Astronauts explain why nobody has visited the moon in more than 45 years — and the reasons are depressing
The last time a person visited the moon was in December 1972, during NASA’s Apollo 17 mission.
Over the decades, NASA has planned to send people back to the moon but has yet to succeed. The Trump administration wants to get astronauts back there by 2024.
Astronauts often say the reasons humans haven’t returned to the lunar surface are budgetary and political hurdles, not scientific or technical challenges.
Private companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX may be the first entities to return people to the moon.
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Landing 12 people on the moon remains one of NASA’s greatest achievements, if not the greatest.
Astronauts collected rocks, took photos, performed experiments, planted flags, and then came home. But those stays during the Apollo program didn’t establish a lasting human presence on the moon.
More than 45 years after the most recent crewed moon landing — Apollo 17 in December 1972 — there are plenty of reasons to return people to Earth’s giant, dusty satellite and stay there.
Vice President Mike Pence has promised that we will see US astronauts on the moon by 2024 (including the first women to ever touch the lunar surface), in a program called Artemis.
But on a recent phone call with reporters, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said that ambitious goal is going to require quite a lot more federal cash, something that’s historically been a political sticking point in Washington.
“If it wasn’t for the political risk, we would be on the moon right now,” Bridenstine said. “In fact, we would probably be on Mars.”
So why haven’t astronauts been back to the moon in nearly 47 years?
“It was the political risks that prevented it from happening,” Bridenstine said. “The program took too long and it costs too much money.”
Bridenstine said that’s a major part of why President Trump has requested an additional $1.6 billion in funding for the current plan to return to the moon, which is “largely focused on a lunar lander that at this point doesn’t exist.”
Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart recently told Business Insider that he wishes Bridenstine “good luck” with this goal.
“Accelerating something that ambitious is a real challenge, and it takes commitment and dollars, and that’s what’s going to be required,” Schweickart said. ” We’ve tried two other times — administrations have tried — and they’ve been stillborn.”
Researchers and entrepreneurs have long pushed for the creation of a crewed base on the moon — a lunar space station.
“A permanent human research station on the moon is the next logical step. It’s only three days away. We can afford to get it wrong and not kill everybody,” Chris Hadfield, a former astronaut, previously told Business Insider. “And we have a whole bunch of stuff we have to invent and then test in order to learn before we can go deeper out.”
A lunar base could evolve into a fuel depot for deep-space missions, lead to the creation of unprecedented space telescopes, make it easier to live on Mars, and solve longstanding scientific mysteries about Earth and the moon’s creation. It could could even spur a thriving off-world economy, perhaps one built around lunar space tourism.
But many astronauts and other experts suggest the biggest impediments to making this (and moon missions in general) a reality are banal and somewhat depressing.
It’s really expensive to get to the moon — but not that expensive
A tried-and-true hurdle for any spaceflight program, especially missions that involve people, is the steep cost.
NASA’s 2019 budget is $21.5 billion, and the Trump administration is asking Congress to boost that to $22.6 billion in the 2020 budget.
Those amounts may sound like a windfall, until you consider that the total gets split among all the agency’s divisions and ambitious projects: the James Webb Space Telescope, the giant rocket project called Space Launch System (SLS), and far-flung missions to the sun, Jupiter, Mars, the asteroid belt, the Kuiper belt, and the edge of the solar system. (By contrast, the US military gets a budget of about $680 billion a year.)
Plus, NASA’s budget is somewhat small relative to its past.
“NASA’s portion of the federal budget peaked at 4% in 1965,” Apollo 7 astronaut Walter Cunningham said during congressional testimony in 2015. “For the past 40 years it has remained below 1%, and for the last 15 years it has been driving toward 0.4% of the federal budget.”
Trump’s budget calls for a return to the moon, and then later an orbital visit to Mars. But given the ballooning costs and snowballing delays related to NASA’s SLS rocket program, there may not be enough funding to make it to either destination, even if the International Space Station gets defunded early.
A 2005 report by NASA estimated that returning to the moon would cost about $104 billion ($133 billion today, with inflation) over about 13 years. The Apollo program cost about $120 billion in today’s dollars.
“Manned exploration is the most expensive space venture and, consequently, the most difficult for which to obtain political support,” Cunningham said during his testimony.
He added, according to Scientific American: “Unless the country, which is Congress here, decided to put more money in it, this is just talk that we’re doing here.”
Referring to Mars missions and a return to the moon, Cunningham said, “NASA’s budget is way too low to do all the things that we’ve talked about.”
The problem with presidents
If the Trump administration succeeds in landing astronauts back on to the moon in 2024, that would come at the tail end of what could be Trump’s second term, if he gets reelected.
And therein lies another major problem: partisan political whiplash.
“Why would you believe what any president said about a prediction of something that was going to happen two administrations in the future?” Hadfield said. “That’s just talk.”
The process of designing, engineering, and testing a spacecraft that could get people to another world easily outlasts a two-term president. But incoming presidents and lawmakers often scrap the previous leader’s space-exploration priorities.
“I would like the next president to support a budget that allows us to accomplish the mission that we are asked to perform, whatever that mission may be,” Scott Kelly, an astronaut who spent a year in space, wrote in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” thread in January 2016, before Trump took office.
But presidents and Congress don’t seem to care about staying the course.
In 2004, for example, the Bush administration tasked NASA with coming up with a way to replace the space shuttle, which was set to retire, and also return to the moon. The agency came up with the Constellation program to land astronauts on the moon using a rocket called Ares and a spaceship called Orion. NASA spent $9 billion over five years designing, building, and testing hardware for that human-spaceflight program.
Yet after President Barack Obama took office — and the Government Accountability Office released a report about NASA’s inability to estimate Constellation’s cost — Obama pushed to scrap the program and signed off on the SLS rocket instead.
Trump hasn’t scrapped SLS. But he did change Obama’s goal of launching astronauts to an asteroid, shifting priorities to moon and Mars missions.
Such frequent changes to NASA’s expensive priorities have led to cancellation after cancellation, a loss of about $20 billion, and years of wasted time and momentum.
“I’m disappointed that they’re so slow and trying to do something else,” Apollo 8 astronaut Jim Lovell told Business Insider last year. “I’m not excited about anything in the near future. I’ll just see things as they come.”
Buzz Aldrin said in testimony to Congress in 2015 that he believes the will to return to the moon must come from Capitol Hill.
“American leadership is inspiring the world by consistently doing what no other nation is capable of doing. We demonstrated that for a brief time 45 years ago. I do not believe we have done it since,” Aldrin wrote in a statement. “I believe it begins with a bipartisan congressional and administration commitment to sustained leadership.”
The real driving force behind that government commitment to return to the moon is the will of the American people, who vote for politicians and help shape their policy priorities. But public interest in lunar exploration has always been lukewarm.
Even at the height of the Apollo program, after Aldrin and Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface, only 53% of Americans said they thought the program was worth the cost. Most of the rest of the time, US approval of Apollo hovered below 50%.
Today, most Americans think NASA should make returning to the moon a priority. More than 57% of nationwide respondents to an INSIDER poll in December 2018 said returning to the moon is an important goal for NASA, but only about 38% said that living, breathing humans need to go back. (Others who want the US to land on the moon say robots could do the lunar exploring.)
Support for crewed Mars exploration is stronger, with 63% of respondents to a 2018 Pew Research Center poll saying it should be a NASA priority. Meanwhile, 91% think that scanning the skies for killer asteroids is important.
The challenges beyond politics
The political tug-of-war over NASA’s mission and budget isn’t the only reason people haven’t returned to the moon. The moon is also a 4.5-billion-year-old death trap for humans and must not be trifled with or underestimated.
Its surface is littered with craters and boulders that threaten safe landings. Leading up to the first moon landing in 1969, the US government spent what would be billions in today’s dollars to develop, launch, and deliver satellites to the moon to map its surface and help mission planners scout for possible Apollo landing sites.
But a bigger worry is what eons of meteorite impacts have created: regolith, also called moon dust.
Madhu Thangavelu, an aeronautical engineer at the University of Southern California, wrote in 2014 that the moon is covered in “a fine, talc-like top layer of lunar dust, several inches deep in some regions, which is electrostatically charged through interaction with the solar wind and is very abrasive and clingy, fouling up spacesuits, vehicles and systems very quickly.”
Peggy Whitson, an astronaut who lived in space for a total of 665 days, previously told Business Insider that the Apollo missions “had a lot of problems with dust.”
“If we’re going to spend long durations and build permanent habitats, we have to figure out how to handle that,” Whitson said.
There’s also a problem with sunlight. For about 14 days at a time, the lunar surface is a boiling hellscape that is exposed directly to the sun’s harsh rays; the moon has no protective atmosphere. The next 14 days are in total darkness, making the moon’s surface one of the colder places in the universe.
A small nuclear reactor being developed by NASA called Kilopower could supply astronauts with electricity during weeks-long lunar nights — and would be useful on other worlds, including Mars.
“There is not a more environmentally unforgiving or harsher place to live than the moon,” Thangavelu wrote. “And yet, since it is so close to the Earth, there is not a better place to learn how to live, away from planet Earth.”
NASA has designed dust- and sun-resistant spacesuits and rovers, though it’s uncertain whether that equipment is anywhere near ready to launch.
A generation of billionaire ‘space nuts’ may get there
“You’ve got to realize young people are essential to this kind of an effort,” Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt recently told Business Insider. “The average age of the people in Mission Control for Apollo 13 was 26 years old, and they’d already been on a bunch of missions.”
Schweickart echoed that concern, noting that the average age of someone today at NASA’s Johnson Space Center is closer to 60 years old.
“That’s not where innovation and excitement comes from. Excitement comes from when you’ve got teenagers and 20-year-olds running programs,” Schweickart said. “When Elon Musk lands a [rocket booster] , his whole company is yelling and screaming and jumping up and down.”
Musk is part of what astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman has called a “generation of billionaires who are space nuts,” developing a new, private suite of moon-capable rockets.
“The innovation that’s been going on over the last 10 years in spaceflight never would’ve happened if it was just NASA and Boeing and Lockheed,” Hoffman told journalists during a roundtable earlier this year. “Because there was no motivation to reduce the cost or change the way we do it.”
The innovation Hoffman was referring to is work of Musk’s rocket company, SpaceX, as well as by Jeff Bezos, who runs aerospace company Blue Origin.
“There’s no question: If we’re going to go farther, especially if we’re going to go farther than the moon, we need new transportation,” Hoffman added. “Right now we’re still in the horse-and-buggy days of spaceflight.”
Many astronauts’ desire to return to the moon aligns with Bezos’ long-term vision. Bezos has floated a plan to start building the first moon base using Blue Origin’s upcoming New Glenn rocket system.
“We will move all heavy industry off of Earth, and Earth will be zoned residential and light industry,” he said in April 2018.
Musk has also spoken at length about how SpaceX’s forthcoming Starship launch system could pave the way for affordable, regular lunar visits. SpaceX might even visit the moon before NASA or Blue Origin.
“My dream would be that someday the moon would become part of the economic sphere of the Earth — just like geostationary orbit and low-Earth orbit,” Hoffman said. “Space out as far as geostationary orbit is part of our everyday economy. Someday I think the moon will be, and that’s something to work for.”
Astronauts don’t doubt whether or not we’ll get back to the moon and onto Mars. It’s just a matter of when.
“I guess eventually things will come to pass where they will go back to the moon and eventually go to Mars — probably not in my lifetime,” Lovell said. “Hopefully they’ll be successful.”
Update: This story was originally published on July 14, 2018. It has been updated with the Trump administration’s latest lunar plans.
Correction: A previous version of this story included an incorrect number of moonwalkers. During NASA’s Apollo program, 12 people landed on the moon.
This day in history: Yuri Gagarin becomes first person in space
April 12 is a historic day. Not only is it the anniversary of the first shuttle mission, but it’s also the day Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space.
In 1961, Gagarin did the impossible. He launched off the Earth into space and successfully orbited the planet.
The flight shocked the world. No one had ever orbited the Earth. Now, one courageous man had. His mission made headlines 58 years ago today.
Catch a glimpse of what it was like to orbit the Earth like Yuri Gagarin with the First Orbit film trailer below and keep reading to learn more about the mission and the man!
“The Columbus of the Cosmos”
Before he was a cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin was a Soviet Air Force fighter pilot. In 1960, the Soviet Union launched a selection process to find the first human they would send into space. Gagarin was selected along with 19 other pilots.
The candidates were subjected to physically and mentally demanding experiments that tested everyone. Amidst training, Gagarin was selected to join the ‘Sochi Six’, an elite training group, which became the first cosmonauts of the Vostok missions.
However, it was Gagarin that was finally selected to become the first man in space. He would be just 27 years old when he launched into space aboard the Vostok 1.
Yuri launched atop the world’s most powerful rocket at the time, and was propelled 327 kilometers above the planet. NASA documented that the mission did not require Yuri to operate the spacecraft. This was because no one knew what the effects of zero gravity on a human pilot would be. Instead, the capsule was controlled by a computer program and ground support team.
Gagarin was given a manual override key in case of emergency, but he never had to use it.
Gagarin orbited the Earth at a speed of 27,400 kilometers per hour. Upon reentry, the capsule plummeted back to Earth. The spacecraft had not been designed to land, so Gagarin ejected from the Vostok 1 and deployed his parachutes, returning him safely to the ground.
Only later did the world come to find out that the spaceflight did not technically count. According to the regulations outlined by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), which managed spaceflight records, it was not regarded as an official spaceflight since Gagarin did not land inside the Vostok 1 spacecraft.
However, the Soviets omitted this fact when sharing the details of Gagarin’s flight.
A puzzling and tragic end
In 1968, just years after his historic mission, Gagarin’s life suddenly ended while he was taking part in a routine flight test. Some, though, think there is more to the tragedy.
In an article in Air and Space magazine, the author tells of the many conspiracy theories that exist on how Gagarin mysteriously died. Research teams are still attempting to find answers to Gagarin’s untimely demise.
The world continues to honor his groundbreaking accomplishment, one that proved humans could fly in space, and a feat that marked the beginning of human spaceflight.
Competition turns to teamwork
When Gagarin lifted off into space, it was considered a major blow to the United States.
The Space Race was on and the Soviet Union had a leg up. Alan Shepard launched later that month, but would not orbit the Earth. In fact, it would be almost a year before John Glenn accomplished this goal.
In time, however, the U.S. and the Soviet Union began to work together. The first co-op project between the two nations was the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, which paved the way for future joint missions. Then, there was the Shuttle-Mir co-op that began in 1994. In 1998, in-orbit construction of the ISS was underway.
Today, U.S. astronauts launch aboard Soyuz spacecraft and live and work aboard ISS next to Russian cosmonauts.
On July 20, 1969, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong became the first people to land on the Moon.
When they left the surface of the Moon, they left behind many things. Some of those items include an American flag, a plaque, a small disc with messages from U.S. and world leaders, an Apollo 1 mission patch left in memory of the crew who tragically lost their life in a fire, and medals of Russian cosmonauts Vladimir Komarov and Yuri Gagarin.
Astronauts often overlooked politics to honor other space explorers out of mutual respect. The Apollo 11 crew took Gagarin’s medal along with them on their historic journey that summer of ’69, and left it behind on the Moon, a place that only a select few have had the privilege of visiting.
Gagarin’s memory continues to be honored by current astronauts and cosmonauts who visit the Kremlin Wall, where his ashes remain.
Even the launch pad Gagarin used in 1961 at Baikonur Cosmodrome is still operational and launches ISS missions to this day.
Aside from statues and monuments, Yuri continues to be honored every year for his groundbreaking accomplishment on Yuri’s Night, a worldwide celebration held on the anniversary of his historic flight!
Communities all around the globe continue to celebrate the monumental achievement of the Russian cosmonaut who dared to do what no person had before, on this day 58 years ago.
Start a Lifetime of STEM learning with our Explorer Camps. Campers participate in innovative robotics challenges, take part in space-themed interactive experiences and explore all that Space Center Houston has to offer!
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Space calendar 2020: Rocket launches, sky events, missions & more!
LAST UPDATED March 10: These dates are subject to change, and will be updated throughout the year as firmer dates arise. Please DO NOT schedule travel based on a date you see here. Launch dates collected from NASA, ESA, Roscosmos, Spaceflight Now and others.
Watch NASA webcasts and other live launch coverage on our “Watch Live” page, and see our night sky webcasts here. Find out what’s up in the night sky this month with our visible planets guide and skywatching forecast.
Wondering what happened today in space history? Check out our “On This Day in Space” video show here!
March 14: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is expected to launch a fifth batch of approximately 60 satellites for the company’s Starlink broadband network in a mission designated Starlink 5. It will lift off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, at 9:35 a.m. EDT (1335 GMT).
March 16: A Russian Soyuz rocket will launch a Glonass M navigation satellite from the Plesetsk Cosmosdrome in Russia, at 2:23 p.m. EDT (1823 GMT).
March 16: India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk. 2 (GSLV Mk.2) may launch the county’s first GEO Imaging Satellite, or GISAT 1. It is scheduled to lift off from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, India, at 8:13 a.m. EDT (1213 GMT). The launch was postponed from March 6 due to technical problems with the rocket.
March 19: Happy Equinox! Today marks the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of fall in the Southern Hemisphere.
March 19: A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket will launch the sixth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite for the U.S. military. The AEHF-6 mission will lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, during a 2-hour launch window that opens at 3:22 p.m. EDT (1922 GMT).
March 20: The waning, crescent moon will make a close approach to Jupiter in the dawn sky. It will be in conjunction with Jupiter at 2:21 a.m. EDT (0621 GMT), and the pair will be above the southeastern horizon for a few hours before sunrise.
March 21: A Russian Soyuz rocket will launch approximately 32 satellites into orbit for the OneWeb satellite constellation. The mission, called OneWeb 3, will lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, at 1:07 p.m. EDT (1707 GMT).
March 23: An Arianespace Vega rocket will launch on the Small Spacecraft Mission Service, or SSMS, proof-of-concept mission carrying 42 microsatellites, nanosatellites and cubesats. The rideshare mission will lift off from the Guiana Space Center near Kourou, French Guiana, at 9:51 p.m. EDT (0151 GMT on March 24). Watch it live.
March 24: New moon
March 26: Rocket Lab will launch an Electron rocket on a rideshare mission carrying three payloads for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office. Also on board will be the ANDESITE CubeSat for Boston University and NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative, which will study Earth’s magnetosphere and space weather, and the M2 Pathfinder satellite, a technology demonstration mission that is a collaboration between the Australian government and the University of New South Wales Canberra Space. The mission, nicknamed “Don’t Stop Me Now,” will lift off from the company’s New Zealand launch facility on the Mahia Peninsula.
March 28: The waxing, crescent moon will make a close approach to Venus in the evening sky. It will be in conjunction with Venus at 6:37 a.m. EDT (1037 GMT), and the pair will still appear close the evenings before and after. Look for them above the southwestern horizon after sunset.
March 30–April 2: The 36th annual Space Symposium takes place in Colorado Springs.
March 30: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch the SAOCOM 1B Earth observation satellite for Argentina. It will lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, at 7:21 p.m. EDT (2321 GMT).
March 31: A Russian Proton rocket will launch the Express 80 and Express 103 communications satellites for the Russian Satellite Communication Company. It will lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
March 31: Conjunction of Saturn and Mars. The Ringed Planet and the Red Planet meet up for a special conjunction in the dawn sky. Saturn will pass less than 1 degree north of Mars at 6:56 a.m. EDT (1056 GMT).
A Chinese Long March 7A rocket will launch a satellite known as TJS 6. This will be the first flight of the Long March 7A rocket variant. It will lift off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Hainan, China.
India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) will launch the RISAT 2BR2 radar Earth observation satellite for the Indian Space Research Organization. It will lift off from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, India.
