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SPACE LAUNCH REPORT
by
Ed Kyle



Recent Space Launches

03/27/15, 21:46 UTC, Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat with 2xGalileo from KO ELS to MEO
03/28/15, 11:49 UTC, PSLV-XL with IRNSS-1D from SR 2 to GTO-
03/30/15, 13:52 UTC, CZ-3C/YZ-1 with Beidou 17 from XC 2 to GEO/I
03/31/15, 13:48 UTC, Rokot/Briz KM with 3xGonets 3M from PL 133/3 to LEO
04/14/15, 21:10 UTC, Falcon 9 v1.1 with CRS-6 from CC 40 to LEO/ISS
04/26/15, 20:00 UTC, Ariane 5 ECA with Thor 7/Sircal 2 from KO 3 to GTO
04/27/15, 23:03 UTC, Falcon 9 v1.1 with TurkmenAlem 52E from CC 40 to GTO
04/28/15, 07:09 UTC, Soyuz 2-1a with Progress M-27M from TB 31/6 to [LEO]
05/16/15, 05:47 UTC, Proton M/Briz M with MexSat 1 from TB 200/39 [FTO]
05/20/15, 15:05 UTC, Atlas 5-501 with AFSPC-5 from CC 41 to LEO

Worldwide Space Launch Box Score
as of 05/20/15
All Orbital Launch Attempts(Failures)
2015:  26(2)
2014:  92(4)
2013:  81(3)
2012:  78(6)
Crewed Launch Attempts(Failures)
2015:  1(0)
2014:  4(0)
2013:  5(0)
2012:  5(0)

av054.jpg (8347 bytes)Atlas 5 Launches AFSPC-5

AV-054, an Atlas 5-501 with no solid boosters and a 5.4 meter diameter payload fairing, orbited the AFSPC-5 (Air Force Space Command) mission for the U.S. Air Force from Cape Canaveral, Florida on May 20, 2015. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41 took place at 15:05 UTC. The mission flew into a media blackout shortly after the Centaur second stage RL-10C-1 engine ignited.

When the media blackout began, the vehicle was on a northeast track consistent with previous AFSPC flights that carried five tonne X-37B spaceplanes into low earth orbits inclined about 40 degrees to the equator. This flight was also described as an X-37B launch by the Air Force, but no confirming images of an X-37B payload for this mission were provided as they had been during three previous missions.

Publicized secondary payloads included a Hall effect thruster for the Air Force, a NASA materials exposure payload, an "UltraSAT" payload comprised of ten microsatellites for NASA, the Pentagon, and universities, and LightSail-A, a prototype solar sail by the Planetary Society. UltraSAT remained attached to the Centaur stage after AFSPC-5 separation, presumably allowing its payloads to be deployed into a different orbit after Centaur performed a second burn.



p404.jpg (10796 bytes)Proton Fails Again

Russia's Khrunichev-built Proton M/Briz M launch vehicle suffered another launch failure on May 16, 2014, almost exactly a year after an eerily similar failure, while attempting to boost the MexSat-1 communications satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit. The failure occurred during the third stage burn about 490 to 498 seconds after an 05:47 UTC liftoff from Baikonur Cosmodrome Area 200 Pad 39. The similar May 15, 2014 failure occurred 540 seconds after liftoff.

The 4.1 meter diameter third stage is powered by an RD-0212 propulsion system that consists of a single fixed RD-0213 engine that produces 59 tons thrust for about 232 seconds and a four-nozzle RD-0214 vernier/steering engine that produces 11.7 tonnes of vacuum thrust for about 247 seconds. A single turbopump feeds propellant to the four steering engine nozzles.  The stage typically ignites about 327 seconds into a launch.

Mexsat 1, also known as Centenario, was a 5,325 kg Boeing 702HP GEM series satellite with L and Ku-band transponders.

A failure investigating commission will be formed. In the mean time, Proton will again be stood down.  It was the 48th Proton launch system failure and the 404th Proton launch.  Eight of the failures have occurred since 2010 inclusive, a period that has seen 53 Proton launches.

 
dragonpa.jpg (6877 bytes)Dragon Pad Abort Test

SpaceX performed a Crew Dragon pad abort test from Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 40 on May 6, 2015. The test demonstrated basic operation of a launch abort sequence designed to pull the crewed spacecraft away from a Falcon 9 rocket in the event of a failure. The test was a key milestone in the company's commercial crew development effort for NASA.

The Crew Dragon capsule and its attached trunk were boosted off a specially constructed launch stand at 13:00 UTC by eight Super Draco engines that produced about 54.4 tonnes of thrust for just under six seconds. The spacecraft steered toward the ocean during the thrusting period, and rose to nearly 1,500 meters before the trunk separated, the capsule rotated, and parachute deployment began. Crew Dragon landed about 1,200 meters offshore and was recovered by crews on boats and a barge. The test lasted less than two minutes.

