Soyuz 2-1a/Fregat Launch
A Soyuz 2-1a/Fregat lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 14, 2017 with Russia's
500+ kg Kanopus V-IK Earth observation satellite and 72 smaller satellites bound for a
variety of sun synchronous orbits. Liftoff from Baikonur's Area 31 Pad 6 took place at
06:36 UTC. Fregat fired twice to place Kanopus V-IK into a roughly 479 x 523 km x 97.44
deg orbit during the first hour of the mission.
After two more Fregat burns to reach a 595 x 523 km x 97.44 deg orbit, 24 small satellites
were released around 2.5 hours after liftoff. Two more Fregat burns then moved the stage
to a roughly 460 x 480 km x 97 deg orbit, where 48 small satellites deployed beginning
about 7.6 hours after launch. A seventh and final, deorbit burn took place about 8.25
hours after liftoff.
It was the year's 45th orbital launch attempt,
Falcon 9 Orbits
Intelsat 35e (Updated 07/07/17)
The year's tenth Falcon 9 boosted Intelsat 35e to geosynchronous transfer orbit from
Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39 Pad A on July 5, 2017. Liftoff took place
at 23:37 UTC. The Merlin 1D Vacuum-powered second stage performed two burns to loft
the 6.761 tonne communications satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit. It was by
far the heaviest GTO payload yet for Falcon 9, a payload requiring use of the third
fully-expendable Falcon 9 v1.2 variant, with no landing legs, grid fins, or other
recoverable hardware on the first stage.
The first stage fired for about 164 seconds. The second stage then burned for about 346
seconds before beginning a roughly 1,000 second parking orbit coast to the equator. The
stage completed its second, 57 second burn at the 27 min 20 sec mark.
Spacecraft separation took place about 32
minutes after liftoff. F9-39 aimed toward a GTO with a perigee of about 250 km, an apogee
of at least 31,230 km, and a 26 deg inclination. A minimum residual shutdown of the second
stage was planned, which under best-case conditions could result in an apogee exceeding
35,500 km. Shortly after the flight, Elon Musk of SpaceX tweeted that a 43,000 km
apogee had been achieved. Tracking data released a day later showed Intelsat 35e in
a 296 x 42,742 km x 25.85 deg orbit.
The second stage was an improved "Block
4" type while the first stage appeared to be a standard "Block 3" variant.
Cryogenic propellant loading began only 35 minutes before liftoff, a procedure implemented
during the past few launches that is designed to minimize propellant temperatures for
Boeing Network & Space Systems built the
BSS-702MP satellite, which uses C and Ku-band transponders to provide communications
services to the Caribbean, Europe to Africa, and Africa.
F9-39 used first stage number B1037. It and
its second stage partner were test fired at McGregor, Texas during late May or early June,
2017. The assembled rocket performed a roughly 3 second hot fire at LC 39A on June 29,
2017 with no payload attached. A July 2 launch attempt was halted at T-10 seconds due to a
guidance and navigation system issue, forcing a 24-hour turnaround. The second
attempt was also stopped at T-10 seconds by the ground sequencer when it saw a parameter
out of range. SpaceX waited 48 hours while determining that the flight hardware had
actually not exceeded flight limits.
CZ-5 Failure (07/15/17
Eight months after its successful debut launch, China's second Chang Zheng (Long March) 5
(serial Y2) suffered a launch failure on July 2, 2017 during an attempt to orbit Shijian
18, a heavy (roughly 7.6 tonne) experimental communications satellite, from Wenchang
Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island off China's southern coast. CZ-5 Y2 was
aiming for a 200 x 46,000 km x 19.5 deg target orbit on a mission that would have seen two
second stage burns.
The liftoff from Pad 101 took place at 11:23 UTC. The 56.97 meter tall, 2.5 stage CZ-5,
currently the world's heaviest rocket, rose cleanly on the combined 1,080 tonnes of thrust
produced by 10 engines, two gas generator engines on the 5-meter diameter LH2/LOX core and
two staged-combustion engines each on four 3.35 meter diameter kerosene/LOX strap-on
boosters. At some point, however, something failed, likely involving first (core) stage
The boosters completed their burns and
separated cleanly and, apparently, on time, but the core stage continued to fire for more
than 1.5 minutes longer than expected. A long burn of this type is consistent with one of
the two YF-77 engines suffering a failure at some point during the ascent, but no official
announcement of the failure mode was made in the hours following the launch.
Despite the first stage issue, the second stage separated and ignited its two YF-75D
LH2/LOX engines that together made 32.6 tonnes of thrust at 438 second specific impulse.
The stage was to have performed an initial nearly-five minute burn to reach a low earth
parking orbit. It is not clear if the stage completed its burn as planned, but both
engines were visible performing their burns in normal fashion in a an on-board view
transmitted to the ground. The stage and its payload apparently reentered, unable to make
up for the core stage velocity shortfall.
The 31.02 x 5 meter first stage weighed 175.8 tonnes and was powered by two YF-77 LH2/LOX
engines that together produced 104 tonnes of liftoff thrust. The stage, which carried 158
tonnes of propellant, was to have burned for 471 seconds, with the YF-77 engines operating
at 430 seconds vacuum specific impulse.
The four 26.28 x 3.25 meter strap-on boosters were powered by two YF-100 RP/LOX staged
combustion engines that combined to produce 242 tonnes of liftoff thrust for each booster.
YF-100 had previously powered China's inaugural CZ-6 and CZ-7 launches. Each booster may
have weighed about 165 tonnes at liftoff. The boosters burned for nearly 173 seconds
before separating from the still-burning first stage.
The second stage weighed 26 tonnes and carried 22.9 tonnes of propellant.
CZ-5 in its fully developed form will lift as much as 25 tonnes to low earth orbit in 1.5
stage form or 14 tonnes to GTO using 2.5 stages, making it more capable than Proton or
Ariane 5 and possibly matching or exceeding Delta 4.
Ariane 5 Launch
Ariane 5 ECA vehicle number L591 lofted two communication satellites to geosynchronous
transfer orbit from Kourou on June 28, 2017. Arianespace Mission VA238 began with a 21:15
UTC liftoff from from ELA-3. After a single long burn by the ESC-A second stage 5,780 kg
Hellasat 3 separated at T+28 minutes 17 seconds, followed by 3,477 kg GSAT 17, which rode
up inside the rocket's Sylda 5 adapter, at T+41 minutes 47 seconds.
Hellasat 3 is a Thales Alenia Space Spacebus 4000C4 satellite with Ku, Ka, and S-band
transponders. It will provide direct to home TV services. The S-band transponders serve as
a second payload named "Inmarsat S EAN" that will serve the European Aviation
Network. It will be positioned at 39 deg East in geostationary orbit.
GSAT 17 was built by ISRO/ISAC. It carries C and S-band transponders. It will serve India
from 93.5 deg East.
It was the year's fourth Ariane 5 launch, and
the 63rd Ariane 5 ECA flight since the type began flying in 2002.
SpaceX Corporation's Falcon 9 performed its second launch within roughly 49.5 hours on
June 25, 2017 when F9-38 boosted the second set of ten IridiumNEXT satellites from
Vandenberg AFB in California. The v1.2 variant, using new first stage number B1036, lifted
off from foggy Space Launch Complex 4 East at 20:24 UTC to begin an hour-long mission that
inserted the 860 kg, Thales Alenia Space-built satellites into roughly 625 km x 86.4 deg
orbits. The satellites will raise themselves into 780 km operational orbits.
After a roughly 43 minute parking orbit coast,
the Falcon 9 second stage restarted for a brief second, circularization burn at first
apogee about 52 minutes 6 seconds after liftoff to complete the powered phase of the
flight. Spacecraft separation began at about the 57 minute 10 seconds mark, with each
satellite separating individually separated by about 1.5 minutes.
The first stage performed 3-engine boostback,
3-engine reentry, and single-engine landing burns before landing on the converted barge
"drone ship" Just Read the Instructions. The stage descended
using, for the first time, enlarged titanium grid fins for flight control. It was
the second successful first stage landing in three West Coast attempts and the 13th
successful first stage landing. Eleven first stages have now been recovered, two
having flown twice.
