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October-December, 2014

cz3afy2g.jpg (6683 bytes)CZ-3A Launches Weather Satellite

China's Chang Zheng 3A boosted Fengyun 2G (Fengyun 2-8), a spin-stabilized geostationary weather satellite, into geosynchronous transfer orbit on December 31, 2014. The three stage rocket lifted off from Xichange Satellite Launch Center's LC2 at 01:02 UTC. Its liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen third stage, powered by twin YF-75 engines producting a total of 156.9 kN thrust, performed two burns during the roughly 30 minute long mission.

Fengyun 2G likely weighed about 1.4 tonnes at liftoff.

It was the 15th CZ launch of 2014 and China's 16th orbital launch of the year. The launch was only the second of the year from Xichang, and only the second China launch of the year to send a payload beyond low earth orbit.

The flight was the world's 92nd and final orbital launch attempt of 2014, and the 88th success.

p401.jpg (8974 bytes)Proton Launches Astra 2G

A Proton M/Briz M launched the Astra 2G communications satellite into orbit from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on December 27, 2014. Liftoff from Area 200 Pad 39 took place at 21:37 UTC, beginning a planned 9 hour 12 minute mission meant to place Astra 2G into a geosychronous transfer orbit. The Briz M upper stage was expected to perform five burns during the multi-orbit ascent.

Astra-2G separated into a 4,139 x 35,748 km x 22.95 deg orbit, close to its planned 4,163 x 35,736 km x 23 deg orbit.  Briz M performed two post-separation maneuvers to move itself into a 3,488 x 33,807 km x 23.48 deg "graveyard" orbit.

Astra 2G is a 6.02 tonne Airbus Defence and Space Eurostar E3000 series satellite that was built for SES and launched under the International Launch Services (ILS) umbrella. It has 62 Ku-band transponders and 4 Ka-band transponders and will provide coverage to the UK, Ireland, Europe, and West Africa.

The launch was delayed by about one month due problems with the Briz M control system found during final tests that forced the rocket to be rolled back from its launch pad.  

It was the eighth and final Proton launch of the year. It was also the 21st orbital launch attempt of 2014 from Baikonur, five more than second-place Cape Canaveral.

cz4byg26.jpg (4957 bytes)CZ-4B Launch

A Chang Zheng 4B (CZ-4B) rocket launched China's 26th Yaogan Weixing, a remote sensing satellite, on December 27, 2014 from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center.  The three-stage hypergolic propellant rocket lifted off from LC 9 at 03:22 UTC.

China announced that Yaogan 26 would be used for "scientific experiments, land survey, crop yield assessment, and disaster monitoring".  Outside analysts suspect that the satellite, like others in the Yaogan series, also has a military reconnaissance mission.  It most likely has a high resolution optical imager, based on its orbit.  Other satellites of the series use synthetic aperature radar imaging systems.

The CZ-4B used for this launch was fitted with a large-diameter payload fairing.   Yaogan 26 entered a 485 x 491 km x 97.4 deg sun synchronous orbit. CZ-4B can lift up to 2.8 tonnes to such an orbit.

It was the 14th CZ launch of the year, the 15th orbital launch by China during 2014, and the 90th orbital launch attempt of the year, world-wide.

r7resursp2.jpg (12703 bytes)Soyuz 2.1b Orbits Resurs P2

Russia's 22nd and final R-7 based launch of 2014 placed Resurs P2, a remote sensing satellite, into orbit on December 26, 2014.  A 2.5 stage Soyuz 2-1b lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome's Area 31 Pad 6 at 18:55 UTC with the 6.392 tonne satellite.   Resurs P2 seperated into a 200 x 475 km x 97.285 deg orbit about nine minutes later. Resurs P2 was expected to subsequently raise itself to a 475 km cirular sun synchronous orbit.

Resurs P2 is the second in a planned series of five Yantar-based remote sensing satellites built by TSSKB Progress. Its primary users are Russian civilian government ministries.

It was the 20th launch attempt of the year from Baikonur.  R-7 flew four times from Kourou (with one Fregat failure), six times from Plesetsk, and one dozen times from Baikonur.  Eight of the Baikonur launches supported ISS operations, with four carrying three crew apiece.  The crewed Soyuz launches accounted for all of the world's human space flights in 2014.

r7lotos.jpg (10000 bytes)Soyuz 2-1b Orbits Lotos-S

A Soyuz-2-1b launch vehicle orbited Russia's Lotos-S from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on December 25, 2014. Liftoff of the 2.5 stage rocket from Site 43/4 took place at 03:01 UTC. Lotos-S, a 6 tonne signals intelligence (ELNIT) satellite was inserted into an initial 242 x 899 km x 67.15 deg orbit. The satellite will later raise itself into a 900 km circular operational orbit.

Lotos-S was assembled by Machine-Building Plant Arsenal on a Yantar-series bus built by Rocket & Space Center Progress.

It was the 21st R-7 based launch of 2014, and the ninth orbital launch by any type of rocket from Plesetsk.

anga5-1-3.jpg (16961 bytes)Angara A5 Debut

Russia's Angara A5 premiered on December 23, 2014 with a successful launch from Plesetsk Cosmodrome. The 773 tonne 3.5 stage rocket lifted off from Site 35/1 at 05:57 UTC, rising on 980 tonnes of thrust from its five Energomash RD-191 kerosene/LOX engines. The liftoff began a planned nine-hour mission intended to use four burns of the rocket's Briz-M upper stage to insert a 2 tonne dummy payload into geosynchronous orbit.

Angara A5 was the biggest Russian launcher to debut since the Energia rocket for the Soviet Union’s Buran space shuttle flew in the late 1980s.

Angara A5 consisted of a five 2.9 meter diameter URM-1 (Universal Rocket Module) units clustered to form a core stage surrounded by four booster stages. The core first stage was topped by a 3.6 meter diameter URM-2 second stage and a Briz M third stage. Each URM-1 was powered by a single chamber, 196 tonne thrust RD-191 staged combustion kerosene/LOX engine. RD-191 is derived from the four-chamber Energomash RD-171 engine that powers the Zenit launcher. URM-2 was powered by a 30 tonne thrust LOX/kerosene RD-0124 engine. This staged-combustion engine was developed to power the upgraded Soyuz-2 third stage, and has already been proven in flight. The Briz-M hypergolic propellant third stage has flown for several years atop Proton-M boosters.

The core throttled down while the four strap-on boosters burned at full thrust.  The boosters separated about 3.5 minutes into the flight at an altitude of about 82 kilometers, falling to earth about 850 kilometers east of Plesetsk. The core stage separated less than two minutes later at about 148 kilometers altitude and fell about 2,320 kilometers downrange.

After the second stage burned out at about the 12 minute 15 second mark (it fell into the western Pacific Ocean), the first Briz-M burn inserted the stage and payload into a low earth orbit with a 63 deg inclination. Subsequent burns moved the vehicle into an initial elliptical transfer orbit. The fourth burn circularized the orbit at geosynchronous altitude.  A fifth burn then moved the vehicle out of the geostationary belt into a "graveyard orbit". 

Angara, named after a fast-flowing 1,800 km long Siberian river, is Russia's first entirely post-Soviet space launch vehicle. After a two decade long, stop-start development program, a single-core Angara variant performed the program's first test launch from Russian soil on July 9, 2014. That suborbital flight from Plesetsk Cosmodrome was made by a two-stage Angara 1.2PP, heralding the start of the new modular launch vehicle family capable of lifting payloads ranging from light to heavy.

