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October-December, 2012

unha3-2s.jpg (14792 bytes)2012 Space Launch Year in Review

North Korea Reaches Orbit

Unha 3 No. 2 Rises from Sohae Pad

2012, the 56th year of the "Space Age", saw a new country join the "Space Club" on December 12 when North Korea's Unha 3 orbited Kwangmyongsong 3-2 from its new Sohae launch site in the northwest part of the country. Although nothing was subsequently heard from the small satellite, it was tracked in a stable near-sun synchronous orbit.

A previous Unha 3 launch attempt had failed on April 12. That campaign was notable for including the first foreign press access to the launch site, though none of the journalists were allowed to witness the launch.

Quiet Pads

The year may have been as notable for the rockets that did not fly as for those that did. NASA's Space Shuttle was gone from the launch lists, its 30-year program ended and its orbiters distributed to museums.

2012 was also the first year without an R-36 (Tsyklon/Dnepr or R-36 series ICBM) launch since 2003 and only the second such year since the type first flew in 1963.

It was the first year without a Thor or Thor/Delta launch since 1985, and only the second year without a Thor family launch since 1957. A handful of future Delta 2 launches using surplus hardware remained a possibility, but none would fly until 2014 at the earliest. During 2012, for the first time since 1955, no kerosene-fueled Rocketdyne powered rockets flew.

Launch Summary

During the year only 16 different basic rocket types were used to perform the world's orbital launches. Only nine types reached orbit more than once. Five rocket types accounted for three-fourths of the world's launches, and three - China's Chang Zheng and Russia's R-7 and Proton - accounted for fully 44 of the world's 76 to 78 orbital launch attempts during the year.

The launch total uncertainty was due to evidence suggesting that Iran did not report two failed orbital launch attempts by its Safir launch vehicle. The evidence, largely based on commercial satellite imagary, was reported and analyzed in Jane's Defence Weekly. The failures, if they occurred, followed a successful orbital Safir flight in February.

sz9s.jpg (19433 bytes)CZ-2F Ignites at Start of Shenzhou 9 Crewed Flight

China's Chang Zheng family again led the world in launches, with 19 orbital and one suborbital flights. One launch, of Shenzhou 9, carried three crew, including China's first female space flyer, into orbit to dock with China's already-orbiting Tiangong 1 module. 

Russia's R-7 was second with 14 flights, only two of which actually launched from Russia (two flew from Kourou in French Gaiyana, ten from Baikonur in Kazakhtstan, and two from Plestesk in northern Russia). Russia's Proton was third with 11 launch attempts, all from Baikonur, but two of the launches suffered Briz M upper stage propulsion system failures that left satellites short of their intended orbits.

Europe's Ariane 5 performed seven launches. Solid fuel Vega performed a single, successful inaugural launch. At year's end, European governments decided to fund development of the advanced, restartable Vinci upper stage engine for Ariane 5's Midlife Evolution. The engine could also be used by a follow-on "Ariane 6" design.

In the U.S., Atlas 5 and Delta 4 only managed six and four launches, respectively. Usage remained low in part due to high costs. The average EELV launch cost has risen to $420 million, according to NASA's OIG.

Sea Launch Zenit returned to a more normal post-bankruptcy schedule with three missions completed, but the future of the largely Russian-owned consortium remained uncertain.

SpaceX performed two Falcon 9 launches with Dragon spacecraft bound for the International Space Station, but the second Falcon 9 suffered an October 8 launch vehicle failure when one of its nine Merlin 1C first stage engines failed. Though Dragon CRS-1 made it to ISS, the flight's Orbcomm secondary payload was placed in a low orbit and was soon lost to an early atmospheric reentry.

f9-4-aos.jpg (20442 bytes)Fourth Falcon 9 at Cape Canaveral Hanger AO, May 2012.  One of These Nine Merlins Failed During Launch

The Merlin 1C failure and a fuel leak in a Delta 4 RL10B-2 second stage engine during an October 4 flight that still managed to place GPS 2F-3 in its planned orbit effectively shut down U.S. space launch for several months as investigations were performed. No results from the investigations were announced by year's end. One possibility was that the investigations had simply failed to find answers.

