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Ed Kyle

Space Launch Report Archive

April-June, 2017


va238.jpg (17514 bytes)Ariane 5 Launch

Ariane 5 ECA vehicle number L591 lofted two communication satellites to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Kourou on June 28, 2017. Arianespace Mission VA238 began with a 21:15 UTC liftoff from from ELA-3. After a single long burn by the ESC-A second stage 5,780 kg Hellasat 3 separated at T+28 minutes 17 seconds, followed by 3,477 kg GSAT 17, which rode up inside the rocket's Sylda 5 adapter, at T+41 minutes 47 seconds.

Hellasat 3 is a Thales Alenia Space Spacebus 4000C4 satellite with Ku, Ka, and S-band transponders. It will provide direct to home TV services. The S-band transponders serve as a second payload named "Inmarsat S EAN" that will serve the European Aviation Network. It will be positioned at 39 deg East in geostationary orbit.

GSAT 17 was built by ISRO/ISAC. It carries C and S-band transponders. It will serve India from 93.5 deg East.

It was the year's fourth Ariane 5 launch, and the 63rd Ariane 5 ECA flight since the type began flying in 2002.

f9-38.jpg (13073 bytes)Falcon 9 Launches IridiumNEXT

SpaceX Corporation's Falcon 9 performed its second launch within roughly 49.5 hours on June 25, 2017 when F9-38 boosted the second set of ten IridiumNEXT satellites from Vandenberg AFB in California. The v1.2 variant, using new first stage number B1036, lifted off from foggy Space Launch Complex 4 East at 20:24 UTC to begin an hour-long mission that inserted the 860 kg, Thales Alenia Space-built satellites into roughly 625 km x 86.4 deg orbits. The satellites will raise themselves into 780 km operational orbits.

After a roughly 43 minute parking orbit coast, the Falcon 9 second stage restarted for a brief second, circularization burn at first apogee about 52 minutes 6 seconds after liftoff to complete the powered phase of the flight. Spacecraft separation began at about the 57 minute 10 seconds mark, with each satellite separating individually separated by about 1.5 minutes.

The first stage performed 3-engine boostback, 3-engine reentry, and single-engine landing burns before landing on the converted barge "drone ship" “Just Read the Instructions”.  The stage descended using, for the first time, enlarged titanium grid fins for flight control.  It was the second successful first stage landing in three West Coast attempts and the 13th successful first stage landing.   Eleven first stages have now been recovered, two having flown twice.

The launch was the second of seven planned IridiumNext Falcon 9 flights that will replace the company's orbiting "Little LEO" communication satellite constellation.

The F9-38 first and second stages were test fired at the company's McGregor, Texas test site during mid-May, 2017. The first stage was briefly hot fired at SLC 4E on June 20, 2017 with the second stage, but no payload, attached to the top of the rocket.

F9-38 was the 37th Falcon 9 launch and the 17th v1.2 variant to fly, not including AMOS 6 launch vehicle destroyed during a pre-launch static test countdown. It was the second v1.2 to fly from VAFB and the first to fly from VAFB with what appeared to be a "Block 4" second stage.

f9-37.jpg (15600 bytes)Used Falcon 9 Orbits Bulgariasat (06/24/17 Update)

SpaceX launched a previously-flown Falcon 9 first stage for the second time on June 23, 2017. The stage, B1029 (flying for the second time as B1029.2), boosted the F9-37 mission that flung the Bulgariasat 1 communications satellite to supersynchronous transfer orbit from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 Pad A. B1029 had previously flown during the F9-30 Iridium Next 1-10 launch from VAFB SLC 4E on January 14, 2017 and landed downrange on the drone ship "Just Read the Instructions".

This time, after a 19:10 UTC liftoff and 2 min 36 sec ascent burn, B1029.2 landed again on a downrange floating platform (named "Of Course I Still Love You", or "OCISLY") after performing three-engine reentry and landing burns.

After the first stage completed its ascent burn, the Falcon 9 second stage fired its Merlin 1D Vacuum engine for 351 sec to reach a parking orbit. After a 19 minute 30 second coast to the equator above the west African coast, the stage restarted for 65 seconds to accelerate the 3,669 kg Bulgariasat 1 satellite toward a planned supersynchronous transfer orbit. Bulgariasat 1 separated from the stage at T+plus 34 minutes, 55 seconds.

