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SPACE LAUNCH REPORT
by
Ed Kyle



Recent Space Launches

04/18/18, 22:51 UTC, Falcon 9 with TESS from CC 40 to EEO
04/25/18, 17:57 UTC, Rokot/Briz KM with Sentinel 3B from PL 133/3 to LEO/S
04/26/18, 04:42 UTC, CZ-11 with Shuhai 1 from JQ to LEO/S
05/03/18, 16:06 UTC, CZ-3B/E with APStar 6C from CZ 2 to GTO
05/05/18, 11:05 UTC, Atlas 5 with InSight from VA 3E to HCO
05/08/18, 18:28 UTC, CZ-4C with Gaofen 5 from TY 9 to LEO/S
05/11/18, 20:14 UTC, Falcon 9 with Bangabandhu 1 from KC 39A to GTO
05/20/18, 21:25 UTC, CZ-4C with Queqiao from XC 3 to EEO
05/21/18, 08:44 UTC, Antares with Cygnus OA-9 from WI 0A to LEO/ISS
05/22/18, 19:47 UTC, Falcon 9 with Iridium 6/GRACE-FO from VA 4E to LEO/P

Worldwide Space Launch Box Score
as of 05/22/18
All Orbital Launch Attempts(Failures)

2018:  47(1)
2017:  90(6)
2016:  85(3)
2015:  86(5)
Crewed Launch Attempts(Failures)
2018:  1(0)
2017:  4(0)
2016:  5(0)
2015:  4(0)


F9-56 (NASA)Iridium NEXT 6/GRACE-FO

F9-56, a Falcon 9 v1.2 variant with a used Block 4 first stage, a new Block 5 second stage, and a "Fairing 2.0" shroud, orbited five 10 Iridium NEXT satellites and two GRACE Follow-On satellites from Vandenberg AFB on May 22, 2018. Liftoff of the Iridium NEXT 6/GRACE-FO mission took place at 19:47 UTC from B Space Launch Complex 4 East.

The mission profile differed from previous Iridium NEXT launches, which all sent ten satellites into orbit at a time. Replacing half of those payloads this time were two Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites built by Airbus DS for NASA and the German Research Center for Geosciences (GFZ). The GRACE-FO satellites, which weighed either 580 kg or 600 kg each depending on which press release was to be believed, separated about 11.5 minutes after liftoff directly into a roughly 490 km x 89 deg orbit, following the first, 436 second burn of the Falcon 9 second stage. This differed from the 180 x 625 km x 86.5 deg parking orbits used during previous Iridium NEXT missions

After coasting for about 46.5 minutes, the second stage restarted for eight seconds to boost the Iridium satellites into what was likely a 490 x 710 km x 86.7 deg deployment orbit. The 860 kg Thales Alexia Space satellites then began deploying in sequence about an hour after launch. This differed from the previous circular 625 km deployment orbits.

A used first stage (B1043.2), which previously boosted the failed Zuma payload on January 7, 2018, performed the initial 2 minute 46 second boost. The Block 4 stage, which did not carry landing legs, was purposefully expended. It was the 12th flight of a previously-flown Falcon 9 first stage, six of which have been purposefully expended during their second flights.

B1043.2 apparently returned to the SpaceX factory in Hawthorne, California after its Zuma flight for refurbishment. It then moved to Vandenberg AFB where, with the second stage attached, it performed a static test firing at SLC 4E on May 18, 2018.

The Mr. Steven recovery ship again attempted, but failed, to catch one of the fairing halves in a giant net.

Antares OA-9 (NASA)Antares OA-9

Orbital ATK's Antares launch vehicle successfully orbited the company's Cygnus OA-9 cargo hauling spacecraft from Wallops Island, Virginia on May 21, 2018. Liftoff from Pad 0A took place at 08:44 UTC. It was the third flight of an Antares 230 variant, the redesigned Antares powered by two Energomash RD-181 engines in place of the AJ-26 engines that powered the first five Antares flights. The change was made after an AJ-26 turbopump failure triggered a destructive Antares launch explosion above Pad 0A in 2014.

Cygnus OA-9 was the sixth enhanced Cygnus with a stretched cargo module, but only the third to fly on Antares. Atlas 5 rockets orbited the other three. OA-9 carried 3,250 kg of cargo for the International Space Station, along with several Cubesats that with deployer hardware added another roughly 120 kg. According to Orbital ATK, Cygnus OA-9 weighed 6,173 kg at launch, matching the OA-8 payload for heaviest launched by Antares. Cygnus OA-9 was named in honor of J.R. Thompson, former Orbital Sciences CEO, who passed away in 2017.

The RD-181 engines produced a total of about 392 tonnes of thrust (864,000 lbf) at liftoff to power the nearly 293 tonne rocket off its pad. The Ukrainian-built first stage burned for about 211 seconds. After first stage shutdown, the second stage, interstage, and payload section separated and coasted "up hill" for about 37 seconds before the Orbital ATK Castor 30XL second stage motor ignited to produce an average of about 51 tonnes of thrust during its 160 second burn. The payload fairing separated 12 seconds before second stage ignition. Interstage separation took place 7 seconds before the Castor 30XL burn. Cygnus separated into a 198 x 317 km x 51.63 deg orbit about 9 min 6 sec after liftoff.

CZ-4C Y27 (Xinhua)China Launches Lunar Relay Satellite

China's Chang Zheng 4C orbited the Queqiao data relay satellite from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on May 20, 2018. Liftoff from LC 3 took place at 21:25 UTC.

Queqiao, a 425 kg CAST 100 series satellite will serve as a communications relay for the upcoming Chang'e 4 lunar landing mission, which plans to perform the first robotic landing on the far side of the Moon. Queqiao will position itself into halo orbit around the Earth-Moon L2 Lagrange Point to allow communications with the lander from Earth.

Queqiao and two 45 kg microsatellites, named Longjiang 1 and 2, were injected into a roughly 200 x 400,000 km transfer orbit by the three-stage rocket. Queqiao will use its hydrazine propulsion system to reach its final orbit.

The launch vehicle, serial number Y27, was the first CZ-4 to fly from Xichang.

F9-55 (SpaceX)"Block 5" Inaugural

F9-55, the first "Block 5" increment of the Falcon 9 v1.2 design, orbited Bangabandhu 1, Bangladesh's first geostationary communications satellite, from Kennedy Space Center LC 39A on May 11, 2018. The 3.7 tonne Thales Alenia Space Spacebus 4000B2 series satellite separated into a geosynchronous transfer orbit about 33 minutes 38 seconds after the 20:14 UTC liftoff, following two burns by the Falcon 9 second stage. The launch followed an automatic abort on May 10 about 1 minute before that planned liftoff.

SpaceX has incrementally upgraded the Falcon 9 v1.2 design since it first appeared in December, 2015. The Block 5 version incorporates higher-thrust Merlin 1D engines that feature turbopump modifications requested by NASA to support upcoming crew launches. Block 5 includes second stage pressurization changes, made after the AMOS 6 Falcon 9 explosion, that allow for faster, later, denser, chilled kerosene fuel loading. Block 5 also sports new landing legs that will be able to retract after landing without needing to be removed as was prior practice. Other changes appeared in earlier Block designs, including a bolted rather than a welded first stage engine thrust structure, titanium grid fins, and an improved second stage design.

F9-55 (SpaceX)F9-55 Launch, Drone View

The Block 5 first stage thrust increases to 775.65 tonnes (1.71 million pounds) at sea level, an increase of 8% from Block 4. Thrust has increased about 12% from the 694 tonnes (1.53 million pounds) thrust of the initial Falcon 9 v1.2 Merlin 1D-powered vehicles and nearly 30% from the 600 tonnes (1.32 million pounds) thrust of the Falcon 9 v1.1 Merlin 1D-powered rockets that began flying in 2013. Second stage thrust remained at 95.26 tonnes for this flight, though the Merlin 1D Vacuum engine is reported to be capable of a future upgrade to 99.79 tonnes thrust. The changes should allow Falcon 9 to finally approach the payload performance numbers that have been listed on the SpaceX web site since April 2016.  SpaceX believes that the design should also allow for more than that the single first stage reflights so far attained.

First stage number B1046 burned for about 2 min 31 sec, a few seconds shorter than earlier, similar missions, before separating to perform reentry and landing burns to land on the "Of Course I Still Love You" droneship postioned about 630 km downrange. The second stage performed a planned 5 min 43 sec first burn to reach a parking orbit at T+8 min 19 sec. This burn was substantially shorter than earlier, similar missions. The stage restarted at T+27 min 38 sec for a 59 second long second burn that accelerated Bangabandhu 1 to GTO.

The satellite will employ 26 Ku-band and 14 C-band transponders to provide communications services to Bangladesh and nearby regions from its final geostationary position at 119.1 deg East.

B1046 was test fired at McGregor, Texas during late February or early March, 2018 and was briefly hot fired at LC 39A with the second stage but no payload attached, on May 4, 2018.

A total of 25 Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy core and booster stages have now been recovered in 31 attempts, including 2 of 3 Falcon Heavy stage landing tries. Four of the successful landings have been on "Just Read the Instructions" off California, 10 at Cape Canaveral LZ 1, one at LZ 2, and 10 on the drone ship "Of Course I Still Love You" off Florida.

Nineteen individual first stages have been recovered. Eleven have flown twice, but five of those were either expended or lost during their second flights. All of the recovered stages have been v1.2 types.

CZ-4C Gaofen 5 Launch (Xinhua)CZ-4C Launches Gaofen 5

China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 4C orbited Gaofen 5, an earth observation satellite, from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on May 8, 2018. The three-stage rocket lifted off from LC 9 at 18:28 UTC. It successfully boosted the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology 5000B2 series satellite into a 705 km sun ynchronous orbit.

Gaofen 5 is equipped with six instruments, which include visible, infrared, and spectral imagers, and atmospheric sensors.

It was the 12th DF-5 based CZ launch of the year, more than any other launch vehicle type.

AV-078 (NASA)Atlas 5 Boosts InSight Toward Mars

AV-078, a two-stage Atlas 5-401 topped by a 4-meter diameter Large Payload Fairing, boosted NASA's Mars InSight toward Mars from Vandenberg Air Force Base on May 5, 2018. It was the first interplanetary launch ever performed from the U.S. West Coast launch base. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 3 East took place at 11:05 UTC.

AV-078 flew on a 158 degree azimuth, aiming toward a 63.4 degree low earth parking orbit. The LOX/RP-1 fueled RD-180 powered first stage fired for 4 min 4 sec. Centaur's RL10C-1 LOX/LH2 engine then ignited for its first, 8 min 48 sec burn to reach the parking orbit. The payload fairing separated eight seconds after Centaur began its burn.

Centaur and InSight coasted for about 65 min 40 sec before performing a second, 5 min 23 sec burn to accelerate away from Earth into a trans-Mars solar orbit. InSight separated about 9 minutes after the burn ended, at about T+1 hour, 33 minutes, 19 seconds. The CubeSats separated in sequence shortly after InSight.

InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) weighed 694 kg at launch, including a 425 kg lander (fueled), a 79 kg cruise stage, and a 189 kg aeroshell. The lander carried a probe that will be hammered about 15 meters into Mars surface, a seismometer, a magnetometer (the first expected to land on Mars surface), a laser reflector, and other instruments. A robot arm will place the primary instrument package onto the surface.

The two MarCO CubeSats, named MarCO-A and MarCO-B, each weighed about 13.5 kg. They will flyby Mars while conducting a data relay experiment with InSight.

InSight was derived from the earlier landers launched by Delta 2 rockets. Atlas 5 had excess performance for the mission, which allowed it to be launched from Vandenberg AFB. Previous solar orbit missions were launched from Cape Canaveral to gain that site's eastward Earth rotational velocity, which is mostly not available from Vandenberg because rockets have to launch from that California base toward the south or west across the Pacific Ocean. InSight was originally planned to launch in 2016, but instrument development problems delayed the flight.

CZ-3B/E Apstar 6C (Xinhua)CZ-3B/E Orbits APStar 6C

China's CZ-3B/E orbited Asia Pacific Satellite 6C (APStar 6C), a communications satellite, from Xichang satellite launch center on May 3, 2018. The "Enhanced" CZ-3B, China's long-serving GTO lifter, rose from LC 2 at 16:06 UTC.

The rocket's liquid hydrogen-fueled upper stage inserted the DFH-4 series satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit about one half-hour after liftoff.

After it propels itself to geosynchronous orbit, APStar 6C, which likely weighed more than 5 tonnes at launch, will use its 45 C, Ka, and Ku-band transponders to serve the Asia Pacific region for Hong Kong based APT Satellite Company Limited.

It was the 46th CZ-3B launch and the 43rd success.

CZ-11 Y4 Launch (Xinhua)CZ-11 Launch

China's four-stage solid fuel CZ-11 launched five small remote sensing satellites, including one named Zhuhai 1, into sun synchronous low earth orbit from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China on April 26, 2018. Liftoff from a canister attached to a mobile transporter/erector parked on a flat pad at 40.9691 N 100.343 E took place at 04:42 UTC. The site was one of two flat pads built in recent years northeast of the CZ-2F launch site.

Zhuhai 1 is a video-based earth observation satellite. Four additional "hyperspectral" satellites, identified as "OHS-1" types, were also orbited. They are designed to provide lower resolution imaging of the Earth's surface.

It was the fourth known CZ-11 flight, following previous launches on September 25, 2015, November 9, 2016, and January 19, 2018. The 58 tonne rocket may be based on China's DF-31 series solid fuel ballistic missile, because the canister used to launch CZ-11 is similar to launch canisters used by the road-mobile DF-31A. CZ-11 is reportedly 20.8 meters long (other reports suggest 18.7 meters), and 2 meters in diameter with a 58 tonne launch mass and a 120 tonne liftoff thrust. Its fourth stage has demonstrated in-space maneuvering capability. CZ-11 may be able to lift 350 kg or more to sun synchronous orbit.

It was the year's 40th known orbital launch attempt, a rate well in excess of the post-Cold War average.

Rokot Sentinel 3B Launch (ESA)Rokot Orbits Sentinel 3B

Russia's Rokot/Briz KM orbited Europe's Sentinel 3B earth observing satellite from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on April 25, 2018. Liftoff from Site 133 Pad 3 took place at 17:57 UTC. The Briz KM stage performed a more than nine-minute first burn during ascent to reach an elliptical parking orbit. The stage restarted at 19:12 UTC for a roughly 30 second burn to insert the 1,150 kg satellite into a roughly 800 km sun synchronous orbit.

Satellite separation took place a few minutes after the second Briz KM firing. Confirmation took place at 19:30 UTC when the European Space Agency received signals from the satellite at the Kiruna station in Sweden.

Briz KM was to perform two deorbit burns after satellite separation to lower its orbit.

Sentinel 3B, a Thales Alenia Space Prima Bus satellite, Will be part of Europe's Copernicus environmental monitoring network. The satellite will measure ocean temperatures, color, surface height, and sea ice thickness. Over land, it will measure river and lake height, monitor wildfires, provide land use mapping, and monitor the extent of vegetation.

It was the final commercial Rokot launch, and thus the final Eurokot mission. A handful of Rokot missions remain for the Russian government, after which the repurposed missile system will reportedly be retired.

Falcon 9 TESS Launch (NASA)Falcon 9 Boosts TESS Planet Finder

SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.2 F9-54, using the final new "Block 4" first stage, B1045, launched NASA's planet-finder TESS into a higly elliptical earth orbit from Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 40 on April 18, 2018. Liftoff took place at 22:51 UTC.

After performing its 2 min 29 sec boost, the first stage slowed itself and landed on downrange platform "Of Course I Still Love You". It was the first successful downrange platform landing since the October 30, 2017 Koreasat 5A launch.

TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, only weighed 350 kg, having originally been planned to fly atop a smaller rocket. The Orbital ATK LEOStar-2 satellite was targeted toward a 200 x 275,000 km x 29.5 deg orbit and deployed about 49.5 minutes after liftoff. The Falcon 9 second stage performed two burns to reach the deployment orbit. A third burn was also planned that would propel the stage into solar orbit at mission's end.

During its first several weeks, TESS will fire its on-board propulsion system five times prior to a lunar swing-by and a final trim burn to reach a 108,400 km x 376,300 km (14 day) operational orbit.

