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Space Launch Report Archive

July-September, 2016

pslvc35.jpg (16110 bytes)PSLV Orbits Eight Satellites

India's PSLV boosted the SCATSAT 1 weather satellite and seven smaller non-Indian co-passenger satellites into sun synchronous orbits from Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota on September 26, 2016. The standard "G" series 4.5 stage rocket, fitted with six of the smaller S9 strap-on solid rocket motors for the first time since 2011, lifted of from the First Launch Pad at 03:42 UTC, beginning a complex 2 hour 15 minute mission that saw three burns by the hypergolic bipropellant PS4 fourth stage.

The four stage rocket's stages fired in succession to reach the initial, 720 km SCATSAT 1 orbit, into which the primary payload separated about 17.5 minutes after liftoff. The PS4 stage fired two more times, at about 1 hour 22 minutes and 2 hours 11 minutes into the mission, to reach a 670 km orbit where, after a dual payload adapter was jettisonned, the remaining satellites separated. They included 102 kg Alsat-1B, 110 kg Alsat-2B, and microsatellites Alsat Nano, Pathfinder 1, NLS 19, PISat, and Pratham. The satelites were from Algeria, Canada, USA and India. Total payload mass was 675 kg.

It was the first time that PSLV had inserted payloads into two separate orbit altitudes and it was the longest PSLV mission to date.

vv07.jpg (23458 bytes)Vega Orbits Mapping Satellites

Europe's Vega launch vehicle boosted five mapping satellites, one for Peru and four for Terra Bella, a Google company, into sun synchronous orbits from Kourou Space Center on September 16, 2016. The nearly two hour mission began with a 01:43 UTC liftoff from the ZLV pad on nearly 137 tonnes of solid motor thrust.

Vega's P80 first stage fired for 114 seconds and its Zefire 23 second stage for 104 seconds. After a 21 second coast, the Zefiro 9 third stage fired for 162 seconds, completing the solid motor phase of the ascent. The AVUM storable liquid fourth stage then coasted for 86 seconds before beginning its first, 363 second, 250 kgf burn to reach an initial transfer orbit. Following a nearly 24 minute coast, AVUM fired its RD-843 engine again for 89 seconds to reach a 491 x 508 km x 97.4 deg orbit where SkySat 4, 5, 6, and 7, the Terra Bella satellites, were released. During the next hour, AVUM fired twice more to reach PeruSAT 1's 667 x 684 km x 98.2 deg insertion orbit. After PeruSAT separation, AVUM was expected to finish the mission with a fifth, orbit-reduction burn.

The four Space Systems/Loral-built SkySat satellites, which rode atop the Vega Secondary Payload Adaptor, weighed 110 kg each. They will provide sub-meter resolution mapping images of the Earth. PeruSAT 1, an Airbus Defence and Space AstroBus satellite, weighed 430 kg. PeruSAT-1 is Peru’s first Earth observation satellite.

cz2ft2.jpg (15019 bytes)China Orbits Tiangong 2

China launched its 8.5 tonne Tiangong 2 space lab into orbit from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on September 15, 2016.    The launch, by the second CZ-2FT launch vehicle, took place at 14:04 UTC from the same LC 43/921 pad used for crewed Shenzhou launches.  Tiangong 2, believed to weigh about 8.5 tonnes at launch, entered a low earth orbit about 10 minutes after liftoff.

Tiangong 2 will serve as a small space station for the manned Shenzhou 11spacecraft beginning in October, 2016.  A 30 day crewed mission is planned.  During the mission, an unmanned cargo ship named "Tianzhou" is expected to visit. 

CZ-2FT is an improved CZ-2F equipped with longer strap-on boosters that each carry nearly 3 tonnes more propellant than their predecessors.   The boosters burn for 155 seconds, about 18 seconds longer than the previous boosters, allowing CZ-2FT to boost up to 8.6 tonnes to LEO.  The rocket also uses a 12.7 x 4.2 meter payload fairing in place of the usual CZ-2F Shenzhou spacecraft and its launch escape system.

It was the first Tiangong launch since the first on September 29, 2011.

shavofeq11.jpg (17396 bytes)Shavit Launches Israeli Spysat

Israel's Shavit-2 rocket launched Ofeq 11, a reconnaissance satellite, into a retrograde low earth orbit from Palmachim Air Base on September 13, 2016. Liftoff took place at 14:38 UTC. Ofeq 11, a 400 kg optical imaging satellite built by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI Ltd), was reported later in the day to have suffered some problems in orbit, but no details were provided.  The launch itself was apparently successful.  A 600 km retrograde orbit was expected.

