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
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.
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 Labs 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
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.
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
It was the 17th Soyuz launch from Kourou and the second
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.
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
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.
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.
9 Orbits NROL 76
SpaceXs 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
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.
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
Chinas 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
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.
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.
Atlas 5 Launches
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
It was the 71st Atlas 5 launch, the 70th success, and the 61st consecutive success.
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
9 Reflies First Stage, Orbits SES 10 (March 31, 2017 Update)
SpaceX launched a previously-flown Falcon 9 first stage for the first time on March 30,
2017. The stage, B1021, boosted the F9-33 mission that lofted the SES 10 communications
satellite to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 Pad
A. B1021 had previously flown during the F9-23 CRS-8 mission on April 8, 2016, when it
landed downrange on a converted barge. After a 22:27 UTC liftoff, B1021 repeated the feat,
landing again on the downrange floating platform after performing reentry and landing
After the first stage completed its 2 min 38 sec ascent burn, the Falcon 9 second stage
fired its Merlin 1D Vacuum engine for 345 sec to reach a parking orbit. After a 17 min 55
sec coast to the equator above the west African coast, the stage restarted for 53 seconds
to accelerate the 5,282 kg SES 10 satellite toward a planned 218 x 35,410 km x 26.2 deg
transfer orbit. SES 10 separated from the stage 32 min 03 sec after liftoff.
The second stage ended up in a 217 x 33,395 km x 26.3 deg orbit, suggesting that a
slightly lower than planned apogee was achieved, but SpaceX announced that it had met
After raising itself to geostationary orbit, Airbus Defense and space-built SES 10 will
serve Latin America, using 55 Ku-band transponder equivalents, from 67 deg West.
After the flight, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced that
the company had, in another first, directed one of the two payload fairing halves to a
landing zone in a test of future payload fairing recovery. The fairing had been
equipped with a cold gas thruster system. Eventually, steerable parachutes and
inflatable shock absorbers will be used to bring the fairings down to recoverable ocean
It was the first reflight of a complete orbital-class
liquid fueled rocket stage. Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket had previously reflown,
but on much less taxing suborbital missions. Reusable Space Shuttle orbiters brought
back three main engines (SSMEs) and avionics, but expended the large external propellant
tank that fed the three SSMEs. Space Shuttle solid rocket boosters were also
recovered and reused, but they were disassembled after each flight and the motor segments
never stayed together to fly again as a unit.
After its 2016 flight, the B1021 stage was partially
disassembled (its engines were removed, for example) and was shipped back to the SpaceX
factory in Hawthorne, California. After the engines were re-installed and other
refurbishment work completed, the stage was shipped to the company's McGregor, Texas test
site. There, it was test-fired on January 25, 2017, completing what appeared to be a
standard test cycle for a Falcon 9 first stage. The new second stage was also test
fired in late January or early February. After shipment to LC 39A's Horizontal
Integration Facility, the assembled F9-33 rocket performed a five-second static test at LC
39A on March 27, 2017, with no payload installed.
Delta 4 Launches
Delta 377, a Delta 4M+5,4 with four solid rocket motors and a five meter diameter Delta
cryogenic second stage (DCSS), lofted Wideband Global SATCOM No. 9 into supersynchronous
transfer orbit from Cape Canaveral Florida on March 19, 2017. The 399 tonne, 66.3 meter
tall liquid hydrogen fueled rocket rose from Space Launch Complex 37B at 00:18 UTC on
829.7 tonnes (1.829 million pounds) of thrust created by its RS-68A first stage engine and
its four GEM-60 solid motors.
DCSS performed two burns of its 11.23 tonne thrust RL10B-2 LOX/LH2 engine during the
ascent. The first placed the vehicle into a 185 x 6,100 km x 27.6 deg parking orbit about
20 minutes after liftoff. After a 9.5 minute coast to the equator the second, roughly 3.5
minute burn pushed the 5.987 tonne Boeing 702 series satellite into a 431 x 44,290 km x 27
deg transfer orbit. Spacecraft separation occurred about 41 minutes 45 seconds after
WGS-9 was jointly purchased by Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and New
Zealand. It will provide up to 11 Gbps data transfer rates for the military of these
nations and for the U.S. military using X-band and Ka-band transponders and on-board data
DCSS was expected to perform a deorbit burn at about T+1 hour 11 min 44 sec, leading to
destructive reentry at about T+12 hours 12 min.
