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July-September, 2013

p389.jpg (13186 bytes)Proton Returns

Less than three months after it suffered a dramatic July 2 failure, Russia's Proton returned to commercial service by launching the Astra 2E communications satellite from Baikonur Cosmodrome on September 29, 2013.  The 389th Proton, a Proton M topped by a Briz M fourth stage, lifted off from Area 200 Pad 39 at 21:38 UTC.  Astra 2E, a 6.02 tonne Astrium E3000 series communications satellite, was to be lofted into geosynchronous transfer orbit using a five-burn Briz M mission expected to last 9 hours 12 minutes. 

Three-stage Proton reached a suborbital trajectory. Briz M performed its first burn to achieve a circular parking orbit.  A second burn accelerated the stage and payload to an intermediate orbit.  Third and fourth burns acheived a transfer orbit.  The final burn was expected to move Astra 2E into a 4,202 x 35,736 km x 23 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit.

Astra 2E will provide Ku- and Ka-band services in Europe, the Middle East and Africa for Europe's SES.

f9-6-1.jpg (14072 bytes)Falcon 9 v1.1 Debut

SpaceX Corporation successfully launched its first Falcon 9 v1.1 launch vehicle from Vandenberg AFB on September 29, 2013. The two-stage kerosene fueled rocket, much longer and heavier and with more powerful engines than its five Falcon 9 predecessors, and equipped for the first time with a payload fairing, lifted off from rebuilt Space Launch Complex 4 East at 16:00 UTC on a demonstration mission with Canada's 500 kg Cassiope and with five small cubesats that together weighed about 100 kg. The second stage and satellites were aimed south toward a planned 300 x 1,500 km x 80 deg orbit.

It was the first SpaceX launch from the Western U.S. launch center, a site typically used for near polar orbital missions. The company extensively rebuilt SLC 4E, previously used for Titan 4, creating a flat pad with a massive wheeled transporter-erector that rolls from a horizontal assembly hanger nearby.

Falcon 9-006 lifted off on 600 tonnes of liftoff thrust produced by nine Merlin 1D engines. This was the first flight test of the new Merlin 1D, a gas generator engine designed from the outset to be mass produced. Falcon 9 v1.1 presented a unique sight as it rose, with the highest "fineness ratio" (length divided by width) of any large rocket currently flying.  Two of the first stage engines shut down as planned shortly before the remaining seven cut off some time around the planned 2 minute 43 second mark. The second stage separated and ignited its new Vacuum Merlin 1D, beginning a more than six-minute long burn. The composite payload fairing was jettisonned at about the 3 minute 37 second mark.

f9-6-0.jpg (34511 bytes)Merlin 1D Engines Gleam in the Morning Sunlight Prior to Liftoff

After second stage cutoff, SpaceX ended its launch webcast as the stage flew out of tracking range.  About 30 minutes later, word came that Cassiope and the cubesats had separated as planned beginning more than 14 minutes after liftoff.

SpaceX performed a test re-ignition of three of the first stage engines after staging, about 7 minutes 45 seconds after liftoff, in a demonstration of a reentry velocity reduction that might be used for stage recovery in the future. This burn and the reentry went as expected. 

A second re-ignition of only the center engine also initiated as planned shortly before impact with the Pacific Ocean, but roll rates on the stage quickly exceeded the control ability of the reaction control system.  The roll rate pushed propellant toward the tank edges, causing the engine to shut down.  The stage fell, impacted the ocean, and broke into pieces.  A recovery ship was able to haul aboard some floating pieces of the stage.  SpaceX head Elon Musk was pleased with the results of the experiment, which he said moved SpaceX closer to recovery of stages in the future. 

