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Space Launch Report Archive

April-June, 2015
crs7c.jpg (8495 bytes)Helium 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.

f9-19b.jpg (2675 bytes)Falcon 9 CRS-7 Failure

F9-19/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.

f9-19a.jpg (14342 bytes)F9-19/CRS-7 Liftoff

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.

cz4bgf8.jpg (3182 bytes)Chang Zheng Launch

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 Earth orbit.

r71842.jpg (10794 bytes)Soyuz 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 in 2013.

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.

vv05.jpg (10790 bytes)Vega 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 Italy’s 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.

r71841.jpg (3657 bytes)Soyuz 2-1a Launches Kobalt-M

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.

va223.jpg (18068 bytes)Ariane 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 transponders.  

It was the 49h Ariane 5 ECA and the 79th Ariane 5.

av054.jpg (8347 bytes)Atlas 5 Launches AFSPC-5

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.

p404.jpg (10796 bytes)Proton Fails 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 launch.

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.

dragonpa.jpg (6877 bytes)Dragon 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.

progm27m.jpg (6678 bytes)Progress 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 unpressurized. 

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 apogee.

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.

f9-17.jpg (13283 bytes)Falcon 9 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.

va222.jpg (20476 bytes)Ariane 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 Italy’s 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.

f9crs6.jpg (12551 bytes)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 11.

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 fly.

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 disentegrated.

vulcan-561.jpg (6692 bytes)ULA Announces Vulcan

Vulcan 561

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.