The B1045 first stage was tested at McGregor during early December, 2017 and delivered to Cape Canaveral in early March, 2018. The stage, topped by its second stage but no payload, was briefly static fired at SLC 40 on April 11, 2018. An April 16 launch attempt was scrubbed with about 3.5 hours to go in the count to allow additional "GNC analysis" according to SpaceX.

A total of 24 Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy core and booster stages have now been recovered in 30 attempts, including 2 of 3 Falcon Heavy stage landing tries. Four of the successful landings have been on "Just Read the Instructions" off California, 10 at Cape Canaveral LZ 1, one at LZ 2, and nine on the drone ship "Of Course I Still Love You" off Florida.

Eighteen individual first stages have been recovered. Eleven have flown twice, but five of those were either expended or lost during their second flights. All of the recovered stages have been v1.2 types.


Proton Orbits Blagovest 12L

A Proton M Briz M launched Blagovest 12L, Russia's second Blagovest military communications satellite, from Baikonur Cosmodrome on April 18, 2018. The liftoff from Site 81 Pad 24 took place at 22:12 UTC, with no live TV coverage or launch photographs provided. The Briz M upper stage performed a series of burns (most likely four burns) to insert the satellite into near-geosynchronous orbit. Upon reaching orbit the satellite was named Kosmos 2526.

Blagovest ("good news") is an Ekspress-2000 series satellite built by ISS Reshetnev in Zheleznogorsk, Russia, for Russia's Ministry of Defense. It carries Ka and C-band transponders. Europe's Thales Alenia provided attitude control system sensors and communications payload elements. Blagovest 11L was the first, and 12L the second, of four planned in the series.


AV-079 (ULA) Atlas 5 Launch

United Launch Alliance's Atlas 5, tail number AV-079, boosted multiple satellites to near-geosynchronous orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida on April 14, 2018. The 2.5 stage Atlas 551 variant, with five solid rocket motors, a Centaur second stage powered by a single RL10C-1 LOX/LH2 engine, and a 5-meter diameter payload fairing, lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41 at 23:13 UTC, beginning the nearly seven-hour Air Force Space Command AFSPC 11 mission.

Two primary satellites were stacked atop one another. On top was CBAS (Continuous Broadcast Augmenting SATCOM), a military communications satellite. The aft satellite was named EAGLE (ESPA Augmented GEO Laboratory Experiment). EAGLE is an experiment for the Air Force Research Laboratory. Based on an Orbital ATK ESPA bus, EAGLE can carry up to six "hosted or deployable payloads".  A subsatellite named "Mycroft" is reportedly carried on this flight.  EAGLE may have weighed as much as 780 kg.

The solid motors burned out and separated about 1 min 47 sec after liftoff. Atlas RD-180 first stage fired for 4 minutes 33.5 seconds. Centaur was then slated to perform three burns, which all took place during a media black-out phase. The first burn was planned to last about 6 min 1 sec to reach a low earth parking orbit. A second burn was to begin about 12 min 7 sec after the first cutoff and last about 4 min 49 sec to push the vehicle into a geosynchronous transfer orbit, beginning a roughly 5 hour 6 min coast to apogee. A third, roughly 2 min 36 sec burn would complete the insertion. A spacecraft separation window extended for another 1.5 hours, until T+6 hours 57 min 24 sec.

PSLV-C41 (ISRO)PSLV Launch

India's PSLV-XL successfully orbited IRNSS 1I, the country's eighth-planned navigation satellite, from Sriharikota on April 11, 2018. The 4.5-stage PSLV-XL variant, flying the C-41 mission, lifted off from Satish Dhawan Space Center's First Launch Pad at 22:34 UTC. IRNSS 1I was targeted toward a 284 x 20,650 km x 19.2 deg transfer orbit. The satellite was a replacement for IRNSS 1H, which was stranded inside its unjettisonned payload fairing during a failed August 31, 2017 PLSV-XL launch.

The 1,425 kg satellite will raise itself from the subsynchronous transfer orbit to a geosynchronous orbit with a 29 deg inclination, tracing a small figure-8 pattern over the Earth's surface, centered on 55 deg East longitude.

India's first generation navigation constellation consists of four satellites in inclined geosynchronous orbit and three in equatorial geostationary orbits.

It was the 43rd PSLV flight and the 20th by a PSLV-XL variant.

CZ-4C Y25 (Xinhua)Surprise Launch

China performed an unannounced launch that orbited three spy satellites from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on April 10, 2018. A three-stage hypergolic propellant-fueled Chang Zheng (CZ-4C) rocket lifted off from site 43/603 at 04:25 UTC with a Yaogan 31 triplet. One or two smaller satellites may also have been orbited.

The Yaogan 31 satellites were boosted toward 1,100 km x 63.4 deg orbits. The satellites are thought to be formation flyers that triangulate the location of radio emitters, most likely used to track naval ships.

It was the 10th DF-5 based CZ launch of the year, more than any other launch vehicle family.

VA-242 (Arianespace)Ariane 5 Returns with Success

Ariane 5 ECA vehicle number L5102 orbited two communication satellites from Kourou on April 5, 2018, a successful return to flight after a January 25, 2018 launch failure that sent two satellites into incorrect orbits. Arianespace Mission VA242 began with a 21:34 UTC liftoff from ELA-3. It placed Japan's DSN 1/Superbird 8 and Britain's Hylas 4 into their planned 250 x 35,786 km x 3 deg geosynchronous transfer orbits about 34 minutes later, after the ESC-A liquid hydrogen-fueled upper stage completed its single, 16 minute 5 second burn.

DSN 1/Superbird 8, a 5,348 kg NEC Corporation DS2000 series satellite, separated first. It will provide X-band communications for Japan's Ministry of Defense and will also provide Ku and Ka band commercial services for Sky Perfect JSAT Group from 162 deg East.

Hylas 4, a 4,050 kg GEOStar 3 series Orbital ATK satellite built for British-based Avanti Communications, separated from the lower position after the Sylda 5 adapter had separated. Hylas 4 will provide Ka band communication services to Europe and Africa from 33.5 deg West.

VA242 was the 64th Ariane 5 ECA success in 66 flights.

F9-53 (NASA)CRS-14 Launch

The 53rd Falcon 9 orbited a cargo carrying Dragon for NASA from Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 40 on April 2, 2018. Liftoff took place at 20:30 UTC. Falcon 9 first stage B1039.2, which had previously boosted the CRS-12 mission on August 14, 2017 and returned to Landing Zone 1, powered the two-stage rocket during the first 2 minutes 41 seconds of this CRS-14 mission. Dragon 10.2, a refurbished spacecraft capsule that first flew during the CRS-8 mission on April 8, 2016, rode atop the second stage. It was the third flight of a previously-flown Dragon.

For the sixth time during the last seven Falcon 9 launches, the first stage was purposefully expended. The stage carried landing legs and steering grid fins to allow for reentry and/or landing testing with no landing platform present. It was the 11th flight of a previously-flown Falcon 9 first stage, five of which have been purposefully expended during their second flights. Only about three first stages remain that might be reflown.

The second stage completed its burn about 9 minutes 11 seconds after liftoff to insert Dragon 10.2 into a low earth orbit inclined 51.6 deg to the equator. Dragon was expected to rendevous with ISS on April 4.

Dragon carried about 2,630 kg of cargo for the International Space Station. CRS-14 was the 14th of up to 20 CRS missions contracted with NASA. After the 20th mission, SpaceX will begin performing its part of the CRS-2 contract, which will involve use of a Crew Dragon variant to carry cargo.

B1039.2 performed a hot fire test at SLC 40, with the second stage attached, on March 28, 2018. The stage had apparently remained at the Cape since its first launch. As has become customary, the first stage was left "sooty" after its first flight.

CZ-4C Y26 (Xinhua)CZ-4C Orbits Gaofen 1 Triplet

China's Chang Zheng (CZ) 4C orbited three remote sensing satellites from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on March 31, 2018. Liftoff from LC 9 took place at 03:22 UTC. The three 805 kg satellites were inserted into roughly 640 km x 98 deg sun synchronous orbits.

The satellites, named Gaofen 1-02, 1-03, and 1-04, were built by China Spacesat Co. Ltd, a commercial spinoff of CAST. They have a 2 meter resolution digital camera and an 8 meter resolution multi-spectral imager. Plans call for up to 14 satellites to form a near-real-time earth observing constellation.

It was China's 10th orbital launch of the year, and the 9th by the DF-5 based CZ family.  The launch was also the year's 30th orbital success, world-wide.

F9-51 (SpaceX)Iridium NEXT 5

The 52nd Falcon 9, a v1.2 variant, delivered 10 Iridium NEXT satellites into 625 km x 86.6 deg orbits on March 30, 2018.

Liftoff of the Iridium NEXT 5 mission took place at 14:13 UTC from Vandenberg AFB Space Launch Complex 4 East. The 860 kg Thales Alenia Space satellites deployed about an hour after launch after the second stage performed a brief (11 seconds according to the SpaceX press kit, 4 seconds according to the SpaceX webcast) second burn. The stage fired for 6 minutes 23 seconds during its first burn according the the press kit, but it was not possible to confirm the timing because the webcast was purposefully cut short of the burn's ending due to new NOAA remote sensing licensing requirements. The first burn was planned to place the vehicle into a roughly 180 x 625 km parking orbit according to the webcast.

It was the fifth of eight planned Falcon 9 Iridium NEXT launches.

A used first stage (B1041.2), which previously flew during the Iridium NEXT 3 launch on October 9, 2017, performed the initial 2 minute 34 second boost. The stage was purposefully expended, though it performed what SpaceX called a "simulated landing" in the ocean.

Five of the most recent six Falcon 9 vehicles have been fully expended. It was the tenth flight of a previously-flown Falcon 9 first stage, four of which have been purposefully expended during their second flights. Since SpaceX appears to be limiting its recovered stages to only one reflight, the company currently possesses only about four first stages that might be reflown.  One of those is allocated to the upcoming CRS-14 mission.

B1041.2 apparently returned to the SpaceX factory in Hawthorne, California after its October, 2017 flight for refurbishment. It then returned to Vandenberg AFB where, with the second stage attached, it performed a static test firing on March 24, 2018.

F9-52 was topped by another "Fairing 2.0", a slightly enlarged payload fairing that was equipped with recovery systems, including thrusters, a guidance system, and a parafoil. SpaceX again deployed a specially equipped ship named Mr. Steven that attempted, but again failed, to catch one of the fairing halves in a giant net, again due to a parachute system issue.

CZ-3B Beidou 3 M9/10CZ-3B/YZ-1 Orbits Beidou 3M Pair

China's Chang Zheng 3B (CZ-3B) orbited two Beidou 3M navigation satellites from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on March 29, 2018. Liftoff from LC 2 took place at 17:56 UTC. The satellites were designated Beidou 3 M9 and M10, or in some lists as Beidou 30/31.

The CZ-3B liquid hydrogen fueled third stage fired twice to inject the vehicle into a transfer orbit. A hypergolic propellant Yuanzheng 1 (YZ-1) upper stage then inserted the roughly 1.014 tonne satellites into their final 21,500 km x 55.5 deg orbits about four hours after liftoff.

It was the fourth launch of operational Beidou 3 satellites, according to Xinhua. The Beidou 3 series will offer improved navigation accuracy compared to previous Beidou and Beidou 2 constellations. Plans call for 18 Beidou 3 satellites to be orbited by the end of 2018 and more than 30 by 2020.

Soyuz 2-1v No. 4Soyuz 2-1v Launch

Russia's fourth Soyuz 2-1v launched with a classified payload from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on March 29, 2018. Liftoff from Pad 4 Site 43 took place at 17:38 UTC. The two-stage Soyuz 2-1v boosted Kosmos 2525, believed to be a lightweight military reconnaissance research satellite named EMKA, into a roughly 316 x 319 km x 96.64 deg low earth orbit.

It was the first Soyuz 2-1v to fly without a Volga upper stage. All missions have launched from Plesetsk 43/4.


GSLV-F08 (ISRO)India Launches Communications Satellite (04/11/18 Update)

India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) successfully launched the GSAT-6A communications satellite from Sriharikota on March 29, 2018. Liftoff from the Second Launch Pad at Satish Dhawan Space Center took place at 11:26 UTC. The 2,140 kg satellite separated into geosynchronous transfer orbit about 17 minutes 47 seconds later. The targeted orbit was 170 x 35,975 km x 20.67 deg.

The GSLV-F08 mission used a "Mk 2" launch vehicle with the sixth flight of India's indigenously developed Cryogenic Upper Stage (CUS). The rocket also featured an upgraded "High Thrust Vikas Engine" on its GS2 hypergolic second stage that produced 86.35 tonnes of thrust, an increase from 81.4 tonnes.

GSAT-6A, built by ISRO, was to have been used by India's military, but it suffered a catastrophic power supply failure after it performed its first orbit-raising maneuver. It had S and C band payloads. The S-band payload used a 6 meter diameter unfurlable antenna - largest ever for ISRO. The satellite's 45 kgf liquid apogee motor burned MMH/MON-3 during the first of a planned series of burns designed to reach geosynchronous orbit.

Soyuz FG with Soyuz MS-08 (Roskosmos)Soyuz Launches ISS Crew

Russia's Soyuz FG orbited the Soyuz MS-08 spacecraft from Baikonur, Kazakhstan with three International Space Station crew on March 21, 2018. It was the year's first crewed launch. Liftoff from Baikonur Cosmodrome Area 1 Pad 5 took place at 17:44 UTC. Eight minutes 45 seconds later, the spacecraft separated from the R-7 third stage into a low earth orbit inclined roughly 51.6 deg to the equator. Onboard were Russia's Oleg Artemyev and NASA's Andrew Feustel and Rick Arnold, veteran spacefarers comprising the Expedition 55/56 crew.

Soyuz MS-08 aimed for a two-day ascent to ISS. The MS-08 crew will join Norishige Kanai, Anton Shkaplerov, and Scott Tingle at the station.

It was the fourth R-7 launch of 2018.

CZ-2D Y50 (LKW 4)CZ-2D Launches LKW 4

China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 2D orbited Ludikancha Weixin 4 (LKW 4, or Land Survey Satellite No. 4) from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on March 17, 2018. It was the fourth CZ-2D launch of an LKW satellite from the same launch pad since December 3, 2017.

Liftoff by CZ-2D serial number Y50 from Site 43 Pad 603 took place at 07:10 UTC. The new-type Earth imaging satellite was expected to enter a roughly 500 km x 97.46 deg sun synchronous orbit.

Xinhua News Agency, the official press agency of the People's Republic of China, has reported that the satellites, made by CAST, will be used for remote sensing of land resources.

It was the year's 25th world-wide orbital launch attempt.

VS18 (Arianespace)Soyuz Orbits O3b Satellites from Kourou

More than 3 years after the last O3b launch, Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat carried four more O3b satellites into orbit from Guiana Space Center at Kourou on March 09, 2018. A Russian crew performed the launch from the Soyuz Launch Complex (ELS) near Sinnamary at 17:10 UTC. The 3.5 stage rocket performed Arianespace mission VS18.

After a 9 min 23 sec ascent by the 2.5 stage Soyuz launcher to a suborbital trajectory, Fregat performed a roughly 4 min burn to reach a 160 x 205 km x 5.16 deg parking orbit. The stage coasted for 8 min before starting its second, 8 min 36 sec burn to enter a 190 x 7,869 km x 3.88 deg transfer orbit. Following a 1 hour 21 min coast to apogee, Fregat fired again, this time for 5 min 6 sec, to enter its 7,830 km x 0.04 deg insertion orbit.

After the third burn, the satellites were released two by two, with the first released about two hours after liftoff. The second release occurred about 22 minutes later, after a short firing of Fregat's Attitude Control System (ACS). Fregat subsequently performed two more short burns to lower itself into a disposal orbit about 200 km below the O3b release point.

Three previous Soyuz missions from Kourou orbited a total of 12 satellites for O3b Networks during 2013-2014. Thales Alenia Space built the satellites, which weigh about 700 kg each. The satellites are designed to provide low latency, high bandwidth connectivity using 12 Ka band transponders per satellite.