Angara A5 will be able to lift 24.5 tonnes to a 200 km x 63 deg low earth orbit (LEO), or 5.4 tonnes to geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) from Plesetsk with a Briz M upper stage. Use of a projected high energy KVRB stage could improve GTO performance to 6.6 tonnes. Angara A5's LEO capability is currently only exceeded by the RS-68A powered version of Delta 4 Heavy. The new rocket family is not expected to be completely certified for use until 2020, when it will likely begin to replace the long-lived Proton family. Angara will eventually fly from Russia's new, under-construction launch site at Vostochny Cosmodrome.

strela3.jpg (4343 bytes)Strela Launches Kondor E

Russia's Strela orbited Kondor E, a synthetic aperture radar imaging satellite, from Baikonur Cosmodrome Site 175 Silo 59 on December 19, 2014. The three-stage rocket, a minimally modified UR-100NUTTKh ICBM (also known as RS-18B or in NATO as SS-19 Mod 2 "Stilleto"), lifted off at 04:43 UTC. Kondor E, weighing up to 1.15 tonnes, was inserted into a roughly 500 km x 74.75 deg orbit at 05:08 UTC.

It was the third Strela launch and the second in two years. The first took place in 2003. The more commonly flown Rokot is also based on the UR-100NUTTKh, but is fitted with a Briz KM third stage rather than Strela's slightly modified ICBM warhead bus. Strela burns storable hypergolic propellant, weighs about 105 tonnes at liftoff, is 28.27 meters long and 2.5 meters in diameter, and can lift 1.7 tonnes to LEO.

Kondor is a radar Earth observation satellite developed by NPO Mashinostroyeniya for the Russian Defense Ministry and for foreign customers. Some reports suggested that Kondor E was launched for the government of South Africa. The first Kondor satellite was orbited in 2013.

vs10a.jpg (5976 bytes)Soyuz Orbits Four Satellites from Kourou

A Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat carried four O3b satellites into orbit from Guiana Space Center at Kourou on December 18, 2014. It was the 10th Soyuz launch from the Soyuz Launch Complex (ELS) since the site opened in 2011. ELS itself is nearer to Sinnamary than to Kourou, French Guiana. Launched by Russian crews at 18:37 UTC, the 3.5 stage rocket flew as the Arianespace VS10 mission. The Fregat third stage performed three burns to reach a 7,820 x 7,836 km x 0.04 deg, near-circular deployment orbit about 1 hour 52 minutes 25 seconds after liftoff.

After the third burn, the satellites were released two by two, with the first released about two hours after liftoff. The second release occurred about 22 minutes later, after a short firing of Fregat's Attitude Control System (ACS). Fregat subsequently performed two more short burns to lower itself into a disposal orbit about 200 km below the O3b release point.

Two previous Soyuz missions from Kourou orbited a total of eight satellites for O3b Networks during July 2014 and June 2013. Thales Alenia Space built the satellites, which weigh about 700 kg each. The satellites are designed to provide low latency, high bandwidth connectivity using 12 Ka band transponders per satellite.

It was the year's 20th R-7 based launch attempt, and 19th success.  An August launch of the VS09 mission from Kourou suffered a Fregat failure that left two European Galileo navigation satellites in improper orbits.

lvm3xb.jpg (17617 bytes)
India Tests Big New Rocket

India celebrated a successful landmark inaugural suborbital test flight of its big new LVM3 (formerly GSLV Mk 3) launch vehicle from Sriharikota's Second Launch Pad on December 18, 2014. LVM3-X, a 630.58 tonne, 43.43 meter tall two stage rocket topped by a dummy third stage, lifted off at 04:00 UTC on 1050 tonnes of total thrust from its two S200 segmented solid rocket motors. The motors, which straddled the 4 meter diameter L110 liquid core second stage, burned through about 414 total tonnes of propellant in about 148 seconds before jettisoning. S200 is the world's third most powerful solid rocket motor.

The 125.6 tonne L110 second stage ignited its two Vikas 2 engines at about the 114.7 second mark, a bit more than 30 seconds before the solid motors burned out. The engines combined to produce about 140.7 tonnes of thrust by burning 115 tonnes of N2O4/UDMH hypergolic propellants during their nearly 203 second burn. The payload fairing separated at the 232 second mark, about 86 seconds before the end of the L110 stage burn. Burnout occurred at an altitude of 126 km and a velocity of about 5,285 meters per second.

lvm3xa.jpg (2496 bytes)
The LVM3-X dummy C25 third stage, an 18.3 tonne simulated version of the planned LH2/LOX C25 stage, separated during the suborbital test. A few seconds later, a 3.735 tonne, 3.1 meter diameter simulated crew module named CARE (Crew module Atmospheric Reentry Experiment) separated and performed a reentry and parachute recovery sequence aimed for a Bay of Bengal splashdown about 1,100 seconds after liftoff, some 1,500 km downrange.

The successful test opens the way for an orbital test flight in 2016.  LVM3 is designed to boost 4 tonnes or more to geosynchronous transfer orbit.

ant-v1v2s.jpg (15159 bytes)Atlas V as Antares Stand-in

On December 9, 2014, Orbital announced that had contracted with United Launch Alliance for an Atlas 5 launch of a Cygnus cargo spacecraft during the fourth quarter of 2015, with an option for a second flight in 2016.  The flights would allow the company to continue working its ISS cargo contract while extended Antares failure recovery efforts were underway.   Atlas would carry Cygnus toward ISS from Cape Canaveral, Florida's Space Launch Complex 41.  Use of the powerful rocket would allow each Cygnus to carry almost 35% more payload mass than previously planned for its Antares launches.

RD-181 to Replace NK-33/AJ-26

On December 16, Orbital revealed that it would buy RD-181 engines directly from Khimki, Russia’s NPO Energomash to replace the previous Antares NK-33/AJ-26 engines.  RD-181, a downgraded, export version of Russia's RD-191 Angara engine, would fly in shipsets of two to mimic as much as possible the original dual AJ-26 behavior.  Once equipped with two RD-181 engines, Antares performance to low earth orbit will by improved by about 20%.  The first RD-181 engines were expected to arrive at Wallops Island, Virginia in mid-2015 to begin the process of vehicle integration and testing.  That first set would likely be used for a hot-fire test with an Antares first stage on the repaired Wallops launch pad in 2015.  A second set of engines will arrive during the Fall of 2015, to be used for the first post-failure Antares flight, likely in 2016.

Orbital expected to to complete its $1.9 billion contract to deliver 20 tonnes of of cargo to the ISS by the end of 2016 using one less Antares/Cygnus launch than originally planned - four more instead of five.  Although a pair of RD-181 engines can deliver about 45 tonnes more thrust than two AJ-26 engines, they will be dialed back to the old engine's thrust level until modified first stages are put into service to take advantage of the extra thrust. 

p400.jpg (18461 bytes)400th Proton Launch

Russia's 400th Proton rocket launched with Yamal 401 from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on December 15, 2014. Liftoff from Area 81 Pad 24 took place at 00:16 UTC, beginning a 9.3 hour mission. After four burns by the Proton M rocket's Briz M fourth stage, Yamal 401 was inserted into near-geosynchronous orbit.  International Launch Services oversaw the payload side of the mission.

Yamal 401 is a 2.976 tonne communications satellite that carries 17 C band and 18 Ku band transponders. It will be positioned at 90 degrees East to serve Russia and CIS countries.

Proton first flew in two-stage test flights beginning in 1965. It was powered by innovative staged combustion engines that burned storable hypergolic propellants (UDMH/N2O4).  With a third hypergolic stage added to create "Proton K" and a fourth kerosene/LOX stage named Blok D, the fully realized 700 tonne Proton began launching circumlunar Zond missions in 1967, following by Luna and Mars exploration missions during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Proton orbited the Salyut and Mir space stations and sent the landmark Venera Venus landers on their way, among numerous landmark missions.  It also launched numerous Soviet communication and navigation satellites.

