Delta 4 Launches WGS-9 SATCOM Military Satellite

A Delta IV rocket carrying the WGS-9 SATCOM US Military satellite was launched successfully from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.  The Delta IV WGS-9 SATCOM satellite will provide the US Military with enhanced capability to contact troops in the field.

This mission was launched aboard a Delta IV Medium+ (5, 4) configuration. This has a 5m diameter payload fairing for larger payloads, and 4 Graphite-Epoxy Motors (GEM-60s) strap-on boosters to provide the required thrust.

This was ULA’s 3rd launch of 2017 and the 118th successful launch since the company was formed in December 2006.

Delta IV IGNIGITION!!!
Delta IV IGNIGITION!!!
Main Delta IV Main Engine Start
Main Delta IV Main Engine Start
DELTA IV LAUNCH
DELTA IV LAUNCH
DELTA IV has Cleared the Tower
Close Up View of Delta IV rockets
Delta IV Burning 2,000 lbs of Fuel Every Second!!
Delta IV Solid Rocket Motor (SRM) Jettison After Just Over 2 minutes into the flight

Atlas V rocket configurations

The United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket (AV023) carrying the NROL-38 classified military satellite will launch tomorrow (20th June 2012) in the 401 configuration. Sounds impressively scientific, but what EXACTLY does that mean?

The First digit indicates the diameter (in metres) of the payload fairing, and always has a value of either 4 or 5. For the NROL-38 mission the payload fairing is 4 metres in diameter.

The second digit indicates the number of solid rocket boosters attached to the base of the rocket, and can range from 0 through 3 for the 4 metre fairing, and 0 through 5 with the larger 5-metre fairing. The Atlas V carrying NROL-38 mission has no additional solid rocket boosters.

The third digit represents the number of engines on the Centaur upper stage. This can be either 1 or 2. This particular Atlas 5 has 1 Centaur upper stage engine.

Atlas 5 400 series
Atlas 5 400 series

The Atlas 5 rocket is a very capable and reliable rocket, having had 29 successes of its 30 flights so far. Atlas first stage propulsion is provided by an RD-180 engine. This engine provides a single engine with 2 thrust chambers. It burns RP1 (Rocket Propellant 1 – highly purified kerosene) and liquid oxygen and provides 3,827 kN (Kilonewtons) of thrust at sea-level.

The Atlas 5 rocket is capable of carrying between 9 and almost 15 tonnes into low Earth orbit, and between 4 1/2 and 7 1/2 tonnes into a geosynchronous transfer orbit (dependent on exactly which configuration is used). It’s two designated launch facilities are at Launch Complex 41 (LC-41) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Launch Complex 3 (SLC-3) at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Recent missions that have used an Atlas 5 rocket include, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Solar Dynamics Observatory, Boeing X-37B, Juno,

The Atlas V has cleared the tower

Atlas V during planned 10 minutes hold

and the Mars Science Laboratory

Atlas V carrying Mars Science Laboratory
Atlas V carrying Mars Science Laboratory

Progress 46 (M-14M) departs from Baikonur Cosmodrome

The latest unmanned Progress cargo ship (M-14M or 46 depending on your chosen designation), has successfully launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on its 2 day journey to the International Space Station (ISS).

The launch, atop a Soyuz-U rocket, was from Site 1/5 at Baikonur, and took place from the same launch pad that launched Yuri Gagarin into space back in 1961.

Final launch preparations started on Tuesday morning, after sunrise, when the Progress craft was taken, as is customary, by rail, lying horizontally on the rail car,from the processing hanger at the Baikonur cosmodrome.

Progress M-14M on rail car prior to launch
Progress M-14M on rail car prior to launch Credit: RIA Novosti

It was then hydraulically lift into a vertical position, and the launch platform was inclined to the proper angle for launch.

Progress 14-M waits on the pad
Progress 14-M waits on the pad Credit: Roscosmos

It was very cold at the launch site with temperatures of around 5 degrees farenheit being recorded.