New Developments

Development of new rockets continued. Russia continued work on a Soyuz 2.1v variant, powered by a single NK-33 engine.  The effort was set back by a static test failure in August, but plans still called for a first flight in 2013. Orbital Sciences aimed for an inugural Antares launch during 2013.  Antares will use a pair of modified NK-33 engines.  Russia's Angara development also continued, with plans still calling for a 2013 inaugural launch.  China continued to build its first ocean-side launch site for its projected new rocket family.  Lockheed Martin aimed to return Athena I and II to service from Kodiak, Alaska and/or Cape Canaveral.  SpaceX planned a stretched Falcon 9, named "Falcon 9 v1.1", that would be powered by new Merlin 1D engines.   Work was underway on a new launch pad at Vandenberg AFB for the rocket.  The company also maintained plans for a "Falcon Heavy" capable of lifting much heavier payloads.

Meanwhile, NASA solidified plans for its Space Launch System. Decisions were made to power the SLS core with four RS-25 engines and to use a modified Delta 4 Heavy upper stage as an Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage. By year's end it had become apparent that Lockheed Martin would only build the Orion command module portion, with Europe building a service module adapted from its ATV spacecraft. A looming U.S. government budget crises threatened program funding as the year ended.

                         2012 Orbital Launch Summary

Vehicle            Overall           By Orbit Type
                   Launches      Earth-Orbit Earth-Escape
                  (Failures)      LEO   >LEO  Deep Space
CZ                   19(0)       10(0)   9(0)    -
R-7                  14(0)       12(0)   2(0)    -
Proton               11(2)         -    11(2)    -
Ariane 5              7(0)        1(0)   6(0)    -
Atlas 5               6(0)        2(0)   4(0)    -
Delta 4               4(0)        1(0)   3(0)    -
Zenit                 3(0)         -     3(0)    -
PSLV                  2(0)        2(0)    -      -
Falcon 9              2(1)        2(1)    -      -
Unha                  2(1)        2(1)    -      -
H-2B                  1(0)        1(0)    -      -
H-2A                  1(0)        1(0)    -      -
Rokot/Briz KM         1(0)        1(0)    -      -
Vega                  1(0)        1(0)    -      -
Safir                 3(2)[a]     3(2)    -      -
Pegasus XL            1(0)        1(0)    -      -
Total                78(6)[a]    40(4)  38(2)    - 

[a] Assumes that two unsuccessful, unreported Safir launch 
attempts occurred.

Launch Total by Country of First or Core Stage Manufacture
Vehicle            Overall           By Orbit Type
                   Launches      Earth-Orbit Earth-Escape
                  (Failures)      LEO   >LEO  Deep Space
Russia               26(2)       13(0)  13(2)    -                
China                19(0)       10(0)   9(0)    -
United States        13(1)        6(1)   7(0)    -
Europe                8(0)        2(0)   6(0)    -
Ukraine               3(0)         -     3(0)    -
Japan                 2(0)        2(0)    -      -
India                 2(0)        2(0)    -      -
North Korea           2(1)        2(1)    -      -
Iran                  3(2)[a]     3(2)    -      -
[a] Assumes that two unsuccessful, unreported Safir launch 
attempts occurred.


va211.jpg (8383 bytes)Ariane 5 Performs Seventh Launch of 2012

An Ariane 5 ECA launched Skynet 5D and Mexsat 3/Bicentenario into geosynchronous transfer orbit from Kourou, French Guiana on December 19, 2012.  It was the seventh Ariane 5 launch of the year, and the sixth by the ECA variant, both numbers tying a mark set in 2009.