It was the first Delta 4 launch of 2017. It was
also the 35th Delta 4 flight. Only one more WGS launch is currently listed on the Delta 4
backlog, along with only three more Medium variant launches, as United Launch Alliance
works toward retirement of the type.
An H-2A boosted Japan's Information Gathering Satellite
(IGS) Radar 5 to a sun synchronous orbit on March 17, 2017. Liftoff from Yoshinobu Launch
Complex 1 at Tanegashima Space Center took place at 01:20 UTC. The 202 series rocket, tail
number F33, was boosted by a pair of SRB-A solid motors.
It was the second H-2A launch of 2017.
IGS Radar 5 is a radar reconnaissance satellite built by Mitsubishi Electric that will be
operated by the Cabinet Satellite Information Center. It will support Japan's national
defense and aid in civil natural disaster monitoring.
Falcon 9 Orbits
A SpaceX Falcon 9 boosted Echostar 23 to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Kennedy Space
Center's Launch Complex 39 Pad A on March 16, 2017. Liftoff took place at 06:00 UTC. The
Merlin 1D Vacuum-powered second stage performed two burns to accelerate the roughly 5.6
tonne communications satellite into a 179 x 35,903 km x 22.43 deg geosynchronous transfer
According to the SpaceX press kit, the first stage burned for 2 min 43 sec. The second
stage then fired for 5 min 36 sec before beginning a nearly 18 minute parking orbit coast
to the equator. The stage completed its second, 1 minute burn at the 27 min 19 sec mark.
Spacecraft separation occurred 34 minutes after liftoff.
F9-31 was the first 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 heaviest-ever Falcon 9 GTO payload.
Space Systems/Loral built Echostar 23, using its SSL-1300 bus. The satellite has 32
Ku-Band transponders, as well as Ka- and S-Band transmitters. It will raise itself to a
geostationary orbit at 45 degrees West.
The rocket used first stage number B1030. It and its second stage partner were test fired
at McGregor, Texas during mid to late November, 2016. They were stored in the LC 39A
hangar when the CRS-10 Dragon launch moved ahead of Echostar 23 in launch order. The
assembled rocket performed a roughly 3 second static test at LC 39A on March 9 with no
payload attached, after a scrubbed attempt two days earlier. A March 14 launch attempt was
scrubbed by high winds about 38 minutes before T-0.
Europe's Vega launch vehicle orbited the Sentinel 2B earth observation satellite for
Arianespace and ESA from Kourou on March 7, 2017. The four-stage rocket lifted off from
the Vega Launch Complex (ZLV) at 01:49 UTC, beginning a nearly 58 minute mission that
deployed the 1,130 kg Airbus-built satellite into a 786 km x 98.57 deg sun synchronous
Sentinel 2B is the fourth Copernicus program satellite. It will be positioned in an orbit
opposite to Sentinel 2A, which was launch by a Vega in June 2016.
Vega's P80 solid motor first stage burned for 1 min 55 seconds. Its Z23 solid motor second
stage ignited one second later and burned until the 3 min 39 sec mark. After a 12 second
coast the Z9 solid motor third stage ignited for its 2 min 41 second burn. The payload
fairing separated shortly after the third stage ignited.
After a 1 min 51 sec coast, the liquid AVUM fourth stage began a 7 min 4 second burn to
enter an elliptical parking orbit. The stage and payload then coasted over the Arctic
before performing a second, two-minute burn beginning 55 min 7 sec after liftoff. This
burn circularized the orbit. Sentinel 2B separated about 50 seconds after the burn ended.
AVUM was scheduled to perform an orbit reduction burn about an hour later.
Another New Rocket
China debuted the KT-2 (Kaitou 2) orbital launch vehicle on March 2, 2017. The solid-fuel,
likely three-stage launch vehicle lifted off from the CZ-11 flat pad at Jiuquan space
center at 23:53 UTC. KT-2 injected a small test satellite named TK-1 (Tiankong) into a 381
x 403 km x 96.9 deg sun synchronous orbit.