The launch was the second of seven planned
IridiumNext Falcon 9 flights that will replace the company's orbiting "Little
LEO" communication satellite constellation.
The F9-38 first and second stages were test
fired at the company's McGregor, Texas test site during mid-May, 2017. The first stage was
briefly hot fired at SLC 4E on June 20, 2017 with the second stage, but no payload,
attached to the top of the rocket.
F9-38 was the 37th Falcon 9 launch and the
17th v1.2 variant to fly, not including AMOS 6 launch vehicle destroyed during a
pre-launch static test countdown. It was the second v1.2 to fly from VAFB and the first to
fly from VAFB with what appeared to be a "Block 4" second stage.
Falcon 9 Orbits Bulgariasat (06/24/17 Update)
SpaceX launched a previously-flown Falcon 9 first stage for the second time on June 23,
2017. The stage, B1029 (flying for the second time as B1029.2), boosted the F9-37 mission
that flung the Bulgariasat 1 communications satellite to supersynchronous transfer orbit
from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 Pad A. B1029 had previously flown during the
F9-30 Iridium Next 1-10 launch from VAFB SLC 4E on January 14, 2017 and landed downrange
on the drone ship "Just Read the Instructions".
This time, after a 19:10 UTC liftoff and 2 min 36 sec ascent burn, B1029.2 landed again on
a downrange floating platform (named "Of Course I Still Love You", or
"OCISLY") after performing three-engine reentry and landing burns.
After the first stage completed its ascent burn, the Falcon 9 second stage fired its
Merlin 1D Vacuum engine for 351 sec to reach a parking orbit. After a 19 minute 30 second
coast to the equator above the west African coast, the stage restarted for 65 seconds to
accelerate the 3,669 kg Bulgariasat 1 satellite toward a planned supersynchronous transfer
orbit. Bulgariasat 1 separated from the stage at T+plus 34 minutes, 55 seconds.
From its roughly 210 x 65,640 km x 23.9 deg transfer orbit, the Space Systems/Loral 1300
series satellite will raise itself to geostationary orbit at 1.9 deg East to provide
direct broadcast and fixed communication services to Europe, North Africa, and the Middile
East using 33 Ku-band transponders.
Following its January flight, the B1029 stage was apparently shipped directly to Florida,
with no known testing performed at the company's McGregor, Texas test site. The stage was
static test fired for a few seconds at LC 39A with the second stage attached on June 15,
2017. A planned launch two days later was delayed for a week to replace a faulty
valve in the payload fairing.
It was the 12th successful first stage landing
and the 6th landing on OCISLY. Ten first stages have now been recovered, two having
Before the launch, Elon Musk tweeted, "Falcon 9 will experience its highest ever
reentry force and heat in today's launch. Good chance rocket booster doesn't make it
back". After the flight, he tweeted that the first stage had returned
"extra toasty" and had landed hard on OCISLY, using almost all of the
"emergency crush core" in the landing legs. The stage was visible in video views
standing near the edge of the deck, exhibiting a slight lean.
Soyuz 2-1v Launch
Russia's third Soyuz 2-1v launched with a classified payload from Plesetsk on June 23,
2017. Liftoff from Pad 4 Site 43 took place at 18:04 UTC. The two-stage Soyuz 2-1v was
topped by a Volga third stage. Volga performed an initial burn as the vehicle headed north
above the Arctic Ocean to reach an elliptical parking orbit. The stage fired again at some
point during the next 1.5 hours, presumably to circularize the orbit. The satellite,
identity and purpose unannounced, was named Kosmos 2519 upon reaching orbit.
The satellite was subsequently tracked in a
roughly 660 km by 98 deg sun synchronous orbit.
It was the first Soyuz 2-1v launch since December 5, 2015, when Volga reached its planned
orbit with Kanopus ST, but then failed to separate from the satellite when one of four
clamps on Volga failed to open. The Volga stage was used to deorbit the useless satellite
after about two days in orbit. The first Soyuz 2-1v/Volga launch successfully placed a
small test payload into orbit on December 28, 2013. All missions have launched from
PSLV Orbits Cartosat 2E/Nanosats (06/23/17
PSLV-C38, an XL version of Indian Space Research Organizaion's Polar Satellite Launch
Vehicle, boosted 712 kg Cartosat 2E and 30 nanosatellites that together weighed about 243
kg into sun synchronous orbits from Sriharikota, India on June 23, 2017.
Liftoff from the First Launch Pad at Satish Dhawan Space Center took place at 03:59 UTC.
The 4.5-stage, 321 tonne, 44.4 meter tall rocket fired its four stages (solid, liquid,
solid, and liquid fueled, respectively) in succession during the first 16 minutes of the
ascent, with a 10 second coast before fourth stage ignition. Six strap-on solid motors
(four ground lit and two air lit) augmented thrust during the first stage burn. The liquid
MMH/MON-3 fourth stage fired for about 7 minutes 39 seconds during its insertion burn.
Satellite deployment into roughly 500 km x 97.45 deg orbits took about eight minutes,
beginning with the cartographic mapping Cartosat 2e at T+16 minutes 41 seconds.
It was the 40th PSLV and the 17th PSLV-XL.
Leaves ChinaSat 9A in Low Orbit (Updated 07/14/17)
China's Chang Zheng (Long March )3B/E launched Zhongxing 9A (ChinaSat 9A) from Xichang
Satellite Launch Center on June 18, 2017. Liftoff from Launch Pad 2 took place at 16:08
UTC. After performing two burns, the launch vehicle's liquid hydrogen fueled third stage
was slated to place the 5.1 tonne communications satellite in a geosynchronous transfer
orbit. However, no announcement of mission success was made as the hours passed.
Finally, more than 12 hours later, China Aerospace Science and Technology
Corporation announced that the launch had failed to place the satellite in its intended
orbit due to a problem with the third stage.
Subsequent tracking data showed the second
stage and payload in roughly 193 x 16,350 km x 25.68 deg orbits, well short of the typical
35,800-plus km apogee. CASC reported that the satellite had deployed its solar
arrays and antennas. It seemed unlikley that Zhongxing 9A would be able to make up
the roughly 550 m/s delta-v shortfall.
The orbit suggested that the third stage had
suffered a problem that affected its second burn. Typical failure modes for such
results include propulsion system and flight control issues. A mid-July report
stated that the stage had suffered a roll control issue.
It was the third orbital launch vehicle
failure in less than a year for China's DF-5 based launch vehicle family. It was also the
first CZ-3B or 3C failure since August 31, 2009 after 40 consecutive successes.
China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) built the DFH-4 series
satellite. China Satcom was to operate ChinaSat 9A from a 92 degrees East position in
geostationary orbit. The satellite was equipped with 22 Ku-band transponders designed to
provide direct broadcasting and other services.
It was the 40th CZ-3B launch and the third
China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 4B orbited the Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope (HXMT)
from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on June 15, 2017. Liftoff of CZ-4B serial number Y31
from Pad 43, Site 603 took place at 03:00 UTC. HXMT, a 2.5 tonne 3-axis controlled
satellite, was targeted toward a roughly 550 km x 43 deg low earth orbit.
HXMT is China's first orbiting X-ray astronomy telescope. It will map X-ray emitting
objects like black holes, pulsars, and neutron stars. The Chinese Academy of Space
Technology (CAST) assembled the satellite, incorporating a payload module developed by
IHEP and Tsinghua University.
Two microsatellites, weighing a combined total of 87 kg (other reports suggested 130 to
150 kg) were orbited along with XMHT.
