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October-December, 2015

cz3b34.jpg (7986 bytes)China Orbits GEO Remote Sensing Satellite

China's CZ-3B/E launched Gaofen 4, a remote sensing satellite, into geosynchronous transfer orbit from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on December 28, 2015. Liftoff from Pad 2 took place at 16:04 UTC. The liquid hydrogen fueled upper stage fired twice with a coast between to reach a 205 x 35,807 km x 22.97 deg orbit within about 25 minutes after liftoff.

Gaofen 4 is China's first dedicated geosynchronous remote sensing satellite. It has optical and infrared telescopes and can optically image at better than 50 meter resolution. It weighed 4.6 tonnes at liftoff.

It was the 17th DF-5 based Chang Zheng (Long March) launch of 2015, more than any other launch vehicle family. It was also the 8th CZ-3B launch of the year, another record, all flown from Xichang.  The flight was China's 19th orbital success of the year, one more than the United States.  Rockets using Russian first stages tallied 24 successes to top the list.

p409.jpg (12671 bytes)Proton Orbits Ekspress AMU1

Russia's Proton orbited the Ekspress AMU1 communications satellite from Baikonur Cosmodrome on December 24, 2015. The 705 tonne, four-stage rocket lifted off from Site 200 Pad 39 at 21:31 UTC to begin a 9 hour 12 minute mission that included five burns by the Briz M upper stage.

Briz M fired first, just after the three Proton stages completed their burns, to place itself into a 182 km x 51.6 deg parking orbit. It fired three more times during the first 3.8 hours and two orbits of the mission to place itself into a 442 x 35,814 km x 49.1 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit. After a 5.4 hour coast to first apogee, Briz M fired a fifth time to raise the perigee and reduce inclination. Ekspress AMU1 separation was aimed toward a 4,362 x 35,793 km x 22.5 deg transfer orbit.

Ekspress AMU1 is a 5.7 tonne Airbus Eurostar E3000 series satellite with up to 70 Ku and Ka band transponders. From its geostationary position at 36 deg East, it will provide broadcasting services across the European part of the Russian Federation and sub-Saharan Africa.

It was the year's 85th orbital launch attempt and 80th success, and the year's 18th orbital launch attempt from Baikonur, one more than second place Cape Canaveral.  The launch was Proton's 8th of the year and its 7th success.

f9-21a.jpg (8130 bytes)Falcon 9 Launches, Lands

F9-21 Liftoff

SpaceX returned its Falcon 9 to service on December 22, 2015 when it boosted 11 Orbcomm satellites into orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida. For the first time, a Falcon 9 first stage boosted back and landed near its launch site. The landing took place at Landing Zone 1 at the former site of Launch Complex 13.

The two-stage kerosene/LOX rocket, sidelined since a June launch failure, returned in upgraded form with higher thrust engines, a stretched second stage and interstage, and supercooled, condensed propellant. The improved rocket, identified by SpaceX as a "Falcon 9 v1.1 Full Thrust", was the 20th Falcon 9 to fly and the 21st produced.

Liftoff from SLC 40 took place at 01:29 UTC. The now 69.799 meter (229 foot) tall rocket, about 1.524 meters (5 feet) taller than v1.1, rose on 694 metric tons (1.53 million pounds) of thrust produced by its nine Merlin 1D first stage engines. Previous Falcon 9 v1.1 first stages produced 600 metric tons (1.323 million pounds) of thrust.

f9-21b.jpg (5430 bytes)F9-21 First Stage Lands at LZ-1 About 10 Minutes After Liftoff

The first stage fired for 2 minutes 20 seconds, separating four seconds later. The second stage ignited its improved Merlin Vacuum engine at 2 minutes 35 seconds to begin a nearly eight minute burn to reach a roughly 620 x 660 km x 47 deg orbit.

The eleven 172 kg Orbcomm satellites separated in sequence from their center-mounted support pillar beginning 15 minutes and ending 20 minutes after liftoff.

Meanwhile, the first stage performed a roughly 30 second boostback burn beginning about 3 minutes 50 seconds after launch and a 20 second reentry burn about 8 minutes after launch, both using three engines. A final, roughly 32 second single-engine landing burn using only the center engine took place just before the landing, about 10 minutes after liftoff. 

The stage landed near the center of the circular landing zone.  A small fire burned at the base of the stage for at least a half-minute after the center Merlin 1D engine shut down.

f9-21c.jpg (5010 bytes)First Stage Shortly After Landing

After spacecraft deployment, the upgraded second stage Merlin Vacuum engine restarted both to test its restart capability for future missions and to deorbit the stage in the Southern Ocean south of Australia.

After the mission, Elon Musk announced that the recovered first stage would be used, if possible, for propellant loading and static fire testing at the rebuilt LC 39 Pad A.  SpaceX has no plans to re-fly the stage.