After the end of the Cold War, Proton entered commercial service, launching Western commercial satellites through the auspices of International Launch Services. Today's Proton M can lift 23 tonnes to low earth orbit at the 51 deg inclination of the International Space Station, more than any rocket except Delta 4 Heavy. With a Briz M fourth stage it can place 6.15 tonnes into a geosynchronous transfer orbit that is only 1,500 m/s short of geosynchronous orbit, something that only Ariane 5 ECA, Atlas 541-551, Delta 4 Heavy, and Japan's H-2B, can beat.

Although capable and often-flown, Proton and its upper stages have experienced persistent failures. Since 2010, inclusive, there have been seven failures in 49 attempts - a 14% failure rate.

av051.jpg (6977 bytes)Atlas 5 Launches NRO Mission

The most powerful Atlas 5 to fly from Vandenberg AFB, a 541 model with four solid rocket motors and a five meter diameter payload fairing, launched the classified National Reconnaissance Office NROL-35 mission on December 13, 2014. The 522 tonne rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 3 East at 03:19 UTC and quickly flew into a news blackout.

Analysts expected the launch to orbit a payload bound for an elliptical 12-hour Molniya type orbit. Potential payloads included communications or signals intelligence satellites. The use of an Atlas 541 indicated that the satellite would likely be heavier than any previously launched by the U.S. to a Molniya orbit. A previous launch of a "Trumpet"-type sigint to 1,120 x 37,600 km x 63.56 deg Molniya orbit used a less-capable Atlas 5-411 with only one strap-on solid motor.

The AV-051 Atlas was the first equipped with an RL10C-1 Centaur engine. The Aerojet-Rocketdyne powerplant was a modified RL10B-2 that came from excess stock from the Delta 4 program. To make the conversion, the bottom two extendible nozzle sections of the RL10B-2 were removed and an improved dual direct spark igniter was installed. The engine produced 10.383 tonnes of thrust, a slight improvement from 10.115 tonnes of thrust produced by the previous RL10A-4-2 Centaur engine.

It was the 455th RL10 launched. The engines have flown for 50 years on seven different launch vehicle types, including Saturn I, Atlas Centaur, Atlas 3, Atlas 5, Titan 3E, Titan 4A/B, and Delta 3.

AV-051 was ninth Atlas 5 of the year, a record for Atlas 5. It was also the third Atlas 5 of the year to fly from VAFB.

cz4byg25.jpg (11956 bytes)China Orbits Sigints

A Chang Zheng 4C orbited three satellites from Chian's Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on December 10, 2014. The three-stage rocket lifted off from LC 43/603 at 19:33 UTC on the Yaogan 25 mission, reported by China's Xinhua press service to be conducting scientific experiments and land surveys, monitoring crop yields, and aiding in preventing and reducing natural disasters.

Western tracking systems showed an initial object in a 908 x 1102 km x 63.46 deg orbit, consistent with the location of a third stage after lifting a collection of three signals intelligence satellites toward roughly 1,100 km x 63.4 deg orbits. Such satellite arrays use spatial diversity to determine signal source locations and are typically used to track naval activity. Yaogan 20, launched on August 9, 2014, was the most recent similar example of the type.

It was the 13th CZ family, sixth CZ-4 series, and third CZ-4C, launch of the year. Twelve of the launches occurred after the beginning of August.  Four were launched during the past month.

cz4by32.jpg (12989 bytes)CZ-4B Orbits China/Brazil Satellite

A Chang Zheng 4B rocket successfully orbited CBERS 4 (China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite) from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center. The three-stage rocket lifted off from Pad 9 at 03:26 UTC. CBERS-4 was inserted into a 738 x 748 km x 98.55 deg sun synchronous orbit by a third stage burn about 45 minutes later. The third stage subsequently purged its propellant tanks to lower itself into a 478 x 740 km x 98.44 deg orbit.

CBERS 4 is a cooperative earth resource monitoring project involving China and Brazil. The 1.98 tonne satellite was assembled by China Academy of Space Technology. It is similar to CBERS 3, which was lost in a 2013 CZ-4B launch failure. As a result of the loss, the CBERS 4 launch was moved up by one year from previous plans.

It was the 200th orbital launch attempt by a rocket named "Chang Zheng" (Long March), and the 206th attempt by a DF-5 based rocket. Two "CZ-1" launches, which orbited China's first two satellites, were performed by smaller DF-3 based rockets during 1970-71. Eight of the DF-5 based launch vehicles were named "Feng Bao" ("Storm") instead of "Chang Zheng".

va221.jpg (22248 bytes)Ariane 5 Performs Sixth Launch of Year

Ariane 5 ECA L575 orbited DirecTV 14 and GSat 16, communication satellites for the U.S. and India, on December 6, 2014. Arianespace Mission VA221, the year's sixth Ariane 5, lifted off from Kourou's ELA 3 at 20:40 UTC.  After a 25 minute ascent phase, the satellites separated into geosynchronous transfer orbit.

DirecTV 14, a 6. 3 tonne Space Systems/Loral 1300 series 20-kilowatt satellite, was equipped with 16 Ka-band and 18 Reverse DBS transponders for direct broadcast service from geostationary orbit at 99 desgrees west.  GSat 16, a 3.18 tonne satellite built by ISRO, carried Ku and C-band transponders.  It will be positioned at 55 degrees east.

VA221 was the fifth Ariane 5 ECA flight of 2014 and the 80th orbital launch attempt worldwide of the year.

eft1-L0.jpg (18519 bytes)Orion EFT-1

EFT-1 Liftoff

NASA's Orion Exploration Flight Test 1 began with a 12:05 UTC liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 37B on December 5, 2014.  The eighth Delta 4 Heavy launch vehicle boosted EFT-1, with the first unmanned Orion Command Module, into an initial 186 x 894 km x 28.4 deg orbit after a 17 minute 39 second ascent. Delta 4's twin outer booster cores burned out and jettisonned 3 minutes 58 seconds after liftoff.  The core first stage shut down at the 5 minute 30 second mark.  The Delta Heavy Cryogenic Second Stage then performed an 11 minute 30 second first burn to reach low earth orbit.

Orion remained attached to Delta 4's cryogenic second stage in orbit, awaiting a second burn about 1 hour 55 minutes into the flight at the end of the first orbit.  This second burn was expected to loft EFT-1 to a nearly 6,000 km apogee on a suborbital trajectory, creating high speed reentry conditions of up to 9,000 meters per second to test Orion's Avcoat ablative heat shield.  Orion uses the largest, heaviest ablative heat shield ever flown in space.

eft1-L2.jpg (8167 bytes)Service Module Fairing Jettison

Important separation events were successfully performed during the ascent, including separation of three 450 kg Service Module Fairings at the 6 minute 20 second mark, about 30 seconds into the second stage burn, and of the roughly 7.5 tonne Launch Abort System (LAS) about 5 seconds later.  The LAS had inert Abort and Attitude Control solid motor simulators, but used a live Jettison Motor to pull itself and its large fairing away from Orion.

