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Ed Kyle

Recent Space Launches

10/27/14, 06:59 UTC, CZ-2C with Shijian 11-08 from JQ 43/603 to LEO/S
10/28/14, 22:22 UTC, Antares 130 with Cynus Orb-3 from WI 0A [FTO]
10/29/14, 07:09 UTC, Soyuz 2-1A with Progress M-25M from TB 31/6 to LEO/ISS
10/29/14, 17:21 UTC, Atlas 5-401 with GPS 2F-8 from CC 41 to MEO
10/30/14, 01:42 UTC, Soyuz 2-1A/Fregat w/ Meridian 17L from PL 43/4 to EEO/M
11/06/14, 07:35 UTC, Dnepr with ASNARO from DO Y to LEO/S
11/14/14, 18:53 UTC, CZ-2C with YG 23 from TY 9 to LEO/S
11/20/14, 07:12 UTC, CZ-2D with YG 24 from JQ 43/603 to LEO/S
11/21/14, 06:37 UTC, Kuaizhou with Kuaizhou 2 from JQ to LEO/S
11/23/14, 21:01 UTC, Soyuz FG with Soyuz TMA-15M from TB 31/6 to LEO/ISS

Worldwide Space Launch Box Score
as of 11/23/14
All Orbital Launch Attempts(Failures)
2014:  76(4)
2013:  81(3)
2012:  78(6)
2011:  84(6)
Crewed Launch Attempts(Failures)
2014:  4(0)
2013:  5(0)
2012:  5(0)
2011:  7(0)

soytma15m.jpg (23428 bytes)Soyuz Orbits ISS Crew

A Soyuz FG rocket successfully launched Soyuz TMA-15M with three crew to the International Space Station on November 23, 2014. The 2.5 stage R-7 based launch vehicle lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome Area 31 Pad 6 at 21:01 UTC, beginning a 5 hour, 48 minute fast-track ascent to the station.

The crew included Russia's Anton Shkaplerov, Italy's Samantha Cristoforetti, and USA's Terry Virts. They joined Barry Wilmore, Alexander Samokutyaev, and Elena Serova on ISS.

It was the year's fourth crewed orbital space flight. All have been performed by Soyuz vehicles from Russia.  The launch was also the 50th by a Soyuz FG variant, all of which have been successful.

kz-2-as.jpg (24511 bytes)China Launches Second Kuaizhou
(Updated 11/24/14)

China launched the second quick response orbital launch vehicle named "Kuaizhou" ("Quick Vessel") on November 21, 2014 from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The rocket boosted a "disaster monitoring satellite", according to China's Xinhua, named Kuaizhou 2 into a 293 x 298 km x 96.56 deg orbit after a 06:37 UTC liftoff.

The first Kuaizhou launch from the same site occurred on September 25, 2013.  No photos of either launch were initially released.  Photos of the second launch vehicle in a hangar and being launched were made available on November 23, 2014.

Kuaizhou is believed to be a small solid fuel based launched vehicle developed by China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC). It may be based on the DF-21/25 or DF-31 solid fuel ballistic missiles already in China's inventory. Since those missiles are road mobile, the launch may have been performed from a mobile transporter erector launcher from a flat pad at Jiuquan.

kz-2-bs.jpg (3609 bytes)Kuaizhou uses grid fins at the base of its first stage to provide, or augment, initial steering.   It may have three solid stages and a fourth, potentially liquid insertion stage.   The fourth stage of propulsion may be built in to the satellite.

China attempted to develop a DF-31 based solid fuel orbital launch vehicle named KT-1 about ten years ago, but KT-1 failed in two test flights. The country then developed a DF-21 based ASAT launch vehicle named KT-2 that it used to destroy a satellite in orbit in 2007. On May 13, 2013, China launched another unknown solid fuel rocket on an extremely high altitude suborbital launch from XiChang.

It was the year's 75th known orbital launch attempt and the 12th by China.  Five of the world's last 10 orbital attempts were performed by China.

cz2dyg24.jpg (22109 bytes)CZ-2D Orbits Yaogan 24

China's Chang Zheng 2D orbited Yaogan 24, likely a Jianbing-6 series electro-optical military observation satellite, from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on November 20, 2014. The 232 tonne, two-stage rocket lifted off from LC 43/-603 at 07:12 UTC. The rocket delivered the satellite, which likely weighed about one tonne, into a 630 x 653 km x 97.91 deg sun synchronous orbit. Previous satellites of this series included Yaogan 2, 4, 7, and 11, launched in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010, respectively.

China’s Xinhua news agency reported that Yaogan 24 was a remote sensing satellite that will ”mainly be used for scientific experiments, natural resource surveys, crop yield estimates and disaster relief".

It was the 11th CZ launch of 2014, all but one of which have flown since the beginning of August.

cz2cyg23.jpg (12560 bytes)China Orbits Yaogan 23

A two-stage Chang Zheng 2C rocket orbited China's Yaogan 23 remote sensing satellite from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on November 14, 2014.  Liftoff of the 213 tonne launch vehicle from LC 9 took place at 18:53 UTC. Yaogan 23, which likely weighed less than one tonne, was lofted into a 470 x 497 km x 97.14 deg sun synchronous low earth orbit. 

China described the satellite's mission to be for "scientific experiments, land resources survey, crop yield assessment, disaster prevention and reduction, and other fields".  Western observers believed that Yaogan 23 was a radar ground mapping satellite with a primary military mission.

It was the 10th CZ launch of 2014.

dnepr21.jpg (4431 bytes)Dnepr Orbits Japanese Satellites

On November 6, 2014, a modified Russian R-36MUTTH "Satan" ICBM named Dnepr orbited five Japanese Earth observation satellites from the Yasnyy launch site at Dombarovsky. The launch from an underground missile silo took place at 07:35 UTC.

Dnepr boosted ASNARO (Advanced Satellite with New system ARchitecture for Observation), a 500 kg satellite for optical Earth observation built by NEC Corporation of Japan for the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, and four Japanese university microsatellites, each weighing between 49 and 60 kg, to a roughly 550 km x 97.46 deg sun synchronous orbit.

Russian Strategic Rocket Forces of the Russian Ministry of Defense performed the launch for ISC Kosmotras, which is a consortium of Russian, Ukrainian and Kazakhstan companies.

ant-v1v2s.jpg (15159 bytes)Orbital Announces Accident Recovery Plans

On November 5, 2014, Orbital Sciences announced its plans to recover from the October 28, 2014 Antares launch failure. Its plans included steps both to restore Antares to flight and to fulfill the company's contractual requirements under NASA's Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program.

Orbital's decisions were informed in part by early findings of the Antares launch failure Accident Investigation Board (AIB), which was focusing on a "probable turbopump-related failure in one of the two Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ26 stage one main engines". As a result of the findings, Orbital announced that it would likely discontinue use of the engines on future Antares launch vehicles.

The company was already planning to replace the AJ26 engines, which are refurbished forty year old NK33 engines made by Kuznetsov for the USSR's N1 rocket. Even before the failed Antares launch, Orbital had decided on an alternate, modern engine, thought most likely to be an Energomash RD-18x or RD-19x series staged combustion kerosene/LOX engine.

The new engines would not have flown on Antares until 2017 at the earliest, but Orbital now intends to accelerate the replacement effort and aim for a 2016 first flight of the re-engined rocket from Wallops. If no more AJ26 engines are flown, a two year or more gap in Antares flights will result. To compensate, Orbital said that it plans to fly one or two Cygnus cargo missions to the International Space Station on "non-Antares" rockets during 2015-2016.

Likely potential temporary Antares stand-ins include Atlas 5, Delta 4, Falcon 9, and Soyuz.

The company planned to take advantage of the heavier lifting capabilities of both the "non-Antares" rockets and of the upgraded Antares after 2016 to carry more cargo in each Cygnus than originally planned. The result will be one less Cygnus mission than originally planned, eliminating the need to build a spacecraft to replace the Cygnus lost on October 28.

ant5-post.jpg (7161 bytes)Rockets and Failure

For as long as rockets and rocket-powered craft have flown, there have been failures. Space Launch Report readers know that roughly one out of every 16 orbital space launch attempts on average end in failure, a record that has been repeated steadily for more than forty years.

