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July-September, 2012

cz2d17.jpg (4792 bytes)China Launches Satellite for Venezuela

China's 17th CZ-2D launched the Venezuelan Remote Sensing Satellite, or VRSS 1, from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China's Gansu province on September 29, 2012.  The two-stage hypergolic fueled rocket lifted off from the Left pad at Launch Area 4 at 04:12 UTC and placed its payload into a 619.1 x 654.1 km x 98.044 deg sun synchronous orbit a little more than 11 minutes later. 

The satellite was built by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) for Venezuela's government to map territory, study crops and natural resources, and to provide data for Venezuela's military.   

CZ-2D has flown 17 times without failure.  It first flew in 1993. 

va209.jpg (9265 bytes)Ariane 5 Orbits Comsat Pair

Ariane 5 ECA Launcher No. L565 successfully orbited communication satellites Astra 2F and GSat 10 from Kourou ELA 3 on September 28, 2012 after a 21:18 UTC liftoff.  The VA209 mission boosted the combined 9.4 tonne payload into a 249.7 x 35,938 km x 6 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit.

Astra 2F was a 6 tonne Astrium Eurostar E3000 satellite carrying Ku- and Ka-band transmitters for direct to home TV and broadband services in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.  Luxembourg-based SES will operate the satellite.   GSat-10 was a 3.4 tonne satellite with Ku and C band transponders built by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for the Indian National Satellite (INSAT) system.

The VA209 mission was the 5th Ariane 5 launch of 2012.

cz3b22.jpg (9335 bytes)China Launches Navigation Satellites

China orbited two navigation satellites on September 18, 2012 from Xichang Satellite Launch Center.  The 22nd Chang Zheng 3B (CZ-3B) rocket, flying in its most powerful "enhanced" form, lifted off from LC 2 at 19:10 UTC with the Beidou (Compass) M5 and M6 satellites. 

After its liquid hydrogen upper stage performed a coast and a second burn, the satellites were inserted into planned approximate 240 x 21,575 km x 55 deg. transfer orbits.

st25.jpg (10828 bytes)Soyuz Orbits European Weather Satellite

A Soyuz 2-1a with a Fregat upper stage orbited Metop B, a weather satellite for Europe, from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on September 17, 2012.  The flight was designated ST-25 by Starsem, the launch services contractor, signifying the 25th Starsem mission since the first flight in 1999.

The 3.5 stage rocket, topped by a 4.1 meter diameter, 11.4 meter long payload fairing, lifted off from Area 31 Pad 6 at 16:28 UTC.  Fregat performed two burns separated by a 45 minute coast period to insert the 4,085 kg satellite into a sun synchronous low earth orbit.

Soyuz launches to near-polar orbit are usually performed from Plestesk Northern Cosmodrome.  As a result, the ST-25 launch required new spent stage drop zones which led to delays caused by extended negotiations between Russia and Kazakhstan. 

Metop B, and its precursor Metop A, were built for EUMETSAT by the European Space Agency from an Astrium-led European industrial consortium.

av033.jpg (12407 bytes)Secret Atlas 5 Launch

An Atlas 5 launched the NROL-36 mission for the National Reconnaisance Office from Vandenberg AFB Space Launch Complex 3 East on September 13, 2012.  The primary, unknown payload headed toward an initial orbit inclined 63 degress to the equator.  Eleven microsatellites were also orbited.  No orbital parameters, payload information, or mission timeline were announced. 

An Atlas 5-401 with a 4 meter diameter payload fairing and no solid boosters performed the mission, lifting off at 21:39 UTC.  Mission success was not announced for several hours, indicating that the rocket's Centaur upper stage likely performed multiple burns.   

It was the 33rd Atlas 5 launch and the fifth Atlas 5 to fly from Vandenberg AFB. 

pslvc21.jpg (12486 bytes)PSLV Launches SPOT 6

An Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, identified as PSLV-C21, orbited France's SPOT 6 Earth observation satellite from the first launch pad of Satish Dhawan Space Center, Sriharikota on September 9, 2012.  The 712 kg satellite, along with a 15 kg Japanese microsatellite named Proiteres, separated into a 641 x 658 km x 98.29 deg orbit about 18 minutes after the 04:23 UTC liftoff.