Delta 4 Heavy weighed 740 tonnes at liftoff, including Orion, its dummy Service Module and Stage Adapter, the mostly-inert Launch Abort System with its fairing, and jettisonable Service Module panels. In orbit, the Orion Command Module and dummy Service Modules together likely weighed roughly 11.5 to 12 tonnes. The CM alone weighed about 9 to 9.5 tonnes in orbit and 8.6 tonnes at splashdown. The LAS likely weighed about 7.7-7.8 tonnes.

eft1diag.jpg (11831 bytes)Diagram Showing EFT-1 LAS and SM Fairing Separation

After coasting in its initial low earth orbit, the second stage restarted its Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RL10B-2 engine at the 1 hour 55 minute mark, performing a 4 minute 43 second burn to boost Orion into its final elliptical orbit, which had a -20 km perigee, a 5,809 km apogee, and 28.77 deg inclination.  The second stage was expected to perform a third, de-orbit burn after the CM separated. 

The CM and SM remained attached to the Delta 4 cryogenic second stage until the CM separated for reentry about 3 hours 23 minutes after launch, after the vehicle began falling back to Earth from apogee.  At that point, the CM began using its own reaction control system, consisting of 12 monopropellant thrusters, to control its attitude.  The CM performed a brief "Raise Burn" to test its capabilities about 3 hours 57 minutes after liftoff.

eft1go1.jpg (23315 bytes)eft1land.jpg (4456 bytes)Left:  Orion EFT-1 Launch Abort System Fairing Installation at Kennedy Space Center

Right:  Orion Approaches Splashdown

Orion's entry interface occurred at about the 4 hours 13 minute mark.  The capsule was travelling at a velocity of nearly 9,000 meters per second when it hit the atmosphere.   This represented about 84% of the reentry velocity expected by a CM returning from future planned SLS-launched deep space missions.  During reentry, Orion experienced peak heating of about 4,000 F and maximum g-forces of 8.0 to 8.3. 

The Orion CM reentered and splash down under three main parachutes in the Pacific Ocean about 444 km west of Baja, California about 4.5 hours after liftoff.  Splashdown occurred 4 hours 24 minutes after liftoff.  The A U.S. Navy team, based on the U.S.S. Anchorage (LPD-23, a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock), recovered the spacecraft.

Lockheed Martin assembled Orion at Kennedy Space Center's Operations & Checkout Building during a two year buildup.  The company bought the Delta 4 Heavy launch from United Launch Alliance in 2010.  NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center built the Stage Adapter.  ATK built the Launch Abort System motors.

It was the first civilian payload carried by Delta 4 Heavy.  After its initial demonstration test flight in 2004, the world's heaviest lifter boosted six Defense Department payloads, including five top secret missions for the National Reconnaisance Office.  EFT-1 may have been the heaviest payload at liftoff of a Delta 4 Heavy, but it was likely not the heaviest payload placed into orbit.  EFT-1 shed nearly half of its mass en route to orbit.


On three launch pads, one each in Russia, India, and the United States, large launch vehicles are being prepared for historic missions as December 2014 approaches.  One or more are likely to fly before year's end.  Each flight will mark the public unveiling of important new programs, products of years of development and spending.

eft1b.jpg (20434 bytes)eft1a.jpg (19244 bytes)EFT-1

Delta 4 Heavy and EFT-1 Orion at SLC 37B

At Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 37B in Florida, a Delta 4 Heavy has been topped by NASA's first Orion crew carrying spacecraft. This prototype Orion, consisting of a live Command Module and a dummy Service Module, will orbit the Earth twice during an unmanned test, reaching a nearly 6,000 km apogee, before the spacecraft will reenter the Earth's atmosphere at nearly 9,000 meters per second to test its Avcoat heat shield. Orion will splash down below three ringsail parachutes in the Pacific Ocean off the California coast.

Buildup for this "Exploration Flight Test 1" mission has been underway in Florida for months. Lockheed Martin crews spent nearly two years assembling this first flight-capable Orion in the Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), with its first power up occurring during November 2013. The Delta 4 Heavy stages began arriving at the Cape during early March, 2014. They were stored in the Horizontal Integration Facility at SLC 37 waiting out two Delta 4 Medium series launches, one to orbit GPS 2F-6 on May 17 and another to launch the first two GSSAP satellites on July 28.

Launch stand modifications for the EFT-1 mission were completed and validated before the Delta 4 Heavy stack was rolled out to its launch pad on September 30 and erected to vertical on October 1. The rocket stages were loaded with propellant during a November 5 wet dress rehearsal. Over the night of November 11-12, the Orion spacecraft and its integrated Launch Abort System was moved, during a 30 kilometer, six hour journey, from the Launch Abort System facility, where LAS and fairing installation had occurred, to SLC 37B.

eft1c.jpg (11354 bytes)Illustration of EFT-1 Orion and Delta 4 Second Stage in Orbit

Planning for the flight, which was expected to occur during early December, began in 2010, shortly after President Obama cancelled Project Constellation and before continued development of Orion had been approved. The planning also preceded approval of Space Launch System (SLS). Lockheed Martin bought the Delta 4 Heavy flight and, at the time, discussed plans to follow up the launch with crewed flights beginning a couple of years later. Those plans were shelved after SLS was approved.

Delta 4 Heavy, currently the world's most capable rocket, will weigh 740 tonnes at liftoff with EFT-1.  The Orion EFT-1 payload will weigh about 21 tonnes at liftoff, including the mostly-inert Launch Abort System, fairing, and jettisonable Service Module panels. In orbit, the Orion Command Module and dummy Service Modules together will likely weigh roughly 11.5 to 12 tonnes. The CM alone will likely weigh about 9 to 9.5 tonnes in orbit and 8.6 tonnes at splashdown.

The CM and SM will remain attached to the Delta 4 cryogenic second stage until the CM separates for reentry during the final phase of the 4.5 hour mission, after the vehicle begins falling back to Earth from apogee.  After coasting in a low earth initial orbit, the second stage will perform a second burn to boost Orion into its final elliptical orbit, which will have a negative perigee.  The second stage will perform a third, de-orbit burn after the CM separates.

ang51a.jpg (37475 bytes)Angara A5

At Russia's Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Site 35/1, Krunichev crews rolled out the first multi-core Angara A5 rocket - the largest, most-capable rocket ever seen in Russia - on November 10, 2015. Angara, named after a fast-flowing 1,800 km long Siberian river, is Russia's first entirely post-Soviet space launch vehicle. After a two decade long, stop-start development program, a single-core Angara performed the program's first test launch from Russian soil on July 9, 2014. The suborbital flight from Plesetsk Cosmodrome was made by a two-stage Angara 1.2PP, heralding the start of the new modular launch vehicle family capable of lifting payloads ranging from light to heavy.  Now Angara A5 is being readied for its premier.

Angara 1.2PP (PP for Pervy Polyot, or "First Flight") consisted of a 2.9 meter diameter URM-1 (Universal Rocket Module) first stage topped by a 3.6 meter diameter URM-2 second stage. Heavy lifter Angara A5, a rocket that when fully developed may eventually rival Delta 4 Heavy, uses in its initial form five clustered URM-1 modules topped by a URM-2 second stage and a Briz M third stage. 

Each URM-1 is powered by a single, 196 tonne thrust Energomash RD-191 staged combustion kerosene/LOX engine. RD-191 is derived from the four-chamber Energomash RD-171 engine that powers the Zenit launcher. A two-chamber variant, RD-180, currently boosts Atlas 5 rockets. URM-2 is powered by a 30 tonne thrust LOX/kerosene RD-0124 engine. This staged-combustion engine was developed to power the upgraded Soyuz-2 third stage, and has already been proven in flight. The Briz-M hypergolic propellant third stage has flown for several years atop Proton-M boosters.

ang51b.jpg (27001 bytes)Rollout

Assembly of the first Angara A5 was completed in a horizontal fixture in the Site 35 hangar at Plesetsk during October and early November, 2014. The rocket was rolled out on a railroad transporter to its launch pad on November 10.  A propellant loading test was performed on or before November 20. The 770+ tonne rocket may lift off, rising on 980 tonnes of thrust from its five engines, before year's end, though an early 2015 test flight is also possible.