The launch of the latest Progress vehicle is the culmination of a series of carefully choreographed steps. These started on Tuesday with the undocking, from the PIRS docking module, on the Russian segment of the space station, of the previous Progress resupply ship.

Progress M-13M undocks from the PIRS docking compartment
Progress M-13M undocks from the PIRS docking compartment

After undocking from the ISS, the Progress craft was positioned in a higher orbit to deply the CHIBIS-M micro satellite. (For more details of the CHIBIS-M mission, click HERE. After successfully deploying the micro satellite, Russian controllers fired the engines for the Progress vehicle to burn up in the upper atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.

The Progress M-14M craft contains almost 2.5 tonnes of supplies for the personnel aboard the ISS. The craft contains:

Main flight components (total weight – 1,259 kg) consisting of:

Item Weight
Fuel in the tanks refueling system 539 kg
Gas in cylinders of oxygen 50 kg
Water 420 kg
Fuel in the tanks of the DCD for use on the ISS 250 kg

Cargo delivered in a sealed compartment (total mass – 1,410 kg) consisting of:

Item Weight
Equipment for life support (GM) 6 kg
Equipment for water supply (WAS) 107 kg
Equipment to ensure the thermal regime (Comp) 40 kg
Command and control equipment “Regulus-OS” 36Kg
TV (TVS) 8 kg
Traffic control and navigation (ship), telephone and telegraph communications (STTS), control onboard equipment (Suba) 2 kg
Means maintenance and repair (STORA) 3 kg
Funds sanitary services (SSGO) 156 kg
fire protection (DPSS) 6 kg
Lighting 17 kg
Funds intermodule ventilation (SMV) 14 kg
containers with food rations, fresh food 304kg
Medical equipment, clothes, personal hygiene, clean air controls and cleaning station 184kg
Equipment FGB “Zarya” 3 kg
Equipment SB-1 “Pirs” 7 kg
Equipment for MIM-1 “Dawn” 24 kg
Equipment for MIM-2 “Search” 5 kg
Equipment for scientific experiments, “Typology”, “Immune,” “Biodegradation”, “Matryoshka-R”, “Endurance”, “Test” 88 kg
Bortdokumentatsiya, parcels for the crew 37 kg
Set items for the Russian crew members 164kg
Equipment for the U.S. segment, including food, sanitation and hygiene facilities to ensure 199kg

The Progress craft, lifted off, flawlessly at 23:06:40 GMT/UTC on Wednesday.

Progress M-14M launches from Baikonur
Progress M-14M launches from Baikonur

Maximum dynamic pressure (or MAX-Q) occurred around 65 seconds into the flight. This is the point at where the pressures on the space ship, from the speed traveled and the density of the atmosphere is at its greatest.

The 4 strap on boosters and first stage were separated as the craft attained 3,500 miles an hour, 2 minutes and 6 seconds after lift off. The first stage is 68 feet in length and 24 feet in diameter and burns liquid fuel.

Most of the recent issues with the Soyuz launchers have revolved around problems with the third stage of the rocket. I imagine therefore, that during this phase, Russian flight engineers were holding their breath. They needn’t have worried, as the stage burned perfectly and confirmation that a successful preliminary orbit had been reached was relayed just over 10 minutes after launch.

Once Progress attained its preliminary orbit, the solar arrays and navigational attenna were successfully deployed. At this point, flight control was passed to the Russian mission control headquaters in Korolov near Moscow.

Russian mission control in Korolev
Russian mission control in Korolev, near Moscow

The Progress now begins a 2 day catch-up to the ISS. 2 rendezvous burns are planned for Tuesday, 1 for Thursday before the final automated rendezvous process starts on Friday.

