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Space Launch Report Archive

January-March, 2013


r71800.jpg (10711 bytes)Soyuz Performs First Crew Launch of 2013

A Soyuz FG rocket boosted Russia's Soyuz TMA-08M with three crew members into a planned fast track orbit to the International Space Station from Baikonur Cosmodrome on March 28, 2013.   Liftoff frrom Area 1 Pad 5 took place at 20:43 UTC.  For the first time, the Soyuz was planned to dock with ISS less than five hours after liftoff. 

On board were Russia's Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin and U.S. astronaut Christopher Cassidy.  They will join the Expedition 35 crew at ISS, which includes Canada's Chris Hadfield, NASA's Thomas Marshburn, and Russia's Roman Romanenko.

It was the 1,800th R-7, according to TsSKB Progress lists, but those numbers include several pre-launch on-pad accidents that are not counted as launch attempts in other launch databases.  R-7, the world's most oft-flown orbital launcher, has flown continously since 1957, initially as an ICBM but primarily as the booster for a long series of manned and unmanned launch vehicles.

p384.jpg (6314 bytes)Proton Returns to Service

On March 26, 2013, Russia's Proton M/Briz M returned to flight after a nearly four month grounding following a December failure.  The 384th Proton lifted Mexico's Satmex 8 communications satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit.  Liftoff from Baikonur Cosmodrome Area 200 Pad 39 in Kazakhstan occurred at 19:06 UTC to start a 9 hour 13 minute long mission.  The Briz M upper stage performed five burns during the mission.  Satmex 8 is a SS/Loral 1300 series satellite that weighed nearly 5.5 tonnes at liftoff.

It was the 78th International Launch Services Proton launch. 

Khrunichev Research and Production Space Center of Moscow builds both Proton and Briz.  On December 8, 2012, a Briz M upper stage failed during the fourth of five planned burns, leaving Yamal 402 in a low transfer orbit.   The satellite subsequently raised itself into an operational geostationary orbit, but at a cost of four years of its planned 15 year life.  A Failure Review Oversight Board (FROB) determined that a turbopump was damaged during the third burn, leading to its failure during the fourth burn.  The turbopump was damaged when it ingested oxidizer in gas, rather than liquid form.  Oxidizer was heated to a gas state due to high thermal soak-back of the engine to the Briz M stage prior to the third burn. 

av037.jpg (15730 bytes)av037b.jpg (11510 bytes)Atlas 5 Launches Early Warning Satellite

An Atlas 5-401 successfully boosted SBIRS GEO-2 (Space Based Infrared System Geosynchronous) into geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) from Cape Canaveral on March 19, 2013.  The two-stage rocket lifted off from SLC 41 at 2121 UTC to begin its 43 minute, 12.6 second mission - a mission identified as AV-037 in prior records, but no longer identified as such publically by launch provider United Launch Alliance. It was the third Atlas 5 to fly in 2013.

Atlas 5 flew east from the Cape.  Its Energomash RD-180 first stage engine burned for 243 seconds.  Six seconds after RD-180 shut down, the Centaur second stage separated.  Centaur's RL10A-4-2 LH2/LOX engine ignited 259 seconds after liftoff to perform the first of two burns.  The first nearly 11 minute burn put the vehicle into a parking orbit.  The 4 meter diameter payload fairing separated 8 seconds after Centaur ignited.  After a 9 minute coast, Centaur's second, 4-minute long burn lofted SBIRS GEO-2 into a planned 185 x 35,786 km x 22.19 deg GTO.  Spacecraft separation occurred 15 minutes later at the 43 minute 12.6 second mark.