From its roughly 210 x 65,640 km x 23.9 deg transfer orbit, the Space Systems/Loral 1300 series satellite will raise itself to geostationary orbit at 1.9 deg East to provide direct broadcast and fixed communication services to Europe, North Africa, and the Middile East using 33 Ku-band transponders.

Following its January flight, the B1029 stage was apparently shipped directly to Florida, with no known testing performed at the company's McGregor, Texas test site. The stage was static test fired for a few seconds at LC 39A with the second stage attached on June 15, 2017.  A planned launch two days later was delayed for a week to replace a faulty valve in the payload fairing.

It was the 12th successful first stage landing and the 6th landing on OCISLY.   Ten first stages have now been recovered, two having flown twice.

Before the launch, Elon Musk tweeted, "Falcon 9 will experience its highest ever reentry force and heat in today's launch. Good chance rocket booster doesn't make it back".  After the flight, he tweeted that the first stage had returned "extra toasty" and had landed hard on OCISLY, using almost all of the "emergency crush core" in the landing legs. The stage was visible in video views standing near the edge of the deck, exhibiting a slight lean.

soy2-1v3.jpg (22520 bytes)Soyuz 2-1v Launch (06/24/17 Update)

Russia's third Soyuz 2-1v launched with a classified payload from Plesetsk on June 23, 2017. Liftoff from Pad 4 Site 43 took place at 18:04 UTC. The two-stage Soyuz 2-1v was topped by a Volga third stage. Volga performed an initial burn as the vehicle headed north above the Arctic Ocean to reach an elliptical parking orbit. The stage fired again at some point during the next 1.5 hours, presumably to circularize the orbit. The satellite, identity and purpose unannounced, was named Kosmos 2519 upon reaching orbit.

The satellite was subsequently tracked in a roughly 660 km by 98 deg sun synchronous orbit. 

It was the first Soyuz 2-1v launch since December 5, 2015, when Volga reached its planned orbit with Kanopus ST, but then failed to separate from the satellite when one of four clamps on Volga failed to open. The Volga stage was used to deorbit the useless satellite after about two days in orbit. The first Soyuz 2-1v/Volga launch successfully placed a small test payload into orbit on December 28, 2013. All missions have launched from Plesetsk 43/4.

pslvc38.jpg (16684 bytes)PSLV Orbits Cartosat 2E/Nanosats (06/23/17 Update)

PSLV-C38, an XL version of Indian Space Research Organizaion's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, boosted 712 kg Cartosat 2E and 30 nanosatellites that together weighed about 243 kg into sun synchronous orbits from Sriharikota, India on June 23, 2017.

Liftoff from the First Launch Pad at Satish Dhawan Space Center took place at 03:59 UTC. The 4.5-stage, 321 tonne, 44.4 meter tall rocket fired its four stages (solid, liquid, solid, and liquid fueled, respectively) in succession during the first 16 minutes of the ascent, with a 10 second coast before fourth stage ignition. Six strap-on solid motors (four ground lit and two air lit) augmented thrust during the first stage burn. The liquid MMH/MON-3 fourth stage fired for about 7 minutes 39 seconds during its insertion burn.

Satellite deployment into roughly 500 km x 97.45 deg orbits took about eight minutes, beginning with the cartographic mapping Cartosat 2e at T+16 minutes 41 seconds.

It was the 40th PSLV and the 17th PSLV-XL.  

cz3b40.jpg (6825 bytes)CZ-3B Leaves ChinaSat 9A in Low Orbit (Updated 07/14/17)

China's Chang Zheng (Long March )3B/E launched Zhongxing 9A (ChinaSat 9A) from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on June 18, 2017. Liftoff from Launch Pad 2 took place at 16:08 UTC. After performing two burns, the launch vehicle's liquid hydrogen fueled third stage was slated to place the 5.1 tonne communications satellite in a geosynchronous transfer orbit.  However, no announcement of mission success was made as the hours passed.   Finally, more than 12 hours later, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation announced that the launch had failed to place the satellite in its intended orbit due to a problem with the third stage. 