April 2: SpaceX’s Dragon CRS-20 cargo craft will depart the International Space Station and return to Earth. NASA will provide live coverage of its departure beginning at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT), and it is scheduled to be released at 11:24 a.m. EDT (1524 GMT). The capsule will splash down in the Pacific Ocean a few hours later, but NASA will not broadcast the splashdown. Watch it live.
April 7: Super Pink Moon. The full moon of April, known as the Pink Moon, coincides with a supermoon.
April 9: A Russian Soyuz rocket will launch the Soyuz MS-16 spacecraft to the International Space Station with three new Expedition 62 crewmembers: NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and two Russian cosmonauts, Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner. (Originally, cosmonauts Nikolai Tikhonov and Andrei Babkin were slated for this flight, but they were replaced by their backup crew for “medical reasons” in February). The rocket will lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Watch it live.
April 10: An Arianespace Soyuz rocket will launch the second Composante Spatiale Optique (CSO-2) military reconnaissance satellite for the French space agency CNES and DGA, the French defense procurement agency. It will lift off from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana. Watch it live.
April 14: The last-quarter moon will make a close approach to Jupiter and Saturn in the dawn sky. It will be in conjunction with Jupiter at 7:05 p.m. EDT (2305 GMT), followed by a conjunction with Saturn on April 15 at 5:18 a.m. EDT (0918 GMT). Catch the trio in the morning sky, before sunrise.
April 21-22: The Lyrid meteor shower peaks.
April 22: New moon
April 25: A Russian Soyuzrocket will launch the 75th Progress cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station. It will lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Watch it live.
April 26: The waxing, crescent moon will make a close approach to Venus in the evening sky. It will be in conjunction with Venus at 11:23 a.m. EDT (1523 GMT), and the pair will still appear close the evenings before and after. Look for them above the southwestern horizon after sunset.
April 28: Shining brightly at mag -4.5, the “evening star” Venus reaches its greatest brightness of the year.
April 29: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch the U.S. Air Force’s third third-generation navigation satellite, designated GPS 3 SV03, for the Global Positioning System. It will lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
An Arianespace Soyuz rocket will launch the Falcon Eye 2 Earth-imaging satellite for the United Arab Emirates. It will lift off from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana.
A Chinese Long March 5B rocket will launch on a test flight with an unpiloted prototype for China’s new human-rated crew capsule, which is designed for future human missions to the moon. This will be the first flight of a Long March 5B rocket. It will lift off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Hainan, China.
India’s Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) will launch on its first orbital test flight from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, India.
May 7: Crew Dragon Demo 2: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is scheduled to take its first crewed test flight to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on board. This will be the Crew Dragon’s first test flight with astronauts on board following the uncrewed Demo-1 mission in March. It will lift off on a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
May 7: The full moon of May, also known as the Flower Moon, occurs at 6:45 a.m. EDT (1045 GMT).
May 12: See the moon, Jupiter and Saturn huddled together in the predawn sky. The waning, gibbous moon will be in conjunction with Jupiter at 5:41 a.m. EDT (0941 GMT), followed by a conjunction with Saturn at 2:11 p.m. EDT (1811 GMT).
May 14: The last-quarter moon will make a close approach to the Red Planet. It will be in conjunction with Mars at 10:02 p.m. EDT (0202 GMT on May 15). Look for the pair above the southeastern horizon before sunrise.
May 18: Jupiter and Saturn will make a close approach in the early morning sky. The pair will be in conjunction at 12:45 a.m. EDT (0445 GMT).
May 22: New moon
May 23: The one-day-old moon will make a close approach to Venus in the evening sky. It will be in conjunction with Venus at 10:40 p.m. EDT (0240 GMT on May 24). Look for them above the southwestern horizon just after sunset.
May 31–June 4: The 236th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society takes place in Madison, Wisconsin.
A Japanese H-2B rocket will launch the HTV-9 cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station. It will lift off from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan.
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket will launch the AFSPC-7 mission for the U.S. Air Force. The mission’s primary payload is the X-37B space plane, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle, will fly on the program’s sixth mission (OTV-6).
A Russian Soyuz rocket will launch approximately 36 satellites into orbit for the OneWeb constellation of communications satellites. The mission, titled OneWeb 4, will launch from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia.
A Chinese Long March 3B rocket will launch a satellite for the country’s Beidou navigation network toward geostationary orbit. It will lift off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the country’s Sichuan Province.
June 5: A penumbral lunar eclipse will be visible from Asia, Australia, Europe and Africa. The moon will begin passing through Earth’s shadow at 1:45 p.m. EST (1745 GMT), and the eclipse will last for 3 hours and 18 minutes.
June 5: The full moon of June, known as the Strawberry Moon, occurs at 3:12 p.m. EDT (1912 GMT).
June 8: The waning, gibbous moon will form a small triangle with Jupiter and Saturn in the morning sky. It will be in conjunction with Jupiter at 1:21 p.m. EDT (1721 GMT), followed closely by a conjunction with Saturn about 9 hours later at 10:12 p.m. EDT (0212 GMT on June 9).
June 12: Just a day before reaching last quarter phase, the moon will make a close approach to Mars in the predawn sky. The pair will be in conjunction at 7:55 p.m. EDT (2355 GMT), but they will be below the horizon for skywatchers in the U.S. at that time. You can find them above the southeastern horizon for a few hours before sunrise.
June 19: The one-day-old moon will make a close approach to Venus in the evening sky. It will be in conjunction with Venus at 4:53 EDT (0853 GMT). Look for them above the eastern horizon just before sunrise.
June 20: Happy Solstice! Today marks the first day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of Winter in the Southern Hemisphere.
June 20: An Arianespace Vega rocket will launch the SEOSat-Ingenio Earth observation satellite and the Taranis scientific research satellite from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana.
June 21: An annular solar eclipse will be visible from parts of Africa and Asia.
A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavyrocket will launch a classified spy satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office. The mission, titled NROL-44, will lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
July 4: Happy Aphelion Day! Earth is farthest from the sun today.
July 4-5: A penumbral lunar eclipse will be visible from the Americas and parts of Africa and Antarctica. The moon will begin passing through Earth’s shadow on July 4 at 11:07 p.m. EST (0307 GMT on July 5), and the eclipse will last for 2 hours and 45 minutes.
July 5: The full moon of July, known as the Beaver Moon, occurs at 12:44 a.m EDT (0444 GMT). That same day, the moon will be in conjunction with Jupiter at 5:38 p.m. EDT (2138 GMT). The moon will also be in conjunction with Saturn on July 6 at 4:38 a.m. EDT (0838 GMT). The trio will form a small triangle in the night sky before fading into the dawn.
July 8: The “morning star” Venus is at its greatest brightness for the year, shining at magnitude -4.5 in the morning sky.
July 11: The waning, gibbous moon will make a close approach to the Red Planet in the early morning sky. It will be in conjunction with Mars at 3:38 p.m. EDT (1938 GMT).
July 14: Jupiter reaches opposition, which means the planet will appear at its biggest and brightest. This happens about once a year, when Jupiter’s position is almost directly opposite the sun in the sky. Around the same time, Jupiter will also make its closest approach to Earth.
July 17: NASA’s Mars 2020 rover launches to the Red Planet! It will lift off on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Watch it live.
July 17: The crescent moon will be in conjunction with Venus, the “morning star,” at 3:27 a.m. EDT (0727 GMT). Look for the pair above the eastern horizon before dawn.
July 20: New moon
July 20: Saturn reaches opposition, which means the planet will appear at its biggest and brightest. This happens about once a year, when Saturn’s position is almost directly opposite the sun in the sky. Around the same time, Saturn will also make its closest approach to Earth.
July 23: A Russian Soyuzrocket will launch the 76th Progress cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station. It will lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Watch it live.
July 26: The ExoMars lander, a joint effort by the European Space Agency and Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, will launch to the Red Planet. It will lift off on a Russian Proton rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
The United Arab Emirates plans to launch its first Mars orbiter, the Hope Mars Mission. It will launch from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan on a Japanese H-2A rocket.
China plans to launch an orbiter and a small rover to Mars. The mission, called Huoxing 1, will lift off on a Long March 5 rocket from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Hainan, China.
Aug. 1: The nearly-full moon will be in conjunction with Jupiter at 7:32 p.m. EDT (2332 GMT). The following morning (Aug. 2), it will be in conjunction with Saturn at 9:10 a.m. EDT (1310 GMT). Look for the trio in the evening sky.
Aug. 3: The full moon of August, known as the “Sturgeon Moon,” occurs at 11:59 a.m. EDT (1559 GMT).
Aug. 9: The waning, gibbous moon will make a close approach to the Red Planet in the early morning sky. It will be in conjunction with Mars at 4 a.m. EDT (0800 GMT).
Aug. 11-12: The Perseid meteor shower peaks.
Aug. 15: The crescent moon will be in conjunction with Venus, the “morning star,” at 9:01 a.m. EDT (1301 GMT). Look for the pair above the eastern horizon before dawn.
Aug. 18:Black Moon: The third new moon in a season with four new moons is known as a “black moon.” (A black moon can also be the second new moon in a single calendar month.)
Aug. 28/29: The waxing, gibbous moon will be in conjunction with Jupiter at 9:35 p.m. EDT (0235 GMT on Aug. 29). The following day, it will be in conjunction with Saturn at 12:32 p.m. EDT (1632 GMT). Look for the trio in the evening sky.
Aug. 31: Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus NG-14 cargo spacecraft will launch to the International Space Station on an Antares rocket. It will lift off from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch the U.S. Air Force’s fourth third-generation navigation satellite, designated GPS 3 SV04, for the Global Positioning System. It will lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida
Sept. 1: Asteroid 2011 ES4 will make a close flyby of Earth, passing by at a safe distance of 0.0005 AU, or 46,000 miles (75,000 kilometers).
Sept. 2: The full moon of September, known as the “Harvest Moon,” occurs at 1:22 a.m. EDT (0522 GMT).
Sept. 6: The waning, gibbous moon will make a close approach to the Red Planet in the early morning sky. It will be in conjunction with Mars at 12:46 a.m. EDT (0446 GMT).
Sept. 11: Neptune is at opposition. If you have the right equipment and a sky dark enough to see it, now is the best time all year to look!
Sept. 14: The crescent moon will be in conjunction with Venus, the “morning star,” at 12:44 a.m. EDT (0444 GMT). Look for the pair above the eastern horizon before dawn.
Sept. 17: New moon
Sept. 22: Happy Equinox! At 9:15 a.m. EDT (1315 GMT), autumn arrives in the Northern Hemisphere while the Southern Hemisphere will have its first day of spring.
Sept. 25: The waxing, gibbous moon will be in conjunction with Jupiter at 2:48 a.m. EDT (0648 GMT). The following day, it will be in conjunction with Saturn at 4:38 p.m. EDT (2038 GMT). Look for the trio in the evening sky.
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket will launch a classified spacecraft payload for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office. The mission, NROL-101, will lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Oct. 1: The full moon of October, known as the “Hunter’s Moon,” occurs at 5:05 p.m. EDT (2105 GMT).
Oct. 2: The waning, gibbous moon will make a close approach to the Red Planet in the early morning sky. It will be in conjunction with Mars at 11:25 a.m. EDT (0325 GMT).
Oct. 7-8: The Draconid meteor shower peaks.
Oct. 13: Mars is at opposition, which means it’s bigger and brighter than any other time of year. Look for the glowing Red Planet above the eastern horizon after sunset.
Oct. 14: A Russian Soyuz rocket will launch the crewed Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft to the International Space Station with members of the Expedition 65 crew: Russian cosmonauts Anatoli Ivanishin, Ivan Vagner and Nikolay Chub. It will lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Watch it live.
Oct. 16: New moon
Oct. 21-22: The Orionid meteor shower peaks.
Oct. 22: Just a day before reaching first quarter phase, the moon will be in conjunction with Jupiter at 1:12 p.m. EDT (1712 GMT). That same day, it will be in conjunction with Saturn at 11:42 p.m. EDT (0324 GMT on Oct. 23). Look for the trio in the evening sky.
Oct. 29: The waxing, gibbous moon will be in conjunction with Mars at 12:16 p.m. EDT (0325 GMT). Look for the pair above the eastern horizon after sunset.
Oct. 30: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch a Dragon cargo resupply mission (CRS-21) to the International Space Station. It will lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Watch it live.
Oct. 31: Uranus is at opposition. This is the best time of year to view the planet, as it is at its biggest and brightest. If the sky is dark enough, you may be able to spot it with your bare eyes.
Oct. 31: This month has two full moons, which means we’ll have a “Blue Moon” on Halloween. The moon reaches full phase at 10:49 a.m. EDT (1449 GMT).
Nov. 12: The crescent moon will be in conjunction with Venus, the “morning star,” at 4:30 p.m. EST (2130 GMT). Look for the pair above the eastern horizon before dawn.
Nov. 15: New moon
Nov. 16-17: The Leonid meteor shower peaks.
Nov. 19: The waxing, crescent moon will be in conjunction with Jupiter at 3:57 a.m. EST (0857 GMT). Shortly afterward, it will be in conjunction with Saturn at 9:51 a.m. EST (1451 GMT). Look for the trio in the evening sky.
Nov. 25: The waxing, gibbous moon will be in conjunction with Mars at 2:46 p.m. EST (1946 GMT). Look for the pair above the eastern horizon after sunset.
Nov. 30: A penumbral lunar eclipse will be visible from the Americas, Australia and Asia. The moon will begin passing through Earth’s shadow at 2:32 a.m. EST (0732 GMT), and the eclipse will last for 4 hours and 20 minutes.
Nov. 30: The full moon of November, known as the “Beaver Moon,” occurs at 4:30 a.m. EST (0930 GMT).
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch the Sentinel 6A satellite (also known as Jason-CS A), a joint mission between the European Space Agency, NASA, NOAA, CNES and Eumetsat to continue recording sea level data that was previously collected by the Jason series of satellites. It will lift off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Dec. 13-14: The Geminid meteor shower peaks.
Dec. 14: The only total solar eclipse of 2020 will cross through the southern tip of South America. The moon’s shadow will take a similar path to the one it did for the “Great South American Eclipse” of July 2, 2019.
Dec. 16/17: The waxing, crescent moon will be in conjunction with Jupiter at 11:30 p.m. EST (0430 GMT on Dec. 17). A few hours later on Dec. 17, it will be in conjunction with Saturn at 12:20 a.m. EST (0520 GMT). Look for the trio near the southwestern horizon just after sunset. .
Dec. 21: The solstice arrives at 4:47 a.m. EST (0947 GMT), marking the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of summer in the Southern Hemisphere.
Dec. 21: Jupiter and Saturn will make a close approach in the evening sky. The pair will be in conjunction at 8:24 a.m. EST (1324 GMT).
Dec. 21-22: The Ursid meteor shower peaks.
Dec. 23: The waxing, gibbous moon will be in conjunction with Mars at 1:31 p.m. EST (1831 GMT). Look for the pair above the eastern horizon after sunset.
Dec. 29: The full moon of December, also known as the Cold Moon, occurs at 10:28 p.m. EST (0328 GMT).
When the former Soviet Union sent the first human being into space, it already had a clear advantage over the US in the space race. In 1957 it had successfully put into orbit the first artificial satellite in history, Sputnik 1, and had also sent the first living creature to the cosmos, the celebrated dog Laika. The next goal was for the military pilot Yuri Gagarin (1934-1968) to go into space and, unlike Laika, to return to Earth to tell the story. This is how that historic day went.
April 12, 1961. The sun has not yet risen. It is half past five in the morning at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the Soviet space facility located on the steppes of present-day Kazakhstan. Gagarin, 27, opens his eyes, ready to make history. Unlike Sergey Korolyov, chief designer of the successful Soviet space program, Gagarin has slept well. The data from the sensors that he wears on his body confirm his calmness: blood pressure at 115/60, a heart rate of 64 beats per minute and a body temperature of 36.8В°C. Born on a collective farm west of Moscow in 1934, Gagarin is an experienced pilot and parachutist, with a special empathy. In addition, his reduced stature (1.57 metres) made it easier for him to be chosen out of 20 candidates, due to the small size of the space cabin.
Gagarin was an experienced pilot and parachutist. Source: NASA
After a breakfast consisting of the contents of two 160-gram tubes, one with pureed meat and another with chocolate sauce, Gagarin is helped into an orange space suitвЂ”the eye-catching colour chosen to facilitate a possible rescueвЂ”and a white helmet. At about 7 a.m. he enters the Vostok 1, a spacecraft with a length of just over 38 metres and a total mass of almost 290 tons.
Two hours later, everything is ready for the launch. The five engines at the base of the rocket start their ignition and, at 9:07, Gagarin lifts off to the cry of “Poyekhali!” (“Off we go!” in Russian).
A 108-minute flight
The flight of the Vostok 1 is planned to be fully automatic, since it is unknown how the human body behaves in space. One hour into the launch, after verifying that the mission is progressing successfully, the official Soviet news agency broadcasts what until that moment had been an absolute secret: the Soviet Union has just put a human being into space. It is one of the great news stories of 1961, the same year in which John F. Kennedy takes office as President of the United States and the Beatles appear at the Cavern Club in Liverpool.
The spacecraft does a single orbit around the Earth, at an average altitude of 315 kilometres and a speed of 28,000 km/h, and then re-enters the atmosphere. There is a powerful deceleration (8 times greater than the force of gravity), and the Soviet pilot has to withstand, without fainting, an eightfold increase in his weight. When Gagarin is 7 km above sea level, he uses the ejection seat to leave the cabin and at 2.5 km the main parachute from the spacecraft opens.
The spacecraft did a single orbit around the Earth. Source: Wikimedia
The flight lasts a total of 108 minutes. At 11:05 a.m. Yuri Gagarin lands near a village in the Saratov region (in present-day Russia) on the right bank of the Volga River, where he has to explain to some farmers that although he “comes from space,” he is a Soviet, like them.
“The Earth is blue”
Despite being a resounding success, the flight of Yuri Gagarin did have some setbacks. The most significant occurred during the descent to Earth, when the service block unexpectedly remained attached to the re-entry module by a bundle of wires. Although they ended up separating thanks to the heat caused by the friction with the atmosphere, the cabin experienced unexpected gyrations that diverted the landing almost 1,400 kilometres to the west of the predicted location.
Even so, Gagarin returned safely after becoming the first person to see our planet: “The Earth is blue. How pretty. It’s incredible,” he said in mid-flight.
“I’m flying over the sea. It is possible to determine the direction of movement,” he said. And after contemplating the world from space, he gave a message: “I have seen how beautiful our planet is. People, let’s preserve and increase this beauty, not destroy it.”
Becoming a Soviet national hero and a global symbol, Yuri Gagarin curiously never returned to space and would die in a strange plane crash in 1968.
It was a feat for the ages. Just seven years before, a young president had challenged the nation to land a man on the moon—not because it was “easy,” as John F. Kennedy said in 1962, but because it was “hard.” By July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong backed down a ladder and onto the moon’s surface.
Along the way to achieving JFK’s vision, there was plenty of hard work, drama and surprise. Here are some lesser-known moments throughout the epic U.S. effort to reach the moon.
Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin Aldrin Jr. made up the team that would go down in history as part of the first successful mission to put a man on the moon.
Astronaut Michael Collins, who had been part of the Gemini 10 mission, served as the command module pilot on Apollo 11. Collins never set foot on the moon, but remained in orbit as his fellow astronauts explored the moon’s surface.
With a half-Earth in the background, the Lunar Module approaches for a rendezvous with the Apollo Command Module manned by Collins. Armstrong and Aldrin rejoined Collins after spending 22 hours on the moon’s surface.
President Nixon speaks with Apollo 11 crew members upon their return to Earth. The three astronauts were quarantined for 21 days to ensure they would not spread any possible contaminants picked up on the moon.