It should not have been a surprise, then, when the fifth Orbital Science Antares launch vehicle failed on October 28, 2014, or when Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo broke up in flight three days later, killing Scaled Composites’ pilot Michael Alsbury and injuring pilot Peter Siebold. The Antares loss was the fourth known orbital space launch vehicle failure world-wide in 2014. At least 23 such failures have occurred since the start of 2010, and 126 since 1990.

Modern rocketry is a frightening balancing act. To accelerate from a dead stop to more than seven times faster than a rifle bullet in a few minutes, an orbital launch vehicle must create, contain, and endure extreme pressures, temperatures, and forces. All it takes to trip up the process is one loose connection, one small piece of sand or rust, a bad bit of metal or insulation, a misplaced bit in a control program, or an unexpected vibration.

Still, the general public continues to express surprise when a failure occurs. Perhaps it is because most failures occur out of sight, downrange or in orbit. Maybe it is because, increasingly, some launch providers refuse to show their failures. SpaceX, for example, has never showed external videos of its  fiery, explosive Falcon 1 failures. If not for a bystander with a camera, the world would not have seen its F9R test stage destroyed in a fireball above Texas earlier this year. SNC never showed the crash of its Dream Chaser prototype. North Korea and Iran don't show launches in real time and usually don't announce failures. China and now Russia don't show launches live which allows them to restrict videos of failures.

Fortunately, NASA TV did not restrict coverage of the spectacular Antares failure. It served as a necessary reminder to everyone that rockets fail. The network also showed a press conference held shortly after the launch that exhibited the type of resilience required to be in the rocket business. David Thompson, chairman and chief executive of Orbital Sciences, said during that conference, shortly after witnessing the $200+ million failure that, "Orbital has experienced adversity in the past, some of which was more difficult than this. And the company has always emerged stronger as a result. I am determined that we will do so again this time.”

Merid17L.jpg (17377 bytes)Soyuz 2-1A/Fregat Orbits Milcomsat

A Soyuz 2-1A launch vehicle with a Fregat upper stage orbited Meridian 17L, a Russian military communications satellite, from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on October 30, 2014. The 3.5 stage rocket lifted off from Site 43 Pad 4 at 01:42 UTC, beginning a 2 hour 16 minute mission that placed the 2 tonne satellite into an elliptical 12 hour "Molniya" orbit that was initially tracked to be 968 x 39,749 km x 62.81 deg.

It was the first flight of an NPO Lavochkin built Fregat stage since the August 22, 2014 failure of a Fregat stage launched from Kourou left two of Europe's Galileo navigation satellites in incorrect, useless orbits. That failure was subsequently found to have been caused by frozen propellant lines for attitude control thrusters. An investigation found that the propellant lines were routed next to helium lines. On some stages, the lines were in direct contact, allowing the cold helium line to freeze propellant in the propellant line during long coast periods.

Meridian 17L was described as the seventh next-generation Meridian satellite. The first such satellite was launched in 2006, but failed less than 2.5 years later. The second was placed in an incorrect orbit due to a Fregat failure in 2009. The fifth was lost in a Soyuz launch vehicle failure. The third and fourth next-generation Meridians were successfully launched in 2010 and 2011.

av050.jpg (12098 bytes)50th Atlas 5 Orbits GPS 2F-8

The 50th Atlas 5 rocket, a two-stage 401 variant, orbited U.S. Air Force Global Positioning Satellite 2F-8 from Cape Canaveral SLC 41 on October 29, 2014.  Liftoff occurred at 17:21 UTC to begin a 3.5 hour mission designed to place the 1.63 tonne navigation satellite into a 20,200 km x 55 deg circular orbit.  

Atlas climbed on a northeast azimuth from the Cape, paralleling the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.  Centuar performed a 12 minute 50 second long first burn as it flew up the coast and halfway across the Atlantic to lift itself into an elliptical 176 x 20,279 km x 55 deg transfer orbit.   After coasting for just over 3 hours to first apogee south of Australia, Centaur burned again for about 1.5 minutes to complete the mission.  

It was the 8th Atlas launch of 2014, the 15th orbital launch from Cape Canaveral during the year, and the 70th orbital launch attempt world-wide since January 1.

progm25m.jpg (15196 bytes)Soyuz 2-1A Inaugural Progress Launch

Russia's Soyuz 2-1A, an improved version of the long-flying Soyuz-U rocket, launched the Progress M-25M cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station from Baikonur Cosmodrome on October 29, 2014. It was the first use of Soyuz 2-1A, which incorporates upgraded engines and a digital control system, for a Progress mission, though the improved rocket has flown other missions for a decade. Liftoff from Area 31 Pad 6 took place at 07:09 UTC, with the launch vehicle targeting a 193 x 240 km x 51.67 deg insertion orbit.   The robot spacecraft docked with ISS about six hours later after a fast-track, four orbit ascent.

Progress M-25M weighed 7.29 tonnes at liftoff, including 2.351 tonnes of cargo.

Russia plans to begin using Soyuz 2-1A for crew launches after two years of testing on Progress missions.

ant5-1.jpg (13013 bytes)Antares/Cygnus Launch Fails

First Antares 130 on Pad 0A with Orb-3/Cygnus Payload

The fifth Orbital Sciences Antares rocket suffered a fiery failure moments after liftoff with the Orbital CRS-3 (Orb-3) Cygnus ISS resupply mission from Wallops Island, Virginia on October 28, 2014. Flying for the first time as an Antares 130 variant with a lengthened Castor 30XL second stage, the rocket lifted off from Pad 0A at 22:22 UTC.

The two AJ-26 first stage main engines ignited at T+0 seconds, followed by liftoff at about T+2 seconds. The initial moments of the ascent seemed normal until about T+14 seconds when the engine exhaust plume suddenly changed color from its usual intense white to a yellowish color. About one second later a ball of fire erupted from the aft section of the rocket and propulsion ceased.

The big rocket momentarily hung in midair before beginning to fall, engine section first, trailing a stream of fire. At about T+24 seconds, the nearly fully fueled Antares rocket impacted between the beach and the pad itself, creating a huge fireball that flung debris in all directions. An intense post-impact fire that appeared to involve pieces of the second stage solid propellant burned for many minutes.

Although Pad 0A exhibited signs of obvious damage, the basic reinforced concrete structure of the launch pad and other elements of the facility appeared on NASA TV to still be intact - one hopeful sign amidst the otherwise catastrophic scene.

ant5-3.jpg (5652 bytes)The Initial Fireball

Orbital CRS-3 included a Cygnus spacecraft loaded with 2.215 tonnes of cargo for the International Space Station, heaviest-ever for Cygnus which weighed about 5.644 tonnes including cargo.  The cargo included crew provisions, research hardware, emergency equipment, spacewalk supplies and packing materials. It was slated to stay at ISS for about one month until returning to a destructive reentry with about 1.36 tonnes of trash.

It was the first Antares failure. The Ukrainian/Russian/American rocket first flew on April 21, 2013. The second Antares carried the first Cygnus to ISS on the Orb-D1 mission on September 18, 2013. The subsequent operational Orb-1 and Orb-2 missions lifted off on January 9 and July 13, 2014, respectively.



ant5-4.jpg (10541 bytes)Ground Impact

Although the cause of the failure was not known immediately after launch, attention was expected to focus on the AJ-26 main engines, which are decades-old NK-33 Russian rocket engines that have been refurbished by U.S. Aerojet-Rocketdyne. On May 22, 2014, an AJ-26 being test fired at Stennis Space Center suffered a catastrophic failure 30 seconds into a planned 54 second burn. The failure destroyed the engine and triggered an investigation.

Orbital did not reveal the cause of the failure and damage to the test stand had prevented renewed testing by the time of the Orb-3 liftoff. The Orb-2 and Orb-3 Antares engines, which had previously been tested at Stennis before the May failure, were cleared for flight following borescope inspections and a review of their own test firing data.

cz2csj1108.jpg (3744 bytes)CZ-2C Orbits Shijian 11-08

A CZ-2C rocket launched China's Shijian 11-08 into sun synchronous orbit from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on October 27, 2014. It was the third Shijian 11 ("Practice") launch of the year and the second in a month. It was also likely the final launch of the Shijian 11 series.