Launches ISS Cargo (Updated)
Russia's Soyuz 2-1a launched the Progress MS-06 International Space Station cargo hauling
mission from Baikonur Cosmodrome on June 14, 2017. Liftoff from Site 31 Pad 6 took place
at 09:20:13 UTC. The roughly 7,300 kg spacecraft carried around 2,500 kg of cargo by some
accounts - 2,398 kg, 2,450 kg, and 2,739 kg by other accounts - into a 193 x 240.8 km x
51.67 deg initial orbit. The heaviest account, attributed to NASA, said that cargo
included 1,392 kg dry pressurized materials, 880 kg of propellant for transfer to ISS, 420
kg of water, and 47 kg of oxygen and air. The lighter accounts only gave 620 kg for
The flight marked a return to Soyuz 2-1a for Progress after three final launches by
Soyuz-U, one of which (Progress MS-04 on December 1, 2016) failed to reach orbit. It was
the 69th Progress launch meant to reach ISS and the 158th Progress launch since the
program began in 1978.
Nearly one year after its last flight, Russia's Proton M/Briz M finally returned to flight
on June 8, 2017. The 413th Proton rocket, a "Phase 4" Proton M variant, lifted
off from Baikonur's Area 81 Pad 24 at 03:45 UTC with Echostar 21, beginning a planned 9 hr
13 min ascent phase that included five burns by the Briz M upper stage. The 6,871 kg Space
Systems/Loral-built SSL 1300 series satellite was aimed toward a 2,300 x 35,786 km x 30.5
deg geosynchronous transfer orbit.
During the previous Proton flight, on June 9,
2016, one of the four second stage main engines shut down nine seconds early, causing a
small delta-v shortfall that had to be made up by the Briz M upper stage. The make-up was
possible because the Intelsat 31 payload was relatively light. An investigation found
defects in RD-0210, RD-0211, and RD-0214 second and third stage engines made at the
Voronezh Mechanical Factory due to a change in a solder used in the production process.
The company also made Soyuz U and Soyuz FG third stage engines that fell under
investigation after a December 1, 2016 Soyuz/Progress launch failure.
Echostar 21, the heaviest GTO payload yet
launched by Proton, will be positioned at 10.25 degrees East after it raises itself to
geostationary orbit. From there it will serve a European Internet Protocol based mobile
GSLV Mk3 Orbital Launch (06/07/2017 Update)
India's GSLV Mk 3, for the first time topped by a live third stage, successfully boosted
GSAT 19 to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Sriharikota on June 5, 2017. The D1 mission
was the second GSLV Mk3 flight but the first orbital attempt. GSLV Mk3 had previously
performed a successful inaugural suborbital flight with a dummy third stage on December
18, 2014. GSLV Mk3 D1 lifted off from the Second Launch Pad at 11:58 UTC.
Now India's most powerful rocket, GSLV Mk3 (formerly known as LVM3) is capable of lifting
4 tonnes to GTO or 10 tonnes to low earth orbit. GSAT 19, a communications technology
demonstration satellite, weighed 3,136 kg on this development flight, less than the
rocket's capability but still the heaviest satellite yet launched by India.
The satellite was targeted toward a 170 x
35,975 km x 21.5 deg transfer orbit. GSAT 19 was subsequently tracked in a 163 x
34,592 km x 21.5 deg orbit, about 13 m/s short of the goal. A small shortfall of
this amount on an inaugural direct-to-GTO mission was apparently acceptable.
The 640 tonne GSLV Mk3 consisted of two S200 solid rocket boosters, an L110 hypergolic
liquid core stage powered by two Vikas 2 engines, and a C25 LH2/LOX upper stage powered by
a single Indegenous Cryogenic Engine.
The solid boosters together weighed 472 tonnes and provided 1,050 tonnes of liftoff
thrust. They were 3.2 meters in diameter and 26.2 meters tall. They burned for 2 min 20
sec and provided all of the initial thrust.
The 125 tonne, twin-engine core stage ignited
at T+1 min 54 sec, about 26 seconds before the solids burned out and separated. The core,
which acted like a second stage, provided about 163 tonnes of thrust for 3 min 23 sec. It
separated at T+5 min 20 sec, by which time the vehicle had reached 168 km altitude and
4,430 m/s velocity.
The 33 tonne Cryo Stage ignited two seconds after Core Stage separation. Its 20 tonne
thrust CE-20 engine was expected to perform a single, 10 min 43 sec burn to push GSAT 19
to its 10,260 m/sec insertion velocity, but the stage apparently cut off a bit more than
19 seconds early. Spacecraft sepration took place at T+16 min 20 sec.
9 Launches CRS-11
Falcon 9-36, a v1.2 "Block 3" variant, boosted CRS-11, with the first
"used" Dragon cargo spacecraft, back into orbit from Kennedy Space Center LC 39A
on June 3, 2017. Liftoff took place at 21:07 UTC. Dragon entered a low earth orbit
inclined 51.6 deg to the equator after a single 6 min 38 sec burn by the second stage
Merlin Vacuum engine. spacecraft separation took place at T+10 min 20 sec.
On this, the 13th Dragon flight, Dragon spacecraft C106, which performed the CRS-4 mission
in 2014, became the first Dragon to fly a second time. After its 2014 flight, the capsule
was refurbished and its heat shield replaced. Dragon carried 2,708 kg of cargo, including
1,593 kg in its unpressurized trunk. Dragon's total liftoff weight including cargo was
likely about 8,200 kg.
First stage B1035 performed a 2 min 22 sec ascent burn before separating from the second
stage, turning 180 deg, and restarting three engines only 13 seconds after separation for
a boost-back burn that pushed it back towards Florida even as it continued to gain
altitude. The stage performed a three-engine reentry burn starting at T+6 min 10 sec and a
final single-engine landing burn that began a few seconds before it settled onto the
circular pad at Cape Canaveral Landing Zone 1. Landing took place at T+7 min 27 sec.
It was the 11th successful first stage landing and the 5th landing at LZ 1.
Ten first stages have now been recovered, one having flown twice.
The second stage performed a deorbit burn
after Dragon separated. Its post-reentry remains were aimed toward a zone south and west
The F9-36 stages were test fired at McGregor, Texas during March, 2017. The first stage
engines performed a brief static test at LC 39A on May 28, 2017 before Dragon was stacked
atop the rocket. A June 1 launch attempt was scrubbed by weather conditions.
It was the 100th launch from LC 39A, a total that includes 82 Space Shuttle, 12 Saturn 5,
and 6 Falcon 9 liftoffs.
5 Dual Satellite Launch
The 62nd Ariane 5 ECA boosted two
communication satellites to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Kourou on June 1, 2017.
Arianespace Mission VA237 began with a 23:45 UTC liftoff from from ELA-3. On board were
6,418 kg ViaSat 2 and 3,551 kg Eutelsat 172B, their 9,969 kg combined mass setting a
record for a commercial GTO launch. ViaSat 2 separated about 29.5 minutes after launch.
Eutelsat 172B, housed inside the rocket's Sylda 5 adapter, separated just under 42 minutes
ViaSat 2 is a Boeing 702HP satellite with a Ka-band payload. Positioned at 70 deg West, it
will provide about 300 Gigabits per second total communications capacity, more than any
other commercial communications satellite.
Eutelsat 172B is the first Airbus Defense and Space all-electric Eurostar E3000e satellite
to fly on Ariane 5. It will serve the Asia-Pacific region from 172 deg East using 14
C-band, 36 Ku-band, and 11 Ku-band transponders.
Navsat for Japan
H-2A F34 successfully launched the 4 tonne Michibiki 2
navigation satellite for Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency from Tanegashimi Yoshinobu
Launch Complex 1 on June 1, 2017. Liftoff took place at 00:17 UTC. F34 flew in
the "202" configuration with two strap on "SRB-A" monolithic solid
motors and two liquid hydrogen/oxygen core stages. The rocket's second stage
performed two burns to inject Michibiki 2 into a 250 x 36,140 km x 31.9 deg transfer
Michibiki will raise itself into 33,100 x 38,500 x 44
deg "quasi zenith" geosynchronous orbit that will trace a north-south
"Figure 8" across the Earth's surface at Japan's longitude. From this
orbit, the satellite will be able to augment existing GPS signals, allowing better
coverage in urban areas with tall buildings.