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Why Yuri Gagarin Remains the First Man in Space, Even Though He Did Not Land Inside His Spacecraft
Every year as the anniversary of the first human spaceflight approaches, I receive calls inquiring about the validity of Yuri Gagarin’s claim as the first human in space. The legitimate questions focus on the fact that Gagarin did not land inside his spacecraft. The reasoning goes that since he did not land inside his spacecraft, he disqualified himself from the record books. This might seem to be a very reasonable argument, but Gagarin remains the first man in space. The justification for Gagarin remaining in that position lies in the organization that sets the standards for flight.
Soviet cosmonaut Major Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin, probably on or about April 12, 1961, when he made his orbital space flight in Vostok 1.
The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) is the world’s air sports federation. It was founded in 1905 as a non-governmental and non-profit making international organization to further aeronautical and astronautical activities worldwide. Among its duties, the FAI certifies and registers records. Its first records in aviation date back to 1906. The organization also arbitrates disputes over records. If nationals from two different countries claim a record, it is the FAI’s job to examine the submitted documentation and make a ruling as to who has accomplished the feat first. When it was apparent that the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics were planning to launch men into space, the FAI specified spaceflight guidelines. One of the stipulations that the FAI carried over from aviation was that spacecraft pilots, like aircraft pilots should land inside their craft in order for the record to be valid. In the case of aviation, this made perfect sense. No one wanted to encourage pilots to sacrifice themselves for an aviation record. Piloting an aircraft that could not land did nothing to further aeronautical engineering. When Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth on 12 April 1961, the plan had never been for him to land inside his Vostok spacecraft. His spherical reentry capsule came through the Earth’s atmosphere on a ballistic trajectory. Soviet engineers had not yet perfected a braking system that would slow the craft sufficiently for a human to survive impact. They decided to eject the cosmonaut from his craft. Yuri Gagarin ejected at 20,000 feet and landed safely on Earth. Soviet engineers had not discussed this shortcoming with Soviet delegates to the FAI prior to his flight. They prepared their documents for the FAI omitting this fact. This led everyone to believe that Gagarin had landed inside his spacecraft. It was not until four months later, when German Titov became the second human to orbit the Earth and the first person to spend a full day in space, when the controversy began to brew. Titov owned up to ejecting himself. This led to a special meeting of the delegates to the FAI to reexamine Titov’s spaceflight records. The conclusion of the delegates was to rework the parameters of human spaceflight to recognize that the great technological accomplishment of spaceflight was the launch, orbiting and safe return of the human, not the manner in which he or she landed. Gagarin and Titov’s records remained on the FAI books. Even after Soviet -made models of the Vostok spacecraft made it clear that the craft had no braking capability, the FAI created the Gagarin Medal that it awards annually to greatest aviation or space achievement of that year. One should keep other examples of a sports federations’ reconsideration of rules in the face of new techniques and technologies in mind when considering the FAI Gagarin decision. The underwater dolphin kick in freestyle swimming and the introduction of the clap skate in speed skating both caused initial international flaps. After the respective sports federations voted to accept these changes, that ended the controversy. Yes, Gagarin did not follow the rules that the FAI established before his flight. However, as is true with any sports organization, the FAI reserved the right to reexamine and reinterpret its rules in light of new knowledge and circumstances. Yuri Gagarin remains indisputably the first person in space and the concept that the first cosmonauts had to land inside their spacecraft is a faded artifact of the transition from aviation to spaceflight.
02/09/20, 01:34 UTC, H-2A w/ IGS Optical 7 from TA Y1 to LEO/S 02/09/20, 15:45 UTC, Simorgh w/ Zafar 1 from SE 2 to [FTO] 02/10/20, 04:03 UTC, Atlas 5 w/ Solar Orbiter from CC 41 to HCO 02/15/20, 20:21 UTC, Antares w/ Cygnus NG13 from WI 0A to LEO/ISS 02/17/20, 15:05 UTC, Falcon 9 v1.2 w/ Starlink 1 F4 from CC 40 to LEO 02/18/20, 22:18 UTC, Ariane 5 ECA+ w/ VA252 from KO 3 to GTO 02/19/20, 21:07 UTC, CZ-2D w XJS C-F from XC 3 to LEO 02/20/20, 08:24 UTC, Soyuz 2-1a/Fregat w/Meridian-M 19L, PL 43/3 to EEO/M 03/07/20, 04:50 UTC, Falcon 9 v1.2 w/ CRS-20 from CC 40 to LEO/ISS 03/09/20, 11:55 UTC, CZ-3B/E w Beidou-3 G2 from XC 2 to GTO
Worldwide Space Launch Box Score as of 03/09/20 All Orbital Launch Attempts(Failures) 2020: 18(1) 2019: 102(5) 2018: 114(3) 2017: 90(6) Crewed Launch Attempts(Failures) 2020: 0(0) 2019: 3(0) 2018: 4(1) 2017: 4(0)
China’s CZ-3B/E, serial number Y69, orbited the second Beidou 3 geosynchronous type navigation satellite (Beidou 3G2) from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on March 9, 2020. Liftoff from LC 2 took place at 11:55 UTC. The 3.5 stage rocket’s liquid hydrogen third stage fired twice to boost the 4.6 tonne DFH-3B navigation satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit. Beidou 3G2 will raise itself into geostationary orbit.
It was the 54th Beidou launch for China’s global navigation satellite constellation.
Cargo Dragon Finale
A Falcon 9 launched NASA’s CRS-20 ISS cargo mission from Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 40 on March 7, 2020, closing out the first SpaceX Cargo Resupply Services (CRS-1) contract and use of the company’s original cargo Dragon spacecraft type. Liftoff took place at 04:50 UTC. Block 5 first stage B1059, on its second flight, fired for 2 minutes 18 seconds during ascent. Dragon 12.3, a refurbished spacecraft that previously flew the CRS-10 and CRS-16 missions in 2017 and 2018, was then powered on to low earth orbit by a single 6 min 6 sec second stage burn. Dragon carried about 2,041 kg of cargo for the International Space Station, making it likely the lightest Dragon launched by a v1.2 series Falcon 9. It was the ninth flight of a previously-flown Dragon.
B1059 performed boost back, entry, and landing burns to land at Cape Canaveral Landing Zone 1, the first LZ-1 landing since July 25, 2019 during the CRS-18 flight. It was the 49th successful stage recovery in 59 attempts and the 14th in 15 attempts on LZ-1. One additional landing on the drone ship OCISLY did take place, performed by FH-2 Core B1055.1, but that stage subsequently toppled on deck and was lost.
B1059 previously boosted Dragon 6.3 on the CRS-19 mission on December 5, 2019 and landed downrange on OCISLY. The stage, topped by its second stage but without Dragon, was static test fired at SLC 40 on March 1. The second stage was a replacement, swapped with an upcoming mission’s stage to allow that stage to have a part replaced.
Russia’s Soyuz 2-1a/Fregat orbited Meridian-M 19L from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on February 20, 2020. Liftoff from Site 43 Pad 3 took place at 08:24 UTC, starting a 2 hour 20 minute mission. Fregat fired three times to place the military communications satellite into a 996 x 39,724 km x 62.85 deg, 12-hour Molniya orbit.
The launch had been delayed by one month after an electrical problem forced replacement of the Soyuz rocket upper (“third”) stage. A new, replacement stage was used in place of the original.
CZ-2D Xichang Launch
China’s Chang Zheng (Long March) 2D performed its first launch from Xichang space center on February 19, 2020, boosting four experimental satellites into orbit. Liftoff from LC 3 took place at 21:07 UTC. The two-stage rocket boosted the four satellites, named XJS C, D, E and F, into roughly 480 km x 35 deg orbits.
China’s Xinhua news agency stated that the satellites would be used to test new Earth observation technology. Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology, a division of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, developed two of the satellits. Harbin Institute of Technology and DFH Satellite Co. Ltd. developed the other two satellites.
All 45 previous CZ-2D launches had been from China’s Jiuquan or Taiyuan space centers. Xichang typically hosts larger CZ-3 series launches to GTO, but it has in the past handled CZ-2C, also a two stage rocket that is slightly smaller than CZ-2D.
Ariane 5 Launch
Ariane 5 ECA VA252 launched JCSat 17 and GEO-KOMPSAT 2B from Kourou on February 18, 2020. Liftoff from ELA 3 took place at 22:18 UTC. After an 8 minute 39 second core stage burn and 16 minute 24 second stage burn, both satellites separated into geosynchronous transfer orbit during the roughly 31 minute mission.
Lockheed Martin Space built 5,857 kg JCSat 17 for Japan’s SKY Perfect JSAT Corporation, using an LM 2100TM bus. It will provide S, C, and Ku-band coverage of the Asia-Pacific region from 136 degrees East. Korea Aerospace Reserach Institute (KARI) built 3,379 kg GEO-KOMPSAT-2B. It will provide Earth environment and ocean monitoring services from 128.2 deg East.
VA252, the 75th Ariane 5 ECA, used the second ESC-D cryogenic upper stage, the first having flown on VA-249. ESC-D features a 4 cm stretch to carry about 360 kg more propellant, adding about 90 kg more payload capability. The stage weighes 19 tonnes and is 4.71 meters long. When flown, its launch vehicle is sometimes identified as an Ariane 5 ECA+.
Falcon 9/Starlink 1 F4
Falcon 9-82, a v1.2 Block 5 variant, launched the fourth operational group of 60 Starlink internet satellites from Cape Canaveral, Florida on February 17, 2020. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 took place at 15:05 UTC. Total deployed payload mass was about 15.6 metric tons (tonnes). The insertion raised the total number of orbited Starlink satellites, both precursor and operational, to 302, though 10 or so of the precursor satellites are already being retired and deorbited. A satellite constellation numbering in the thousands is planned. The satellites, each weighing up to 260 kg, were built by SpaceX’s Redmond, Washington satellite group.
On this flight, the Falcon 9 second stage performed a single 6 minute 7 second ascent burn to directly reach a 216 x 386 km x 53 deg deployment orbit where, only 14 minutes 6 seconds after liftoff, the 60-satellite stack began to separate from the second stage. The satellites were expected to subsequently separate from each other and move themselves to 550 km operational orbits. This was the first direct ascent for a Starlink payload.
First stage B1056.4, which previously boosted the CRS-17 and CRS-18 Cargo Dragon flights and the JCSat 18 mission, all during 2019, performed entry and landing burns after its 2 minute 32 second ascent burn before failing to land on “Of Course I Still Love You” positioned downrange in the Atlantic Ocean. The stage landed in the water near the ship. It was the 10th Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy stage landing or recovery failure in 58 attempts. The Falcon 9 second stage was passivated and left to reenter unguided within a few months.
The second upgraded Antares 230+ launch vehicle orbited Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus NG-13 cargo spacecraft from Wallops Island, Virginia on February 15, 2020. Liftoff from Pad 0A took place at 20:21 UTC. It was the 12th Antares launch. The liftoff followed a Febraury 9 abort at T-3 minutes caused by a ground sensor problem and a February 14 scrub due to excessive high altitude winds.
Like Antares 230, the Antares 230+ first stage is powered by two Energomash RD-181 engines in place of the AJ-26 engines that powered the first five Antares flights. Antares 230+ uses a stronger first stage structure to allow full-thrust operation through much of its burn. In addition, unneeded dry mass was stripped from the first and second stages and a single-piece interstage was implemented.
Cygnus NG-13 was the 10th enhanced Cygnus with a stretched Thales Alenia Space cargo module and the seventh to fly on Antares. Atlas 5 rockets orbited the other three. NG-13 probably weighed about 7,500 kg at launch, including 3,633 kg of cargo for the International Space Station. A February 18 rendezvous with ISS is planned. Cygnus NG-13 was named in honor of Maj Robert Lawrence, the first African American astronaut who died in a aircraft accident before he could fly to orbit.
The RD-181 engines produced 392 tonnes of thrust to power the nearly 293 tonne rocket off its pad. The Ukrainian-built first stage burned for about 196 seconds. After first stage shutdown, the upper composite separated at T+210 seconds and coasted upward. The shroud and interstage adapter separated at 236 and 240 seconds, respectively. At about T+247 seconds the Northrop Grumman Castor 30XL second stage motor ignited to produce an average of about 51 tonnes of thrust during its roughly 163 second burn. Cygnus separated at T+534 seconds into a 191 x 283 km x 51.653 deg orbit.
Atlas 5 AV-087 sent European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter into heliocentric orbit from Cape Canaveral on Febraury 10, 2020. Liftoff of the Atlas 5-411 variant from Space Launch Complex 41 took place at 04:03 UTC. This Atlas 5-411 used a single solid rocket booster, a Centaur second stage powered by a single RL10A-4-2 engine, and a 4 meter diameter payload fairing. Centaur fired twice. The first 8 minute burn sent the vehicle into a 204 x 237 km x 35 deg parking orbit. After a half-hour coast, the second, 2 minute 56 second burn sent the stage and its payload into a solar orbit.
The 1,800 kg, Airbus-built spacecraft will pass near Mercury this summer and fly past Venus during December. After multiple Venus/Earth flybys, Solar Orbiter will reach a 0.28 x 1.2 AU orbit inclined 24 to 33 degrees to the ecliptic, providing close-up views of the sun’s polar regions.
Iran Simorgh Fails
Iran’s Simorgh launch vehicle failed to reach orbit during its February 9, 2020 attempt to orbit the Zafar 1 satellite. Liftoff from the Khomeini Space Center at Semnan took place at 15:45 UTC. The early stages of the launch were nominal and the vehicle reached a 540 km apogee, close to its planned orbital altitude, but final velocity fell about 1,000 m/s short of orbital velocity.
Simorgh uses a BM-25 like first stage topped by smaller diameter second stage. BM-25 is four-engine single-stage IRBM, similar to N. Korea’s Musudan stage. It was Simorgh’s fourth flight after launches in 2016, 2017, and 2019. None of the attempts have yet reached orbit.
H-2A Launches Spysat
Japan’s H-2A boosted its classified IGS Optical 7 reconnaissance satellite into sun synchronous orbit from Tanegashima on February 9, 2020. Flying in the standard 202 configuration with two SRB-A strap on solid boosters, H-2A F41 lifted off from Yoshinobu Pad 1 at 01:34 UTC and flew directly to a sun synchronous low earth orbit.
The launch followed a 12-day delay after a ground system leak forced a scrub. It was the first H-2A launch of 2020, and the first H-2A launch since October 29, 2018.
Soyuz Orbits OneWeb 7-40
Russia’s first orbital launch of 2020 put 34 OneWeb satellites into low Earth orbit from Baikonur Cosmodrome on February 6, 2020. Liftoff of the Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat M from Site 31 Pad 6 took place at 21:42 UTC. The 3 hour 45 minute Starsem ST27 mission placed the 34 satellites, each weighing 147.5 kg, into 450 km x 87.4 deg orbits. Total payload mass was 5,015 kg.
Fregat completed its first burn at 14 min 34 sec to reach a 140 x 425 km transfer orbit. Its second burn, begun at apogee 1 hour 6 minutes 45 seconds after liftoff, circularized the orbit. Satellites deployed in nine groups of two to four during the subsequent 2 hours 39 minutes, separated by Fregat ACS burns. Fregat performed a deorbit burn about 5 hours after launch.
Rocketlab’s 11th Electron orbited the NROL-151 mission for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) from Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand on January 31, 2020. Lift off of “Birds of a Feather” from LC 1 took place at 02:56 UTC. Electron’s first two stages placed the Curie kick stage and payload into an elliptical transfer orbit about 9 minutes after liftoff. The first stage fired for 2 min 37 sec and the second for 6 min 13 sec. Curie coasted until T+51 min 47 sec before performing a 2 min 13 sec apogee burn to reach a circular low earth orbit. Curie presumably again used a bipropellant non-toxic hypergolic propellant and again performed a deorbit burn at mission’s end.
In a repeat test, the first stage carried a reaction control system and guidance equipment as development for future recovery efforts.
The Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket (RASR) launch contract was designed to allow the NRO to test lower cost commercial launch alternatives.
Falcon 9/Starlink 1 F3
Falcon 9-81, a v1.2 Block 5 variant, orbited the third operational group of 60 Starlink internet satellites from Cape Canaveral, Florida on January 29, 2020. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 took place at 14:06 UTC. Total deployed payload mass was about 15.6 metric tons (tonnes). The insertion raised the total number of orbited Starlink satellites, both precursor and operational, to 242, though 10 or so of the precursor satellites are already being retired and deorbited.
Starlink aims to provide high-speed, low-latency Internet service world-wide. A satellite constellation numbering in the thousands is planned. The satellites were built by SpaceX’s Redmond, Washington satellite group.
The Falcon 9 second stage performed two burns to reach a 290 km x 53 deg deployment orbit where, about 61 minutes after liftoff, the 60-satellite stack separated from the second stage. The satellites were expected to subsequently separate from each other and move themselves to 550 km operational orbits.
First stage B1051.3, which previously boosted the DM-1/Crew Dragon test flight and Canada’s Radarsat Constellation Mission during 2019, performed entry and landing burns before landing on “Of Course I Still Love You” positioned about 630 km downrange northeast of the Cape. The first stage was static test fired at SLC 40 with the payload attached on January 21, 2020.
The Falcon 9 second stage was expected to fire a third time, during its second orbit, to reenter over the Indian Ocean.
Crew Dragon IFA
The 80th SpaceX Falcon 9, consisting of first stage B1046.4 and a new second stage without a Merlin 1D Vacuum engine, boosted the company’s dramatic Crew Dragon In-Flight Abort (IFA) test from Kennedy Space Center LC 39 Pad A on January 19, 2020. Liftoff took place at 10:30 ET, following a 24 hour plus 3.5 hour delay caused by winds in the recovery area.
Crew Dragon initiated the abort at Max-Q, about 84 seconds into flight at a 19 km altitude. The Falcon 9 first stage engines shut down as Dragon fired its eight hypergolic SuperDraco engines producing 58 tonnes of thrust for five seconds to accelerate off the top of the stack, reaching Mach 2.2 in the process. The spacecraft and its trunk were recovered and returned to Port Canaveral. The trunk was surprisingly intact, but still damaged since it was not equipped with parachutes.
Crew Dragon shed its trunk a couple minutes later near its 40 km apogee, then reentered, deployed drogue and main parachutes, and splashed down about 32.5 km downrange less than 9 minutes after liftoff. Meanwhile, several seconds after Crew Dragon departed, Falcon 9 broke up, its first stage exploding at altitude while its second stage plummeted to a high speed Atlantic impact.
B1046.4, the first “Block 5” Falcon 9 first stage, performed the first of its four liftoffs on May 11, 2018. During its life, the stage launched from all three Falcon 9 launch pads and performed three downrange landings on drone ships. For IFA, the stage was shorn of landing legs and steering grid fins. It performed a final static test firing at LC 39A on January 18, 2020 with the second stage and no payload.
IFA had been delayed for months after the originally-assigned Crew Dragon spacecraft, which had flown to ISS on the DM-1 mission in early 2019, was lost in an early 2019 SuperDraco ground test explosion at Cape Canaveral LZ-1. A new spacecraft had to be completed, incorporating changes in the SuperDraco propellant feed system, prior to the mission.
Ariane 5 Launch
Ariane 5 ECA VA251 launched Eutelsat KONNECT and GSAT 30 from Kourou on January 16, 2020. Liftoff from ELA 3 took place at 21:05 UTV. The liquid hydrogen fueled second stage performed its standard single long burn to directly insert the satellites into a geosynchronous transfer orbit during the roughly 30 minute mission.
Thales Alenia Space built 3,619 kg Eutelsat KONNECT for Eutelsat, using a Spacebus NEO all-electric propulsion platform. It will provide a total capacity of 75 Gbps data for Europe and Africa. Indiana Space and Research Organization (ISRO) built GSAT 30. The 3,357 kg communications satellite, built on the I-3K platform, will provide C and Ku band communications services to India.