The launch was jointly carried out by IAI and the Defense Ministry’s Space Administration, which is a part of the Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure.  It was the first Shavit launch since 2014.  It may have been the 11th Shavit launch attempt since 1988.

av067.jpg (23732 bytes)Atlas 5 Launches OSIRIS-REx

Atlas 5 AV-067, a 411 variant with one solid rocket booster and a 4 meter (14 foot) diameter large payload fairing, launched NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft into solar orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida on September 8, 2016. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41 took place at 23:05 UTC. After two burns by the Centaur stage RL10A-4-2 engine, with the second burn preceded by a 22.5 minute coast and followed by a 15 minute coast, 1,529 kg OSIRIS-REx separated about 55.5 minutes after liftoff.

OSIRIS-REx, which stands for "Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer", is designed to perform a seven year mission to asteroid Bennu, a 492 meter diameter near-Earth asteroid. It will collect samples from Bennu in 2020 and return them to Earth in a return capsule.

It was the 65th Atlas 5 launch and the 4th by a 411 variant.  It was also the 55th consecutive Atlas 5 launch success.  AV-067 was stacked in the SLC 41 VIF in early August and performed a wet dress rehearsal on the pad without a payload during August 25 or 26.

gslvf05.jpg (19873 bytes)GSLV Orbits Insat 3DR

India's Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle orbited the Insat 3DR weather satellite from Satish Dhawan Space Center at Sriharikota on September 8, 2016. The GSLV Mk 2 variant, flying the GSLV-F05 mission, lifted off from the Second Launch Pad at 11:20 UTC. The 3.5 stage rocket placed 2,211 kg Insat 3DR into a 170 x 35,975 km x 20.6 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit.  Insat 3DR will use its own propulsion system to reach a circular 35,786 km x 0 deg geostationary orbit, positioned at 75 deg East longitude.  

The 3.5 stage, 415 tonne rocket, India's most-powerful operational launcher, rose on about 770 tonnes of thrust generated by its solid motor core and four Vikas 2 powered liquid strap-on boosters. The Vikas 4 powered second stage took over after about 2.5 minutes. At T+4 min 49 sec, the liquid hydrogen fueled "Cryogenic Upper Stage" third stage, powered for the fourth time by an Indian-developed CE-7.5, 7.495 tonne thrust engine, began a 12 minute burn to reach the deployment orbit.

It was the 10th GSLV flight, and the fifth success, including successes during the most-recent three launches.  It was the third success in four launches by GSLV Mk 2, which uses the Indian-developed third stage engine.

f9-29.jpg (7733 bytes)Falcon 9 and AMOS 6 Destroyed in Pre Launch Test (9/8/16 Update)

A Falcon 9 rocket and its $200 million AMOS 6 satellite payload were destroyed during a pre-launch propellant loading and hot fire test exercise at Cape Canveral on September 1, 2016.  The test was planned to assure all was ready for a September 3 launch that would have placed 5.5 tonne AMOS 6 in geosynchronous transfer orbit. 

Reports indicate that propellant loading was nearly completed and the test was about eight minutes away when a powerful explosion destroyed the rocket and satellite at about 9:07 AM Eastern Time.  A series of smaller explosions occurred during the following minutes as a fire raged at SLC 40 and a large plume of black smoke drifted across the Florida space center.  It was the largest pad explosion in the history of Cape Canaveral/Kennedy Space Center.

A few hours after the explosion, Elon Musk tweeted that the failure appeared to have begun at the second stage liquid oxygen tank.  SLC 40 was reported to have been heavily damaged, knocking it out of service.  A day after the failure, SpaceX announced that East Coast launch campaigns would move to Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 Pad A, which should be ready to support operations beginning in November.   

The AMOS 6 launch would have been the 29th Falcon launch, and the ninth by a Falcon 9 v1.2 variant.  The AMOS 6 first stage was test fired at McGregor, Texas on August 5, 2016 and arrived at Cape Canaveral some time after August 21.  

cz4c-gf10.jpg (18095 bytes)CZ-4C Launch Apparently Fails

China's attempt to orbit its Gaofen 10 earth observation satellite apparently failed on August 31, 2016.  The three-stage CZ-4C launch reportedly took place from LC 9 at the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center at 18:55 UTC.  Photos of debris from the first stage and payload fairing laying in or near their expected impact zones were posted hours later, but the satellite and upper stage were not tracked in orbit, hinting at a possible issue during the flight of one of the upper stages.  China's state-controlled media had not even reported that a launch took place at all some half-day later. 

It was the first orbital launch failure of 2016, and China's first orbital failure since December 2013.  The failure ended a string of 65 consecutive orbital launch successes world-wide since early December 2015.  The previous best such string was 69 consecutive successes spanning the end of 1988 and the beginning of 1989.

va232.jpg (7754 bytes)Ariane 5 Launches Intelsat Pair

The 57th Ariane 5 ECA, flying the VA232 Arianespace mission, orbited two Intelsat communication satellites from Kourou Space Center on August 24 2016.  Intelsat 33e and Intelsat 36 separated into geosynchronous transfer orbit about a half hour after the 22:17 UTC liftoff from ELA 3. 