F9-51 (SpaceX)Falcon 9 Launches Hispasat 30W-6

SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.2 F9-51, using new first stage B1044, launched Spain's Hispasat 30W-6 into subsynchronous transfer orbit from Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 40 on March 6, 2018. Liftoff took place at 05:33 UTC. It was the 50th Falcon 9 launch, though the 51st Falcon 9 stacked for a launch campaign.

The first stage was purposefully expended during this flight due to high sea-state conditions that prevented the landing platform from leaving Port Canaveral. Plans had originally called for a landing attempt on the platform at sea. The Block 4 stage was equipped with landing legs and titanium steering grid fins.

The first stage fired for about 2 min 35 sec before staging. The second stage started four seconds after first stage cutoff. Separation of the "Type 1" fairing took place at about T+3 min 39 sec. Second stage cutoff at about T+8 min 39 sec left the vehicle in a low earth parking orbit. Falcon 9 coasted toward its first equator crossing before restarting at about T+26 min 38 sec. The second burn of the Merlin 1D Vacuum engine lasted for about 55 seconds to accelerate the 6,092 kg SS/Loral-built satellite into a 184 x 22,261 km x 26.9 deg subsynchronous transfer orbit.  Spacecraft separation took place at about T+32 min 51 sec.

Hispasat 30W-6 will fire its four SPT-100 plasma thrusters, providing more than 2,100 m/s delta-v to gradually raise itself into a 35,900 km geostationary orbit positioned at 30 degrees West. The satellite will provide broadband services in Europe and Northwest Africa.

It was the fourth all-expendable Falcon 9 launch during the past five flights. This was the first time that a Block 4 stage had been expended during its inaugural flight.

The two F9-51 stages were tested fired at McGregor, Texas during late October or early November, 2017. They were delivered to Cape Canaveral during early January. The stacked stages were loaded with propellants and the first stage static tested at SLC 40 on February 20, 2018.  A planned February 25 launch date was shelved to allow SpaceX to investigate payload fairing pressurization system issues.

AV077 (NASA TV)Atlas 5 Launches GOES-S

AV-077, an Atlas 5-541 with four solid rocket boosters and a five meter payload fairing, boosted GOES-S, the second of a new generation of weather satellites, into orbit on March 1, 2018 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41 took place at 22:02 UTC. The 5,192 kg Lockheed A2100 series satellite separated into a 8,215 x 35,286 km x 9.52 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit about 3.5 hours later.

The Centaur second stage fired its RL10C-1 engine three times during the mission. The first burn put the stage and payload into a low earth parking orbit 12 min 11.7 sec after liftoff. The second burn began 22 min 38.4 sec after liftoff and lasted 5 min 31 sec, resulting in a standard type geosynchronous transfer orbit with a low perigee and 25-28 deg inclination. The final 1 min 35 sec burn at apogee began 3 hr 28 min 8 sec after liftoff. It raised the perigee and lowered the inclination.

GOES-S will use its own LEROS-1C Hydrazine/MON engine to raise itself to geostationary orbit.

H-2A F38H-2A Launches Spysat

Japan's H-2A boosted its classified IGS Optical 6 reconnaissance satellite into sun synchronous orbit from Tanegashima on February 27, 2018.  Flying in the standard 202 configuration with two SRB-A strap on solid boosters, H-2A F38 lifted off from Yoshinobu Pad 1 at 04:34 UTC and flew directly to low earth orbit. 

It was the first H-2A launch of 2018. 



F9-50 Paz Launch (SpaceX)Falcon 9 Paz Launch

The 49th Falcon 9 to liftoff boosted Spain's Paz radarsat to sun synchronous orbit, along with two experimental microsatellites for SpaceX, from Vandenberg AFB on February 22, 2018. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 4 East took place at 14:17 UTC, with the rocket rising on thrust provided by a used first stage, serial number B1038.2, which had previously boosted the Formosat 5 mission from the same launch pad on August 24, 2017.

During B1038's first flight, the stage landed on downrange floating platform "Just Read the Instructions". This time, the Block 3 stage was not equipped with landing legs and was purposefully expended. It was the third booster so expended during the last four Falcon 9 launches. All three were used Block 3 stages performing their second launch.

It was the ninth flight of a previously-flown Falcon 9 first stage, three of which have been purposefully expended during their second flights.

1,450 kg Paz was deployed into a 514 km x 97.4 deg orbit about 11 minutes after liftoff, following a 2 min 29 sec first stage burn and a 6 min 18 sec second stage firing. Paz, built by Airbus Defence and Space, was assembled in Spain. It will provide radar imaging for Spain's military and for commercial customers. The two SpaceX satellites, named Microsat 2a and 2b, were to be deployed later, after the SpaceX webcast of the launch ended.

A brief first stage engine firing, with the second stage, but no payloads, attached, took place at SLC 4E on February 11. An initial launch attempt was scrubbed due to high winds on February 21.

F9-50 was topped by the first "Fairing 2.0", a slightly enlarged payload fairing that was equipped with recovery systems, including thrusters, a guidance system, and a parafoil. SpaceX deployed a specially equipped ship named Mr. Steven that attempted to catch one of the fairing halves in a giant net, but the fairing missed the boat by several hundred yards. The fairing floated intact after the attempt.

Progress MS-08 Launch (Roscosmos)Progress MS-08 Launch

A Soyuz 2-1a orbited Russia's uncrewed Progress MS-08 space station cargo spacecraft from Baikonur Cosmodrome on February 13, 2018. Liftoff from Area 31 Pad 6 took place at 08:13 UTC. Progress will dock with the International Space Station two days after launch.

An initial launch attempt was scrubbed during the final moments of the countdown on February 11 for reasons unannounced. If the original launch date had held, Progress MS-08 would have attempted a rapid, 3.5 hour ascent to rendezvous with ISS. The two-day delay forced use of the time-honored two-day ascent.

Progress MS-08 carried 1,390 kg of dry cargo, 890 kg of refuelling propellant, 420 kg of water, and 46 kg of compressed oxygen, for a total 2,746 kg cargo, bringing the loaded spacecraft mass at liftoff to about 7,280 kg.

CZ-3B/YZ-1 Feb 12, 2018 (Xinhua)CZ-3B/YZ-1 Orbits Beidou 3M Duo

China's Chang Zheng 3B (CZ-3B) orbited two Beidou 3M navigation satellites from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on February 12, 2018. Liftoff from LC 2 took place at 05:03 UTC. The satellites were designated Beidou 3 MEO 3 and MEO 4.

The CZ-3B liquid hydrogen fueled third stage fired twice to inject the vehicle into a transfer orbit. A hypergolic propellant Yuanzheng 1 (YZ-1) upper stage then inserted the roughly 1.014 tonne satellites into their final 21,500 km x 55.26 deg orbits about four hours after liftoff.

It was the third launch of operational Beidou 3 satellites, according to Xinhua. The Beidou 3 series will offer improved navigation accuracy compared to previous Beidou and Beidou 2 constellations. Plans call for 18 Beidou 3 satellites to be orbited by the end of 2018 and more than 30 by 2020.

Falcon Heavy 1 (SpaceX)Falcon Heavy Debut

Long delayed, long anticipated, the first SpaceX Falcon Heavy performed its Demo Mission from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 Pad A on February 6, 2018. Flying in a one-off interim configuration using two older used boosters and a new core first stage, the roughly 1,400 tonne, 70 meter tall triple-barrel rocket lifted off at 20:45 UTC on 2,128 tonnes (4.7 million pounds) of thrust created by a total of 27 Merlin 1D engines, 9 on each core/booster stage. Future operational Falcon Heavies will produce more thrust and will use the more-advanced "Block 5" stages.

Elon Musk's used Tesla roadster, which typically weighs 1,250 kg on the street in driveable configuration, served as a non-seperating simulated payload mass atop the second stage. The second stage performed three burns during the six hour mission to accelerate itself and the Tesla into a heliocentric orbit ranging from the orbit of Earth to beyond Mars (0.99 x 1.71 AU).  An important goal of the mission was to demonstrate a long coast between the second and third burns, an ability needed for some DoD EELV Heavy class missions for which SpaceX hopes to compete.

Falcon Heavy 1 (SpaceX)Given a 50-50 chance of success by its creator on this inaugural flight, Falcon Heavy checked off mission milestones as it rose cleanly from its reconfigured launch pad, passed through Max-Q, and survived booster shutdown (2 min 29 sec) and separation (2 min 33 sec). The core stage, having flown at a lower throttle setting during much of its burn, continued on for another 25 seconds after booster cutoff before it, too, shut down and seperated.

The second stage ignited at 3 min 15 sec and burned until 8 min 31 sec to reach a temporary parking orbit. The stage perform its second burn beginning at about 28 min 22 sec and lasting 30 seconds. It was subsequently tracked in a 180 x 6,951 km x 29.0 deg elliptical orbit, where it circled the Earth twice for about 5.5 hours before igniting a third time, as it approached second perigee, over the Southwestern U.S. states. During the coast, SpaceX webcast live video of the roadster, complete with a space-suited dummy driver named "Starman", floating through space with the Earth, Moon, and Sun periodically filling the background.

Falcon Heavy Booster Landings (SpaceX) The two side boosters both performed three-engine boost-back and reentry burns, and single-engine landing burns briefly augmented by two additional engines that cut off when the landing legs deployed, to land side-by-side at Cape Canaveral Landing Zone 1 and 2, creating a surreal, science-fiction-like sight. The core booster performed three-engine boost-back and reentry burns, and attempted a three-engine landing burn, aimed toward landing on the converted barge "Of Course I Still Love You", but two of the engines failed to ignite for landing and the stage crashed into the Atlantic.

The Falcon Heavy Demo vehicle consisted of side booster B1023.2, side booster B1025.2, and new core stage B1033.1. The side boosters were originally "Block 2" variants while the core was a "Block 3" version. Future Falcon Heavies will likely use "Block 5" stages.

B1023.2 was previously used during the May 27, 2016 Thaicom 8 launch, when it landed on OSCILY. B1025.2 boosted the CRS-9 mission on July 18, 2016, landing at LZ 1. Both cores returned to Hawthorne for refurbishment and conversion into the side core configuration, with sleek nose cones added in place of their interstage sections. B1023.2 was static tested at McGregor during mid-April 2017. B1025.2 was tested at McGregor on August 29, 2017. Both spent the intervening months in the KSC LC 39A HIF. The B1033 core stage was test fired at McGregor during early May, 2017. Its second stage was tested around the same period.

Falcon Heavy was assembled in the HIF and rolled to the pad for the first time for mechanical fit checks on December 28, 2017. A propellant loading test was attempted, but aborted, on January 11, 2018. A second attempt was stopped on January 14 and a third on January 20. Finally, on January 24, a successful propellant loading test ended with a successful static firing that lasted about 8 to 10 seconds. The February 6 launch occurred on the first attempt, though high winds at altitude delayed the launch by several hours.

Elon Musk said that SpaceX spent about $500 million on Falcon Heavy development leading to the Demo Flight.

A total of 23 Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy core and booster stages have now been recovered in 29 attempts, including 2 of 3 Falcon Heavy stage landing tries. Four of the successful landings have been on "Just Read the Instructions" off California, 10 at Cape Canaveral LZ 1, one at LZ 2, and eight on the drone ship "Of Course I Still Love You" off Florida. Seventeen individual first stages have been recovered. Eight have flown twice, but two have now been purposefully expended during their second flights. All of the recovered stages have been v1.2 types.

SS-520-5 (JAXA)Modified Sounding Rocket Orbits Cubesat

Japan's SS-520, serial number 5 (SS-520-5), a small experimental three-stage orbital launcher based on an existing two-stage sounding rocket, succeeded during its second orbital attempt from Uchinoura Space Center at Kagoshima on February 3, 2018. The success made SS-520-5 the smallest rocket ever used to orbit a satellite.

SS-520 is a two-stage sounding rocket developed by Japan's ISAS that first flew in 1998. A small solid third stage motor was added for orbital launch attempts. Its first orbital attempt, on January 14, 2017, ended in failure when telemetry was lost during the first stage burn, preventing ignition of the second stage. An investigation determined that a power supply failed, likely due to a short circuit that appeared during the high-g ascent.

The 2.6 tonne, 9.65 meter tall solid-fueled rocket zipped skyward from its rail launcher at the KS sounding rocket pad at 05:03 UTC, aiming to place a tiny, 3kg cubesat named Tricom 1R into a 180 x 1,500 km x 31 deg orbit after a rapid ascent lasting only 4 minutes 23 seconds. The finned, spin-stabilized first stage fired for 31.7 seconds, producing a maximum of about 18 tonnes of thrust, and seperated after one minute, sending the vehicle on a suborbital trajectory with a 179 km apogee. A nitrogen gas attitude control system controlled the upper stages during the latter part of the coast. Near apogee at T+3 minutes the 325 kg second stage ignited to burn for 24.4 seconds.

SS-520-5's 78 kg third stage seperated and ignited at T+3 minutes 58 seconds and burned out at T+4 minutes 23.6 seconds. Tricom 1R was jettisonned 7.5 minutes after liftoff. U.S. tracking data subsequently showed two objects in a 191 x 2,010 km x 30.9 deg orbit.

The mission was a validation test of the "nano-launcher" concept. Japan currently has no plans to fly more SS-520 rockets to orbit.

CZ-2D 02/02/18CZ-2D Launches Zhangheng 1

China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 2D orbited Zhangheng 1, an ionospheric research satellite, from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on February 2, 2018. Liftoff of the Y13 vehicle from Site 43 Pad 603 took place at 07:51 UTC. The 730 kg CAST2000 series satellite, along with six small cubesates, were aimed toward a roughly 500 km x 97.5 deg sun synchronous orbit.

Zhangheng 1 is also known as the China Seismo-Electromagnetic Satellite. It was created by the Chinese Academy of Space Technology. It will measure the correllation of seismic activity with ionospheric and electromagnetic activity, among other tasks. The satellite is named for Zhang Heng, who studied earthquakes during the East Han Dynasty nearly 1,900 years ago.

It was the fifth DF-5 based CZ launch of 2018.

Soyuz 2.1a/Fregat Feb 1, 2018 (Roscosmos)Soyuz 2-1a/Fregat Flies from Vostochny

A Soyuz 2-1a/Fregat M lifted off from Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia's Far East on February 1, 2018, carrying two Kanopus-Vulkan remote sensing satellites and several microsatellites. Liftoff from Site 1S took place at 02:07 UTC, beginning the third orbital attempt from the base. The Fregat M upper stage performed two burns during the first hour of the mission to reach a roughly 510 km sun synchronous orbit, where Kanopus V Nos. 3 and 4, each 465 kg, separated.

Fregat M was to perform two more burns during the subsequent 2 hours 11 minutes prior to deploying four S-NET, four Lemur, and one D-Star One microsatellites. Fregat M was expected to perform a total of seven burns during its nearly five-hour mission, possibly hinting at several unknown satellite insertions. The final burn was designed to deorbit the stage.

The mission was the second for Fregat from Vostochny. A Volga upper stage rode atop a Soyuz 2-1a during an April 28, 2016 inaugural launch from the site. A Fregat M upper stage guidance failure caused the loss of Russia's Meteor M2-1 weather satellite, along with 18 microsatellites, during the second flight, by a Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat M, on November 28, 2017.

F9-49 (GovSat 1) Launch (SpaceX)Falcon 9 Launches GovSat 1

SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.2 F9-49, using previously-flown first stage B1032.2, launched Luxembourg's GovSat 1 into a supersynchronous transfer orbit from Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 40 on January 31, 2018. Liftoff took place at 21:25 UTC. The launch came one day after a scrub caused both by high winds and by the need for SpaceX to replace a second stage transducer.  

The first stage was purposefully expended during this flight, although it was equipped with landing legs and steering grid fins and did perform three-engine boost-back, reentry, and landing burns as a test before splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean. The stage had previously flown during the May 1, 2017 NROL 76 launch, when it returned to land at Cape Canaveral Landing Zone 1.