Xinhua reported that the TK-1 satellite was developed by CASIC to be used for "remote
sensing, telecommunications and experiments in minisatellite-based technologies".
China Aerospace Science & Industry Corporation (CASIC) also reportedly developed the
launch vehicle. KT-2 may be based on the DF-31 mobile ICBM family, but that has yet to be
determined. According to Xinhua, KT-2 is one of five launch vehicles planned for
development by CASIC. It is capable of lifting 350 kg to a low inclination low earth orbit
or 250 kg to a 700 km sun synchronous orbit.
CZ-11, a similar DF-31 based rocket that first flew in 2015, was developed by the China
Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT). Two smaller, DF-21 based launchers, both by
CASIC, have also flown: Kuaizhou 1(A) beginning in 2013 and KT-1, which failed in two
attempts during 2002-2003.
5 Launches Classified Payload
Atlas 5 AV-068, a 401 variant with no solid fuel boosters and a four-meter fairing,
launched the NROL-79 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office from Vandenberg AFB
Space Launch Complex 3 East on March 1, 2017. Liftoff took place at 17:49 UTC.
United Launch Alliance ended its webcast after the
Centaur second stage separated from the Atlas first stage and ignited its RL10-C1 engine.
The unannounced payload appeared aimed toward an initial orbit inclined 63 degrees to the
equator. No orbital parameters, payload information, or mission timeline were announced.
Mission success itself was not announced for several hours, indicating that the rocket's
Centaur upper stage likely performed multiple burns.
Amateur observers suspected that the mission placed a pair of Intruder (third generation
NOSS) type satellites into roughly 1,000 x 1,200 km x 63.4 deg orbits for the purpose of
pinpointing mobile radio signal emitter locations on the world's oceans.
The launch had been delayed for more than a month after a problem was found with the Atlas
5 Centaur stage when propellants were loaded during a wet dress rehearsal (WDR).
After the unspecified problem was fixed, the launch vehicle was subjected to a second WDR
to certify its readiness for flight.
It was the 70th Atlas 5 launch and the 60th consecutive
Finale (February 23, 2017 Update)
Russia's long-lived Soyuz-U launch vehicle performed its final flight on February 22, 2017
when it boosted the Progress MS-05 robotic cargo hauling spacecraft into orbit from
Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. Liftoff took place at 05:58 UTC from snow-covered Area 1
It marked a return to flight after the previous Soyuz-U's 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.
Progress MS-05 carried 2,395 kg of cargo, including dry cargo, propellant, water, and
oxygen. The loaded spacecraft weighed nearly 7,300 kg at liftoff.
Soyuz-U, an improved, standardized version of earlier R-7 based launch vehicles, first
flew in 1973. It orbited recoverable Soviet Zenit and Yantar spy satellites from Baikonur
and Plesetsk and manned Soyuz spacecraft from Baikonur, including the Soyuz 19 Apollo
Soyuz Test Project spacecraft in 1975. In 1978, it launched the first of many unmanned
Progress cargo spacecraft, this one to the Salyut 6 manned space station. It was Russia's
primary crew launch vehicle until the Soyuz TM-34 launch in 2002. Since then, Progress has
been its most common payload.
A total of 786 Soyuz-U launch vehicles have flown, including 10 that carried Ikar or
Fregat upper stages on Globalstar and European Space Agency Cluster missions beginning in
1999. The number does not include the Soyuz-U/Soyuz T-10-1 pre-liftoff fire that resulted
in the escape tower firing to save the crew, but destroying the launch vehicle, on
September 26, 1983. A total of 765 of the launches were successful, making Soyuz-U one of
the world's most reliable orbital launch vehicles. Soyuz-U flew 47 times in 1979,
including two failures, and 40 or more times each year from 1978 to 1984. It ranks as the
most oft-flown, and longest-lived launch vehicle variant of the Space Age.
The type was originally replaced for manned launches by
Soyuz FG, but now both the "U" and "FG" types are being supplanted by
Soyuz 2 launch vehicles, which use modern digital avionics.
