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January-March, 2016

progms2.jpg (10981 bytes)Russia Launches ISS Cargo

Russia's Soyuz 2-1a launched the Progress MS-2 International Space Station cargo hauling mission from Baikonur Cosmodrome on March 31, 2016. Liftoff from Site 31 Pad 6 took place at 16:23:58 UTC. The 7,285 kg spacecraft carried 2,245 kg of cargo into a low earth orbit inclined 51.6 deg to the equator.

It was the 65th Progress launch meant to reach ISS and the 154th Progress launch since the program began in 1978

cz3a-bd22.jpg (7886 bytes)China Launches Navsat

China's Chang Zheng 3A launched the country's 22nd Beidou navigation satellite from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on March 29, 2016. Liftoff from LC 2 took place at 20:11 UTC. The three-stage rocket boosted Beidou 22, identified by some Western analysts as Beidou 2 I6, into a 200 x 35,798 km x 55.035 deg transfer orbit. The satellite will likely lift itself into a geosycnronous orbit inclined 55.5 deg to the equator.

Beidou is based on the DFH-3 bus. China has been steadily building its first navigation satellite constellation during the last few years. As many as 35 satellites are planned, including three in inclined geosynchronous orbits, five in geostationary orbits, and 27 in 12-hour, 21,500 km circular orbits.

CZ-3A serial number Y26 performed the launch. It was the first CZ-3A launch since December 31, 2014.

soy2-1a-bars2.jpg (8703 bytes)Soyuz 2-1a Launches Spysat

A 2.5 stage Soyuz 2-1a boosted a second Bars-M reconnaissance satellite into orbit from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on March 24, 2016. The 4 tonne satellite, designated No. 2L, entered a roughly 327 x 540 km x 97.65 deg transfer orbit about 8-9 minutes after a 09:42 UTC liftoff from Site 43/4. Soyuz 2-1a flew north by northwest from Plesetsk, skirting past Norway's northern coast.

Bars-M will maneuver itself to a likely 700 km sun synchronous orbit. There it will capture wide-area digital images for mapping and other purposes. TssKB Progress developed Bars-M, which uses a Karat camera made by the Leningrad Optical-Mechanical Association (LOMA).

It was the fourth R-7 launch of 2016, and the third orbital launch from Plesetsk - a total that includes one Rokot liftoff.  It was also the year's 20th orbital flight, worldwide.

av064.jpg (15473 bytes)Atlas 5 Launches OA-6, Survives Premature Booster Cutoff [Updated 3/24/16]

United Launch Alliance's Atlas 5 launched Orbital-ATK's Cygnus cargo hauling spacecraft toward the International Space Station on March 23, 2016. The OA-6 Commercial Resupply Services flight was the second of two planned to fill-in in the wake of Orbital-ATK's 2014 Antares rocket failure. OA-6 used the second enhanced Cygnus with a longer pressurized module packed this time with 3,395 kg of cargo, including packing.

The 59.13 meter tall AV-064 Atlas 5-401 used an extra extended payload fairing. Liftoff from Cape Canaveral SLC 41 took place at 03:05 UTC.  As it flew northeastward off the Eastern U.S. Seaboard, the Centaur second stage performed a burn expected to last roughly 13 minute 38 seconds to insert itself and Cygnus into a roughly 230 km x 51.6 deg orbit.   Centaur ended up cutting off at least 1 minute 10 seconds later than expected, but reached the planned orbit.  Payload separation occurred about 2 minutes 50 seconds after Centuar cutoff.  Centaur performed a subsequent deorbit burn.

In addition to the longer than expected Centaur burn, observers noted that, according to a timing of the webcast events, the Atlas first stage appeared to have ended its burn a few seconds before the planned cuttoff at the 255.5 second mark.   ULA confirmed the anomaly on March 24.  The short first stage burn - cutoff came about 5 to 6 seconds early - caused the extended Centaur burn.  Centaur ran out of propellant during its subsequent deorbit burn, causing debris to fall further downrange than the planned target zone. 

Cygnus, dubbed "S.S. Rick Husband" in memory of the late astronaut, likely weighed at least 7,495 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 sports new, lighter weight, circular solar arrays.

It was the 62nd Atlas 5 launch and the 61st success.

soytma20m.jpg (14218 bytes)Soyuz Launches ISS Crew

Russia's Soyuz FG launched the Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft into orbit from Kazakhstan with three crew for the International Space Station on March 18, 2016. Liftoff from Baikonur Cosmodrome Area 1 Pad 5 took place at 21:26 UTC to begin a "fast-track" six-hour ascent to the station.