The core will throttle down while the four strap-on boosters burn at full thrust before separating about 3.5 minutes into the flight at an altitude of about 82 kilometers. The boosters will fall to earth about 850 kilometers east of Plesetsk. The core stage will separate less than two minutes later at about 148 kilometers altitude and fall about 2,320 kilometers downrange.

Angara A5 will be able to lift 24.5 tonnes to a 200 km x 63 deg low earth orbit (LEO), or 5.4 tonnes to geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) from Plesetsk with a Briz M upper stage. Use of a projected high energy KVRB stage could improve GTO performance to 6.6 tonnes. Angara A5's LEO capability is currently only exceeded by the RS-68A powered version of Delta 4 Heavy. 

ang51c.jpg (21258 bytes)Fueling Test

The first Angara family vehicle to fly was the two-stage KSLV-1 (Korean Space Launch Vehicle), which consisted of an Angara-derived first stage topped by a small solid fuel second stage developed by South Korea's Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI). The 28.5 by 2.9 meter, 140 tonne first stage was very similar to Angara's URM-1, except that it was powered by an Energomash RD-151 engine that produced 170 tonnes of liftoff thrust. RD-151 was a lower-pressure, lower-thrust version of 196 tonne thrust RD-191.

The first KSLV-1 launch took place on August 25, 2009. It was an attempt to boost STSat-2, a 100 kg test satellite, into a 306 x 1,500 km near polar orbit. The first stage portion of the ascent was successful, but one of the two payload fairing halves failed to separate. Orbital velocity could not be attained.

The second KSLV-1 failed on June 10, 2010. A "flash" was seen and telemetry was lost 137 seconds into the flight, about 60% of the way into the burn of the vehicle's Energomash RD-151 first stage engine. The cause of the failure was not immediately apparent, and the Russian and South Korean teams disagreed about the cause. The rocket was carrying a second engineering test satellite named STSat-2B.

A third attempt, on January 30, 2013, finally produced success. The final planned KSLV-1 successfully orbited South Korea's STSAT-2C satellite from Naro. The flight added South Korea to the list of 13 countries that have hosted orbital launches. STSAT-2C separated into a 296 x 1,513 km x 80.3 deg orbit about nine minutes after liftoff.

gslvmk3mu.jpg (16661 bytes)GSLV Mk3

GSLV Mk 3 Facilities Test Mockup

At Sriharikota's Second Launch Pad in India, crews have begun stacking the country's first GSLV Mk3 launch vehicle, in preparation for the GSLV Mk3 X1, or "LVM3-X", suborbital test flight. The 629 tonne, 42.4 meter tall rocket - India's largest - will fly with an inert C25 LH2/LOX third stage in a test that will loft a crew module demonstrator capsule thousands of kilometers downrange to test heat shield materials for a possible future crewed Indian spacecraft.  The launch may occur in late 2014 or early 2015.

The second GSLV Mk 3 is planned to subsequently perform the "LVM3-D1" orbital mission with a functional C25 third stage, a flight that may not occur until 2016 or later.

GSLV Mk 3, designed by India's Space Research Organization's (ISRO), will be able to lift 4-5 tonne satellites into geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) and potentially serve as a crew launch vehicle for India in the future. Although it shares the "Geosynchronous Space Launch Vehicle" designation with ISRO's GSLV and GSLV Mk 2 rockets, GSLV Mk 3 is an all new design.

GSLV is fitted with a 5 meter diameter payload fairing. It will lift off on the thrust of two S-200 solid propellant motors, each loaded with about 200 tonnes of propellant. The L-110 liquid core second stage will ignite its two hypergolic propellant Vikas engines 110 seconds after liftoff, about 20 seconds before the solid motors burn out. After a 200 second burn by the second stage, the C-25 cryogenic LH2/LOX fueled third stage would normally take over, performing two burns of its newly developed CE-20 Indian Cryogenic Engine (ICE) for a total of 580 seconds during a typical GTO mission. On the "LVM3-X" test flight, the propulsion phase will end when the Vikas engines of the L-110 second stage shut down.

gslvmk3s2.jpg (15676 bytes)First Flight Core (Second) Stage

The 25 meter tall, three-segment, steel-case S-200 will be the second largest active solid propellant motor in the world after the Ariane 5 EAP-E booster. NASA's Space Launch System boosters will also surpass S-200 if and when they enter service. S-200 is 3.2 meters in diameter and is manufactured in a plant at Sriharikota.

The L-110 core stage is 17 meters long and four meters in diameter. It is powered for 200 seconds by two Vikas engines similar to the engines used on the second stage of PSLV and GSLV. On those stages Vikas burns for 150 seconds in a single-engine configuration.

The cryogenic third stage requires development of the 20 tonne thrust CE-20 LH2/LOX engine, which is a pacing item for GSLV Mk 3. India's less powerful Indigenous Cryogenic Engine failed during its first flight in on April 15, 2010 during the GSLV Mk 2 D3 mission. It finally succeeded during the GSLV Mk 2 D5 flight of January 5, 2014.

h2af26b.jpg (4124 bytes)Japan Launches Asteroid Sampler

H-2A-202 F26 launched Japan's Hayabusa 2 on a six year mission to gather and return to Earth samples from an asteroid on December 3, 2014. The 2.5 stage rocket lifted off from Tanegashima Yoshinobu Launch Complex 1 at 04:22 UTC to begin its nearly two-hour flight. For the first time, an H-2A second stage was to perform a one-orbit, 90 minute long parking orbit coast before restarting its LE-5B engine to propel Hayabusa 2 and three microsatellites away from Earth into solar orbit. White thermal paint was added to the exterior of the second stage tank to minimize propellant boiloff during the long coast.

Hayabusa 2, built by NEC Corporation, weighed 600 kg at liftoff and was the year's first satellite launched into solar orbit.  It will fly by Earth again in December 2015 to gain velocity before reaching asteriod 1999 JU3 in June 2018. After sampling the asteroid, Hayabusa 2 will depart in December 2019 for a return to Earth one year later. Samples will be returned in a small reentry capsule.

Hayabusa 2 was expected to separate 1 hour, 47 minutes, 15 seconds after liftoff. The microsatellites, named Procyon, Shin'en 2 and Artsat 2, were expected to separate a few minutes later. Together, the microsatellites weighed about 110 kg tonne.

The first Hayabusa spacecraft, also called MUSES-C, was launched on 9 May 2003 by an M-5 rocket. It rendezvoused with asteroid Itokawa in September 2005 and attempted to gather samples. A sample capsule returned to Earth in June 2010.

soyglonk.jpg (15382 bytes)Russia Orbits Glonass-K

A Russian Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat rocket launched a Glonass-K navigation satellite into orbit from Plesetsk Cosmodrome November 30, 2014. Lift off from Area 43 Pad 4 took place at 21:52 UTC. After the Soyuz rocket boosted Fregat and its payload into low earth orbit, the Fregat upper stage performed three burns to lift the 0.935 tonne satellite into a roughly 19,130 x 19,150 km x 64.8 deg orbit. Spacecraft separation occurred about 2.5 hours after launch.

It was the third Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat launch with a Glonass payload from Plesetsk in 2014. It was only the second Glonass-K launched to date. The first took place in 2011.

soytma15m.jpg (23428 bytes)Soyuz Orbits ISS Crew

A Soyuz FG rocket successfully launched Soyuz TMA-15M with three crew to the International Space Station on November 23, 2014. The 2.5 stage R-7 based launch vehicle lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome Area 31 Pad 6 at 21:01 UTC, beginning a 5 hour, 48 minute fast-track ascent to the station.