Falcon 9 Debuts
from KSC (February 23, 2017 Update)
SpaceXs Falcon 9 orbited the CRS-10 Dragon
spacecraft with cargo for the International Space Station from Kennedy Space Center Launch
Complex 39 Pad A on February 19, 2017. It was the first Falcon 9 launch from the
converted NASA Saturn 5/Space Shuttle launch site. Liftoff took place at 14:39 UTC,
following an aborted attempt one day earlier caused by out of range readings from the
second stage thrust vector control system.
Falcon 9's second stage boosted Dragon into a 51.6 deg
low earth orbit, with stage cutoff occurring about 9 min 5 sec after liftoff and
spacecraft separation taking place about one minute later. While the second stage
was performing its 393 second long burn, the first stage did a 180 deg flip and performed
3-engine boostback burn. It flipped again before performing a 3-engine entry burn
and a single engine landing burn that began about 7 min 33 sec after liftoff. The
stage landed at Cape Canaveral Landing Zone 1, performing the first daylight landing, and
third overall, at the site. The second stage was expected to perform a deorbit burn
after spacecraft separation.
Dragon (Dragon spacecraft No. 12) carried about 2,490 kg tonnes of cargo, including 1,530
kg inside the pressurized capsule and 960 kg attached to the unpressurized trunk
section. SpaceX does not announce total spacecraft mass, but based on early
publications by the company and on more recent expert estimates, CRS-10 Dragon likely
weighed more than 8,400 kg at liftoff, including cargo.
Spacecraft berthing at ISS was scheduled to occur on
February 22, but a 24 hour delay resulted from a problem with Dragon's GPS-based guidance
system. The berthing took place successfully on February 23.
The flight was performed by the F9-32 vehicle, a v1.2
(or "Block 3") variant, which used first stage number B1031. The
vehicle's stages were test fired at McGregor, Texas, apparently during December, 2016.
The first stage performed a brief static firing at LC 39A on February 12, 2017
after a scrubbed attempt the day before. The first and second stages without payload
were stacked for the test.
With the flight, Falcon 9 became the first launch
vehicle family to perform a second orbital flight in 2017.
For Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, SpaceX added a large horizontal processing hangar just
south of the SLC 39A fence line and replaced the crawlerway ramp with dual rail tracks for
a transporter erector launcher (TEL) to roll upon while carrying rockets up to the pad.
The flame trench was rebuilt and reconfigured, with exhaust now exiting only toward
the north, and large "rainbirds" were added to spray water on the launcher
during liftoff. Additional changes to the pad are planned to support Commercial Crew
launches, including installation of a crew access arm on the fixed service tower.
Falcon Heavy is not expected to debut from LC 39A until
after Cape Canaveral SLC 40 is restored to service sometime after mid-2017.
Meanwhile, SpaceX hopes to perform a first unmanned flight of its Dragon 2 Commercial Crew
spacecraft from LC 39A by year's end. An improved "Block 5" Falcon 9 being
developed to launch Dragon 2 will perform the launch.
It was the 95th launch from LC 39A, a number that
includes 12 Saturn 5 and 82 Space Shuttle liftoffs, the most recent by Shuttle Atlantis on
July 8, 2011 for STS-135 mission.
Orbits Cartosat 2D/Nanosats
PSLV-C37, an XL version of Indian Space Research
Organizaion's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, boosted 714 kg Cartosat 2D and 103
nanosatellites that together weighed 664 kg into a 505 km x 97.46 deg sun synchronous
orbit from Sriharikota, India on February 15, 2017. The mission set a record for
numbers of satelites on a single launch.
Liftoff from the First Launch Pad at Satish Dhawan Space Center took place at 03:58 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 1,008 seconds 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 505 seconds during its insertion burn.
Satellite deployment took about 11 minutes, beginning
with the cartographic mapping Cartosat 2D at T+17.5 minutes with the last separation at
about the 28 minute 43 second mark..
Launches Two Comsats
A 2.5 stage Ariane 5 ECA orbited two communication satellites from Kourou on February 14,
2017. Liftoff from ELA 3 took place at 21:39 UTC. The Arianespace VA235 mission
placed 6,000 kg Sky Brasil 1 and 3,550 kg Telkom 3S into geosynchronous transfer orbits.
The second stage completed its single burn at T+25 minutes to reach the insertion orbit.