The first stage fired for about 2 min 38 sec before staging. The second stage started three seconds later, after staging. Fairing separation took place at about T+3 min 44 sec. First stage cutoff at T+8 min 35 sec left the vehicle in a low earth parking orbit. Falcon 9 coasted toward the equator crossing of the west African coast before restarting at about T+26 min 40 sec. The second burn of the Merlin 1D Vacuum engine lasted for about 1 min 3 sec to accelerate the 4,230 kg Orbital ATK-built satellite into GTO. Spacecraft separation took place at about T+32 min 20 sec.

GovSat 1, formerly known as SES 16, will fire its own thrusters to gradually raise itself into a 35,900 km geostationary orbit positioned at 21.5 degrees East. SES will operate the satellite to serve Luxembourg's government with X and Ka-band transponders.

The first stage was refurbished at Cape Canaveral after its first flight. It was briefly hot-fired at SLC 40 on January 26 during a wet dress rehearsal/static test of the two-stage rocket, with no payload attached.

It was the second all-expendable Falcon 9 launch during the past three flights. Both expendable missions used first stages flying for the second time.

A total of 21 Falcon 9 first stages have been recovered in 26 attempts. Four of the successful landings have been on "Just Read the Instructions" off California, nine at Cape Canaveral LZ 1, and eight on the drone ship "Of Course I Still Love You" off Florida. Seventeen first stages have been recovered. Six have flown twice, but two have now been purposefully expended during their second flights. All of the recovered stages have been v1.2 types.

VA241 (Arianespace)Ariane 5 Failure Places Satellites in Wrong Orbits

Ariane 5 ECA vehicle number L5101 boosted two communication satellites toward planned geosynchronous transfer orbits from Kourou on January 25, 2018. Arianespace Mission VA241 began with a 22:20 UTC liftoff from from ELA-3. It was slated to end about 35 minutes later with insertion and separation of the SES-14 and Al Yah 3 communication satellites into supersynchronous transfer orbits. However, shortly after the ESC-A second stage ignited, telemetry from the vehicle was lost, and not regained during the remainder of the scheduled flight.

After a delay, Arianespace announced that "both satellites were confirmed separated, acquired and ... on orbit". SES-14 and Al Yah 3 were reported to be communicating with their control centers, but no confirmation was given that they had achieved their planned orbits. Hours later, Arianespace and SES confirmed that an incorrect, but still unspecified, orbit had been achieved. Later still, tracking data showed objects in roughly 232 x 43,160 km x 20.64 deg orbits, far from the planned 250 x 45,234 km x 3.00 deg orbits. Some evidence suggested that the trajectory deviation may have begun with an off-azimuth ascent that became apparent shortly after liftoff, even before the solid boosters separated.

The deviation may require roughly 150-200 m/s extra delta-v from the satellites to reach their operational geostationary orbits, likely using up significant amounts of operational lifetime. SES-14 would likely be less affected than Al Yah 3 since it is equipped with an efficient primary electric thruster system. Al Yah 3 itself has electric station keeping thrusters.

The failure follows 63 consecutive Ariane 5 ECA successes dating back to 2002.

The 54.8 meter tall, 780 tonne rocket rose on 1,325 tonnes of liftoff thrust provided by two EAP solid boosters and a Vulcain 2 powered EPC cryogenic core. L5101's two boosters burned out and separated 2 min 24 sec after liftoff. The core stage shut down 8 min 44 sec after liftoff, having ignited 7 sec before liftoff. After a 10 second coast, the ESC-A upper stage was to begin its single 18 min 74 sec burn to reach the 250 x 45,000 km x 3 deg insertion orbit.

SES-14, a 4,423 kg Airbus Defence and Space satellite, separated first. It would provide multiple communications services to the Americas and Western Europe from its geostationary perch at 47.5 deg West. SES-14 hosted a NASA payload named Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD). GOLD is an ultraviolet imaging spectrograph that would image Earth’s disk.

Al Yah 3, a 3,795 kg Orbital ATK satellite, separated from the lower position after the Sylda 5 adapter had separated. Al Yah 3 would serve Brazil and Africa from 20 deg West.

The relatively light 8,218 kg total payload allowed for the higher planned apogee transfer orbit.

It was the year's first Ariane 5 launch, and the 65th Ariane 5 ECA flight since the type began flying in 2002.

CZ-2C YG 30-04 (Xinhua)CZ-2C Orbits Yaogan 30-04

China orbited its fourth set of Yaogan 30 triplet satellites on January 25, 2018 with a Chang Zheng 2C launch vehicle. The two stage rocket rose from Xichang Satellite Launch Center's LC 3 at 05:39 UTC. The satellite triplet was named Yaogan-30 Group 4. The "electromagnetic detection" satellites were inserted into roughly 600 km x 35 deg orbits.

The satellites may be formation flyers similar to the U.S. NOSS system, which perform a signals intelligence mission designed to monitor surface ship electronic emissions. It was the fourth launch for this constellation, all by CZ-2C rockets from Xichang LC 3, since September 29, 2017.

It was the fourth DF-5 based CZ launch of the year. No other launch vehicle family has seen more than one launch this year to date.

Electron No. 2 (Rocket Lab)Electron Success (January 25, 2018 Update)

Rocket Lab's Electron succeeded on its second test launch from New Zealand on January 21, 2018. The new small launch vehicle, named "Still Testing", lifted off from Rocket Lab's Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula of New Zealand's North Island at 01:43 UTC. The 17 meter tall, 1.2 meter diameter, less than 13 tonne rocket, its carbon composite case propellant tanks filled with kerosene and liquid oxygen, aimed toward a south, south-east azimuth, rising on about 15.65 metric tons of thrust from its nine electric-motor-pump-fed Rutherford engines.

Electron carried three cubesats and test instrumentation on this test flight. The first stage engines ignited at T-2 seconds, with liftoff at T-0. The stage burned out at T+2 min 30 sec and separated four seconds later. The second stage's single vacuum-optimized Rutherford engine ignited at T+2 min 36 sec and fired until T+8 min 14 sec to reach orbital velocity. The two-part payload shroud separated about 3 min 5 sec after launch.

Two Lemur-2 cubesats and one Dovesat were carried aloft. Rocket Lab's webcast suggested that all three separated at T+8 min 31 sec and were aimed toward 300 x 500 km x 83 deg orbits. Three objects were subsequently tracked in an orbit generally consistent with that target. But three additional objects were also tracked in nearly-circular 500 km orbits.

On January 23, 2018, Rocket Lab announced that the second Electron had carried an unannouced monopropellant kick stage that fired at first apogee to insert the two Lemur-2 cubesats into roughly 490 x 530 km, near-circular orbits. The kick stage used a 12.2 kgf restartable engine named "Curie". The Dove satellite was jettisonned into the previously announced 300 x 500 km orbit shortly after the Electron second stage shut down. The kick stage did not perform its insertion burn until T+48-49 minutes, long after Rocket Lab's webcast of the launch ended suggesting that a successful flight had been concluded when it was, in fact, still underway. A photograph of the kick stage showed that it had on-board avionics and three-axis control jets.

On January 24, Rocket Lab announced that a fourth payload, also previously unannounced, had been orbited, apparently accounting for a third object tracked in the 300 x 500 km orbit. The Rocket Lab payload, named Humanity Star, was "a geodesic sphere made from carbon fibre with 65 highly reflective panels". The spinning payload should relect sunlight to create a flashing effect visible to ground observers.

The success followed a May 25, 2017 inaugural failure, when the "It's a Test" rocket developed a roll, followed by misconfigured telemetry equipment losing contact with the rocket about 4 minutes after launch, causing a range safety flight termination.

Five scrubbed or aborted launch attempts preceeded the launch. They took place on December 9, 11, 12, and 15 and on January 20.

It was the first flight to orbit by an all-composite tank liquid fueled rocket, the first orbital flight using electric-motor-pump-fed engines, and the first orbital success from New Zealand.

AV-076 (ULA)Atlas 5 Orbits SBIRS GEO 4

AV-076, an Atlas 5-411 variant with a single AJ-60A solid rocket motor and a 4.2 meter diameter Long Payload Fairing, launched the fourth Space Base Infrared System Geosynchronous Earth Orbit satellite (SBIRS GEO 4) into orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida on January 20, 2018. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41 took place at 00:48 UTC.

After a 2 min 20 sec SRB burn augmenting a 4 min 3 sec first stage RD-180 engine burn, Centaur fired its RL10C-1 LOX/LH2 engine twice to insert the 4.54 tonne, Lockheed-Martin-built early warning satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit. Satellite separation took place about 42.5 minutes after liftoff.

The SBIRS constellation satellites are equipped with advanced infrared sensors designed to sense and track missile launches.

The launch came one day after an initial launch attempt was scrubbed by a ground system propellant valve issue. It was the first use of a 411 variant for SBIRS GEO launches. Earlier missions used 401 variants with no solid rocket boosters. The switch allowed for a lower insertion inclination and for the Centaur stage to fully deorbit itself using a third burn about a half-hour after payload separatoin.

It was the 75th Atlas 5 flight and the 65th consecutive success.

CZ-11 No. 3Third CZ-11 Launch

China's four-stage solid fuel CZ-11 launched two optical remote sensing satellites named Jilin-1 Video 07 and 08, into sun synchronous low earth orbit from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China on January 19, 2018. Liftoff from a canister attached to a mobile transporter/erector parked on a flat pad at 40.9691 N 100.343 E took place at 04:12 UTC. The site was one of two flat pads built in recent years northeast of the CZ-2F launch site.

Jilin-1 Video 07 and 08 were identified as commercial satellites "independently developed by Chang Guang Satellite Technology Co. Ltd." that "will provide remote sensing data and products for government and industry users". They join eight previously-orbited Jilin-1 satellites. Four additional microsatellites were also orbited.

It was the third known CZ-11 flight, following previous launches on September 25, 2015 and November 9, 2016. The 58 tonne rocket may be based on China's DF-31 series solid fuel ballistic missile, because the canister used to launch CZ-11 is similar to launch canisters used by the road-mobile DF-31A. CZ-11 is reportedly 20.8 meters long (other reports suggest 18.7 meters), and 2 meters in diameter with a 58 tonne launch mass and a 120 tonne liftoff thrust. Its fourth stage has demonstrated in-space maneuvering capability. CZ-11 may be able to lift 350 kg or more to sun synchronous orbit.

Epsilon 3 (JAXA)Epsilon Launch

Japan's third Epsilon launch vehicle, the second improved "Enhanced" variant, boosted the ASNARO 2 compact radar satellite into sun synchronous orbit from Kagoshima on January 17, 2018. Liftoff from the former M-5 pad at Uchinoura Space Center took place at 21:06 UTC, starting a 52.5 minute mission.

Epsilon No. 3's 74.5 tonne SRB-A based first stage produced about 293.6 tonnes of liftoff thrust to lift the 26 meter tall, 95.6 tonne rocket. The first stage fired for 1 min 48 sec. After the burn the entire vehicle coasted until the 2 min 41 sec mark, when the upper stages separated and, four seconds later, the second stage ignited. The payload fairing separated during the coast at T+2 min 31 sec. The 17.2 tonne M-35 solid motor second stage burned out at T+4 min 54 sec.

The vehicle coasted again, building up an axial spin, before the KM-V2c third stage separated at T+6 min 30 sec, igniting four seconds later. The stage burned out at T+8 min 2 sec at orbital velocity. ASNARO 2 and the Post Boost Stage (a fourth stage) separated at T+9 min 54 sec. The hydrazine fueled PBS stopped the spin, then fired its thrusters producing a total of 20.2 kgf thrust for 5 min 16 sec in a trim burn that began at T+14 min 31 sec. After coasting toward apogee, the PBS started again at T+43 min 4 sec to perform a 7 min 7 sec insertion burn to enter a 505 km x 97.4 deg orbit.

ASNARO 2 separated at T+52 min 35 sec. The 570 kg high resolution X-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite will provide radar mapping for land and resource management.

CZ-2D LKW-3 LaunchCZ-2D Launches LKW 3

China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 2D orbited Ludikancha Weixin 3 (LKW 3, or Land Survey Satellite No. 3) from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on January 13, 2018. It was the third CZ-2D launch of an LKW satellite from the same launch pad in less than six weeks time.

Liftoff from Site 43 Pad 603 took place at 07:10 UTC. The new-type Earth imaging satellite was expected to enter a roughly 500 km x 97.46 deg sun synchronous orbit.

Xinhua News Agency, the official press agency of the People's Republic of China, has reported that the satellites, made by CAST, will be used for remote sensing of land resources.

Delta 379 NROL-47 (ULA)Delta 4 Orbits Spysat

Delta 379, a Delta 4M+5,2 with two GEM-60 solid boosters, a five-meter upper stage, and a five-meter payload fairing, launched from Vandenberg AFB with a secret National Reconnaisance Office satellite on January 12, 2018. After rising from Space Launch Complex 6 at 22:10 UTC, the rocket headed on a southwest azimuth with the NROL-47 payload toward what analysts expected to be a 108-ish degree inclination retrograde orbit. Previous similar missions, including the 2010 Atlas 5 launch of NROL-41, the 2012 Delta 4 launch of NROL-25, and the 2013 Atlas 5 launch of NROL-39, which were all believed to be Topaz Future Imaging Architecture radar imaging satellites, entered 1,100 km x 123 deg inclination retrograde orbits. NROL-47 is thought to be a fifth Topaz, but if it goes to a different orbit it might something different.

Delta 4M+5,2 is capable of lifting 7.85 tonnes to sun synchronous orbit or 4.68 tonnes to geosynchronous transfer orbit. The upper stage likely performed two ascent burns before deploying the satellite, followed by a deorbit burn.

The launch followed scrubs on January 10 and 11 caused by weather and ground equipment issues.  Delta 379 was the 36th Delta 4, the 27th Delta 4 Medium, and the third Delta 4 M+5,2. It was the first Delta 4 launch from SLC 6 since the February 10, 2016 NROL-45 launch.  It was also the final Medium-type Delta 4 expected to fly from Vandeberg AFB.

PSLV-C40 (ISRO)PSLV Orbits Cartosat 2F/Microsats

PSLV-C40, an XL version of Indian Space Research Organizaion's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, boosted 710 kg Cartosat 2F - a cartographic mapping satellite - and 31 micro and nanosatellites that together weighed about 613 kilograms into sun synchronous orbits from Sriharikota, India on January 12, 2018.

Liftoff from the First Launch Pad at Satish Dhawan Space Center took place at 03:58 UTC. The 4.5-stage, 320 tonne, 44 meter tall rocket fired its four stages (solid, liquid, solid, and liquid fueled, respectively) in succession during the first 16 minutes 37 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 8 minutes 15 seconds during its insertion burn.

Cartosat 2F and nine co-passenger satellites then separated into roughly 505 km x 97.47 deg orbits. The fourth stage then performed two additional burns, at T+58 min 14 sec and T+1 Hr 44 min 54 sec, to move to a different orbital altitude, where the remaining microsatellites were deployed. A final fourth stage deorbit burn took place about 2 hours after liftoff.

It was the 42nd PSLV launch, and the first PSLV flight since an August, 2017 failure caused by a failed payload fairing separation. An investigation determined that an inflatable bellows in the fairing separation system had ruptured, preventing its pressurization for aiding fairing half separation.

CZ-3B Beidou 3M LaunchCZ-3B/YZ-1 Orbits Beidou 3M Duo

China's Chang Zheng 3B (CZ-3B) orbited the third and fourth Beidou 3M navigation satellites from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on January 11, 2018. Liftoff from LC 2 took place at 23:18 UTC.

The CZ-3B liquid hydrogen fueled third stage fired twice to inject the vehicle into a transfer orbit. A hypergolic propellant Yuanzheng 1 (YZ-1) upper stage then inserted the roughly 1.04 tonne satellites into their final 21,500 km x 55.26 deg orbits about four hours after liftoff.

 It was the second launch of operational Beidou 3 satellites, according to Xinhua. The Beidou 3 series will offer improved navigation accuracy compared to previous Beidou and Beidou 2 constellations. Plans call for 18 Beidou 3 satellites to be orbited by the end of 2018 and more than 30 by 2020.

CZ-2D Superview-1 2/3 LaunchCZ-2D SuperView Launch

A Chang Zheng (Long March) 2D orbited the second pair of Gaojing-1 (SuperView-1) remote sensing satellites from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on January 9, 2018. Liftoff from LC9 took place at 03:17 UTC. The satellites separated into roughly 515 x 535 km x 97.58 deg sun synchronous orbits.