SPOT 6 is the sixth optical imaging satellite in France’s Système Probatoire d’Observation de la Terre, or SPOT, program.  EADS Astrium buildt the AstroSat 500 Mark 2 series satellite. 

C21 was the 20th successful PSLV launch in 22 attempts, and the 18th consecutive success.  It was also the 8th PSLV-CA, or Core Alone, variant to fly.

av032.jpg (8338 bytes)Atlas Orbits Radiation Belt Probes

An Atlas 5 successfully launched NASA's $686 million Radiation Belt Storm Probes mission from Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 41 on August 30, 2012.  Two satellites, RBSP-A and RBSP-B, were deployed into elliptical orbits that will see them repeatedly pass through the earth's radiation belts.

The two-stage rocket, flying in the 401 configuration with a 4 meter diameter payload fairing and no solid boosters, lifted off at 08:05 UTC.   Its Centaur upper stage performed an initial nine minute burn to enter a 168 x 583 km x 25.5 deg parking orbit, where it coasted across the Atlantic, Africa and the Indian Ocean before restarting near its first ascending node equator crossing north of Australia some 69 minutes into the flight.  After a 4.5 minute burn, 648 kg RBSP-A separated into a 597 x 30,645 km x 10 deg orbit.  Centaur then fired its thrusters for 140 seconds to raise the apogee before depolying 668 kg RBSP-B into a 601 x 30,709 km x 10 deg orbit.  Several hours later, Centaur performed a retrograde burn near its first apogee that would force it into a reentry during its next perigee.

The diferential orbits will allow one RBSP to "lap" the other every 75 days as they map the radiation belts. 

It was the 32nd Atlas 5 launch, the 22nd consecutive success, and the 13th flight of a 401 model Atlas.

z3sl49.jpg (8204 bytes)Sea Launch Success

Sea Launch successfully launched Intelsat 21 from its Odyssey Launch Platform floating in the Pacific Ocean near the equator on August 19, 2012.  The company's Ukrainian/Russian Zenit 3SL/Blok DMSL rocket, flying mission SL-49, lifted off at 06:55 UTC.  The DMSL upper stage performed one long burn to insert the 5,982 kg Boeing satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit about 20 minutes 17 seconds after liftoff.  Intelsat 21 separated from the spent stage about 10 minutes later. 

It was the 30th Sea Launch success in 33 flights and the second of three Zenit 3SL flights planned for 2012.

p379.jpg (5820 bytes)Proton Launch Fails

A Briz M upper stage of a Proton M rocket failed to boost its two-satellite payload to geosynchronous orbit after an August 6, 2012 launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome.  The failure occurred during the third of four planned Briz M burns, some 3.5 hours after the rocket's 19:31 UTC liftoff from Area 81 Pad 24. 

Only seven seconds into the planned 18 minute, 5 second long burn, something caused the hypergolic propulsion system to stop producing thrust, leaving the stage and satellites in a 266 x 5,012 km x 49.1 deg orbit, far short of the planned 35,401 km x 0 deg orbit.  Stranded during this Krunichev launch for Russia were the 1.14 tonne Express MD2 and 1.6 tonne Telkom 3 communication satellites.     

It was the fifth failure of the Proton M/Briz M launch system in 58 attempts.  All but one of the failures have involved the Briz M stage.

va208.jpg (7742 bytes)Ariane 5 Launches Intelsat 20/Hylas 2

The 36th Ariane 5 ECA successfully orbited communication satellites Intelsat 20 and Hylas 2 from Kourou ELA 3 on August 2, 2012 after a 20:54 UTC liftoff.  Intelsat 20 was a SS/Loral 1300 series satellite that weighed 6.09 tonnes at liftoff.  Hylas 2 was a 3.31 tonne Orbital Sciences Start 2.4E satellite built for Europe's Avanti Communications.  The Ariane 5 ECA upper stage placed both satellites into 250 x 35,960 km x 5.99 deg geosynchronous transfer orbits.