Together, the satellites weighed 9,853 kg at liftoff, bettering the previous Ariane 5 GTO payload record set in June.  Intelsat 33e, a 6,600 kg Boeing Space Systems 702MP series satellite, has 20 C, 249 Ku, and 1 Ka band transponders to provide communication services for Europe and Africa.  Intelsat 36, a 3,253 kg Space Systems/Loral 1300 series satellite, will provide service to Africa and South Asia from 68.5 deg East using 34 Ku band transponders.  

It was the fourth Ariane 5 launch of 2016.

d375.jpg (12141 bytes)Delta 4 Boosts GSSAP Pair

Delta 375, a Delta 4M+4,2 with a four meter diameter second stage and fairing and two GEM-60 strap-on solid motors, launched two Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program satellites into near-geosynchronous orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida on August 19, 2016. The 62.8 meter tall rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 37B at 04:52 UTC. The RL 10B-2 powered upper stage likely fired three times during a six hour ascent to complete the mission.

GSSAP is the U.S. Air Force “neighborhood watch” program that uses multiple surveillance satellites to monitor other satellites and debris in geosynchronous or near-geosynchronous orbit. The satellites orbited on this flight were GSSAP 3 and GSSAP 4.

It was the 24th Delta 4 Medium, and the 33rd Delta 4, to fly.

cz2d29.jpg (11485 bytes)CZ-2D Orbits Quantum Science Satellite

China launched its Quantum Science Satellite, named "Mozi" after a fifth century Chinese scientist, from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on August 15, 2016. The Chang Zheng (CZ) 2D rocket lifted off from the 43/603 pad at 17:40 UTC. The 600+ kg satellite entered a 500 km sun synchronous earth orbit.

"Mozi" will perform quantum entanglement experiments.

It was the 11th DF-5 based CZ launch of the year, matching the world-leading year-to-date R-7 total.  With the flight, China had performed five of the world's last ten orbital launches.

f9-28.jpg (10120 bytes)Falcon 9 Orbits JCSAT 16 (8/16/16 Update)

The 28th Falcon 9, and 8th Falcon 9 v1.2, boosted JCSAT 16, for SKY Perfect JSAT, into geosynchronous transfer orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida on August 14, 2016. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 took place at 05:26 GMT. Thirty two minutes later, after two second-stage burns totalling 410 seconds duration, the 4.6 tonne Space Systems/Loral 1300 series satellite separated into a 184 x 35,912 km x 20.85 deg transfer orbit.

After performing its 153 second boost, the first stage separated from the second stage, reoriented itself, deployed four grid-fins, and, after coasting for several minutes above the atmosphere, reignited three of its Merlin 1D engines for a 23 second reentry burn. The center engine ignited alone for a final landing burn as the stage deployed four legs and landed, about 9 minutes after liftoff, on the converted landing barge "Of Course I Still Love You" positioned about 645 km downrange in the Atlantic Ocean.

It was the sixth Falcon 9 first stage recovered in eleven attempts.

After raising itself to geostationary orbit, JCSAT 16 will initally be positioned at 162 degrees East longitude to stand in for Superbird 8, which was damaged in transit to its planned Ariane 5 launch earlier this year. When Superbird 8 is repaired and launched, JCSAT 16 will move to 150 deg East. The satellite has Ku and Ka band transponders.

The F9-28 stages were tested at McGregor, Texas in mid-July and arrived at the Cape during the week of July 26. The rocket was rolled out without its payload for a first stage static fire test on August 11.

It was the 50th orbital launch of 2016.  All have been successful.

cz4c-gf3.jpg (13606 bytes)CZ-4C Launches Gaofen 3

China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 4C orbited the Gaofen 3 earth observation satellite from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on August 9, 2016. The three-stage rocket lifted off from LC 9 at 22:55 UTC. It successfully boosted the 2,950 kg, CS-L3000B bus satellite into a 735 x 747 km x 98.41 deg sun synchronous orbit.

Gaofen 3 was equipped with a C-band synthetic aperature radar with 1 meter ground resolution. It was developed by the China Academy of Space Technology.

cz3b-tt1.jpg (9214 bytes)CZ-3B Orbits Comsat

China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 3BE orbited a mobile communications satellite named Tiantong 1, the first of its type, from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on August 5, 2016. Liftoff from Launch Complex 3 took place at 16:22 UTC. The satellite was inserted into a geosynchronous transfer orbit after two burns by the rocket's liquid hydrogen fueled upper stage.