SuperView-1 will be a civilian remote sensing satellite constellation operated by the Siwei Star Co. of Beijing. Four 560 kg optical imaging satellites will ultimately comprise the SuperView-1 constellation.

The first SuperView launch, on December 28, 2016, placed its satellite pair into low orbits after its CZ-2D suffered a failure during ascent. The satellites had to lift themselves to higher orbits at the expense of on-orbit propellant.

F9-46 (SpaceX)F9 Launches Zuma, Satellite Reported Lost (January 9, 2018 Update)

Falcon 9 performed the year's first orbital launch on January 8, 2018, boosting a mysterious classified payload named Zuma toward earth orbit from Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 40. Liftoff took place at 01:00 UTC. New Falcon 9 v1.2 (Block 4) first stage B1043 performed a 2 minute 23 second ascent boost before separating and performing 3-engine boost-back and reentry burns, following by a single-engine landing burn to return to Cape Canaveral Landing Zone 1.

The second stage continued down-range, flying into a media black-out period due to the classified mission. Northrop Grumman is known to be the prime contractor for the payload. The stage flew toward the northeast on a trajectory similar to those used during ISS missions and during the NROL-76 and X-38B launches.  The second stage was scheduled to reenter southwest of Australia about 2.5 hours after liftoff, hinting of a possible two-burn to payload insertion mission for the stage.  Amatuer observations of venting after the reentry burn suggested that the stage was at the time in a 900 to 1,000 km x 50-ish deg orbit.

No announcements confirming a launch success were made, though one object, listed as USA-280, was officially cataloged, indicating that an orbit of some type had been achieved at least for some period of time. Nearly one day after the liftoff, Peter B. de Selding of Spaceintelreport reported that sources had told him that Zuma might have died in orbit after it separated from the Falcon 9 second stage. Eric Berger of Ars Technica reported similar rumors about Zuma. He said that SpaceX told him that its Falcon 9 had experienced "no anomalies" during its mission while Northrop Grumman had said that it could not comment on the classified mission. A few hours later, the Wall Street Journal reported that "lawmakers and congressional staffers" had been briefed about a mission failure that was "believed to have plummeted back into the atmosphere, they said, because it didn't separate as planned from the upper part of the rocket".

The Wall Street Journal report triggered additional reporting that assumed that the SpaceX Falcon 9 was responsible for the presumed satellite separation failure. On January 9, Gwynne Shotwell, President and COO of SpaceX, responded directly to those reports as follows. “For clarity: after review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night. If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately. Information published that is contrary to this statement is categorically false. Due to the classified nature of the payload, no further comment is possible."

Based on the available information, Space Launch Report will list F9-46 as a launch vehicle success unless new, verifiable, contradictory information becomes available.

It was the second launch from SLC 40 since it was returned to service during December, 2017 after repairs of damage caused by a Falcon 9 explosion on the pad on September 1, 2016.

The F9-46/Zuma launch was originally planned to take place from LC 39A, but the campaign was halted after a fleet-wide fairing problem was discovered during ground testing. Zuma's F9-46 booster had completed a static test fire on the pad on November 11, 2017 in preparation for a planned November 15 launch, but the fairing issue stopped the campaign. The Zuma launch vehicle was moved to SLC 40 on December 15, 2017, allowing LC 39A to be turned over to preparations for the Falcon Heavy Demo Mission.

F9-46 performed wet dress rehearsals at SLC 40 on January 3 and 4, 2018.  The Falcon 9 first and second stages were originally test fired at the SpaceX McGregor, Texas test site during early October, 2017.

It was the 21st successful Falcon 9 first stage landing and the 26th landing attempt. Four of the successful landings have been on "Just Read the Instructions" off California, nine at Cape Canaveral LZ 1, and eight on the drone ship "Of Course I Still Love You" off Florida. Seventeen first stages have now been recovered. Five have flown twice, but one was purposefully expended during its second flight. All of the recovered stages have been v1.2 types.

Zenit 3F Angolasat 1 (Roskosmos)Zenit Returns

Flying for the fourth time with an improved Fregat SB third stage, a Zenit 3F (also called Zenit 3SLBF), successfully boosted Angosat 1, a communications satellite for Angola, directly into geosynchronous orbit from Baikonur Cosmodrome on December 26, 2017.   The rocket lifted off from Area 45 Pad 1 at 19:00 UTC in snowy winter weather to begin a nearly nine hour mission involving three burns by the Fregat SB stage.

It was the first Zenit launch in more than two years. Launch of the Ukrainian-built booster, powered by Russian-built engines and topped by a Russian-built third stage, faced stiff political challenges in the wake of Russia's invasion of Crimea and Russia's subsequent support of separatists in eastern Ukraine. Nonetheless, the participants found a way to cooperate to accomplish the launch, using the last Zenit delivered to Baikonur before fighting began.

The Zenit 3F consisted of a Zenit 2SB80 two-stage booster topped by a Fregat SB third stage.  Fregat SB uses a propellant drop tank added to the standard Fregat stage.  With the tank, Fregat can carry up to 7.1 tonnes of hypergolic propellant for its 2 tonne thrust S5.92 engine. 

After the second stage boosted the vehicle into a 166 x 562 km x 51.6 deg parking orbit, Fregat SB coasted for 1 hour 5.5 minutes before firing its engine for nearly six minutes to raise itself and payload into a planned 282 x 4,087 km x 50.48 deg intermediate orbit.  Fregat SB dropped its tank after this burn. Two hours later, Fregat performed its second, just over 11 minute-burn to lift the vehicle into a planned 341 x 36,061 km x 48.62 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit. After a more-than five-hour coast to apogee, Fregat fired a third time, for more than 8.5 minutes, to push itself into geosynchronous orbit.
 
Angosat, a 1.647 tonne satellite built by RKK Energia, separated nearly 8 hours 54 minutes after launch. The satellite was expected to move itself to 14.5 deg East to serve Angola. However, after some time had passed after it separated, communication with the satellite was lost. It had apparantly deployed or begun to deploy its solar arrays and antennas when contact was lost. A power supply failure was suspected. On December 28, after hours of attempts, communications with Angosat 1 were restored, possibly after the solar arrays had recharged the spacecraft batteries.

After spacecraft separation, Fregat burned a fourth time to move to a slightly lower orbit.

CZ-2C YG 30-3 (Xinhua)CZ-2C Orbits Yaogan 30-03

China orbited its third set of Yaogan 30 triplet satellites on December 25, 2017 with a Chang Zheng 2C launch vehicle. The two stage rocket rose from Xichang Satellite Launch Center's LC 3 at 19:44 UTC. The satellite triplet was named Yaogan-30 Group 3.  The "electromagnetic detection" satellites were inserted into roughly 600 km x 35 deg orbits.
 
The satellites may be formation flyers similar to the U.S. NOSS system, which perform a signals intelligence mission designed to monitor surface ship electronic emissions. 

It was the third CZ-2C to fly from Xichang this year, and is believed to be the 13th and final DF-5 based CZ launch of 2017.

CZ-2D Y48 (Xinhua)CZ-2D Launches LKW 2

China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 2D orbited Ludikancha Weixin 2 (LKW 2, or Land Survey Satellite No. 2) from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on December 23, 2017. The flight came only 20 days after another CZ-2D orbited LKW 1 from the same launch pad.

Liftoff of CZ-2D No. Y48 from Site 43 Pad 603 took place at 04:14 UTC, making this the world's third orbital launch in less than three hours. The new-type Earth imaging satellite was sent to a 491 x 502 km x 97.46 deg sun synchronous orbit that was shifted 180 degrees in longitude from LKW 1's similar orbit.

Xinhua News Agency, the official press agency of the People's Republic of China, has reported that the satellites, made by CAST, will be used for remote sensing of land resources.

F9-48 (SpaceX)Iridium NEXT 4

The 18th Falcon 9 v1.2 launch of 2017 delivered 10 Iridium NEXT satellites into 625 km 86.6 deg orbits on December 23, 2017. Liftoff of the Iridium NEXT 4 mission took place at 01:27 UTC from Vandenberg AFB Space Launch Complex 4 East. The 860 kg Thales Alenia Space satellites deployed about an hour after launch after the second stage performed an 11 second, second burn. It was the fourth of eight planned Falcon 9 Iridium NEXT launches.

A used first stage (B1036.2), which previously flew during the Iridium NEXT 2 launch on June 25, 2017, performed the initial boost. For reasons not announced, the stage was expended and was not fitted with landing legs, although it retained four steering grid fins. Although a landing platform was not deployed for a stage landing, the booster nonetheless performed the usual boost-back, reentry, and landing burns before impacting the Pacific Ocean. It was the fifth Falcon 9 mission to use a previously-flown first stage, but was the first time that a reflown stage was purposely expended.

B1036.2 apparently returned to the SpaceX factory in Hawthorne, California during July for refurbishment. It then returned to Vandenberg AFB where, with the second stage attached, it performed a static test firing on December 17.

All of 2017's Falcon 9 v1.2 flights were successful. The last time a specific U.S. launch vehicle variant performed as many successful launches was in 1966, when 23 of 24 Atlas Agena D rockets made orbit.


H-2A F37 (JAXA)H-2A Multi-Orbit Mission

Japan's H-2A No. F37, an H-2A-202 model with two SRB-A strap on solid motors and a 4 meter fairing, demonstrated a new capability by placing two satellites into two different orbits on December 23, 2017. The rocket's liquid hydrogen fueled second stage performed three burns during the course of a 1 hour 48 minute mission to, first, place the Climate Change Observing Satellite "Shikisai" (GCOM-C) into a 788 x 806 km x 98.68 deg sun synchronous orbit and, second, put the Super Low Altitude Testing Satellite "Tsubame" (SLATS) into a 450 x 643 km x 98.7 deg orbit.

F37 lifted off from Tanegashima Yoshinobu Pad 1 at 01:26 UTC. Its SRB-A pair fired for 1 minute 31 seconds and separated 17 seconds later. Fairing separation took place 4 minutes 5 seconds into the flight. Stage 1 completed its burn at T+6 minutes 38 seconds and separated 8 seconds later.

The first Stage 2 burn lasted from T+6 minutes 53 seconds to T+15 minutes 6 seconds to reach the GCOM-C deployment orbit. GCOM-C, a roughly 2 tonne satellite equipped with a multi-wavelength optical radiometer designed to measure clouds, aerosols, vegetation, surface and sea surface temperatures, snow cover, sea ice distribution, and climate change monitoring, separated at T+16 minutes 21 seconds.

After a roughly 45 minute coast, the second stage performed an 8 second burn to lower the orbit perigee. A second coast of nearly an hour, completing the first orbit, was followed by a third, 68-second long burn above China that began at T+1 hour 45 minutes 45 seconds. SLATS, a 400 kg optical imaging satellite designed to test ultra low orbit techniques, separated at about 1 minute after the end of the third burn. SLATS will use atmospheric drag to lower itself to 268 km. It will use an ion engine to keep its altitude above 180 km during a 2-year mission.

It was the year's sixth H-2A launch, a record not only for H-2A, but for any launch vehicle flown during Japan's 51 years of orbital spaceflight.

Soyuz MS-07 Launch (Roscosmos)Soyuz Launches ISS Crew

Russia's Soyuz FG orbited the Soyuz MS-07 spacecraft from Baikonur, Kazakhstan with three International Space Station crew on December 17, 2017. It was the year's fourth and final crewed launch. Liftoff from Baikonur Cosmodrome Area 1 Pad 5 took place at 07:21 UTC. The spacecraft entered a low earth orbit inclined roughly 51.6 deg to the equator. Onboard were Russia's Anton Shkaplerov, NASA's Scott Tingle, and JAXA's Norishige Kanai, comprising the Expedition 54/55 crew.

Soyuz MS-07 aimed for a two-day ascent to ISS. The MS-07 crew will join Alexander Misurkin and NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba at the station.

It was the 14th, and likely final, R-7 launch of 2017.

F9-47 CRS-13 (NASA)SpaceX Launches CRS-13

On December 15, 2017, a used first stage helped orbit a used cargo Dragon for NASA, and re-inaugurated Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 40 in the process. Falcon 9 first stage B1035.2, which had previously boosted the CRS-11 mission from LC 39A on June 3, 2017 and returned to Landing Zone 1, provided the impulse during the first 2 minutes 25 seconds of this CRS-13 mission. Dragon 8.2, which performed its first flight during the CRS-6 mission on April 14, 2015, rode atop the two-stage LOX/kerosene rocket. It was the second flight of a previously-flown Dragon.

F9-47 liftoff from SLC 40 took place at 15:36 UTC. After performing its part of the ascent, the first stage separated and performed 3-engine boostback and reentry burns before performing a final, single-engine landing burn to set down once more at LZ-1. Meanwhile, the second stage completed its burn about 9 minutes after liftoff to insert Dragon 8.2 into a low earth orbit inclined 51.6 deg to the equator. Dragon was expected to rendevous with ISS on December 17.

It was the first launch from SLC 40 since August 14, 2016, when F9-28 orbited JCSAT 16. The pad was subsequently heavily damaged when the F9-29 launch vehicle exploded during propellant loading for a planned hot fire test on September 1, 2016. AMOS 6, the mission payload, was destroyed in the explosion along with the rocket and many parts of the launch infrastructure. The site was substantially rebuilt during the interim, including upgrades to bring it up to the standards of LC 39A and Vandenberg AFB SLC 4E. A new transporter erector was installed, for example.

F9-47 B1035.2 Landing (NASA)B1035.2 Landing

Dragon carried about 2,205 kg of cargo for the International Space Station to support Expeditions 54 and 55. CRS-13 was the 13th of up to 20 CRS missions contracted with NASA. After the 20th mission, SpaceX will begin performing its part of the CRS-2 contract, which will involve use of a Crew Dragon variant to carry cargo.

The CRS-13 flight was the first Falcon 9 launch since F9-45 orbited Koreasat 5A from LC 39A on October 30, 2017. The next launch campaign at LC 39A with the classified Zuma payload atop F9-46 was halted after a fleet-wide fairing problem was discovered during ground testing. Zuma's F9-46 booster (B1043) had completed a static test fire on the pad on November 11, 2017 in preparation for a planned November 15 launch, but the fairing issue stopped the campaign. Zuma will likely end up flying from SLC 40 in January, 2018, as LC 39A is turned over to preparations for the Falcon Heavy Demo Mission. An unrelated Block 5 Merlin 1D engine test failure that did not affect the F9-46/Zuma launch decision occurred on November 4 at McGregor, Texas.

B1035.2 performed a roughly 7-second hot fire test at SLC 40, with the second stage attached, on December 6, 2017. The stage had apparently remained at the Cape since its June launch. The stage retained its engines during the checkout and refurbishment period. Checkout included testing of tank welds, a process that left white "stripes" on the tank surface because SpaceX for the first time elected not to clean most of the rest of the structure.

It was the 20th successful Falcon 9 first stage landing and the 25th landing attempt. Four of the successful landings have been on "Just Read the Instructions" off California, eight at Cape Canaveral LZ 1, and eight on the drone ship "Of Course I Still Love You" off Florida. Sixteen first stages have now been recovered, four having flown twice. All of the recovered stages have been v1.2 types.

VA240 (Arianespace)Ariane Orbits Galileo Quadruplet

L595, the second Ariane 5 ES version tailored to launch Europe's Galileo satellites, successfully orbited four of the navigation beacons from Kourou on December 12, 2017. The Arianespace VA240 mission lifted off from ELA 3 at 18:36 UTC. Ariane 5's EPS storable propellant stage performed two burns, with a more than three-hour coast between, to insert the 19th through 22nd Galileo satellites into a 22,922 km x 57 deg orbit. Total payload mass was 2,860 kg, not including the 416 kg Airbus Safran dispenser that held the satellites atop the EPS/VEB until their separation.

Ariane 5 ES was tweaked from its earlier ATV launch configuration to handle Galileo. Dry mass was shaved from the Vehicle Equipment Bay (VEB). EPS carried a full 10 tonne propellant load, and the propellant was heated before launch. The 2.957 tonne-thrust MMH/N2O4 EPS Aestus engine fired for almost 11 minutes during its first burn and for 6 min 18 sec during its second burn.