The 213 tonne, two stage rocket lifted off from Launch Complex 43, Pad 603 at 06:59 UTC. The satellite, eigth in a series, entered a roughly 700 km x 98.22 deg orbit.

Shijian 11-08 was developed by China Spacesat Co. Ltd for China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. It likely weighed less than 1 tonne, given CZ-2C's near-polar orbit capability.

China announced that the satellite would be used to "conduct experiments in spece". No further details of the satellite mission were announced. It was the ninth Chang Zheng orbital launch of the year and the fourth launch in a month.

crs4sd.jpg (3912 bytes)Dragon Returns

SpaceX Dragon CRS-4 returned from a nearly five week stay at the International Space Station on October 25, 2014.  The cargo hauling capsule splashed down off Southern California's coast with 1.486 tonnes of cargo.  The CRS-4 mission began with a September 21, 2014 launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida.  CRS-4 was the fourth of at least 12 missions to ISS that SpaceX is contracted to fly under NASA's $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

cz3ce1.jpg (18455 bytes)China Launches Lunar Sample Return Precursor

China launched its Chang'e-5-T1 lunar sample return precursor test flight from XiChang Satellite Launch Center on October 23, 2014. Chang'e-5-T1, bound for a lunar free-return trajectory, lifted off from Launch Complex 2 atop the first Chang Zheng 3CE (Enhanced) launch vehicle at 18:00 UTC.  The spacecraft was inserted into a 209 x 413,000 km lunar transfer orbit.

After circumnavigating and passing about 13,000 km from the Moon's surface about four days after liftoff, the satellite is slated to return toward Earth and, a little more than eight days after liftoff jettison a reentry module that will return to be recovered in Inner Mongolia. The module is shaped like a scaled version of China's manned Shenzhou reentry module. It will have to endure an 11.2 km/sec high speed reentry that includes a skip-type profile.

Chang'e-5-T1 is a test of elements of the Chang'e-5 mission planned for 2017. Chang'e-5 will return a 2 kg sample of lunar soil and rocks to the Earth using a reentry module similar to the Chang'e-5-T1 module.

CZ-3CE is an enhanced version of the CZ-3C launch vehicle that uses a first stage stretched by 1.488 meters and boosters stretched by about 0.76 meters. The lengthened stage and boosters have both previously flown on the CZ-3BE launch vehicle, beginning in 2007. CZ-3CE can lift 3.9 tonnes to a standard GTO, an increase of 0.1 tonnes from CZ-3C. These "Enhanced" variants will become the new standards as China phases out the previous versions.

p399.jpg (12004 bytes)Proton Orbits Express AM6 (Updated 10/24/14)

Russia's 399th Proton orbited the Express AM6 communications satellite from Baikonur Cosmodrome on October 21, 2014. The 705 tonne, four-stage rocket lifted off from Site 81 Pad 24 at 15:09 UTC to begin a nearly 9.5 hour mission that included four burns by the Briz M upper stage.

Express AM6, a 3.358 tonne Express 2000 series satellite built by ISS Reshetnev, carried 72 transponders in Ku-band, C-band, Ka-band and L-band.

Ekpress-AM6 ended up in a 31,307 x 37,784 km x 0.7 deg orbit, short of the expected 33,800 x 37,787 km x 0.18 deg by about 50 meters per second delta-v.  During its fourth burn meant to raise the perigee and reduce the inclination of a 369 x 37,736 km x 49.56 deg transfer orbit, the Briz M stage cut off 24 seconds before its planned 779 second duration, leading outside observers to believe that some type of failure had occurred during the final burn even though Russian authorities insisted that the launch was successful.  Briz M used its own smaller thrusters to subsequently lift itself into a 34,984 x 39,549 km x 1.0 deg disposal orbit. 

Express AM6 should be able to use its electric propulsion system to maneuver itself from its "quasi-geosynchronous" insertion orbit to a final geostationary orbit at 53 degrees east longitude.  It is not known if the extra delta-v needed to reach GSO will affect the planned 15 year lifetime of the satellite.

The mission used Proton-M serial number 935-48 and Briz-M serial number 995-50. It was the sixth Proton launch, and fifth success, of 2014.

cz4cyg22.jpg (13783 bytes)CZ-4C Orbits Yaogan Weixing 22

A Chang Zheng (Long March) 4C rocket orbited China's Yaogan Weixing 22 reconnasaince satellite from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on October 20, 2014. The three-stage rocket lifted off from Launch Complex 9 at 06:31 UTC. YG-22 was inserted into a roughly 1,200 km x 100.32 deg orbit.

As usual for a satellite of this type, China announced that it had a remote sensing mission for "scientific experiments, land survey, crop yield assessment, and disaster monitoring". Outside observers believe that YG-22 is an optical reconnaisance satellite that likely has a military mission, at least in part.

otv3a.jpg (7014 bytes)X-37B Lands at Vandenberg AFB

After 674 days in orbit, the third X-37B unmanned reusable space plane mission (OTV-3) ended with a successful landing at Vandenberg AFB Runway 12. Touchdown occurred at 16:24 UTC. It was the second flight of the first of two X-37B spacecraft.

OTV-3 was orbited by Atlas 5-501 AV-034 from Cape Canaveral, Florida on December 11, 2012. It initially entered a low earth orbit inclined 43.5 degrees to the equator. Previous OTV mission launches took place on April 22, 2010 and March 5, 2011, lasting 224 and 469 days, respectively.

otv3b.jpg (9951 bytes)The X-37B spaceplane's specific mission and what it carried in its small payload bay were classified. The Air Force only described the mission in general terms as "risk reduction, experimentation, and concept of operations development for resuable space vehicle technologies".

After the landing, the Air Force announced plans to launch a fourth X-37B mission from Cape Canaveral in 2015. Boeing recently announced plans to move its X-37B operations into two former Shuttle orbiter hangars (OPF-1 and OPF-2) at nearby Kennedy Space Center.

va220.jpg (7412 bytes)Ariane 5 Launches Comsats for Latin America

An Ariane 5 ECA L574 orbited Intelsat 30/DLA 1 and Arsat 1, communication satellites for Latin America, on October 16, 2014. Arianespace Mission VA220 began from Kourou's ELA 3 launch complex with a 21:43 UTC liftoff. The satellites separated into geosynchronous transfer orbits about 30 minutes later.

Intelsat 30/DLA 1, a 6.32 tonne Space Systems/Loral satellite, carries 72 Ku-band and 10 C-band transponders and will raise itself into geostationary orbit at 95 degrees west. The 2.973 tonne Arsat 1 satellite, which rode to orbit below Intelsat 30, was built by INVAP in Argentina. It be positioned at 71.8 degrees west.

It was the fifth Ariane 5, and fourth Ariane 5 ECA, flight of 2014. It was also the 45th consecutive Ariane 5 ECA success, a streak that has lasted nearly 12 years.

pslvc26.jpg (16526 bytes)India Launches Navsat

PSLV-XL C26 successfully orbited India's IRNSS-1C navigation satellite on October 15, 2014 after launch from Sriharikota. The four stage rocket lifted off from Satish Dhawan Space Center's First Launch Pad at 20:02 UTC. The 1.425 tonne satellite separated into a subsynchronous transfer orbit about 20 minutes 18 seconds later.

The satellite will fire its liquid propulsion engine multiple times to raise itself from its initial 283 x 20,670 km x 17.9 deg transfer orbit into a 35,786 km x 0.0 deg geostationary orbit. IRNSS-1C had to be inserted into a subsynchronous orbit due to mass limits of the PSLV-XL launch vehicle.

It was the third Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System launch of seven planned by the end of 2015. Three will be placed in geostationary orbit while the other four will occupy inclined geosynchronous orbits.

It was the third PSLV launch, and fourth Indian launch, of 2014, the most-ever in a calendar year.

h2af25.jpg (5576 bytes)H-2A Orbits Weather Satellite

Japan's H-2A boosted the Himawari 8 weather satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit on October 7, 2014 from Tanegashima Space Center. H-2A F25, a "202" variant with two strap-on SRB-A solid motor boosters, lifted off from Yoshinobu Launch Complex Pad 1 at 05:16 UTC.