The crew included Russia's Anton Shkaplerov, Italy's Samantha Cristoforetti, and USA's Terry Virts. They joined Barry Wilmore, Alexander Samokutyaev, and Elena Serova on ISS.

It was the year's fourth crewed orbital space flight. All have been performed by Soyuz vehicles from Russia.  The launch was also the 50th by a Soyuz FG variant, all of which have been successful.

kz-2-as.jpg (24511 bytes)China Launches Second Kuaizhou
(Updated 11/24/14)

China launched the second quick response orbital launch vehicle named "Kuaizhou" ("Quick Vessel") on November 21, 2014 from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The rocket boosted a "disaster monitoring satellite", according to China's Xinhua, named Kuaizhou 2 into a 293 x 298 km x 96.56 deg orbit after a 06:37 UTC liftoff.

The first Kuaizhou launch from the same site occurred on September 25, 2013.  No photos of either launch were initially released.  Photos of the second launch vehicle in a hangar and being launched were made available on November 23, 2014.

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.

kz-2-bs.jpg (3609 bytes)Kuaizhou uses grid fins at the base of its first stage to provide, or augment, initial steering.   It may have three solid stages and a fourth, potentially liquid insertion stage.   The fourth stage of propulsion may be built in to the satellite.

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.

It was the year's 75th known orbital launch attempt and the 12th by China.  Five of the world's last 10 orbital attempts were performed by China.

cz2dyg24.jpg (22109 bytes)CZ-2D Orbits Yaogan 24

China's Chang Zheng 2D orbited Yaogan 24, likely a Jianbing-6 series electro-optical military observation satellite, from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on November 20, 2014. The 232 tonne, two-stage rocket lifted off from LC 43/-603 at 07:12 UTC. The rocket delivered the satellite, which likely weighed about one tonne, into a 630 x 653 km x 97.91 deg sun synchronous orbit. Previous satellites of this series included Yaogan 2, 4, 7, and 11, launched in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010, respectively.

China’s Xinhua news agency reported that Yaogan 24 was a remote sensing satellite that will ”mainly be used for scientific experiments, natural resource surveys, crop yield estimates and disaster relief".

It was the 11th CZ launch of 2014, all but one of which have flown since the beginning of August.

cz2cyg23.jpg (12560 bytes)China Orbits Yaogan 23

A two-stage Chang Zheng 2C rocket orbited China's Yaogan 23 remote sensing satellite from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on November 14, 2014.  Liftoff of the 213 tonne launch vehicle from LC 9 took place at 18:53 UTC. Yaogan 23, which likely weighed less than one tonne, was lofted into a 470 x 497 km x 97.14 deg sun synchronous low earth orbit. 

China described the satellite's mission to be for "scientific experiments, land resources survey, crop yield assessment, disaster prevention and reduction, and other fields".  Western observers believed that Yaogan 23 was a radar ground mapping satellite with a primary military mission.

It was the 10th CZ launch of 2014.

dnepr21.jpg (4431 bytes)Dnepr Orbits Japanese Satellites

On November 6, 2014, a modified Russian R-36MUTTH "Satan" ICBM named Dnepr orbited five Japanese Earth observation satellites from the Yasnyy launch site at Dombarovsky. The launch from an underground missile silo took place at 07:35 UTC.

Dnepr boosted ASNARO (Advanced Satellite with New system ARchitecture for Observation), a 500 kg satellite for optical Earth observation built by NEC Corporation of Japan for the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, and four Japanese university microsatellites, each weighing between 49 and 60 kg, to a roughly 550 km x 97.46 deg sun synchronous orbit.

Russian Strategic Rocket Forces of the Russian Ministry of Defense performed the launch for ISC Kosmotras, which is a consortium of Russian, Ukrainian and Kazakhstan companies.

ant-v1v2s.jpg (15159 bytes)Orbital Announces Accident Recovery Plans

On November 5, 2014, Orbital Sciences announced its plans to recover from the October 28, 2014 Antares launch failure. Its plans included steps both to restore Antares to flight and to fulfill the company's contractual requirements under NASA's Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program.

Orbital's decisions were informed in part by early findings of the Antares launch failure Accident Investigation Board (AIB), which was focusing on a "probable turbopump-related failure in one of the two Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ26 stage one main engines". As a result of the findings, Orbital announced that it would likely discontinue use of the engines on future Antares launch vehicles.

The company was already planning to replace the AJ26 engines, which are refurbished forty year old NK33 engines made by Kuznetsov for the USSR's N1 rocket. Even before the failed Antares launch, Orbital had decided on an alternate, modern engine, thought most likely to be an Energomash RD-18x or RD-19x series staged combustion kerosene/LOX engine.

The new engines would not have flown on Antares until 2017 at the earliest, but Orbital now intends to accelerate the replacement effort and aim for a 2016 first flight of the re-engined rocket from Wallops. If no more AJ26 engines are flown, a two year or more gap in Antares flights will result. To compensate, Orbital said that it plans to fly one or two Cygnus cargo missions to the International Space Station on "non-Antares" rockets during 2015-2016.

Likely potential temporary Antares stand-ins include Atlas 5, Delta 4, Falcon 9, and Soyuz.

The company planned to take advantage of the heavier lifting capabilities of both the "non-Antares" rockets and of the upgraded Antares after 2016 to carry more cargo in each Cygnus than originally planned. The result will be one less Cygnus mission than originally planned, eliminating the need to build a spacecraft to replace the Cygnus lost on October 28.

ant5-post.jpg (7161 bytes)Rockets and Failure

For as long as rockets and rocket-powered craft have flown, there have been failures. Space Launch Report readers know that roughly one out of every 16 orbital space launch attempts on average end in failure, a record that has been repeated steadily for more than forty years.

It should not have been a surprise, then, when the fifth Orbital Science Antares launch vehicle failed on October 28, 2014, or when Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo broke up in flight three days later, killing Scaled Composites’ pilot Michael Alsbury and injuring pilot Peter Siebold. The Antares loss was the fourth known orbital space launch vehicle failure world-wide in 2014. At least 23 such failures have occurred since the start of 2010, and 126 since 1990.

Modern rocketry is a frightening balancing act. To accelerate from a dead stop to more than seven times faster than a rifle bullet in a few minutes, an orbital launch vehicle must create, contain, and endure extreme pressures, temperatures, and forces. All it takes to trip up the process is one loose connection, one small piece of sand or rust, a bad bit of metal or insulation, a misplaced bit in a control program, or an unexpected vibration.

Still, the general public continues to express surprise when a failure occurs. Perhaps it is because most failures occur out of sight, downrange or in orbit. Maybe it is because, increasingly, some launch providers refuse to show their failures. SpaceX, for example, has never showed external videos of its  fiery, explosive Falcon 1 failures. If not for a bystander with a camera, the world would not have seen its F9R test stage destroyed in a fireball above Texas earlier this year. SNC never showed the crash of its Dream Chaser prototype. North Korea and Iran don't show launches in real time and usually don't announce failures. China and now Russia don't show launches live which allows them to restrict videos of failures.

Fortunately, NASA TV did not restrict coverage of the spectacular Antares failure. It served as a necessary reminder to everyone that rockets fail. The network also showed a press conference held shortly after the launch that exhibited the type of resilience required to be in the rocket business. David Thompson, chairman and chief executive of Orbital Sciences, said during that conference, shortly after witnessing the $200+ million failure that, "Orbital has experienced adversity in the past, some of which was more difficult than this. And the company has always emerged stronger as a result. I am determined that we will do so again this time.”