Elon Musk reported after the test that one of the Super Dracos, which burn pressure-fed N2O4/MMH, underperformed, leaving the capsule slightly short of its planned velocity and altitude, but the test objectives were achieved. SpaceX plans to reuse the test vehicle on a high-speed in-flight abort test from Vandenberg AFB in coming months.




progm27m.jpg (6678 bytes)Progress Launched, Lost in Orbit

A Soyuz 2-1a boosted Russia's Progress M-27M unmanned cargo spacecraft into orbit, intended for same-day docking with the International Space Station, from Baikonur Cosmodrome on April 28, 2015. Shortly after separating into orbit, however, contact was lost with the Progress spacecraft.  Later, Progress was found to be spinning, out of control, end over end in its insertion orbit.  Russian controllers spent a day considering how or if control might be restored.  On April 29 controllers declared the mission a total loss after finding the Progress propellant manifold system unpressurized. 

The 2.5 stage kerosene fueled rocket lifted off from Area 31 Pad 6 at 07:-09 UTC. Progress M-27M reached a low earth orbit about nine minutes later.  The spacecraft was subsequently, and incorrectly, tracked in a 120 x 314 km x 51.65 deg orbit, which was off from the nominal 193 x 238 km x 51.67 deg.  Later tracking updates showed a closer-to-nominal 188 x 260 km orbit.  

Progress subsequently reentered over the South Pacific Ocean at 02:04 UTC on May 8. 

It was not immediately clear if the problem was due to a launch vehicle or spacecraft issue. An Interfax report late on launch day hinted that officials were looking at a possible upper stage problem that may have resulted in a mis-timed or unplanned spacecraft separation.  A telemetry drop out reportedly occured 1.5 seconds before the planned separation.  U.S. tracking systems subsequently detected dozens of objects in orbit near the upper stage.  Russian officials noted that the Soyuz 2-1a upper stage had over-shot the planned insertion orbit apogee.

After Progress deployed its solar arrays, it was supposed to pressurize its propellant system and deploy its Ku band antenna.  Contact was lost before either step could be confirmed, and no telemetry was received during the first two or three orbits.  Later, an on board video briefly transmitted from Progress showed it in a longitudinal (head over heels) spin, completing one revolution about every six seconds.    

Progress weighed about 7,289 kg at liftoff.  The ship carried 2,769 kg of dry cargo, food, rocket propellant, water and oxygen meant for ISS.

It was the year's fifth R-7 launch, a total that includes two Progress and one Soyuz launch to ISS.


f9-17.jpg (13283 bytes)Falcon 9 Launches TurkmenAlem 52E

The 13th Falcon 9 v1.1 to fly, and the 12th to be built, successfully boosted the TurkmenAlem 52E communications satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida on April 27, 2015. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 took place at 23:03 UTC after a half-hour weather delay.

The 4,500 kg Thales Alenia Space Spacebus 4000 series satellite was released about 32 minutes 15 seconds after liftoff, following a second burn of the Falcon 9 second stage, toward a targeted 180 x 36,600 km x 25.5 deg orbit. The satellite is the first satellite launched for the government of Turkmenistan.

The flight was originally shelved only a few days before its planned March 21, 2015 date when concerns were raised about helium pressurization bottles in the first stage LOX tank after an anomaly was detected in other hardware at the Hawthorne, California Falcon 9 factory. As a result, the F9-17 vehicle (12th Falcon 9 v1.1 and 17th Falcon 9) being prepared for TurkmenAlem 52E was pulled from the SLC 40 hangar back to the SpaceX hangar in the Cape Canaveral industrial area. This allowed the F9-18 vehicle to move ahead in the queue to perform the CRS-6 launch on April 14. F9-17 quickly returned to SLC 40, where it performed a static test firing on April 22.


va222.jpg (20476 bytes)Ariane 5 Launches Comsat Pair

Ariane 5 ECA L576 launched two communication satellites into geosynchronous transfer orbit from Kourou on April 26, 2015. Arianespace mission VA222 orbited Thor 7 for Telenor and Sircal 2 for Telespazio during a 34 minute 23 second mission that began with a 20:00 UTC liftoff from ELA 3.

Space Systems/Loral built 4.6 tonne Thor 7, which rode above the 4.4 tonne Thales Alenia Space-built Sircal 2 on a Sylda 5A dual payload fairing.

Sircal 2 will serve Italy’s military in the UHF and SHF bands. Thor 7, an SSL 1300 series satellite, will provide Ka-band maritime service coverage over the North Sea, the Norwegian Sea, the Red Sea, the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean.