The 53 meter tall, 286 tonne rocket's liquid hydrogen fueled upper stage fired its LE-5B engine twice to boost the 3.5 tonne Mitsubishi Electric Corp. built satellite toward a planned 250 x 35,976 km x 22.4 deg transfer orbit. Spacecraft separation occurred 27 minutes and 57 seconds after liftoff.

Himawari 8 will use its own propulsion system to gradually move itself into a circular geostationary orbit above the equator at 140 degrees east longitude. It will work for the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA).

It was the third of four planned H-2A launches in 2014.

cz2c42.jpg (6313 bytes)CZ-2C Orbits Shijian 11-07

A CZ-2C rocket launched China's Shijian 11-07 into sun synchronous orbit from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on September 28, 2014. It was the second Shijian 11 ("Practice") launch of the year.

The 213 tonne, two stage rocket lifted off from Launch Complex 43, Pad 603 at 05:15 UTC. The satellite, seventh in a series, entered a roughly 700 km x 98.1 deg orbit.

Shijian 11-07 was developed by China Spacesat Co. Ltd for China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. It likely weighed less than 1 tonne, given CZ-2C's near-polar orbit capability.

Details of the satellite mission were not announced.  It was the 60th orbital launch attempt of the year, world wide.

p398.jpg (13484 bytes)Proton Returns to Flight

On September 27, 2014, four and a half months after it suffered a costly failure, Russia's Proton returned to flight with a successful launch for the Russian Ministry of Defense.  The 398th Proton, a three-stage Proton M with a Briz M fourth stage, boosted a secret satellite known as Luch ("Beam") or Olymp ("Olympus") into a geosynchronous orbit from Baikonur Cosmodrome.  Liftoff from Area 81 Pad 24 took place at 20:23 UTC to begin a roughly nine hour mission that involved four or five firings by the Khrunichev built storable propellant Briz M stage.

Analysts believe that the roughly 3 tonne satellite, built by ISS Reshetnev in Zheleznogorska, could have a data relay or a signals intelligence mission.  The Luch name has in the past been given to civilian data relay satellites, and no more were believed to be planned.  For that reason some believe that Luch is a diversionary cover name for this Olymp satellite.

Proton failed on its previous, May 15, 2014 flight when its third stage RD0214 steering engine suffered a turbopump failure about 540 seconds after liftoff, causing loss of control.  With the return to flight success, Proton M/Briz M scored its 69th success in 75 attempts.

tma14m.jpg (9232 bytes)Soyuz Crew Ascends to ISS

Three new International Space Station crew members transited to the station in Soyuz TMA-14M during a 6-hour, 4-orbit ascent following liftoff from Baikonur Cosmodrome on September 25, 2014. Commander Alexander Samokutyaev, NASA Flight Engineer Barry Wilmore, and Elena Serova, the first Russian woman to travel to ISS, lifted off from Area 1 Pad 5 atop a Soyuz FG rocket at 20:25 UTC.

They reached orbit nine minutes later, but problems arose when one of the spacecraft's two solar arrays failed to deploy. Flight controllers decided that the balky array was not a constraint and the crew pressed on without delay toward ISS.

tma14mb.jpg (4335 bytes)Soyuz TMA-14M Approaches ISS with Only One Solar Array Deployed

Sometime after docking, before the crew opened the Soyuz hatch, the solar array sprung free and deployed.

The three will join the Expedition 41 crew. When that crew departs in November, Wilmore will take command of Expedition 42.

It was the 15th R-7 launch, and third crewed Soyuz launch, of 2014.

f9-13a.jpg (13515 bytes)Falcon Lofts Dragon

A SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 successfully orbited the Dragon CRS-4 spacecraft on a resupply mission for the International Space Station from Cape Canaveral, Florida on September 21, 2014. The more than 500 tonne two-stage rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at 05:52 UTC to begin its 9 minute 30 second ascent to a 199 x 359 km x 51.644 deg orbit.

Dragon was loaded with 2.216 tonnes of cargo for ISS. The spacecraft weighed more than 8.6 tonnes at liftoff, including cargo. Included was the first 3D printer to be launched into space, 20 mice riding in a specially-made habitat, a radar scatterometer to measure ocean winds, and a metal plating experiment flown by a golf club manufacturer. that could improve the design of golf clubs.

f9-13b.jpg (11828 bytes)Dragon Separation

CRS-4 is slated to return to a splashdown off Southern California's coast with 1.486 tonnes of cargo after a four week stay at the station. It is the fourth of at least 12 missions to ISS that SpaceX is contracted to fly under NASA's Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

This Falcon 9 was not fitted with landing legs, but the first stage performed reentry and landing burns after separating from the second stage. During the ascent the first stage fired for about 2 minutes 50 seconds and the second stage for about 6 minutes 40 seconds. Dragon separation occurred about 10 minutes 15 seconds after liftoff.  Some time after separation, the second stage reignited to perform a brief deorbit burn that targeted a reentry south of New Zealand during the first orbit.

The launch came after a September 17, 2014 static test firing of the Falcon 9 first stage engines on SLC 40. It followed by only 14 days the previous Falcon 9 launch of Asiasat 6 from the same launch pad.  A 13 day turnaround might have occurred were it not for a weather scrub on September 20. 

It was the 13th Falcon 9, the 8th Falcon 9 v1.1, the 8th Falcon 9 launch during the past 12 months, and the fourth launch during the past two months.

be4.jpg (17594 bytes)ULA/Blue Origin to Develop Powerful New Engine

BE-4 Model at Press Conference

On September 17, 2014, United Launch Alliance and Blue Origin, a privately held company owned by founder Jeff Bezos, announced that they were teaming to jointly fund development of Blue Origin's new BE-4 rocket engine. The development effort would last four years, with full-scale testing in 2016 and first flight in 2019. The new engine would be available for use by both companies.

BE-4 will burn liquid oxygen and liquefied natural gas (LNG) in an oxygen rich staged combustion cycle to produce 550,000 pounds (249.5 tonnes) of sea level thrust. ULA boosters would use two BE-4s to produce 1,100,000 pounds (499 tonnes) of total thrust at sea level.

Blue Origin has been working on BE-4 development for three years, with component testing underway at the company's test site near Van Horn, Texas and in facilities near Kent, Washington. Completed testing has included subscale oxygen-rich preburner development and staged combustion testing of the preburner and main injector assembly. Testing of the turbopumps and main valves is the next major step. A large new test facility was completed in May, 2014 in Texas to support full-scale engine testing.

BE-4 should operate at a higher specific impulse than the Atlas 5 RD-180, but not as high as Delta 4's RS-68. The engine could be heavier than RD-180, and the less dense propellant would force use of bigger, heavier tanks than those used by Atlas 5, but BE-4s higher thrust compared to RD-180 would help offset those factors.

ULA noted that BE-4 is not a direct replacement for RD-180, but that "two BE-4s are expected to provide the engine thrust for the next generation ULA vehicles". The company said that the "next generation vehicles" would "maintain the key heritage components of ULA’s Atlas and Delta rockets", including the strap-on solid boosters, and said that details would be announced at a later date.

cst100x.jpg (14495 bytes)NASA Awards Commercial Crew to Boeing, SpaceX

CST-100 Approaching ISS

On September 16, 2014, NASA awarded commercial crew contracts to Boeing and SpaceX.   Boeing was alloted $4.2 billion to develop and fly CST-100. SpaceX won $2.6 billion to develop its Dragon V2. Although the awards differed in value, both companies responded to identical requirements. Both will develop and certify their spacecraft and launch systems, will perform a single crewed demonstration mission, possibly before the end of 2017, and both then will fly two to six missions to the International Space Station, carrying four astronauts during each flight. Both spacecraft will be designed to stay at ISS for up to 210 days to provide a lifeboat function.

The announcement left out Sierra Nevada Corporation's Dream Chaser, a lifting body design that would have glided to runway landings.