The second stage was also expected to perform a restart after spacecraft separation that would burn to propellant depletion.  This planned "disposal burn" failed during engine restart.  Elon Musk reported that the cause of the anomaly was understood and would be fixed before the next launch, when a restart would be necessary to insert SES 8 into a geosynchronous transfer orbit.

cynus1-2.jpg (16404 bytes)Cyguns Reaches ISS

After a delayed, 11 day wait, Orbital's Cygnus ORB-D1 spacecraft successfully berthed at ISS on September 29, 2013.  The cargo hauling spacecraft had loitered in orbit awaiting rendezvous for several days to solve issues that arose involving diverging GPS location updates between ISS and Cygnus during an initial rendezvous attempt on September 21.  Orbital engineers uploaded a software patch to reslove the GPS "data roll-over discrepancy".  In the mean time, Soyuz TMA-10M was launched to the station with three crewmembers on September 25.

tma10m.jpg (16620 bytes)Soyuz TMA-10M Launches ISS Crew

A Soyuz FG rocket launched the Russian Soyuz TMA-10M spacecraft into low earth orbit with three crew members from Baikonur Cosmodrome on September 25, 2013.  Liftoff frrom Area 1 Pad 5 took place at 20:58 UTC.  Aboard were Russia's Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy and NASA'sMichael Hopkins.  They will join Russia's Fyodor Yurchikhin, European Space Agency's Luca Parmitano and NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg on the International Space Station.  Plans call for the TMA-10M crew to stay at ISS for 167 days.

Soyuz TMA-10M was aimed toward a four orbit, six hour ascent to ISS, the third use of the fast track ascent for crewed Soyuz spacecraft. 

It was the year's third R-7 crewed launch to ISS, and the 10th launch by any launch vehicle, manned or unmanned, to the station in 2013, though the 9th launched mission, Orbital's Cygnus ORB-D1, continues to loiter in orbit awaiting rendezvous with ISS after experiencing diverging GPS location updates between ISS and Cygnus during its first attempt on September 21.  Orbital engineers have, in the mean time, uploaded a software patch to reslove the GPS "data roll-over discrepancy".

It was the 35th launch of a Soyuz FG rocket flying in 2.5 stage form, a type that began flying in 2001.  With no failures, this 35th success moves Soyuz FG to the top spot, marginally, in the Space Launch Report reliability rankings.

China Launches New Rocket

China launched a previously unknown quick response orbital launch vehicle named "Kuaizhou" ("Quick Vessel") on September 25, 2013 from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.  Liftoff occurred at 04:37 UTC.  The specific launch site was not announced.  A small satellite named "Kuaizhou 1", identified to be a "natural disaster monitoring satellite", was inserted into a 276 x 193 km x 96.65 deg orbit during the launch. 

Kuaizhou is believed to be a small solid fuel based launched vehicle developed by China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC).   It may be based on the DF-21/25 or DF-31 solid fuel ballistic missiles already in China's inventory.  Since those missiles are road mobile, the launch may have been performed from a mobile transporter erector launcher from a flat pad at Jiuquan.

China attempted to develop a DF-31 based solid fuel orbital launch vehicle named KT-1 about ten years ago, but KT-1 failed in two test flights.  The country then developed a DF-21 based ASAT launch vehicle named KT-2 that it used to destroy a satellite in orbit in 2007.  On May 13, 2013, China launched another unknown solid fuel rocket on an extremely high altitude suborbital launch from XiChang.

cz4c12.jpg (18454 bytes)China Orbits Weather Satellite

A three stage Chang Zheng (Long March) 4C launch vehicle successfully orbited the Fengyun 3C weather satellite from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in northern China's Shanxi province on September 23, 2013.  The 2.45 tonne satellite was injected into an 870 km sun synchronous, near polar orbit.  Liftoff took place at 03:07 UTC from the second CZ pad (Launch Complex 9) at Taiyuan.

Two previous Fengyun 3 launches occurred in 2008 and 2010.

av041.jpg (7485 bytes)antares2.jpg (2020 bytes)Two U.S. East Coast Launches

Atlas 5 (Left) and Antares/Cygnus (Right) Fly on Sept. 18

Two successful orbital launches took place from the east coast of the United States within a seven hour span on September 18, 2013. The first launch, at 08:10 UTC by the 40th Atlas 5, carried AEFH 3, a military communications satellite, into supersynchronous transfer orbit from Cape Canaveral Florida. The second launch, performed at 14:58 UTC by an Orbital Sciences Antares 110 launch vehicle from Wallops Island, Virginia, boosted the first Cygnus cargo carrier into low earth orbit bound for a demonstration mission to the International Space Station.