It was the third H-2A launch of the year and the 30th
known 2017 orbital launch attempt by all rockets world-wide.
Launches Early Warning Satellite
Russia's Soyuz-2.1b/Fregat launched an early warning satellite into orbit from Plesetsk
Cosmodrome on May 25, 2017. Liftoff from Site 43 Pad 4 took place at 06:33 UTC. After
reaching a low earth parking orbit, the Fregat M stage fired multiple times to lift its
payload into an elliptical Tundra orbit of approximately 1,620 x 38,500 km x
The satellite, named Kosmos 2518, is believed to be an EKS type early warning satellite
designed to detect ballistic missile launches.
A Tundra orbit is an elliptical geosynchronous orbit that traces a figure-8 pattern over
the earth twice each day. The satellite spends most of its time at high altitude
essentially hovering over high latitudes in such orbits.
It was the year's fifth R-7 launch.
Electron Inaugural Falls Short of Orbit
Rocket Lab's Electron rocket fell short of orbit in its inaugural test launch from New
Zealand on May 25, 2017. The new small launch vehicle, named "It's a Test",
lifted off from Rocket Lab's Launch Complex 1
on the Mahia Peninsula of New Zealand's North Island at 04:20 UTC. The 17 meter tall, 1.2
meter diameter rocket, its innovative carbon composite case propellant tanks filled with
kerosene and liquid oxygen, was slated to steer toward a south, south-east azimuth, rising
on about 15.65 metric tons of thrust from its nine equally-innovative,
electric-motor-pump-fed Rutherford engines.
Electron carried test instrumentation, rather than a revenue payload, on this test flight.
The launch was not broadcast live and post-launch
information was limited. Peter Beck, Rocket Labs CEO, reported that Electron
had a good first stage burn, stage separation, second stage ignition, and fairing
separation, but orbital velocity was not achieved.
A 300 x 500 km x 83 deg orbit was planned. The company
did not give a cause for the failure. It did release several videos showing portions
of the first stage flight. An on-board video showed a roll developing during ascent.
Plans called for the first stage to burn for 2 minutes
30 seconds. Stage separation was to take place four seconds after first stage shutdown.
The second stage's single vacuum-optimized Rutherford engine was then slated to fire for 4
minutes 48 seconds to reach orbital velocity.
The launch took place after several days of weather
Although orbit was not achieved, Mr. Beck expressed
satisfaction with the results of the heavily instrumented test flight- the first of three
such test flights currently planned.
2.1a/Fregat Orbits SES 15
A Soyuz 2.1a/Fregat - also known as Soyuz ST-A for its Kourou application - orbited the
all-electric SES 15 communications satellite from Kourou's Guiana Space Center on May 18,
2017. Liftoff of the Arianespace VS17 mission from the Soyuz launch zone (ELS) took place
at 11:54 UTC, beginning a roughly 5.4 hour mission to spacecraft separation.
The Fregat upper stage performed two burns to accelerate the 2,302 kg Boeing 702SP
satellite into a 2,207 x 31,349 km x 5.99 deg orbit. The atypical geosynchronous transfer
orbit was selected to allow the all-electric, low thrust satellite to more easily and
quickly raise itself to geostationary orbit by starting with a higher perigee to reduce
drag. SES 15 will take about 6-7 months to raise its orbit.
The Soyuz rocket's four boosters jettisoned at T+1 m 58
s. The fairing jettisoned at T+ 3 m 39 s. The central core "second
stage" burned out and separated at T+4 m 47 s. The "third stage"
completed its work at T+ 8 m 49 s. Fregat performed its first burn starting at T+ 9
m 49 s and ending at T+23 m 34 s. Fregat coasted to apogee where, at T+4 h 57 m 35 s
it began a 52 second burn. Spacecraft separation took place at T+5 h 18 m 28
It was the 17th Soyuz launch from Kourou and the second
9 Orbits Inmarsat 5 F4 (May 16 Update)
The year's sixth Falcon 9 boosted Inmarsat 5 F4 to geosynchronous transfer orbit from
Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39 Pad A on May 15, 2017. Liftoff took place at
23:21 UTC. The Merlin 1D Vacuum-powered second stage performed two burns to loft the 6.086
tonne communications satellite into a supersynchronous transfer orbit. It was the
heaviest GTO payload yet for Falcon 9.
According to the SpaceX press kit, the first stage burned for 2 min 45 sec. The second
stage then fired for 5 min 42 sec before beginning a nearly 18.5 minute parking orbit
coast to the equator. The stage completed its second, 56 second burn at the 27 min 55 sec
mark. Spacecraft separation occurred 31 minutes 48 seconds after liftoff into a 381 x
69,839 km x 24.5 deg orbit.
F9-35 was the second Falcon 9 v1.2 flown in fully expendable mode, with no landing legs,
grid fins, or other recoverable hardware on the first stage. Expendable mode was needed to
accomodate the heavy GTO payload.
The second stage exhibited the same external appearance
as the improved second stage used during the prior NROL 76 launch, leading outside
observers to wonder if this was the second example of a "Block 4" upper stage.
Additionally, cryogenic propellant loading began only 35 minutes before liftoff,
compared to the previous 45 minutes, a new procedure designed to minimize propellant
temperatures for improved performance.
Boeing Network & Space Systems built Inmarsat 5 F4, which uses Ka-band transponders to
provide broadband communications services.
The rocket used first stage number B1034. It and its second stage partner were test
fired at McGregor, Texas during March 2017. The assembled rocket performed a roughly
3 second static test at LC 39A on May 11 with no payload attached.
India's GSLV boosted its GSAT 9 communications satellite into geosynchronous transfer
orbit from Satish Dhawan Space Center, Sriharikota on May 5, 2017. Liftoff of the GSLV F09
mission from the Second Launch Pad took place at 11:27 UTC. GSAT 9 separated about 17
minutes later, after a roughly 12-minute burn by the rocket's liquid hydrogen fueled third
stage. For unknown reasons, ISRO banned press coverage of the launch.
ISRO-built GSAT-9 weighed 2.23 tonnes at liftoff. It carries 12 Ku-band transponders to
provide communications services to India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri
It was the fifth GSLV Mk 2 launch, using India's own LH2/LOX Cryogenic Upper Stage engine,
and the 11th GSLV flight. It was also the 25th known orbital launch attempt of 2017.
Ariane 5 ECA L589, performing Arianespace mission VA236, launched two communication
satellites - Brazil's SGDC and Korea's Koreasat 7 - from Kourou Space Center on May 4,
2017. Liftoff from ELA 3 took place at 21:50 UTC. The satellites separated into
geosynchronous transfer orbits about one-half hour later.
VA236 was delayed by nearly six weeks after French Guiana residents blockaded the space
center as part of a social movement. The blockades were finally removed after the French
government signed agreements with the protesters.
SGDC was a 5,735 kg Thales Alenia Space Spacebus 4000C4 satellite. It will serve Brazil's
government, providing both civil and military communications service, using its 57 Ka and
X-band transponders at a 75 deg West geostationary position.
Koreasat 7, the lower passenger, was a 3,680 kg Thales Alenia Space Spacebus 4000B2
satellite. It's Ka-band transponders will work from 116 deg. East for KT SAT, Korea's
satellite service provider.
9 Orbits NROL 76
SpaceXs Falcon 9 orbited NROL 76, a secret payload
for the National Reconnaissance Office, from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 Pad A
on May 1, 2017. Liftoff took place at 11:15 UTC, following an aborted attempt one
day earlier caused by a faulty LOX outlet temperature sensor.
Falcon 9 headed on a northeast azimuth. No
coverage was provided of the second stage performance as the flight entered a press
blackout. Elon Musk tweeted about 22 minutes after launch that the payload had been
successfully orbited, hinting at a low earth orbit for NROL 76.