CST-100, a 4.56 meter diameter, 5.03 meter tall spacecraft, was expected to be launched by United Launch Alliance's Atlas 5 rocket. The spacecraft will use four Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-88 launch abort engines mounted in a pusher configuration on the aft end of a small cylindrical service module to provide emergency aborts. The engines will burn NTO and Hydrazine to together create about 72 tonnes of thrust. Aerojet Rocketdyne will also provide orbital maneuvering and attitude control thrusters for the spacecraft.

dragonv2x.jpg (11756 bytes)Dragon V2

An Atlas 5-422 version fitted with two strap on solid motors and a Centaur second stage powered by two RL-10 engines was a likely CST-100 launch vehicle. Development and certification of the two-engine Centaur would be required. Launches would take place from Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 41.

Dragon V2, a 3.7 meter diameter, 6.7 meter tall spacecraft, will be launched by a SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1. The launch site would be either SLC 40 at Cape Canaveral or LC 39A at Kennedy Space Center, which SpaceX is currently refurbishing for Falcon Heavy.

One reason for the contract price difference is likely that SpaceX has a head start on Boeing. SpaceX is already launching Dragon cargo missions to ISS. Dragon V2 will be built in the same factory and launched by the same, already proven rocket as Dragon. Boeing still has to have its launch vehicle developed and still has to outfit a production facility for its spacecraft. The company plans to build and process CST-100 in a former Orbiter Maintenance Facility building at KSC.

av049a.jpg (12478 bytes)Atlas 5 Orbits Mystery Satellite

AV-049 Liftoff from SLC 41

The 49th Atlas 5 launched "CLIO", a satellite with a secret mission launched for an unnamed government customer, from Cape Canaveral, Florida on September 17, 2014.   The two stage "401" rocket lifted off from SLC 41 at 00:10 UTC after being delayed by weather. 


av049b.jpg (16803 bytes)RL-10 Performing First Burn

The Centaur stage performed a roughly 14 minute long first burn to place itself and its Lockheed Martin A2100 series satellite into a roughly 176 x 28,871 km x 27.9 deg initial orbit. 

The stage was expected to perform a second burn of about 70 seconds duration after a cost of about 2.5 hours that would likely place the satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit with a high perigee.  

It was the seventh Atlas 5 launch of 2014.

va218.jpg (23173 bytes)Ariane 5 Launches Measat 3b/Optus 10

Ariane 5 Launcher Number 573, an Ariane 5 ECA, lofted Measat 3b and Optus 10 into geosynchronous transfer orbit from Kourou on September 11, 2014. The 780 tonne rocket lifted off from ELA 3 at 22:05 UTC to begin Arianespace Mission VA-218. The upper stage and payloads were inserted into a 249.8 x 35,786 km x 6 deg orbit about 25 minutes after liftoff, with spacecraft separation occurring sequentially over the next 10 minutes. Optus 10 rode in the lower position inside a SYLDA adapter and separated after Measat 3b.

Ariane 5's EPC core stage burned for nearly 9 minutes to push the upper stage into a suborbital trajectory. The ESC-A upper stage then performed a single, roughly 16 minute long burn to complete the ascent.

Measat 3b, built by Airbus on a Eurostar 3000L platform, weighed 5,897 kg at launch. It will use 48 Ku-band transponders and one experimental S-band payload to provide direct to home TV service in Malaysia, Indonesia, India and Australia.

Optus 10, a 3,270 kg Space Systems/Loral 1300-series satellite, will use 24 Ku-band transponders to transmit direct television, Internet, telephone and data to Australia, New Zealand and the Antarctic region.

It was the 45th Ariane 5 ECA launch and 44th success. It was also the 75th Ariane 5 launch and 71st success of all variants.

cz4byg21.jpg (18671 bytes)China Launches Remote Sensing Satellite

A Chang Zheng 4B launched China's Yaogan 21, a remote sensing satellite, into orbit from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on September 8, 2014. A secondary, 67 kg experimental "smart satellite" named Tiantuo 2 also rode to orbit. The three-stage storable propellant rocket lifted off from Launch Complex 9 at 03:22 UTC. The payloads entered a 476 x 493 km x 97.42 deg sun synchronous low earth orbit.  The third stage subsequently lowered its orbit.

Yaogan 21 is thought to be an electro optical imaging satellite. China announced that it will be used for "scientific experiments, land survey, crop yield assessment, and disaster monitoring". Western anaylsts believe it has a military observation mission.

The Chinese Academy of Space Technology (CAST) built Yaogan 21. Tiantuo 2 was designed and built by the National University of Defense Technology.

It was the year's fifth CZ launch, four of which have occurred during the last month.

f9-12.jpg (10617 bytes)Falcon 9 Launches Asiasat 6

A SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 boosted Asiasat 6 into geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on September 7, 2014. The 500-plus tonne two stage rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at 05:00 UTC to begin a 32 minute long mission that featured two burns of the Merlin 1D Vacuum powered second stage. The first burn placed the vehicle into a 202 x 175 km x 27.7 deg parking orbit about 9 minutes after liftoff. The second, roughly one-minute burn began after a 17 minute coast downrange to the equator. Asiasat 6, a 4.428 tonne Space Systems Loral 1300 series satellite, was targeted toward a 185 x 35,786 km x 25.3 deg GTO.

AsiaSat of Hong Kong owns the satellite, which will use 28 C-band transponders to transmit video and data across China and Southeast Asia. Transponder sharing with Thaicom will give the satellite a second moniker: Thaicom 7. AsiaSat 6's launch came just over one month after the previous Falcon 9 launched similar Asiasat 8.

The first stage restarted three of its Merlin 1D engines after stage separation.  The duration of the burn was not announced, but it was likely only a brief ignition test.   No landing burn was attempted. 

It was the seventh Falcon 9 v1.1 launch, the 12th Falcon 9, and the fifth SpaceX launch of 2014.

The launch was delayed two weeks to allow SpaceX engineers to review data from an August 22 failure of the company's Falcon 9R Dev 1 landing test rocket stage at the company's McGregor, Texas test site. On that date the test stage lifted off on the thrust of three Merlin 1D engines, but one of the outboard engines suffered a sensor failure at startup, creating conditions that ultimately led to loss of control and the triggering of an automatic destruct sequence after the stage had risen several hundred meters. The review confirmed that Falcon 9 v1.1 would not have encountered the problem because it uses redundant sensors while Falcon 9R Dev 1 used a single string setup.

Falcon 9R Dev 1 failed during its fifth test flight. It first flew on April 17, 2014. On subsequent tests it flew to 1,000 meters, maneuvered, and landed successfully. On its third test on June 17 it used steerable grid fins for the first time to augment control. The August 22 flight was apparently the first to use three engines, with the two outboard engines expected to be throttled and then shut down prior to landing.

cz2d21.jpg (3968 bytes)China Launches Two Comsats

A Chang Zheng 2D launch vehicle boosted two communications satellites into low earth orbit from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center for China on September 4, 2014. On board the two stage rocket were Chuangxin 1-04, a store dump communication satellite from the Chinese Academy of Sciences
designed to transfer data for "hydrology, weather, electric power, and disaster relief", and Ling Qiao, a 135 kg experimental communication satellite from the Tsinghua University. 

CZ-2D lifted off from LC 43/603 at 00:15 UTC, bound for a sun synchronous orbit.  The satellites entered 770 x 807 km x 98.47 deg and 778 x 809 km x 98.46 deg orbits, while the second stage was left in a 254 x 837 km x 98.00 deg orbit after venting its propellant.

It was the fourth CZ orbital launch of 2014 and the 21st CZ-2D flight.  All have succeeded.

vs09.jpg (11194 bytes)Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat Launch Fails (October 17, 2014 Update)

A Soyuz 2-1b with a Fregat upper stage placed a pair of European Galileo navigation satellites into incorrect, and possibly useless, orbits after an August 22, 2014 launch from Kourou Space Center. Flying the VS09 mission for Arianespace, the 3.5 stage rocket lifted off from the ELS pad at 12:27 UTC to begin a planned 3 hour 47 minute mission designed to loft the two 730 kg satellites into 23,522 km x 55.04 deg circular orbits.