After it raises itself to geostationary orbit, the satellite will provide mobile communications coverage to China, the Middle East, Africa, and the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

It was the ninth DF-5 based CZ launch, and 10th orbital launch by China, of 2016.

av065.jpg (8421 bytes)Atlas 5 Orbits NROL-61

Atlas 5 AV-065 successfully boosted NROL-61 into geosynchronous transfer orbit for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office on July 28, 2016. The Atlas 5-421 vehicle with two strap-on solid rocket motors and a 4-meter diameter Extra Extended Payload Fairing (XEPF), lifted off from Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 41 at 12:37 UTC. The rocket's Centaur upper stage performed two burns prior to satellite separation, followed by a third, de-orbit burn.

While the satellite's mission is classified, some analysts believe that NROL-61 is a new generation data relay satellite designed to transfer the massive volumes of data collected by digital imaging spy satellites that reside in low earth orbit from space to ground stations. Previous satellites of this type, which have flown since the mid-1970s, have been identified as Satellite Data System (SDS) and Quasar, operating in both Molniya and geosynchronous orbits.

It was the fourth Atlas 5 launch of the year.

f9-27a.jpg (9508 bytes)Falcon 9 Launches CRS 9

F9-27 Liftoff from SLC 40

The 27th Falcon 9 orbited the Dragon 11 spacecraft on NASA's CRS 9 International Space Station cargo hauling mission on July 18, 2016. After performing the initial boost, the rocket's first stage performed three-engine boost back and reentry burns and a single-engine landing burn and landed at Cape Canaveral's Landing Zone 1.  It was the fifth first stage to land successfully and the second to fly back and land at Cape Canaveral.

Liftoff took place at 04:45 UTC from SLC 40. Falcon 9 aimed on a northeast azimuth during its nine minute ascent. Dragon was targeted toward a 200 x 360 km x 51.6 deg orbit. The spacecraft carried nearly 2,222 kg of cargo, including the first of two international docking adapters, to allow commercial crew spacecraft dockings, in the unpressurized trunk section. Combined Dragon and cargo mass was about 9.5 tonnes.

During the ascent, the first stage fired for 141 seconds, with stage separation three seconds later.  Stage 2 ignited at 152 seconds to begin its 390 second burn to orbit.   The first stage boost back burn began only 21 seconds after first stage main engine cutoff, after a rapid maneuver to align the stage thrust vector back toward Cape Canaveral.  This three-engine burn lasted more than 50 seconds.  The stage coasted on a sligthly lofted trajectory before beginning its 18-plus second entry burn at the 361 second mark.  458 seconds after liftoff, the final landing burn began and continued for about 31 seconds until the stage settled on its Landing Zone 1 circular concrete pad.   Elon Musk soon reported that the stage appeared to be in good condition.

f9-27b.jpg (6336 bytes)First Stage Landing at LZ-1

Dragon separated from the second stage at the 577 second mark.  The spacecraft's solar arrays deployed about 1.5 minutes later.  The second stage subsequently performed a reentry burn that targeted a Southern Ocean zone south of Australia.

The F9-27 first stage had performed a static firing at SLC 40 on July 16. Both stages had been test fired at McGregor, Texas during June.

It was the year's 10th orbital launch from Cape Canaveral, more than any other launch center this year to date.

progms03.jpg (32827 bytes)Soyuz U Orbits Progress MS-03

One of the final Soyuz U launch vehicles orbited Russia's Progress MS-03 robotic cargo hauler toward the International Space Station from Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 16, 2016. Liftoff from Area 31 Pad 6 took place at 21:41 UTC. It was the second Progress launch of the year and the 45th orbital flight worldwide in 2016.

Progress MS-03 will dock with ISS on July 18 if plans hold. The multi-module spacecraft weighed 7,281 kg at liftoff, including 2,405 kg of cargo.

After the launch, only two more Soyuz U launch vehicles remain. Both should fly by the end of 2017. Soyuz U, which has been in service since 1973, is, with 774 launch attempts to date, the most oft-flown launch vehicle variant in history. The type is being replaced by Soyuz FG and Soyuz 2 variants.

soyms01.jpg (11619 bytes)Soyuz Launches ISS Crew

A 2.5 stage Soyuz FG rocket orbited Russia's Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft Baikonur, Kazakhstan with three International Space Station crew on July 7, 2016. Liftoff from Baikonur Cosmodrome Area 1 Pad 5 took place at 01:36 UTC.  The spacecraft entered a 230 x 190 km x 51.6 deg initial orbit.  Onboard the upgraded spacecraft were Russia's Anatoly Ivanishin, Japan's Takuya Onishi, and NASA's Kate Rubins, comprising the Expedition 48/49 crew.

This first example of the Soyuz MS model spacecraft features improved, navigation, communications, and computer systems that were previously introduced on unmanned Progress MS flights. Since it is the inaugural crewed flight, Soyuz MS-01 will take a 34 orbit, 51 hour journey before its schedule ISS rendezvous.

It was 2016's second crewed orbital launch, and was the 10th R-7 launch of the year.