Merid17L.jpg (17377 bytes)Soyuz 2-1A/Fregat Orbits Milcomsat

A Soyuz 2-1A launch vehicle with a Fregat upper stage orbited Meridian 17L, a Russian military communications satellite, from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on October 30, 2014. The 3.5 stage rocket lifted off from Site 43 Pad 4 at 01:42 UTC, beginning a 2 hour 16 minute mission that placed the 2 tonne satellite into an elliptical 12 hour "Molniya" orbit that was initially tracked to be 968 x 39,749 km x 62.81 deg.

It was the first flight of an NPO Lavochkin built Fregat stage since the August 22, 2014 failure of a Fregat stage launched from Kourou left two of Europe's Galileo navigation satellites in incorrect, useless orbits. That failure was subsequently found to have been caused by frozen propellant lines for attitude control thrusters. An investigation found that the propellant lines were routed next to helium lines. On some stages, the lines were in direct contact, allowing the cold helium line to freeze propellant in the propellant line during long coast periods.

Meridian 17L was described as the seventh next-generation Meridian satellite. The first such satellite was launched in 2006, but failed less than 2.5 years later. The second was placed in an incorrect orbit due to a Fregat failure in 2009. The fifth was lost in a Soyuz launch vehicle failure. The third and fourth next-generation Meridians were successfully launched in 2010 and 2011.

av050.jpg (12098 bytes)50th Atlas 5 Orbits GPS 2F-8

The 50th Atlas 5 rocket, a two-stage 401 variant, orbited U.S. Air Force Global Positioning Satellite 2F-8 from Cape Canaveral SLC 41 on October 29, 2014.  Liftoff occurred at 17:21 UTC to begin a 3.5 hour mission designed to place the 1.63 tonne navigation satellite into a 20,200 km x 55 deg circular orbit.  

Atlas climbed on a northeast azimuth from the Cape, paralleling the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.  Centuar performed a 12 minute 50 second long first burn as it flew up the coast and halfway across the Atlantic to lift itself into an elliptical 176 x 20,279 km x 55 deg transfer orbit.   After coasting for just over 3 hours to first apogee south of Australia, Centaur burned again for about 1.5 minutes to complete the mission.  

It was the 8th Atlas launch of 2014, the 15th orbital launch from Cape Canaveral during the year, and the 70th orbital launch attempt world-wide since January 1.

progm25m.jpg (15196 bytes)Soyuz 2-1A Inaugural Progress Launch

Russia's Soyuz 2-1A, an improved version of the long-flying Soyuz-U rocket, launched the Progress M-25M cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station from Baikonur Cosmodrome on October 29, 2014. It was the first use of Soyuz 2-1A, which incorporates upgraded engines and a digital control system, for a Progress mission, though the improved rocket has flown other missions for a decade. Liftoff from Area 31 Pad 6 took place at 07:09 UTC, with the launch vehicle targeting a 193 x 240 km x 51.67 deg insertion orbit.   The robot spacecraft docked with ISS about six hours later after a fast-track, four orbit ascent.

Progress M-25M weighed 7.29 tonnes at liftoff, including 2.351 tonnes of cargo.

Russia plans to begin using Soyuz 2-1A for crew launches after two years of testing on Progress missions.

ant5-1.jpg (13013 bytes)Antares/Cygnus Launch Fails

First Antares 130 on Pad 0A with Orb-3/Cygnus Payload

The fifth Orbital Sciences Antares rocket suffered a fiery failure moments after liftoff with the Orbital CRS-3 (Orb-3) Cygnus ISS resupply mission from Wallops Island, Virginia on October 28, 2014. Flying for the first time as an Antares 130 variant with a lengthened Castor 30XL second stage, the rocket lifted off from Pad 0A at 22:22 UTC.

The two AJ-26 first stage main engines ignited at T+0 seconds, followed by liftoff at about T+2 seconds. The initial moments of the ascent seemed normal until about T+14 seconds when the engine exhaust plume suddenly changed color from its usual intense white to a yellowish color. About one second later a ball of fire erupted from the aft section of the rocket and propulsion ceased.

The big rocket momentarily hung in midair before beginning to fall, engine section first, trailing a stream of fire. At about T+24 seconds, the nearly fully fueled Antares rocket impacted between the beach and the pad itself, creating a huge fireball that flung debris in all directions. An intense post-impact fire that appeared to involve pieces of the second stage solid propellant burned for many minutes.

Although Pad 0A exhibited signs of obvious damage, the basic reinforced concrete structure of the launch pad and other elements of the facility appeared on NASA TV to still be intact - one hopeful sign amidst the otherwise catastrophic scene.

ant5-3.jpg (5652 bytes)The Initial Fireball

Orbital CRS-3 included a Cygnus spacecraft loaded with 2.215 tonnes of cargo for the International Space Station, heaviest-ever for Cygnus which weighed about 5.644 tonnes including cargo.  The cargo included crew provisions, research hardware, emergency equipment, spacewalk supplies and packing materials. It was slated to stay at ISS for about one month until returning to a destructive reentry with about 1.36 tonnes of trash.

It was the first Antares failure. The Ukrainian/Russian/American rocket first flew on April 21, 2013. The second Antares carried the first Cygnus to ISS on the Orb-D1 mission on September 18, 2013. The subsequent operational Orb-1 and Orb-2 missions lifted off on January 9 and July 13, 2014, respectively.



ant5-4.jpg (10541 bytes)Ground Impact

Although the cause of the failure was not known immediately after launch, attention was expected to focus on the AJ-26 main engines, which are decades-old NK-33 Russian rocket engines that have been refurbished by U.S. Aerojet-Rocketdyne. On May 22, 2014, an AJ-26 being test fired at Stennis Space Center suffered a catastrophic failure 30 seconds into a planned 54 second burn. The failure destroyed the engine and triggered an investigation.

Orbital did not reveal the cause of the failure and damage to the test stand had prevented renewed testing by the time of the Orb-3 liftoff. The Orb-2 and Orb-3 Antares engines, which had previously been tested at Stennis before the May failure, were cleared for flight following borescope inspections and a review of their own test firing data.

cz2csj1108.jpg (3744 bytes)CZ-2C Orbits Shijian 11-08

A CZ-2C rocket launched China's Shijian 11-08 into sun synchronous orbit from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on October 27, 2014. It was the third Shijian 11 ("Practice") launch of the year and the second in a month. It was also likely the final launch of the Shijian 11 series.

The 213 tonne, two stage rocket lifted off from Launch Complex 43, Pad 603 at 06:59 UTC. The satellite, eigth in a series, entered a roughly 700 km x 98.22 deg orbit.

Shijian 11-08 was developed by China Spacesat Co. Ltd for China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. It likely weighed less than 1 tonne, given CZ-2C's near-polar orbit capability.

China announced that the satellite would be used to "conduct experiments in spece". No further details of the satellite mission were announced. It was the ninth Chang Zheng orbital launch of the year and the fourth launch in a month.

crs4sd.jpg (3912 bytes)Dragon Returns

SpaceX Dragon CRS-4 returned from a nearly five week stay at the International Space Station on October 25, 2014.  The cargo hauling capsule splashed down off Southern California's coast with 1.486 tonnes of cargo.  The CRS-4 mission began with a September 21, 2014 launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida.  CRS-4 was the fourth of at least 12 missions to ISS that SpaceX is contracted to fly under NASA's $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

cz3ce1.jpg (18455 bytes)China Launches Lunar Sample Return Precursor

China launched its Chang'e-5-T1 lunar sample return precursor test flight from XiChang Satellite Launch Center on October 23, 2014. Chang'e-5-T1, bound for a lunar free-return trajectory, lifted off from Launch Complex 2 atop the first Chang Zheng 3CE (Enhanced) launch vehicle at 18:00 UTC.  The spacecraft was inserted into a 209 x 413,000 km lunar transfer orbit.