Arianespace initially reported that the mission was a success, but hours later had to announce that tracking data had found a "discrepancy between [the] targeted and reached orbit". Tracking data showed three objects in roughly 13,720 x 25,920 km x 49.7 deg orbits, consistent with a problem occurring during the second and final Fregat burn at first apogee. The burn was expected to last five minutes. 

Since the launch vehicle flew a direct azimuth toward a 55 deg inclination and the final inclination was only 49.7 deg, it seemed likely that the Fregat stage performed an unplanned out-of-plane burn at apogee that wasted most of its planned delta-v increment.

On August 28, Russian newspaper Izvestia, quoting an unnamed source from Russia's Roscosmos, reported that the Fregat failure was likely caused by an "embedded software error" that resulted in the provision of an "incorrect flight assignment" for the stage.  On that same date, Anatoly Zak's Russianspaceweb reported that the stage had been improperly oriented prior to the final burn for reasons as-yet unknown.  Two attitude control thrusters had not provided an expected control impulse during an orientation maneuver, but the flight control system thought that the thrusters had worked and therefore did command a correction.

Subsequent investigation found that propellant lines for the thrusters were routed next to helium lines.  On some stages, the lines were in direct contact, allowing the cold helium line to freeze propellant in the propellant line during long coast periods.   The Galileo mission included a longer coast period than previous missions, allowing the long-unknown design flaw to be exposed.  A fix would involve precise configuration control of propellant line routings in all future Fregat stages.

Russia's TsSKB Progress built the 2.5 stage R-7 rocket.  NPO Lavochkin built the Fregat stage.  Both companies performed launch and flight operations.  

OHB-System and SSTL built the satellite bus and payload, respectfully, for the fifth and sixth Galileo satellites, which were to be named "Doresa" and "Milena". They were expected to be the first two “Full Operational Capability" satellites of a planned 22 satellite constellation.

cz4by27.jpg (14881 bytes)Gaofen 2 Launch

Chang Zheng (Long March) 4B serial number Y27 orbited China's Gaofen 2, a civilian high resolution earth observation satellite, along with BRITE-PL-2, a 7 kg microsatellite from Poland, from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on August 19, 2014. The three-stage rocket lifted off from Launch Complex 9 at 03:15 UTC. Gaofen 2 separated into a 604 x 631 km x 98.03 deg sun synchronous orbit.

Gaofen 2 is based on the CS-L3000A bus. It has 80 cm panchromatic and 3.2 meter multi-spectral resolution, with a designed lifespan of over 5 years. The satellite mass is unknown, but CZ-4B can lift about 2.0 to 2.5 tonnes to the Gaofen 2 orbit.

After separating Gaofen 2, the CZ-4B third stage pitched sideways to release BRITE-PL2. BRITE-PL-2 will take images of star fields to precisely measure the star brightness.

It was China's third orbital launch of 2014 and was the year's 50th known orbital launch attempt.

av047.jpg (12684 bytes)Atlas 5 Launches Commercial Spysat

Flying for Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services, a two-stage United Launch Alliance Atlas 5-401 boosted Worldview 3, a commercial optical imaging satellite, into sun synchronous low earth orbit from Vandenberg AFB on August 13, 2014.  Liftoff of the 333 tonne rocket took place from Space Launch Complex 3 East at 18:30 UTC. After a four minute first stage burn, the AV-047 Centaur stage flew a direct insertion ascent using a single RL-10A-4-2 burn that lasted 11 minutes 43 seconds. The 2.812 tonne Ball Aerospace-built satellite separated into a 607 x 629 km x 97.97 deg orbit about 19 minutes after liftoff.

Worldview 3 will provide 31 cm optical resolution from its operational 617 km orbit for DigitalGlobe of Longmont, Colorado. It is the sixth observation satellite for DigitalGlobe, which sells imagery to the U.S. government and to commercial companies.

Atypically, ULA did not provide a prelaunch press-kit with launch timing information.   Since Atlas 5-401 should be able to lift 6 tonnes or more to the Worldview 3 orbit, it seems likely that the Centaur stage performed one or more post-separation burns.    

It was the sixth Atlas 5 launch of 2014, and the second Atlas 5 of the year to fly from Vandenberg AFB.

cz4cyg20.jpg (8833 bytes)China Launch from Jiuquan

A Chang Zheng 4C boosted multiple objects into orbit from Chian's Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on August 9, 2014. The three-stage rocket, tail number Y14, lifted off from LC 43/603 at 05:45 UTC, officially carrying the Yaogan 20 remote sensing satellite.

China's Xinhua press service only discussed the Yaogan 20 satellite, which it said will "conduct scientific experiments, carry out land surveys, monitor crop yields and aid in preventing and reducing natural disasters". After the launch, however, western tracking systems showed five objects in roughly 1,087 x 1,104 km x 63.4 deg orbits, along with the spent third stage in an 898 x 1,111 km x 63.45 deg orbit. Some analysts believe that the launch carried multiple satellites designed to monitor naval activity.

It was the second CZ launch of the year, and the first CZ-4 series launch since a December 9, 2013 launch failure that involved a CZ-4B third stage.  Both CZ-4B and CZ-4C use hypergolic propellant fueled third stages powered by twin YF-40 engines, but the CZ-4C stage can be restarted.  

f9-11.jpg (12618 bytes)Falcon 9 Launches Asiasat 8

The 11th SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, and the sixth v1.1 variant, boosted the Asiasat 8 communications satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit from Cape Canaveral on August 5, 2014. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 took place at 08:00 UTC, only three weeks after the previous Falcon 9 launch from the same pad. 

Falcon 9's second stage performed two burns during a 32 minute mission to aim the 4,535 kg Space Systems Loral 1300 series satellite toward a 185 x 35,786 km x 24.3 deg insertion orbit. Asiasat 8 will burn its own propellant to provide roughly 1,750 meters per second delta-v to reach geostationary orbit.

Before the encapsulated Asiasat 8 satellite was attached, the rocket was rolled out to perform a brief static test firing on July 31, 2014.  Like recent payloads, Asiasat 8 was processed in the SPIF (Satellite Processing and Integration Facility) at Cape Canaveral.  The SPIF, part of the former Titan Integrate Transfer Launch (ITL) launch complex, formerly handled Shuttle, Titan IV, Altas II, and EELV Defense Department payloads.    

Asiasat 8 was the heaviest beyond LEO payload carried by a Falcon 9 to date.  Falcon 9 flew in expendable mode without landing legs as a result.  It was the year's fourth Falcon 9 launch.

av048b.jpg (10558 bytes)Atlas 5 Orbits GPS 2F-7

A two-stage Atlas 5-401 orbited U.S. Air Force Global Positioning Satellite 2F-7 from Cape Canaveral SLC 41 on August 2, 2014.  Liftoff of the year's fifth Atlas 5 at 03:25 UTC began a 3.5 hour mission that put the 1.63 tonne GPS 2F-7 navigation satellite into a 20,200 km x 55 deg circular orbit. 

Atlas climbed on a northeast azimuth from the Cape, parallelling the U.S. Eastern seaboard.  Centuar performed a 12 minute 48 second long first burn to lift itself into an elliptical transfer orbit with a 20,000+ km apogee.   After coasting for just over 3 hours to first apogee south of Australia, Centaur burned again for just over 2 minutes to complete the mission.  

It was the 10th orbital launch from Cape Canaveral in 2014.

va219.jpg (11679 bytes)Final ATV Launch

An Ariane 5ES orbited European Space Agency's fifth and final Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), with cargo for the International Space Station (ISS), from Kourou on July 29, 2014. ATV-5, named "Georges Lemaître" after the Belgian scientist who formulated the Big Bang Theory, separated into a 255.3 x 260.5 km x 51.64 deg orbit about one hour after the VA219 mission lifted off from ELA-3 at 23:47 UTC.

Ariane 5’s hypergolic propellant fueled EPS upper stage performed two burns prior to spacecraft separation, followed about 1.5 hours later by a third deorbit burn.

ATV-5 weighed 19,926 kg at liftoff - heaviest ever for an Ariane 5. The mass included 2,628 kg of dry cargo and 3,933 kg of propellant, water, and gases, for a total of 6,561 kg of cargo. The robotic spacecraft will dock to ISS several days after launch, beginning a six month stay.