SBIRS is a follow-on to the long-running, once-classified Defense Support Program (DSP), which used infrared sensing telescopes mounted in spinning satellites in geosynchronous orbit to provide early warning to the U.S. for Intercontinental Ballistic Missile launches.  SBIRS GEO-2 is a 3-axis stabilized A2100M Lockheed Martin satellite believed to weigh about 4.5 tonnes.  It has a scanning sensor and a staring sensor and is more capable than DSP, but is also far more expensive - so expensive that the entire program at one point had to be scaled back from original plans.

p7cs.jpg (15650 bytes)Ariane 6, Epsilon, and Delta 2

Space Launch Report has added new reports on Europe's Ariane 6 development efforts, Japan's upcoming low-cost Epsilon launch vehicle, and has wrapped up a 15 part review of the U.S. Thor/Delta family.   These join many other launch vehicle fact sheets on the Library page.

f9f5.jpg (4910 bytes)Dragon Propulsion Anomaly Resolved After Successful Falcon 9 Launch (Updated 3/26/13)

The fifth SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket orbited a Dragon spacecraft on NASA's CRS-2 International Space Station resupply mission on March 1, 2013, but Dragon suffered a problem shortly after reaching orbit.  The initally unannounced problem occurred around the time that Dragon's solar arrays should have deployed, a process that occurs within minutes of spacecraft separation from the Falcon 9 second stage.

Falcon 9 lifted off from Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 40 at 15:10 UTC and provided an uneventful nine minute, two-stage ascent to orbit.   Dragon, filled with 847.8 kg of ISS supplies and 201.8 kg of packing materials, separated into a 199 x 323 km x 51.66 deg orbit, and was visible moving away from the second stage in an initially stable fashion.

Shortly after launch, SpaceX head Elon Musk tweeted that three of Dragon's four thruster pods had been inhibited from initiallizing.  Crews were working to command an override of those inhibits.  Solar array deployment was delayed until at least two thruster pods were brought on line.  Each pod contains four or five hypergolic Draco thrusters, for a total of 18 thrusters.

After one orbit, Dragon was still in free drift with only Thruster Pod 2 working.  A problem had occurred that prevented helium pressurization of the hypergolic thruster oxidizer tanks in the affected thruster pods, but by 16:40 Mr. Musk was reporting that "Thruster Pod 3 tank pressure trending positive" and that the team was "preparing to deploy solar arrays."   The arrays deployed shortly after that announcement.

f9f5-2.jpg (9279 bytes)Dragon Drifts from Falcon's Second Stage After Separation.  The Trunk and Stowed Solar Arrays are Visible

At 19:59 UTC, nearly 4.5 hours after liftoff, Musk tweeted: "Pods 1 and 4 now online and thrusters engaged. Dragon transitioned from free drift to active control."  Dragon subsequently performed a series of orbit raising burns, beginning with a brief five-second test burn at 21:37 UTC and a nearly 36 second long perigee-raising burn at 22:05 UTC.

Dragon's helium pressurization problems occurred after main isolation valves were opened to release high pressure helium system.  The helium passes through regulators that drop its pressure to a level that can be safely fed into the hypergolic propellant tanks of the pressure-fed Dragon reaction control system.   Check valves ensure that helium flows only into the tanks and that no propellant or helium flows back out. 

An obstruction, or obstructions, appeared somewhere in the helium feed system.  Elon Musk stated that one possibility was at the check valves, but that other possibilities existed.  Ice formation due to moisture in the system is one possible explanation, for example.  After waiting for ground station passes to allow for command uplinks - satellite links were impossible due to Dragon's drifting - SpaceX engineers cycled the helium isolation valves to "hammer" the system with slugs of pressure, a process that eventually cleared the lines and allowed the tanks to be pressurized. 

f9f5-3.jpg (18424 bytes)CRS-2 Arrives at ISS

The issues delayed Dragon's planned orbit raising burns, which in turn delayed its planned March 2 ISS rendezvous.  On March 2, NASA announced that after a safety review it had approved a March 3 attempt. 

CRS-2 Dragon rendezvoused with and berthed to ISS on March 3, 2013.  The station's Canadarm 2, controled by astronaut Kevin Ford, captured Dragon at 10:31 UTC.  Ground controlers in Houston directed the arm to berth Dragon to the station's Harmony module, a process completed at 13:56 UTC.

crs2rtn.jpg (4632 bytes)CRS-2 Dragon Approaches Spashdown

Dragon stayed at ISS until March 26.  Astronauts off-loaded cargo and then reloaded the capsule with 1,210.9 kg of materials and 159.7 kg of packaging to be returned to Earth.  The CRS-2 Dragon reentered a few hours after unberthing from ISS and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja, California. 