Airbus-built Sky Brasil 1 (an E3000 bus) deployed first from atop the Sylda 5 dual
payload carrier at T+27 minutes. Thales Alenia-built Telkom 3S (a Spacebus 4000B2)
separated 12 minutes later.
Both satellites will raise themselves into geostationary orbits where they will proide
HDTV and other services. Sky Brasil will be positioned at 43.1 deg West.
Telkom 3S will work from 118 deg East.
VA235 was the 60th Ariane 5 ECA launch, and 59th
A Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat (also designated Soyuz ST-B) rocket launched the Hispasat 36W-1
communications satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit from Kourou, French Guiana on
January 28, 2017. Liftoff from the ELS pad took place at 01:03 UTC. The VS16 mission for
Arianespace was the first GTO launch by Soyuz from Kourou.
Germany's OHB System AG built the 3,220 kg "SmallGEO" platform satellite.
Hispasat 36W-1 will be stationed at 36 deg West to provide communication services to
Spain, Portugal, the Canary Islands and South America.
After a 9 minute 23 second ascent by the 2.5 stage R-7 launch vehicle, the mission
finished with a single burn by the Fregat MT upper stage, which began 10 min 23 seconds,
and ended 28 minutes, after liftoff. The burn boosted the satellite toward a targeted 250
x 35,736 km x 5.44 deg orbit.
Spacecraft separation took place 32 minutes 10 seconds
H-2A F-32, an H-2A-204 with four SRB-A solid rocket motors, orbited Japan's first
dedicated military communications satellite from Tanegashima Space Center on January 24,
2017. Liftoff from Pad 1 took place at 07:44 UTC. The LE-5B powered second stage performed
two burns to place the DSN 2 satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit within about
one-half hour of liftoff.
DSN Corporation, a subsidiary of SKY Perfect JSAT
Corporation, built and will operate DSN 2 as part of an X-band satellite communications
system for the Japanese Ministry of Defense. The mass of the payload was not
released, but H-2A-204 can lift up to 5.7 tonnes to geosynchronous transfer orbit.
It was the 31st H-2A success in 32 launches since the program began in 2001.
Atlas 5 Orbits
SBIRS GEO 3
AV-066, a basic Atlas 5-401 variant, launched the third Space Base Infrared System
Geosynchronous Earth Orbit satellite (SBIRS GEO 3) into orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida
on January 21, 2017. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41 took place at 00:42 UTC..
Centaur fired twice to insert the 4.54 tonne, Lockheed-Martin-built early warning
satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit.
The launch campaign included a record short, 13-day period from first stage stacking to
rollout. An initial launch attempt 24 hours earlier was scrubbed by a sensor issue and by
an aircraft intruding on a downrange safety zone.
Rocket Orbit Try Fails
Japan's SS-520-4, a small experimental three-stage orbital launcher based on an existing
two-stage sounding rocket, failed during its inaugural attempt from Uchinoura Space Center
at Kagoshima on January 14, 2017. The solid-fueled rocket zipped skyward from its rail
launcher at the KS sounding rocket pad at 23:33 UTC, aiming to place Tricom 1, a 3kg
Cubesat, into a 180 x 1,500 km x 31 deg orbit after a rapid ascent lasting just over four
The first stage burn appeared to be good, ending after about 31 seconds, but the second
stage never ignited as planned after a 140 second coast. Reports indicated that telemetry
was lost even before first stage cutoff. Second stage ignition needed to be enabled from
the ground, which was impossible without an established downlink. The vehicle apparently
fell into the expected first stage drop zone, indicating that the first stage propulsion
phase had more or less succeeded.
SS-520-4 (SS-520 serial number 4) weighed about 2.6 tonnes at launch, which would have
made it the lightest-ever orbital rocket had it succeeded. The rocket was 9.54 meters long
and 0.52 meters diameter. It's first stage HTPB solid fuel motor produced about 18
tonnes of liftoff thrust.