On board the 7,167 kg spacecraft, comprising the Expedition 47-48 crew, were Russia's Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka and NASA astronaut Jeff Williams.

It was 2016's first crewed orbital launch.

p411.jpg (6062 bytes)Proton Launches ExoMars Toward Mars

Proton Launches ExoMars 2016 (ESA Photo)

Russia's Proton M/Briz M successfully flung Europe's ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and Schiaparelli lander toward Mars after launching from Baikonur on March 14, 2016. Liftoff of the "Phase 3" Proton M from Site 200 Pad 39 took place at 09:31 UTC, beginning a 10 hour 41+ minute ascent that required four Briz M upper stage burns during three earth orbits. The 4,332 kg ExoMars spacecraft entered a heliocentric orbit bound for Mars intercept in seven months.

The first Briz M burn put the vehicle into an inital low earth parking orbit. The second and third burns took place after the first and second orbits, by which time the stack was in a 697 x 21,086 km x 51.6 deg orbit. Briz M jettisonned its drop tank after the third burn. The fourth and final burn began 10 hours 16 minutes after liftoff to accelerate ExoMars into solar orbit. The spacecraft separated about 40 minutes later.

European Space Agency's ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter will map methane in the Martian atmosphere. Schiaparelli will test landing technoligies for future ESA Mars landing missions.

It was the first successful Proton launch to solar orbit since Vega 2 in 1984.  Phobos 1 and 2 boosted themselves into solar orbit after successful Proton launches into elliptical earth orbits in 1988.   The Mars 96 mission was left stranded in LEO after a Blok D-2 upper stage failure in 1996.

r71853.jpg (6792 bytes)Soyuz 2-1b Launches Resurs-P No. 3

A Soyuz 2-1b rocket orbited Resurs-P No. 3 from Baikonur Area 31 Pad 6 on March 13 2016. Liftoff took place at 18:56 UTC. The 2.5 stage launch vehicle boosted the remote sensing satellite into a 279 x 452 km x 97.3 transfer orbit. Resurs-P will raise itself to a circular orbit during the next week.

Resurs-P No. 3 weighed 5,920 kg at launch. It was built by TSSKB Progress based on a Yantar reconnaissance satellite bus.

The Soyuz 2-1b launch vehicle had experienced a rare pad abort on March 12 when the ignition sequence shut down just before engine ignition was to begin.

pslvc32.jpg (7708 bytes)PSLV Orbits Navsat

India's PSLV-XL orbited IRNSS 1F, the country's sixth navigation satellite, from Sriharikota on March 10, 2016. The 4.5 -stage rocket lifted off from Satish Dhawan Space Center's Second Launch Pad at 10:31 UTC. The 20 minute, 11.5 second PSLV C-32 mission boosted the 1,425 kg satellite into a 284 x 20,655 km x 17.86 deg subsychronous transfer orbit. IRNSS 1F will raise itself to a nearly 36,000 km circular geosynchronous orbit inclined 5 degrees to the equator. IRNSS 1F will trace a small figure-8 pattern over the Earth's surface, centered on 32.5 deg East longitude.

One more launch this year will complete India's navigation constellation, which will consist of four satellites in inclined geosynchronous orbit and three in equatorial geostationary orbits.

It was the 34th PSLV flight and the 30th consecutive success. PSLV began flying in 1993.

va229.jpg (16204 bytes)Ariane 5 Launches Eutelsat 65 West A

An Ariane 5 ECA boosted Eutelsat 65 West A to geosynchronous transfer orbit on March 9, 2016 after lifting off from Kourou Space Center. Liftoff of the Arianespace VA229 mission from ELA 3 took place at 05:20 UTC. The Space Systems Loral 1300 series 6,564 kg satellite separated into orbit about 30 minutes later.

The satellite will provide Ku and C-band communications services to Central and South America.

It was the second Ariane 5 launch of 2016, and the 55th Ariane 5 ECA to fly.

f9-22-1.jpg (12182 bytes)Falcon 9 Launches SES 9 (Updated 03/06/16)

SpaceX's second Falcon 9 Upgrade with full thrust Merlin 1D engines boosted the SES 9 communications satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida on March 4, 2016. Liftoff from SLC 40 took place at 23:35 UTC. The 5,271 kg Boeing BSS-702HP satellite separated about 31 minutes 24 seconds later, after two burns by the second stage Merlin 1D Vacuum engine.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted that SES 9 had been inserted into a transfer orbit with a 40,600 km apogee. It was the first Falcon 9 Upgrade geosynchronous transfer orbit mission. The second stage used a minimum residual shutdown to provide as much orbital energy as possible, with a target of 290 km x at least 39,300 km x 28 deg. SpaceX modified earlier plans to aim for a 26,000 km apogee at the behest of SES.