Prior to the launch, the CRS-2 Falcon 9, which reportedly will be the final Falcon v1.0 variant to fly, performed a two-second long static test fire on the pad, on February 25, 2013.


pslvc20.jpg (2632 bytes)PSLV C-20 Launch

India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) performed its C-20 mission on February 25, 2013, lofting seven satellites into sun synchronous orbit from Satish Dhawan Space Center at Sriharikota, India. The "Core Alone" PSLV lifted off from the First Launch Pad at 12:31 UTC. The rocket boosted its payloads to 781 x 791 km x 98.5 deg orbits.

SARAL (Satellite with ARGOS and AltiK) was the 409 kg primary payload. The satellite will be operated jointly by ISRL and France's CNES to study ocean surface topography.

Secondary payloads included two Canadian satellites and four nanosatellites. Sapphire, a 148 kg surveillance satellite, was built by the U.K.'s Surrey Satellite Technolgy Ltd for Canada’s Department of National Defense. Canadian Space Agency's 74 kg NEOSSat (Near Earth Object Surveillance Satellite) will look for asteroids with its 15 cm telescope.

The University of Toronto coordinated three nanaosatellites (UniBRITE, TUGSAT-1, and AAUSAT3) involving organizations in Canada, Austria and Poland. Together these weighed about 31 kg. A fourth nanosat was Britian's STRaND 1 (Surrey Training Research and Nanosatellite Development), built and operated by SSTL. It included Android smartphone hardware.

av035a.jpg (11476 bytes)Atlas 5 Launches Landsat (updated March 5, 2013)

An Atlas 5-401 successfully orbited NASA's Landsat Data Continunity Mission (LCDM) satellited from Vandenberg Air Force Base on February 11, 2013.  Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 3 East occurred at 18:02 UTC.  After a 14.4 minute ascent to a 166 x 693 km x 92.65 deg parking orbit, a 55 minute Centaur coast, and a three minute long second burn of the RL10 liquid hydrogen fueled engine, LCDM separated into a 661 x 676 km x 98.2 deg sun synchronous orbit. 

LCDM is a 2.77 tonne earth observation satelitte built by Orbital Sciences.  It was NASA's second satellite launched by an Atlas in two weeks.  Because Atlas 5-401 is able to lift 6.7 tonnes to sun synchronous orbit, the excess capacity was used for a third RL10 burn to expel the Centaur stage from Earth orbit into a heliocentric disposal orbit.

It was the sixth Atlas 5 launch from Vandenberg AFB and the first for NASA.  Including this flight, seven of the year's first nine launches were powered off the pad by Russian rocket engines.

progm18m.jpg (25804 bytes)Progress M-18M Launch

A Soyuz U rocket orbited Russia's Progress M-18M cargo ship from Baikonur Cosmodrome on February 11, 2013 on a four orbit quick ascent to the  International Space Station.  The 2.5 stage rocket lifted off from Area 1 Pad 5 at 14:41 UTC to start its "rapid rendezvous" profile designed to redezvous with ISS about six hours after lift off. 

Progress M-18M carried 2.64 tonnes of propellant, gases, water, and dry cargo.  With the launch, R-7 becomes the first rocket to fly more than once during the year.

va212.jpg (17127 bytes)Ariane 5 Orbits Two Satellites

An Ariane 5 ECA orbited two communication satellites from Kourou, French Guiana on February 7, 2013.   Arianespace mission VA-212 lofted Amazonas 3 and Azerspace/Africasat-1a into geostationary transfer orbit during a 37 minute flight that began with a 21:36 UTC liftoff from ELA 3. 