Launch Complex 13 supported 51 Atlas missile and Atlas Agena orbital launches from 1958-1978. The site's mobile service tower was demolished in 2005 and its blockhouse in 2012. SpaceX subsequently built an 86 meter (282 foot) diameter landing pad centered on the spot where the original Atlas missile service tower parked during launches.



progms1.jpg (6375 bytes)Upgraded Progress Launch

A Soyuz 2-1a launch vehicle boosted Russia's upgraded Progress MS cargo hauling spacecraft toward the International Space Station on December 21, 2015. Liftoff from Baikonur's snow-covered Area 31 Pad 6 took place at 08:44 UTC. Progress MS safely separated into low earth orbit about 9 minutes later.

It was the first Soyuz-2.1a Progress launch since an April attempt failed after the upper stage suffered structural failure that caused Progress M-27M to spin out of control at spacecraft separation. The design was beefed up after the failure.

Progress MS included upgrades to the spacecraft's command, telemetry, navigation, video communications, and docking systems. An improved Kurs rendezvous radar and a new link to Russian data relay satellites was also included. Space debris shielding was improved, along with latching mechanisms used to attach the Progress to ISS.

Progress MS (Progress 62P in NASA's system) carried 2,610 kg of cargo, including 870 kg of propellant, 420 kg of water, 1,272 kg of dry cargo, and 48 kg of oxygen and air.

vs13.jpg (5233 bytes)Soyuz Orbits European Navsats

A Soyuz 2-1b with a Fregat upper stage orbited a pair of European Galileo navigation satellites from Kourou Space Center on December 17, 2015. Flying the VS13 mission for Arianespace and the FOC-M4 mission for Europe, the 3.5 stage rocket lifted off from the ELS pad at 11:51 UTC to begin a 3 hour 48 minute mission that placed the FM-08 and FM-09 satellites, one weighing 717 kg and the other 717.5 kg, into 23,222 km x 54.946 deg circular orbits.

Fregat performed two burns during the mission. The first, beginning 10:24 minutes and completed 23:32 minutes after liftoff, placed the vehicle into an elliptical orbit with a 23,500 km apogee. The second, which began about 3:38:25 hours into the flight and lasted for 4:32 minutes, inserted the stage and spacecraft into a circular orbit.

OHB-System and SSTL built the satellite bus and payload, respectfully, for the Galileo satellites. After a 2014 failure that placed two satellites into an improper orbit, these will become the third pair of properly placed "Full Operational Capability" satellites of a planned 22 satellite constellation.  Including the mis-placed pair and four initial operating capability test satellites launched in 2011 and 2012, there are now 12 Galileo satellites in orbit.

Russia's Roscosmos was in charge of range operations for the launch. TsENKI handled systems engineering. Crews from RKTs-Progress (Soyuz) and NPO Lavochkin (Fregat) handled launch operations.

cz2d26.jpg (7586 bytes)China Launches DAMPE

A CZ-2D boosted the DArk Matter Particle Explorer (DAMPE) into orbit from China's Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on December 17, 2016. The 1,900 kg satelite, named Wukong ("Monkey King") after a character in a classic Chinese tale, will detect high-energy particles in space using an adanced imaging calorimeter. Its main objective is to measure electrons and photons with much higher energy resolution than before to look for potential Dark Matter signatures. DAMPE/Wukong is one of five missions of the Strategic Pioneer Research Program in Space Science of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The two-stage CZ-2D lifted off from LC 43/603 at 00:12 UTC. The rocket's second stage placed Wukong into a 500 km sun synchronous orbit. After spacecraft separation, the second stage performed a propellant blowdown to reduce its altitude, hastening its reentry.

It was the year's 16th DF-5 based Chang Zheng launch, and the 4th by CZ-2D.  The success, the 26th in 26 flights by CZ-2D, moved the launch vehicle past Ariane 5 ECA on the Space Launch Report reliability list.  It also moved China past the United States in numbers of orbital successes for 2015.

pslvc29.jpg (19357 bytes)PSLV Orbits Singapore Satellites

A core-alone PSLV variant launched six satellites for Singapore from Satish Dhawan Space Center at Sriharikota, India on December 16, 2015. The PSLV-C29 mission boosted the TeLEOS 1 earth observation satellite and five smaller satellites into a 550 km x 15 deg orbit designed to maximize passes over Singapore.

Liftoff from the First Launch Pad took place at 12:30 UTC with the four stage rocket flying an east/southeast azimuth. The first three stages fired in succession during the first 6 minutes 8 seconds. After a nearly nine-minute coast, the fourth stage ignited to perform the final orbital insertion. The MMH/MON-3 hypergolic stage completed its burn 17 minutes 25 seconds after liftoff. Spacecraft separation took place over the subsequent four minutes.

TeLEOS 1 is a 400 kg Earth imager built by Singapore's ST Electronics. Secondary satellites included 123 kg VELOX CI, 78 kg Kent Ridge 1, 13 kg VELOX II, and two cubesats that together likely weighed less than 10 kg.

About 67.5 minutes after launch, the fourth stage was slated to perform an experimental restart for a 4 second burn.