Subsequent tracking data showed the second stage and payload in roughly 193 x 16,350 km x 25.68 deg orbits, well short of the typical 35,800-plus km apogee.  CASC reported that the satellite had deployed its solar arrays and antennas.  It seemed unlikley that Zhongxing 9A would be able to make up the roughly 550 m/s delta-v shortfall.

The orbit suggested that the third stage had suffered a problem that affected its second burn.  Typical failure modes for such results include propulsion system and flight control issues.  A mid-July report stated that the stage had suffered a roll control issue.

It was the third orbital launch vehicle failure in less than a year for China's DF-5 based launch vehicle family. It was also the first CZ-3B or 3C failure since August 31, 2009 after 40 consecutive successes.

China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) built the DFH-4 series satellite. China Satcom was to operate ChinaSat 9A from a 92 degrees East position in geostationary orbit. The satellite was equipped with 22 Ku-band transponders designed to provide direct broadcasting and other services.

It was the 40th CZ-3B launch and the third this year. 

cz4by31.jpg (9321 bytes)HXMT Launch

China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 4B orbited the Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope (HXMT) from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on June 15, 2017. Liftoff of CZ-4B serial number Y31 from Pad 43, Site 603 took place at 03:00 UTC.  HXMT, a 2.5 tonne 3-axis controlled satellite, was targeted toward a roughly 550 km x 43 deg low earth orbit.

HXMT is China's first orbiting X-ray astronomy telescope. It will map X-ray emitting objects like black holes, pulsars, and neutron stars. The Chinese Academy of Space Technology (CAST) assembled the satellite, incorporating a payload module developed by IHEP and Tsinghua University.

Two microsatellites, weighing a combined total of 87 kg (other reports suggested 130 to 150 kg) were orbited along with XMHT.

progms06.jpg (8695 bytes)Russia Launches ISS Cargo (Updated)

Russia's Soyuz 2-1a launched the Progress MS-06 International Space Station cargo hauling mission from Baikonur Cosmodrome on June 14, 2017. Liftoff from Site 31 Pad 6 took place at 09:20:13 UTC. The roughly 7,300 kg spacecraft carried around 2,500 kg of cargo by some accounts - 2,398 kg, 2,450 kg, and 2,739 kg by other accounts - into a 193 x 240.8 km x 51.67 deg initial orbit. The heaviest account, attributed to NASA, said that cargo included 1,392 kg dry pressurized materials, 880 kg of propellant for transfer to ISS, 420 kg of water, and 47 kg of oxygen and air.  The lighter accounts only gave 620 kg for propellant.

The flight marked a return to Soyuz 2-1a for Progress after three final launches by Soyuz-U, one of which (Progress MS-04 on December 1, 2016) failed to reach orbit. It was the 69th Progress launch meant to reach ISS and the 158th Progress launch since the program began in 1978.

p413.jpg (13056 bytes)Proton Returns

Nearly one year after its last flight, Russia's Proton M/Briz M finally returned to flight on June 8, 2017. The 413th Proton rocket, a "Phase 4" Proton M variant, lifted off from Baikonur's Area 81 Pad 24 at 03:45 UTC with Echostar 21, beginning a planned 9 hr 13 min ascent phase that included five burns by the Briz M upper stage. The 6,871 kg Space Systems/Loral-built SSL 1300 series satellite was aimed toward a 2,300 x 35,786 km x 30.5 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit.

During the previous Proton flight, on June 9, 2016, one of the four second stage main engines shut down nine seconds early, causing a small delta-v shortfall that had to be made up by the Briz M upper stage. The make-up was possible because the Intelsat 31 payload was relatively light. An investigation found defects in RD-0210, RD-0211, and RD-0214 second and third stage engines made at the Voronezh Mechanical Factory due to a change in a solder used in the production process. The company also made Soyuz U and Soyuz FG third stage engines that fell under investigation after a December 1, 2016 Soyuz/Progress launch failure.