The VA208 mission was the 35th consecutive Ariane 5 ECA success.

r71790.jpg (17547 bytes)Soyuz U Launches Progress M-16M

A Soyuz U rocket orbited Russia's Progress M-16M International Space Station cargo hauler from Baikonur Cosmodrome on August 1, 2012.  The 2.5 stage rocket lifted off from Area 1 Pad 5 at 19:35 UTC on a four-orbit "rapid rendezvous" ascent that allowed the robot ship to dock to ISS less than six hours after lift off.

rokot17.jpg (1271 bytes)Rokot Returns to Flight

Russia's Space Forces launched a Rokot/Briz KM rocket on July 28, 2012 to orbit military satellite Kosmos 2481, two Gonets M data relay satellites, and the MiR scientific microsatellite.  Rokot lifted off from Area 133 Pad 3 at Plesetsk space center in northern Russia at 01:35 UTC.   The Briz KM upper stage performed a series of burns to place the satellites in orbits of 1,475-1,485 km x 1,508 km x 82.47 degrees as of 03:21 UTC.  Kosmos 2481 may be a reconnaissance satellite. 

It was the first Rokot launch since a February 1, 2011 launch failure.  Rokot is a slightly modified two-stage Russian RS-18 (SS-19 Stiletto) intercontinental ballistic missile, topped by a restartable Briz KM upper stage.   All stages use hypergolic propellants. 

cz3c9.jpg (9501 bytes)China Orbits Data Relay Satellite

China's ninth Chang Zheng 3C (Long March 3C) launched the third Tianlian-1 "Sky Link" tracking and data relay satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on July 25, 2012.  The 3.5 stage rocket, fitted with a pair of liquid strap on boosters and topped by a liquid hydrogen fueled upper stage, lifted off from Launch Pad 2 at 15:43 UTC.   It was the year's 40th successful orbital launch.

The 2,462 kg satellite and the upper stage entered a transfer orbit with a roughly 200 km perigee, 42,513 km apogee, and 18.1 degree inclination.  TL-1 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. 

r71789.jpg (11182 bytes)Soyuz FG/Fregat Orbits Five Satellites

Russia's Soyuz FG rocket, topped by a restartable Fregat upper stage, boosted five satellites into near-polar orbit on July 22, 2012 from Baikonur Cosmodrome's Area 31 Pad 6.  The rocket lifted off at 06:41 UTC, and Fregat and its payloads separated from the Soyuz rocket about 10 minutes later.  The stage subequently manuvered and deposited the satellites into sun synchronous orbits with altitudes exceeding 520 km.

Russia's remote-sensing Canopus-B and research MKA-PN1 were the primary satellites.  The BKA remote-sensing satellite flew for Belarus.   The 120 kg TET-1 technology demonstration satellite flew for German space agency DLR.  The SSTL-built exactView-1, an Automatic Identification System (AIS) mini-satellite built for Canadian company exactEarth, was also orbited. 

The launch had been delayed for several months while Kazakhstan and Russia negotiated over the atypical launch trajectory, which required new stage drop zones beneath its northbound flight path.

h2bf3.jpg (7939 bytes)Japan Launches ISS Cargo Craft

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) third H-2B rocket successfully launched "Kounotori", the HTV-3 cargo transfer vehicle, from Tanegashima Space Center's Yoshinobu Launch Pad 2 toward the International Space Station on July 21, 2012.  The 2.5 stage rocket lifted off at 02:06 UTC.  Kounotori was inserted into a 51.6 degree low earth orbit 14 minutes, 53 seconds later.  HTV-3 weighed about 16 tonnes, including 4.6 tonnes of presurrized and unpressurized cargo.

After spacecraft separation, the second stage performed a controlled reentry test by re-igniting its LE-5B-2 engine to decelerate itself below orbital velocity.