After completing its 2 min 17 sec ascent burn, the
shortest such burn yet for a v1.2 variant, the first stage did a 180 deg flip and
performed 40 second long 3-engine boostback burn. It flipped again before performing
a roughly 24 second long 3-engine entry burn and a 30 second long single engine landing
burn. The stage landed at Cape Canaveral Landing Zone 1 just under 9 minutes after
liftoff. It was the tenth successful first stage landing and the fourth landing at
LZ 1. Nine first stages have now been recovered, one having flown twice.
The second stage was expected to perform a deorbit burn
nearly 4 hours after liftoff. A targeted zone for the stage to fall was listed off
the southeast coast of Africa. The delayed deorbit may be to allow for a long coast
This 33rd Falcon 9 flight was performed by the F9-34
vehicle, which used first stage number B1032. The shorter than normal first
stage burn, along with design changes visible externally on the second stage, initiated
speculation that this was the first so-called "Block 4" Falcon 9 with liftoff
thrust increased from the prior 694 tonnes, but no confirmation has to date been provided.
The vehicle's stages were test fired at McGregor, Texas,
apparently during February, 2017. The first stage performed a brief static firing
at LC 39A on April 25, 2017. The first and second stages without payload were
stacked for the test.
It was the fifth Falcon 9 launch of the year and the
fourth from LC 39A. The pad has now hosted a total of 98 launches, including 12
Saturn 5 and 82 Space Shuttle liftoffs.
China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 7 launched Tianzhou 1, a robot cargo ship bound for the
Tiangong 2 space station, from Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island on April
20, 2017. Liftoff from Pad 201, the easternmost of two new launch pads at the Center, took
place at 11:41:35 UTC. Including propellant, Tianzhou 1 weighed 12.91 tonnes, making it
the heaviest payload ever launched by a rocket from China, and the heaviest payload
launched by any nation so far this year.
Tianzhou 1 was loaded with several tonnes of propellant. It will test automatic docking
equipment when it attempts to dock with Tiangong 2 in a 42 deg inclination low earth orbit
two days after launch. The mission is a test of procedures for China's planned full-scale
space station, which the country may begin to launch in 2018.
It was the second CZ-7 launch, following a June, 2016 debut. CZ-7 is one of three of
Chinas Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology's (CALT) new family of launchers, which
include the smaller CZ-6 and the larger CZ-5.
CZ-7 uses a 3.35 meter diameter core stage powered by
two 122.5 tonne thrust YF-100 RP/LOX staged combustion engines. Four 2.25 meter diameter
strap-on boosters, each powered by one YF-100, augment the core to produce a total of
734.1 tonnes (1.618 million pounds) of thrust at liftoff. Four 18 tonne thrust YF-115
RP/LOX staged combustion engines power the 3.35 meter diameter second stage. The 2.5 stage
rocket weighs about 594 tonnes at liftoff and stands about 53.1 meters tall. It can lift
13.5 tonnes to 200 x 400 km x 42 deg orbit or 5.5 tonnes to a 700 km sun synchronous
On this flight, the strap-on boosters shut down and
separated about 174 seconds after liftoff. The first stage cut off and separated
about 10 seconds later. Stage 2 burned its main engines for about 389 seconds.
Its vernier engines burned for about 20 more seconds after the main engines shut
down. Spacecraft sepration took place shortly after the verniers shut cut off, about
10 minutes after liftoff.
A 2.5 stage Soyuz FG rocket orbited Russia's Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft from Baikonur,
Kazakhstan with two International Space Station crew on April 20, 2017. It was the year's
first crewed launch. Liftoff from Baikonur Cosmodrome Area 1 Pad 5 took place at 07:14
UTC. The spacecraft entered a roughly 200 km x 51.6 deg initial orbit. Onboard the
upgraded spacecraft were Russia's Fyodor Yurchikhin and NASA's Jack Fischer, comprising
the Expedition 51/52 crew.
After a 6 hour, four orbit fast-track ascent, Soyuz MS-04 docked with ISS at 13:18 UTC.
Yurchikhin and Fischer will join NASA's Peggy Whitson, ESA's Thomas Pesquet, and
Russia's Oleg Novitskiy at the station.
Russia cut the normal three crew complement down to two on this mission to save money.
Cargo replaced the missing crew member. Fewer Progress launches will be needed to support
Russia's reduced ISS crew complement.
It was the first R-7 flight of a re-engined rocket with crew since a Soyuz-U RD-0110 upper
stage engine suffered a turbopump failure on December 1, 2016 while attempting to orbit
Progress MS-04. Investigators found manufacturing defects and unqualified alloys in other
engines from the same production batch. The investigation led to the replacement of
engines from a bad production lot.
Atlas 5 Launches
United Launch Alliance's Atlas 5 launched Orbital-ATK's Cygnus cargo hauling spacecraft
toward the International Space Station on April 18, 2017. The OA-7 Commercial Resupply
Services flight was the third Atlas-launched Cygnus as part of orbital ATK's plan to catch
up in the wake of the company's 2014 Antares rocket failure. OA-7 used an enhanced Cygnus
with a longer pressurized module packed with 3,376 kg of cargo. An additional 83 kg of
unpressurized cargo, consisting of several cubesats, was also carried. Including cargo,
Cygnus weighed a reported 7,225 kg.
The 59.13 meter tall AV-070 Atlas 5-401 used an extra extended payload fairing. Liftoff
from Cape Canaveral SLC 41 took place at 15:11:26 UTC. The rocket flew a northeastward
track off the Eastern U.S. Seaboard. Centaur performed a single, 13 min 45 sec burn to
insert itself and Cygnus into a roughly 230 km x 51.6 deg orbit. Payload separation
occurred about 21 minutes after liftoff. Centaur performed a subsequent deorbit burn.
Cygnus OA-7 was dubbed "S.S. John Glenn" in memory of the late astronaut.
The launch was originally planned for March 27, but was delayed five days before launch by
ground and flight vehicle hydraulic system problems. A hydraulic return line was found to
have ruptured on the Atlas first stage while technicians were troubleshooting the ground
It was the 71st Atlas 5 launch, the 70th success, and the 61st consecutive success.
Orbits Experimental Comsat
A Chang Zheng (Long March) 3B/E rocket orbited Chinasat
16, an experimental communications satellite, from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on
April 12, 2017. Liftoff from Launch Pad 2 took place at 11:04 UTC. The rocket's liquid
hydrogen fueled upper stage performed two burns to accelerate its payload into a
geosynchronous transfer orbit.
The 4.6 tonne China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) DFH-3 satellite is equipped with a
Ka-band communications payload and an electric propulsion system, both firsts for China.
It will be positioned at 110.5 degrees East.
It was the 40th consecutive success by the CZ 3B/3C
9 Reflies First Stage, Orbits SES 10 (March 31, 2017 Update)
SpaceX launched a previously-flown Falcon 9 first stage for the first time on March 30,
2017. The stage, B1021, boosted the F9-33 mission that lofted the SES 10 communications
satellite to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 Pad
A. B1021 had previously flown during the F9-23 CRS-8 mission on April 8, 2016, when it
landed downrange on a converted barge. After a 22:27 UTC liftoff, B1021 repeated the feat,
landing again on the downrange floating platform after performing reentry and landing
After the first stage completed its 2 min 38 sec ascent burn, the Falcon 9 second stage
fired its Merlin 1D Vacuum engine for 345 sec to reach a parking orbit. After a 17 min 55
sec coast to the equator above the west African coast, the stage restarted for 53 seconds
to accelerate the 5,282 kg SES 10 satellite toward a planned 218 x 35,410 km x 26.2 deg
transfer orbit. SES 10 separated from the stage 32 min 03 sec after liftoff.
The second stage ended up in a 217 x 33,395 km x 26.3 deg orbit, suggesting that a
slightly lower than planned apogee was achieved, but SpaceX announced that it had met
After raising itself to geostationary orbit, Airbus Defense and space-built SES 10 will
serve Latin America, using 55 Ku-band transponder equivalents, from 67 deg West.