Echostar 21, the heaviest GTO payload yet launched by Proton, will be positioned at 10.25 degrees East after it raises itself to geostationary orbit. From there it will serve a European Internet Protocol based mobile communications network.

gslvmk3d1.jpg (17384 bytes)First GSLV Mk3 Orbital Launch (06/07/2017 Update)

India's GSLV Mk 3, for the first time topped by a live third stage, successfully boosted GSAT 19 to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Sriharikota on June 5, 2017. The D1 mission was the second GSLV Mk3 flight but the first orbital attempt. GSLV Mk3 had previously performed a successful inaugural suborbital flight with a dummy third stage on December 18, 2014. GSLV Mk3 D1 lifted off from the Second Launch Pad at 11:58 UTC.

Now India's most powerful rocket, GSLV Mk3 (formerly known as LVM3) is capable of lifting 4 tonnes to GTO or 10 tonnes to low earth orbit. GSAT 19, a communications technology demonstration satellite, weighed 3,136 kg on this development flight, less than the rocket's capability but still the heaviest satellite yet launched by India.

The satellite was targeted toward a 170 x 35,975 km x 21.5 deg transfer orbit.  GSAT 19 was subsequently tracked in a 163 x 34,592 km x 21.5 deg orbit, about 13 m/s short of the goal.  A small shortfall of this amount on an inaugural direct-to-GTO mission was apparently acceptable.

The 640 tonne GSLV Mk3 consisted of two S200 solid rocket boosters, an L110 hypergolic liquid core stage powered by two Vikas 2 engines, and a C25 LH2/LOX upper stage powered by a single Indegenous Cryogenic Engine.

The solid boosters together weighed 472 tonnes and provided 1,050 tonnes of liftoff thrust. They were 3.2 meters in diameter and 26.2 meters tall. They burned for 2 min 20 sec and provided all of the initial thrust.

The 125 tonne, twin-engine core stage ignited at T+1 min 54 sec, about 26 seconds before the solids burned out and separated. The core, which acted like a second stage, provided about 163 tonnes of thrust for 3 min 23 sec. It separated at T+5 min 20 sec, by which time the vehicle had reached 168 km altitude and 4,430 m/s velocity.

The 33 tonne Cryo Stage ignited two seconds after Core Stage separation. Its 20 tonne thrust CE-20 engine was expected to perform a single, 10 min 43 sec burn to push GSAT 19 to its 10,260 m/sec insertion velocity, but the stage apparently cut off a bit more than 19 seconds early.  Spacecraft sepration took place at T+16 min 20 sec.

f9-36.jpg (12112 bytes)Falcon 9 Launches CRS-11

Falcon 9-36, a v1.2 "Block 3" variant, boosted CRS-11, with the first "used" Dragon cargo spacecraft, back into orbit from Kennedy Space Center LC 39A on June 3, 2017. Liftoff took place at 21:07 UTC. Dragon entered a low earth orbit inclined 51.6 deg to the equator after a single 6 min 38 sec burn by the second stage Merlin Vacuum engine. spacecraft separation took place at T+10 min 20 sec.

On this, the 13th Dragon flight, Dragon spacecraft C106, which performed the CRS-4 mission in 2014, became the first Dragon to fly a second time. After its 2014 flight, the capsule was refurbished and its heat shield replaced. Dragon carried 2,708 kg of cargo, including 1,593 kg in its unpressurized trunk. Dragon's total liftoff weight including cargo was likely about 8,200 kg.

First stage B1035 performed a 2 min 22 sec ascent burn before separating from the second stage, turning 180 deg, and restarting three engines only 13 seconds after separation for a boost-back burn that pushed it back towards Florida even as it continued to gain altitude. The stage performed a three-engine reentry burn starting at T+6 min 10 sec and a final single-engine landing burn that began a few seconds before it settled onto the circular pad at Cape Canaveral Landing Zone 1. Landing took place at T+7 min 27 sec.   It was the 11th successful first stage landing and the 5th landing at LZ 1.   Ten first stages have now been recovered, one having flown twice.

The second stage performed a deorbit burn after Dragon separated. Its post-reentry remains were aimed toward a zone south and west of Australia.

The F9-36 stages were test fired at McGregor, Texas during March, 2017. The first stage engines performed a brief static test at LC 39A on May 28, 2017 before Dragon was stacked atop the rocket. A June 1 launch attempt was scrubbed by weather conditions.