The VA211 mission launched from ELA 3 at 21:49 UTC.   Ariane 5 deployed 4.8 tonne Skynet 5D first, followed by 3 tonne Mexsat 3/Bicentenario during a 36-minute mission.  The insertion orbit was 249.8 x 35,981 km x 1.99 deg. 

Skynet 5D is an Astrium commnication satellite that will serve the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence.  Mexsat 3/Bicentenario is an Orbital Sciences GEOStar-2 communications satellite for the Federal Government of Mexico.

r71797.jpg (7425 bytes)Soyuz FG Launches ISS Crew

A Soyuz FG rocket launched three International Space Station (ISS) crewmembers aboard the Soyuz TMA-07M spacecraft from Bakonur Cosmodrome on December 19, 2012.  Liftoff took place at 12:12 UTC from Area 1 Pad 5.  On board were NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Roman Romanenko.  The three comprise the Expedition 34 for ISS, which they will reach after a two-day approach.

It was the fifth crewed space launch of 2012, worldwide, the fourth crewed Soyuz and 14th R-7 launch of the year, and the 21st launch during the past 12 months from Baikonur, by far the world's busiest spaceport.

cz2d18.jpg (9362 bytes)CZ-2D Orbits Satellite for Turkey

A Chang Zheng 2D rocket boosted Turkey's Gokturk 2 earth observation satellite into orbit from China's Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on December 18, 2012.  Liftoff took place at 16:12 UTC from the South Launch Site Left pad.  The two-stage launcher lofted the 450 kg satellite toward a planned 700 km x 98 deg sun sychronous orbit.

It was China's 19th orbital launch of 2012, all of which were performed by Chang Zheng rockets.

unha3-2s.jpg (14792 bytes)North Korea Reaches Orbit (Updated 12/14/12)

After three known failed attempts spanning 14 years, North Korea joined the world's "space club" with a successful orbital launch from its Sohae launch site on December 12, 2012.  A three-stage Unha 3 rocket carried the second Kwangmyongsong 3 ("Star of Hope") satellite into a 494 x 588 km x 97.4 deg sun synchronous orbit after a 00:49 UTC liftoff. 

The rocket flew south across the Yellow and East China Seas during its ascent before skirting the east coast of the Phillipines.  

Although the launch was a success, and the satellite and upper stage were tracked in orbit, no radio transmissions from the satellite were detected by Western observers in the days following the launch. 

It was the second Unha 3 launch of the year.  The first attempt failed shortly after liftoff from the same site on April 12.

avotv3.jpg (5792 bytes)Atlas 5 X-37B Reflight

An Atlas V boosted the third X-37B robot spaceplane mission into orbit from Cape Canaveral on December 11, 2012.  An Atlas 5-501 model with a five-meter diameter fairing lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41 at 18:03 UTC to begin Orbital Test Flight 3 (OTV-3) for the X-37B program.  On board was the same spacecraft that performed the OTV-1 mission in 2010.  The payload was estimated to be approximately 5 tonnes.

OTV-3 had been delayed while ULA and the Air Force investigated an RL10B-2 failure during the October 5, 2012 Delta 4 GPS launch.  The inquiry determined that that RL10B-2 engine developed a thrust chamber propellant leak while starting for the first of its three burns.  Although GPS reached its intended orbit, the Delta upper stage engine had to fire longer than planned during each burn, a feat made possible only by the rocket's excess capacity for that particular mission.   ULA did not make its reasoning public, but it announced a few days before the OTV-3 launch that the Atlas 5 RL10A-4-2 engine had been found not to possess that particular RL10B-2 failure mode.

Since X-37B was inserted directly into a low earth orbit, the Centaur RL10A-4-2 engine only performed one ascent burn, of nearly 13 minutes duration.  The stage was expected to perform a deorbit burn after X-37B separated.   The orbit was not announced, but hobbiest observers soon spotted the spaceplane in a 343 x 360 km x 43.5 deg orbit.