The insertion change made first stage recovery very unlikely, due to its extra velocity.   SpaceX announced before the launch that it did not expect a successful recovery.   A boost-back burn was not used.  The first stage only  performed a three-engine reentry burn and a never-before-attempted three-engine final landing burn, but did not survive its high-speed attempt to land on a converted barge positioned more than 600 km downrange. It was the fourth failed barge landing attempt by a Falcon 9 first stage.

The success followed scrubbed launch attempts on February 24 and 25 due to supercooled LOX temperature issues, a T-0 abort on February 28 caused by a low thrust detection in one engine, and a cancelled try on March 1 resulting from excessive high altitude winds. Prior to the launch attempts, the first stage performed a brief static fire test on February 22.

h2af30.jpg (14895 bytes)H-2A Launches ASTRO-H

Japan's H-2A launched Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) ASTRO-H X-ray astronomy satellite into low earth orbit from Tanegashima on February 17, 2016. The Flight 30 H-2A-202 launch vehicle, boosted by two SRB-A3 solid rocket motors and topped by an 8 meter tall fairing, lifted off from Yoshinobu Launch Complex Pad 1 at 08:45 UTC. The 2.5 stage rocket performed a direct ascent to a 575 km x 31 deg orbit using a single 6 minute, 32 second burn of the second stage LE-5B engine. The ascent phase lasted 13 minutes 24 seconds, with the SRBs firing for 99 seconds and the first stage for 6 minutes 38 seconds.

ASTRO-H separated from the H-2A second stage 14 minutes 14 seconds after liftoff. The 2,700 kg satellite carries four X-ray telescopes (two for "soft" and two for "hard" X-rays) and two gamma ray detectors. NASA provided the two soft X-ray telescopes. The Canadian Space Agency provided a laser alignment system. The European Space Agency and the Netherlands Institute for Space Research also contributed to the mission. ASTRO-H, which was nicknamed "Hitomi" ("eye") upon reaching orbit, will operate for three years. It uses a finite supply of cryogenic helium to cool some of the detectors.

It was the 30th H-2A launch and the 29th success.

rokot021616.jpg (10235 bytes)Rokot Orbits Sentinel 3A

Russia's Rokot/Briz KM orbited Europe's Sentinel 3A earth observing satellite from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on February 16, 2016. Liftoff from Site 133 Pad 3 took place at 17:57 UTC. The Briz KM stage performed a first burn during ascent to reach an elliptical parking orbit. The stage restarted about 70 minutes later to insert the 1,150 kg satellite into a 815 km sun synchronous orbit.

Satellite separation took place 79 minutes after liftoff. Confirmation had to wait until T+92 minutes until the European Space Agency could receive signals from the satellite at the Kiruna station in Sweden.

Briz KM was to perform two deorbit burns after satellite separation to lower its orbit.

Sentinel 3A, a Thales Alenia Space Prima Bus satellite, Will be part of Europe's Copernicus environmental monitoring network. The satellite will measure ocean temperatures, color, surface height, and sea ice thickness. Over land, it will measure river and lake height, monitor wildfires, provide land use mapping, and monitor the extent of vegetation.

d373.jpg (12611 bytes)Delta 4 Orbits Spysat

Delta 373, a Delta 4M+5,2 with two GEM-60 solid boosters, a five-meter upper stage, and a five-meter payload fairing, launched from Vandenberg AFB with a secret National Reconnaisance Office satellite on February 10, 2016. After rising from Space Launch Complex 6 at 11:40 UTC, the rocket headed on a southwest azimuth with the NROL-45 payload toward what analysts expected to be a 123 degree inclination retrograde orbit. Similar orbits were used for the 2010 Atlas 5 launch of NROL-41, the 2012 Delta 4 launch of NROL-25, and the 2013 Atlas 5 launch of NROL-39, which were all believed to be Topaz Future Imaging Architecture radar imaging satellites. Amateurs have tracked the suspected Topaz satellites in 1,100 km x 123 deg circular orbits.

Delta 4M+5,2 is capable of lifting 7.85 tonnes to sun synchronous orbit or 4.68 tonnes to geosynchronous transfer orbit. The upper stage likely performed two ascent burns before deploying the satellite, followed by a deorbit burn.

Delta 373 was the 31st Delta 4, the 23rd Delta 4 Medium, and the second Delta 4 M+5,2.   It was the first Delta 4 launch from SLC 6 since 2013.

