||Space Launch Report Archive
Bottle Support Eyed in Falcon 9 Failure
On July 20, 2015, Elon Musk, head of SpaceX, announced
preliminary investigation results of the company's June 28 Falcon 9/CRS-7 launch failure.
Musk said that a strut supporting one of the high pressure composite overwrapped pressure
vessel (COPV) helium bottles inside the second stage liquid oxygen (LOX) tank is believed
to have failed as vehicle acceleration passed 3.2 Gs, allowing the bottle to break free.
As a result of the failure, enough helium was released to rapidly overpressurize the tank.
The bottles hold helium at 5,500 psi.
Mr. Musk also revealed that the CRS-7 Dragon capsule, which broke away from the
disentegrating rocket, transmitted data until it fell below the horizon and could have
been saved if a parachute could have been ejected. Flight software did not have a mode for
such a contingency, but Musk said that future versions would have such software.
The 2 foot long, one inch thick strut failed at only 20% of its 10,000 pound rated
strength. During its investigation, SpaceX tested a large number of the struts and found a
few that failed below the rated strength due to metallurgical weaknesses. SpaceX will
replace the struts, which are also used in first stages, with stronger struts from a
different manufacturer. The company will also improve its quality control processes
to assure strut strength.
Musk said that the next launch will not occur until September at the earliest, depending
on reviews by NASA, the FAA, the U.S. Air Force, and commercial customers.
9 CRS-7 Failure
The 19th SpaceX Falcon 9 suffered a launch failure about
2 minutes 19 seconds after liftoff from Cape Canaveral SLC 40 on June 28, 2015. The
flight, carrying cargo for the International Space Station, lifted off at 14:21 UTC.
The Falcon 9 v1.1 steered into clear skies and headed downrange with no obvious problems
during the first two minutes of flight, but a cloud of white vapor suddenly expanded from
the front of the vehicle at the 2:19 mark, and pieces were visible breaking off of the
vehicle, even as the first stage engines continued thrusting. The rocket quickly
broke up and was enveloped by a larger explosion.
An hour or so after launch, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk
reported via. Twitter that the second stage liquid oxygen tank had become overpressurized
and failed due to "counterintuitive" reasons that were still under
investigation. At the time of the failure the second stage was being prepared to
begin its portion of the flight, with the Merlin Vacuum engine in a chilldown phase.
It was the first failure of a Falcon 9 v1.1 in 14
flights, the first Falcon 9 to fail to reach orbit, and the second failure of any type of
a Falcon 9.
The failure was the third involving an ISS cargo carrier
during the last 8 months, placing the station in a potential cargo-shortage danger.
The loss reduced the planned on-board cargo margin by at least one month.
A Chang Zheng 4B performed China's second orbital launch of 2015 on June 16, 2015. The
three-stage rocket boosted an Earth observation satellite identified as "Gaofen
8" into a roughly 470 x 480 km x 97.3 deg sun synchronous orbit from the Taiyuan
Satellite Launch Center. Liftoff from LC 9 took place at 06:22 UTC.
China announced that the satellite would be used for "country surveying, disaster
response, agriculture mapping, city planning, land ownership marking and road network
planning". The launch, however, was performed as if the satellite had a classified
mission, since no detailed information about the mission was provided to news media and
public awareness of the launch was only provided by the issuing of drop zone hazard zone
warning one day before the liftoff.
CZ-4D weighs nearly 249 tonnes at liftoff and can lift 2.8 tonnes to a sun synchronous low
2-1b Orbits Kvarts
Russia's Soyuz 2-1b boosted a Kvarts (Persona 1) reconnaissance satellite into orbit from
Plesetsk Cosmodrome on June 23, 2015. The 308 tonne, 2.5 stage rocket lifted off from Site
43/4 at 16:44 UTC and lofted its payload into a sun synchronous low earth orbit.
Kvarts, a military digital imaging satellite, is believed to weigh about 6.5 tonnes. Two
previous Kvarts launches by Soyuz 2-1b from Plestesk took place, one in 2008 and another
It was the seventh R-7 based launch of 2015 and sixth success. R-7 leads the world in
launch totals so far this year.
Orbits Sentinel 2A
Europe's Vega performed its fifth launch on June 23,
2015. The VV05 mission boosted 1,130 kg Sentinel 2A, an earth observation satellite for
Europe, into a 786 km x 98.5 deg sun synchronous orbit from Kourou space center. The four
stage rocket lifted off from ZLV (Vega Launch Zone) at 01:52 UTC and headed north across
the Atlantic Ocean.