It was the year's sixth and final Ariane 5 flight, and the 7th Ariane 5 ES mission since the type premiered in 2008 as an ATV ISS cargo mission booster.

CZ-3B/E Launches Alcomsat 1CZ-3B/E Orbits Alcomsat 1

China's Chang Zheng 3B/E boosted Alcomsat 1, a communications satellite designed to serve Algeria, into geosynchronous transfer orbit on December 10, 2017. The 3.5 stage rocket lifted off from Xichange Satellite Launch Center's Launch Complex 2 at 16:41 UTC. After two burns by the liquid hydrogen fueled third stage, Alcomsat 1 separated into 200 x 41,991 km x 26.4 deg orbit less than 26 minutes after liftoff.

Alcomsat 1 is a DFH-4 based satellite built by the Chinese Academy of Space Technology (CAST). The satellite has Ku, Ka and X-band transponders. It weighed about 5.2 tonnes at liftoff. It will maneuver itself to geostationary position at 24.8 deg longitude.

CZ-3B/E is an enhanced version of the original CZ-3B. It uses a stretched first stage and stretched boosters.

CZ-2D 12/03/17CZ-2D Orbits Remote Sensing Sat

China's Chang Zheng (Long March) 2D orbited Land Survey Satellite No. 1 from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on December 3, 2017. Liftoff from Site 43 Pad 603 took place at 04:11 UTC. The new-type Earth imaging satellite was sent to a sun synchronous orbit.

Xinhua News Agency, the official press agency of the People's Republic of China, reported that the satellite, made by CAST, will be used for remote sensing of land resources.

Soyuz 2-1b Lotos-S1 1 Launch Soyuz 2-1b Orbits Lotos-S1 1

A Soyuz-2-1b launch vehicle orbited Russia's Lotos S1 No. 1 signals intelligence satellite from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on December 2, 2017. Liftoff of the 2.5 stage rocket from Site 43/4 took place at 10:43 UTC. Lotos-S1 1, a 6 tonne satellite built by TsSKB Progress using a Yantar type bus, was inserted into an initial 239 x 900 km x 67.14 deg orbit. The satellite will later raise itself into a 900 km circular operational orbit.

The Arsenal bureau developed the ELINT payload carried by Losot-S1 1.

The launch was allowed to proceed after it was determined that the failed November 28 launch of Meteor M2-1 was caused by a problem on a Fregat M upper stage that was not used for the Lotos-S1 1 launch.

It was the 13th R-7 based launch of 2017, and the 5th orbital launch by any type of rocket from Plesetsk this year.

Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat 11-28-17, RoscosmosSoyuz 2-1b/Fregat Failure

An apparent Fregat upper stage failure caused the loss of Russia's Meteor M2-1 weather satellite, along with 18 microsatellites, after launch from Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia's Far East on November 28, 2017. The Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat launch vehicle lifted off from Site 1 at 05:41:46 UTC, beginning the second orbital mission from the base. Interfax reported several hours after the launch that an improper software upload to Fregat's flight computer had resulted in incorrect positioning during the stage's first, 77-second long burn. The stage did not achieve the planned parking orbit, likely causing it and its payloads to reenter over the Atlantic Ocean.

It was the first of several planned Fregat burns designed to, first, place the 2,750-kilogram Meteor M2-1 satellite into an 826 km sun synchronous orbit and to subsequently place the remaining satellites into three different orbits. Among the microsatellites was Telesat’s 70 kg LEO Vantage 2, which was supposed to be inserted into a 620 km orbit.

The mission was the first for Fregat from Vostochny. A Volga upper stage rode atop a Soyuz 2-1a during the April 28, 2016 inaugural launch.

CZ-2C November 24, 2017 Yaogan 30-02 LaunchCZ-2C Orbits Yaogan 30-02

China orbited its second set of Yaogan 30 triplet satellites on November 24, 2017 with a Chang Zheng 2C launch vehicle. The two stage rocket rose from Xichang Satellite Launch Center's LC 3 at 18:10 UTC. The satellite triplet was named Yaogan-30 Group 2.  The "electromagnetic detection" satellites were inserted into roughly 600 km x 35 deg orbits.
 
The satellites may be formation flyers similar to the U.S. NOSS system, which perform a signals intelligence mission designed to monitor surface ship electronic emissions. 

It was the second CZ-2C to fly from Xichang this year.

CZ-6 No. 2 CZ-6 Launch

China successfully launched its second Chang Zheng 6 (CZ-6) rocket from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on November 21, 2017. The rocket carried three remote sensing satellites into sun synchronous orbit. The satellites are the fourth, fifth, and sixth of 16 planned for the Jilin 1 constellation. The system will provide rapid response imaging for commercial clients.

CZ-6, the first of China's all-new launch vehicle generation, debuted from the same site on September 19, 2015. A single 122 tonne thrust, staged-combustion cycle YF-100 LOX/kerosene engine powered the routhly 103 tonne, three-stage launch vehicle off of its LC 16 launch pad. YF-100, China's first big LOX/kerosene engine, also powers the country's larger CZ-5 and CZ-7 launch vehicles.

Liftoff took place at 04:50 UTC. The first stage burned for about 155 seconds. The second stage, powered by a YF-115 staged combustion engine producing 18 tonnes of thrust, burned LOX/kerosene for about 290 seconds. At apogee, a small kick stage, powered by four 408 kgf thrust YF-85 hydrogen peroxide/kerosene engines, fired to circularize the orbit.

CZ-6 was developed by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). It's 3.35 meter diameter first stage carried 76 tonnes of propellant while its 2.25 meter diameter second stage carried about 15 tonnes of propellant. The 29.237 meter tall rocket is capable of lifting more than 1,000 kg of payload into a 700 km sun synchronous orbit. Payloads ride within a 2.6 meter diameter fairing.

CZ-6 is integrated horizontally in a hangar. A large wheeled transporter/erector carries it to its flat launch pad and erects it shortly before launch.

Delta 378 (NASA)Delta 2 Orbits JPSS 1

ULA's next-to-last Delta 2 rocket orbited the first Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) satellite from Vandenberg AFB on November 18, 2017, following two scrubbed attempts on November 14 and 15. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 2 West took place at 09:47 UTC. After two second-stage burns, JPSS separated into a roughly 820 km x 98.7 deg sun synchronous orbit about 57.5 minutes after liftoff. The pressure-fed hypergolic second stage performed a third burn to move to a lower orbit where five PPod microsats deployed. A final deorbit burn ended the mission a little less than two hours after it began.

JPSS, a collaborative effort between NOAA and NASA, is a new family of weather and environmental monitoring satellites. JPSS 1 will be renamed NOAA 20 on orbit. Ball Aerospace built the 2,540 kg, BCP-2000 series satellite.

Delta 378, as it was identified, was a the final Delta 2-7920C variant, with nine Graphite Epoxy Motor (GEM) solid rocket motors boosting an RS-27A powered Extra Long Extended Tank first stage and an AJ10-118K power second stage, topped by a 10 foot diameter composite payload fairing. The RS-27A engine provided 90.72 tonnes of thrust at liftoff, which was augmented by six ground-lit GEMs producing 272.88 tonnes of thrust - a total of 363.6 tonnes (801,593 lbf) of liftoff thrust, sufficient to quickly lift the 228 tonne rocket off its pad. The ground-lit motors fired for about 63 seconds, then the three air-lit motors ignited to burn for another roughly 63 seconds. The first six motors were jettisoned at T+86 seconds. The air-lit solids jettisoned at about T+132 seconds and the first stage cut off at T+263 seconds.

The second stage began a 361 second burn at T+277 seconds that accelerated the vehicle into an elliptical parking orbit. The fairing separated shortly after the second stage ignited. After a roughly 40 minute coast to apogee, the stage reignited, performing a 24 second burn to reach its JPSS 1 deployment orbit. The stage fired a third time after JPSS 1 separated, for about 10 seconds, to lower itself to a 450 x 811 km x 97.7 deg orbit. The PPod ejections began about 1 hour 21 minutes 40 seconds after liftoff. Stage 2 began its deorbit burn at about T+1 hour 51 minutes 15 seconds.

It was the 154th Delta 2 launch and the 99th consecutive success. It was also the 340th Thor-family Delta to fly with a hypergolic second stage.

NASA began flying Thor-Delta in 1960. The rocket, which married the USAF Thor IRBM with NASA's Vanguard upper stages, quickly became the Agency's most reliable launch vehicle. Over the years, it succeeded around 96% of the time in all of its variations even as it steadily grew more capable. Delta 2, the final version that began flying in 1989, has only failed twice.

CZ-4D Y21China Orbits Weather Satellite

A three stage Chang Zheng (Long March) 4C launch vehicle successfully orbited the Fengyun 3D weather satellite and the HEAD 1 maritime traffic data communications minisatellite from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in northern China's Shanxi province on November 14, 2017. Liftoff took place at 18:35 UTC UTC from the second CZ pad (Launch Complex 9) at Taiyuan.

The 2.45 tonne primary satellite and the 45 kg secondary satellite were injected into roughly 792 x 812 km x 98.65 deg sun synchronous, near polar orbits.

Three previous Fengyun 3 launches occurred in 2008, 2010, and 2013.

It was the first CZ-4C launch since the August 31, 2016 Gaofen 10 launch failure and the year's first orbital launch from Taiyuan. The flight was performed by CZ-4C number Y21.

Antares OA-8 (NASA)Antares OA-8

Orbital ATK's Antares launch vehicle successfully orbited the company's Cygnus OA-8 cargo hauling spacecraft from Wallops Island, Virginia on November 12, 2017, one day after the first attempt was scrubbed when an aircraft entered restricted airspace downrange. Liftoff from Pad 0A took place at 12:19:51 UTC. It was the second flight of a Antares 230 variant, the redesigned Antares powered by two Energomash RD-181 engines in place of the AJ-26 engines that powered the first five Antares flights. The change was made after an AJ-26 turbopump failure triggered a destructive Antares launch explosion above Pad 0A in 2014.

Cygnus OA-8 was the fifth enhanced Cygnus with a stretched cargo module, but only the second to fly on Antares. Atlas 5 rockets orbited the other three. OA-8 carried 3,229 kg of cargo for the International Space Station, along with 14 Cubesats that with deployer hardware added another roughly 120 kg. According to Orbital ATK, Cygnus OA-8 weighed 6,173 kg at launch, making it the heaviest payload yet launched by Antares. Cygnus OA-8 was named in honor of former astronaut Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the Moon.

The RD-181 engines produced a total of about 392 tonnes of thrust (864,000 lbf) at liftoff to power the nearly 293 tonne rocket off its pad. The Ukrainian-built first stage, Serial No. 8, burned for about 214 seconds. After first stage shutdown, the second stage, interstage, and payload section separated and coasted "up hill" for about 43 seconds before the Orbital ATK Castor 30XL second stage motor ignited to produce an average of about 51 tonnes of thrust during its 163 second burn. The payload fairing separated 12 seconds before second stage ignition. Interstage separation took place 7 seconds before the Castor 30XL burn. Cygnus separated into a 200 x 330 km x 51.63 deg orbit about 9 min 6 sec after liftoff.

Vega VV11 (Arianespace)Vega Orbits Satellite for Morocco

Europe's Vega launch vehicle orbited an earth observation satellite for Morocco, named after King Mohammed VI of that northwest African country, on November 8, 2017. The four-stage rocket lifted off on Arianespace Mission VV11 from the Vega Launch Complex (ZLV) at 01:42 UTC. The roughly 55.5 minute mission included two AVUM fourth stage burns to insert the 1,110 kg Thales Alenia Space built satellite into roughly 630 km sun synchronous orbit.

Vega's P80 solid motor first stage burned for 1 min 57 seconds. Its Z23 solid motor second stage fired for 1 min 47 sec. After a 12 second coast the Z9 solid motor third stage ignited for its 2 min 31 second burn. The payload fairing separated shortly after the third stage ignited. The liquid AVUM fourth stage began its first burn after a 1.5 minute coast.

AVUM completed its first, 7 min 45 sec burn to reach an initial elliptical orbit about 15 min 48 sec after liftoff. After a coast to apogee, the stage restarted at T+52 min 06 sec for a nearly 1 min 51 sec burn to reach a 450 km x 97 deg orbit. Satellite separation took place 55 min 33 sec after liftoff. AVUM performed a third, deorbit burn beginning at T+1 hour 47 min 44 sec.

It was the third Vega launch of the year.

CZ-3B Nov 5, 2017CZ-3B/YZ-1 Orbits Beidou 3 Pair

China's Chang Zheng 3B (CZ-3B) returned to service with a successful launch of two Beidou 3 navigation satellites (Beidou 3 M1 and M2) from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on November 5, 2017. Liftoff took place at 11:45 UTC. It marked a return to service for CZ-3B after a failed June 18, 2017 attempt to place ChinaSat 9A into geosynchronous transfer orbit. That launch suffered a third stage failure caused by a roll control issue.

This time, the CZ-3B liquid hydrogen fueled third stage successfully fired twice to inject the vehicle into a transfer orbit. A hypergolic propellant Yuanzheng 1 (YZ-1) upper stage then inserted the roughly 1 tonne satellites into their final 21,500 km x 55.26 deg orbits about four hours after liftoff.

It was the first launch of operational Beidou 3 satellites, according to Xinhua. The Beidou 3 series will offer improved navigation accuracy compared to previous Beidou and Beidou 2 constellations. Plans call for 18 Beidou 3 satellites to be orbited by the end of 2018 and more than 30 by 2020.

Minotaur-C Launch (OATK)Taurus, Renamed, Returns

Orbital ATK launched its tenth Taurus rocket, rebranded for the first time with the "Minotaur-C" (Commercial) moniker, hauling ten commercial earth observation satellites into orbit from Vandenberg AFB on October 31, 2017. The name change heralded the adoption of Minotaur avionics for flight guidance and control. It was the first Taurus launch since the last failed to orbit NASA's Glory satellite more than 6.5 years ago, on March 4, 2011, and the first to succeed since 2004, after failures in 2009 and 2011.

The Minotaur-C 3210 variant, with a Castor 120 "Zero Stage" topped by three Pegasus XL stages and a 92 inch diameter payload fairing, lifted off from Vandenberg AFB SLC 576 East at 21:37 UTC. Aboard were ten Planet mutispectral earth imaging spacecraft, including six 110 kg SkySat and four 4.08 kg Dove satellites.

Stage Zero provided 163 tonnes of liftoff thrust to boost the 77 tonne, 32 meter tall solid-propellant rocket off of its launch pedestal. After 85.5 seconds, the stage burned out at 49 km altitude and 1,824 m/s velocity.

Stage 1, an Orion 50SXLT motor, then fired for 78.5 seconds to accelerate the vehicle to 4,267 m/s and 144.7 km altitude. After a roughly seven-second coast, the Orion 50XL "Stage 2" motor started to perform a 77.8 second burn, pushing Minotaur-C to 6,667 m/s velocity and 314.9 km altitude, now some 1,165 km downrange. Payload fairing separation took place about 6.5 seconds after "Stage 2" ignition.

After "Stage 2" burnout, the vehicle coasted toward apogee for about 5 min 5 sec, with the reaction control system in the 63 inch diameter avionics skirt providing 3-axis control. "Stage 2" separated about 1 min 4 sec into the coast. The Orion 38 "Stage 3" began its 71 second burn about 9 min 16 sec after liftoff to insert the stage and payload stack into a roughly 507 km sun synchronous orbit.

Satellite separation began at T+13 min 22 sec and ended at about T+19 min 44 sec, with the larger SkySats seperating first. After the first four SkySats separated from atop the Dual Payload Adapter Fairing (DPAF), a bulkhead atop DPAF jettisonned to allow two SkySats inside the DPAF to separate. The four Dove satellites then separated from canisters mounted on the sides of the DPAF.

Failure of the clamshell payload fairing to separate was the cause of both of the previous consecutive failures. In both cases, the payload fairing's extra mass caused the rocket's fourth stage and payload to fall short of orbital velocity. The 2009 failure destroyed NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory. After the 2009 failure, Orbital spent two years re-designing the payload fairing separation system, replacing a hot-gas pressurization system with a cold gas system, to no avail. Subsequent investigation found that a supplier may have provided metallurgically substandard parts for the separation system.