It was the sixth Atlas 5 launch of 2012, the 13th and final U.S. orbital launch of the year, and the 12th U.S. launch success.  Ten of the U.S. launches, and five of the Atlas flights, originated from Cape Canaveral.  The U.S. will trail both Russia and China in 2012 orbital flight attempt and successes.

yamal402.jpg (15740 bytes)Proton's Briz M Stage Fails During Yamal 402 Mission

Yamal 402 atop its Briz M Stage During Prelaunch Processing

Krunichev's Briz M stage suffered its second failure of 2012 on December 8, when it left Yamal 402 short of its planned orbit.  The stage shut down four minutes early during its fourth and final burn, leaving the 4.463 tonne Thales Alenia Spacebus 4000C3 satellite in a 3,071 x 35,672 km x 26 deg orbit rather than the planned 7,470 x 35,696 km x 9 deg.  Although Yamal 402 will be able to lift itself to geostationary orbit, it will loose four of its planned 15 years of expected life.  Russia's Gazprom Space Systems will operated the satellite.

The four-stage Proton M/Briz M lifted off from Baikonur's Area 200 Pad 39 at 13:13 UTC, initiating a planned 9 hour 15 minute mission.   Briz M fired first to lift itself and Yamal 402 into a low earth parking orbit.   Its second burn began 67 minutes 15 second after liftoff and lasted for 18 minutes 14 seconds, lifting the stack into 320 x 5,000 km x 49.6 deg intermediate orbit.  The third burn began at the 3 hour 42 minute 44 second mark and lasted for 17 minutes 50 seconds, pushing the vehicle into a 511 x 35708 km, 48 deg transfer orbit.  After this burn, Briz M shed its now-empty, donut shaped auxiliary propellant tank. 

Briz M coasted for five more hours to the orbit's apogee before starting for a fourth time, 8 hours 54 minutes and 1 second after liftoff.   The planned 8 minute 49 second burn ended four minutes early.  After the early cutoff, an emergency abort sequence separated Yamal 402 automatically, about 15 minutes earlier than planned.  Briz M was also commanded to vent its tanks as part of the abort sequence.

This was the 11th Proton flight of 2012 and the 10th launch of the Proton M/Briz M variant during the year.  The previous Briz M failure of 2012 occurred during the August 6 Proton launch of Telkom 3 and Express MD2.   During that mission, Briz M failed during the third of four planned burns, leaving the satellites in unrecoverable low orbits.  There have been a total of 62 Proton M/Briz M flights, of which six have failed.  Five of the failures involved the Briz M phase of flight.

z3sl50.jpg (9107 bytes)Sea Launch Orbits Eutelsat 70B

Sea Launch Zenit 3SL/Blok DMSL (SL-50) orbited the Eutelsat 70B satellite on December 3, 2012 from Launch Platform Odyssey.  The three stage rocket lifted off at 20:43:59 UTC from the launch platform, positioned at 154 degrees West longitude on the equator in the Pacific Ocean. The Blok DM-SL upper stage fired twice during a 66 minute long mission to insert the 5.21 tonne Astrium/EADS Eurostar E-3000 series satellite into a 1,380 x 35,636 km x 0 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit.

Eutelsat 70B, fitted with 48 Ku-band transponders, will be positioned at 70.5 East longitude location to provide coverage of portions of Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia.

It was the 31st Sea Launch success in 34 flights and the third and final Zenit flight of 2012.  It was also the year's 70th announced orbital launch attempt.  Two additional, unannounced and unsuccessful launch attempts by Iran are suspected, but have to date not been included in Space Launch Report statistics.

vs04.jpg (10636 bytes)Soyuz Orbits Miltary Observation Satellite from Kourou

A Soyuz 2-1A/Fregat orbited Pleiades 1B for the French military from Kourou, French Guiana on December 2, 2012.  The VS04 mission began with a 02:02 UTC liftoff from the ELS pad.  The rocket flew a northbound trajectory toward a sun synchronous low earth orbit.  Fregat fired twice to place 970 kg Pleiades 1B into a 695 km x 98.2 deg. orbit during the 55 minute mission.  Fregat then fired a third time to deorbit itself.