China’s Kuaizhou 1A (KZ-1A) performed the 10th launch of the KZ-1(A) family on January 16, 2019 from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The three-stage solid fuel rocket, serial number Y9, lifted off from a mobile launcher on a flat pad at 03:40 UTC. GS-SparkSat 3, a 227 kg technology demonstration satellite for GalaxySpace, enter a low earth orbit. The satellite will test LEO broadband communication technologies for use in a planned 5G type global satellite constellation.
Expace Technology Co., Ltd., a subsidiary of China Aerospace Science & Industry Corp, handled the launch as a commercial enterprise. KZ-1A can loft 200kg into a 700 km sun synchronous orbit, or up to 300 kg to lower inclincation low earth orbits. It is 20 meters tall, 1.4 meters in diameter, and weighs 30 tonnes at liftoff. A small N2O4/MMH bipropellant insertion fourth stage likely provided final orbit insertion. The fourth stage also likely lowered its orbit after satellite separation.
A Chang Zheng (Long March) 2D orbited a Jilin 1 remote sensing satellite named Kuanfu 1 and three microsatellites – Argentina’s NuSat 7 and NuSat 8 and China’s Tianqi 5 – from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on January 15, 2020. Liftoff from LC9 took place at 02:53 UTC. The satellites separated into roughly 535 km sun synchronous orbits. CZ-2D Y58 performed the launch.
It was the 45th CZ-2D orbital launch and the 44th success. The type has been flying since 1992.
China performed its first orbital launch of 2020 with a CZ-3B/E launch from XiChang on January 7. The 3.5 stage rocket (Y64) carried TJSW 5 (Tongxin Jishu Shiyan Weixing, or Communications Engineering Test Satellite) aloft from LC 2 at 15:20 UTC. TJSW 5 presumably entered a geosynchronous transfer orbit about one-half hour later after two burns by the liquid hydrogen-fueled third stage.
Like the first four TJSW satellites launched periodically since 2015, TJSW-5 appears to have a classified purpose, although official pronoucements say that it is a demonstration of “satellite communications, TV broadcasting, data transfer and high output communication technologies”. SAST is believed to be the manufacturer.
Falcon 9/Starlink 1 F2
Falcon 9-79, a v1.2 Block 5 variant, orbited the second operational group of 60 Starlink internet satellites from Cape Canaveral, Florida on January 7, 2020. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 took place at 02:19 UTC. Total deployed payload mass was about 15.6 metric tons (tonnes).
Starlink is meant to provide high-speed, low-latency Internet service world-wide. A satellite constellation numbering in the thousands is planned. The satellites were built by SpaceX’s Redmond, Washington satellite group.
The Falcon 9 second stage performed two burns to reach a 290 km x 53 deg deployment orbit where, about 61 minutes after liftoff, the 60-satellite stack separated from the second stage. The satellites were expected to subsequently separate from each other and move themselves to 550 km operational orbits.
First stage B1049.4, which previously flew on the Telstar 18V, Iridium NEXT 8, and precursor Starlink 0.9 missions during 2018-19, performed entry and landing burns before landing on “Of Course I Still Love You” positioned about 629 km downrange northeast of the Cape. It was the second time that a Falcon 9 first stage had flown a fourth mission. The first stage was static test fired at SLC 40 with the payload attached on January 4, 2020.
The Falcon 9 second stage was expected to fire a third time, during its second orbit, to reenter over the Indian Ocean.
Nearly 2.5 years after its previous, failed flight, China’s third Chang Zheng (Long March) 5 (serial Y3) scored a success, sending 7.6 tonne experimental comsat Shijian 20 into a supersynchronous orbit from from Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island off China’s southern coast on December 27, 2019. The flight followed a substantial redesign and testing effort for the core-stage YF-77 LH2/LOX engine system that failed during the previous launch.
The liftoff from Pad 101 took place at 12:45 UTC. The 56.97 meter tall, 2.5 stage, 870 tonne rocket rose on the combined 1,080 tonnes of thrust produced by 10 engines; two YF-77 gas generator engines on the 5-meter diameter LH2/LOX core and two YF-100 staged-combustion engines each on four 3.35 meter diameter kerosene/LOX strap-on boosters. After the boosters and core stage completed their work, at 174 and 492 seconds, respectively, 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 performed an initial 278 second burn to reach a low earth parking orbit, followed by an equator-crossing restart for a 382 second burn to reach the final 193 x 68,017 km x 19.54 deg transfer orbit.
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 Heavy.
In what turned out to be its final launch, a Russian Rokot/Briz KM launch vehicle orbited three Gonet-M communications satellites from Plesetsk Site 133 Pad 3 on December 26, 2019. The three stage rocket lifted off at 23:11 UTC. Its Briz-KM third stage performed two burns to reach a 1,500 km x 82.53 deg orbit where Gonets-M 24, 25, and 26, each 280 kg at liftoff, were deployed, along with a 16.7 kg microsatellite named BLITS-M.
The first Briz KM burn likely took place at the end of the initial ascent phase to boost the vehicle into an elliptical parking orbit. The second, circulization burn likely took place about 1 and a quarter hours after liftoff near apogee. Spacecraft separation occurred shortly thereafter.
It was the 31st and final Rokot/Briz KM launch since the type began flying in 2000. A single, additional orbital launch using a Briz K upper stage took place in 1994. Two suborbital Rokot/Briz K test launches began the development effort in 1990-91. Retirement was hastened by the fact that part of the launch vehicle’s guidance system was built in Ukraine, which has unsettled relations with Russia. The Krunichev-built SS-19 ICBM (UR-100NUTTKh) is also about to be retired. The liftoff was the 159th and, for the time being, final launch from Site 133 Pad 3, a former Kosmos 3M pad at 40.5 E, 62.6 N.
Proton Weathersat Launch
A three-stage Proton M with a Blok DM-03 fourth stage successfully inserted Russia’s Elektro-L #3, a weather satellite, into near-geosynchronous orbit from Baikonur Cosmodrome on December 24, 2019. It was the third success for the Proton M/DM-03 configuration after failures in 2010 and 2013. Liftoff from Site 81 Pad 24 took place at 12:03 UTC.
The RSC Energia Blok DM-03 stage holds up to 18.7 tonnes of LOX/Kerosene propellant, about 25% more than the 15 tonne capacity of precursor Blok DM-2M stages. The stage performed three burns during the more than 6.5-hour mission to place the 2,094 kg NPO Lavochkin satellite into near-GEO.
It was the fifth Proton launch of the year, most for any year since 2015. The liftoff may have been the final launch from Pad 24, one of four Proton pads originally built for Proton. The retirement, if true, would leave only Site 200 Pad 39 active for Proton.
Atlas 5/Starliner Test
Atlas 5 AV-080 launched Boeing’s first CST-100 Starliner on its inaugural uncrewed Orbital Flight Test from Cape Canaveral on December 20, 2019. Liftoff took place at 11:36 UTC from SLC 41. Although the Atlas 5 N22 variant, topped by a Centaur powered by two RL10A-4-2 engines, boosted Starliner into a correct near-suborbital 71 x 181 km x 51.6 deg insertion trajectory, timing problems aboard the roughly 13 tonne spacecraft delayed its planned Orbital Insertion Burn, planned to take place near apogee about 31 minutes after liftoff. A ground-commanded contingency burn was performed several minutes later, allowing Starliner to reach a 187 x 222 km x 51.6 deg orbit.
For reasons yet to be determined, Starliner followed an incorrect Mission Elapsed Time clock after it separated from Centaur. This caused a series of problems, including the missed insertion burn by its Service Module Orbital Maneuvering and Attitude Control (OMAC) engines and excessive Reaction Control System (RCS) propellant burn during what was supposed to be a coast period. Program managers decided to abort the planned International Space Station rendezvous and docking portion of the mission. A 48-hour contingency flight to a landing at White Sands was selected instead. The effect on future crewed mission plans is yet to be determined.
Atlas flew an unlofted ascent designed to limit crew g-forces in the event of an abort. This led to the twin solid motors being retained until 2 min 22 sec prior to jettison. Atlas burned for 4 min 29 sec before Centaur took over, igniting its twin LOX/LH2 engines at 4 min 45 sec. Starliner’s ascent nose cover jettisonned just before Centaur ignition. A new two-part Aeroskirt, attached to the base of Starliner’s Service Module to limit aerodynamic forces on the Centaur stage, jettisonned at 5 min 5 sec. Centaur cut off at 11 min 55 sec. Starliner separated at 14 min 55 sec. Centaur subsequently performed a blowdown and reentered southwest of Australia about 57 minutes after launch.
This can be seen as a successful launch and spacecraft mission failure, or as a failure of the Atlas 5/Starliner combo since Atlas is suborbital while Starliner essentially serves as a third, orbital insertion stage. In this case, Starliner did reach an orbit close to its plan, but at the expense of excessive propellant. SLR will monitor the investigation and update as needed.
CZ-4B Orbits China/Brazil Satellite
Chang Zheng 4B number Y44 successfully orbited CBERS 4A (China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite) and eight smaller satellites from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on December 20, 2019. The three-stage rocket lifted off from Pad 9 at 03:22 UTC. CBERS 4A was inserted into a roughly 630 km x 98.96 deg sun synchronous orbit by a third stage burn that ended about about 11 min 39 sec after liftoff. The remaining satellites subsequently deployed, beginning with Ethiopia’s 70 kg ETRSS 1 and China’s 35 kg Tianqin 1/CAS 6. Total payload mass was likely around 2,045 kg.
CBERS 4A is the latest in a cooperative earth resource monitoring project involving China and Brazil. The 1.98 tonne satellite was assembled by China Academy of Space Technology. It is similar to CBERS 4, launched in 2014, and CBRES 3, which was lost in a 2013 CZ-4B launch failure.
The third stage likely subsequently purged its propellant tanks to lower its orbit.
It was the 20th DF-5 based CZ success in 21 attempts during 2019. It was also China’s 31st 2019 orbital success in 33 attempts.
Kourou Soyuz Launch
The 23rd Soyuz to fly from Kourou Space Center, a Soyuz 2.1a/Fregat M with an ST payload fairing, orbited Itay’s COSMO-SkyMed earth observing satellite, ESA’a CHEOPS exoplanet-finder, and three Cubesats from Kourou on December 18, 2019. Liftoff of the VS23 mission from the ELS pad took place at 08:45 UTC, beginning a complex 4 hour 13 minute mission that included seven burns by the Fregat upper stage.
After the first Fregat burn, COSMO-SkyMed, a 2,205 kg satellite, was inserted into a 614 x 646 km x 97.9 deg sun synchronous orbit less than 23 minutes after liftoff. After three more Fregat burns, CHEOPS, a 273 kg satellite, followed about 2.5 hours into the mission into a roughly 715 km x 98.2 deg orbit. Two more burns took place before the three Cubesats, totalling 41 kg, separated at the end of the mission. A final. seventh burn was used to lower Fregat toward a destructive reentry.
It was the 16th R-7 launch of the year, all successful.
Falcon 9 Comsat Launch
Falcon 9 orbited JCSat 18/Kacific 1, a commercial communications satellite, from Cape Canaveral SLC 40 on December 17, 2019. The 6,956 Boeing 702MP satellite separated into a subsynchronous orbit about 33 minutes 10 seconds after the 00:10 UTC liftoff, following two burns by the Falcon 9 second stage. It was the year’s 11th Falcon 9 launch, but only the third to fly beyond low earth orbit.
Since its first stage was flying to a recovery landing on the Of Course I Still Love You drone ship positioned about 650 km downrange, Falcon 9 only lifted JCSat 18/Kacific 1 to a 273 x 20,324 km x 26.9 deg subsynchronous orbit. It was the third flight for booster B1056.3, which previously lofted the CRS-17 and CRS-18 missions. The stage fired for about 2 min 32 sec, before separating to perform reentry and landing burns. The second stage performed a 5 min 29 sec first burn to reach a parking orbit. It restarted at T+27 min 21 sec for 48 seconds to reach its deployment orbit.
The joint Kacific Broadband Satellites (Singapore)/SKY Perfect JSAT (Japan) satellite will serve the Asia-Pacific region after raising itself to a geostationary orbit.
B1056.3 was hot fired briefly at SLC 40 with the second stage but no payload attached on December 13, 2018.
Beidou 3M Launch
China’s Chang Zheng 3B (CZ-3B) with a Yuanzheng 1 (YZ-1) upper stage orbited two Beidou 3M navigation satellites on December 16, 2019. Liftoff from Xichang Satellite Launch Center’s LC 3 took place at 07:22 UTC. Beidou 3M-19 and 3M-20 were inserted into medium earth orbits during the subsequent four hour mission.
CZ-3B’s liquid hydrogen fueled third stage fired twice to inject the vehicle into a transfer orbit. The hypergolic propellant YZ-1 upper stage then fired its low thrust UDMH/N2O4 engine at apogee to insert the roughly 1.014 tonne satellites into their final, roughly 22,000 km x 55.5 deg orbits about four hours after liftoff.
The Beidou 3M series offers improved navigation accuracy compared to previous Beidou constellations. Plans call for more than 30 Beidou 3 satellites to be orbited by 2020.
It was the 20th DF-5 based CZ launch of the year, including one failure, and the seventh carrying Beidou satellites.
India’s PSLV performed its 50th launch on December 11, 2019, orbiting a radar imaging satellite and nine rideshare microsatellites from Sriharikota. Liftoff from the First Launch Pad at Satish Dhawan Space Center took place at 09:55 UTC. The four-stage PSLV-QL, fitted with four strap-on boosters, flew a roughly 15.5 minute ascent to a rougly 580 km x 37 deg orbit. ISRO assigned flight number C48 to this launch.
RISAT 2BR1, the primary payload, is a 628 kg synthetic aperature radar reconnaissance satellite. The nine rideshare satellites from Japan, Israel, and the United States probably added another 200 kg payload mass. They separated into similar orbits after RISAT 2BR1 separated.
It was the fifth PSLV launch, and India’s sixth orbital launch, of the year.
Russia’s Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat-M orbited another Glonass navigation satellite to orbit from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on December 11, 2019. Liftoff from Site 43 Pad 3 took place at 08:54 UTC. Fregat performed multiple burns to deliver the satellite (Uragan-M 759) into a medium earth orbit.
The satellite, likely to be named Kosmos 2544 in orbit, weighed about 1,415 kg at launch.
It was the first launch from 43/3 since a 2002 Soyuz-U launch failure damaged the site. The site has now been rebuilt to support the upgraded Soyuz 2 series launch vehicles.
KZ-1A Double Launch
China’s Kuaizhou 1A performed two orbital launches within a six-hour span on December 7, 2019. Both launches were from Taiyuan satellite launch center, the first KZ-1A launches from that site. The launches, by four-stage rockets using three solid fuel stages topped by a small hypergolic bipropellant fourth stage, were performed from road-mobile launchers parked on two different flat pads. They demonstrated an unmatched quick-reaction orbital launch capability.
KZ-1A Y2 performed the first launch at 02:55 UTC, carrying the Jilin 1 Gaofen 2B remote sensing satellite into a roughly 535 km x 97.54 deg sun synchronous orbit. The 230 kg satellite was the 15th in the Jilin 1 constellation, a system building toward near-continuously updated coverage of the entire planet.
KZ-1A Y12 lifted off at 08:52 UTC to complete the double-launch. It carried six small satellites (HEAD 2A/2B, Tianyi 16/17, and Tianqi 4A/4B) into roughly 500 km x 97.37 deg syn synchronous orbits. Together the satellites likely weighed about 200 kg.
Expace Technology Co., Ltd., a subsidiary of China Aerospace Science & Industry Corp, handled the launches. KZ-1A can loft 200kg into a 700 km sun synchronous orbit, or up to 300 kg to lower inclincation low earth orbits. It is 20 meters tall, 1.4 meters in diameter, and weighs 30 tonnes at liftoff.
A Russian Soyuz 2-1a launched Progress MS-13 on a cargo mission to the International Space Station from Baikonur Cosmodrome on December 6, 2019. Liftoff from Area 31 Pad 6 took place at 09:34 UTC. Progress MS-13 was slated to docked with ISS on December 9, allowing arrival of the U.S. CRS-19 cargo Dragon.
Progress MS-13 carried 2,487 kg of dry cargo and propellant to transfer to ISS.
It was the 14th R-7 launch, and 3rd Progress mission, of the year. It was also the 14th launch to ISS by all launch vehicle types during 2019.
Rocketlab’s tenth Electron orbited a microsatellite and six nanosatellites from Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand on December 6, 2019. Lift off of “Running out of Fingers” from LC 1 took place at 08:18 UTC. After Electron’s first two stages placed the Curie kick stage and payload into an elliptical transfer orbit about 9 minutes after liftoff, Curie coasted until T+50 min 21 sec to perform a 1 min 36 sec apogee burn to reach a roughly 380 km x 97 deg orbit. Curie presumably again used a bipropellant non-toxic hypergolic propellant and again performed a deorbit burn at mission’s end.
The launch followed a November 29 scrub caused by problems with a second stage ground umbilical.
The first stage carried a reaction control system and guidance equipment in a test for future recovery efforts.
Falcon 9 F9-77 launched NASA’s CRS-19 ISS cargo mission from Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 40 on December 5, 2019, one day after a scrub caused by high altitude winds. Liftoff took place at 17:29 UTC. New Block 5 first stage B1059 fired for 2 minutes 31 seconds. Dragon 6.3, a refurbished spacecraft that previously flew the CRS-4 and CRS-11 missions in 2014 and 2017, was then powered on to low earth orbit by a single 5 min 53 sec second stage burn. Dragon carried about 2,585 kg of cargo for the International Space Station. It was the eighth flight of a previously-flown Dragon.
B1059 performed boost back, entry, and landing burns to land on the Of Course I Still Love You drone ship floating downrange about 185 nmi east of Jacksonville, Florida. It was the 45th successful stage recovery in 54 attempts and the 20th in 27 attempts on OCISLY. One additional OCISLY landing did take place, performed by FH-2 Core B1055.1, but that stage subsequently toppled on deck and was lost.
The OCISLY landing was required because the F9-77 second stage was slated to perform a long coast exercise before restarting to perform its de-orbit burn.
B1059, topped by its second stage but without Dragon was static test fired at SLC 40 on November 26. Both stages were acceptance test fired on McGregor, Texas test stands during October.
Gaofen 12 Launch
China’s CZ-4C orbited Gaofen 12, a radar imaging satellite, from Taiyuan space center on November 27, 2019. Liftoff from LC9 took place at 23:52 UTC. The three-stage CZ-4C (Y24) used its restartable third stage to place Gaofen 12 into a nearly 600 km x 97.9 deg sun synchronous orbit.
The Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. developed Gaofen 12, one of a series of radar imagers maintaining earth observation regardless of cloud cover.
PSLV Orbits Cartosat 3
India’s PSLV-XL number C47 boosted Cartosat 3 and 13 nanosatellites into sun synchronous orbit from Sriharikota on November 27, 2019. Liftoff from the Second Launch Pad took place at 03:58 UTC. The four stage rocket ascended for about 17 minutes. Cartosat 3 separated at T+17 min 43 sec.
The 1,625 kg remote sensing satellite carries panchromatic, multispectral and infrared cameras providing resulution as good as 25 cm in some bands. It will operate in a 509 km x 97.5 deg orbit.
It was the fourth PSLV launch of 2019, and India’s fifth orbital launch of the year overall.
Ariane 5 Launch
The 73rd Ariane 5 ECA orbited two communication satellites from Kourou, French Guiana on November 26, 2019. Liftoff of the VA250 mission from ELA 3 took place at 21:23 UTC. Lofted to geosynchronous transfer orbit during the roughly half-hour mission were Egypt’s TIBA 1 and Europe’s Inmarsat 5 F5. The launch was delayed 14 minutes by high altitude wind conditions and took place four days after a scrubbed initial launch attempt caused by ground power supply issues.