The launch was to be a one-off experiment, so no additional SS-520-4 orbital attempts are
Falcon 9 Returns
Ending a four-month failure investigation stand-down, SpaceX Corporation's Falcon 9 launch
vehicle returned to service on January 14, 2017, orbiting ten IridiumNEXT satellites from
Vandenberg AFB in California. The v1.2 variant, informally designated F9-30 by outside
observers (it used first stage number B1029), lifted off from Space Launch Complex 4 East
at 17:54 UTC to begin a hour-long mission that inserted the 860 kg, Thales Alenia
Space-built satellites into roughly 610 x 620 km x 86.4 deg orbits. The satellites will
raise themselves into 780 km operational orbits.
After a 43 minute, 16 second coast, the Falcon 9 second stage restarted for a brief
second, circularization burn at first apogee about 52 minutes 31 seconds after liftoff to
complete the powered phase of the flight. Spacecraft separation began at about the 59
minutes 16 seconds mark, with each satellite separating individually separated by about
The first stage performed boost-back, reentry, and
landing burns before landing on the converted barge "drone ship" Just Read
the Instructions. It was the first successful first stage landing in two West Coast
attempts. Six previous first stage recoveries had been made after Cape canaveral liftoffs.
The launch was the first of seven planned IridiumNext Falcon 9 flights that will replace
the company's orbiting "Little LEO" communication satellite constellation.
Falcon 9 had been grounded since F9-29 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. SpaceX determined that the cause was sudden
overpressurization of the second stage liquid oxygen (LOX) tank due to the failure of a
composite overwrapped pressure vessel (COPV) containing pressurized helium that was
mounted inside the LOX tank. Improper control of subcooled-LOX temperatures may have been
involved. Elon Musk of SpaceX suggested that LOX froze within or beneath the composite
overwrapping, causing loss of COPV structural integrity.
SpaceX performed cryogenic loading tests, with some leading to failure, of small test
vessels at its McGregor, Texas test site to confirm the failure mode. The company also
changed its propellant loading procedures, more than doubling the LOX loading time.
The F9-30 first and second stages were test fired at the company's McGregor, Texas test
site during late October and early November, 2016. The first stage was hot fired at SLC 4E
on January 5, 2017 after a scrub the previous day. The IridiumNEXT payload was not atop
the vehicle during the wet dress rehearsal and hot fire exercise.
F9-30 was the 29th Falcon 9 launch and the ninth v1.2 variant to fly, not including the
lost AMOS 6 launch vehicle. It was the first v1.2 to fly from VAFB.
China's Kuaizhou 1A (KZ-1A), an improved variant of previously-flown Kuaizhou 1, flew for
the first time on January 9, 2016 from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The three-stage
solid fuel rocket lifted off from a mobile launcher on a flat pad at 04:11 UTC. Three
satellites, including remote-sensing JL-1 and CubeSats XY-S1 and Caton-1, separated into
sun synchronous orbits.
Expace Technology Co., Ltd., a subsidiary of China Aerospace Science & Industry Corp,
handled the launch as a commercial enterprise.
KZ-1A can loft 200kg into a 700 km sun synchronous orbit, or up to 300 kg to lower
inclincation low earth orbits. It is 20 meters tall, 1.4 meters in diameter, and weighs 30
tonnes at liftoff. The three solid motor stages weigh 16.621 tonnes, 8.686 tonnes, and
3.183 tonnes and have 65 second, 62 second, and 55 second burn times, respectively. The
first two stages are 1.4 meters diameter. The third stage is 1.2 meters diameter. 1.2 and
1.4 meter diameter fairing are available. This launch appeared to use the 1.4 meter
A small N2O4/MMH bipropellant insertion fourth stage
provided final orbit trim during a roughly 13 minute long period that included nearly six
minutes of low-thrust burn. Spacecraft separation began about 17.7 minutes after
China Kicks Off
China performed the first orbital launch of 2017 with a
CZ-3B/E launch from XiChang on January 5. The 3.5 stage rocket carried TJSW 2 (Tongxin
Jishu Shiyan Weixing, or Communications Engineering Test Satellite) aloft from LC 2 at
15:18 UTC. TJSW 2 entered a geosynchronous transfer orbit about one-half hour later after
two burns by the liquid hydrogen-fueled third stage.
Like the first TJSW launched September 12, 2015, TJSW 2's appears to have a classified
purpose. The first TJSW was used, in part, to test Ka-band technology for broadband
It was the 38th CZ-3B launch.
See Older Launch Reports in the Space Launch Report Archive