Unha020716.jpg (15751 bytes)North Korea Returns to Orbit (Updated 2/17/16)

North Korea returned to orbit with a successful satellite launch from its Sohae launch site on February 7, 2016.  A three-stage Unha 3 rocket carried a Kwangmyongsong ("Star of Hope") satellite into a roughly 465 x 501 km x 97.06 deg near-sun synchronous orbit after a 00:30 UTC liftoff.  Time from liftoff to satellite separation was 567 seconds.

The rocket flew south across the Yellow and East China Seas during its ascent before skirting the east coast of the Phillipines.  After crossing Antarctica, the upper stage and payload passed northbound above the Americas, including the central United States.   

It was the fifth Unha launch, and second success.   During the weeks following the launch, however, no signals were reportedly received from the orbited object. 

soy2-1b-020716.jpg (12516 bytes)Russia Orbits Glonass-M

Russia's Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat rocket boosted a Glonass-M (Uragan-M) navigation satellite into orbit from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on February 7, 2016. The 3.5 stage rocket lifted off from Area 43 Pad 4 at 00:21 UTC. After the Soyuz rocket boosted Fregat and its payload into low earth orbit, the Fregat upper stage performed three burns to lift the 1.415 tonne satellite into a roughly 19,130 x 19,150 km x 64.8 deg orbit. Spacecraft separation occurred several hours after launch.

It was the first R-7 launch of 2016.

av057.jpg (9232 bytes)Atlas Launches Last GPS 2F

AV-057, an Atlas 5-401 with no solid rocket boosters and a 4.267 meter (14 foot) diameter payload fairing, orbited GPS 2F-12, the final 2F series Global Positioning Satellite, from Cape Canaveral on February 5, 2016. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41 took place at 13:38 UTC. The 1.63 tonne Boeing-built satellite separated into a semisynchronous circular orbit about 3 hours 23 minutes later.

The RD-180 powered first stage rose on 390.18 tonnes of sea level thrust and burned for 4 minutes 4 seconds before the RL10C powered Centaur second stage took over. Centaur's 10.39 tonne thrust liquid hydrogen fueled engine fired for 12 minutes 44 seconds to lift itself into a 167 x 20,216 km x 55 deg transfer orbit. After a three hour coast to apogee, Centaur fired again for about 1 minute 27 seconds to circularize the orbit at 20,459 km.

Delta 4 and Atlas 5 together orbited 12 GPS 2F satellites beginning in 2010. Upgraded GPS 3A series satellites will begin to fly no earlier than 2017.

cz3c-feb1-16.jpg (20054 bytes)China Orbits Navsat

A CZ-3C/YZ-1 launch vehicle boosted China's Beidou M3-S (Beidou 21) navigation satellite into orbit from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on February 1, 2016. Liftoff from Pad 2 took place at 07:29 UTC. The 3.5-stage CZ-3C rocket boosted a YZ-1 hypergolic propellant maneuvering stage and the Beidou 3 series satellite into a transfer orbit. The YZ-1 stage then fired at apogee some time later to place the satellite into a roughly 21,510 x 21,980 km x 55 deg orbit.

Beidou M3-S weighed 1,014 kg at liftoff.  CAS Micro-Satellite Engineering Center in Shanghai built the satellite.

p410.jpg (7367 bytes)Proton Launches Eutelsat 9B

Russia's Proton M/Briz M (a Phase 3 variant) launched Eutelsat 9B, a communications satellite, from Baikonur Cosmodrome Site 200 Pad 39 on January 29, 2016. Liftoff took place at 22:20 UTC.  The rocket's Briz M fourth stage performed five burns during a 9 hour 12 minute mission to aim the 5,175 kg Airbus Eurostar 3000 series satellite toward a 4,444 x 35,696 km x 12.18 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit.

Eutelsat 9B is equipped with 66 Ku band transponders and a European Data Relay System (EDRS) package. It will operate from Eutelsat’s 9 deg East position.

It was the 410th Proton launch.

va228.jpg (16219 bytes)Ariane 5 Orbits Intelsat 29e

An Ariane 5 ECA launched Intelsat 29e into orbit from Kourou Space Center on January 27, 2016. The VA228 mission began with a 23:20 UTC liftoff from ELA 3. VA-228's upper stage placed the Boeing Satellite Systems 702MP series communications satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit after a half-hour mission. The targeted insertion orbit was 250 x 35,546 km x 0.5 deg.

Intelsat 29e weighed 6,552 kg at liftoff. It has 20 C-band, 249 Ku-band, and one Ka-band transponders. From its 310 deg East geostationary perch, it will provide communication service over the Americas, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Carribbean.