It was the year's first Ariane 5. It was the 48th Ariane 5 ECA and the 78th Ariane 5.




f9crs6.jpg (12551 bytes)Falcon 9 Launches Dragon CRS-6

A SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket successfully orbited the company's Dragon spacecraft on the CRS-6 (Cargo Resupply Services) mission from Cape Canaveral, Florida on April 14, 2015. The 63.4 meter tall two-stage rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at 20:10 UTC and steered on a
northeastward track. The first stage shut down its nine Merlin 1D engines about 159 seconds after liftoff and the second stage Merlin Vacuum engine began a 408 second burn to boost the vehicle into a 199 x 364 km x 51.65 degree orbit.

Dragon carried 2,015 kg of cargo for the International Space Station, a total that included 117 kg of packing material. The spacecraft likely weighed about 9,350 kg at liftoff, including cargo and the weight of two solar array fairings that were jettisonned shortly after reaching orbit.

After about five weeks at ISS, Dragon will return to a Pacific Ocean splashdown loaded with 1,370 kg of return cargo, packaging materials, and trash.

It was the second launch attempt for CRS-6. The first attempt was scrubbed by approaching weather on April 13. The rocket's first stage performed an on-pad hot-fire test on April 11.

The CRS-6 mission, complete with its launch vehicle, had moved ahead of the previously-processed Turkmensat mission when a potential problem was found with that rocket's helium pressurization system a few days before its planned launch on March 21. The CRS-6 launch vehicle was then swapped with the Turkmensat rocket so that CRS-6 was launched by the 18th Falcon 9 launch vehicle although it was the only the 17th Falcon 9 to fly.

After the first stage separated, it performed a three-burn recovery experiment aiming toward a landing on a converted barge floating in the Atlantic Ocean about 330 km downrange.  The stage landed on the barge, but apparently landed hard and disentegrated.



vulcan-561.jpg (6692 bytes)ULA Announces Vulcan

Vulcan 561

At the 31st Space Symposium on April 13, 2015 , United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced that its Next Generation Launch System (NGLS) would be named "Vulcan", after the Roman god of fire. 

The company also revealed plans for a step-by-step Vulcan development process that would keep some existing EELV elements in service for years while quickly phasing out others.


rokot24.jpg (6071 bytes)Rokot Launch

A Russian Rokot/Briz KM launch vehicle orbited three Gonets 3M data relay satellites and an unidentified military satellite from Area 133 Pad 3 at Plesetsk space center on March 31, 2015. The three stage rocket lifted off at 13:48 UTC. Its Briz-KM third stage performed two burns to lift the three 282 kg Gonets satellites, identified as 21L, 22L, and 23L, and the presumed Kosmos 2504 into roughly 1,500 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 shortly thereafter.

It was the year's first Rokot launch and the year's 20th orbital launch world-wide.

cz3cy11.jpg (14500 bytes)China Launches Navsat

China launched a new type of navigation satellite into orbit, using a new type of upper stage, from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest Sichuan Province on March 30, 2015. A Chang Zheng 3C topped by a new hypergolic bipropellant space maneuvering stage named Yuanzheng 1 (YZ-1) lifted off from Pad 2 at 13:52 UTC with Beidou 17 (also identified as Beidou 3I-1).

The rocket's LH2/LOX third stage inserted YZ-1 and Beidou 17 into a 194 x 25,307 km x 55 deg orbit. YZ-1 then fired its UDMH/N2O4 fueled 663 kgf thrust engine twice, first to raise the apogee to 35,785 km and then, hours later, to circularize the orbit at 35,786 km, creating an inclined geosynchronous orbit.

It was China's first orbital launch of 2015 and the world's seventh orbital launch in five days.

pslvc27.jpg (12641 bytes)India Launches Navsat

PSLV-C27, India's 29th Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, launched IRNSS-1D, the fourth Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System satellite, into orbit from Sriharikota on March 28, 2015. The 320 tonne, 4.5 stage rocket, flying in the "XL" configuration with four stretched strap-on solid motors, lifted off from the Second Launch Pad at 11:49 UTC.

The first three core stages fired in succession during the first 10 minutes 19 seconds of the mission, boosting the vehicle into a temporary parking orbit. After an 8 minute 29 second coast, the fourth stage fired to boost the vehicle into a 284 km x 20,650 km x 19.2 deg sub synchronous transfer orbit. IRNSS-1D, which weighed 1,425 kg at launch, will subsequently fire its Liquid Apogee Motor several times to lift itself into a 35,786 km x 30.5 deg inclined geosynchronous orbit.

Subsynchronous injection was necessary because IRNSS-1D exceeded the PSLV-XL capability for standard geosynchronous transfer orbit mass.



vs11.jpg (16919 bytes)Soyuz Orbits European Navsats

A Soyuz 2-1b with a Fregat upper stage launched a pair of European Galileo navigation satellites into orbit from Kourou Space Center on March 27, 2015.  Flying the VS11 mission for Arianespace, the 3.5 stage rocket lifted off from the ELS pad at 21:46 UTC to begin a planned 3 hour 47 minute mission designed to loft the two 733 kg satellites into 23,522 km x 55.04 deg circular orbits.