Both launches used kerosene fueled first stages powered by Russian built staged combustion rocket engines.

AEFH 3, a Lockheed Martin A2100 series satellite, was the third Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite to fly. It weighed 6,169 kg at liftoff. The Atlas 5-531 launch vehicle, fitted with three solid boosters and a five meter fairing, lofted AEFH 3 into a 225 x 50,000 km x 20.9 deg transfer orbit using a two-burn Centaur upper stage ascent profile. Satellite separation occurred about 51 minutes after the pre-dawn liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41.

The Antares/Cygnus launch took place from Pad 0A at Wallops Island. Cygnus consisted of an Orbital Sciences-built propulsion module and a cylindrical cargo module built by Thales Alenia Space in Italy.  For this "ORB-D1" mission, Cygnus weighed about 4,100 kg.  Its pressurized cargo module had about 18 cubic meters of internal volume, which was partially filled with 700 kg of cargo for the Expedition 37 crew.  The spacecraft used a Japanese-built IHI BT-4 main thruster that produced 45.4 kgf thrust, 32 Aerojet Rocketdyne control thrusters that each produced 2.7 kgf thrust, and twin solar panels built by EADS Astrium Dutch Space.

Cygnus will perform a four day check out mission before being allowed to approach ISS for capture and berthing by the station's robot arm.

It was the second and final launch of an Antares 110 variant, which uses an ATK Castor 30A solid fueled second stage motor. The next two Antares/Cygnus launches will use Antares 120 rockets with higher performing Castor 30B motors. Subsequent launches will use Antares 130 rockets with substantially more powerful Castor 30XL motors.

Antare's Ukrainian-built, Russian-powered first stage performed a 3 minute 53 second burn. The upper stage stack separated and coasted for 1 minute 36 seconds to an altitude of 189 km before the second stage ignited for its 155 second burn. Cygnus separated about 10 minutes after liftoff into a 255 x 288 km x 51.64 deg orbit.

It was the third of four planned orbital launches from Wallops Island this year.

epsilon1.jpg (16280 bytes)Epsilon Inaugural Success

Japan's new Epsilon launch vehicle scored an inaugural success on September 14, 2013 when it boosted Sprint-A (Spectroscopic Planet Observatory for Recognition of Interaction of Atmosphere) into orbit from the Uchinoura Space Center, Kagoshima on the island of Kyushu.  The 348 kg orbiting telescope was aimed toward a 950 x 1,150 km x 31 deg. orbit.  Sprint-A will study ineractions of the solar wind with the atmospheres and magnetoshpheres of Mars, Venus, and Jupiter at extreme ultraviolet wavelengths. 

On this flight, the first stage burned for 112 seconds, the second stage for 102 seconds, and the third stage for 89 seconds.   The vehicle coasted for 53 seconds between the first and second stage burn and for 361 seconds between the second and third stage burn.  Epsilon coasted for another 140 seconds after third stage burnout before the hydrazine fueled "Post Boost Stage" (PBS) separated and ignited.  On this flight, the PBS performed a nearly 11 minute long initial burn and a 6.5 minute long second burn that were separated by a 23 minute long coast.  Sprint-A separated 61 minutes 39 seconds after liftoff. 

Once on orbit, Sprint-A was given the nickname "Hisaki", which means "beyond the sun" in Japanese.      

The success followed an August 27 last second aborted attempt that was found to have been caused by latent sensor signal delays that spoofed the ground launch launch control program.

Epsilon was designed to reduce the cost of scientific satellite launches compared to its M-V predecessor.  Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) began development of "Epsilon" in 2006 to continue the long-running tradition of smaller, lower cost "Mu" series orbital launchers that the Institute of Space and Astronautical Sciences (ISAS) had managed.  Formerly independant ISAS became the Space Science Research Disvision of JAXA on October 1,2003. 