After the flight, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced that
the company had, in another first, directed one of the two payload fairing halves to a
landing zone in a test of future payload fairing recovery. The fairing had been
equipped with a cold gas thruster system. Eventually, steerable parachutes and
inflatable shock absorbers will be used to bring the fairings down to recoverable ocean
It was the first reflight of a complete orbital-class
liquid fueled rocket stage. Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket had previously reflown,
but on much less taxing suborbital missions. Reusable Space Shuttle orbiters brought
back three main engines (SSMEs) and avionics, but expended the large external propellant
tank that fed the three SSMEs. Space Shuttle solid rocket boosters were also
recovered and reused, but they were disassembled after each flight and the motor segments
never stayed together to fly again as a unit.
After its 2016 flight, the B1021 stage was partially
disassembled (its engines were removed, for example) and was shipped back to the SpaceX
factory in Hawthorne, California. After the engines were re-installed and other
refurbishment work completed, the stage was shipped to the company's McGregor, Texas test
site. There, it was test-fired on January 25, 2017, completing what appeared to be a
standard test cycle for a Falcon 9 first stage. The new second stage was also test
fired in late January or early February. After shipment to LC 39A's Horizontal
Integration Facility, the assembled F9-33 rocket performed a five-second static test at LC
39A on March 27, 2017, with no payload installed.
Delta 4 Launches
Delta 377, a Delta 4M+5,4 with four solid rocket motors and a five meter diameter Delta
cryogenic second stage (DCSS), lofted Wideband Global SATCOM No. 9 into supersynchronous
transfer orbit from Cape Canaveral Florida on March 19, 2017. The 399 tonne, 66.3 meter
tall liquid hydrogen fueled rocket rose from Space Launch Complex 37B at 00:18 UTC on
829.7 tonnes (1.829 million pounds) of thrust created by its RS-68A first stage engine and
its four GEM-60 solid motors.
DCSS performed two burns of its 11.23 tonne thrust RL10B-2 LOX/LH2 engine during the
ascent. The first placed the vehicle into a 185 x 6,100 km x 27.6 deg parking orbit about
20 minutes after liftoff. After a 9.5 minute coast to the equator the second, roughly 3.5
minute burn pushed the 5.987 tonne Boeing 702 series satellite into a 431 x 44,290 km x 27
deg transfer orbit. Spacecraft separation occurred about 41 minutes 45 seconds after
WGS-9 was jointly purchased by Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and New
Zealand. It will provide up to 11 Gbps data transfer rates for the military of these
nations and for the U.S. military using X-band and Ka-band transponders and on-board data
DCSS was expected to perform a deorbit burn at about T+1 hour 11 min 44 sec, leading to
destructive reentry at about T+12 hours 12 min.
It was the first Delta 4 launch of 2017. It was
also the 35th Delta 4 flight. Only one more WGS launch is currently listed on the Delta 4
backlog, along with only three more Medium variant launches, as United Launch Alliance
works toward retirement of the type.
An H-2A boosted Japan's Information Gathering Satellite
(IGS) Radar 5 to a sun synchronous orbit on March 17, 2017. Liftoff from Yoshinobu Launch
Complex 1 at Tanegashima Space Center took place at 01:20 UTC. The 202 series rocket, tail
number F33, was boosted by a pair of SRB-A solid motors.
It was the second H-2A launch of 2017.
IGS Radar 5 is a radar reconnaissance satellite built by Mitsubishi Electric that will be
operated by the Cabinet Satellite Information Center. It will support Japan's national
defense and aid in civil natural disaster monitoring.
Falcon 9 Orbits
A SpaceX Falcon 9 boosted Echostar 23 to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Kennedy Space
Center's Launch Complex 39 Pad A on March 16, 2017. Liftoff took place at 06:00 UTC. The
Merlin 1D Vacuum-powered second stage performed two burns to accelerate the roughly 5.6
tonne communications satellite into a 179 x 35,903 km x 22.43 deg geosynchronous transfer
According to the SpaceX press kit, the first stage burned for 2 min 43 sec. The second
stage then fired for 5 min 36 sec before beginning a nearly 18 minute parking orbit coast
to the equator. The stage completed its second, 1 minute burn at the 27 min 19 sec mark.
Spacecraft separation occurred 34 minutes after liftoff.
F9-31 was the first Falcon 9 v1.2 flown in fully expendable mode, with no landing legs,
grid fins, or other recoverable hardware on the first stage. Expendable mode was needed to
accomodate the heaviest-ever Falcon 9 GTO payload.
Space Systems/Loral built Echostar 23, using its SSL-1300 bus. The satellite has 32
Ku-Band transponders, as well as Ka- and S-Band transmitters. It will raise itself to a
geostationary orbit at 45 degrees West.
The rocket used first stage number B1030. It and its second stage partner were test fired
at McGregor, Texas during mid to late November, 2016. They were stored in the LC 39A
hangar when the CRS-10 Dragon launch moved ahead of Echostar 23 in launch order. The
assembled rocket performed a roughly 3 second static test at LC 39A on March 9 with no
payload attached, after a scrubbed attempt two days earlier. A March 14 launch attempt was
scrubbed by high winds about 38 minutes before T-0.
Europe's Vega launch vehicle orbited the Sentinel 2B earth observation satellite for
Arianespace and ESA from Kourou on March 7, 2017. The four-stage rocket lifted off from
the Vega Launch Complex (ZLV) at 01:49 UTC, beginning a nearly 58 minute mission that
deployed the 1,130 kg Airbus-built satellite into a 786 km x 98.57 deg sun synchronous
Sentinel 2B is the fourth Copernicus program satellite. It will be positioned in an orbit
opposite to Sentinel 2A, which was launch by a Vega in June 2016.
Vega's P80 solid motor first stage burned for 1 min 55 seconds. Its Z23 solid motor second
stage ignited one second later and burned until the 3 min 39 sec mark. After a 12 second
coast the Z9 solid motor third stage ignited for its 2 min 41 second burn. The payload
fairing separated shortly after the third stage ignited.
After a 1 min 51 sec coast, the liquid AVUM fourth stage began a 7 min 4 second burn to
enter an elliptical parking orbit. The stage and payload then coasted over the Arctic
before performing a second, two-minute burn beginning 55 min 7 sec after liftoff. This
burn circularized the orbit. Sentinel 2B separated about 50 seconds after the burn ended.
AVUM was scheduled to perform an orbit reduction burn about an hour later.
Another New Rocket
China debuted the KT-2 (Kaitou 2) orbital launch vehicle on March 2, 2017. The solid-fuel,
likely three-stage launch vehicle lifted off from the CZ-11 flat pad at Jiuquan space
center at 23:53 UTC. KT-2 injected a small test satellite named TK-1 (Tiankong) into a 381
x 403 km x 96.9 deg sun synchronous orbit.
Xinhua reported that the TK-1 satellite was developed by CASIC to be used for "remote
sensing, telecommunications and experiments in minisatellite-based technologies".
China Aerospace Science & Industry Corporation (CASIC) also reportedly developed the
launch vehicle. KT-2 may be based on the DF-31 mobile ICBM family, but that has yet to be
determined. According to Xinhua, KT-2 is one of five launch vehicles planned for
development by CASIC. It is capable of lifting 350 kg to a low inclination low earth orbit
or 250 kg to a 700 km sun synchronous orbit.
CZ-11, a similar DF-31 based rocket that first flew in 2015, was developed by the China
Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT). Two smaller, DF-21 based launchers, both by
CASIC, have also flown: Kuaizhou 1(A) beginning in 2013 and KT-1, which failed in two
attempts during 2002-2003.
5 Launches Classified Payload
Atlas 5 AV-068, a 401 variant with no solid fuel boosters and a four-meter fairing,
launched the NROL-79 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office from Vandenberg AFB
Space Launch Complex 3 East on March 1, 2017. Liftoff took place at 17:49 UTC.
United Launch Alliance ended its webcast after the
Centaur second stage separated from the Atlas first stage and ignited its RL10-C1 engine.
The unannounced payload appeared aimed toward an initial orbit inclined 63 degrees to the
equator. No orbital parameters, payload information, or mission timeline were announced.