After circumnavigating and passing about 13,000 km from the Moon's surface about four days after liftoff, the satellite is slated to return toward Earth and, a little more than eight days after liftoff jettison a reentry module that will return to be recovered in Inner Mongolia. The module is shaped like a scaled version of China's manned Shenzhou reentry module. It will have to endure an 11.2 km/sec high speed reentry that includes a skip-type profile.

Chang'e-5-T1 is a test of elements of the Chang'e-5 mission planned for 2017. Chang'e-5 will return a 2 kg sample of lunar soil and rocks to the Earth using a reentry module similar to the Chang'e-5-T1 module.

CZ-3CE is an enhanced version of the CZ-3C launch vehicle that uses a first stage stretched by 1.488 meters and boosters stretched by about 0.76 meters. The lengthened stage and boosters have both previously flown on the CZ-3BE launch vehicle, beginning in 2007. CZ-3CE can lift 3.9 tonnes to a standard GTO, an increase of 0.1 tonnes from CZ-3C. These "Enhanced" variants will become the new standards as China phases out the previous versions.

p399.jpg (12004 bytes)Proton Orbits Express AM6 (Updated 10/24/14)

Russia's 399th Proton orbited the Express AM6 communications satellite from Baikonur Cosmodrome on October 21, 2014. The 705 tonne, four-stage rocket lifted off from Site 81 Pad 24 at 15:09 UTC to begin a nearly 9.5 hour mission that included four burns by the Briz M upper stage.

Express AM6, a 3.358 tonne Express 2000 series satellite built by ISS Reshetnev, carried 72 transponders in Ku-band, C-band, Ka-band and L-band.

Ekpress-AM6 ended up in a 31,307 x 37,784 km x 0.7 deg orbit, short of the expected 33,800 x 37,787 km x 0.18 deg by about 50 meters per second delta-v.  During its fourth burn meant to raise the perigee and reduce the inclination of a 369 x 37,736 km x 49.56 deg transfer orbit, the Briz M stage cut off 24 seconds before its planned 779 second duration, leading outside observers to believe that some type of failure had occurred during the final burn even though Russian authorities insisted that the launch was successful.  Briz M used its own smaller thrusters to subsequently lift itself into a 34,984 x 39,549 km x 1.0 deg disposal orbit. 

Express AM6 should be able to use its electric propulsion system to maneuver itself from its "quasi-geosynchronous" insertion orbit to a final geostationary orbit at 53 degrees east longitude.  It is not known if the extra delta-v needed to reach GSO will affect the planned 15 year lifetime of the satellite.

The mission used Proton-M serial number 935-48 and Briz-M serial number 995-50. It was the sixth Proton launch, and fifth success, of 2014.

cz4cyg22.jpg (13783 bytes)CZ-4C Orbits Yaogan Weixing 22

A Chang Zheng (Long March) 4C rocket orbited China's Yaogan Weixing 22 reconnasaince satellite from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on October 20, 2014. The three-stage rocket lifted off from Launch Complex 9 at 06:31 UTC. YG-22 was inserted into a roughly 1,200 km x 100.32 deg orbit.

As usual for a satellite of this type, China announced that it had a remote sensing mission for "scientific experiments, land survey, crop yield assessment, and disaster monitoring". Outside observers believe that YG-22 is an optical reconnaisance satellite that likely has a military mission, at least in part.

otv3a.jpg (7014 bytes)X-37B Lands at Vandenberg AFB

After 674 days in orbit, the third X-37B unmanned reusable space plane mission (OTV-3) ended with a successful landing at Vandenberg AFB Runway 12. Touchdown occurred at 16:24 UTC. It was the second flight of the first of two X-37B spacecraft.

OTV-3 was orbited by Atlas 5-501 AV-034 from Cape Canaveral, Florida on December 11, 2012. It initially entered a low earth orbit inclined 43.5 degrees to the equator. Previous OTV mission launches took place on April 22, 2010 and March 5, 2011, lasting 224 and 469 days, respectively.

otv3b.jpg (9951 bytes)The X-37B spaceplane's specific mission and what it carried in its small payload bay were classified. The Air Force only described the mission in general terms as "risk reduction, experimentation, and concept of operations development for resuable space vehicle technologies".

After the landing, the Air Force announced plans to launch a fourth X-37B mission from Cape Canaveral in 2015. Boeing recently announced plans to move its X-37B operations into two former Shuttle orbiter hangars (OPF-1 and OPF-2) at nearby Kennedy Space Center.

va220.jpg (7412 bytes)Ariane 5 Launches Comsats for Latin America

An Ariane 5 ECA L574 orbited Intelsat 30/DLA 1 and Arsat 1, communication satellites for Latin America, on October 16, 2014. Arianespace Mission VA220 began from Kourou's ELA 3 launch complex with a 21:43 UTC liftoff. The satellites separated into geosynchronous transfer orbits about 30 minutes later.

Intelsat 30/DLA 1, a 6.32 tonne Space Systems/Loral satellite, carries 72 Ku-band and 10 C-band transponders and will raise itself into geostationary orbit at 95 degrees west. The 2.973 tonne Arsat 1 satellite, which rode to orbit below Intelsat 30, was built by INVAP in Argentina. It be positioned at 71.8 degrees west.

It was the fifth Ariane 5, and fourth Ariane 5 ECA, flight of 2014. It was also the 45th consecutive Ariane 5 ECA success, a streak that has lasted nearly 12 years.

pslvc26.jpg (16526 bytes)India Launches Navsat

PSLV-XL C26 successfully orbited India's IRNSS-1C navigation satellite on October 15, 2014 after launch from Sriharikota. The four stage rocket lifted off from Satish Dhawan Space Center's First Launch Pad at 20:02 UTC. The 1.425 tonne satellite separated into a subsynchronous transfer orbit about 20 minutes 18 seconds later.

The satellite will fire its liquid propulsion engine multiple times to raise itself from its initial 283 x 20,670 km x 17.9 deg transfer orbit into a 35,786 km x 0.0 deg geostationary orbit. IRNSS-1C had to be inserted into a subsynchronous orbit due to mass limits of the PSLV-XL launch vehicle.

It was the third Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System launch of seven planned by the end of 2015. Three will be placed in geostationary orbit while the other four will occupy inclined geosynchronous orbits.

It was the third PSLV launch, and fourth Indian launch, of 2014, the most-ever in a calendar year.

h2af25.jpg (5576 bytes)H-2A Orbits Weather Satellite

Japan's H-2A boosted the Himawari 8 weather satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit on October 7, 2014 from Tanegashima Space Center. H-2A F25, a "202" variant with two strap-on SRB-A solid motor boosters, lifted off from Yoshinobu Launch Complex Pad 1 at 05:16 UTC.

The 53 meter tall, 286 tonne rocket's liquid hydrogen fueled upper stage fired its LE-5B engine twice to boost the 3.5 tonne Mitsubishi Electric Corp. built satellite toward a planned 250 x 35,976 km x 22.4 deg transfer orbit. Spacecraft separation occurred 27 minutes and 57 seconds after liftoff.

Himawari 8 will use its own propulsion system to gradually move itself into a circular geostationary orbit above the equator at 140 degrees east longitude. It will work for the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA).

It was the third of four planned H-2A launches in 2014.