Previous ATV launches took place in 2008, 2011, 2012 and 2013.

d368-1.jpg (5013 bytes)Delta 4 Launches "Neighborhood Watch" Spysats

A Delta 4 lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida on July 28, 2014 with two U.S. Air Force Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP) satellites. They were the first two satellites in a planned GSSAP constellation that will drift above and below the geosynchronous belt to monitor other objects in space.

The Delta 4M+4,2, with two strap on boosters and a four-meter diameter payload fairing, lifted off from Space Launch Complex 37B at 23:28 UTC. The mission was expected to directly insert both GSSAP satellites and a microsatellite named ANGELS (Automated Navigation and Guidance Experiment for Local Space) into near geosynchronous orbit about six hours later, using a three-burn upper stage profile.  ANGELS was expected to test "autopilot space situational awareness" by navigating around the second stage after separation.

Orbital Sciences built all three satellites.  The two GSSAP satellites likely weighed 0.7 tonnes or less each.  Two additional GSSAP satellites are planned to be launched by an Atlas 5 in 2016. 

The launch required five countdowns over six days.  The initial attempt on July 23 was scrubbed due to a problem with ground support equipment. Attempts on the following three days were stopped by bad weather.

It was the 20th Delta 4 Medium launch, all of which have been successful.

progm24m.jpg (7589 bytes)Progress M-24M Flies to ISS

Russia's Soyuz U launched Progress M-24M, with cargo for the International Space Station, into orbit from Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 23, 2014. The robot spacecraft flew a fast track, four-orbit, six hour approach to ISS.  Progress M-24M lifted off from Area 1 Pad 5 at 21:44 UTC. The spacecraft carried about 2.6 tonnes of cargo and fuel to the station.

ISS currently houses a crew of six that includes NASA's Steve Swanson and Reid Wiseman, European Space Agency's Alexander Gerst, and Russia's Maxim Suraev, Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev.

It was the 56th Progress flight to ISS, and the 151st flight of any type to the station since construction began in 1998.

r71825.jpg (6372 bytes)Soyuz 2-1a Launches Foton M4

A 2.5 stage Soyuz 2-1a launch vehicle orbited Foton M4 from Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 18, 2014. Liftoff from Area 31 Pad 6 took place at 20:50 UTC. 6.84 tonne Foton M4, equipped with a recoverable reentry capsule packed with biological samples, entered low earth orbit about 10 minutes later. The capsule is expected to return after about two months in orbit.

Russia's webcast of the launch was not available in the United States and the United Kingdom.

f9-10a.jpg (18453 bytes)Long Falcon 9 Campaign Ends with Success

The fifth SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1, and tenth Falcon 9 overall, launched six Orbcomm data relay satellites into low earth orbit following a July 14, 2014 Cape Canaveral launch.  Liftoff from SLC 40 took place at 15:15 UTC.  The second stage performed a single direct insertion burn to place the Orbcomm OG 2 payload, consisting of an adapter with six 172 kg Orbcomm satellites and two 172 kg mass simulators, into a 614 x 743 km x 47 deg orbit.   Sierra Nevada Corporation and Boeing Corporation built the satellites, which will maneuver themselves into 715 km circular operational orbits.

The launch culminated a difficult campaign that endured more than two months of delays.   An early May launch date had to be postponed after a May 8, 2014 static test was called off due to ground support equipment issues.  A helium leak occurred inside the first stage during propellant loading for a second static test attempt on May 9, 2014.   The leak required rollback of the rocket for inspection and replacement of an unspecified part from the stage, along with a review of designs and procedures.

The Orbcomm payload was deencapsulated and removed from the rocket after the leak.   After the rocket was repaired, the launch campaign restarted, leading to a successful static test on June 13, 2014.  Then the launch was delayed for five days due to issues that appeared during testing of the Orbcomm satellites after their period of storage at SLC 40.

f9-10c.jpg (16257 bytes)On June 20, 2014, a launch attempt was scrubbed several minutes before liftoff due to a decay in second stage pressurization, apparently due to an issue with ground support equipment.  A June 21 attempt was scrubbed due to weather after the propellant was loaded.  Another attempt was scrubbed on June 22 before propellant loading began after a problem with a first stage thrust Vector Control actuator was detected.  Once again, Falcon 9 was rolled back into its hangar for repairs.

While repairs were underway, the Cape Canaveral range entered a pre-planned two-week shutdown for maintenance, which prevented launch attempts.  The rocket was static tested on July 1, 2014.  On the evening of July 10, 2014, Falcon 9 No. 10 rolled out to its pad for the final time.

The Falcon 9 first stage burned for about 2 minutes 38 seconds as the rocket climbed on a steeper than typical trajectory while aiming for a 620 km insertion altitude.  The trajectory also allowed the first stage to attempt a landing closer to Cape Canaveral than achieved during the previous flight.  The second stage fired for about 6 minutes 46 seconds to reach its insertion orbit. Orbcomm deployment began about 15 minutes after launch.

After staging, the first stage perrformed a reentry burn, followed by reentry and a final landing burn to attempt soft landing in the Atlantic Ocean, in a continuation of a test series evaluating the possibility of recovering the first stage by having it fly back and land near its launch site.  SpaceX head Elon Musk tweeted that the burn and leg deployment were successful, but that the stage "lost hull integrity right after splashdown (aka kaboom)". He said that a review of data was needed to determine if the issue was due to splashdown forces or to the tip over and "body slam" after landing.  A few days later, he reported that the "body slam" was likely responsible, suggesting that the landing itself had been successful.  SpaceX subsequently released on-board video that showed a successful landing.  The released video cut off just before the safely landed stage tipped sideways into the ocean.

The second stage performed a reentry burn after payload separation, a maneuver aided by the substantial excess delta-v for this mission.  Total deployed operational mass was only 1.032 tonnes. Total mass including the two mass simulators and deployment adapter was likely only about 1.5 tonnes.  Falcon 9 v1.1 capability to the Orbcomm insertion orbit was likely more than 10 tonnes, though some of that capability was likely expended in the steep ascent.

orb2-13.jpg (13900 bytes)Antares Launches Cygnus/Orb-2

Orbital Sciences' Antares boosted a Cygnus spacecraft into orbit from Wallops Island, Virginia on July 13, 2014 to begin NASA's Orb-2 International Space Station resupply mission. Cygnus Orb-2, named "Janice Voss" in honor of the late former Orbital employee and NASA astronaut, carried 1,493.8 kg of crew supplies, vehicle hardware, science equipment, and other equipment inside its cylindrical pressure hull.  Including cargo, Cygnus weighed about 4.923 tonnes at liftoff.

Liftoff of the fourth Antares rocket took place from Wallops Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0A at 16:52 UTC. Antares' twin AJ-26 engines produced about 332 tonnes of   liftoff thrust and burned for 3 minutes 55 seconds to lift the vehicle to more than 158 km altitude and a velocity of about 4.5 km/sec. The second stage and payload section separated and coasted for about 1 minute 45 seconds before the Castor 30B second stage
motor ignited to produce an average of more than 28 tonnes of thrust during a 2 minute 17 second burn. Just before second stage ignition, the payload fairing and interstage sections separated. Cygnus separated into a 191 x 284 km x 51.64 deg orbit.

orb2b.jpg (20362 bytes)"Janice Voss" approaches ISS

It was the fourth Antares launch, the third Cygnus spacecraft flight, and the second contracted ISS cargo supply mission for Cygnus. "Antares 120", a variant with a Castor 30B second stage, flew for the second and final time during the mission. "Antares 130" with a longer, more powerful Castor 30XL motor will perform subsequent ISS cargo missions beginning later in 2014.

The launch was originally scheduled for May, 2014, but ISS conflicts forced an initial delay. Then, on May 22, 2014, an AJ-26 being test fired at Stennis Space Center suffered a catastrophic failure 30 seconds into a planned 54 second burn. The failure destroyed the engine and triggered an investigation. Orbital did not reveal the cause of the failure. The Orb-2 Antares engines were cleared for flight following borescope inspections and a review of their own test firing data.