It was the 100th launch from LC 39A, a total that includes 82 Space Shuttle, 12 Saturn 5, and 6 Falcon 9 liftoffs

va237.jpg (8942 bytes)Ariane 5 Dual Satellite Launch

The 62nd Ariane 5 ECA boosted two communication satellites to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Kourou on June 1, 2017. Arianespace Mission VA237 began with a 23:45 UTC liftoff from from ELA-3. On board were 6,418 kg ViaSat 2 and 3,551 kg Eutelsat 172B, their 9,969 kg combined mass setting a record for a commercial GTO launch. ViaSat 2 separated about 29.5 minutes after launch. Eutelsat 172B, housed inside the rocket's Sylda 5 adapter, separated just under 42 minutes after liftoff.

ViaSat 2 is a Boeing 702HP satellite with a Ka-band payload. Positioned at 70 deg West, it will provide about 300 Gigabits per second total communications capacity, more than any other commercial communications satellite.

Eutelsat 172B is the first Airbus Defense and Space all-electric Eurostar E3000e satellite to fly on Ariane 5. It will serve the Asia-Pacific region from 172 deg East using 14 C-band, 36 Ku-band, and 11 Ku-band transponders.

h2af34.jpg (11056 bytes)H-2A Launches Navsat for Japan

H-2A F34 successfully launched the 4 tonne Michibiki 2 navigation satellite for Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency from Tanegashimi Yoshinobu Launch Complex 1 on June 1, 2017.  Liftoff took place at 00:17 UTC.  F34 flew in the "202" configuration with two strap on "SRB-A" monolithic solid motors and two liquid hydrogen/oxygen core stages.  The rocket's second stage performed two burns to inject Michibiki 2 into a 250 x 36,140 km x 31.9 deg transfer orbit.   

Michibiki will raise itself into 33,100 x 38,500 x 44 deg "quasi zenith" geosynchronous orbit that will trace a north-south "Figure 8" across the Earth's surface at Japan's longitude.  From this orbit, the satellite will be able to augment existing GPS signals, allowing better coverage in urban areas with tall buildings.

It was the third H-2A launch of the year and the 30th known 2017 orbital launch attempt by all rockets world-wide.

soy-eks2.jpg (13304 bytes)Russia Launches Early Warning Satellite

Russia's Soyuz-2.1b/Fregat launched an early warning satellite into orbit from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on May 25, 2017. Liftoff from Site 43 Pad 4 took place at 06:33 UTC. After reaching a low earth parking orbit, the Fregat M stage fired multiple times to lift its payload into an elliptical “Tundra” orbit of approximately 1,620 x 38,500 km x 63.4 deg.

The satellite, named Kosmos 2518, is believed to be an EKS type early warning satellite designed to detect ballistic missile launches.

A Tundra orbit is an elliptical geosynchronous orbit that traces a figure-8 pattern over the earth twice each day. The satellite spends most of its time at high altitude essentially hovering over high latitudes in such orbits.

It was the year's fifth R-7 launch.

electron1.jpg (16825 bytes)Electron Inaugural Falls Short of Orbit

Rocket Lab's Electron rocket fell short of orbit in its inaugural test launch from New Zealand on May 25, 2017. The new small launch vehicle, named "It's a Test", lifted off from Rocket Lab's Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula of New Zealand's North Island at 04:20 UTC. The 17 meter tall, 1.2 meter diameter rocket, its innovative carbon composite case propellant tanks filled with kerosene and liquid oxygen, was slated to steer toward a south, south-east azimuth, rising on about 15.65 metric tons of thrust from its nine equally-innovative, electric-motor-pump-fed Rutherford engines.

Electron carried test instrumentation, rather than a revenue payload, on this test flight.

The launch was not broadcast live and post-launch information was limited.  Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s CEO, reported that Electron had a good first stage burn, stage separation, second stage ignition, and fairing separation, but orbital velocity was not achieved.

A 300 x 500 km x 83 deg orbit was planned. The company did not give a cause for the failure.  It did release several videos showing portions of the first stage flight.  An on-board video showed a roll developing during ascent.  

Plans called for the first stage to burn for 2 minutes 30 seconds. Stage separation was to take place four seconds after first stage shutdown. The second stage's single vacuum-optimized Rutherford engine was then slated to fire for 4 minutes 48 seconds to reach orbital velocity.