Pleiades 1B joins Pleiades 1A in orbit. The satellites are equipped with a telescope imaging system that provides 50 to 70 centimeter resolution of the Earth's surface..

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. 

cz3b23.jpg (6059 bytes)Zhongxing 12 Launched from Xichang

A Chang Zheng (CZ) 3B/E, China's most powerful rocket, orbited Zhongxing (Chinasat) 12 from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China's Sichuan Province on November 27, 2012.  The big rocket lifted off from LC 2 at 10:13 UTC.  The 5 tonne satellite was inserted into geosynchronous transfer orbit after the liquid hydrogen fueled upper stage performed a second burn about 30 minutes after liftoff.

Zhongxing 12 was manufactured by France's Thales Alenia Space, as an ITAR-free (no U.S. made component) Spacebus 4000 C2 satellite with 24 C-band and 23 Ku-band transponders. 

It was the 18th CZ launch of 2012 and the 179th orbital launch attempt of China's DF-5 family.

cz4c9.jpg (3711 bytes)Chang Zheng Launches Yaogan 16

A three-stage Chang Zheng (Long March) 4C rocket orbited China's Yaogan 16 remote sensing mission from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center SLS 4 Left pad at 04:06 UTC on November 24, 2012.  China's Xinhua news agency reported that the "satellite" would be used for a variety of tasks, including land resource surveying, agricultural yield estimation and disaster prevention and reduction. 

The U.S. Strategic Command, however, tracked four objects inserted into space by the launch, in a roughly 1,100 km x 63.39 deg orbit.   Western analysts noted that the orbit and number of objects was consistent with an orbital triad of satellites designed primarily to track naval vessels by triangulating radio emissions.  Yaogan 9, launched by the last CZ-4C to fly from Jiuquan on March 5, 2010 had similar characteristics.

It was the 17th CZ launch of 2012, five more than Russia's second-place R-7 family.  It was also the 178th orbital launch attempt of China's DF-5 family.

p382.jpg (11118 bytes)Proton Launches Echostar 16

Proton M/Briz M flew for the tenth time in 2012 on November 20, 2012 when it successfully boosted Echostar 16 into geosynchronous transfer orbit from Baikonur Cosmodrome.  The International Launch Services flight began at 18:31 UTC from Area 200 Pad 39.  Echostar 16, a 6.65 tonne 1300 series satellite built by Canadian-owned Space Systems Loral, separated 9 hours 12 minutes later, after five Briz M burns, into a 2,434 x 35,786 km x 29.5 deg orbity. 

DISH Network will use Echostar 16 to provide direct broadcast TV services. 

cz2c38.jpg (12412 bytes)China Orbits Remote Sensing Satellite

Chang Zheng 2C tail number Y17 orbited China's Huanjing 1C environmental monitoring satellite from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on November 18, 2012.  Liftoff occurred at 22:53 UTC.  Huanjing 1C entered a 471 x 489 km x 97.4 deg sun synchronous orbit. 

It was China's 16th orbital launch of 2012, all of which were performed by the world's most oft-flown CZ family. 

r71795.jpg (14313 bytes)Soyuz 2-1a/Fregat Launch

A Soyuz 2-1a/Fregat rocket orbited a Meridian communications satellite for Russia's military on November 14, 2012.  Liftoff from from Plesetsk Northern Cosmodrome Area 43 Pad 4 took place 11:42 UTC.   Fregat fired three times during a nearly 2.5 hour mission to boost Meridian 6 into a 978 x 39,725 km x 62.84 deg "Molniya" type 12 hour eliptical orbit. 