C29 was the fourth PSLV launch of 2015 - more than any previous calendar year - and the 80th orbital launch attempt of the year world-wide.

soytma19m.jpg (5733 bytes)Soyuz Launches ISS Crew

Soyuz TMA-19M Launch, NASA/Joel Kowsky

A Soyuz FB launch vehicle lifted the Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft into orbit with three crew for the International Space Station on December 15, 2015. Liftoff from Baikonur Area 1 Pad 5 took place at 11:03 UTC to begin a "fast-track" six-hour ascent to the station.

On board, comprising the Expedition 46-47 crew, were Russia's Yuri Malenchenko, NASA's Tim Kopra, and Britain's Tim Peake, the first official British astronaut. Helen Sharman was the first UK citizen to orbit earth when she flew to Russia's Mir space station in 1991 on a privately-funded Soyuz passenger program. Several other astronauts with joint UK-US citizenship have also flown, but Tim Peake is the first UK-funded astronaut.

It was 2015's fourth crewed orbital launch, all by Soyuz to ISS.

p408.jpg (22133 bytes)Proton Launches Garpun

Russia’s Proton-M/Briz M launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome on December 13, 2015 with a Garpun military communications satellite. Liftoff from Area 81 Pad 24 took place at 00:19 UTC to begin a nine-hour mission that placed Garpun 12L into near-geosynchronous orbit. The Briz-M upper stage likely performed three burns during the ascent phase.

Garpun (Russian "Harpoon") is a data relay satellite to support Russia's digital reconnaisance satellites. They are built by Reshetnev (ex-NPO PM) in Zheleznogorsk. The first Garpun was launched in 2011.  The satellites may weigh about 3 tonnes, give or take.

The launch was performed by a Phase I Enhanced Proton-M refitted with RD-276 engines that are usually only used by Phase II or later Enhanced Protons. The Enhanced Proton-M began flying in 2004, with Phase II appearing in 2007, followed by more staged improvements every few years. One of the most important enhancements was the Phase II replacement of first stage RD-275 engines with higher-thrust RD-276 engines.

It was the year's 78th orbital launch attempt and the 73rd success.

zenit83-1.jpg (25824 bytes)Possible Zenit Finale

What may have been the final Ukrainian/Russian Zenit flew from Baikonur Cosmodrome with the Electro L2 weather satellite on December 11, 2015. The 460 tonne, 57.4 meter tall Zenit 3F rocket, boosted by the world's most powerful liquid rocket engine, rose from Site 45/1 at 13:45 UTC to begin a nearly nine-hour mission designed to directly insert the 1,855 kg satellite into geosynchronous earth orbit.

The three-stage launch vehicle, also identified as a Zenit 2SB80/Fregat SB, was powered off the pad by a four-chamber staged-combustion kerosene/LOX Energomash RD-171M engine developing 740 tonnes of thrust at sea level.  The first stage burned for 2 minutes 25 seconds before the Zenit 2M second stage RD-0120 engine, augmented by a four-nozzle RD-8 steering engine, took over, producing about 101 tonnes of total thrust. RD-0120 is also a staged-combustion LOX/RP engine, with a 350 second specific vacuum impulse.

Second stage shutdown occurred 8 minutes 34 seconds after liftoff, leaving the Fregat SB upper stage and its payload in a roughly 167 x 554 km x 51.35 deg parking orbit. The storable propellant Fregat stage coasted until the 1 hour 14 minutes 34 second mark, when it performed an 8 minute 25 second burn to move into a 280 x 4,306 km x 50.4 deg intermediate orbit. The stage jettisonned its drop tanks shortly after the first burn.

After completing a second orbit, Fregat SB performed a 58 second long, second burn that began 3 hours 26 minutes 17 seconds after liftoff. The burn pushed the vehicle into a 338 x 35,911 km x 48.6 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit. Fregat SB coasted in this orbit to apogee, where it reignited at 8 hours 46 minutes 35 seconds mission elapsed time for an 8.8 minute burn to enter a roughly 35,425 x 35,793 km x 0.5 deg orbit. Spacecraft separation occurred a few minutes later.

zenit83-2.jpg (7960 bytes)The launch was the third for Zenit 3F, all successful. It was the 83rd Zenit launch (the first took place in 1985) and the 45th Zenit to fly with a third stage. A total of 36 launches took place from the Sea Launch Odyssey launch platform during the 1999-2014 period. Thirteen Zenit launches failed, all but two of which involved the first two Zenit stages.

Zenit was the last, and most advanced, space launch vehicle developed by the former Soviet Union. Its development was begun byDnepropetrovsk, Urkraine-based NPO Yuzhnoe during the 1970s. The two-stage Zenit-2 variant launched the USSR's Tselina-2 electronic intelligence satellites, while the Zenit-2 first stage was selected to serve as a strap-on booster for the Energia heavy-lift launcher.

The collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the Energia/Buran program, and a series of Zenit failures during the 1990s, including one that destroyed the Baikonur 45/2 launch pad, made Zenit's future uncertain.  No launches took place in 1996 as Russia began tapering off Zenit 2 military service due to Zenit's Ukrainian production.  Zenit managed an unlikely rebirth, however when Sea Launch began flying in 1999.  Sea Launch, and its Land Launch subsidiary, flew as many as a half-dozen times per year, but a series of launch failures contributed to a 2009 bankruptcy. The final Sea Launch mission took place in 2014, shortly after a civil war broke out in Ukraine that severely strained Russian/Ukrainian relations.

After a cease fire gradually took hold, Ukrainian technicians were able to travel to Baikonur to prepare the 83rd Zenit for launch.  One more Zenit launch vehicle remains.  It was delivered before the Ukrainian war and assigned to a 2017 launch of Spektr-R, but its future remains uncertain.

cz3b33.jpg (12882 bytes)China Orbits Milcomsat

China's CZ-3B/E launched Zhongxing 1C, a military communications satellite, into geosynchronous transfer orbit from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on December 9, 2015. Liftoff from Pad 3 took place at 16:46 UTC. The liquid hydrogen fueled upper stage fired to reach GTO about a half-hour after liftoff.

Zhongxing (or "Chinasat") 1C is likely based on China's DFH-4 satellite bus. It may have weighed up to 5.2 tonnes at liftoff.

It was the 15th DF-5 based Chang Zheng (Long March) launch of 2015, more than any other launch vehicle family year to date.  It was also the 7th CZ-3B launch of the year, another record, all flown from Xichang.

av061.jpg (9228 bytes)Atlas 5 Boosts Orbital Cargo Ship

AV061 Liftoff.  New, Under Construction CST-100 Starliner Access Tower Visible on Left.

United Launch Alliance's Atlas 5 boosted Orbital-ATK's Cygnus cargo hauler toward the International Space Station on December 6, 2015, after three days of weather delays. The Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-4) launch (also called OA-4), one of two planned to fill in in the wake of Orbital-ATK's 2014 Antares rocket failure, boosted the first enhanced Cygnus with a longer pressurized module packed with 3,513 kg of cargo, including packing.

The AV-061 Atlas 5-401 featured an extra extended payload fairing that increased vehicle height to 59.13 meters. Liftoff from Cape Canaveral SLC 41 took place at 21:44 UTC. The Centaur second stage performed a roughly 13.75 minute long burn to insert itself and Cygnus into a roughly 230 km x 51.6 deg orbit. Payload separation occurred about 21 minutes after liftoff. Centaur was expected to perform a subsequent deorbit burn.

av061b.jpg (20371 bytes)Enhanced Cygnus Arrives ISS on December 9

Cygnus weighed 7,492 kg at liftoff, including the cargo and 828 kg of service module propellant. It was the heaviest known Atlas 5 payload to date.  In addition to its stretched, 5.1 meter long by 3.05 meter diameter pressurized cargo module, the spacecraft's service module sported new, lighter weight, circular solar arrays.

Cygnus arrived at ISS on December 9, where it was captured by the  Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS) robotic arm.  Astronaut Kjell used the SSRMS to move Cygnus to the Earth-facing port of the Node 1 Unity module. 

Orbital ATK contracted the Atlas launch only about one year before liftoff, in the wake of the Antares failure.  It was the 60th Atlas 5 launch, the 59th success, and the ninth Atlas 5 flight of 2015, matching 2014's record.

soy2-1v2.jpg (12021 bytes)Soyuz 2-1v Fails to Deploy Submarine Hunter (Dec. 7 Update)

Russia's Soyuz 2-1v performed its second launch on December 5, 2015 from Plesetsk Cosmodrome.  The two stage rocket, topped by a multiple-restart Volga third stage, carried the 441 kg Kanopus-ST satellite and a small radar calibration sphere toward a roughly 702 km sun synchronous orbit following a 14:09 UTC liftoff from Site 43 Pad 4. After first two stages fired to reach a roughly 220 x 709 km x 98.17 deg transfer orbit, Volga fired at apogee to circularize the orbit.

The satellites were designated Kosmos 2511 and 2512, but on December 6, Russian media reported that one of the satellites had failed to separate from Volga.  The identity of the affected satellite was not initially reported, but later in the day one source claimed that Kanopus-ST, the primary payload, had failed to separate.  One of the clamps on Volga reportedly failed to release.  The Volga stage apparantly performed a "deorbit" burn with the satellite still attached on December 6.  With the payload still in place, the burn was only able to lower the perigee to a little more than 100 km.  Actual deorbit was expected to take a few days as atmospheric friction slowed the vehicle. 

Kanopus-ST, a military payload, carried a UHF microwave radiometer that may have been attempting to test methods for tracking submerged submarines, among other uses. Submarine detection from LEO typically focuses on the detection of "internal wave" effects on or near the surface.