The launch took place after several days of weather delays.

Although orbit was not achieved, Mr. Beck expressed satisfaction with the results of the heavily instrumented test flight- the first of three such test flights currently planned.

vs17.jpg (9703 bytes)Soyuz 2.1a/Fregat Orbits SES 15

A Soyuz 2.1a/Fregat - also known as Soyuz ST-A for its Kourou application - orbited the all-electric SES 15 communications satellite from Kourou's Guiana Space Center on May 18, 2017. Liftoff of the Arianespace VS17 mission from the Soyuz launch zone (ELS) took place at 11:54 UTC, beginning a roughly 5.4 hour mission to spacecraft separation.

The Fregat upper stage performed two burns to accelerate the 2,302 kg Boeing 702SP satellite into a 2,207 x 31,349 km x 5.99 deg orbit. The atypical geosynchronous transfer orbit was selected to allow the all-electric, low thrust satellite to more easily and quickly raise itself to geostationary orbit by starting with a higher perigee to reduce drag. SES 15 will take about 6-7 months to raise its orbit.

The Soyuz rocket's four boosters jettisoned at T+1 m 58 s.  The fairing jettisoned at T+ 3 m 39 s.  The central core "second stage" burned out and separated at T+4 m 47 s.  The "third stage" completed its work at T+ 8 m 49 s.  Fregat performed its first burn starting at T+ 9 m 49 s and ending at T+23 m 34 s.  Fregat coasted to apogee where, at T+4 h 57 m 35 s it began a 52 second burn.   Spacecraft separation took place at T+5 h 18 m 28 s. 

It was the 17th Soyuz launch from Kourou and the second GTO mission.

f9-35.jpg (13118 bytes)Falcon 9 Orbits Inmarsat 5 F4 (May 16 Update)

The year's sixth Falcon 9 boosted Inmarsat 5 F4 to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39 Pad A on May 15, 2017. Liftoff took place at 23:21 UTC. The Merlin 1D Vacuum-powered second stage performed two burns to loft the 6.086 tonne communications satellite into a supersynchronous transfer orbit.  It was the heaviest GTO payload yet for Falcon 9.

According to the SpaceX press kit, the first stage burned for 2 min 45 sec. The second stage then fired for 5 min 42 sec before beginning a nearly 18.5 minute parking orbit coast to the equator. The stage completed its second, 56 second burn at the 27 min 55 sec mark. Spacecraft separation occurred 31 minutes 48 seconds after liftoff into a 381 x 69,839 km x 24.5 deg orbit.

F9-35 was the second Falcon 9 v1.2 flown in fully expendable mode, with no landing legs, grid fins, or other recoverable hardware on the first stage. Expendable mode was needed to accomodate the heavy GTO payload. 

The second stage exhibited the same external appearance as the improved second stage used during the prior NROL 76 launch, leading outside observers to wonder if this was the second example of a "Block 4" upper stage.  Additionally, cryogenic propellant loading began only 35 minutes before liftoff, compared to the previous 45 minutes, a new procedure designed to minimize propellant temperatures for improved performance.

Boeing Network & Space Systems built Inmarsat 5 F4, which uses Ka-band transponders to provide broadband communications services. 

The rocket used first stage number B1034.  It and its second stage partner were test fired at McGregor, Texas during March 2017.  The assembled rocket performed a roughly 3 second static test at LC 39A on May 11 with no payload attached.

gslvf09.jpg (19550 bytes)GSLV Orbits GSAT 9

India's GSLV boosted its GSAT 9 communications satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit from Satish Dhawan Space Center, Sriharikota on May 5, 2017. Liftoff of the GSLV F09 mission from the Second Launch Pad took place at 11:27 UTC. GSAT 9 separated about 17 minutes later, after a roughly 12-minute burn by the rocket's liquid hydrogen fueled third stage. For unknown reasons, ISRO banned press coverage of the launch.