It was the first Meridian satellite launch since a Soyuz 2-1b failure destroyed a similar satellite on December 23, 2011.

va210.jpg (12007 bytes)Ariane 5 Launches Comsats

Ariane 5 ECA Launcher No. L566 successfully orbited Eutelsat 21B and Star One C3 from Kourou ELA 3 on November 10, 2012.   The VA210 mission began with a 21:05 UTC liftoff and lasted for 38 minutes, during which the combined 8.24 tonne payload was inserted into geosynchronous transfer orbit.

Eutelsat 21B is a 5.012 tonne Thales Alenia Space Spacebus 4000C3 satellite carrying Ku band transmitters to provide communication services for for Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and central Asia.  Star One C3 is a 3.227 tonne Orbital Sciences Star 2.4E satellite with C and Ku band transponders to provide coverage of South America.

It was the sixth Ariane 5 launch of 2012.

p381.jpg (15049 bytes)Proton Orbits Two Satellites

The year's ninth Proton, a Proton M/Briz M, successfully boosted a pair of Russian government satellites into geostationary orbit on November 2, 2012.  Briz M performed four burns to lift 1.64 tonne Yamal 300K and 1.15 tonne Luch 5B into their orbits about 9.5 hours after a 21:04 UTC liftoff from Baikonur Cosmodrome Area 81 Pad 24. 

Yamal 300K is a communications satellite while Luch 5B serves as a TDRS-like data relay satellite.

It was the 60th flight of a Proton M/Briz M configuration, and the 55th success.

pm17m.jpg (4433 bytes)Progress M-17M Flies Fast Track to ISS

A Soyuz U rocket orbited Russia's Progress M-17M cargo hauler from Baikonur Cosmodrome on October 31, 2012 on a fast track ascent to the  International Space Station.  The 2.5 stage rocket lifted off from Area 1 Pad 5 at 07:41 UTC to start its four-orbit "rapid rendezvous" profile that allowed the robot ship to dock to ISS about six hours after lift off. 

Progress M-17M, the fourth Progress launched to ISS in 2012, carried 2.64 tonnes of propellant, gases, water, and dry cargo.  It was the 11th launch of all types in support of ISS during the year to date.

cz3c10.jpg (12387 bytes)China Orbits Navigation Satellite

China orbited its 16th Beidou (Compass) navigation satellite on a Chang Zheng (Long March) 3C rocket from Xichang space center in southwest China on October 25, 2012.  Liftoff from Pad 2 took place at 15:33 UTC.  The rocket's liquid hydrogen third stage performed two burns to insert the Beidou G6 satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit. 

Beidou will eventually consist of 35 satellites in medium and geosynchronous orbits to serve as a GPS equivalent for China. 

The launch was China's 15th orbital launch of 2012.   All have been performed by Chang Zheng family rockets, more than any other launch vehicle family in the world this year.  

Soyuz TMA-06M Launch

A Russian Soyuz FG rocket launched three crew into orbit aboard Soyuz TMA-06M on October 23, 2012.  Liftoff from Baikonur Cosmodrome Area 31 Pad 6 occurred at 10:51 UTC.  On board Soyuz TMA-06 were Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin and NASA astronaut Kevin Ford.The crew will join the International Space Station (ISS) Expedition 33 crew on the International Space Station.  

It was the year's fourth crewed space launch, the third crewed flight to ISS, and the 10th launch in support of ISS. 

Soyuz TMA-06M was the first crewed launch from Pad 6 since July 1984.

p380.jpg (9115 bytes)Proton Returns to Service

A 705 tonne, four-stage Proton M/Briz M rocket successfully lofted Intelsat 23 directly into geostationary orbit on October 14, 2012.  It was the first Proton launch since a failed August 6, 2012 flight, when a Briz M upper stage failed during the third of four planned burns.   This time, Briz M successfully completed four burns to complete the mission some 9 hours and 30 minutes after an 08:37 UTC liftoff from Baikonur Cosmodrome Area 81 Pad 24. 