Soyuz 2-1v, which first flew on December 28, 2013, stands 44 meters tall and weighs about 157 tonnes at liftoff. It uses a Soyuz 2-1b third stage as a second stage. The first stage is newly developed except for the top portion of the upper LOX tank, which is borrowed from the Soyuz 2-1b core stage. A single chamber NK-33A staged combustion LOX/kerosene engine, augmented by a four-chamber RD-0110R steering engine, powers the first stage. At liftoff, the engines combine to produce more than 179 tonnes of sea level thrust. About 88% of the total thrust is produced by the NK-33A, an engine originally created as part of the Soviet Union's N1 lunar rocket program during the 1970s.

The first stage kerosene tank and the lower part of the LOX tank are 2.66 meters in diameter, fatter than the old Soyuz core's 2.15 meters diameter. The common upper tank section still flares out to 2.95 meters in diameter, allowing both Soyuz launcher types to share launch pad equipment.

The first stage burns for about 250 seconds. The Blok I second stage fires its staged combustion LOX/kerosene engine for about 270 seconds.

Soyuz 2-1v can lift 2.85 tonnes to a 200 km x 51.6 deg orbit from Baikonur, or 1.4 tonnes to an 835 km sun synchronous orbit from Plesetsk.

NK-33A is similar to the engine that suffered a turbopump failure during the dramatic 2014 Antares launch failure.  Additional testing was performed on the engine during mid-2015 in the wake of the failure.  Future plans call for NK-33A to be replaced by the Energomash RD-193.

vv06.jpg (16006 bytes)Vega Orbits Technology Demonstrator

Europe's sixth Vega launched the LISA Pathfinder gravity wave technology demonstrator satellite from Kourou on December 3, 2015. The VV06 mission placed the 1,906 kg spacecraft into a 207 x 1,540 km x 5.96 deg orbit 1 hour, 45 minutes and 33 seconds after its 04:04 UTC liftoff from ZLV.

ESA's LISA Pathfinder is a technology demonstrator that will test methods for measuring gravitational waves. It was designed to be a precursor to an ESA/NASA Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) mission, but LISA was cancelled in 2011 when NASA withdrew from the project. 

Airbus Defense and Space built the spacecraft. It contains two chambers where test masses will float while their positions are carefully measured. The 483 kg spacecraft will use a 1,423 kg liquid bipropellant hypergolic propulsion module, derived from the E2000 satellite platform, to gradually boost itself toward a halo orbit around the Earth-Sun L1 Lagrange point, 1.5 million km from Earth. The spacecraft science module will separate from the spent, now roughly 210 kg propulsion module after the two-month propulsion phase is complete.

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 near-orbital velocity. The AVUM (Attitude & Vernier Upper Module) stage then fired its hypergolic bipropellant Ukrainian built engine for about 8 minutes 54 seconds to reach an initial, roughly 200 x 1,200 km orbit.

After a roughly 85 minute coasting period, AVUM ignited again to perform a 1 minute 34 second insertion burn. Spacecraft separation took place less than 3 minutes later. AVUM performed a 7 second "deorbit" burn about 10 minutes after separation that actually only slightly shifted its orbit away from the payload.

LISA Pathfinder was Vega's heaviest payload to date.

cz4cyg29.jpg (16861 bytes)China Orbits Yaogan 29

China's Chang Zheng 4C orbited a Yaogan Weixing reconnaissance satellite from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on November 26, 2015. The three-stage hypergolic propellant-fueled rocket lifted off from LC 9 at 21:24 UTC (05:24 local time on the 27th). The satellite, identified as Yaogan 29, was boosted toward a 615 x 619 km x 97.8 deg sun synchronous low earth orbit.

The satellite, built by Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST), is thought to be a roughly two tonne sythetic aperature radar imaging platform.

The launch was another "suprise" flight by China, not announced until several hours after liftoff.  According to a report by Xinhua News Agency, Yaogan 29 "will be mainly used for scientific experiment, land resources survey, crop yield estimate and disaster prevention and reduction and other fields".

h2af29.jpg (19374 bytes)H-2A Orbits Telstar 12V

An H-2A-204 with four SRB-A boosters launched Canada's Telstar 12V into geosynchronous transfer orbit from Tanegashima on November 24, 2015. Liftoff from Yoshinobu Pad 1 took place at 06:50 UTC. The 4.9 tonne satellite was inserted into a 3,143 x 35,638 km x 19.2 deg orbit about 4 hours and 27 minutes after liftoff.

The F29 flight was the first "H-2A Upgrade" that featured the first use of a three-burn mission for the second stage. The second stage debuted an upgraded turbopump cooling system, an improved ullage system that uses vented gaseous propellants, 60% throttling of the LE-5B engine, and white-coated propellant tanks to keep the stage cool during the nearly four hour coast to apogee before its third and final burn. 

Telstar 12V, an Airbus Eurostar 3000 satellite, carried 52 Ku-band transponders for service over the Americas.