ISRO-built GSAT-9 weighed 2.23 tonnes at liftoff. It carries 12 Ku-band transponders to provide communications services to India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

It was the fifth GSLV Mk 2 launch, using India's own LH2/LOX Cryogenic Upper Stage engine, and the 11th GSLV flight.  It was also the 25th known orbital launch attempt of 2017.

va236.jpg (11681 bytes)Ariane 5 Launches Comsats

Ariane 5 ECA L589, performing Arianespace mission VA236, launched two communication satellites - Brazil's SGDC and Korea's Koreasat 7 - from Kourou Space Center on May 4, 2017. Liftoff from ELA 3 took place at 21:50 UTC. The satellites separated into geosynchronous transfer orbits about one-half hour later.

VA236 was delayed by nearly six weeks after French Guiana residents blockaded the space center as part of a social movement. The blockades were finally removed after the French government signed agreements with the protesters.

SGDC was a 5,735 kg Thales Alenia Space Spacebus 4000C4 satellite. It will serve Brazil's government, providing both civil and military communications service, using its 57 Ka and X-band transponders at a 75 deg West geostationary position.

Koreasat 7, the lower passenger, was a 3,680 kg Thales Alenia Space Spacebus 4000B2 satellite. It's Ka-band transponders will work from 116 deg. East for KT SAT, Korea's satellite service provider.

f9-34.jpg (15596 bytes)Falcon 9 Orbits NROL 76

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 orbited NROL 76, a secret payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 Pad A on May 1, 2017.  Liftoff took place at 11:15 UTC, following an aborted attempt one day earlier caused by a faulty LOX outlet temperature sensor.  

Falcon 9 headed on a northeast azimuth.  No coverage was provided of the second stage performance as the flight entered a press blackout.  Elon Musk tweeted about 22 minutes after launch that the payload had been successfully orbited, hinting at a low earth orbit for NROL 76.

After completing its 2 min 17 sec ascent burn, the shortest such burn yet for a v1.2 variant, the first stage did a 180 deg flip and performed 40 second long 3-engine boostback burn.  It flipped again before performing a roughly 24 second long 3-engine entry burn and a 30 second long single engine landing burn.  The stage landed at Cape Canaveral Landing Zone 1 just under 9 minutes after liftoff.  It was the tenth successful first stage landing and the fourth landing at LZ 1.  Nine first stages have now been recovered, one having flown twice.

The second stage was expected to perform a deorbit burn nearly 4 hours after liftoff.  A targeted zone for the stage to fall was listed off the southeast coast of Africa.  The delayed deorbit may be to allow for a long coast experiment.

This 33rd Falcon 9 flight was performed by the F9-34 vehicle, which used first stage number B1032.   The shorter than normal first stage burn, along with design changes visible externally on the second stage, initiated speculation that this was the first so-called "Block 4" Falcon 9 with liftoff thrust increased from the prior 694 tonnes, but no confirmation has to date been provided.

The vehicle's stages were test fired at McGregor, Texas, apparently during February, 2017.   The first stage performed a brief static firing at LC 39A on April 25, 2017.  The first and second stages without payload were stacked for the test.

It was the fifth Falcon 9 launch of the year and the fourth from LC 39A.  The pad has now hosted a total of 98 launches, including 12 Saturn 5 and 82 Space Shuttle liftoffs.

cz7y2.jpg (13349 bytes)China Orbits Heaviest Payload

China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 7 launched Tianzhou 1, a robot cargo ship bound for the Tiangong 2 space station, from Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island on April 20, 2017. Liftoff from Pad 201, the easternmost of two new launch pads at the Center, took place at 11:41:35 UTC. Including propellant, Tianzhou 1 weighed 12.91 tonnes, making it the heaviest payload ever launched by a rocket from China, and the heaviest payload launched by any nation so far this year.

Tianzhou 1 was loaded with several tonnes of propellant. It will test automatic docking equipment when it attempts to dock with Tiangong 2 in a 42 deg inclination low earth orbit two days after launch. The mission is a test of procedures for China's planned full-scale space station, which the country may begin to launch in 2018.

It was the second CZ-7 launch, following a June, 2016 debut. CZ-7 is one of three of China’s Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology's (CALT) new family of launchers, which include the smaller CZ-6 and the larger CZ-5.