Epsilon uses three solid motors and an optional "Post Boost Stage" (PBS), or "Compact Liquid Propulsion System" (CLPS) fourth stage.  The first stage is a modified SRB-A motor, weighing 74.4 tonnes and similar to the 230 tonne thrust monolithic boosters used by JAXA's H-2A and H-2B launch vehicles.  The second stage is an 11.6 tonne M-34c motor, a modified version of the M-5 rocket's third stage that uses an extendible nozzle.  A small KM-V-2b solid motor, derived from the M-5 fourth stage motor and weighing 3 tonnes serves as the third stage.     Epsilon weighs 91 tonnes at liftoff. 

A 2.5 meter diameter payload fairing enclosed Sprint-A and the third and fourth stages.  The PBS provides orbit trimming and raising manuevers on some missions.  With CLPS, Epsilon can lift 700 kg to a 500 km x 30 deg orbit, or 450 km to a 500 km sun synchronous orbit.  Without CLPS, Epsilon can boost 1.2 tonnes into a 250 x 500 km x 30 deg orbit.


rokot19.jpg (3342 bytes)Rokot Flies from Plesetsk

A Rokot/Briz KM launched from Area 133 Pad 3 at Plesetsk space center in northern Russia at 23:23 UTC on September 11, 2013.  The three stage liquid fueled rocket carried three Gonets-M data relay satellites into roughly 1,500 km x 82.5 deg orbits. The satellites weighed about 280 kg each.   The Briz-KM thired stage performed two burns before spacecraft separation. Its first burn began about five minutes after liftoff and lasted for about 9.5 minutes to insert the vehicle into an elliptical parking orbit. The second, circulization burn began about 74 minutes after liftoff near apogee and lasted for about 53 seconds.

The launch was the first for Rokot since a January 15 flight that experienced problems with the Briz KM upper stage.  On that mission, three Strela 3M satellites separated into apparently correct, or nearly correct, orbits, but the Briz KM stage then went into safe mode and failed to perform its planned collision avoidance and deorbit burns.

It was the year's 50th announced orbital launch attempt.   At least one additional, unannounced, failed attempt is suspected to have taken place from Iran earlier this year, but is not currently listed on the Space Launch Report log.

mt5-1a.jpg (17162 bytes)First Minotaur 5 Launches Lunar Orbiter

Orbital Science's first Minotaur 5 successfully flung NASA's 383 kg Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) into a highly elliptical Earth orbit from Wallops Island, Virginia on September 7, 2013. The five-stage solid fuel rocket lifted off from Pad 0B (Zero B) at 03:27 UTC, beginning a 23.5 minute launch phase.

Minotaur 5's first four stages, comprising a retired three-stage Peacekeeper missile topped by a Star 48BV fourth stage, fired to lift LADEE into a low Earth orbit. The stages burned for 57, 61, 72, and 84 seconds, respectively, with a 20 second coast between Stages 2 and 3 and a nearly four minute coast between Stages 3 and 4.

Stage 4 burnout occurred 8 minutes 47 seconds after liftoff. After a roughly 6.5 minute coast period, the Star 37FM fifth stage was spun up to about 1 RPM for stabilization and ignited to accelerate LADEE toward a planned 200 x 278,000 km x 37.6 deg orbit. Stage 5 burnout occurred 18 minutes after liftoff. Spacecraft separation took place about 5.5 minutes later, after LADEE and the empty fifth stage were despun.

LADEE is expected to complete about 3.5 highly elliptical "phasing" orbits during the next 23 days. LADEE will fire its own propulsion system to move toward the Moon and to eventually enter lunar orbit. The spacecraft, developed by NASA's Ames Research Center, will measure lunar dust suspended in the near-lunar region.

mt5-1c.jpg (13264 bytes)It was the first Peacekeeper based launch from Wallops Flight Facility. Orbital had previously performed four Minuteman-based Minotaur 1 launches from the same launch pad. It was the first Minotaur 5 launch from any site.