Vega's first three solid motor stages burned in succession during the first 6 minutes 14
seconds of the mission to lift the upper stage and payload to orbital velocity. The AVUM
(Attitude & Vernier Upper Module) stage then fired its hypergolic bipropellant
Ukrainian built engine for about 8.8 minutes to reach an elliptical transfer orbit.
After a 35.5 minute coast to apogee, AVUM performed a 2+ minute burn to circularize the
orbit for Sentinel 2A separation.
Airbus Defence and Space of Toulouse, France built Sentinel 2A. The four-stage
small/medium payload launcher was jointly developed by the Italian Space Agency and the
European Space Agency (ESA). ELV S.p.A., a joint venture of Italys AVIO S.p.A. and
the Italian Space Agency (ASI), is the Vega prime contractor.
Sentinel-2A was the second Copernicus program satellite launched from Kourou. Sentinel-1A
was launched by a Soyuz rocket from Kourou on April 3, 2014.
Russia's Soyuz 2-1a launched what may be the final film-return Kobalt-M reconnaissance
satellite into orbit from Plestesk Cosmodrome on June 5, 2015. The 2.5 stage rocket lifted
off from Site 43/4 at 15:24 UTC. Upon reaching orbit, the satellite was expected to be
designated Kosmos 2505.
Russian Aerospace Defense combat troops performed the launch. It was the first launch of a
Soyuz-2.1a since a failed attempt to orbit Progress M-27M on April 28, 2015. That
failure involved a problem at spacecraft separation that sent the Progress into an
uncontrollable spin. An investigation pointed toward some type of unexpected, damaging
pogo, vibration, or structural resonance issue during the final seconds of the upper stage
burn that was unique to the Soyuz 2-1a/Progress M-27M combination.
5 Orbits Two Comsats
Ariane 5 ECA L577 launched two communication satellites together weighing 9.2 metric tons
into geosynchronous transfer orbit from Kourou on May 27, 2015. The Arianespace VA223
mission orbited DirecTV 15 and Sky Mexico 1 during a roughly 34.5 minute mission that
began with a 21:16 UTC liftoff from ELA 3.
DirecTV 15 is a 6,200 kg Airbus Defense and Space-built Eurostar E3000 satellite with Ku-,
Ka- and R-band transponders for U.S. DirecTV customers. Orbital ATK built 3,000 kg
SKY Mexico 1 based on its GEOStar-2 platform. Sky Mexico 1 has Ku- and R-band
It was the 49h Ariane 5 ECA and the 79th Ariane 5.
Atlas 5 Launches
AV-054, an Atlas 5-501 with no solid boosters and a 5.4 meter diameter payload fairing,
orbited the AFSPC-5 (Air Force Space Command) mission for the U.S. Air Force from Cape
Canaveral, Florida on May 20, 2015. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41 took place at
15:05 UTC. The mission flew into a media blackout shortly after the Centaur second stage
RL-10C-1 engine ignited.
When the media blackout began, the vehicle was on a northeast track consistent with
previous AFSPC flights that carried five tonne X-37B spaceplanes into low earth orbits
inclined about 40 degrees to the equator. This flight was also described as an X-37B
launch by the Air Force, but no confirming images of an X-37B payload for this mission
were provided as they had been during three previous missions. Amateur observers
were able to track the AFSPC-5 primary payload, the claimed "OTV-4" satellite,
in a 312 x 325 km x 38 deg orbit within a week of the launch.
Publicized secondary payloads included a Hall effect thruster for the Air Force, a NASA
materials exposure payload, an "UltraSAT" payload comprised of ten
microsatellites for NASA, the Pentagon, and universities, and LightSail-A, a prototype
solar sail by the Planetary Society. UltraSAT remained attached to the Centaur stage after
AFSPC-5 separation, presumably allowing its payloads to be deployed into a different orbit
after Centaur performed a second burn.
Again (Updated May 30, 2015)
Russia's Khrunichev-built Proton M/Briz M launch vehicle suffered another launch failure
on May 16, 2014, almost exactly a year after an eerily similar failure, while attempting
to boost the MexSat-1 communications satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit. The
failure occurred during the third stage burn about 490 to 498 seconds after an 05:47 UTC
liftoff from Baikonur Cosmodrome Area 200 Pad 39. The similar May 15, 2014 failure
occurred 540 seconds after liftoff.