TIBA 1, a 5.6 metric ton (tonne) Airbus Eurostar E3000 series satellite carrying a Thales Alenia Space payload, will serve Egypt’s military from 35.5 degrees east. Inmarsat 5 F5 a 4.007 tonne Thales Alenia Space satellite, will serve London’s Global Xpress network. It also carries the GX-5 name.
It was the year’s fourth Ariane 5 launch.
Soyuz 2-1v Launch
Russia’s sixth Soyuz 2-1v launched with a classified payload from Plesetsk on November 25, 2019. Liftoff from Pad 4 Site 43 took place at 17:52 UTC. The two-stage Soyuz 2-1v was topped by a Volga third stage. Volga likely performed an initial burn as the vehicle headed north above the Arctic Ocean to reach an elliptical parking orbit. The stage would presumably fire a second time to circularize the orbit.
The unidentified military satellite, named Kosmos 2542 upon reaching orbit, was expected by many analysts to be similar to Kosmos 2519, which another Soyuz 2-1v/Volga placed into a roughly 660 km by 98 deg sun synchronous orbit on June 23, 2017. That NPO Lovochkin-built satellite released one or more sub-satellites after reaching orbit.
NK-33 powered Soyuz 2-1v flew once in 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2018. This was its second 2019 launch.
China’s CZ-3CE/YZ-1 (Y66/Y14) orbited Beidou 3M21/22 (Beidou 50/51) from Xichang LC 3 on November 23, 2019. Liftoff took place at 00:55 UTC. The four-hour mission placed the two, 1,014 kg navigation satellites into medium earth orbit, about 21,500 km x 55.5 deg. br> It was the 18th DF-5 based CZ launch and 17th success, the 12th launch from XiChang, and China’s 28th orbital launch attempt and 26th success of the year, all world-leading numbers.
KZ-1A Flies Again
On November 17, 2019, for the second time in four days, China’s Kuaizhou 1A smallsat launcher orbited a payload from Jiuquan. The 10:00 UTC launch boosted two KL-Alpha experimental communications satellites into near-polar orbits. The four-stage rocket, consisting of three solid fuel stages topped by a small hypergolic bipropellant fourth stage, lifted off from a mobile launcher on a flat pad.
The Shanghai Institute for Microsatellite Innovation of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) built the satellites to test Ka-Band communications for a German satellite operator. One satellite entered a 1,050 km x 86 deg orbit, the other entered a 1,050 x 1,425 km x 86 deg orbit.
It was the fifth KZ-1A launch (the third of 2019) and the seventh by the KZ-1 family.
China’s third Chang Zheng 6 (CZ-6) orbited five remote sensing satellites from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on November 13, 2019. Liftoff from LC 16 took place at 06:35 UTC, only three hours after China’s KZ-1A reached orbit. On board were five Ningxia 1 satellites developed by DFH Satellite Co., Ltd. and the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST).
CZ-6, the first of China’s all-new launch vehicle generation, debuted from the same site on September 19, 2015 and flew a second time on November 21, 2017. 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 launch pad. YF-100, China’s first big LOX/kerosene engine, also powers the country’s larger CZ-5 and CZ-7 launch vehicles.
It was the first CZ-6 flight to a lower inclination (non-polar) orbit. Upgrades to the vehicle’s guidance system along with some structural upgrades allowed for a new roll program maneuver to accomplish the ascent. 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 is capable of lifting 1,080 kg into a 700 km sun synchronous orbit. It is integrated horizontally in a hangar. A large wheeled transporter/erector carries it to its flat launch pad and erects it shortly before launch.
It was China’s 26th orbital attempt of 2019 and 24th success, well ahead of Russia’s 19 and USA’s 18.
Kuaizhou 1A Launch
China’s Kuaizhou 1A (KZ-1A) performed its fourth launch – the sixth by the KZ-1 family – on November 13, 2019 from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The three-stage solid fuel rocket lifted off from a mobile launcher on a flat pad at 03:40 UTC. Jilin 1, a 230 kg remote sensing satellite, separated into a 531 x 547 km x 97.54 deg sun synchronous orbit.
Expace Technology Co., Ltd., a subsidiary of China Aerospace Science & Industry Corp, handled the launch as a commercial enterprise. An October launch attempt had been scrubbed in the last minutes of the countdown.
KZ-1A can loft 200kg into a 700 km sun synchronous orbit, or up to 300 kg to lower inclincation low earth orbits. It is 20 meters tall, 1.4 meters in diameter, and weighs 30 tonnes at liftoff.
A small N2O4/MMH bipropellant insertion fourth stage likely provided final orbit insertion. The fourth stage also likely lowered its orbit after satellite separation.
The 76th SpaceX Falcon 9 (75th to launch) boosted the first operational set of 60 Starlink internet satellites into low earth orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida on November 11, 2019. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 took place at 14:56 UTC. The 15.6 metric ton (tonne) payload set a new heaviest payload mark for Falcon 9.
Starlink is meant to provide high-speed, low-latency Internet service world-wide. A satellite constellation numbering in the thousands is planned. The satellites were built by SpaceX’s Redmond, Washington satellite group.
The Falcon 9 second stage performed two burns to reach a 280 km x 53 deg deployment orbit where, about an hour after liftoff, the 60-satellite stack separated from the second stage. The satellites were expected to subsequently separate from each other and move themselves to 550 km operational orbits.
First stage B1048.4, which previously flew on the Iridium 7 and SAOCOM 1A missions from Vandenberg Air Force Base, followed by the Nusantara Satu flight from Cape Canaveral, performed entry and landing burns before landing on “Of Course I Still Love You” positioned about 629 km downrange northeast of the Cape. It was the first time that a Falcon 9 first stage had flown a fourth mission. In another first, a used payload fairing, recovered from the Atlantic after the April 11, 2019 Falcon Heavy launch, flew for the first time.
After refurbishment at the SpaceX Hawthorne factory in California, the first stage was static test fired at SLC 40 with the payload attached on November 5. It was the first Falcon 9 launch in more than three months.
Beidou 3I3 Launch
China orbited the third Beidou 3IGSO navigation satellite, named 3IGSO-3 (also referred to as Beidou 3I3), on November 4, 2019. Enhanced Chang Zheng 3B (CZ-3B/E) number Y61 boosted the 4.6 tonne, DFH-3B satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit from Xichang Satellite Launch Center after a 17:43 UTC liftoff from LC 2.
The CZ-3B liquid hydrogen fueled third stage fired twice to inject the vehicle into GTO. Beidou 3I3 is expected to maneuver itself into a geosynchronous orbit inclined 55 degrees to the equator, which will trace a “Figure-8” pattern over the earth’s surface north and south of the equator.
CZ-4B Gaofen 7
China’s Chang Zheng 4B orbited Gaofen 7, a remote sensing satellite, from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on November 3, 2019. Liftoff from LC 9 took place at 03:22 UTC. Grid fins on the interstage atop the first stage were used to aim the first stage toward its drop zone in the second test of this technolgy on DF-5 based CZ rockets.
Gaofen 7 was developed by Chinese Academy of Aerospace Science and Technology Group Co., Ltd.. It will serve the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development and the National Bureau of Statistics.
It was the 15th successful DF-5 based CZ launch of the year.
The first upgraded Antares 230+ launch vehicle orbited the Cygnus NG-12 cargo spacecraft from Wallops Island, Virginia on November 2, 2019. Liftoff from Pad 0A took place at 13:59 UTC. It was the third Northrop Grumman Antares launch and the 11th Antares liftoff. Antares previously launched five times for Orbital and three times for Orbital ATK.
Like the five previous Antares 230 vehicles, the Antares 230+ first stage is 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 an explosion above Pad 0A in 2014. Antares 230+ uses a stronger first stage structure to allow full-thrust operation through much of its burn. In addition, unneeded dry mass was stripped from the first and second stages and a single-piece interstage was used.
Cygnus NG-12 was the ninth enhanced Cygnus with a stretched Thales Alenia Space cargo module, but only the sixth to fly on Antares. Atlas 5 rockets orbited the other three. NG-12 probably weighed about 7,600 kg at launch, including a record 3,729 kg of cargo for the International Space Station. Cygnus NG-12 was named in honor of Alan Bean, the fourth 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 burned for about 196 seconds. After first stage shutdown, the upper composite separated and coasted upward. The shroud and interstage adapter separated, then at about T+245 seconds the Northrop Grumman Castor 30XL second stage motor ignited to produce an average of about 51 tonnes of thrust during its roughly 163 second burn. Cygnus separated at T+536 seconds into a roughly 183 x 270 km x 51.652 deg orbit. A November 4 docking with ISS is planned.
China’s CZ-3B/Enhanced orbited the fourth Tongxin Jishu Shiyan Weixing (TJSW 4) communications engineering test satellite from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on October 17, 2019. Liftoff from LC 3 took place at 15:21 UTC. The launch vehicle’s LH2/LOX fueled third stage fired twice to send TJSW 4 into geosynchronous transfer orbit.
It was the 14th successful DF-5 based CZ launch of the year in 15 attempts, both world-leading numbers.
Electron No. 9
Rocketlab’s ninth Electron orbited a technology demonstration satellite for Silicon Valley’s Astro Digital named Palisade from Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand on October 17, 2019. Lift off of “As the Crow Flies” from LC 1 took place at 01:22 UTC. After Electron’s first two stages placed the Curie kick stage and payload into an elliptical transfer orbit about 9 minutes 5 seconds after liftoff, Curie perfomed an apogee burn before releasing the 16U CubeSat Palisade into a 1,162 km Ч 1,223 km, 87.82 deg orbit at about T+71 minutes. Palisade probably weighed less than 22 kg.
Kurie used a bipropellant non-toxic hypergolic propellant for the first time during this flight, replacing monopropellant. The stage performed a deorbit burn at mission’s end.
Pegasus Orbits ICON
Northrop Grumman’s Pegasus XL successfully boosted NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) into low earth orbit on October 11, 2019 after a drop launch from the company’s Stargazer L-1011 aircraft off Florida’s coast. Stargazer took off from the Cape Canaveral Skid Strip at 00:33 UTC. A planned 01:30 UTC drop launch was aborted at the last minute by air to ground communication issues. The launch took place at 02:00 UTC on a second attempt after Stargazer circled back to reenter the drop box, located about 174 km east of the Cape. Stargazer was flying at an altitude of about 11.9 km at Mach 0.82 at the time of the drop.
The 24 tonne rocket fired its three solid rocket motor stages in succession during its 11 minute ascent to a 574 x 615 km x 26.99 deg orbit. The 288 kg Northrop Grumman-built satellite will study the interaction of atmospheric weather with plasma in the ionosphere. The launch had been delayed for more than 1.5 years due to problems with Pegasus fin steering equipment.
Northrop Grumman has bought back two Pegasus XL rockets from Stratolaunch. The company plans to offer at least these two Pegasus for launch contracts while maintaining Stargazer, the last flying L-1011, for 5-10 or more years.
It was the 44th Pegasus launch and the 30th consecutive success. The flight was the first U.S. orbital launch in 6.5 weeks.
Proton ILS Launch
Russia’s Proton M/Briz M orbited a communications satellite and the first commercial mission extenstion vehicle from Baikonur Cosmodrome on October 09, 2019. The “Phase 4” Proton M variant (serial no. 937-04), flying the first International Launch Services commercial mission in two years, lifted off from Baikonur’s Area 200 Pad 39 at 10:17 UTC to begin a 16 hour mission that included five burns by the Briz M upper stage. The upper stage aimed the combined 5,190 kg payload toward a 12,050 x 65,000 km x 13.4 deg orbit.
Northrop Grumman assembled both satellites. Eutelsat 5 West B, a 2,864 kg Geostar 2e model, includes an Airbus Defence and Space payload with 35 Ku-band transponders. Mission Extension Vehicle 1 (MEV 1) is a Geostar 3 based satellite that will attach itselt to Intelsat 901, a satellite that has nearly depleted its on-board propellant after years in orbit and is moving to a GEO “graveyard” orbit where the rendevous will occur. MEV 1 will then provide propulsion to extend Intelsat 901’s mission by at least five years.
CZ-4C Orbits Gaofen 10R
China’s Chang Zheng (Long March) 4C orbited Gaofen 10R, an earth observation satellite, from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on October 4, 2019. The three-stage rocket lifted off from LC 9 at 18:50 UTC. It successfully boosted the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology 5000B2 series satellite into a sun ynchronous orbit. Gaofen 10R appears to be a replacement for Gaofen 10, which failed to orbit in 2016.
It was the 14th DF-5 based CZ launch of the year and the 13th success.
Russia Launches Early Warning Satellite
Russia’s Soyuz-2.1b/Fregat launched an early warning satellite into orbit from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on September 26, 2019. Liftoff from Site 43 Pad 4 took place at 07:46 UTC. After reaching a low earth parking orbit, the Fregat M stage fired multiple times to lift its payload into an elliptical “Molniya” orbit of approximately 1,620 x 38,500 km x 63.4 deg.
The satellite, named Kosmos 2541, is the third Tundra (EKS type) early warning satellite designed to detect ballistic missile launches.
Soyuz FG Finale
The final Soyuz FG launched Soyuz MS-15 from Baikonur’s Site 1 Pad 5 on September 25, 2019. On board the ISS-bound spacecraft were Russia’s Oleg Skripochka, NASA’s Jessica Meir, and Hazzaa AlMansoori from the United Arab Emirates. Liftoff took palce at 13:57 UTC. The spacecraft docked with ISS at 19:42 UTC.
It was the 60th 2.5-stage Soyuz FG launch since the type premiered in 2001. Ten additional Soyuz FG/Fregat launches also took place. Soyuz FG was an upgraded version of the long-flown Soyuz-U. It used updated RD-107A/RD-108A booster and core stage engines, but retained an analog flight control system. Only one failure occurred, during the launch of Soyuz MS-10 in 2018 when one of the first stage boosters separated improperly. In that instance, the crew were saved by the Soyuz spacecraft abort systems.
With crewed and cargo flights to ISS now switching to Soyuz 2.1, which uses a digital flight control system and flies from Site 31 Pad 6 at Baikonur, historic Site 1 Pad 5 will host no launches for the foreseeable future. Plans exist to upgrade Pad 5, but they may not be realized for years, if ever.
China’s CZ-2D orbited the second Yunhai 1 weather satellite from Jiuquan on September 25, 2019. Liftoff from LC 43/603 (also called 43/94) took place at 00:54 UTC. The Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST) satellite separated into a sun synchronous low earth orbit.
It was the first DF-5 based launch from Jiuquan this year, following six launches by small solid-rocket-motor based launch vehicles. China’s five launches during the past month have driven the nation’s orbital launch total for the year to a world-leading 20, including two failures.
H-2B Launches HTV-8
The eighth H-2B boosted the HTV-8 cargo hauling spacecraft for Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) toward the International Space Station from Tanegashima on September 24, 2019. Liftoff from Yoshinobu Pad 2 took place at 16:05 UTC.
HTV-8, also named Kounotori 8, weighed roughly 16.5 tonnes at liftoff. It carried 5.3 tonnes of cargo, including 3.4 tonnes pressurized and 1.9 tonnes unpressurized. Cargo included six lithium-ion battery Orbital Replacement Units to replace existing ISS nickel-hydrogen batteries.
H-2B F-8 burned four SRB-A3 solid motors for 1 min 48 sec to augument the 2xLR-7A powered core’s 5 min 44 sec burn. The LE-5B powered second stage then fired for 8 min 11 sec to reach a low Earth orbit inclined 51.6 deg to the equator. Spacecraft separation took place about 15 min 5 sec after liftoff. The second stage subsequently performed a deorbit burn.
The launch followed a September 10 launch attempt that was aborted after a fire ignited on the launch pad beneath the rocket. Investigation found that leaking liquid oxygen had likely been ignited by static electricity.
Beidou 3M Launch
China’s Chang Zheng 3B (CZ-3B) with a Yuanzheng 1 (YZ-1) upper stage orbited two more Beidou 3M navigation satellites on September 22, 2019. Liftoff from Xichang Satellite Launch Center’s LC 2 took place at 21:10 UTC. Beidou 3M-23 and 3M-24 were inserted into medium earth orbits during the subsequent four hour mission.
CZ-3B’s liquid hydrogen fueled third stage fired twice to inject the vehicle into a transfer orbit. The hypergolic propellant YZ-1 upper stage then fired its low thrust UDMH/N2O4 engine at apogee to insert the roughly 1.014 tonne satellites into their final, roughly 22,000 km x 55 deg orbits about four hours after liftoff.
The Beidou 3M series offers improved navigation accuracy compared to previous Beidou constellations. Plans call for more than 30 Beidou 3 satellites to be orbited by 2020.
It was the 12th DF-5 based CZ launch of the year, and the fourth carrying Beidou satellites.
China’s four-stage solid fuel CZ-11 launched five small remote sensing satellites, including one named Zhuhai 1, into a roughly 500 km sun synchronous low earth orbit from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China on September 19, 2019. 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 06:42 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. The complete payload comprises Zhuhai 1 Group 3, Groups 1 and 2 having launched in 2017 and 2018.
It was the eighth known CZ-11 flight since the type premeired on September 25, 2015. 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 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.
China’s Chang Zheng (CZ) 4B orbited a remote sensing satellite named Ziyuan 1 02D (ZY-1 02D) on September 12, 2019, returning the CZ-4 family to service after a May 22 CZ-4C launch failure. Two smaller satellites, BNU-1/Jingshi-1 and Taurus-1, also rode to orbit. Liftoff from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center’s LC 9 took place at 03:26 UTC. The three-stage storable propellant rocket boosted the satellites into roughly 733 x 751 km x 98.58 deg sun synchronous orbits.
The May 22 CZ-4C launch reportedly failed due to structural resonance between the third stage its relatively heavy Weixing 33 remote sensing payload, possibly during the reignition of the third stage. The CZ-4B third stage is similar to the CZ-4C third stage, but uses a single-start YF40B engine while CZ-4C has a restartable YF40B engine.
Vega Failure Investigation
On September 4, 2019, an Independent Inquiry Commission submitted its findings about the July 10, 2019 Vega VV15 launch failure. The Commission found the most likely cause to be a “thermo-structural failure in the forward dome area of the (second stage) Z23 motor”.
Vega VV15’s P80 first stage performed normally. The Zefiro 23 second stage ignited and also performed normally for 14 seconds before the failure occurred. At T+130.85 seconds, a “sudden and violent event” caused the launch vehicle to break into two parts consisting of the Z23 and the remainder of the vehicle. Tracking showed a trajectory deviation from normal at T+135 seconds. At T+213.66 seconds, range safety issued a flight termination command.
It was the first Vega failure, following 14 successful flights.
The Commission proposed testing to verify its findings and corrective actions designed to return Vega to service during the first quarter of 2020.
Kuaizhou 1A Launch
China’s Kuaizhou 1A (KZ-1A), an improved variant of previously-flown Kuaizhou 1, flew for the third time on August 30, 2019 from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The three-stage solid fuel rocket lifted off from a mobile launcher on a flat pad at 23:41 UTC. Two small satellites, named KX-09 and Xiaoxiang 1-07, separated into roughly 600 km sun synchronous orbits.
Expace Technology Co., Ltd., a subsidiary of China Aerospace Science & Industry Corp, handled the launch as a commercial enterprise.
KZ-1A can loft 200kg into a 700 km sun synchronous orbit, or up to 300 kg to lower inclincation low earth orbits. It is 20 meters tall, 1.4 meters in diameter, and weighs 30 tonnes at liftoff.
A small N2O4/MMH bipropellant insertion fourth stage provided final orbit insertion using two burns. The first burn began at T+5 min 8 sec and lasted for 5 min 6 sec. The second burn began at T+25 min 31 sec and lasted for about one minute. Spacecraft separation began about 27 minutes after liftoff. The fourth stage lowered its orbit after satellite separation.