CZ-7 uses a 3.35 meter diameter core stage powered by two 122.5 tonne thrust YF-100 RP/LOX staged combustion engines. Four 2.25 meter diameter strap-on boosters, each powered by one YF-100, augment the core to produce a total of 734.1 tonnes (1.618 million pounds) of thrust at liftoff. Four 18 tonne thrust YF-115 RP/LOX staged combustion engines power the 3.35 meter diameter second stage. The 2.5 stage rocket weighs about 594 tonnes at liftoff and stands about 53.1 meters tall. It can lift 13.5 tonnes to 200 x 400 km x 42 deg orbit or 5.5 tonnes to a 700 km sun synchronous orbit.

On this flight, the strap-on boosters shut down and separated about 174 seconds after liftoff.  The first stage cut off and separated about 10 seconds later.  Stage 2 burned its main engines for about 389 seconds.   Its vernier engines burned for about 20 more seconds after the main engines shut down.  Spacecraft sepration took place shortly after the verniers shut cut off, about 10 minutes after liftoff.

ms04.jpg (3725 bytes)Soyuz Launches ISS Crew

A 2.5 stage Soyuz FG rocket orbited Russia's Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft from Baikonur, Kazakhstan with two International Space Station crew on April 20, 2017. It was the year's first crewed launch. Liftoff from Baikonur Cosmodrome Area 1 Pad 5 took place at 07:14 UTC. The spacecraft entered a roughly 200 km x 51.6 deg initial orbit. Onboard the upgraded spacecraft were Russia's Fyodor Yurchikhin and NASA's Jack Fischer, comprising the Expedition 51/52 crew.

After a 6 hour, four orbit fast-track ascent, Soyuz MS-04 docked with ISS at 13:18 UTC.   Yurchikhin and Fischer will join NASA's Peggy Whitson, ESA's Thomas Pesquet, and Russia's Oleg Novitskiy at the station.

Russia cut the normal three crew complement down to two on this mission to save money. Cargo replaced the missing crew member. Fewer Progress launches will be needed to support Russia's reduced ISS crew complement.

It was the first R-7 flight of a re-engined rocket with crew since a Soyuz-U RD-0110 upper stage engine suffered a turbopump failure on December 1, 2016 while attempting to orbit Progress MS-04. Investigators found manufacturing defects and unqualified alloys in other engines from the same production batch. The investigation led to the replacement of engines from a bad production lot.

av070.jpg (17403 bytes)Atlas 5 Launches Cygnus OA-7

United Launch Alliance's Atlas 5 launched Orbital-ATK's Cygnus cargo hauling spacecraft toward the International Space Station on April 18, 2017. The OA-7 Commercial Resupply Services flight was the third Atlas-launched Cygnus as part of orbital ATK's plan to catch up in the wake of the company's 2014 Antares rocket failure. OA-7 used an enhanced Cygnus with a longer pressurized module packed with 3,376 kg of cargo. An additional 83 kg of unpressurized cargo, consisting of several cubesats, was also carried. Including cargo, Cygnus weighed a reported 7,225 kg.

The 59.13 meter tall AV-070 Atlas 5-401 used an extra extended payload fairing. Liftoff from Cape Canaveral SLC 41 took place at 15:11:26 UTC. The rocket flew a northeastward track off the Eastern U.S. Seaboard. Centaur performed a single, 13 min 45 sec 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 performed a subsequent deorbit burn.

Cygnus OA-7 was dubbed "S.S. John Glenn" in memory of the late astronaut.

The launch was originally planned for March 27, but was delayed five days before launch by ground and flight vehicle hydraulic system problems. A hydraulic return line was found to have ruptured on the Atlas first stage while technicians were troubleshooting the ground system issue.

It was the 71st Atlas 5 launch, the 70th success, and the 61st consecutive success.

cz3by43.jpg (8606 bytes)China Orbits Experimental Comsat

A Chang Zheng (Long March) 3B/E rocket orbited Chinasat 16, an experimental communications satellite, from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on April 12, 2017. Liftoff from Launch Pad 2 took place at 11:04 UTC. The rocket's liquid hydrogen fueled upper stage performed two burns to accelerate its payload into a geosynchronous transfer orbit.

The 4.6 tonne China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) DFH-3 satellite is equipped with a Ka-band communications payload and an electric propulsion system, both firsts for China. It will be positioned at 110.5 degrees East.

It was the 40th consecutive success by the CZ 3B/3C variant.