Fregat performed two burns during the mission.  The first, completed 24 minutes after liftoff, placed the vehicle into an elliptical orbit with a 23,500 km apogee.   The second, which began about 3 hours 39 minutes into the flight, aimed the stage and spacecraft toward their insertion orbit. 

It was the first Galileo launch since a Fregat failure placed two Galileo satellites into an improper orbit on August 22, 2014.  Investigation found that the stage attitude control system was compromised by thruster propellant lines that were frozen by adjacent helium lines during the long coast to apogee.  Galileo missions introduce a longer coast than has been used during prior Fregat missions, exposing a previously unsuspected configuration control issue in the routing of propellant lines by stage manufacturer NPO Lavochkin.

OHB-System and SSTL built the satellite bus and payload, respectfully, for the seventh and eighth Galileo satellites.  After the 2014 failure, these will become the first two “Full Operational Capability" satellites of a planned 22 satellite constellation.

soytma16m.jpg (8342 bytes)ISS Crew Launch

A 2.5-stage Soyuz FG rocket lofted the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft with three International Space Station crewmembers from Baikonur Cosmodrome on March 27, 2015. Onboard were Russian Cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Mikail Kornienko, and NASA astronaut Scott Kelly. Kornienko and Kelly are expected to spend an entire year on ISS.

Liftoff from Area 1 Pad 5 took place at 19:43 UTC, starting a now-standard "fast-track" six-hour flight to the station.  It was the year's first crewed launch to orbit.


h2af28.jpg (8618 bytes)H-2A Launches Spysat

Japan's H-2A boosted IGS Optical 5 reconnaissance satellite into sun synchronous orbit from Tanegashima on March 26, 2015.  Flying in the standard 202 configuration with two SRB-A strap on solid boosters, H-2A F28 lifted off from Yoshinobu Pad 1 at 01:21 UTC and flew directly to low earth orbit. 

It was the second H-2A launch of 2015. 



dnepr22.jpg (5607 bytes)Dnepr Orbits Korean Satellite

The 22nd Ukrainian-Russian Dnepr launch vehicle, a converted R-36 series ICBM, placed Kompsat 3A into orbit from Russia's Dombarovsky launch site near Yasny in southwest Russia on March 25, 2015. Liftoff from an underground silo at Site 370/13 took place at 22:08 UTC.

Korea Aerospace Research Institute developed Kompsat 3A. It will perform an imaging mission from its position in sun synchronous low earth orbit.

The launch was the 15th consecutive Dnepr success. International Space Company (ISC) Kosmotras, a Ukrainian/Russian joint venture, handled the launch services portion of the mission while Russian Missile Forces crews performed the launch. Dnepr's long-term future is in doubt due to the now one-year-long conflict in Ukraine.


d4gps2f9.jpg (16044 bytes)Delta 4 Launches GPS 2F-9

A Delta 4 rocket orbited GPS 2F-9 from foggy Cape Canaveral, Florida on March 25, 2015. The 2.5 stage Delta 4M+4,2, with two GEM-60 solid boosters and a four meter diameter upper stage and payload fairing, lifted off from Space Launch Complex 37B at 18:36 UTC. It was the sixth and final GPS 2F series launch performed by a Delta 4. Atlas 5 will launch the final three GPS 2F satellites during coming months to complete the upgraded navigation satellite constellation.

Delta 4's Delta Cryogenic Second Stage (DCSS) performed two burns during a 3.25 hour mission to lift the 1.63 tonne satellite into a 20,459 km x 55 deg circular orbit. The first, long burn lifted the vehicle into a 197 x 20,431 km transfer orbit on a northeast heading. RL10B-2 cutoff came more than 15.5 minutes after liftoff.  After a 3 hour coast, DCSS peformed a short apogee burn to circularize the orbit.

It was first Delta 4 launch of 2015, the 21st Delta 4 Medium-series launch, and the 29th flight by any type of Delta 4.  It was also the last launch using a standard RS-68 engine.  All future launches will use the improved RS-68A type.   

ULA CEO Tory Bruno's recent announcement of plans to shelve the Delta 4 Medium launch vehicle after 2017 mean that only about eight more examples of the single-core vehicle are currently expected to fly. As many as five more Delta 4 Heavy launch vehicles are still on the manifest with launches planned into at least 2020.

p403.jpg (8727 bytes)Proton Orbits Express AM7

Russia's Proton orbited the Express AM7 communications satellite from Baikonur Cosmodrome on March 18, 2015. The 705 tonne, four-stage rocket lifted off from Site 200 Pad 39 at 22:05 UTC to begin a 9 hour 13 minute mission that included five burns by the Briz M upper stage.