F29 was  only the second flight of the powerful 204 variant.  It was the first beyond-low-earth-orbit flight by Japan in 2015.  It was also the first dedicated commercial satellite launch by an H-2 series rocket.

ns2ups.jpg (9741 bytes)Blue Origin New Shepard Success

On November 23, 2015, Blue Origin's New Shepard "propulsion module" scored a first by landing vertically under rocket power after reaching an altitude exceeding 100 km during a suborbital flight. The New Shepard "crew capsule", which separated from the propulsion module shortly before reaching its own 100.5 km apogee, also landed under three parachutes.

The 17:21 UTC (11:21 am Central Standard Time) launch took place from Blue Origin's West Texas launch site near Van Horn. The rocket's BE-3 liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine produced 49,896 kgf (110,000 pounds) of thrust at liftoff. The vehicle experienced 3g acceleration and Mach 3.72 speed during its ascent. After separating, the capsule experienced several minutes of weightlessness before beginning its descent. Its parachutes opened at 6,111 km (20,045 feet) above ground level. The capsule landed at 17:32 UTC.

After separation, the New Shepard propulsion module used its "ring fin" and eight large drag brakes to control its descent speed and orientation. The terminal velocity was reduced to 173 meters/sec (387 mph) by the drag features. The BE-3 engine re-ignited 1,493 meters (4,896 feet) above ground level, throttling and gimballing to slow the descent to a near hover just before the stage arrived above a concrete landing pad. Four landing legs extended during the burn. The stage repositioned itself above the center of the pad before descending for a 1.97 meters/sec (4.4 mph) landing. 

ns2dns.jpg (4951 bytes)New Shepard Propulsion Module Maneuvers for Landing

The success achieved the long-dreamed but never achieved vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) during a launch from Earth to space, above the sensible atmosphere at 100 km.  Other rockets have performed VTVL from Earth during tests to less than 5 km.  The SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage has achieved controlled descent from space several times and almost landed under rocket power on the company's converted barge in early 2015 before toppling and exploding.

It was the second New Shepard flight. During the first flight on April 25, 2015, the vehicle ascended to 93.6 km (307,000 feet) and the capsule landed safely, but the propulsion module was destroyed by impact due to a hydraulic system failure during descent.

The BE-3 engine can deep throttle to only 9,072 kgf (20,000 pounds) of thrust, an important capability for vertical landing.

cz3by38.jpg (10745 bytes)CZ-3B/E Orbits LaoSat 1

A CZ-3B/E launch vehicle orbited LaoSat 1, a communications satellite built in China for Laos, from Xichang satellite Launch Center on November 20, 2015. The 3.5 stage rocket lifted off from LC 2 at 16:07 UTC. The rocket's liquid hydrogen-fueled upper stage inserted the roughly 4.6 tonne China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) DFH-3B series satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit about 26 minutes after liftoff.  The likely orbit was approximately 190 x 41,800 km x 18.38 deg.

After it propels itself to geosynchronous orbit, Laosat 1 will serve China Asia-Pacific Mobile Telecommunications Satellite Co., Ltd. and the Lao Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, offering live satellite TV, wireless broadband access, and international communications services in Laos.

It was the 13th DF-5 based Chang Zheng launch of 2015, and the sixth by a CZ-3B, currently China's most-powerful launch vehicle.

soy-eks1.jpg (9955 bytes)Russia Orbits New Early Warning Satellite

Russia's Soyuz 2-1b with a Fregat M upper stage boosted EKS 1, the first of a new early warning satellite constellation, into orbit from Plesetsk Cosmodrone on November 17, 2015. The 3.5 stage rocket lifted off from Site 43/4 at 06:34 UTC. Although EKS 1 was initially thought to be bound for an nearly 24 hour, elliptical "Tundra" orbit, possibly something like 1,000 x 70,580 km x 63.4 deg, it ended up in a standard 12-hour Molniya orbit (1,621 x 38,559 km x 63.81 deg).

A Tundra orbit would have traced and re-traced a giant figure-eight pattern above the same face of the Earth's surface, spending the majority of its time high above the northern hemisphere.  The Earth rotates beneath a Molniya orbit, which reaches two apogees on opposite sides of the planet every day.

EKS 1, named Kosmos 2510, is the first of 10 satellites that will be launched to replace Russia's no-longer functioning OKO early warning satellite constellation.

It was the 13th R-7 orbital launch attempt of the year and was the year's sixth orbital launch from Plestesk.

va227.jpg (20333 bytes)Ariane 5 Launch

An Ariane 5 ECA boosted two communications satellites to orbit from Kourou on November 10, 2015. The VA227 mission placed Arabsat-6B and GSAT-15 into geosynchronous transfer orbit after a 21:34 UTC liftoff from ELA 3. It was the sixth and final Ariane 5 launch of 2015.

Arabsat 6B, an Airbus Eurostar E3000 series satellite, weighed 5,798 kg at liftoff. It will provide communication coverage of the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia for Arabsat of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. GSAT 15, built by India's ISRO, weighed 3,164 kg. It is equipped with 24 Ku band transponders and a navigation signal payload.

cz4byg28.jpg (16042 bytes)CZ-4B Launch

A Chang Zheng 4B (CZ-4B) rocket launched China's 28th Yaogan Weixing, a remote sensing satellite, on November 8, 2015 from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center. The three-stage hypergolic propellant rocket lifted off from LC 9 at 07:06 UTC.