Mission success itself was not announced for several hours, indicating that the rocket's
Centaur upper stage likely performed multiple burns.
Amateur observers suspected that the mission placed a pair of Intruder (third generation
NOSS) type satellites into roughly 1,000 x 1,200 km x 63.4 deg orbits for the purpose of
pinpointing mobile radio signal emitter locations on the world's oceans.
The launch had been delayed for more than a month after a problem was found with the Atlas
5 Centaur stage when propellants were loaded during a wet dress rehearsal (WDR).
After the unspecified problem was fixed, the launch vehicle was subjected to a second WDR
to certify its readiness for flight.
It was the 70th Atlas 5 launch and the 60th consecutive
Finale (February 23, 2017 Update)
Russia's long-lived Soyuz-U launch vehicle performed its final flight on February 22, 2017
when it boosted the Progress MS-05 robotic cargo hauling spacecraft into orbit from
Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. Liftoff took place at 05:58 UTC from snow-covered Area 1
It marked a return to flight after the previous Soyuz-U's RD-0110 upper stage engine
suffered a turbopump failure on December 1, 2016 while attempting to orbit Progress MS-04.
Investigators found manufacturing defects and unqualified alloys in other engines from the
same production batch.
Progress MS-05 carried 2,395 kg of cargo, including dry cargo, propellant, water, and
oxygen. The loaded spacecraft weighed nearly 7,300 kg at liftoff.
Soyuz-U, an improved, standardized version of earlier R-7 based launch vehicles, first
flew in 1973. It orbited recoverable Soviet Zenit and Yantar spy satellites from Baikonur
and Plesetsk and manned Soyuz spacecraft from Baikonur, including the Soyuz 19 Apollo
Soyuz Test Project spacecraft in 1975. In 1978, it launched the first of many unmanned
Progress cargo spacecraft, this one to the Salyut 6 manned space station. It was Russia's
primary crew launch vehicle until the Soyuz TM-34 launch in 2002. Since then, Progress has
been its most common payload.
A total of 786 Soyuz-U launch vehicles have flown, including 10 that carried Ikar or
Fregat upper stages on Globalstar and European Space Agency Cluster missions beginning in
1999. The number does not include the Soyuz-U/Soyuz T-10-1 pre-liftoff fire that resulted
in the escape tower firing to save the crew, but destroying the launch vehicle, on
September 26, 1983. A total of 765 of the launches were successful, making Soyuz-U one of
the world's most reliable orbital launch vehicles. Soyuz-U flew 47 times in 1979,
including two failures, and 40 or more times each year from 1978 to 1984. It ranks as the
most oft-flown, and longest-lived launch vehicle variant of the Space Age.
The type was originally replaced for manned launches by
Soyuz FG, but now both the "U" and "FG" types are being supplanted by
Soyuz 2 launch vehicles, which use modern digital avionics.
Falcon 9 Debuts
from KSC (February 23, 2017 Update)
SpaceXs Falcon 9 orbited the CRS-10 Dragon
spacecraft with cargo for the International Space Station from Kennedy Space Center Launch
Complex 39 Pad A on February 19, 2017. It was the first Falcon 9 launch from the
converted NASA Saturn 5/Space Shuttle launch site. Liftoff took place at 14:39 UTC,
following an aborted attempt one day earlier caused by out of range readings from the
second stage thrust vector control system.
Falcon 9's second stage boosted Dragon into a 51.6 deg
low earth orbit, with stage cutoff occurring about 9 min 5 sec after liftoff and
spacecraft separation taking place about one minute later. While the second stage
was performing its 393 second long burn, the first stage did a 180 deg flip and performed
3-engine boostback burn. It flipped again before performing a 3-engine entry burn
and a single engine landing burn that began about 7 min 33 sec after liftoff. The
stage landed at Cape Canaveral Landing Zone 1, performing the first daylight landing, and
third overall, at the site. The second stage was expected to perform a deorbit burn
after spacecraft separation.
Dragon (Dragon spacecraft No. 12) carried about 2,490 kg tonnes of cargo, including 1,530
kg inside the pressurized capsule and 960 kg attached to the unpressurized trunk
section. SpaceX does not announce total spacecraft mass, but based on early
publications by the company and on more recent expert estimates, CRS-10 Dragon likely
weighed more than 8,400 kg at liftoff, including cargo.
Spacecraft berthing at ISS was scheduled to occur on
February 22, but a 24 hour delay resulted from a problem with Dragon's GPS-based guidance
system. The berthing took place successfully on February 23.
The flight was performed by the F9-32 vehicle, a v1.2
(or "Block 3") variant, which used first stage number B1031. The
vehicle's stages were test fired at McGregor, Texas, apparently during December, 2016.
The first stage performed a brief static firing at LC 39A on February 12, 2017
after a scrubbed attempt the day before. The first and second stages without payload
were stacked for the test.
With the flight, Falcon 9 became the first launch
vehicle family to perform a second orbital flight in 2017.
For Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, SpaceX added a large horizontal processing hangar just
south of the SLC 39A fence line and replaced the crawlerway ramp with dual rail tracks for
a transporter erector launcher (TEL) to roll upon while carrying rockets up to the pad.
The flame trench was rebuilt and reconfigured, with exhaust now exiting only toward
the north, and large "rainbirds" were added to spray water on the launcher
during liftoff. Additional changes to the pad are planned to support Commercial Crew
launches, including installation of a crew access arm on the fixed service tower.
Falcon Heavy is not expected to debut from LC 39A until
after Cape Canaveral SLC 40 is restored to service sometime after mid-2017.
Meanwhile, SpaceX hopes to perform a first unmanned flight of its Dragon 2 Commercial Crew
spacecraft from LC 39A by year's end. An improved "Block 5" Falcon 9 being
developed to launch Dragon 2 will perform the launch.
It was the 95th launch from LC 39A, a number that
includes 12 Saturn 5 and 82 Space Shuttle liftoffs, the most recent by Shuttle Atlantis on
July 8, 2011 for STS-135 mission.
Orbits Cartosat 2D/Nanosats
PSLV-C37, an XL version of Indian Space Research
Organizaion's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, boosted 714 kg Cartosat 2D and 103
nanosatellites that together weighed 664 kg into a 505 km x 97.46 deg sun synchronous
orbit from Sriharikota, India on February 15, 2017. The mission set a record for
numbers of satelites on a single launch.
Liftoff from the First Launch Pad at Satish Dhawan Space Center took place at 03:58 UTC.
The 4.5-stage, 321 tonne, 44.4 meter tall rocket fired its four stages (solid, liquid,
solid, and liquid fueled, respectively) in succession during the first 1,008 seconds of
the ascent, with a 10 second coast before fourth stage ignition. Six strap-on solid motors
(four ground lit and two air lit) augmented thrust during the first stage burn. The liquid
MMH/MON-3 fourth stage fired for about 505 seconds during its insertion burn.
Satellite deployment took about 11 minutes, beginning
with the cartographic mapping Cartosat 2D at T+17.5 minutes with the last separation at
about the 28 minute 43 second mark..
Launches Two Comsats
A 2.5 stage Ariane 5 ECA orbited two communication satellites from Kourou on February 14,
2017. Liftoff from ELA 3 took place at 21:39 UTC. The Arianespace VA235 mission
placed 6,000 kg Sky Brasil 1 and 3,550 kg Telkom 3S into geosynchronous transfer orbits.
The second stage completed its single burn at T+25 minutes to reach the insertion orbit.
Airbus-built Sky Brasil 1 (an E3000 bus) deployed first from atop the Sylda 5 dual
payload carrier at T+27 minutes. Thales Alenia-built Telkom 3S (a Spacebus 4000B2)
separated 12 minutes later.
Both satellites will raise themselves into geostationary orbits where they will proide
HDTV and other services. Sky Brasil will be positioned at 43.1 deg West.
Telkom 3S will work from 118 deg East.