Briz M fired first, just after the three Proton stages completed their burns, to place itself into a 182 km x 52.56 deg parking orbit. It fired three more times during the first 3.8 hours and two orbits of the mission to place itself into a 430 x 35,806 km x 49.1 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit. After a 5.4 hour coast to first apogee, Briz M fired a fifth time to raise the perigee and reduce inclination. Express AM7 separated into a targeted 5,410 x 35,786 km x 20 deg transfer orbit.

Express AM7 is a 5.712 tonne Eurostar E3000 series satellite with 24 C-band, 36 Ku-band and 2 L-band transponders. It will provide digital broadcasting services, government communications services, and Internet based services across Russia.




av053.jpg (10106 bytes)Atlas 5 Launches MMS

An Atlas 5-421 boosted NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) Mission into a highly elliptical Earth orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida on March 13, 2015. Liftoff from Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 41 took place at 02:44 UTC, beginning a 1 hour 47 minute long flight.

A 543 second long RL-10 burn put the Centaur second stage into a 167 x 591 km x 28.72 degree parking orbit. After a 59 minute coast, the stage fired again for 342 seconds to boost itself into a 580 x 70,279 km x 28.779 degree insertion orbit.

MMS consisted of four 1,360 kg spacecraft that were stacked atop one another during launch in an extended payload fairing. The satellites, which separated from Centaur sequentially, will fly in formation to study how magnetic fields around Earth connect and disconnect in a process called magnetic reconnection.

It was the 2nd Atlas 5 launch of 2015 and the 53rd overall. It was also the 5th orbital launch of the year from Cape Canaveral.





f9-16.jpg (6938 bytes)Falcon 9 Orbits Ion Engine Satellite Pair

Falcon 9 No. 16 During Final Minutes of Countdown

The 16th SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle, and the 11th Falcon 9 v1.1 variant, launched two landmark communications satellites into orbit from Cape Canaveral on March 2, 2015. Liftoff from Cape Canaveral SLC 40 took place at 03:50 UTC. ABS-3A and Eutelsat 115 West B, the first two all-ion-engine powered Boeing HS-702SP satellites, were stacked atop one another inside the 5.2 meter diameter payload fairing.

The first stage was not equipped with landing legs or grid fins for a landing attempt due to the requirements of the mission. The first stage fired for 2 min 56 seconds before separating. After a 10 second unpowered interval, the second stage started its Merlin 1D Vacuum engine for a 5 min 44 second burn that boosted the vehicle into a 174 x 953 km x 28.19 deg parking orbit. The stage coasted for 16 min 52 seconds before reigniting for a 59 second burn that boosted the stage and payloads toward a reportedly targeted supersynchronous transfer orbit of 408 x 63,928 km x 24.83 deg.  The satellites separated in sequence during the subsequent nine minutes and were subsequently tracked in roughly 400 x 63,300 to 63,400 km x 24.8 deg orbits that exceeded customer requirements.   They will gradually maneuver themselves to geostationary orbit, a process that will take at least eight months due to the low thrust provided by the ion engines.


f9-16b.jpg (12340 bytes)ABS-3A stacked atop Eutelsat 115 West B During Payload Processing

By dispensing with standard liquid monomethyl hydrazine propellants in favor of highly efficient xenon-ion propulsion system (XIPS), Boeing developed satellites that could weigh substantially less. Each satellite has at least four 25 cm diameter XIPS, each producing about 8.2 grams thrust at an average ISP of 3,420 seconds.

ABS-3A weighed 1.954 tonnes and Eutelsat 115 West B weighed 2.205 tonnes, about half the weight of a standard satellite of equal capability. The Eutelsat satellite weighed more than ABS-3A because it was the lower of the two satellites and was designed to support the weight of ABS-3A.  This arrangement allowed for a standard Falcon 9 payload fairing and payload attach fitting to be used.

The total 4.159 tonne payload mass was the heaviest boosted to a supersynchronous transfer orbit by Falcon 9 to date. The rocket performed a static test firing on the pad on February 25 with no payloads or payload fairing attached.


barsm1.jpg (26520 bytes)Soyuz 2-1a Launches Spysat

A 2.5 stage Soyuz 2-1a boosted Russia's new Bars-M reconnaissance satellite into orbit from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on February 27, 2015. The 4 tonne satellite, designated No. 1L, entered a 328 x 540 km x 97.64 deg transfer orbit about 8-9 minutes after an 11:01 UTC liftoff from Site 43/4. Soyuz 2-1a flew north by northwest from Plesetsk, skirting past Norway's northern coast.