A Russian Rokot/Briz KM launch vehicle orbited Geo-IK-2 No. 13L, a geodetic satellite, from Plesetsk Area 133 Pad 3 on August 30, 2019. The three stage rocket lifted off at 14:00 UTC. Its Briz-KM third stage performed two burns to reach a 941 x 958 km x 99.27 deg orbit. Geo-IK-2 No. 13L was named Kosmos 2540 upon reaching orbit.
The first Briz KM burn likely took place at the end of the initial ascent phase to boost the vehicle into an elliptical parking orbit. The second, circulization burn likely took place about 1.2 hours after liftoff near apogee. Spacecraft separation occurred shortly thereafter.
It was the year’s first Rokot launch and the 30th Rokot/Briz KM launch since the type began flying in 2000. A single, additional orbital launch using a Briz K upper stage took place in 1994. Two suborbital Rokot/Briz K test launches began the development effort in 1990-91. Only two more launches of the UR-100 based Rokot launcher are expected before the type is retired.
Delta 4M Finale
The 29th and final Delta 4 Medium launched GPS 3-2 from Cape Canaveral on August 22, 2019. Liftoff of the Delta 4M+4,2 variant from Space Launch Complex 37B took place at 13:06 UTC. The 3,705 kg Lockheed Martin built navigation satellite separated into a 1,200 x 20,185 km x 55 deg orbit just under two hours after liftoff, following two burns by the Delta Cryogenic Second Stage RL10B-2 engine.
After a 1 min 40 sec SRM boost phase paralleling the 3 min 56 RS-68A first stage burn, the second stage fired for 9 min 16 sec to reach an elliptical parking orbit. After a 53 minute coast, the second stage performed a 3 min 28 sec apogee-raising burn to reach the deployment orbit. The stage was slated to perform a final deorbit burn after payload deployment.
It was the 18th and final flight of a 4 meter diameter Delta 4 second stage. Of these, three flew on two-stage Delta 4 Mediums while the other 15 rode Delta 4M+4,2 versions boosted by two GEM-60 strap-on motors. An additional eight Delta 4M+5,4 and three Delta 4M+5,2 rockets flew using the 5 meter second stage that continues to fly on Delta 4 Heavy.
It was also the final flight of the GEM-60 series solid rocket motors. Larger GEM-63 will boost Atlas and Vulcan in coming years.
The Boeing-developed Delta 4M first flew in 2002. Since then, it has launched U.S. Air Force Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) missions from the Cape and from Vandenberg AFB SLC 6, experiencing no failures during its life. Triple-core Delta 4 Heavy, which has flown 11 times with one failure since its 2004 debut, remains active for the next few years.
Uncrewed Soyuz MS-14
An uncrewed Soyuz MS-14 spacecraft was orbited from Baikonur on August 22, 2019 in a test of the Soyuz 2-1a launch vehicle that will soon replace Soyuz FG for crew launch. Liftoff from Area 31 Pad 6 took place at 03:38 UTC. It was the first uncrewed Soyuz spacecraft flight since Soyuz TM-1 in 1986. The spacecraft carried 657 kg of cargo for the International Space Station, including the 160 kg instrumented “Skybot F-850” robot that rode in the center seat. The robot will enter the station for additional experiments before returning in the Soyuz capsule for recovery.
Soyuz 2-1a is equipped with an upgraded digital flight control system and improved engines. One more Soyuz FG, which uses analog flight control, remains. It will launch Soyuz MS-15 with crew in September in what is the final planned launch from historic Site 1 Pad 5. The site hosted Yuri Gagarin’s orbital launch during April 1961, among many other history-making launches.
Soyuz 2-1a already has an extensive history, first flying on a suborbital test in 2004. Since then, it has boosted 39 orbital attempts, including 22 with Fregat upper stages and one with a Volga upper stage. It has launched 10 Progress ISS cargo missions since 2014. The second Progress launch, in 2015, failed when a resonance developed at the end of the third stage burn, resulting in a bad spacecraft separation. Another third stage failure affected the 2009 Fregat/Meridian 2 mission from Plesetsk.
Rocket Lab’s eighth Electron smallsat launcher orbited four satellites from Mahia, New Zealand on August 19, 2019. Liftoff from Launch Complex 1 took place at 12:12 UTC. The “Look Ma No Hands” mission carried 56 kg Black Sky Global 4, two U.S. Air Force Pearl White six-unit CubeSats, and French startup UnSeenLabs CubeSat BRO-ONE into a 540 km x 45 deg orbit during a 53.5 minute mission. Total mission payload mass was probably less than 80 kg.
Electron’s Curie third stage fired for about 87 seconds beginning 50 minutes 21 seconds after liftoff, following a more than 41 minute coast to first apogee, to reach the insertion orbit.
The launch took place after a three-day delay caused by high winds.
CZ-3B/E ChinaSat 18 Launch
China’s CZ-3B/E launched Zhongxing 18 (ChinaSat 18), a communications satellite, from Xichang satellite launch center on August 19, 2019. The “Enhanced” CZ-3B launched from LC 2 at 12:03 UTC. The rocket’s liquid hydrogen-fueled upper stage aimed the DFH-4E series satellite toward a geosynchronous transfer orbit about one half-hour after liftoff, but no confirmation of a successful satellite separation was provided as the hours passed.
On August 20, officials revealed that the launch had been successful and the satellite had separated, but the satellite was malfunctioning. Troubleshooting was underway.
Zhongxing 18, which likely weighed about 5.2 tonnes at launch, was designed to use its 30 Ku-band 14 Ka-band MSS spot beams, and two Ka-BSS-band broadcasting transponders to provide civil communications services for China.
Jielong 1 Debut
China debuted yet another new small launch vehicle on August 17, 2019 when Jielong 1 (Smart Dragon 1) boosted three microsatellites into near polar orbit from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China. The four-stage solid fuel rocket lifted off from a mobile transporter-erector-launcher parked on a flat pad at 04:11 UTC.
Jielong 1 is quick reaction launch vehicle developed by China Academy of Calunch Vehicle Technology (CALT). The 19.5 meter tall, 1.2 meter diameter rocket weighs about 23.1 tonnes at launch and can place 150 kg into a 700 km sun synchronous orbit or 200 kg to a 500 km sun synchronous orbit. The fourth stage is mounted above the payload during launch. The stage rotates 180 degrees after separation before beginning its propulsion mission. A 1.1 meter diameter, 1.5 meter long payload shroud was used for the inaugural flight. A fatter 1.4 x 2 meter shroud is also available.
Jielong 1 is the fourth new small Chinese launch vehicle to fly during the past year. Previous attempts included LandSpace’s ZhuQue-1, which failed during October 2018, OneSpace’s OS-M1, which failed during March, 2019, and iSpace’s Hyperbola-1 (SQX-1), which succeeded on July 25, 2019.
Atlas 5 Orbits AEHF 5
AV-084, an Atlas 5-551 variant with five AJ-60A solid rocket motors and a 5.4 meter diameter payload fairing, boosted the fifth Advanced Extremely High Frequency communications satellite for the U.S. Air Foce into orbit from Cape Canaveral SLC 41 on August 8, 2019. Liftoff took place at 10:13 UTC, beginning a 5.5 hour mission that included three burns by the Centaur RL10C-1 upper stage engine. Centaur used a “GSO kit” for the first time on an AEHF flight to perform the extended mission. The final burn, near geoysynchronous apogee of the initial transfer orbit, boosted the $1.1 billion Lockheed Martin A2100 series satellite toward a planned 14,434 x 25,299 km x 9.95 deg orbit. Perigee variation from this plan was expected because a propellant depletion burn was used to maximize orbit energy.
The insertion orbit requires 6,168 kg AEHF 5 to provide only a bit more than 600 m/s of its own delta-v to reach geostationary orbit, compared to around 1,500 m/s for the first three AEHF launches. Those flights used Atlas 5-531 variants with only three solid rocket motors. Program managers determined that the extra cost for the booster motors would be offset by AEHF’s faster ascent to its final orbit and by the longer lifetime provided to the satellite by the reduced propellant needs.
It was the 80th Atlas 5 launch and the first Atlas 5 launch in 10 months.
AMOS 17 Launch
Falcon 9 F9-75, a v1.2 Block 5 variant using first stage B1047.3, orbited the AMOS 17 communications satellite from Cape Canaveral on August 6, 2019. Liftoff from SLC 40 took place at 23:23 UTC. The first stage, not fitted with landing legs or grid fins, was purposely expended during this flight to provide enough capability to boost the 6.5 tonne Boeing-built satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit. One of the payload fairing halves was recovered by the Ms. Tree recovery ship in a landing net – the second such recovery.
The B1047 first stage previously boosted Telstar 19V on July 22, 2018 and Es’hail 2 on November 15, 2018, both times landing downrange on Of Course I Still Love You. The refurbished B1047.3 stage was static test fired at SLC 40 on July 31 and again on August 2 after the first test showed that a propellent valve needed to be replaced. The payload was not attached during the static test firings.
Ariane 5 Launch
The year’s third Ariane 5 ECA orbited two communication satellites from Kourou on August 6, 2019. Arianespace Mission VA249 lifted off from ELA-3 at 19:30 UTC. The ESC-A LOX/LH2 second stage performed a standard single burn to place Intelsat 39 and EDRS C into geosynchronous transfer orbit during a 34 minute mission.
Intelsat 39, a 6,600 kg satellite built by Maxar in Palo Alto, California, will provide broadband services across Africa, Europe, and Asia. This satellite separated first. EDRS C, a 3,186 kg satellite built by OHB for Airbus, will serve as a data relay satellite between other satellites and ground stations as part of the European Data Relay System network.
Proton Orbits Blagovest 14L
A Proton M Briz M launched Blagovest 14L, Russia’s fourth Blagovest military communications satellite, from Baikonur Cosmodrome on August 5, 2019. The liftoff from Site 81 Pad 24 took place at 21:56 UTC, with no live coverage provided. The Briz M upper stage most likely performed four burns during a nine-hour mission to insert the satellite into near-geosynchronous orbit. Upon reaching orbit the 3,227 kg satellite was named Kosmos 2539.
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, 12L the second, and 13L the third, with 14L now the fourth of four planned in the series.
It was the third Proton launch of 2019, already bettering the 2018 total by Russia’s most capable rocket.
A Russian Soyuz 2-1a launched the Progress MS-12 cargo mission on a two-orbit flight toward the International Space Station from Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 31, 2019. Liftoff from Area 31 Pad 6 took place at 12:10:46 UTC. Progress MS-12 aimed to docked with ISS at 15:35 UTC, only 3 hours 24 minutes later.
Progress MS-12 carried more than 1,200 kg of dry cargo and 800 kg of propellant to transfer to ISS, along with 420 kg of water and 50 kg of air.
It was the 6th Russian launch in July and the 10th R-7 boosted launch of the year. R-7 is the first launch vehicle to reach that milestone in 2019.
Soyuz 2-1a/Fregat Orbits Milcomsat
A Soyuz 2-1a/Fregat orbited Meridian 18L (Meridian 8), a Russian military communications satellite, from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on July 30, 2019. The 3.5 stage rocket lifted off from Site 43 Pad 4 at 05:56 UTC, beginning a 140 minute mission that placed the roughly 2 tonne satellite into an elliptical 12 hour “Molniya” orbit that was likely to be approximately 1,000 x 39,000 km x 63 deg. Fregat performed three burns prior to spacecraft separation, then fired a final time to lower its orbit.
The first next-generation Meridian satellite was launched in 2006, but failed less than 2.5 years later. The second was placed in an incorrect orbit due to a Fregat failure in 2009. The fifth was lost in a Soyuz launch vehicle failure. The third, fourth, sixth, and seventh next-generation Meridians were successfully launched in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014, respectively.
CZ-2C Orbits Yaogan 30-05
China orbited its fifth set of Yaogan 30 triplet satellites on July 26, 2019 with a Chang Zheng 2C launch vehicle. The two stage rocket rose from Xichang Satellite Launch Center’s LC 3 at 03:57 UTC. The satellite triplet was named Yaogan-30 Group 5. 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 fifth launch for this constellation, all by CZ-2C rockets from Xichang LC 3, since September 29, 2017.
In a first, the rocket was fitted with four steering grid fins on its first stage interstage. Officials said it was an experiment to test more precise drop zone control. It was the ninth DF-5 based CZ launch of the year.
Falcon 9 F9-74 launched NASA’s CRS-18 ISS cargo mission from Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 40 on July 25, 2019. Liftoff took place at 22:01 UTC. Block 5 first stage B1056.2, which previously boosted the CRS-17 flight on May 4, 2019, fired for 2 minutes 18 seconds. Dragon 8.3, a refurbished spacecraft that previously flew the CRS-6 and CRS-13 missions in 2015 and 2017, was powered to low earth orbit by a single 6 min 11 sec second stage burn. Dragon carried more than 2,313 kg of cargo for the International Space Station. It was the seventh flight of a previously-flown Dragon.
B1056.2 performed boost back, entry, and landing burns to land at Cape Canaveral Landing Zone 1. It was the 43rd successful stage recovery in 52 attempts. A 44th landing did take place, performed by FH-2 Core B1055.1 on OSCILY, but that stage subsequently toppled on deck and was lost.
B1056.2, topped by a second stage that featured an experimental gray coating on its kerosene tank, was static test fired at SLC 40 on July 19. A July 24 launch attempt had to be scrubbed at T-30 seconds due to bad weather.
China’s Beijing Interstellar Glory Space Technology Ltd. (iSpace) successfully performed the inaugural orbital flight of its SQX-1 (Hyperbola-1) launch vehicle from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on July 25, 2019. Liftoff took place at 05:00 UTC. The four-stage rocket, possibly based on solid rocket motors from DF-11 or DF-15 ballistic missiles, weighed 31 tonnes at launch. It stood 20.8 meters and had a 1.4 meter maximum diameter.
SQX-1 is designed to lift 260 kg to sun synchronous orbit. On this flight it boosted several small satellites into a 280 x 299 km x 42.7 deg orbit.
During 2018, iSpace conducted two suborbital tests as part of its development effort. One, which was 8.4 meters long, weighed 4.6 tonnes, and used standard fins, was named SQX-1S. The other, which used four grid fins for atmospheric steering, was named SQX-1Z.
Chandrayaan 2 Launch
India’s GLSV Mk3 launched the country’s first moon lander from Sriharikota on July 22, 2019. Liftoff of the 629 tonne GSLV Mk3 M1 rocket from Satish Dhawan Space Center’s Second Launch Pad took place at 09:13 UTC. The 3-stage rocket fired its LH2/LOX upper stage once to depletion to insert 3,877 kg Chandrayaan 2 into a roughly 169 x 45,475 km x 21.37 deg elliptical earth orbit.
The spacecraft will gradually move itself into a trans-lunar trajectory and lunar orbit before separating a lander named Vikram for an early-September landing attempt. Chandrayaan 2 consists of a 2,379 km lunar orbiter and a 1,471 kg Vikram lander. The lander carries a 27 kg rover named Pragyan.
It was the third GSLV Mk3 orbital launch and the first “operational” launch. The first took place during June 2017, the second during November 2018. An additional suborbital test flight with a dummy third stage took place during December 2014. Chandrayaan 2 was the heaviest payload yet carried by GSLV Mk3.
Soyuz Crew Launch
Russia’s Soyuz FG orbited the Soyuz MS-13 spacecraft from Baikonur, Kazakhstan with three International Space Station crew on July 20, 2019. Russia’s Aleksandr Skvortsov, Europe’s Luca Parmitano, and USA’s Dr. Andrew R. Morgan rode Soyuz MS-13 on a four-orbit, six-hour fast track ascent to the International Space Station. They will serve as ISS Expedition 60-61 crew.
Liftoff from Baikonur Cosmodrome Area 1 Pad 5 took place at 16:28 UTC. It was the year’s second crewed launch, and R-7’s eighth successful launch, currently a world-leading number for launcher type.
Russia’s Proton M, topped by a rarely-flown Blok DM-03 LOX/kerosene upper stage, boosted the Spektr-RG x-ray observatory into deep space from Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 13, 2019. Liftoff from Site 81 Pad 24 took place at 12:30 UTC, beginning a 2-hour mission that sent the 2,713 kg, NPO Lavochkin-built satellite into a roughly 500 x 1,293,041 km x 51.6 degree highly elliptical orbit that will allow the spacecraft to move itself toward a halo orbit around the Earth-Sun L2 Lagrangian point located 1.5 million km from the Earth opposite the direction of the Sun.
Blok DM-03 performed two burns during the mission. The first boosted the vehicle into a roughly 170 x 1,970 km parking orbit beginning about 15 minutes 44 seconds after liftoff. The second burn took place after about one orbit.
Spektr-RG is an international collaboration including Russia’s Roskosmos and Germany’s DLR.
Europe’s Vega launch vehicle failed during an attempt to orbit United Arab Emitates’ FalconEye 1 satellite from Kourou on July 11, 2019. It was the first Vega failure after 14 initial successes.
Liftoff from ZLV took place at 01:53 UTC. The P80 first stage solid rocket motor fired for 1 minute 54 seconds as planned, but the Zefiro 23 second stage solid rocket motor suffered some type of failure at, or shortly after, its planned ignition time. It was to have performed a 1 minute 43 second burn. The 1,197 kg satellite, an optical reconnaisance satellite built for the UAE military by Airbus Defense and Space and Thales Alenia Space, failed to reach its planned 611 km sun synchronous orbit.
Soyuz 2.1v Launch
Russia’s Soyuz 2.1v with a Volga upper stage orbited four unidentified, secret satellites from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on July 10, 2019. Liftoff from Site 43/4 took place at 17:14 UTC. The satellites will likely be identified as Kosmos 2535 through 2538. It was the fifth Soyuz 2.1v flight, and the fourth Soyuz 2.1v/Volga.
A Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat M orbited Russia’s Meteor M2-2 weather satellite and 32 microsatellites from Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East on July 5, 2019. Liftoff from Site 1S took place at 05:41 UTC, beginning the fifth orbital attempt from the base and the first during 2019. The Fregat M upper stage performed two burns during the first hour of the mission to reach a roughly 826 km sun synchronous orbit, where the 2,750 kg primary payload separated.
Fregat M performed more burns during the remaining mission to deploy 32 microsatellites. The stage was expected to end the mission with a deorbit, or orbit-lowering, burn.
Rocket Lab’s seventh Electron orbited seven satellites on a ride-share mission on June 29, 2019. Liftoff from Mahia, New Zealand LC 1 took place at 04:30 UTC. The “Make it Rain” mission for Spaceflight included BlackSky’s Global-3 microsat, two U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) Prometheus satelltites, and Melbourne Space Program’s ACRUX-1 CubeSat. Total mission payload mass was only 80 kg.
Electron’s Curie third stage fired for about 44 seconds beginning 50 minutes 27 seconds after liftoff to insert the satellites into a 450 km x 45 degree low earth orbit. Satellite separation was completed by T+53 minutes 26 seconds.
The launch took place after a two-day delay caused by faulty ground tracking equipment hardware that served as part of Electron’s flight termination system.
Falcon Heavy STP-2 (6/28/19 Update)
The third SpaceX Falcon Heavy, consisting of previously-flown side boosters B1052-2 and B1053-2 with new core B1057-1, launched the U.S. Air Force Space Test Program 2 mission from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 Pad A on June 25, 2019. Liftoff took place at 06:30 UTC. It was the first Falcon Heavy launch for the U.S. Air Force.
The complex 3.5 hour mission inserted 24 satellites into three different orbits, using four burns by the second stage Vacuum Merlin engine. Total payload mass was only 3.7 metric tons and deployed mass only about 2.94 tonnes, but the mission perform two large plane-changes requiring significant delta-v performance.