Orbital built the 2.7 tonne GeoStar 2 satellite.   It was the 75th Proton launch performed for International Launch Services, and the 380th Proton launch overall.

cz2c37.jpg (12404 bytes)China Orbits Technology Demonstrator Satellites

China orbited a pair of "practice" satellites on October 14, 2012 from Taiyuan space center in northern China's Shanxi province.  A two-stage CZ-2C rocket lifted off with the Shijian 9 mission at 03:25 UTC, bound for a near-polar low earth orbit.

The Shijian 9 satellites would, according to China's state media, test satellite reliability and Chinese-made technology in orbit. 

It was the 14th orbital launch of the year for China's Chang Zheng launch vehicle family.

vs03.jpg (6624 bytes)Kourou Soyuz Launches European Navsats

Kourou's new Soyuz site hosted its third launch on October 12, 2012 when a Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat ST orbited two European Galileo navigation satellites.  The rocket lifted off from Soyuz Launch Complex (ELS) at 18:15 UTC with 700 kg Galileo FM 3 and FM 4 on In-Orbit-Verification Flight No. 2.  The 3 hour, 45 minute mission, flown as VS03 for Arianespace, included two burns of the Fregat upper stage to insert the satellite pair into 23,222 km x 55.345 deg orbits. 

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. 

crs1.jpg (17045 bytes)SpaceX Dragon Arrives at Station (Updated 10/12/12)

SpaceX successfully delivered Dragon C3 (CRS-1), NASA's first operational commercial cargo mission, to the International Space Station on October 10, 2012.  ISS Expedition 33 crew members Akihiko Hoshide and Sunita Williams used the station's robotic arm to grapple and berth Dragon to the station's Harmony module at 11:56 UTC and 1303 UTC, respectively. 

Dragon is expected to stay at ISS for 18 days while 400 kg of cargo is unloaded and 759 kg of downmass, including used station hardware and scientific samples, is loaded.  Dragon will carry the down cargo to a planned October 28 parachute landing on the Pacific Ocean off the coast of southern California.

SpaceX CRS-1 is the first of 12 Commercial Resupply Services missions contracted for NASA.  The program has a $1.6 billion budget.

The Dragon CRS-1 success came despite the challenging failure of one of its nine Falcon 9 first stage engines 79 seconds after liftoff.   The lost engine caused Falcon 9's first and second stages to burn longer, forcing the second stage to consume slightly more propellant than planned to boost Dragon into its planned insertion orbit.  The first stage burned 12-13 seconds longer, and the second stage 15-16 seconds longer, than the planned 180 seconds and 359 seconds, respectively.  

The Falcon 9 second stage was slated to perform a second burn after Dragon separation to insert a 165 kg Orbcomm prototype satellite into a 350 x 750 km orbit.  Although the second stage retained enough propellant to very likely achieve the planned orbit, NASA had required prior to the mission that any second stage restart could only occur if there was a better than 99% probability of completing the burn.  This was to ensure that the stage and its payload were safely lifted above the ISS orbit.  After the extended first burn, the second stage only retained enough propellant to achieve a roughly 95% probability of completing the second burn, so Falcon 9 did not attempt a restart.  Orbcomm had to be released into the initial 203 x 323 km x 51.65 deg orbit, from which it soon, on October 10, fell back to a destructive reentery into the earth's atmosphere.   

The last time a U.S. rocket lost a first stage engine during ascent but still made it to orbit was the SA-6 flight of May 28, 1964.  SA-6 survived an unexpected S-1 outboard engine (No. 8) shutdown 116 seconds after liftoff. The remaining H-1 engines burned about two seconds longer to compensate, with the inboards shutting down at T+142 seconds and the outboards at T+148 seconds. The S-IV stage compensated for the early shutdown to enter a 124 x 140 mile x 31.5 degree orbit, close to the planned 110 x 140 mile orbit.  Subsequent Saturn V and Space Shuttle launches also overcame early engine shutdowns to reach orbit, but in those cases the engines were second stage (Apollo 13) or Shuttle SSME "sustainer stage" engines.