China announced that Yaogan 28 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 electro-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 28 entered a 460 x 482 km x 97.24 deg sun synchronous orbit. CZ-4B can lift up to 2.8 tonnes to such an orbit.

It was the 12th DF-5 based CZ launch, and the 14th orbital launch by China, during 2015.

sstrypi01s.jpg (15779 bytes)Super Strypi Inaugural Failure

Super Strypi, a small solid fuel three-stage rocket developed by the U.S. Air Force Operationally Responsive Space office, failed shortly after its inaugural launch on November 4, 2015. The rocket flew straight for about 45 seconds before appearing to develop a coning motion. The video feed provided by the University of Hawaii suddenly cut off at about the 60 second mark. Subsequent ground based videos published on YouTube showed the rocket breaking up after a minute of flight.

The spin-stabilized, 20.4 meter long, 28.12 tonne rocket launched at 03:45 UTC from a rail launcher at Kokole Point (LP-41), Barking Sands, Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kauai, Hawaii. On board for this Operationally Responsive Space (ORS-4) mission were 13 small satellites, including the University of Hawaii's 55 kg Hiakasat and 12 university and commercial Cubesats.  A roughly 400 km x 94.7 deg insertion orbit was planned.

Super Strypi uses sounding rocket flight techniques to minimize costs. These include fixed motor nozzles with canted fins on the first stage to induce roll for spin stabilization and a rail-launcher that aims toward the proper azimuth and flight angle. The methods result in high accleration forces, with a liftoff thrust to weight ratio of about 4.6.

The first stage used an Aerojet Rocketdyne LEO-46 motor that was 1.3208 meters (52 inches) in diameter and 12.195 meters long. It produced nearly 130 tonnes of thrust at liftoff and was designed to burn more than 20.412 tonnes of propellant in 73 seconds. The 22.68 tonne motor was reportedly based on Atlas 5 booster technology. A flaw in this motor's design was discovered last year, but the sponsoring agencies decided to accept the odds of failure in order to complete the test flight attempt.

Super Strypi was the heaviest-ever rail-launched rocket.

cz3b31.jpg (12129 bytes)China Launches Comsat

China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 3B/E launched the Zhongxing 2C communications satellite from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on November 3, 2015. Liftoff from LC 3 took place at 16:15 UTC. The satellite was boosted into a 194 x 35,833 km x 27.1 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit by the liquid hydrogen fueled, YF-75 powered third stage about 25 min later.

Zhongxing 2C is believed to be a military communication satellite that may weigh 5.1 tonnes or more at liftoff.

It was the year's fifth CZ-3B launch and the 11th DF-5 based CZ flight.

av060.jpg (18371 bytes)Atlas 5 Orbits GPS 2F-11

AV-060, a two-stage Atlas 5-401 variant, orbited U.S. Air Force Global Positioning Satellite 2F-11 from Cape Canaveral SLC 41 on October 31, 2015. Liftoff occurred at 16:13 UTC to begin a 3.5 hour mission that placed the 1.63 tonne navigation satellite into a 20426 x 20486 km x 55.03 deg orbit. 

Atlas climbed on a northeast azimuth from the Cape, paralleling the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. Centuar performed a 762 second first burn as it flew up the coast and halfway across the Atlantic to lift itself into an elliptical transfer orbit. After coasting for just over 3 hours to first apogee south of Australia, Centaur burned again for about 87 seconds to complete the mission. 

GPS 2F-11 was the 11th of 12 planned Lockheed Martin 2F series satellites. The company will also build GPS-3 series satellites that are expected to begin flying in 2017. 

It was the eighth Atlas 5 launch of 2015 and the 15th orbital attempt from Cape Canaveral during the year.   

cz2d25.jpg (8575 bytes)CZ-2D Launches Mapping Satellite

China's CZ-2D launched the Tianhui-1C mapping satellite from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on October 26, 2015. The two-stage rocket lifted off from LC 43/603 at 07:10 UTC.

The Tianhui-1 satellites use stereo-topographic methods to map the earth's surface from thier 500 km sun synchronous orbits. They also provide multi-spectral data. They are used for both civil and military purposes and are operated jointly by China and Brazil. Previous Tianhui-1 launches took place in 2010 and 2012.

It was the 10th DF-5 based Chang Zheng orbital launch of 2015, the third CZ-2D of the year, and the 25th CZ-2D since the type began flying in 1992.  The launch was also the year's 60th successful orbital flight of 2015, world-wide.

p407.jpg (10476 bytes)Proton Launches Turksat 4B

Russia's Proton M/Briz M launched the Turksat 4B communications satellite from Baikonur Cosmodrome on October 16, 2015. Liftoff from Area 200 Pad 39 took place at 20:40 UTC, beginning a 9 hour 13 minute mission that included five Briz M upper stage burns to lift the 4.924 tonne satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit.  Spacecraft separation occurred in a roughly 9,130 x 35,705 km x 13.24 deg orbit.