The upper stage entered a 300 x 860 km x 28.5 deg orbit after its first burn, where 13 microsatellites deployed. Its second, 21 second-long burn, 1 hour 12 minutes 39 seconds after liftoff, shifted the vehicle into a 720 x 720 km x 24 deg orbit. Six NOAA/Taiwan weather satellites separated along with the rest of the microsatellites into this orbit. A third, 29 second-long burn at T+2 hours 7 minutes 37 seconds raised apogee to setup the final, 36 second-long burn beginning at T+3 hours 27 minutes 27 seconds, which maneuvered the stage and its heaviest, 700 kg payload, DSX, into a 6,000 x 12,000 km x 43 deg orbit. DSX is the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Demonstration and Science Experiments satellite. It will measure the effects of space radiation on electronics, among other tasks.
Falcon Heavy No. 3’s side-boosters, which had boosted the previous Falcon Heavy on April 11, 2019, performed boost-back, entry, and landing burns to land at Cape Canaveral Landing Zones 1 and 2. The core stage performed entry and landing burns, but missed the “Of Course I Still Love You” drone ship positioned 1,236 km downrange, further than any previous attempt. Elon Musk later explained that high entry forces and reentry heating breached the engine bay, causing the center engine thrust vector control system to fail. All three Falcon Heavy core stages have now been lost after downrange landing tries.
For the first time, the former “Mr. Steven”, renamed “Ms. Tree”, recovery ship caught a parachute-guided payload fairing half in its redesigned “catchers mitt” netting”.
Falcon Heavy Number 3 was static test fired at LC 39 on June 19, 2019. An empty payload fairing topped the stack during the test. This was a non-flight fairing used to collect acoustic test data for the U.S. Air Force.
Beidou 3I2 Launch
China orbited the second Beidou 3IGSO navigation satellite, named 3IGSO-2 (also referred to as Beidou 3I2 or Beidou 46), on June 24, 2019. Enhanced Chang Zheng 3B (CZ-3B/E) number Y60 boosted the 4.6 tonne, DFH-3B satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit from Xichang Satellite Launch Center after a 18:05 UTC liftoff from LC 3.
The CZ-3B liquid hydrogen fueled third stage fired twice to inject the vehicle into GTO. Beidou 3I2 is expected to maneuver itself into a geosynchronous orbit inclined 55 degrees to the equator.
Ariane 5 Launch
The year’s second Ariane 5 ECA orbited two communication satellites from Kourou on June 20, 2019. Arianespace Mission VA248 lifted off from ELA-3 at 21:43 UTC. The ESC-A LOX/LH2 second stage performed its standard single burn to place T-16 and Eutelsat 7C into geosynchronous transfer orbit during a 34 minute mission.
T-16, a 6,330 kg satellite built by Airbus Defence and Space for AT&T, separated first. It will provide communications services from 99.2 to 119 degrees West, geostationary. Eutelsat 7C, a 3,405 kg Maxar-built satellite, separated last from the lower position after the Sylda 5 adapter had separated. It will provide services from 9 degrees East.
The 73rd Falcon 9, and 53rd v1.2 variant, launched Canada’s Radarsat Constellation Mission (RCM) from Vandenberg AFB on June 12, 2019. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 4 East took place at 14:17 UTC, with the two-stage rocket quickly punching through a summer marine fog layer that obstructed ground views of the launch. Falcon 9’s second stage performed two burns during the roughly hour-long mission to insert three 1,430 kg MDA-built radar mapping satellites into 600 km x 97.74 deg sun synchronous orbits.
First stage B1051.2, on its second flight after boosting the DM-1 Crew Dragon demo mission from KSC 39A on March 2, 2019, performed boostback, reentry, and landing burns before landing at still-foggy VAFB Landing Zone 4, site of the former SLC 4W launch pad. The landing – the second at LZ4 – took place about 7 minutes 53 seconds after liftoff. During ascent, Stage 1 fired for 2 minutes 13 seconds. Stage 2 performed a 6 minute 2 second initial burn to reach a roughly 160 x 600 km elliptical parking orbit. The stage restarted at T+50 minutes 8 seconds for only 4 seconds to circularize the orbit. Satellite deployment began at T+54:43. Stage 2 was expected to perform a final, deorbit burn at mission’s end.
After spacing themselves 120 degrees apart in orbit, the RCM satellites will use C-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) to provide up to 1 meter resolution mapping of the Earth’s surface for multiple government agencies. The three satellites separated from a dispenser made by Ruag Space of Switzerland. The dispenser included a tilt system designed to provide clearance as the satellites separated in sequence about four minutes apart.
CZ-11 Launched from Sea
China’s seventh four-stage solid fuel CZ-11 launched for the first time from a floating platform anchored in the Yellow Sea on June 5, 2019, boosting seven satellites into a low Earth orbit inclined roughly 45 degrees to the equator. The launch platform was positioned at 34.9 deg. North, 121.19 deg. East.
CZ-11 was cold-launched from a canister mounted to a specially built launch frame on the 110 x 80 meter barge at 04:06:01 UTC. The cold launch technique shoots the rocket up out of the canister where it hangs in mid-air for a moment before the first stage ignites to rapidly boost the vehicle upward. Payloads included Bufeng 1A and 1B, Xiaoxiang 1-04, Tianqi 3, Zhongdianwangtong 1A and 1B, and Jilin 1.
CZ-11 first flew on September 25, 2015. The 58 tonne rocket is likely based on China’s DF-31 series solid fuel ballistic missile, which also used the canister launch method. 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 in-space maneuvering capability. CZ-11 reportedly can lift at least 350 kg to a 700 km sun synchronous orbit.
The floating platform could potentially be used to allow near-equatorial launches and it eliminates the need to evacuate downrange land areas for stage drop zones.
Proton Launch (Updated 06/05/19)
Russia’s Proton-M/Briz-M launched with Yamal 601, a powerful communications satellite built for Gazprom Space Systems, on May 30, 2019. Liftoff from Baikonur Cosmodrome’s Site 200 Pad 39 took place at 17:42 UTC, starting a 9 hour 13 minute mission that would include multiple burns by the Briz-M upper stage to boost the 5.4 tonne Thales Alenia Space Spacebus 4000C4 series satellite into a 6,423 x 35,726 km x 17.8 deg geosynchronous transfer orbit.
Yamal 601 carries 18 C-band transponders and a Ka-band payload with 32 spot beams. It will provide communications and broadband services from its geostationary position at 49 degrees East.
It was the first Proton launch of 2019.
Soyuz Navsat Launch
A Soyuz 1-2b/Fregat lifted off with a GLONASS-M (Uragan-M) navigation satellite from Site 43/4 at Plesetsk Cosmodrome on May 27, 2019 at 06:23 UTC. Although lightning appeared to have struck the rocket shortly after launch, it continued on to perform an apparently successful flight.
The Fregat upper stage three times during the 3.5 hour mission to raise the satellite to its roughly 19,100 km x 64.8 degree deployment orbit. Assigned the Kosmos 2534 designation, it was the 49th Uragan-M navsat.
The 72nd SpaceX Falcon 9 (71st to launch) boosted 60 Starlink internet satellites into low earth orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida on May 24, 2019. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 took place at 02:30 UTC. It was Falcon 9’s heaviest payload to date at a combined 13,608 kg for the 60 satellites.
Starlink is meant to provide high-speed, low-latency Internet service world-wide. A satellite constellation numbering in the thousands is planned. This first mass satellite launch carried production satellites that did not include the intersatellite links planned for operational satellites. The satellites were built by SpaceX’s Redmond, Washington satellite group.
The Falcon 9 second stage performed two burns to reach a 440 km x 53 deg deployment orbit where, about an hour after liftoff, the satellite deployment began. The satellites were expected to subsequently move themselves to 550 km operational orbits.
First stage B1049.3, which previously flew on the Telstar 18V and Iridium NEXT 8 launches in September 2018 and January 2019, respectively, performed entry and landing burns before landing on the Of Course I Still Love You drone ship positioned about 645 km downrange, northeast of the Cape. It was the third first stage to complete three launches. All were Block 5 types.
The first stage was static test fired at SLC 40 with the payload attached on May 14. Launch attempts on May 16 and 17 were scrubbed, first by upper level winds and then by a need to update software on the satellites.
China’s Chang Zheng (CZ) 4C failed to orbit the Yaogan Weixing 33 remote sensing satellite from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on May 22, 2019. Liftoff from LC 9 took place at 22:49 UTC. The launch was aimed toward a near-polar, sun synchronous orbit, but a third stage failure prevented orbit, according to Xinhua.
The satellite was likely a synthetic aperature radar mapping spacecraft.
It was the 7th DF-5 based launch, and China’s 9th launch, of 2019, two of which have failed. CZ-4C had flown 9 consecutive successes since its last failure on August 31, 2016.
PSLV Orbits Radarsat
India’s PSLV, flying in a “Core Alone” version as flight C46, orbited RISAT 2B, a radar reconnaissance satellite, from Sriharikota on May 22, 2019. Liftoff from the First Launch Pad pad took place at 00:00 UTC as May 22 began, Universal Time. After a 15.5 minute mission, the 615 kg radar imaging satellite separated into a roughly 557 km x 37 deg orbit.
RISAT 2B is the first of a new generation of radar imagers. It uses X-band Synthetic Aperature Radar to map the surface of the Earth. It is the first in a series of three planned for launch during 2019.
CZ-3C Orbits Navsat
CZ-3C/E (Y16) launched Beidou 2 GEO 8 from Xichang LC 2 on May 17, 2019. Liftoff took place at 15:48 UTC. The liquid hydrogen third stage fired twice to boost the satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit during the roughly half-hour mission.
Beidou 2 GEO 8, a navigation satellite to be added to China’s growing constellation, is likely based on the DFH-3 satellite bus weighing about 3,800 kg at liftoff.
Rocket Lab’s sixth Electron orbited three satellites for the U.S. Department of Defense Space Test Program on May 5, 2019. Liftoff from Mahia, New Zealand LC 1 took place at 06:00 UTC. The STP-27RD mission included the SPARC-1, Falcon ODE, and Harbinger technology demonstration satellites. Total payload mass was 180 kg, most-yet for Electron.
Electron’s Curie third stage fired for about 2.5 minutes beginning 49 minutes 12 seconds after liftoff to insert the satellites into a low earth orbit with a roughly 40 degree inclination – the first eastward trajectory performed by Electron. Satellite separation took place a few minutes later.
Electron 6 was named “That’s a Funny Looking Cactus” after the desert cactus of New Mexico where the Space Test Program offices are located.
Falcon 9 orbited NASA’s CRS-17 ISS cargo mission from Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 40 on May 4, 2019. Liftoff took place at 0648 GMT UTC. New Block 5 first stage B1056.1 powered the two-stage rocket for 2 minutes 17 seconds. Dragon 13.2, a refurbished spacecraft that first flew during the CRS-12 mission on August 14, 2017, rode atop the second stage during its 6 min 11 sec burn to a low earth orbit inclined 51.6 deg to the equator. Dragon carried 2,482 kg of cargo for the International Space Station. It was the sixth flight of a previously-flown Dragon.
B1056.1 performed boost back, entry, and landing burns to land on the “Of Course I Still Love You” converted barge positioned only about 20 km off shore. Original plans for a landing at Cape Canaveral Landing Zone 1 had to be replaced with a near-shore OCISLY landing after the DM1 crew Dragon exploded during a propulsion system test at LZ-1 on April 20, 2019.
It was the 50th Falcon 9 v1.2 launch, all successful. A 51st Falcon 9 v1.2 was destroyed in a 2016 pre-launch ground test explosion that also destoyed its AMOS 6 payload.
The first stage was briefly static test fired with a second stage but no payload attached at SLC 40 on April 26, 2019. An ISS power system failure forced a slip from May 1 to May 3, and the May 3 attempt had to be scrubbed after a power supply failure on OCISLY.
China’s Chang Zheng (CZ) 4B orbited a pair of remote sensing satellites named Tianhua-2 Group 01 A and B on April 29, 2019. Liftoff from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center’s LC 9 took place at 22:52 UTC. The three-stage storable propellant rocket boosted the satellite pair into 504 x 518 km x 97.44 deg sun synchronous orbits. Xinhua announced that the satellites would be used for “scientific experiments, land resource survey, geographic survey and mapping”.
It was the first 2019 launch from Taiyuan.
Beidou 3IGSO Launch
China orbited the first Beidou 3IGSO navigation satellite, named 3IGSO-1, on April 20, 2019. An Enhanced Chang Zheng 3B (CZ-3B/E) boosted the satellite, named Beidou 3IGSO-1, into a 220 x 35,787 km x 28.49 degree geosynchronous transfer orbit, from Xichang Satellite Launch Center after a 14:41 UTC liftoff from LC 3.
The CZ-3B liquid hydrogen fueled third stage fired twice to inject the vehicle into GTO. Surprisingly, CASC officials announced that the roughly 4.6 tonne satellite would maneuver itself into a geosynchronous orbit inclined 55 degrees to the equator. Previous “inclined” Beidou navsats have used the launch vehicle to provide the inclination by flying on a more direct azimuth from the launch site.
Northrop Grumman’s Antares launch vehicle orbited the company’s Cygnus NG-11 cargo spacecraft from Wallops Island, Virginia on April 17, 2019. Liftoff from Pad 0A took place at 20:46 UTC. It was the second Antares launch under the Northrop Grumman banner and the 10th Antares liftoff. Antares previously launched five times for Orbital and three times for Orbital ATK.
The launch was the fifth by an Antares 230, 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 an explosion above Pad 0A in 2014.
Cygnus NG-11 was the eighth enhanced Cygnus with a stretched Thales Alenia Space cargo module, but only the fifth to fly on Antares. Atlas 5 rockets orbited the other three. NG-11 weighed about 7,300 kg at launch, including 3,436 kg of cargo for the International Space Station. Cygnus NG-11 was named in honor of Roger Chaffee, the rookie NASA astronaut who perished in the Apollo 1 fire on January 27, 1967.
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 215 seconds. After first stage shutdown, the upper composite separated and coasted upward. The shroud and interstage adapter separated, then at about T+264 seconds the Northrop Grumman Castor 30XL second stage motor ignited to produce an average of about 51 tonnes of thrust during its roughly 160 second burn. Cygnus separated at T+546 seconds into a roughly 190 x 296 km x 51.63 deg orbit.
Falcon Heavy Arabsat 6A (4/16/19 Update)
SpaceX’s second Falcon Heavy, the first using Block 5 stages, successfully boosted 6,465 kg Arabsat 6A into supersynchronous transfer orbit from Kennedy Space Center LC 39A on April 11, 2019. During the flight, the twin side boosters flew back to Cape Canaveral Landing Zones 1 and 2 while the core stage landed downrange on the converted barge “Of Course I Still Love You”. The second stage fired its Merlin Vacuum twice to complete the insertion toward a 327 x 89,815 km x 22.96 deg transfer orbit.
Although B1055 landed succesfully, it was subsequently lost when it toppled in heavy seas, although Elon Musk noted that the Merlin engines remained on board OCISLY in unknown condition. The loss caused the second Falcon Heavy mission to match the inaugural’s record of one lost core and two recovered boosters. Slightly offsetting the loss was the successful recovery of both fairing halves after they splashed down in the Atlantic, a step not achieved during FH-1.
New stages B1052.1 and B1053.1 served as the side boosters, each topped with composite nose cones used during the first Falcon Heavy launch. Core stage B1055.1 completed the trio. Together, their 27 Merlin 1D engines produced about 10% more thrust (about 2,327 metric tons or 5.13 million pounds) during the 22:35 UTC launch than the first Falcon Heavy. The boosters cut off about 2.5 minutes after liftoff and separated four seconds later. They performed boostback, entry, and landing burns to land side by side at LZ 1 and 2 at about T+7 minutes 51 seconds. The core stage, which had throttled down during the early ascent, fired for an additional minute after the boosters jettisonned before separating to perform its own entry and landing burns to land on OCISLY at about T+9 minutes 48 seconds.
The second stage fired from T+3:42 until T+8:48 to reach a low earth parking orbit. The payload fairing separated about 56 seconds into the second stage burn. After a coast, the second stage ignited again at T+27:34 for 1:26 to accelerate into the final orbit. Arabsat 6A separated about 34 minutes after liftoff. Lockheed Martin built Arabsat 6A, which is an enhanced LM 2100 satellite fitted with lightweight solar arrays. It will serve the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.
FH-2 performed a static test firing at LC 39A on April 5. An April 10 launch attempt was scrubbed by high winds before propellant loading began.
Soyuz Kourou O3b Launch
A Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat carried four O3b satellites into orbit from Guiana Space Center at Kourou on April 4, 2018. Launched by Russian crews from the Sinnamary Soyuz Launch Complex (ELS) at 17:03 UTC, the 3.5 stage rocket flew as the Arianespace VS22 mission. The Fregat third stage performed three burns to reach a 7,830 km x 0.04 deg, near-circular deployment orbit about 2 hours after liftoff.
After the third burn, the satellites were released two by two during the next half hour.
Four 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.
It was the second R-7 launch of the day, and the fifth of the year.
Russia’s Soyuz 2-1a boosted the Progress MS-11 cargo mission toward the quickest-ever ISS rendezvous from Baikonur on April 4, 2019. Liftoff from Area 31 Pad 6 took place at 11:01:35 GMT. Progress MS-11 docked with ISS only 3 hours 21 minutes later.
Progress MS-11 carried 3,410 kg of cargo, including 1,530 kg of propellant, 1,413 kg of dry cargo, 420 kg of water, and 47 kg of oxygen and air.
India ELINT Launch
India’s PSLV orbited an electronic signals intelligence satellite, along with 28 microsatellites, from Sriharikota on April 1, 2019. PSLV-C45, the first PSLV-QL variant with four strap-on solid motors, lifted off from the Second Launch Pad at Satish Dhawan Space Center at 03:57 UTC. EMISAT, the 436 kg primary satellite, separated into a 749 km x 98.376 deg orbit about 17 minutes after liftoff, following the first burn by the PS4 restartable hypergolic fourth stage.
After EMISAT separation, PS4 performed two burns to move to a 504 km x 97.468 deg orbit at about T+109 minutes. 28 CubeSats were deployed into this orbit, then the PS4 stage fired two more times to move itself to a 485 km x 97.468 deg orbit about three hours into the mission. There, it will serve as an orbital platform hosting three on-board experiments for up to six months. For the first time, the PS4 stage was fitted with solar panels for this mission. A total of about 670 kg of payload was carried by PSLV-C45.
CZ-3B/E Launches Tianlian 2-1
China’s CZ-3B/E orbited Tianlian 2-1, a second generation data relay satellite, from Xichang satellite launch center on March 31, 2019. The Enhanced CZ-3B lifted off from LC 2 at 15:51 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, Tianlian 2-1, which likely weighed about 5.2 tonnes at launch, will be used to transfer data between other satellites and ground stations.
It was the 3nd DF-5 based launch of 2019. DF-5 has been the world’s busiest orbital launch vehicle by far during the past decade.
Electron DARPA Launch
Rocket Lab’s Electron boosted DARPA’s R3D2 satellite to orbit from Mahai New Zealand on March 28, 2019. Liftoff from LC 1 took place at 18:35 UTC. The Curie kick stage fired for 113 seconds at first apogee about 50 minutes after launch to accelerate the 150 kg Radio Frequency Risk Reduction Deployment Demonstration satellite into a 421 x 438 km x 39.5 degree orbit.
The launch followed a scrub and several weather delays during the final week of the launch campaign. It was the fifth Electron launch and the fourth success. The 150 kg payload was the heaviest yet carried by Electron.
OS-M Inaugural Failure
The first OS-M rocket launched by Chinese startup OneSpace failed to reach orbit after rising from Jiuquan space center in northwest China on March 27, 2019. Liftoff from the TLE-2 flat pad took place at 09:39 UTC. The four stage solid fuel rocket flew correctly until the second stage took over about one minute into the flight. The vehicle began to spiral at that point, exhibiting a loss of flight control. A small CubeSat satellite named Lingque 1B was lost. It was intended to enter a low earth orbit to test earth observation technology for ZeroG Lab, another new Chinese space company.