H-2B uses a 5.2 meter diameter LH2/LOX fueled core stage, powered by two LE-7A engines, that is augmented by four SRB-A strap on motors.   The LH2/LOX second stage is essentially the same as the H-2A version.  A 5.1 meter diameter payload fairing is used for HTV flights.  The 56.6 meter tall rocket weighs 531 tonnes at lift off.

d316.jpg (6399 bytes)f9-3pre.jpg (5628 bytes)NASA Revives Delta 2, Buys Falcon 9 Launch

On July 16, 2012, NASA announced that it had awarded launch services contracts for three United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rockets and for one Falcon 9 vehicle, all to launch from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base.  The announcement marked a reprieve for Delta 2, which had no manifested flights prior to the announcement.

Delta 2 will launch the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite during October 2014, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) during July 2014, and the Joint Polar Satellite System-1 (JPSS-1) spacecraft during November 2016.  The total cost for the three launches, including payload processing and other mission-unique ground support, is about $412 million. 

The three rockets, which will fly from Space Launch Complex 2 West toward sun synchronous low earth orbits, will largely be assembled from already-manufactured stockpiled components, such as engines, tank panels, and avionics.   ATK will manufacture new solid rocket motor sets for the 7x20-series rockets.   Parts for two additional unassigned Delta 2 rockets remain.

Also on July 16, 2012, NASA announced that it had selected Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, California to launch the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Jason-3 ocean altimetry satellite into sun synchronous orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base in December 2014.  A Falcon 9 v1.0 rocket, similar to the type that has flown the first three Falcon 9 missions, will carry Jason-3 from the rebuilt former Titan 4 pad at Space Launch Complex 4 East.

The total contract award for the Jason-3 launch service was about $82 million. This included the launch service and additional services such as payload processing, launch vehicle integration, mission-unique launch site ground support and tracking, data and telemetry services.  It will be the first SpaceX non-COTS/CRS mission for NASA.

r71788.jpg (1643 bytes)Soyuz TMA-05M Launch

A 2.5 stage Russian Soyuz FG launched three spacefarers into orbit aboard the Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft on July 15, 2012.  Liftoff from Baikonur Cosmodrome Area 1 Pad 5 occurred at 02:40 UTC, beginning a 9 minute ascent to a 51.6 deg low earth orbit.  The crew will join the International Space Station (ISS) Expedition 32 crew.  

On board Soyuz TMA-05 were Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, and Japan's JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide.   

It was the year's third crewed space launch, and the second to ISS.  Soyuz TMA-05M was the 10th orbital launch from Baikonur in 2012, performed by the 30th Soyuz FG to fly in the 2.5 stage configuration.

p378.jpg (11734 bytes)Proton Launches SES 5

Russia's Proton M/Briz M successfully launched the SES 5 communications satellite into geostationary transfer orbit on July 9, 2012 for SES of Luxembourg.  Proton lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome Area 81 Pad 24 at 18:38 UTC.   The Briz M upper stage performed five burns during a more than 9 hour mission to lift the 6.008 tonne SS/Loral 1300 series satellite into its final transfer orbit.  

It was the 378th Proton launch, and the 74th Proton flown for International Launch Services (ILS). 

va207.jpg (9231 bytes)Ariane 5 Launches Satellite Pair

Ariane 5 ECA vehicle L563 successfully orbited a "mixed pair" of satellites from Kourou on July 6, 2012.  During its VA207 mission the 63rd Ariane 5 lofted EchoStar 17, a 6.1 tonne communications satellite, and MSG-3, a 2.032 tonne weather satellite, in to geosynchronous transfer orbit.  Both satellites were deployed into a 249 x 35,923 km x 6 deg orbit by the time the mission ended, 34 minutes after the rocket's 21:36 UTC liftoff from ELA 3.

Space Systems/Loral, a company in the process of being bought up by Canadian firm MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd (MDA), built Ka-band Echostar 17 for Hughes Network Systems to deliver broadband services to consumers, businesses and government customers across North America.  MSG-3 was built by Thales Alenia Space for the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites. 

L563 was the 35th Ariane 5 ECA and the 34th consecutive successful launch by that vehicle type.