It was the first Ariane launch of the year.

ns3.jpg (5051 bytes)New Shepard Launches, Lands, Again

On January 22, 2016, Blue Origin made history by reflying, and relanding, its New Shepard booster and crew capsule. The combined launch vehicle topped 100 km altitude on November 23, 2015 when the booster performed the first successful vertical landing after a flight above 100 km, to 100.5 km. On Janaury 22, 2016, the hardware repeated the feat from Blue Origin's West Texas launch site near Van Horn, topping out this time at 101.7 km in altitude. The crew capsule returned on three parachutes while the BE-3 powered LOX/LH2 booster restarted its engine at about 1,500 meters altitude to land on a circular concrete landing pad.

BE-3 produces 49,896 kgf (110,000 pounds) of thrust at liftoff and can throttle deeply. During the unpowered portion of its descent, the New Shepard propulsion module uses its "ring fin" and eight large drag brakes to control its descent speed and orientation. The terminal velocity is dropped to less than 200 meters/sec by the drag features.

It was the third 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.

pslvc31.jpg (8563 bytes)PSLV Orbits Navsat

India's PSLV-XL orbited IRNSS 1E, the country's fifth navigation satellite, from Sriharikota on January 20, 2016. Liftoff took place from the Satish Dhawan Space Center's Second Launch Pad at 04:01 UTC. The 19 minute, 20 second PSLV C-31 mission boosted the 1,425 kg satellite into a 282 x 20,655 km x 19.21 deg transfer orbit. The satellite will raise itself to a nearly 36,000 km circular geosynchronous orbit inclined 28 degrees to the equator. IRNSS 1E will trace a figure-8 pattern over the Earth's surface, centered on 111.75 deg East longitude.

Two more launches this year will complete India's navigation constellation, which will consist of four satellites in inclined geosynchronous orbit and three in equatorial geostationary orbits.

It was the 33rd PSLV flight and the 31st success. PSLV began flying in 1993.

f9-19.jpg (9222 bytes)Falcon 9 Orbits Jason 3, Stage Landing Fails

The final SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket boosted Jason 3, an ocean monitoring satellite, into low earth orbit from Vandenberg AFB on January 17, 2016. Liftoff from fog-enshrouded Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC 4E) took place at 18:42 UTC. The first stage burned for about 2 min 34 sec. The second stage then fired for about 6 min 15 sec to place itself into a 175 x 1,321 km orbit. The stage coasted until about 55 minutes after launch, when it fired again while passing northward above the Indian Ocean east of Africa, for 12 seconds, to reach a 1,305 x 1,320 km x 66 deg insertion orbit. Jason 3 separated soon after.

Four international agencies partnered for the Jason 3 mission. They include NOAA, NASA, the French Space Agency CNES (Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales), and EUMETSAT (European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites). Thales Alenia of France built the 553 kg spacecraft. NASA managed the launch service. Jason 3 will perform ocean topography using a microwave radiometer and other instruments.

The second stage performed a deorbit burn after spacecraft separation, targeting a mid-Pacific Ocean impact zone.

After staging, the first stage performed boostback, reentry, and landing burns while aiming for a converted landing barge floating in the Pacific about 280 km downrange, west of San Diego, California. The stage landed, but one of the landing legs did not fully lock in place and the stage fell over.  Parts of the destroyed stage remained on the barge.

The first stage performed a static fire at SLC 4E on January 11, 2016 after rolling out the previous day. The stage had completed its testing at McGregor, Texas in May, 2015, but had to wait for flight after the mid-2015 Falcon 9 launch failure. The second stage was tested at McGregor on November 4, 2015 to verify modifications mades after the F9-20 launch failure.  It was the 14th success in 15 flights of the Falcon 9 v1.1 variant.

cz3b35.jpg (21418 bytes)CZ-3B Launches Belarus Satcom

China's CZ-3B/E performed the first orbital launch of 2016 when it boosted Belintersat 1, a communications satellite for Belarus, into orbit from XiChang on January 15, 2016. The 3.5 stage rocket lifted off from LC 3 at 16:57 UTC to begin a presumably half-hour flight to geosynchronus transfer orbit.

Belintersat 1, a DFH-4 based satellite, weighed 5,223 kg at launch. Thales Alenia Space provided the communications payload, which included 20 C-band, 18 Ku-band, and 4 enhanced Ku-band transponders. The satellite will be stationed at 51.5 degrees East in geostationary orbit.

It was the 35th CZ-3B launch.