Taurus first flew in 1994. Its first five launches were successful, but the sixth, in 2001, failed when a second stage thrust vector control actuator briefly stuck. NASA lost its QuickTOMS satellite in that mishap, which also destroyed Orbview-4. The seventh Taurus launch, in 2004, successfully orbited Taiwan's ROCSAT-2. Five years passed without a Taurus flight before the T8 failure in 2009.

F9-45 Koreasat 5A Launch (SpaceX)Falcon 9 Launches Koreasat 5A

SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.2 F9-45, using new first stage B1042, launched Koreasat 5A into geostationary transfer orbit from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 Pad A on October 30, 2017. Liftoff took place at 3:34 p.m. EDT (19:34 GMT).

After firing for about 2 min 33 sec to boost the launch vehicle downrange, B1042 separated, turned 180 degrees, and restarted three of its engines about 6.5 minutes after launch for a reentry burn.  The stage performed a 30 second single-engine landing burn to land on the downrange floating platform "Of Course I Still Love You" about 8.5 minutes after liftoff. After the landing, the aft end of the stage was seen engulfed in flames when SpaceX initially cut away from the video feed. A later view showed that the fire had subsequently been extinguished.

Falcon 9's Merlin 1D Vacuum powered second stage performed two burns to boost the 3.7 tonne Thales Alenia Spacebus 4000B2 commuincations satellite into a 285 x 50,185 km x 22.0 deg geosynchronous (supersynchronous) transfer orbit. Koreasat 5A will fire its own thrusters to gradually raise itself into a 35,900 km geostationary orbit positioned at 113 deg East. The satellite will serve Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Guam, Indochina, and South Asia with its 36 Ku-band transponders powered by two solar arrays generating up to 7 kW of power.

The rocket stages were test fired at McGregor, Texas during mid to late September. The first stage was hot-fired for 3.5 seconds at LC 39A on October 26, with the second stage, but no payload, stacked atop the vehicle. The payload, already encapsulated within its fairing, was the added to the top of the Falcon 9 inside the HIF. The rocket rolled to the pad and was erected one day before launch.

SpaceX crews had to scramble to return OCISLY to sea after equipment on board the vessel was damaged by a fire that started on board after the SES-11 first stage landing on October 11.

It was the 19th successful Falcon 9 first stage landing and the 24th landing attempt. Four of the successful landings have been on "Just Read the Instructions" off California, seven at Cape Canaveral LZ 1, and eight on the drone ship "Of Course I Still Love You" off Florida. Sixteen first stages have now been recovered, three having flown twice. All of the recovered stages have been v1.2 types.

AV075 (ULA)Atlas 5 Launches NROL 52

AV-075, Atlas 5-421 with two strap-on solid rocket motors and a four meter diameter extra extended payload fairing, launched NROL 52 for the National Reconnaissance Office from Cape Canaveral, Florida on October 15, 2017. Liftoff on nearly 735 tonnes of thrust took place at 07:28 UTC from Space Launch Complex 41. It was the fifth launch attempt after four scrubs during the previous week. Three were caused by bad weather. One scrub on October 7 was caused by a failed S-band telemetry transmitter, which forced a rollback to the SLC 41 Vertical Integration Facility for repair. It was the most scrubs in the 15-year history of the Atlas 5 program.

NROL 52 was likely deployed into geosynchronous transfer orbit during a mission that was similar to NROL 61 in 2016. While the satellite's mission is classified, some analysts believe that NROL 61 and NROL 52 are new generation data relay satellites designed to transfer the massive volumes of data collected by digital imaging spy satellites that reside in low earth orbit from space to ground stations. Previous satellites of this type, which have flown since the mid-1970s, have been identified as Satellite Data System (SDS) and Quasar, operating in both Molniya and geosynchronous orbits.


Progress MS-07 (RSC Energia)Progress MS-07 Launch

Russia's Soyuz 2-1a launched the Progress MS-07 International Space Station cargo hauling mission from Baikonur Cosmodrome on October 14, 2017, two days after a rare last-minute R-7 launch abort. Liftoff from Site 31 Pad 6 took place at 08:46:53 UTC. The 7,428 kg spacecraft carried around 2,697 kg of cargo into an initial low earth orbit inclined 51.67 deg to the equator orbit. The cargo included 1,350 kg dry pressurized materials, 880 kg of propellant for transfer to ISS, 420 kg of water, and 47 kg of oxygen and air.

The October 12 abort prevented use of a planned express ascent to ISS that would have resulted in a docking only 3.5 hours after liftoff. The two-day delay meant that the station's orbital track was no longer aligned for the express trip, requiring use of a standard two-day ascent.

It was the 11th R-7 launch of the year.

Rokot Sentinel 5p (ESA)Rokot Orbits Sentinel 5p

Russia's Rokot/Briz KM launched the European Space Agency’s Sentinel 5 Precursor satellite into sun synchronous orbit from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on October 13, 2017. The 820 kg atmospheric monitoring satellite is a gap-filler that will fill-in for the lost Envisat satellite until a new generation of satellites enters service in several years. Liftoff from Site 133 Pad 3 took place at 09:27 UTC.

Rokot's RD-0233 first stage engine ignited to drive the UDMH/N2O4 fueled, ICBM-based rocket out of its Transport and Launch Container, upward on a rapid ascent into low clouds, and into a pitch toward a northwest heading. The first stage fired for two minutes, then the second stage, powered by a fixed RD-0253 main engine with four RD-0236 verniers, ignited to perform a roughly three minute burn. The payload fairing separated about one minute into the second stage burn. The Briz KM stage then ignited its S5.92 engine to accelerate the payload into an elliptical parking orbit.

After a long coast to apogee, Briz KM re-ignited to circularize the roughly 824 km x 98.7 deg orbit. Spacecraft separation occurred about 1 hour 19 minutes after liftoff.

It was the 27th Rokot/Briz KM launch. The type entered service in 2000, but Rokot is set to be retired soon in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and the war that followed. Ukrainian companies supply avionics for the former Soviet UR-100 missile that comprises the first two Rokot stages.

F9-43 with EchoStar 105/SES 11Falcon 9 Reflies First Stage, Orbits EchoStar 105/SES 11

SpaceX launched its third previously-flown Falcon 9 first stage on October 11, 2017. The stage, B1031.2, boosted the F9-43 mission that lofted the EchoStar 105/SES-11 communications satellite to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 Pad A. B1031 had previously flown during the F9-32 CRS-10 mission from LC 39A on February 19, 2017, when it returned to land at Cape Canaveral Landing Zone 1. After a 22:53 UTC liftoff for EchoStar 105/SES-11, B1031.2 landed this time on the downrange floating platform "Of Course I Still Love You" after performing reentry and landing burns.

The first stage performed a 2 min 35 sec ascent burn before the Falcon 9 second stage fired its Merlin 1D Vacuum engine for 5 min 58 sec to reach a parking orbit. After an 18 min 21 sec coast to the equator above the west African coast, the stage restarted for 59 seconds to accelerate the satellite toward a planned geosynchronous transfer orbit. Spacecraft seperation took place 36 min 7 sec after liftoff.

EchoStar 105/SES-11, a 5,200 kg Airbus Eurostar E3000 satellite, will serve both US-based EchoStar and Luxembourg-based SES. The satellite provides 24 Ku-band transponders for EchoStar and 24 C-band transponders for SES. After raising itself to geostationary orbit, EchoStar 105/SES-11 will serve the Americas from its 105 degrees West orbital slot.

After its first flight, the B1031 stage was examined and refurbished at Cape Canaveral and/or LC 39A. It did not go to McGregor, Texas for a test firing. Instead, it was briefly static test fired with the assembled F9-43 second stage, sans payload, on October 2. A problem in the first stage propulsion section discovered after the test firing forced a launch delay from October 7 to 11.  This caused F9-43 to launch after F9-44, which flew from California on October 9 as originally planned.

It was the 18th successful Falcon 9 first stage landing. Four have been on "Just Read the Instructions" off California, seven at Cape Canaveral LZ 1, and seven on drone ship "Of Course I Still Love You" off Florida. Fifteen first stages have now been recovered, three having flown twice. All of the recovered stages have been v1.2 types.

H-2A F36 (JAXA)H-2A Launches Navsat for Japan

H-2A F36 successfully launched the 4 tonne Michibiki 4 navigation satellite for Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency from Tanegashimi Yoshinobu Launch Complex 1 on October 9, 2017. Liftoff took place at 22:01:37 UTC. F36 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 4 into a geosynchronous transfer orbit.

Michibiki will raise itself into 32,600 x 39,000 x 41 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 roughly 4 tonne satellite will be able to augment existing GPS signals, allowing better coverage in urban areas with tall buildings.

It was the fifth H-2A launch of the year, more orbital launches in a calendar year than by any previous Japan launcher.

 F9-44, IridiumNEXT 3 (SpaceX)Falcon 9 Launches IridiumNEXT 3

SpaceX Corporation's Falcon 9 performed its third launch for IridiumNEXT on October 9, 2017 when F9-44 boosted ten IridiumNEXT satellites from Vandenberg AFB in California. The v1.2 variant, using new first stage number B1041, lifted off from Space Launch Complex 4 East at 12:37 UTC to begin an hour-long mission that inserted the 860 kg, Thales Alenia Space-built satellites into roughly 625 km x 86.6 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 2 seconds after liftoff to complete the powered phase of the flight. Spacecraft separation began at about the 57 minute 6 second 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”. It was the 17th successful first stage landing. Four have been on JRTI off California, seven at Cape Canaveral LZ 1, and six on drone ship "Of Course I Still Love You" off Florida. Fifteen first stages have now been recovered, two having flown twice. All of the recovered stages have been v1.2 types.

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

The F9-44 first and second stages were test fired at the company's McGregor, Texas test site during late August or early September, 2017. The first stage was briefly hot fired at SLC 4E on October 5, 2017 with the second stage, but no payload, attached to the top of the rocket.

F9-44 was the 22nd Falcon 9 v1.2 to fly, not including the AMOS 6 launch vehicle destroyed during a pre-launch static test countdown in 2016.

CZ-2D VRSS 2 LaunchChina Launches Satellite for Venezuela

China's 33rd CZ-2D launched the second Venezuelan Remote Sensing Satellite, or VRSS 2, from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China's Gansu province on October 9, 2017. The two-stage hypergolic fueled rocket lifted off from the 603 pad at launch site 43 at 04:13 UTC and aimed its payload toward a roughly 620 x 650 km x 98 deg orbit a little more than 11 minutes later.  VRSS 2 will maneuver itself into a 645 km sun synchronous orbit.

The 942 kg satellite was built by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) for Venezuela's government to map territory, study crops and natural resources, and to provide data for Venezuela's military. Another CZ-2D orbited VRSS 1 in 2012.

It was CZ-2D's first flight since a December 28, 2016 launch from Taiyuan placed two SuperView 1 satellites in low orbits after the first stage suffered a problem that caused it to burn about seven seconds longer than planned.

VA-239 (Arianespace)Ariane 5 Launch

After suffering a last-second launch abort on September 5, Ariane 5 ECA vehicle number L5100 successfully boosted two communication satellites to geosynchronous transfer orbit on its second try from Kourou on September 29, 2017. Arianespace Mission VA239 began with a 21:56 UTC liftoff from from ELA-3. After a single long burn by the ESC-A second stage, 6,438 kg Intelsat 37e separated at T+29 minutes, followed by 3,520 kg BSAT 4a, which rode up inside the rocket's Sylda 5 adapter, at T+47 minutes.

Investigation found that the September 5 launch abort had been caused by an electrical issue in one of the two solid-propellant boosters (EAP) that forced an automatic cut off of the launch sequence after the core stage Vulcain 2 engine had ignited. Ariane 5 had to be rolled back to its assembly building in order to replace the failed component.

Intelsat 37e is a Boeing 702MP satellite with Ku, Ka, and S-band transponders. It will provide high-data-rate communications services to the Americas, Africa, and Europe from its geostationary position at 342 deg East.

GSAT 17 is a Space Systems/Loral 1300-series satellites. It will provide Direct-to-Home television service in Japan using its 24 Ku-band transponders from geostationary orbit at 110 deg East.

At 9,958 kg revenue payload, VA-239 carried the second-heaviest GTO payload yet by an Ariane 5, trailing VA-237 by 11 kg.

It was the year's fifth Ariane 5 launch, and the 64th Ariane 5 ECA flight since the type began flying in 2002.

CZ-2C September 29, 2017CZ-2C Launch


China performed its first orbital launch in nearly three months on September 29, 2017 when its Chang Zheng 2C rose from Xichang Satellite Launch Center's LC 3 with a satellite triplet named Yaogan-30 Group 1.  Liftoff took place at 04:21 UTC.  The "electromagnetic detection" satellites were inserted into 592 x 601 km x 35 deg orbits.
 
The satellites may be formation flyers similar to the U.S. NOSS system, which perform a signals intelligence mission designed to monitor surface ship electronic emissions. 


It was the first CZ-2C orbital launch since 2014, and the first CZ-2C to fly from Xichang since 2004.


Proton 416 (Roskosmos)Proton Launches AsiaSat 9


Russia's Proton M/Briz M launched the AsiaSat 9 communications satellite from Baikonur Cosmodrome on September 28, 2017. The 416th Proton rocket, a "Phase 4" Proton M variant, lifted off from Baikonur's Area 200 Pad 39 at 18:52 UTC to begin a planned 9 hr 13 min ascent phase that included five burns by the Briz M upper stage. The 6,140 kg Space Systems/Loral-built SSL 1300 series satellite was aimed toward a planned 4,050 x 35,786 km x 23.4 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit.

AsiaSat 9 will be stationed at 122 deg East, after it raises itself to geostationary orbit, to serve the Asia-Pacific region using 28 C-band and 32 Ku-band transponders, and a regional Ka-band payload.

It was the year's fourth Proton launch and the 96th flown for International Launch Services.  It was also the year's 60th known orbital launch attempt, world-wide.

AV-072 (ULA)Atlas 5 Launches NROL-42

The second Atlas 541 to fly from Vandenberg AFB, a variant that uses four solid rocket motors and a five meter diameter payload fairing, launched the classified National Reconnaissance Office NROL-42 mission on September 24, 2017. The 522 tonne rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 3 East at 05:49 UTC and quickly flew into a news blackout. Atlas 541 is the most powerful Atlas variant to yet fly from the California base.

Analysts expected the launch to orbit a payload bound for an elliptical 12-hour Molniya type orbit. Potential payloads included communications or signals intelligence satellites (SIGINTs). The flight followed a profile similar to the Atlas 541 NROL-35 launch in December, 2014, which went to a 2,101 x 37,748 km x 62.85 Molniya orbit. The use of Atlas 541 for these missions suggest that the satellites are likely heavier than any previously launched by the U.S. to a Molniya orbit. A previous launch of a "Trumpet"-type SIGINT to 1,120 x 37,600 km x 63.56 deg Molniya orbit used a less-capable Atlas 5-411 with only one strap-on solid motor.

AV-072 was the fifth Atlas 5 launch of the year and the second from SLC 3E.  It was the first Atlas of the year fitted with solid motors.  It was the 73rd Atlas 5 flight and the 63rd consecutive Atlas 5 launch vehicle success.

Glonass M 52 LaunchSoyuz Orbits Glonass Navsat

Russia's Soyuz 2-1B/Fregat launched GLONASS-M (Uragan-M) No.52, a navigation satellite, from Plesetsk Cosmodrome Site 43/4 on September 22, 2017. Liftoff took place at 00:02 UTC.  The satellite was named Kosmos 2522 after reaching orbit.

After the Soyuz rocket boosted Fregat and its payload into low earth orbit, the Fregat upper stage performed three burns to lift the 1.415 tonne satellite into a roughly 19,140 km x 64.8 deg orbit. Spacecraft separation occurred about 3.5 hours after liftoff.

It was the 10th R-7 launch of 2017.