The combined payload weighed 9.5 tonnes.  Amazonas 3, a Space Systems/Loral 1300 platform, weighed 6.265 tonnes.  It will provide high power communication services in Europe, America and North Africa.    Azerspace/Africasat-1a is a 3 tonne Orbital Sciences Star-2 satellite built for  Azercosmos OJSC, Ministry of Communications and Information Technologies of the Republic of Azerbaijan.  It will provide a communications services for Azerbaijan, Central Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Amazonas 3 rode in the upper position atop the Sylda payload adapter.  Final orbit was 247 x 35,914 km x 5.99 deg.  It was the 40th Ariane 5 ECA flight and the 39th success.

st26.jpg (7081 bytes)Soyuz 2-1a/Fregat Orbits Six Globalstar Satellites

A Soyuz 2-1a with a Fregat upper stage performed the ST-26 mission for Starsem on February 6, 2013 when it orbited six second-generation Globalstar satellites from Baikonur Cosmodrome.  Liftoff from Area 31 Pad 6 occurred at 16:04 UTC.  The Fregat stage deployed the six 700 kg Thales Alenia Space-built satellites into approximately 920 km x 52 deg orbits one hour 40 minutes later. 

The launch completed Globalstar's second-generation 24-satellite constellation, an effort that required four launches beginning in 2010.   It was also the final Starsem launch planned from Baikonur. 

z3sl48.jpg (8875 bytes)Sea Launch Zenit Fails (Updated Febraury 2, 2013)

A Zenit 3SL/Blok DMSL failed shortly after launch from Sea Launch Odyssey launch platform in the equatorial Pacific Ocean on February 1, 2013, destroying the rocket and its Intelsat 27 satellite payload.  It was the fourth Sea Launch failure in 35 flights, breaking a string of 10 consecutive successes spanning six years.

Liftoff occurred at 06:56 UTC.  The rocket rose for about 23 seconds before appearing to veer just before its RD-171M main engine suddenly cut out, darkening the scene.  Webcast video then showed a brief flash of light about 58 seconds after liftoff, possibly indicating the time of impact with the ocean surface.   No injuries or damage to Sea Launch floating systems were reported.

The behavior was consistent with an emergency cut off command given to the main engine, a range safety procedure used with Ukrainian and Russian rockets that have flown out of control. 

Sea Launch later announced that it had lost telemetry signals about 40 seconds after liftoff, and that it would conduct an investigation to determine the cause.  Russian news services reported that the flight had been terminated after drifting from its planned flight path.  RD-171M engine manufacturer NPO Energomash director Vladimir Solntsev stated that the engine had worked nominally and that it was not involved in the failure. 

Failure Review Oversight Board

On February 2, Sea Launch announced that 11.4 seconds into flight, "the Zenit flight control system detected an exceedance of a pre-programmed roll limit" indicating a loss of vehicle control, triggering the on-board thrust termination sequence.  The sequence terminated the RD-171M main engine thrust 20 seconds into the flight.  The rocket and its payload impacted the Pacific Ocean surface about 4 km from the Odyssey Launch Platform.

Sea Launch announced that a Failure Review Oversight Board (FROB) would investigate the failure, focusing on systems involved in the thrust vector control of the first stage engine. 

z3sl48b.jpg (19662 bytes)Intelsat 27 Launch Vehicle During Testing at Long Beach

Intelsat 27 was a 6.215 tonne satellite built by Boeing Satellite Services.  It would have been inserted into geosynchronous transfer orbit.  

Zenit 3SL consists of a two-stage rocket Zenit 2S developed by SDO Yuzhnoye of Ukraine, topped by a Blok DMSL upper stage manufactured by Russia's RSC Energia, the majority owner of Sea Launch itself.  Russia's NPO Energomash provides engines for the first two stages.

It was the 80th Zenit series launch since the family entered service in 1985, and the 13 failure.

Sea Launch had conducted four successful missions since emerging from its 2009 bankruptcy. 

av036.jpg (6168 bytes)Atlas Lofts TDRS-K

A two-stage Atlas 5-401 successfully orbited NASA's TDRS-K (Tracking and Data Relay Satellite) from Cape Caneveral on January 31, 2013, following the shortest ever Atlas 5 launch campaign.  Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41 took place at 01:48 UTC.  TDRS-K, a Boeing Space System 601 model that weighed 3.454 tonnes, separated into a 4,313 x 35,789 km x 25.9 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) about 1 hour 46 minutes later.