Turksat 4B is a Mitsubishi Electric DS2000 series satellite with 36 transponders at 2084 MHz. It will provide direct TV and communication services over Turkey and portions of Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

It was the 407th Proton launch and the sixth Proton launch attempt of the year.

cz3b30.jpg (16713 bytes)CZ-3B/E Orbits APStar 9

China's CZ-3B/E orbited APStar 9 (Asia Pacific Nine), a communications satellite built in China, from Xichang satellite launch center on October 16, 2015. The enhanced CZ-3B/E, currently China's most powerful launch vehicle, lifted off from LC 2 at 16:16 UTC.

The rocket's liquid hydrogen-fueled upper stage inserted the roughly 4 tonne DFH-4 series satellite into a 212 x 41,965 km x ~27 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit about 26 minutes after liftoff.

After it propels itself to geosynchronous orbit, APStar 9 will serve Hong Kong based APT Satellite Company Limited.

It was the ninth DF-5 based CZ launch, and the 11th orbital launch by China, in 2015.

av058.jpg (10840 bytes)Secret Atlas 5 Launch

An Atlas 5-401 with no strap on solid motors and a four meter diameter fairing launched the NROL-55 mission for the National Reconnaisance Office from Vandenberg AFB Space Launch Complex 3 East on October 8, 2015.  The primary, unannounced payload headed toward an initial orbit inclined 63 degress to the equator.  Thirteen cubesats totalling 28.5 kg in mass were also orbited.  No orbital parameters, payload information, or mission timeline were announced. 

The two-stage AV-058 launch vehicle lifted off at 12:49 UTC.  Mission success was not announced for several hours, indicating that the rocket's Centaur upper stage likely performed multiple burns.  Analysts suspect that the payload consisted of a pair of National Ocean Surveillance System satellites in roughly 1,000 km x 63 deg orbits. 

It was the 58th Atlas 5 launch, the 11th Atlas 5 from Vandenberg, and the 60th known world-wide orbital launch attempt of the year. 

cz2d24.jpg (13962 bytes)China Launches Commercial Remote Sensing Mission

China's Chang Zheng 2D, a two-stage rocket, launched the Jilin 1 commercial remote sensing mission from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on October 7, 2015. Liftoff from LC 43/603 took place at 04:13 UTC. The mission's four satellites were boosted into 640 x 664 km x 98 deg sun synchronous orbits.

The 420 kg Jilin 1 satellite carries a high resoultion optical imager. Two 95 kg satellites named Lingqiao A and Lingqiao B satellites are equipped with high resolution video cameras. LQSat is a 54 kg technology demonstration microsatellite that carries a camera.

It was China's 10th orbital launch of 2015.

av059.jpg (8342 bytes)Atlas 5 Launches Morelos 3

An Atlas 5-421 with two strap-on solid motors and a four meter diameter payload fairing boosted Mexico's Morelos 3 communications satellite into orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida on October 2, 2015. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41 took place at at 10:28 UTC, after a short delay to clear a boat entering the downrange safety zone.

The rocket's Centaur upper stage fired its RL10C-1 engine twice during a two hour, 52 minute mission to lift Morelos 3 into a 4,797 x 35,788 km x 26.991 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit. The first burn ended at the 18 minute, 9 second mark to boost the AV-059 vehicle into a 181.5 x 31,708 km x 26.965 intermediate orbit where it coasted for 2.5 hours to apogee for the second burn.

Morelos 3 is a 5,300 kg Boeing 702HP satellite with a nearly 22 meter diameter mesh unfurlable antenna reflector and two solar arrays that stretch more than 41 meters tip to tip. The satellite will provide L-band communications, primarily for the Mexican government.

It was the 56th successful Atlas 5 launch in 57 attempts.  It was also the sixth Atlas 5 flight of 2015.

progm29m.jpg (12469 bytes)Soyuz Orbits Progress Cargo Ship

Russia's Soyuz U launched Progress M-29M, a robot cargo hauler for the International Space Station, from Baikonur Cosmodrome on October 1, 2015. The 2.5 stage kerosene fueled rocket lifted off from Area 1 Pad 5 at 16:49 UTC. Progress M-29M separated about nine minutes later into a low earth orbit inclined 51.66 deg to the equator.  It then maneuvered during a six hour, four orbit "fast-track" ascent before performing a rendezvous and docking with the station.

Progress weighed about 7.3 tonnes at liftoff including about 2.8 tonnes of dry cargo, food, rocket propellant, water and oxygen to the space station.

Long-running Soyuz U was in the process of being phased out in favor of Soyuz 2.1a for Progress launches, but the type was returned to full service for the time being after a Soyuz 2.1a failed to properly orbit Progress M-27M on April 28, 2015.

It was the 12th R-7 launch, and 11th success, of 2015. Progress M-29M is the 61st Progress to visit ISS.