The 4.1 meter diameter third stage is powered by an RD-0212 propulsion system that
consists of a single fixed RD-0213 engine that produces 59 tons thrust for about 232
seconds and a four-nozzle RD-0214 vernier/steering engine that produces 11.7 tonnes of
vacuum thrust for about 247 seconds. A single turbopump feeds propellant to the four
steering engine nozzles. The stage typically ignites about 327 seconds into a
Mexsat 1, also known as Centenario, was a 5,325 kg Boeing 702HP GEM series satellite with
L and Ku-band transponders.
A failure investigating commission was quickly formed as Proton was again stood
down. It was the 48th Proton launch system failure and the 404th Proton
launch. Eight of the failures had occurred since 2010 inclusive, a period that had
seen 53 Proton launches.
On May 29, 2015, the Roscosmos Agency Commission
investigating the incident announced its conclusions regarding the cause of the failure.
It concluded that the RD-0214 third stage steering engine turbopump had failed due
to "increased vibration loads occurring as a result of the imbalance of the turbo
pump unit rotor caused by the degradation of its material properties at high temperatures,
and improper balancing". As a result of the findings, Roscosmos ordered
Khrunichev Space Center to change materials used for the turbopump rotor shaft, to revise
turbopump rotor balancing methods, and to upgrade the turbopump mount to the engine frame.
Pad Abort Test
SpaceX performed a Crew Dragon pad abort test from Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 40
on May 6, 2015. The test demonstrated basic operation of a launch abort sequence designed
to pull the crewed spacecraft away from a Falcon 9 rocket in the event of a failure. The
test was a key milestone in the company's commercial crew development effort for NASA.
The Crew Dragon capsule and its attached trunk were boosted off a specially constructed
launch stand at 13:00 UTC by eight Super Draco engines that produced about 54.4 tonnes of
thrust for just under six seconds. The spacecraft steered toward the ocean during the
thrusting period, and rose to nearly 1,500 meters before the trunk separated, the capsule
rotated, and parachute deployment began. Crew Dragon landed about 1,200 meters offshore
and was recovered by crews on boats and a barge. The test lasted less than two minutes.
Elon Musk reported after the test that one of the Super Dracos, which burn pressure-fed
N2O4/MMH, underperformed, leaving the capsule slightly short of its planned velocity and
altitude, but the test objectives were achieved. SpaceX plans to reuse the test vehicle on
a high-speed in-flight abort test from Vandenberg AFB in coming months.
Launched, Lost in Orbit
A Soyuz 2-1a boosted Russia's Progress M-27M unmanned cargo spacecraft into orbit,
intended for same-day docking with the International Space Station, from Baikonur
Cosmodrome on April 28, 2015. Shortly after separating into orbit, however, contact was
lost with the Progress spacecraft. Later, Progress was found to be spinning, out of
control, end over end in its insertion orbit. Russian controllers spent a day
considering how or if control might be restored. On April 29 controllers declared
the mission a total loss after finding the Progress propellant manifold system
The 2.5 stage kerosene fueled rocket lifted off from
Area 31 Pad 6 at 07:-09 UTC. Progress M-27M reached a low earth orbit about nine minutes
later. The spacecraft was subsequently, and incorrectly, tracked in a 120 x 314 km x
51.65 deg orbit, which was off from the nominal 193 x 238 km x 51.67 deg. Later
tracking updates showed a closer-to-nominal 188 x 260 km orbit.
Progress subsequently reentered over the South Pacific
Ocean at 02:04 UTC on May 8.
It was not immediately clear if the problem was due to a
launch vehicle or spacecraft issue. An Interfax report late on launch day hinted that
officials were looking at a possible upper stage problem that may have resulted in a
mis-timed or unplanned spacecraft separation. A telemetry drop out reportedly
occured 1.5 seconds before the planned separation. U.S. tracking systems
subsequently detected dozens of objects in orbit near the upper stage. Russian
officials noted that the Soyuz 2-1a upper stage had over-shot the planned insertion orbit
After Progress deployed its solar arrays, it was
supposed to pressurize its propellant system and deploy its Ku band antenna. Contact
was lost before either step could be confirmed, and no telemetry was received during the
first two or three orbits. Later, an on board video briefly transmitted from
Progress showed it in a longitudinal (head over heels) spin, completing one revolution
about every six seconds.