VA235 was the 60th Ariane 5 ECA launch, and 59th
A Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat (also designated Soyuz ST-B) rocket launched the Hispasat 36W-1
communications satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit from Kourou, French Guiana on
January 28, 2017. Liftoff from the ELS pad took place at 01:03 UTC. The VS16 mission for
Arianespace was the first GTO launch by Soyuz from Kourou.
Germany's OHB System AG built the 3,220 kg "SmallGEO" platform satellite.
Hispasat 36W-1 will be stationed at 36 deg West to provide communication services to
Spain, Portugal, the Canary Islands and South America.
After a 9 minute 23 second ascent by the 2.5 stage R-7 launch vehicle, the mission
finished with a single burn by the Fregat MT upper stage, which began 10 min 23 seconds,
and ended 28 minutes, after liftoff. The burn boosted the satellite toward a targeted 250
x 35,736 km x 5.44 deg orbit.
Spacecraft separation took place 32 minutes 10 seconds
H-2A F-32, an H-2A-204 with four SRB-A solid rocket motors, orbited Japan's first
dedicated military communications satellite from Tanegashima Space Center on January 24,
2017. Liftoff from Pad 1 took place at 07:44 UTC. The LE-5B powered second stage performed
two burns to place the DSN 2 satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit within about
one-half hour of liftoff.
DSN Corporation, a subsidiary of SKY Perfect JSAT
Corporation, built and will operate DSN 2 as part of an X-band satellite communications
system for the Japanese Ministry of Defense. The mass of the payload was not
released, but H-2A-204 can lift up to 5.7 tonnes to geosynchronous transfer orbit.
It was the 31st H-2A success in 32 launches since the program began in 2001.
Atlas 5 Orbits
SBIRS GEO 3
AV-066, a basic Atlas 5-401 variant, launched the third Space Base Infrared System
Geosynchronous Earth Orbit satellite (SBIRS GEO 3) into orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida
on January 21, 2017. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41 took place at 00:42 UTC..
Centaur fired twice to insert the 4.54 tonne, Lockheed-Martin-built early warning
satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit.
The launch campaign included a record short, 13-day period from first stage stacking to
rollout. An initial launch attempt 24 hours earlier was scrubbed by a sensor issue and by
an aircraft intruding on a downrange safety zone.
Rocket Orbit Try Fails
Japan's SS-520-4, a small experimental three-stage orbital launcher based on an existing
two-stage sounding rocket, failed during its inaugural attempt from Uchinoura Space Center
at Kagoshima on January 14, 2017. The solid-fueled rocket zipped skyward from its rail
launcher at the KS sounding rocket pad at 23:33 UTC, aiming to place Tricom 1, a 3kg
Cubesat, into a 180 x 1,500 km x 31 deg orbit after a rapid ascent lasting just over four
The first stage burn appeared to be good, ending after about 31 seconds, but the second
stage never ignited as planned after a 140 second coast. Reports indicated that telemetry
was lost even before first stage cutoff. Second stage ignition needed to be enabled from
the ground, which was impossible without an established downlink. The vehicle apparently
fell into the expected first stage drop zone, indicating that the first stage propulsion
phase had more or less succeeded.
SS-520-4 (SS-520 serial number 4) weighed about 2.6 tonnes at launch, which would have
made it the lightest-ever orbital rocket had it succeeded. The rocket was 9.54 meters long
and 0.52 meters diameter. It's first stage HTPB solid fuel motor produced about 18
tonnes of liftoff thrust.
The launch was to be a one-off experiment, so no additional SS-520-4 orbital attempts are
Falcon 9 Returns
Ending a four-month failure investigation stand-down, SpaceX Corporation's Falcon 9 launch
vehicle returned to service on January 14, 2017, orbiting ten IridiumNEXT satellites from
Vandenberg AFB in California. The v1.2 variant, informally designated F9-30 by outside
observers (it used first stage number B1029), lifted off from Space Launch Complex 4 East
at 17:54 UTC to begin a hour-long mission that inserted the 860 kg, Thales Alenia
Space-built satellites into roughly 610 x 620 km x 86.4 deg orbits. The satellites will
raise themselves into 780 km operational orbits.
After a 43 minute, 16 second coast, the Falcon 9 second stage restarted for a brief
second, circularization burn at first apogee about 52 minutes 31 seconds after liftoff to
complete the powered phase of the flight. Spacecraft separation began at about the 59
minutes 16 seconds mark, with each satellite separating individually separated by about
The first stage performed boost-back, reentry, and
landing burns before landing on the converted barge "drone ship" Just Read
the Instructions. It was the first successful first stage landing in two West Coast
attempts. Six previous first stage recoveries had been made after Cape canaveral liftoffs.
The launch was the first of seven planned IridiumNext Falcon 9 flights that will replace
the company's orbiting "Little LEO" communication satellite constellation.
Falcon 9 had been grounded since F9-29 and its $200 million AMOS 6 satellite payload were
destroyed during a pre-launch propellant loading and hot fire test exercise at Cape
Canveral on September 1, 2016. SpaceX determined that the cause was sudden
overpressurization of the second stage liquid oxygen (LOX) tank due to the failure of a
composite overwrapped pressure vessel (COPV) containing pressurized helium that was
mounted inside the LOX tank. Improper control of subcooled-LOX temperatures may have been
involved. Elon Musk of SpaceX suggested that LOX froze within or beneath the composite
overwrapping, causing loss of COPV structural integrity.
SpaceX performed cryogenic loading tests, with some leading to failure, of small test
vessels at its McGregor, Texas test site to confirm the failure mode. The company also
changed its propellant loading procedures, more than doubling the LOX loading time.
The F9-30 first and second stages were test fired at the company's McGregor, Texas test
site during late October and early November, 2016. The first stage was hot fired at SLC 4E
on January 5, 2017 after a scrub the previous day. The IridiumNEXT payload was not atop
the vehicle during the wet dress rehearsal and hot fire exercise.
F9-30 was the 29th Falcon 9 launch and the ninth v1.2 variant to fly, not including the
lost AMOS 6 launch vehicle. It was the first v1.2 to fly from VAFB.
China's Kuaizhou 1A (KZ-1A), an improved variant of previously-flown Kuaizhou 1, flew for
the first time on January 9, 2016 from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The three-stage
solid fuel rocket lifted off from a mobile launcher on a flat pad at 04:11 UTC. Three
satellites, including remote-sensing JL-1 and CubeSats XY-S1 and Caton-1, separated into
sun synchronous orbits.
Expace Technology Co., Ltd., a subsidiary of China Aerospace Science & Industry Corp,
handled the launch as a commercial enterprise.
KZ-1A can loft 200kg into a 700 km sun synchronous orbit, or up to 300 kg to lower
inclincation low earth orbits. It is 20 meters tall, 1.4 meters in diameter, and weighs 30
tonnes at liftoff. The three solid motor stages weigh 16.621 tonnes, 8.686 tonnes, and
3.183 tonnes and have 65 second, 62 second, and 55 second burn times, respectively. The
first two stages are 1.4 meters diameter. The third stage is 1.2 meters diameter. 1.2 and
1.4 meter diameter fairing are available. This launch appeared to use the 1.4 meter
A small N2O4/MMH bipropellant insertion fourth stage
provided final orbit trim during a roughly 13 minute long period that included nearly six
minutes of low-thrust burn. Spacecraft separation began about 17.7 minutes after
China Kicks Off
China performed the first orbital launch of 2017 with a
CZ-3B/E launch from XiChang on January 5. The 3.5 stage rocket carried TJSW 2 (Tongxin
Jishu Shiyan Weixing, or Communications Engineering Test Satellite) aloft from LC 2 at
15:18 UTC. TJSW 2 entered a geosynchronous transfer orbit about one-half hour later after
two burns by the liquid hydrogen-fueled third stage.
Like the first TJSW launched September 12, 2015, TJSW 2's appears to have a classified
purpose. The first TJSW was used, in part, to test Ka-band technology for broadband
It was the 38th CZ-3B launch.
See Older Launch Reports in the Space Launch Report Archive