Minotaur 3, 4, and 5 all use three retired Peacekeeper (MX) missile motors (Thiokol SR-118, Aerojet SR-119, and Hercules SR-120) to power the first three stages.  All three three stages use a single thrust vector actuator controlled movable nozzle for two axis flight control.  The first stage produces 227 tonnes of thrust at liftoff.   The second stage produces an average of 124.7 tonnes of thrust.  The third stage produces 29.5 tonnes of thrust.  The second and third stages both use an extendible nozzle. 

"Minotaur 4 Lite", uses only the first three stages for suborbital missions.  A Minotaur 3 variant was offered that would have topped the MX stages with a "Super HAPS" monopropellant hydrazine propulsion fourth stage, but this variant hasn't flown.  Minotaur 4 adds an Orion 38 fourth stage. A "Minotaur 4+" version with a Star 48V fourth stage has also flown.  Minotaur 5 adds a Star 37FM fifth stage to the Minotaur 4+ design. The five-stage variant weighs about 88 tonnes at liftoff.  With a liftoff thrust to weight ratio of about 2.5, the rocket springs off of its elevated concrete launch stand.  

Five Minotaur 4 series launches have occurred since the program began in 2010. Two were suborbital Minotaur 4 Lite missions from Vandenberg AFB. The other three flew to orbit, one from Vandenberg AFB and two from Kodiak in Alaska.   Fifty-one Peacekeeper test flights took place between 1983 and 2003, with one 50 successes.  Three additional SR-118 motors were used successfully on early Taurus launches.

cz4c11.jpg (12465 bytes)China Launches Satellite Triplet

A Chang Zheng 4C launch vehicle orbited three satellites as part of China's Yaogan Weixing 17 mission on September 1, 2013.  The launch from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center took place at 19:16 UTC from the Left, or 603 launch pad, of the South Launch Site (SLS), or LC43 launch complex.  The satellites entered a 1,079 x 1,108 km x 63.4 deg orbit.  

Yaogan Weixing 17 includes three satellites that China's official media identified as remote sensing spacecraft for scientific experiments, land survey, crop yield assessment, and disaster monitoring.  Western analysts note that the satelites fly in formation in a manner similar to the U.S. NOSS system used to track naval forces.

It was China's sixth orbital launch of 2013. 

z3slb-amos4.jpg (16426 bytes)Zenit Returns to Flight

A Land Launch Zenit 3SLB rocket lifted off with Israel’s AMOS 4 telecommunications satellite from Baikonur Cosmodrome on August 31, 2013.  It was the first Yuzhnoe-built Zenit flight since the February 1, 2013 Sea Launch failure that destroyed the Intelsat 27 communications satellite. 

Liftoff from Area 45 Pad 1 took place at 20:05 UTC, starting a nearly six-hour mission that included three burns of the RSC Energia Blok DM-SLB upper stage.  3.5 tonne AMOS 4 was aimed toward a planned 3,090 x 35,786 km x 26.85 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit.

The February 1 failure occurred shortly after liftoff from the Sea Launch Odyssey launch platform in the Pacific Ocean, when first stage RD-171 main engine nozzle thrust vectoring failed, causing an emergency engine shutdown.  An investigation concluded that the failure was isolated to the Zenit 3SL first stage hydraulic power supply unit, a device identified as "BIM".  Corrective action did not involve any design changes to the flight hardware, but instead focused on additional standalone inspections and testing of the BIM prior to installation into the Zenit 1st stage engine compartment. 

AMOS 4, a 3.5 tonne satellite, was manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) for Spacecom.  It will provide high power Ka and Ku band service for the Israeli government and for commercial customers.  

va215.jpg (5660 bytes)Ariane 5 Lofts Two Communication Satellites

Ariane 5 ECA vehicle number L570 hauled two more communication satellites into orbit, one for Europe and Qatar and one for India, from Kourou Space Center on August 29, 2013.  The VA215 Arianespace mission carried EUTELSAT 25B/Es’hail 1 and India's GSAT-7 into geosynchronous transfer orbit after a 20:30 UTC liftoff from ELA 3. 