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

It was the fifth Soyuz 2-1a launch to orbit without an upper stage, not including a 2004 suborbital test flight. An additional 15 Soyuz 2-1a vehicles have flown with Fregat upper stages.


progm26m.jpg (5520 bytes)Soyuz Orbits Progress

A Soyuz U boosted Russia's Progress M-26M unmanned cargo spacecraft into orbit bound for the International Space Station from Baikonur Cosmodrome on February 17, 2015. The 2.5 stage kerosene fueled rocket lifted off from Area 1 Pad 5 at 11:00 UTC. Progress M-26M docked with the station 5 hours 57 minutes later.

Progress weighed 7.287 tonnes at liftoff. It entered an initial 194 x 247 km x 51.65 deg orbit, from which it quickly maneuvered to rendezvous with ISS. The ship carried 2.8 tonnes of dry cargo, food, rocket propellant, water and oxygen to the space station.

It was the year's first R-7 launch, and the first Soyuz U launch since July, 2014 as the long-running type is beginning to be phased out in favor of Soyuz 2.1.


f9-15.jpg (4502 bytes)Falcon 9 Launches DSCOVR

SpaceX's tenth Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket, and 15th Falcon 9 overall, launched the NASA/NOAA/USAF Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) from Cape Canaveral, Florida on February 11, 2015. The 500+ tonne two-stage rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at 22:03 UTC and steered on an eastward track, rising into the light of a setting sun for a spectacular dusk ascent.

The first stage shut down its nine Merlin 1D engines about 164 seconds after liftoff and the second stage Merlin Vacuum engine began a 5 minute 44 second burn to boost the vehicle into a parking orbit. After coasting across the Atlantic Ocean, the second stage reignited at the 30 minute 9 second mark to begin a 58 second burn aimed to boost DSCVR into a highly elliptical earth orbit. The target orbit was 187 x 1,241,000 km x 37 degrees. The achieved orbit was 187 x 1,371,156 km x 37 degrees.

DSCOVR is a 570 kg satellite that was originally built by Lockheed Martin during the 1990s. It will move itself into a Lissajous orbit around the Sun-Earth L1 Lagrangian point, 1,500,000 km from Earth in line with the Sun. There it will monitor the solar wind and provide images of the fully-illuminated side of the Earth. The spacecraft will take 110 days to reach its final L1 orbit.

It was the third launch attempt for DSCOVR. A February 8 attempt was scrubbed with a little more than 2 minutes remaining in the count due to a range tracking issue. A February 10 attempt was scrubbed due to excessive high altitude winds. The rocket performed its static fire test at SLC 40 on January 31, 2015 during the day's second attempt.

After the first stage separated, it performed a reentry burn followed by a terminal landing burn, but a second attempt to land on a converted barge had to be abandoned due to high seas.  The landing attempt would have been more than 400 km downrange. An initial boost-back burn performed during previous recovery missions was not performed due to the need to assign propellant to the DSCOVR ascent.

It was the second Falcon 9 launch of 2015.


vv04a.jpg (28892 bytes)Vega Launches Space Plane

Europe's solid-fuel Vega rocket launched a small atmospheric reentry demonstrator space plane on a 100 minute suborbital flight from Kourou on February 11, 2015. The flight tested heat shield technology, hypersonic aerodynamics, and other systems during the vehicle's reentry before a Pacific Ocean splashdown beneath a 30 meter diameter parachute.

Vega lifted off from the ZLV pad at 13:40 UTC to begin the VV04 mission. The rocket's solid-fueled first three stages burned in sequence during the first 6 minutes 37 seconds of the mission, with the payload fairing separating after the second stage burn, about four minutes into the flight. The AVUM upper stage with its payload then performed a 6 minute burn using its KB Yuzhnoye RD-869 derived UDMH/N2O4 engine before separating from the payload 17 minutes 59 seconds after liftoff.

The 1.845 tonne space plane, identified as the Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (IXV) was was released from Vega at a 340 km altitude into a 76 x 416 km x 5.4 deg orbit. IXV climbed to apogee before falling back into the atmosphere to begin reentry at 7.5 km/sec. IXV was steered by four hydrazine thrusters augmented in the atmosphere by two rear-mounted aerodynanic flaps.  During the final minutes of the flight, IXV deployed a supersonic parachute, followed by a drogue and the main chute. Splashdown occurred at about 15:19 UTC west of the Galapagos Islands. 

After spacecraft separation, the AVUM performed two burns.  The first may have accelerated the stage briefly into orbit.  The second likely deorbited the stage into the Atlantic Ocean.

The 5 meter long, 2.2 meter diameter IXV was built by Thales Alenia Space as prime contractor on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA).  Italy provided most of the funding for the mission.

