 was the first Delta 4M+5,2, a vehicle capable of
lifting 7.85 tonnes to sun synchronous orbit or 4.68 tonnes to geosynchronous transfer
orbit. The upper stage is expected to perform two ascent burns, followed by a deorbit
CZ 3B Launches
China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 3B rocket orbited
Apstar 7, a French-built communications satellite, on March 31, 2012. Liftoff from
Xichang LC 2 occurred at 10:27 UTC. An "Enhanced" CZ-3B, with improved
first stage and strap-on boosters, performed the mission.
The rockets's liquid hydrogen fueled third stage
performed two burns to lift 5,054 kg Apstar 7 into a 240 x 50,127 km x 27.42 deg
geosynchronous transfer orbit.
Apstar 7 is a Thales Alenia/Cannes Spacebus 4000C2
"ITAR-free" satellite built for Asia Pacific Telecom Satellite Co. Ltd. of Hong
Kong. It will serve China, the Middle East, South Asia, Africa, Australia, and part
Final Proton K Launched
Russia's final Proton K rocket, topped by the final Blok DM-2 upper
stage, successfully orbited an Oko-1 early warning satellite for Russia's Ministry of
Defense on March 30, 2012. Liftoff from Area 81 Pad 24 at Baikonur Cosmodrome in
Kazakhstan took place at 05:49 UTC. The Blok DM-2 upper stage inserted Oko-1,
identified as Kosmos 2479, into a 219 x 35,906 km x 49.28 deg geosynchronous transfer
orbit, then fired again several hours later to circularize the orbit.
Proton K serial 41018 with Blok DM-2 serial 117L
performed the mission. Proton K,
based on the two-stage UR-500 rocket, was developed by Vladimir Chelomei during the 1960s.
The first launch took place on March 10, 1967. During the past decade, the updated
Proton M series has gradually replaced Proton-K. Likewise, the Blok DM upper
stage is being replaced by the Krunichev Briz M stage.
Russia's Proton M/Briz M orbited Intelsat 22 from
Baikonur Cosmodrome on March 25, 2012. The 705 tonne, 58.2 meter tall
Khrunichev-built four-stage rocket lifted off from Area 200 Pad 39 at 12:10 UTC to begin
an unprecendented 15.5 hour long ascent to supersynchronous transfer orbit. During
the extended mission, the hypergolic storable fueled Briz M upper stage performed five
burns to lift the 6,199 kg Boeing 702MP communications satellite, the first of its type,
into a 3,791 km x 65,000 km x 28.5 degree orbit.
Intelsat 22 will be positioned at 72 degrees East in
geostationary orbit to provide Ku-band capacity for the Middle East and eastern Africa,
C-band coverage for most of Europe, Africa, the Middle East and eastern Asia. The
satellite also carries an Ultra-High Frequency payload for the Australian Defence Force.
The first three Proton stages placed Briz M and payload
into a sub-orbital trajectory. Briz M fired to reach a circular parking orbit, then
fired four more times to reach its final transfer orbit.
Launches ISS Cargo Ship
Ariane 5 ES vehicle L553 successfully orbited Europe's
third ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle), named Edoardo Amaldi, toward the International
Space Station (ISS) on March 23, 2012. Liftoff from Kourou's ELA 3 occurred at
At 19.714 tonnes, ATV-3 was Ariane's heaviest-ever
payload. Edoardo Amaldi carried 6.96 tonnes of cargo, including on-board propellant,
The rocket's hypergolic EPS stage fired twice to deploy
ATV-3 into a 260 km x 51.6 deg orbit. Separation occurred about one hour after
liftoff. About 90 minutes later, EPS performed a third, deorbit burn.
It was the 61st Ariane 5 launch and the third Ariane 5
ES flight. Prior ES missions orbited ATV-1 "Jules Verne" in 2008 and ATV-2
"Johannes Kepler" in 2011.