OS-M (also called OS-M1) stands about 18.9 meters tall and is designed to lift about 112 kilograms into a 500 km sun-synchronous orbit. It appears to use solid motor stages adapted from short range military missiles. The first three stages have fixed nozzles with steering vanes in the exhaust. The first, and possibly the second, stages, which appear to use idential motors, also use aerodynamic fins.
Vega Orbits PRISMA
Europe’s Vega, flying the Arianespace VV14 mission, orbited Italy’s PRISMA (PRecursore IperSpettrale della Missione Applicativa), an earth observation satellite, from Kourou Space Center on March 22, 2019. Liftoff from the ZLV pad took place at 01:50:35 UTC.
The first three solid propellant stages fired during the first 6 min 26 sec. After a brief coast, the liquid hypergolic AVUM fourth stage performed a 4.5 minute burn to reach an elliptical parking orbit. After a 39 minute coast to apogee, AVUM reignited for 1 min 12 sec to reach a 615 km x 97.88 deg sun synchronous orbit.
The 879 kg, OHB Italia-built PRISMA separated 54 min 8 sec after liftoff. PRISMA will monitor the environment, natural resources, crops, and pollution, among other things.
Delta 383, a Delta 4M+5,4 with four solid rocket motors, a five meter diameter Delta cryogenic second stage (DCSS), and a five meter diameter fairing, lofted Wideband Global SATCOM No. 10 into supersynchronous transfer orbit from Cape Canaveral Florida on March 16, 2019. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 37B took place at at 00:26 UTC on 829.7 tonnes (1.829 million pounds) of thrust created by its RS-68A first stage engine and its four GEM-60 solid motors.
DCSS performed two burns of its 11.23 tonne thrust RL10B-2 LOX/LH2 engine during the ascent. The first placed the vehicle into a 185 x 5,430 km x 27.7 deg parking orbit about 19.5 minutes after liftoff. After a 10 minute coast to the equator the second, roughly 3 minute 20 second burn pushed the 5.987 tonne Boeing 702 series satellite into a 433 x 44,392 km x 27 deg transfer orbit. Spacecraft separation occurred about 36 minutes 50 seconds after liftoff. DCSS was slated to perform a deorbit burn at about T+1 hour 12 minutes, leading to destructive reentry at about T+12 hours 10 min.
WGS-10 will provide more than 11 Gbps data transfer rates for the U.S. military using X-band and Ka-band transponders and on-board data processors.
It was the second Delta 4 launch of 2019. This was the last WGS launch planned for Delta 4, and the penultimate Delta 4 Medium launch.
Soyuz Crew Launch
Russia’s Soyuz FG orbited the Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft from Baikonur, Kazakhstan with three International Space Station crew on March 14, 2019. It was the second crewed Soyuz flight since the MS-10 failure and crew-saving abort during October, 2018. The MS-10 crew, Aleksey Ovchinin and Nick Hague, rode MS-12 successfully to orbit this time, along with NASA’s Christina Koch. They will serve as ISS Expedition 59-60 crew. Liftoff from Baikonur Cosmodrome Area 1 Pad 5 took place at 19:14 UTC. Soyuz MS-12 was slated to perform a four-orbit, six-hour ascent to ISS.
It was the year’s first crewed launch, and third R-7 flight.
CZ-3B/E Orbits ChinaSat 6C
China’s CZ-3B/E orbited Zhongxing 6C (ChinaSat 6C), a communications satellite, from Xichang satellite launch center on March 9, 2019. The “Enhanced” CZ-3B, currently China’s heaviest GTO lifter in active service, launched from LC 3 at 16:28 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, Zhongxing 6C, which likely weighed about 5.2 tonnes at launch, will use its 25 C-band transponders to serve China from 130 deg East.
It was the 2nd DF-5 based launch of 2019.
Crew Dragon Premier
The first SpaceX Crew Dragon was boosted into low Earth orbit on an uncrewed test flight by a Falcon 9 v1.2 Block 5 from Kennedy Space Center on March 2, 2019. Liftoff from Launch Complex 39 Pad A took place at 07:49 UTC. The 13 foot diameter spacecraft, consisting of a 4.9 meter tall capsule and a 3.7 meter tall “trunk” sheathed in fixed solar arrays, was, at about 12.5 tonnes, the heaviest payload yet launched by a Falcon 9.
New first stage B1051.1 provided 771 metric tons of liftoff thrust produced by its nine Merlin 1D LOX/Kerosene engines. It shut down about 2.5 minutes after launch, then performed entry and landing burns to land downrange on Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY). It was the 35th successful first stage landing. The second stage fired until reaching orbit about 9 minutes after liftoff.
Dragon DM-1 (Commercial Crew Program Demonstration Mission 1), carrying a dummy astronaut named “Ripley” and about 180 kg of cargo, docked with the International Space Station on March 3. It will remain attached until March 8 before splashing down about 370 km miles east of Cape Canaveral. The test is part of a $3.1 billion contract awarded to SpaceX by NASA for crew launch services. If all goes well, the first crewed flight is expected later this year.
B1051 was test fired at McGregor, Texas during August, 2018. The entire vehicle with Dragon attached was rolled out for mechanical fit checks at LC 39A on January 3, 2019. It rolled out again for a brief static test, again with Dragon attached, on January 24, 2019.
The 21st Soyuz to fly from Kourou Space Center, a Soyuz 2.1b/Fregat M with an ST payload fairing, orbited the first six OneWeb pathfinder satellites on February 27, 2019. Liftoff of the VS21/OneWeb F6 mission from the ELS pad took place at 21:37 UTC. London’s OneWeb plans to build a constellation consisting of hundreds of satellites to provide internet services.
Fregat performed two burns to place the satellites into roughly 1,000 km x 87.77 deg orbits. The hypergolic upper stage performed an orbit lowering burn after the satellites separated in two groups. The last separation event took place 82.5 minutes after liftoff.
Each satellite weighed 147.7 kg, making a total 886 kg deployed payload mass. A cylindrical RUAG Space-built “OneWeb Dispenser System” carried the satellites and four APCO Technologies mass simulators. The satellites and mass simulators were mounted to the sides of the vertical cylinder, which is designed to carry up to 32 satellites. The dispenser, the mass simulators, and the adapter to Fregat together weighed 1,059 kg.
Falcon 9 Launch
A Falcon 9 v1.2 “Block 5” variant with a previously flown first stage orbited the Nusantara Satu communications satellite along with two smaller payloads – one aiming for the Moon – from Cape Canaveral SLC 40 on February 22, 2019. The Falcon 9 second stage fired twice to boost all three payloads into a supersynchronous transfer orbit, completing its second burn about 28 minutes after the 01:45 UTC liftoff. The SSL-built Nusantara Satu satellite weighed about 4,100 kg at liftoff. SpaceIL’s Beresheet – the first privately-funded lunar lander attempt – weighed 582 kg. A U.S. Air Force S5 microsatellite also rode along. Total payload mass including dispensers was 4,850 kg.
Used first stage B1048.3, which was previously used to boost the Iridium 7 mission in July 2018 and the SAOCOM 1A mission in October, 2018, burned for about 2 min 40 sec before separating to perform reentry and landing burns to land on Of Course I Still Love You floating on the Atlantic downrange. The second stage performed a 4 min 21 sec first burn to reach a parking orbit, then restarted at T+27 min 3 sec for about 65 seconds to accelerate to the insertion orbit.
Nusantara Satu will provide broadband data service for Indonesia. Beresheet (Hebrew for “in the beginning”), a privately-funded Israeli spacecraft, will boost itself toward the Moon over a two month period before attempting a landing.
B1048.3 was briefly test fired at SLC 40 with the second stage but no payload attached on February 18, 2019. It was the first Falcon 9 GTO launch in over three months.
See Older Launch Reports in the Space Launch Report Archive
Apollo, project conducted by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the 1960s and ’70s that landed the first humans on the Moon.
In May 1961 Pres. John F. Kennedy committed America to landing astronauts on the Moon by 1970. The choice among competing techniques for achieving a Moon landing and return was not resolved until considerable further study. Three methods were considered. In direct ascent, one vehicle would lift off from Earth, land on the Moon, and return. However, the proposed Nova rocket would not be ready by 1970. In Earth orbit rendezvous, a spacecraft carrying the crew would dock in Earth orbit with the propulsion unit that would carry enough fuel to go to the Moon. However, this method required two separate launches.
In the method ultimately employed, lunar orbit rendezvous, a powerful launch vehicle (Saturn V rocket) placed a 50-ton spacecraft in a lunar trajectory. The spacecraft had three parts. The conical command module (CM) carried three astronauts. The service module (SM) was attached to the back of the CM and carried its fuel and power to form the command/service module (CSM). Docked to the front of the CSM was the lunar module (LM). One astronaut stayed in the CSM while the other two landed on the Moon in the LM. The LM had a descent stage and an ascent stage. The descent stage was left on the Moon, and the astronauts returned to the CSM in the ascent stage, which was discarded in lunar orbit. The LM was flown only in the vacuum of space, so aerodynamic considerations did not affect its design. (Thus, the LM has been called the first “true” spacecraft.) Before reentering Earth’s atmosphere, the SM was jettisoned to burn up. The CM splashed down in the ocean. The lunar orbit rendezvous had the advantages of requiring only one rocket and of saving fuel and mass since the LM did not need to return to Earth.
Uncrewed missions testing Apollo and the Saturn rocket began in February 1966. The first crewed Apollo flight was delayed by a tragic accident, a fire that broke out in the Apollo 1 spacecraft during a ground rehearsal on January 27, 1967, killing astronauts Virgil Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee. NASA responded by delaying the program to make changes such as not using a pure oxygen atmosphere at launch and replacing the CM hatch with one that could be opened quickly.
In October 1968, following several uncrewed Earth-orbit flights, Apollo 7 made a 163-orbit flight carrying a full crew of three astronauts. Apollo 8 carried out the first step of crewed lunar exploration: from Earth orbit it was injected into a lunar trajectory, completed lunar orbit, and returned safely to Earth. Apollo 9 carried out a prolonged mission in Earth orbit to check out the LM. Apollo 10 journeyed to lunar orbit and tested the LM to within 15.2 km (9.4 miles) of the Moon’s surface. Apollo 11, in July 1969, climaxed the step-by-step procedure with a lunar landing; on July 20 astronaut Neil Armstrong and then Edwin (“Buzz”) Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the Moon’s surface.
Apollo 13, launched in April 1970, suffered an accident caused by an explosion in an oxygen tank but returned safely to Earth. Remaining Apollo missions carried out extensive exploration of the lunar surface, collecting 382 kg (842 pounds) of Moon rocks and installing many instruments for scientific research, such as the solar wind experiment and the seismographic measurements of the lunar surface. Beginning with Apollo 15, astronauts drove a lunar rover on the Moon. Apollo 17, the final flight of the program, took place in December 1972. In total, 12 American astronauts walked on the Moon during the six successful lunar landing missions of the Apollo program.
Apollo CSMs were used in 1973 and 1974 in the Skylab program to take astronauts to an orbiting space station. In July 1975 an Apollo CSM docked with a Soviet Soyuz in the last flight of an Apollo spacecraft.
A chronology of spaceflights in the Apollo program is shown in the table.
Apollo 11 first launch Spaceflight landed the first humans on Moon Roy Dawson video
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http://RoyDawsonHomes.com Apollo 11 was the spaceflight that landed the first humans on the Moon, Americans Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, on July 20, 1969, at 20:18 UTC. Armstrong became the first to step onto the lunar surface six hours later on July 21 at 02:56 UTC. Armstrong spent about two and a half hours outside the spacecraft, Aldrin slightly less, and together they collected 47.5 pounds (21.5 kg) of lunar material for return to Earth. A third member of the mission, Michael Collins, piloted the command spacecraft alone in lunar orbit until Armstrong and Aldrin returned to it just under a day later for the trip back to Earth. Armstrong and Aldrin then moved into the Lunar Module and landed in the Sea of Tranquility. They stayed a total of about 21½ hours on the lunar surface. After lifting off in the upper part of the Lunar Module and rejoining Collins in the Command Module, they returned to Earth and landed in the Pacific Ocean on July 24. Broadcast on live TV to a world-wide audience, Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface and described the event as “one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” Apollo 11 effectively ended the Space Race and fulfilled a national goal proposed in 1961 by the late US President John F. Kennedy in a speech before the United States Congress, “before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.
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The historic launch of the Apollo 11 mission carried three astronauts toward the moon. Two of them would set foot on the lunar surface for the first time in human history as millions of people around the world followed their steps on television.
The crew of Apollo 11 were all experienced astronauts who had been to space before.
Cmdr. Neil Armstrong had piloted Gemini 8; that mission was the first time two vehicles docked in space. Born Aug. 5, 1930, in Ohio, Armstrong was 38 when he became the first civilian to command two American space missions.
Col. Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin, 39, was the first astronaut with a doctorate to fly in space. Born Jan. 20, 1930, in New Jersey, Aldrin piloted Gemini 12 in November 1966, and performed a 140-minute walk in space to demonstrate that an astronaut could work efficiently outside the vehicle. For Apollo 11, he served as the lunar module pilot.
The command module pilot, Lt. Col. Michael Collins, 38, was born in Italy on Oct. 31, 1930. Collins piloted Gemini 10 in July 1966, and spent almost 1.5 hours outside the craft on a spacewalk.
Apollo 11 crew: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin. (Image credit: NASA)
From Earth to the moon
Mission planners at NASA studied the lunar surface for two years, searching for the best place to make the historic landing. They examined the best high-resolution photographs available at the time, from the Lunar Orbiter and Surveyor programs, and considered the number of craters and boulders, cliffs and hills at each prospective landing site, and how easy it would be for the astronauts to land given their fuel and time requirements. This helped the planners narrow down the initial 30 site candidates to three.
Apollo 11 launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 9:32 a.m. Eastern time on July 16, 1969. While in flight, the crew made two televised broadcasts from the interior of the ship, and a third transmission as they drew closer to the moon, revealing the lunar surface and the intended approach path. On July 20, Armstrong and Aldrin entered the lunar module, nicknamed the “Eagle” and separated from the Command Service Module — the “Columbia” — and headed toward the lunar surface.
The lunar module touched down on the moon’s Sea of Tranquility, a large basaltic region, at 4:17 p.m. Eastern time. Armstrong notified Houston with the historic words, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
For the first 2 hours on the moon, Armstrong and Aldrin remained in the module and checked all of the systems, configured the craft for its stay on the moon and had a bite to eat. In consultation with NASA, they decided to skip their scheduled 4-hour rest and opted to go outside and explore the moon’s surface instead.
A video camera installed in a panel inside the Eagle provided live coverage as Armstrong descended a ladder at 11:56 p.m. on July 20, 1969, and uttered the words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Aldrin followed 20 minutes later, with Armstrong taking images of his descent. Armstrong had the responsibility to document the landing, so most of the images taken from the Apollo 11 mission were of Aldrin. [NASA’s Historic Apollo 11 Moon Landing in Pictures]
Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin poses with the American flag on the surface of the moon in July 1969. (Image credit: NASA)
While on the surface, the astronauts set up several experiments, collected samples of lunar soil and rock to bring home, erected a United States flag and took core samples from the crust. They spoke with U.S. President Richard Nixon, whose voice was transmitted from the White House, and placed a plaque on the ground that stated:
HERE MEN FROM THE PLANET EARTH FIRST SET FOOT UPON THE MOON JULY 1969, A.D. WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND
The astronauts also laid down memorial medallions with the names of several astronauts and cosmonauts who had perished in flight and in training (including the Apollo 11 crew and the first person in space, Yuri Gagarin). They also left a 1.5-inch silicon disk with goodwill messages from 73 countries, and the names of congressional and NASA leaders.
Armstrong spent a little over 2.5 hours outside the Eagle. The astronauts traveled a total distance of about 3,300 feet (1 kilometer) as they walked around, traveling as far as 200 feet (60 meters) from the module to visit a large crater. They collected 47.51 lbs. (21.55 kilograms) of samples from the moon, and reported that mobility on the moon was easier than anticipated.
Neil Armstrong on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. (Image credit: NASA)
NASA’s historic Apollo 11 moon mission landed the first astronauts on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969. See how the mission worked in this Space.com infographic. (Image credit: Karl Tate/SPACE.com )
At 1:54 p.m., having spent a total of 21.5 hours on the moon, the lunar module blasted back to where Collins waited in the Columbia. The two vehicles docked, and the crew and samples transferred to the Columbia before the Eagle was jettisoned into space. The astronauts then headed back home.
The team splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:50 p.m. Eastern time on July 24, only a few miles from the recovery ship, the U.S.S. Hornet. After donning biological isolation garments (on the off-chance that the astronauts carried back any harmful microbes from the moon), the crew left the Columbia and climbed into a rubber boat, where they were rubbed down with iodine in an effort to minimize potential contamination. They then traveled by helicopter to a Mobile Quarantine Facility aboard the ship before being taken to Houston where they remained in quarantine until Aug. 10. The men had completed the national goal set by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, to perform a crewed lunar landing and return to Earth.
Apollo 11’s legacy
The Apollo 11 mission remains widely celebrated as it approaches its 50th anniversary in 2019. The U.S. Mint prepared special coins for the celebration.
The Smithsonian Institution is remodeling its moon gallery at the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) in Washington, D.C., for a 2021 opening. Meanwhile, the newly restored Columbia spacecraft is on tour with stops in Houston, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Seattle. It’s the first time Columbia has been outside the Smithsonian since 1971.
In July 2009, the National Air and Space Museum hosted a gala for Apollo 11’s 40th anniversary, which included speeches by the three crewmembers of Apollo 11. At an afternoon session in which Collins, Aldrin and Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean offered to sign autographs, the line of space enthusiasts and admirers quickly stretched across the length of the museum’s floor. Collins and Aldrin still regularly make appearances for Apollo-related activities, despite both being in their late 80s.
Armstrong, 82, died on Aug. 25, 2012, from complications following cardiovascular procedures. A public memorial service was held Sept. 13 at Washington National Cathedral, and Armstrong was buried at sea the next day. In 2015, NASA announced that Armstrong’s widow,Carol Armstrong, had found a bag full of lunar artifacts among Armstrong’s belongings, which she donated to the museum.
Apollo 11 astronauts, still in their quarantine van, are greeted by their wives upon arrival at Ellington Air Force Base on July 27, 1969. (Image credit: NASA)
NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter imaged the Apollo 11 landing site from space in 2012 and spotted the astronauts’ tracks, some of the experiments, a discarded camera and the descent stage of the Eagle lunar module. A 3D view of the site based on the images from the orbiter was generated in 2014.
A lunar sample bag from Apollo 11 generated a legal dispute after it was accidentally sold at a Texas auction in 2015, held on behalf of the U.S. Marshals Service. An Illinois woman, Nancy Carlson, bought the bag for $995. The U.S. government petitioned the courts to return the lunar sample bag to NASA and undo the sale, but Carlson was ruled the legal owner in 2016. Originally, the bag was confiscated from Max Ary, a former curator convicted in 2006 of stealing and selling space artifacts that belonged to the Cosmosphere space museum in Hutchinson, Kansas.
In anticipation of Apollo 11’s 50th anniversary in July 2019, Universal Pictures released “First Man,” a movie based on Armstrong’s training journey to become the first man on the moon. And a new documentary about Apollo 11, directed by Todd Douglas Miller, premiered in March 2019. Additionally, the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., has a number of special events and exhibits planned to celebrate Apollo 11’s anniversary.
Learn more at NASA’s Apollo 11 mission overview page.
Find images, video and podcasts about Apollo 11 on NASA’s Apollo 11 mission page.
Check out the Apollo 11 Image Gallery from the NASA history office.