Soyuz MS-06 (NASA TV)Soyuz Launches ISS Crew

Russia's Soyuz FG orbited Russia's Soyuz MS-06 spacecraft from Baikonur, Kazakhstan with three International Space Station crew on September 12, 2017. It was the year's third crewed launch. Liftoff from Baikonur Cosmodrome Area 1 Pad 5 took place at 21:17 UTC. The spacecraft entered a roughly 197 x 255 km x 51.67 deg initial orbit. Onboard were Russia's Alexander Misurkin and NASA's Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba, comprising the Expedition 53/54 crew.

Soyuz MS-06 aimed for a 6 hour, four orbit fast-track ascent to ISS. The MS-06 crew will join Randy Bresnik, Sergey Ryazanskiy, and Paolo Nespoli at the station.

It was the ninth R-7 flight of 2017.

Proton 415 (ILS)Proton Launches Amazonas 5

Russia's Proton M/Briz M launched the Amazonas 5 communications satellite from Baikonur Cosmodrome on September 11, 2017. The 415th Proton rocket, a "Phase 3" Proton M variant, serial number 93565, lifted off from Baikonur's Area 200 Pad 39 at 19:23 UTC to begin a planned 9 hr 12 min ascent phase that included five burns by the Briz M upper stage. The 5,900 kg Space Systems/Loral-built SSL 1300 series satellite was aimed toward a planned 4,450 x 35,286 km x 22.9 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit.

Amazonas 5, built for HISPASAT Group, is equipped by 24 Ku-band transponders and a Ka-band spot beam with spot beams. It will provide fixed and broadband services in South America, Central America and Mexico. The satellite will be positioned at 61 deg West after it raises itself to geostationary orbit.

It was the year's third Proton launch.  It was also the 95th Proton flown for International Launch Services.

F9-42 with OTV-5 (SpaceX)Falcon 9 Launches X-37B

Falcon 9-42, the second v1.2 variant to fly with a "Block 4" first stage, launched the fifth U.S. Air Force X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) mission into orbit from Kennedy Space Center LC 39A on September 7, 2017. Liftoff took place at 14:00 UTC. X-37B entered a low earth orbit likely inclined 40 to 45 deg to the equator after a single burn by the second stage Merlin Vacuum engine.

This was the first X-37B launch by Falcon 9. Atlas 5 performed the first four launches, which are believed to have used two different X-37B spacecraft. The winged robot mini-shuttle, which carries classified payload in its small payload bay, is believed to weigh about 5 metric tons at launch.

First stage B1040 performed a 2 min 23 sec ascent burn before separating from the second stage, turning 180 deg, and restarting three engines for a roughly 34 second boost-back burn that pushed it back towards Florida even as it continued to gain altitude. The stage performed a roughly 20 second three-engine reentry burn starting at about T+6 min 34 sec and a final single-engine landing burn that began about 30 seconds before it settled onto the circular pad at Cape Canaveral Landing Zone 1.  Landing took place about 8 min 14 sec after liftoff.

It was the 16th successful first stage landing and the 7th landing at LZ 1. Fourteen first stages have now been recovered, two having flown twice. All of the recovered stages have been v1.2 types.

The second stage was expected to perform a deorbit burn after payload separation, possibly after performing an extended coast mission.  Its post-reentry remains were to be aimed toward a zone far south of Australia.

The F9-42 stages were test fired at McGregor, Texas during late July or early August, 2017. The first stage engines performed a brief static test at LC 39A on August 31, 2017 before OTV-5 was stacked atop the rocket.

PSLV-C39, ISROPSLV Fails

India's most-reliable launch vehicle, PSLV, suffered its first launch failure since 1997 during an attempt to orbit IRNSS 1H, the country's eighth-planned navigation satellite, from Sriharikota on August 31, 2017. The 4.5-stage PSLV-XL variant, flying the C-39 mission, lifted off from Satish Dhawan Space Center's Second Launch Pad at 13:30 UTC. All of the propulsion elements appeared to work as expected, but the payload fairing failed to separate as planned about 3 minutes 23 seconds after liftoff. The extra mass caused the fourth stage and its still-encapsulated payload to fall short, only reaching a 167 x 6,555 km x 19.18 deg orbit, far short of the planned 675 x 20,650 km x 19.2 deg transfer orbit.

Plans had called for the 1,425 kg satellite to raise itself from the planned subsynchronous transfer orbit to a geosynchronous orbit with a 29 deg inclination, tracing a small figure-8 pattern over the Earth's surface, centered on 55 deg East longitude.

India's first generation navigation constellation consists of four satellites in inclined geosynchronous orbit and three in equatorial geostationary orbits.

It was the 41st PSLV flight and the 18th by a PSLV-XL variant. The failure ended a string of 36 consecutive successes for the PSLV family. No PSLV-XL failures had previously occurred. PSLV began flying in 1993.

Minotaur 4 Launches ORS-5 (OATK)Minotaur 4 Cape Inaugural

Orbital ATK's Minotaur 4 performed its first launch from Cape Canaveral on August 26, 2017 when it boosted the ORS-5 (Operationally Responsive Space) satellite into equatorial low earth orbit. The 87 tonne rocket lifted off from SLC 46 at 06:04 UTC, rising rapidly on 209 tonnes of thrust from the SR-118 first stage motor.

An Orion 38 fifth stage was added to the standard four-stage Minotaur 4 to perform the unusual ascent. ORS-5 only weighed 140 kg, but the fifth stage was needed to perform the largest-ever low earth orbit plane change maneuver to insert the satellite into a 600 km x 0.0 deg orbit.

Minotaur 4 uses surplus Peacekeeper ICBM motors for its first three stages. An Orion 38 motor serves as the fourth stage. On this flight the first stage fired for 0.94 minutes and the second stage for 0.96 minutes before begininng a 0.18 minute coast. The third stage then separated from the second stage and performed a 1.21 minute burn. The stack coasted until the third stage separated at T+13.74 minutes. The fourth stage ignited 0.18 minutes later to begin its 1.11 minute burn to reach orbital velocity, entering a roughly 400 x 600 km x 24.6 deg transfer orbit.  After a coast to the equator, during which three small cubesats deployed, the fifth stage began its 1.15 minute burn at T+25.31 minutes to raise perigee to about 600 km and to reduce inclination to 0 deg.

MIT/Lincoln Labs led the effort to develop ORS-5, which will stare up at the geosynchronous orbit belt to provide an operational demonstration of situational awareness about the movement of satellites operating in the belt.

It was the fourth orbital launch mission by a Minotaur 4, the sixth Minotaur 4 launch, and the seventh launch of a Minotaur 4 or 5. Minotaur 5 uses a Star 48V, rather than an Orion 38, fourth stage motor. Cape Canaveral became the fourth launch range to see a Minotaur 4 or 5. Previous launches took place from Vandenberg AFB, Kodiak, and Wallops Island. It was the first launch from SLC 46 since a Lockheed Martin Athena lifted off in 1999.

Orbital ATK conducts Minotaur 4 launches under the U.S. Air Force's Orbital/Suborbital-2 contract.

F9-40 (SpaceX)Falcon 9 Orbits Formosat 5

Falcon 9 F9-40, a v1.2 variant with a "Block 3" first stage, orbited Formosat 5, an Earth observation satellite for Taiwan’s National Space Organization (NSPO), from Vandenberg AFB on August 24, 2017. First stage number B1038 boosted the rocket from Space Launch Complex 4 East at 18:51 UTC to begin an 11 minute 18 second mission that inserted the 475 kg satellite directly into a roughly 720 km x 98.28 deg sun synchronous orbit.

The first stage fired for 2 minutes 28 seconds. Stage 2 performed a single 6 minute 38 second burn. After staging, the first stage performed a 39 second long 3-engine reentry burn and a 33 second single-engine landing burn before landing on the converted barge "drone ship" “Just Read the Instructions” about 10 minutes 47 seconds after liftoff. The second stage performed a deorbit burn after spacecraft separation.

Formosat 5 carries a primary optical imager and a secondary ionospheric sensor.

It was the 15th successful Falcon 9 first stage landing. Thirteen first stages have now been recovered, two having flown twice. It was the 40th Falcon 9 launch, a number that does not include the AMOS 6 launch vehicle destroyed during a propellant loading test on September 1, 2016.

The first and second stages were test fired at the company's McGregor, Texas test site during late June or early July. The first stage was briefly hot fired at SLC 4E on August 19, 2017 with the second stage, but no payload, attached to the top of the rocket.

H-2A F35 (JAXA)H-2A Launches Navsat for Japan

H-2A F35 successfully launched the 4.7 tonne Michibiki 3 navigation satellite for Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency from Tanegashimi Yoshinobu Launch Complex 1 on August 19, 2017. Liftoff took place at 05:30 UTC. F35 flew in the "204" configuration with four strap on "SRB-A" monolithic solid motors and two liquid hydrogen/oxygen core stages. After a 115 second SRB phase that augmented a 398 second first stage burn, the rocket's second stage performed two burns, of 271 seconds and 250 seconds duration with a 736 second coast between, to inject Michibiki 3 into a geostationary transfer orbit.

Michibiki 3 will raise itself into geosynchronous orbit, augmenting two previous satellites that trace north-south "Figure 8" patterns across the Earth's surface at Japan's longitude.

The launch, which came after a one week delay caused by a problem during propellant loading during the initial launch attempt, was the fourth H-2A launch of the year.

AV-074 (ULA)Atlas Orbits TDRS-M

AV-074, an Atlas 5 two-stage 401 model, successfully orbited NASA's TDRS-M (Tracking and Data Relay Satellite) from Cape Caneveral on August 18, 2017. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41 took place at 12:29 UTC. TDRS-M, a Boeing Space System 601 model that weighed 3.454 tonnes, was aimed toward a 4,640 x 35,787 km x 26.2 deg high perigee geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO). Spacecraft separation took place 1 hour 53 minutes 46 seconds after liftoff.

The RD-180 powered first stage burned for 4 minutes 2 seconds. This was followed by a 13 minute 39 second long Centaur second stage burn that boosted the vehicle into a 183 x 25,672 km x 27 deg parking orbit. After a 1 hour, 30 minute 6 second coast across the equatorial Atlantic, southern Africa, and part of the Indian Ocean, Centaur reignited for a 57 second burn to accelerate TDRS-M into its final orbit.

TDRS-M's arrival at the launch pad was delayed by a few weeks after one of its antennas was damaged on July 14 during processing at Astrotech, the same day that the Centaur stage was stacked atop the first stage at SLC 41.  The launch vehicle ended up standing on its launch platform for more than a month before liftoff.

The launch was the world's 50th known orbital attempt of 2017.  It was also  the fourth Atlas 5 launch of the year, the 62nd consecutive Atlas 5 success, and the 71st success in 72 flights to date.

Proton Launches BlagovestProton Orbits Blagovest (8/21/17 Update)

A Proton M Briz M launched Russia's first Blagovest military communications satellite from Baikonur Cosmodrome on August 16, 2017. The liftoff from Site 81 Pad 24 took place at 22:07 UTC, with no live TV coverage provided.  The Briz M upper stage performed a series of burns (most likely four burns) to insert the satellite into near-geosynchronous orbit.   Upon reaching orbit the satellite was named Kosmos 2520. 

Blagovest ("good news") is an Ekspress-2000 series satellite built by ISS Reshetnev in Zheleznogorsk, Russia, for Russia's Ministry of Defense. It carries Ka and C-band transponders. Europe's Thales Alenia provided attitude control system sensors and communications payload elements. Blagovest 11L is the first of four planned in the series.


Falcon 9 Launches CRS-12


Falcon 9-41, the first v1.2 variant to fly with a "Block 4" first stage, launched Dragon CRS-12 into orbit from Kennedy Space Center LC 39A on August 14, 2017. Liftoff took place at 16:31 UTC. Cargo-hauling Dragon entered a low earth orbit inclined 51.6 deg to the equator after a single 6 min 58 sec burn by the second stage Merlin Vacuum engine. spacecraft separation took place at T+10 min 20 sec.

This 14th Dragon flight used Dragon spacecraft C113, the 13th and final new Dragon spacecraft capsule planned to be manufactured by SpaceX.  Future missions will use refurbished recovered capsules.

Dragon carried 2,910 kg of cargo and packing, including 1,258 kg in its unpressurized trunk. Dragon's total liftoff weight including cargo was likely about 8,400 kg.

First stage B1039 performed a 2 min 25 sec ascent burn before separating from the second stage, turning 180 deg, and restarting three engines for a roughly 55 second boost-back burn that pushed it back towards Florida even as it continued to gain altitude. The stage performed a roughly 14 second three-engine reentry burn starting at about T+6 min 8 sec and a final single-engine landing burn that began about 28 econds before it settled onto the circular pad at Cape Canaveral Landing Zone 1.  Landing took place about 7 min 43 sec after liftoff. 

B1039.1 LandingB1039.1 Landing

It was the 14th successful first stage landing and the 6th landing at LZ 1.   Twelve first stages have now been recovered, two having flown twice.  All of the recovered stages have been v1.2 types.  CRS-12 was the 19th Falcon 9 v1.2 launch and the 20th v1.2 to stand on a launch pad, a tally that includes the AMOS 6 launch vehicle destroyed during propellant loading for a pre-launch static test firing on September 1, 2016. 

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

The F9-41 stages were test fired at McGregor, Texas during July, 2017. The first stage engines performed a brief static test at LC 39A on August 10, 2017 before Dragon was stacked atop the rocket.



 

vv10.jpg (19244 bytes)Vega Orbits Earth Observation Satellites

Europe's Vega launch vehicle orbited Optsat 3000 and Venus, two Israeli-built earth observation satellites, from Kourou on August 2, 2017. The four-stage rocket lifted off on Arianespace Mission VV10 from the Vega Launch Complex (ZLV) at 01:58 UTC on a more than 97-minute mission that employed five burns by the AVUM fourth stage to deploy the two satellites into different orbits.

AVUM completed its first, 6 min 17 sec burn to reach an initial elliptical orbit about 14 min 9 sec after liftoff. After a coast to apogee, the stage restarted at T+40 min 37 sec for a nearly 1.5 minute burn to reach a 450 km x 97 deg orbit, where the 368 kg Optsat 3000 satellite separated. AVUM then performed two more burns during the next hour to reach a 720 km x 98 deg orbit, where 264 kg Venus separated. AVUM performed a fifth, deorbit burn beginning at T+1 hour 47 min 19 sec.

Vega's P80 solid motor first stage burned for 1 min 57 seconds. Its Z23 solid motor second stage ignited one second later and burned until the 3 min 40 sec mark. After a 23 second coast the Z9 solid motor third stage ignited for its 2 min 39 second burn. The payload fairing separated shortly after the third stage ignited. After a 1 min 10 sec coast, the liquid AVUM fourth stage began its first burn.

Optsat 3000 is a military optical survelliance satellite for the Itialian Ministry of Defense. Venus, a multi-spectral earth observation satellite, is an Israeli/French collaboration.


soyms05.jpg (10363 bytes)Soyuz Launches ISS Crew

A 2.5 stage Soyuz FG rocket orbited Russia's Soyuz MS-05 spacecraft from Baikonur, Kazakhstan with three International Space Station crew on July 28, 2017. It was the year's second crewed launch. Liftoff from Baikonur Cosmodrome Area 1 Pad 5 took place at 15:41 UTC. The spacecraft entered a roughly 200 km x 51.6 deg initial orbit. Onboard the upgraded spacecraft were Russia's Sergey Ryazanskiy, NASA's Randy Bresnik and ESA's Paolo Nespoli, comprising the Expedition 52/53 crew.

Soyuz MS-05 aimed for a 6 hour, four orbit fast-track ascent to ISS. Ryazanskiy, Bresnik, and Nespoli will join Russia's Fyodor Yurchikhin and NASA's Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson, the longest-space time NASA astronaut, at the station.

It was the eighth R-7 flight of 2017.  It was also the 50th 2.5-stage Soyuz FG launch since the type premiered in 2001.  None have failed.  This 50th consecutive success pushes Soyuz FG incrementally past Delta 2 to the top of the Space Launch Report Launch Vehicle Reliability table.


soy071417.jpg (17869 bytes)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, worldwide.


f9-39.jpg (4322 bytes)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 improved performance.

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.


cz5y2.jpg (9948 bytes)CZ-5 Failure (07/15/17 Update)

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 propulsion.

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.

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