SpaceX and NASA will complete an investigation of the engine failure before the next Dragon flight.

f9-4-a.jpg (13573 bytes)Falcon 9 Orbits Dragon CRS-1 with ISS Cargo, Suffers Engine Shutdown During Ascent, Leaves Secondary Payload in Low Orbit (Updated 10/12/12)

SpaceX launched its fourth Falcon 9 rocket on October 8, 2012, this time carrying the first operational Dragon spacecraft on NASA's CRS-1 resupply mission to the International Space Station.  Liftoff from Cape Canaveral SLC 40 occurred at 00:35 UTC.  The second stage inserted Dragon into a 197 x 328 km x 51.65 deg orbit about 9 minutes 49 seconds later.  Dragon CRS-1 then seperated and deployed its solar arrays.

During the ascent, a flare was observed in the first stage plume about 79 seconds after liftoff, approximately coinciding with the period of maximum dynamic pressure on the vehicle (or "Max-Q"), and the first stage burned about 12-13 seconds longer than expected, and the second stage burned 15-16 seconds longer than planned.  SpaceX subsequently stated that an "anomaly" had occurred on one of the rocket's nine first stage Merlin 1C engines, causing it to shut down.  The on board guidance system compensated for the loss of thrust by commanding longer burns and a modified flight profile.

f9-4-b.jpg (11786 bytes)The spacecraft, filled with 400 kg of supplies, was expected to reach the space station on October 10. 

Falcon's second stage was expected to perform a second burn after Dragon separation, to insert a 165 kg Orbcomm prototype satellite into a 350 x 750 km orbit.  Short of sufficient propellant, and unable to perform any burn with the remaining propellant due to ISS safety constraints, Falcon deployed Orbcomm into a 203 x 323 km x 51.65 deg orbit from which it fell into a destructive reentry into the earth's atmosphere on Ocbober 10, a total loss for Orbcomm..  

Despite the successful Dragon insertion, the improper Orbcomm orbit result requires Space Launch Report, given its uncompromising success/fail methodology, to now classify the launch as a failure.

It was the second Falcon 9/Dragon launch of 2012.

d361.jpg (3129 bytes)Delta 4 Launches GPS-2F-3 Despite RL10 Problem (Updated 12/14/12)

A United Launch Alliance Delta 4M+4,2, with a four meter diameter upper stage and payload fairing and two GEM-60 strap on solid motors, launched GPS 2F-3 for the U.S. Air Force on October 4, 2012.  The rocket successfully delivered its payload precisely to the planned orbit despite a low-thrust anomaly that caused longer than planned second stage RL10B-2 engine burns.  

The liquid hydrogen fueled rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral SLC 37B at 12:10 UTC and flew toward the southeast.  Its Delta Cryogenic Upper Stage fired its RL10B-2 engine three times during a 3.5 hour mission to lift 1,630 kg Boeing-built GPS 2F-3 toward a planned circular 20,459 km x 55 deg orbit. 

The guidance system likely took advantage of substantial margin provided the Delta 4M+4,2 for this payload and orbit when an unknown problem caused the second stage engine to produce low thrust, forcing it to burn 38 seconds, or a little more than 8%, longer than planned during its first burn to push the stage and payload into a parking orbit.  Each of its subsequent burns also lasted about half a minute longer than planned, but the proper orbit was achieved.  The stage also successfully moved itself into a disposal orbit after spacecraft separation. 

An investigation revealed that a thrust chamber propellant leak had occurred just above the nozzle throat, where tubes cycle liquid hydrogen around the thrust chamber walls to carry away excess heat.  The fuel is subsequently injected into the combustion chamber, so that any leak would cause an accompanying reduction in thrust.  ULA did not announce the precise suspected, or most likely suspected, cause of the leak.       

It was the fourth Delta 4 launch of the year, more than any prior calendar year during the rocket's ten years of service.