The Russian powered first stage burned for 4 minutes 2 seconds.  (It was the second Energomash powered orbital launch within 24 hours.)   This was followed by a 14 minute 12 second long Centaur second stage burn that boosted the vehicle into a 183 x 24,854 km x 26.5 deg parking orbit.  After a 1 hour, 33 minute coast, Centaur reignited for a brief burn to accelerate TDRS-K into its final orbit.

United Launch Alliance processed this Atlas faster by skipping the standard wet dress rehearsal process.  Skipping WDR saved time, but slightly increased the odds of problems cropping up during the final propellant loading phase of the countdown. 

kslv1-3.jpg (2791 bytes)First Orbital Launch from South Korea

A joint Russian/South Korean rocket named "Korean Space Launch Vehicle-1" (KSLV-1) successfully orbited South Korea's STSAT-2C satellite from Naro Space Center in South Korea on January 30, 2013.  The success followed two previous KSLV launch failures from the same site in 2009 and 2010.  The flight added South Korea to the list of 13 countries that have hosted orbital launches. 

The two-stage rocket, consisting of a Russian Krunichev Angara-derived kerosene/LOX first stage topped by a South Korean KARI solid fuel second stage, lifted off at 07:00 UTC.    The 33 meter tall, 2.9 meter diameter, 140 tonne rocket rose on 170 tonnes of thrust produced by a single Energomash RD-151 staged combustion cycle engine.  The stage burned for almost 229 seconds, with payload fairing separation occuring shortly before the RD-151 shut down. 

The KARI second stage, consisting of a solid motor attached beneath an approximately 2 meter diameter structure that housed guidance and flight control equipment, then separated and coasted for a couple of minutes, approximately, before beginning its nearly 58 second long burn.  The 2.4 meter long, 1 meter diameter second stage motor produced 8 tonnes of thrust while using 3-axis control provided by reaction control thrusters during its coast and burn. 

100 kg STSAT-2C separated into a 296 x 1,513 km x 80.3 deg orbit about nine minutes after liftoff.

The 2009 KSLV-1 failure was caused by one of the two payload fairing halves failing to separate.  In 2010, the second KSLV-1 exploded two minutes into flight, during the first stage burn. 

h2af22.jpg (4833 bytes)H-2A Launches Japan Spysats

An H-2A-202 with two SRB-A strap on motors orbited a pair of intelligence gathering satellites for Japan on January 27, 2012.  H-2A F-22 carried Information Gathering Satellite (IGS) Radar-4 and the IGS Optical 5 Demonstration Satellite into sun synchronous orbit from Yoshinobu Launch Complex 1 at the Tanegashima Space Center.   Both satellites separated within 26 minutes of the 04:40 UTC launch.

The radar satellite, which rode in the uppermost position in the payload fairing, is believed to provide a resolution of less than a meter.  The demonstration optical satellite may provide resolution of less than 0.5 meters. 

F-22 flew southeast from Tanegashima, then turned south in a substantial dogleg maneuver in order to keep rocket debris off of the east coast of the Philippines.  The maneuver costs H-2A substantial performance, limiting it to about 4.4 tonnes payload to sun synchronous orbit. 

rokot18.jpg (13110 bytes)Rokot Orbits Russian Defense Satellites

A Rokot with a Briz-KM upper stage orbited three Strela-3M (Rodnik-S) military communication satellites from Area 133 Pad 3 at Russia's Plesetsk cosmodrome on January 15, 2013, in the year's first orbital launch.  Liftoff occurred at 16:24 UTC.     The satellites, identified as Kosmos-2482, 2483, and 2484, were inserted by the upper stage into near 1,500 km x 83 deg orbits at 18:09 UTC.  The Briz KM stage performed an initial burn to reach orbit, then performed an insertion burn at transfer orbit apogee.

Strela-3M satellites weigh about 225 kg each.  The flight had been postponed several weeks by problems with the Briz-KM control system.