The Space Systems/Loral (SSL)-built EUTELSAT 25B/Es’hail 1 is a Space Systems/Loral 1300 series satellite that weighed 6,310 kg at launch.  It rode atop the Sylda payload dispenser and was deployed first.  The satellite will serve Europe's Eutelsat Communications and Qatar’s Es’hailSat Satellite Company.   GSAT-7, which rode within Sylda, is a 2,650 kg satellite developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). 

d364.jpg (12827 bytes)Delta 4 Heavy Orbits NRO Reconnaissance Satellite

A Delta 4 Heavy lifted off from Vandenberg AFB Space Launch Complex 6 on August 28, 2013 with NROL-65, believed to be an electro-optical reconnaissance satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office.  Liftoff took place at 18:03 UTC.

Analysts believe that the satellite is most likely the latest in a long line of "Key Hole" spy satellites typically lofted into sun synchronous low earth orbits.  The most recent versions are thought to weigh 13 to 17 tonnes and to look like a "stubby" version of the Hubble Space Telescope.   Lockheed Martin builds the satellites.  A variety of code names have been suggested for these secret satellites, including KH-11, KH-12, Kennen, Crystal, Advanced Crystal, and Ikon.

It was the 24th Delta 4 and the seventh Delta 4 Heavy.   The rocket was the fifth Delta 4 and second Delta 4 Heavy to fly from Vandenberg AFB. 

During liftoff, the three RS-68 core engines were started in a staggered sequence for the first time.  The starboard RS-68 ignited two seconds before the center and port engines in an attept to reduce the peak amount of hydrogen gas accumulation around the rocket during engine start.  The resulting ignition fireball effect was noticably reduced compared to the first Delta 4 Heavy liftoff from Vandenberg.

After spacecraft separation, the five-meter Delta Cryogenic Upper Stage was expected to fire to de-orbited itself into the Pacific Ocean after completing about one orbit of the planet.

dnepr18.jpg (6427 bytes)Dnepr Orbits South Korean Radarsat

Dnepr, a converted Russian R-36MUTTH "Satan" ICBM, successfully orbited South Korea's Korea Multi-Purpose Satellite (KompSat) 5 from the Dombarovsky Yasny Launch Base in western Russia on August, 22, 2013.  The three-stage missile was ejected from its Site 370/13 underground silo at 14:39 UTC.  The 1.4 tonne radar imaging satellite separated from the third stage about 15 minutes 14 seconds later and entered a 550 km x 97.6 deg sun synchronous orbit.  The Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) developed the satellite.

It was the first Dnepr orbital launch since 2011, and the 18th orbital launch attempt all told since the program began in 2001. 

d363.jpg (11493 bytes)Delta 4 Launches WGS-6

The 23rd Delta 4 launch vehicle, a Delta 4M+5,4 with four solid rocket motors and a five meter diameter Delta cryogenic second stage (DCSS), lofted Wideband Global SATCOM No. 6 into supersynchronous transfer orbit from Cape Canaveral Florida on August 8, 2013. The 66.3 meter tall liquid hydrogen fueled rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 37B at 00:29 UTC in a near repeat of a May 25 mission from the same pad.

DCSS performed two burns. The first placed the vehicle in a 185 x 6,852 km x 25.6 deg parking orbit about 20 minutes after liftoff. After an eight minute coast, the second, 3-minute long burn pushed the 5.987 tonne Boeing 702 series satellite into a 439 x 66,894 km x 24 deg transfer orbit. Spacecraft separation occurred 40 minutes 47 seconds after liftoff.

WGS-6 will provide 500 MHz range, X-band, and 1 GHz range (Ka-band) communication links for the Australian Defence Force on a mission that was funded by Australia.  It can support up to 3.6 Gbps data transmission rates.

It was only the second Delta 4 launch of 2013. 

h2b4.jpg (7425 bytes)H-2B Orbits ISS Cargo Ship

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) fourth H-2B rocket orbited HTV-4, an ISS cargo transfer vehicle, from Tanegashima Space Center's Yoshinobu Launch Pad 2 on August 3, 2013.  The 2.5 stage rocket lifted off at 19:48 UTC and flew a direct ascent to a 200 x 300 km x 51.6 deg orbit.  The 15.9 tonne HTV-4 separated about 15 minutes 11 seconds after liftoff.  