Vega had stood stacked at ZLV for months after a planned November 2014 launch date was cancelled just before final launch preparations due to European Space Agency and French space agency, CNES, concerns about the planned flight path out of Kourou.  It was the first non-polar flight for Vega.  On previous missions, Vega had flown north from its launch pad. This was the first flight aimed toward the northeast. The delay "allowed time for additional analyses of the flight trajectory", according to Arianespace.


safir2315a.jpg (17298 bytes)Iran Orbits Satellite

Iran achieved its fourth successful orbital launch on February 2, 2015, when a Safir 1B lofted a 50 kg satellite named "Fajr" ("Dawn") into low earth orbit from a base in the Dasht-e-Kavir desert southeast of Semnan.  Iran did not announce the liftoff time, which was estimated by outsiders to have been approximately 08:50 UTC.

The two-stage rocket operated for about 8 minutes to reach orbit. Fajr was tracked in a 224 x 470 km x 55.53 deg orbit.


safir2315b.jpg (7095 bytes)Fajr is Iran’s fourth satellite. Previous successful missions, all performed by Safir boosters, took place in 2009, 2011 and 2012. Two unannounced, suspected launch failures may have occurred during 2012.

Safir is derived from Iran's Shahab 3 ballistic missile.


p402.jpg (11543 bytes)Proton Orbits Inmarsat 5F2

A Khrunichev Proton M/Briz M boosted Inmarsat 5F2 to supersynchronous transfer orbit from Baikonur Cosmodrome on February 1, 2015. Liftoff took place began from Area 200 Pad 39 at 21:37 UTC.

The Briz M upper stage performed five burns during the more than 15.5 hour mission. The first burn placed the vehicle into a 173 km x 51.5 deg parking orbit during the initial ascent. The second burn, starting about 1 hour 50 minutes after liftoff, raised the orbit to 295 x 6,000 km x 51.0 deg. The third and fourth burns took place sequentially beginning at T+4 hours 23 minutes, with the APT drop tank jettisonned between burns. The vehicle was in a 475 x 65,044 km x 50.5 deg transfer orbit after the fourth burn, with a 10 hour coast to apogee for the fifth burn, which aimed Inmarsat 5F2 toward a 4,341 x 65,000 km x 26.75 deg delivery orbit.

Boeing Satellite Systems built the 6.07 tonne BSS-702HP series satellite for Inmarsat. It is equipped with 89 Ka-band beams for mobile broadband communications. It also has a xenon ion propulsion system. Inmarsat 5F2 will be positioned at 55 deg West.

It was the 402nd Proton launch, and the 80th Proton M/Briz M.



h2af27.jpg (5511 bytes)H-2A Orbits Radar Spysat

H-2A-202 F27 launched Japan's Radar Spare satellite into orbit from Tanegashima Space Centre on February 1, 2015. Liftoff from Yoshinobu Pad 1 took place at 01:21 UTC.

It was the sixth radar satellite in Japan's Information Gathering Satellite series, which have also included seven optical imaging satellites. Japan's Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center operates the IGS system. The Radar Spare satellite was a second generation synthetic aperature imaging spacecraft launched to backup existing satellites in orbit.


d370a.jpg (12105 bytes)Delta 2 Launches Moisture Mapper

The 153rd Delta 2 rocket, a 2.5-stage 7320-10C with three GEM strap-on solid motors and a 10 foot diameter composite fairing, launched NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite from Vandenberg AFB on January 31, 2015. The 152 tonne, 38.9 meter tall Delta lifted off from Space Launch Complex 2 West at 14:22 UTC to begin a 57 minute mission that injected the 944 kg satellite into a 685 km x 98.1 deg sun synchronous orbit.

SMAP was built by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Goddard Space Flight Center manages the program. The satellite will measure global soil moisture and freeze/thaw states to assess global water resources.

Delta lifted off on 227 tonnes of combined sea-level thrust from its three GEMs and its 90.72 tonne thrust Rocketdyne RS-27A LOX/RP engine. The three solid motors burned out 64.5 seconds after liftoff and jettisonned at the 99 second mark. The RS-27A first stage engine shut down at 261.8 seconds. The second stage separated at 268 seconds and its 4.45 tonne thrust Aerojet AJ10-118K pressure fed hypergolic engine ignited eight seconds later to begin the first of two burns. Fairing jettison occurred at 295 seconds. The first second stage burn ended at 643.6 seconds, leaving Delta and SMAP in a 176 x 701 km x 98.1 deg parking orbit. After coasting over Antarctica and the southern Indian Ocean, the second stage reignited over Madagascar at 3098 seconds and cut off at 3110.1 seconds. SMAP separated at 3410.5 seconds, or 56 minutes 50.6 seconds.

d370b.jpg (7371 bytes)About 48 minutes after SMAP separation the second stage was to perform a brief third burn before three PPOD microsatellites were scheduled to be released.  The second stage would perform a fourth and final burn at the end of the mission.