Cygnus "Janice Voss" reached ISS on July 16, 2014.

O3bF2.jpg (15495 bytes)Soyuz Completes Internet Constellation

A Soyuz 2.1b/Fregat orbited four broadband Internet trunking satallites for O3b Networks (O3b stands for the "Other 3 billion") from Guiana Space Center at Kourou on July 10, 2014. The 3.5 stage Russian rocket lifted off from Kourou's ELS pad at 18:55 UTC to kick off the VS08 mission for Arianespace. After a nearly 2.5 hour mission involving four Fregat upper stage burns, the four 700 kg satellites were released into 7,850 km x 0.04 deg equatorial orbits designed to provide coverage for emerging markets in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Australia and the Middle East.

Thales Alenia Space built the O3b constellation satellites, which join the first four that were launched in June, 2013 by an identical rocket to form an initial, fully operational constellation.

After satellite deployment, Fregat performed two more burns to raise itself into a planned 8,003 x 8,041 km x 0.02 deg disposal orbit.

It was the fourth Russian space launch in seven days. 

angara1-2pp1.jpg (6156 bytes)angara1-2pp5.jpg (1960 bytes)Russia's Angara Flies from Plesetsk

After a two decade long, stop-start development program, Russia's new LOX/kerosene fueled Angara rocket performed its first test launch from Russian soil on July 9, 2014. The suborbital flight from Plesetsk Cosmodrome was made by an Angara 1.2PP, a special two-stage version specifically prepared by Khrunichev for this inaugural test. The launch should herald the start of a new modular launch vehicle family capable of lifting a range of payloads ranging from light to heavy.

Angara 1.2PP (PP for Pervy Polyot, or "First Flight") consisted of a 2.9 meter diameter URM-1 (Universal Rocket Module) first stage topped by a 3.6 meter diameter URM-2 second stage. Heavy lifter Angara 5, planned to fly later this year, will use five clustered URM-1 modules topped by a URM-2 second stage, so the flight served served as an Angara 5 precursor test. The 171 tonne, 42.8 meter tall white rocket lifted off from Plesetsk Cosmodrome Site 35/1 at 12:00 UTC, rising slowly on 196 tonnes of thrust produced by a single Energomash RD-191 staged combustion engine.

First stage burnout was expected to occur about 3 minutes, 39 seconds after launch, as Angara headed east across Russia's missile test range. Stage separation was planned to occur about 3 seconds later, followed 2 seconds after that by ignition of the 30 tonne thrust RD-0124A second stage engine. This staged-combustion, four-chamber engine, similar to the engine developed to power the upgraded Soyuz-2-1b upper stage, was expected to perform a 4 minute 28 second burn to boost the stage and instrumented test payload to near-orbital velocity with an apogee of nearly 190 km. The rocket's 2.9 meter diameter payload fairing was to separate shortly after second stage ignition.

According to official Russian media, the remains of the stage and payload impacted the Kura test site on the Kamchatka Peninsula about 21 minutes after liftoff, some 5,700 km downrange.

The launch took place after an aborted launch attempt on June 27 that was caused by a loss of pressure in the first stage LOX tank.  That, like most non-defense launch attempts, was broadcast live to Russian citizens and to the world, but such long-standard live coverage was not provided for both the June 8 Meteor M2 launch and the inaugural Angara launch.

r71823.jpg (17766 bytes)Soyuz 2-1b Orbits Seven Satellites

Russia's Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat orbited that country's Meteor M2 weather satellite, along with six smaller satellites from several countries, from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan on July 8, 2014. Liftoff from Area 31 Pad 6 took place at 15:58 UTC to start a slighly-more than 1.5 hour mission.

The storable propellant Fregat stage performed two burns before deploying the 2.7 tonne primary payload into an 835 km x 98.8 deg sun synchronous orbit about one hour after liftoff.

During the next 30+ minutes, Fregat performed two more burns while maneuvering into lower orbits to deploy the smaller satellites. The first to be released was Russia's Relek (MKA-FKI), a 0.25 tonne magnetospheric science satellite. Next was the 0.1 tonne U.S. Skysat 2 commercial imaging satellite. A 0.15 tonne UK satellite named TechDemoSat 1 was released next, followed by 6.5 kg AISSat 2 and 3 kg UKube 1, two nanosatellites from Norway and Scotland, respectively.

A 9.5 kg dummy mass was carried in place of Canada's M3MSat, which was pulled from the manifest by Canada's government in protest of Russia's 2014 actions in Ukraine.

After the payloads were deployed, Fregat performed a fifth, deorbit burn to remove itself from orbit.

Roscosmos cancelled its previously announced webcast of the launch only minutes before it was expected to begin, without explanation.

rokot23.jpg (6343 bytes)Rokot Orbits Gonets 3M Satellites

Russia's Rokot/Briz KM orbited three Gonets 3M data relay satellites from Area 133 Pad 3 at Plesetsk space center on July 3, 2014.  The three stage rocket lifted off at 12:43 UTC.  Its Briz-KM thired stage performed two burns to lift the 282 kg satellites, identified as 18L, 19L, and 20L, into 1,480 x 1,510 km x 82.5 deg orbits. 

The first Briz KM burn began about five minutes after liftoff and lasted for about 9.5 minutes to insert the vehicle into an elliptical parking orbit. The second, circulization burn began about 1.5 hours after liftoff near apogee and lasted for less than one minute.  Spacecraft separation occurred at about 14:28 UTC.   

It was the year's second Rokot launch. 

d367-1.jpg (5119 bytes)Delta 2 Returns with OCO-2 Launch

After a three year hiatus, and a one-day delay caused by a faulty launch pad water deluge system, Delta 2 returned to service on July 2, 2014, successfully orbited NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO-2) satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The 2.5 stage United Launch Alliance Delta 2-7320-10, with three strap-on solid boosters and a 10 foot diameter composite fairing, lifted off from Space Launch Complex 2 West at 09:56 UTC. The 39 meter tall, 152 tonne rocket lifted off on 227 tonnes (about 500,000 lbs) of thrust produced by three Graphite Epoxy Motors (GEMs) and the RS-27A RP/LOX first stage engine. Delta's hypergolic (Aerozine 50 and Nitrogen Tetroxide) fueled second stage fired its 4.47 tonne thrust AJ-10-118K engine twice during a 56 minute long mission to aim OCO-2 toward a targeted 686 km x 98.2 km sun synchronous orbit.

OCO-2 is NASA’s first spacecraft dedicated entirely to measuring atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). The 453 kg satellite, built by Orbital Sciences for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will map the geographic and seasonal variations of both human and natural sources of carbon dioxide, and the "sinks" that pull CO2 out of the atmosphere.   OCO-2 replaces OCO-1, which was lost in a Taurus launch failure on February 24, 2009 due to a payload fairing separation failure.

d367-2.jpg (7081 bytes)During the ascent, the three GEM boosters burned out 64 seconds after liftoff, but were not jettisonned until the 99 second mark in order to clear offshore oil rigs. The RS-27A main engine shut down at T+264 seconds, followed 8 seconds later by stage separation. The first second stage burn extended from T+278 seconds to T+621 seconds (T+10m 21s), leaving the stage and payload in an elliptical transfer orbit. Payload fairing separation occurred during the burn at the 301 second mark.

After coasting over Antarctica and the Southern Ocean to Madagascar on the east African coast, Delta's second stage reignited 50 minutes and 50 seconds after liftoff for a 12.4 second burn that circularized the orbit. OCO-2 separated about five minutes later.

Vandenberg AFB SLC 2W was one of seven Thor launch pads built during the late 1950s at the California launch site.  Known originally as 75-1-2, the pad hosted its first Thor launch on September 17, 1959.  After serving as a Thor-Agena launch pad during the 1960s, it was converted to host NASA's Delta launch vehicles beginning in 1967.

It was the 152nd Delta 2 launch, the 51st NASA Delta 2, the 42nd Delta 2 from SLC 2W, and the 97th consecutive success.  Only three more Delta 2 flights are currently scheduled.  Parts for a fourth, unassigned Delta 2 exist.

See Older Launch Reports in the Space Launch Report Archive