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.  The LH2/LOX two-stage core is augmented by four SRB-A strap on motors.   A 5.1 meter diameter payload fairing is used for HTV flights.  The 56.6 meter tall rocket weighs 531 tonnes at lift off.

Three more H-2B/HTV launches are planned before the end of the program in 2016.  The future of Japan's biggest rocket after those flights is uncertain.

progm20m.jpg (10664 bytes)Progress M-20M Launched Toward International Space Station

A Russian Soyuz U rocket orbited ISS cargo ship Progress M-20M from Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 27, 2013.   Liftoff from Area 31 Pad 6 took place at 20:45 UTC.   The 7-plus tonne spacecraft entered a low earth orbit inclined 51.65 degrees to the equator.  Plans called for Progress to dock to ISS after a six-hour, four-orbit ascent.

Known as Progress 52P on NASA ledgers, the spacecraft was loaded at the last minute with spacesuit repair tools to aid in troubleshooting a leak that occurred in ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano's helment during a July 16 spacewalk.

It was the third Progress and the 11th R-7 launch of the year.  It was also the first launch from Baikonur since the spectacular July 2 Proton failure.

va214.jpg (8950 bytes)Ariane 5 Orbits Two Communication Satellites

The 70th Ariane 5, an Ariane 5 ECA, carried two communication satellites into orbit, one for Europe and one for India, from Kourou Space Center on July 25, 2013.  The VA214 Arianespace mission carried Europe’s largest ever telecommunications satellite, Alphasat, and India’s newest meteorological spacecraft, Insat-3D.  The 2.5 stage rocket lifted off from ELA 3 at 19:54 UTC.  Both satellites separated into geosynchronous transfer orbit near the end of the 33 minute long mission. 

Alphasat, the result of a partnership between the European Space Agency (ESA) and operator Inmarsat, weighed 6,650 kg at launch.  It was the first  Alphabus platform satellite jointly developed by Astrium and Thales Alenia Space.

Insat 3D, carried inside the Sylda carrier, weighed 2,120 kg.   ISRO developed the satellite. 

cz4c10.jpg (9753 bytes)Chang Zheng 4C Launches Satellite Trio

China orbited three experimental military satellites from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on July 19, 2013.  A Chang Zheng 4C (Long March 4C) performed the launch at 23:37 UTC.   The three satellites named Chuang Xin-3 ("Innovation"), Shiyan Weixing-7,   and Shijian-15 ("Practice"), were inserted into sun synchronous low earth orbits with altitudes of about 660 to 670 km.

It was the year's fifth CZ launch for China.

av040.jpg (8883 bytes)Atlas 5 Launches MUOS 2

An Atlas 5-551 with five strap on solid motors and a five meter diameter payload fairing, lifted the second of five planned U.S. Navy Mobile User Objective System (MUOS 2) communications satellites into orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida on July 19, 2013.   Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41 took place at at 13:00 UTC.  The rocket's Centaur upper stage performed three burns during a nearly 3 hour mission to lift MUOS 2 toward a planned 35,787 x 3,802 km x 19.1 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit. 

At approximately 6.8 tonnes, the MUOS satellites are the heaviest known payloads launched by an Atlas 5, though the mass of several secret national security payloads was never published.  Jim Sponnick, ULA's vice President of its Atlas and Delta programs, said in pre-launch comments that MUOS 2 would be the "heaviest satellite launched to date by an Atlas 5".   That comment seems to cap the mass of any NRO or other secret satellite launched by Atlas, though the comment would not necessarily apply to the total mass of any multisatellite payloads that may have been orbited.   

Lockheed Martin Space Systems is the MUOS prime contractor.  The satellites provide narrowband tactical voice and data communications and are equipped with a 14-meter diameter reflecting mesh antenna to provide links to ground-based users.