The rocket flew as Delta 370, but it was only the 339th Delta with a Thor-derived first stage and a hypergolic second stage. An additional three Delta 3 rockets flew with liquid hydrogen second stages. The remaining 28 "Deltas" were RS-68 powered Delta 4 rockets. "Delta 370" was the 721st Thor family launch and the 608th Thor family orbital attempt.  It was also the 98th consecutive Delta 2 success.

av052.jpg (13857 bytes)Atlas 5 Launches MUOS 3

The most powerful Atlas 5 variant, an Atlas 5-551 with five strap on solid motors and a five meter diameter payload fairing, lofted the third of five planned U.S. Navy Mobile User Objective System (MUOS 3) communications satellites into orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida on January 21, 2015. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41 took place at at 01:04 UTC. The 568 tonne rocket's Centaur upper stage fired its RL10C-1 engine three times during a nearly 3 hour mission to lift MUOS 3 toward a planned 3,817 x 35,787 km x 19.11 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit.

At 6.74 tonnes, the MUOS satellites are the heaviest known payloads launched by an Atlas 5, though the mass of several secret national security payloads launched by Atlas 5 have never been published. Lockheed Martin Space Systems is the MUOS prime contractor. The satellites provide narrowband tactical voice and data communications and are equipped with a 14-meter diameter reflecting mesh antenna to provide links to ground-based users.

It was the 52nd Atlas 5 launch and the fifth 551 variant. It was also the second flight of an RL10C-1 engine. The vehicle's second stage was the 200th Centaur flown atop a first stage named "Atlas", though only 142 of those flew atop an original stange-and-a-half ICBM-derived Atlas.


f9-14.jpg (15829 bytes)Falcon 9 Orbits Dragon CRS-5

SpaceX's ninth Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket successfully orbited another of the company's Dragon spacecraft on the CRS-5 (Cargo Resupply Services) mission from Cape Canaveral, Florida on January 10, 2015. Rising on nearly 590 tonnes of thrust produced by its nine first stage Merlin 1D engines, the 63.4 meter tall two-stage rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at 09:47 UTC and steered on a northeastward track. The first stage shut down its nine Merlin 1D engines about 157 seconds after liftoff and the second stage Merlin Vacuum engine began a roughly 7 minute burn to boost the vehicle into a 206 x 353 km x 51.64 degree orbit.

Dragon carried 2.317 tonnes of cargo for International Space Station Expeditions 42 and 43. The spacecraft likely weighed as much as 9.7 tonnes at liftoff, including cargo. One unpressurized payload carried in Dragon's trunk was NASA Goddard's Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS), a laser remote sensing experiment designed to measure clouds and aerosols in the atmosphere. It also carried an IMAX camera and tools for future spacewalks to prepare the station for the installation of the new international docking adapters.

After about four weeks at ISS, Dragon will return to a Pacific Ocean splashdown loaded with more than 1.633 tonnes of return cargo, packaging materials, and trash.

It was the second launch attempt for CRS-5. A January 6 attempt was scrubbed 1 minute 21 seconds before the planned liftoff because of a second stage engine thrust vector control actuator issue. SpaceX said that engineers had "observed drift on one of the two thrust vector actuators (Elon Musk identified it as the "Z actuator") on the second stage that would likely have caused an automatic abort". A similar problem had appeared during the rocket's initial hot fire test countdown at SLC 40 on December 17, 2014 but engineers had thought the problem subsequently solved.

That initial hot fire test was itself aborted after ignition due to a valve problem, causing the planned December 20 launch date to slip to January 6. A second hot fire test attempt was successful on December 19, 2014.

After the first stage separated, it performed another in a continuing series of SpaceX stage recovery experiments. This time, for the first time, a landing was attempted on a converted barge, parked more than 350 km downrange, that was equipped with a flat top landing platform and position-holding capabilities. Also, for the first time, four grid-fins attached to the interstage were used to help steer the stage toward a precise landing spot. The stage reignited three of its engines to perform an initial boost-back burn to shorten its range. Then, as it fell through the upper atmosphere, it fired its engines a second time to reduce reentry velocity.

A third single-engine landing burn took place during the final moments of the descent, designed to set the stage safely down on four landing legs that were to deploy just before landing. The stage apparently steered itself to the barge and attempted to land, but it crashed, or landed hard, on the barge and was destroyed. The barge itself remained afloat, but stage recovery equipment aboard the barge was destroyed. SpaceX head Elon Musk announced that the grid fins had worked during the hypersonic to subsonic velocity phase, but that they exhausted their hydraulic fluid supply shortly
before the landing, which may have contributed to the crash.

It was the first orbital launch of 2015 and the 14th Falcon 9 launch.



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 Amazon.com 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.


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