Progress weighed about 7,289 kg at liftoff. The ship carried 2,769 kg of dry cargo,
food, rocket propellant, water and oxygen meant for ISS.
It was the year's fifth R-7 launch, a total that
includes two Progress and one Soyuz launch to ISS.
Launches TurkmenAlem 52E
The 13th Falcon 9 v1.1 to fly, and the 12th to be built, successfully boosted the
TurkmenAlem 52E communications satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit from Cape
Canaveral, Florida on April 27, 2015. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 took place at
23:03 UTC after a half-hour weather delay.
The 4,500 kg Thales Alenia Space Spacebus 4000 series satellite was released about 32
minutes 15 seconds after liftoff, following a second burn of the Falcon 9 second stage,
toward a targeted 180 x 36,600 km x 25.5 deg orbit. The satellite is the first satellite
launched for the government of Turkmenistan.
The flight was originally shelved only a few days before its planned March 21, 2015 date
when concerns were raised about helium pressurization bottles in the first stage LOX tank
after an anomaly was detected in other hardware at the Hawthorne, California Falcon 9
factory. As a result, the F9-17 vehicle (12th Falcon 9 v1.1 and 17th Falcon 9) being
prepared for TurkmenAlem 52E was pulled from the SLC 40 hangar back to the SpaceX hangar
in the Cape Canaveral industrial area. This allowed the F9-18 vehicle to move ahead in the
queue to perform the CRS-6 launch on April 14. F9-17 quickly returned to SLC 40, where it
performed a static test firing on April 22.
5 Launches Comsat Pair
Ariane 5 ECA L576 launched two communication satellites into geosynchronous transfer orbit
from Kourou on April 26, 2015. Arianespace mission VA222 orbited Thor 7 for Telenor and
Sircal 2 for Telespazio during a 34 minute 23 second mission that began with a 20:00 UTC
liftoff from ELA 3.
Space Systems/Loral built 4.6 tonne Thor 7, which rode above the 4.4 tonne Thales Alenia
Space-built Sircal 2 on a Sylda 5A dual payload fairing.
Sircal 2 will serve Italys military in the UHF and SHF bands. Thor 7, an SSL 1300
series satellite, will provide Ka-band maritime service coverage over the North Sea, the
Norwegian Sea, the Red Sea, the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean.
It was the year's first Ariane 5. It was the 48th Ariane 5 ECA and the 78th Ariane 5.
Falcon 9 Launches Dragon CRS-6
A SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket successfully orbited the company's Dragon spacecraft on the
CRS-6 (Cargo Resupply Services) mission from Cape Canaveral, Florida on April 14, 2015.
The 63.4 meter tall two-stage rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at 20:10 UTC
and steered on a
northeastward track. The first stage shut down its nine Merlin 1D engines about 159
seconds after liftoff and the second stage Merlin Vacuum engine began a 408 second burn to
boost the vehicle into a 199 x 364 km x 51.65 degree orbit.
Dragon carried 2,015 kg of cargo for the International Space Station, a total that
included 117 kg of packing material. The spacecraft likely weighed about 9,350 kg at
liftoff, including cargo and the weight of two solar array fairings that were jettisonned
shortly after reaching orbit.
After about five weeks at ISS, Dragon will return to a Pacific Ocean splashdown loaded
with 1,370 kg of return cargo, packaging materials, and trash.
It was the second launch attempt for CRS-6. The first attempt was scrubbed by approaching
weather on April 13. The rocket's first stage performed an on-pad hot-fire test on April
The CRS-6 mission, complete with its launch vehicle, had moved ahead of the
previously-processed Turkmensat mission when a potential problem was found with that
rocket's helium pressurization system a few days before its planned launch on March 21.
The CRS-6 launch vehicle was then swapped with the Turkmensat rocket so that CRS-6 was
launched by the 18th Falcon 9 launch vehicle although it was the only the 17th Falcon 9 to
After the first stage separated, it performed a three-burn recovery experiment aiming
toward a landing on a converted barge floating in the Atlantic Ocean about 330 km
downrange. The stage landed on the barge, but apparently landed hard and
ULA Announces Vulcan
At the 31st Space Symposium on April 13, 2015 , United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced
that its Next Generation Launch System (NGLS) would be named "Vulcan",
after the Roman god of fire.
The company also revealed plans for a step-by-step Vulcan
development process that would keep some existing EELV elements in service for years while
quickly phasing out others.