It was the fifth Atlas 5 of 2013 and the first of the year fitted with strap-on solid motors.  The launch marked the 39th Atlas 5 mission and the fourth by the most-powerful Atlas 5-551 variant.

cz2c39.jpg (3860 bytes)CZ-2C Orbits Experimental Satellite

China launched a satellite with an unspecified mission from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on July 15, 2013.  The satellite, named Shijian 11-05, was described as an "experimental" satellite by Chinese media.  A CZ-2C performed the launch at 09:27 UTC from Launch Area 4 Left, officially known as Launch Complex 43, Launch Pad 603. 

Shijian 11-05, built by DongFangHong Satellite Company of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, was inserted into a sun synchronous low earth orbit.  Such orbits are typically used by earth observation, weather, and defense reconnaissance satellites. 

It was the year's fourth Chang Zheng launch, and was the 39th CZ-2C liftoff.

p388-2.jpg (5599 bytes)Proton Fails Seconds After Liftoff (Updated 7/18/13)

A Proton M with a Blok DM-03 upper stage suffered a frightening failure moments after lifting off from Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 2, 2013.  The Krunichev built rocket, topped by an RSC Energia built Blok DM-03 and carrying three Russian Glonass M navigation satellites, rose from Pad 24 at Area 81 for a few seconds before turning left, then hard right while rolling rapidly, entering a giant loop, turning upside down, and plummeting to the earth 1 to 2 km east/southeast from the pad.   A massive explosion and fire occurred upon impact.

Liftoff took place at 02:38 UTC.  It was the first failure during the Proton phase of flight since 2007, though a series of upper stage failures involving the Krunichev Briz M stage have plagued the rocket in recent years.   It was the 388th Proton launch and the 45th failure, though many of those failures were during the rocket's early years.  Since 1990, inclusive, Proton has flown 206 times and suffered 16 failures, of which six involved the first three "Proton" stages of the rocket.  The other 10 failures involved various types of fourth stages.

Early reports about details of the failure conflicted.   One report said that one of the six first stage engines had vectored out of position with a failed steering system, causing loss of flight control.  Another report said that the rocket had lifted off 0.4 seconds early.  An emergency engine cutoff signal had reportedly been issued at either T+17 seconds or T+4 seconds, but video showed all six engines burning as the rocket tumbled toward earth during the latter portion of its 30 second flight.  Apparently actual engine cutoff in an emergency is inhibited until 40-45 seconds pass to minimize chances of pad damage. 

In the wake of the failure, all launches from Baikonur, of all rocket types, were suspended pending the results of an official investigation.   The suspension on non-Proton rockets was soon lifted.  About one week after the failure, Russia's Interfax reported that a source close to the accident investigation commission had said that investigation of the crash site had discovered that a series of "angular velocity sensors" had been installed improperly on the Proton.   Various reports then described either the sensors being physically installed 180 degrees out of position, or the wiring to the sensors being installed with reversed polarity. 

Roscosmos made an official announcement on July   18, 2013 when it reported that the investigating commission had determined that three of six yaw-axis angular rate sensors had been installed incorrectly during rocket assembly by the Khrunichev State Space Research and Production Center.  Marks on the recovered sensors showed that they had been installed backwards.  The error could not be detected by any of the currently-used launch campaign testing methods.   The commission also determined that the liftoff switch was activated 0.4 seconds before the actual Proton liftoff.  Although it may not have caused this specific accident, the premature disconnection is a potential launch failure cause that will also need to be resolved. 

pslvc22.jpg (13247 bytes)PSLV Orbits Navsat for India

A PSLV-XL launch vehicle launched IRNSS-1A, the first Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System satellite, into subsynchronous transfer orbit from Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota, India on July 1, 2013.  The four stage rocket, flying Indian Space Research Organization's PSLV-C22 mission, lifted off from the first launch pad at 18:11 UTC.  IRNSS-1A was injected into a 284 x 20,650 km x 17.86 deg orbit. 

IRNSS-1A weighed 1.425 tonnes at launch.  It is the first of seven planned satellites in India's navigation satellite system.  The constellation will include three geostationary satellites and four more in geosynchronous orbits inclined 29 degrees. 

It was the 22nd PSLV success in 24 flights.