The Progress vehicle is due to dock at the PIRS module of the ISS at 00:08 GMT/UTC on Saturday morning (04:08 Moscow Time. 19:08 EST on Friday)

At the time of launch, the ISS was orbiting 240 statue miles above the central African country of Chad, moving in a South West to North Easterly direction. The 6 astronauts (a full complement) were asleep during the launch.

After the Progress M-14M craft docks to the ISS, it will remain their until April 24th, when it will make way for the next Progress vehicle.

There are 3 unmanned resupply ships that ferry supplies the ISS. Progress, the Russian craft makes 4 visits a year. ESA provide the Automated Transfer Vehicle, the 3rd of which is due to launch from Kourou on March 9th.

The third resupply vehicle is provided by the Japanese space Agency. It is called the H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) and the third one is due to dock with the ISS later in 2012.

A changing of the guard

The latest Russian resupply craft to supply the International Space Station (ISS) was undocked successfully from the PIRS docking module at 22:10 UTC on Monday 23rd January 2012.

The Progress M-13M craft was launched from the Bakinour Cosmodrome at 10:11 UTC on 30th October, and docked at the ISS on 2nd November. Carrying almost 3 tonnes of supplies, it was the first successful Soyuz flight since the failure, on August 24th 2011 of the previous resupply vessel.

The undocking of the Progress M-13M craft from the ISS, allows for the next resupply vessel, imaginatively called Progress M-14M, to be launched from Bakinour in Kazakhstan. This is currently planned to launch at 23:06 UTC (18:06 EST) on 25th January (03:06 Moscow time on the 26th Jan).

Progress 14-M waits on the pad
Progress 14-M waits on the pad Credit: Roscosmos

The actual name, or designation, of the mission is specified differently in the US and Russia. In the United States, the mission is known as Progress 46P. For them, its the 46th Russian resupply mission to the ISS. The Russians, on the other hand, designate the mission Progress M-14M, as its the 14th flight of this model of the Soyuz rocket. This model, has been modified to include a fully digital flight control system, and first flew in November 2008.

This time the resupply vehicle will supply around 2.5 tonnes of supplies to the ISS. It consists of:

Main flight components (total weight – 1,259 kg) consisting of:

Item Weight
Fuel in the tanks refueling system 539 kg
Gas in cylinders of oxygen 50 kg
Water 420 kg
Fuel in the tanks of the DCD for use on the ISS 250 kg

Cargo delivered in a sealed compartment (total mass – 1,410 kg) consisting of:

Item Weight
Equipment for life support (GM) 6 kg
Equipment for water supply (WAS) 107 kg
Equipment to ensure the thermal regime (Comp) 40 kg
Command and control equipment “Regulus-OS” 36Kg
TV (TVS) 8 kg
Traffic control and navigation (ship), telephone and telegraph communications (STTS), control onboard equipment (Suba) 2 kg
Means maintenance and repair (STORA) 3 kg
Funds sanitary services (SSGO) 156 kg
fire protection (DPSS) 6 kg
Lighting 17 kg
Funds intermodule ventilation (SMV) 14 kg
containers with food rations, fresh food 304kg
Medical equipment, clothes, personal hygiene, clean air controls and cleaning station 184kg
Equipment FGB “Zarya” 3 kg
Equipment SB-1 “Pirs” 7 kg
Equipment for MIM-1 “Dawn” 24 kg
Equipment for MIM-2 “Search” 5 kg
Equipment for scientific experiments, “Typology”, “Immune,” “Biodegradation”, “Matryoshka-R”, “Endurance”, “Test” 88 kg
Bortdokumentatsiya, parcels for the crew 37 kg
Set items for the Russian crew members 164kg
Equipment for the U.S. segment, including food, sanitation and hygiene facilities to ensure 199kg

After its scheduled launch tomorrow, the resupply vessel will gradually catch up to the ISS for an eventual docking at 00:08 UTC/GMT on Saturday 28th January (06:08 Moscow Time Saturday, 19:08 EST on Friday)

Prior to Progress M-13M’s fiery demise above the Pacific Ocean, Russian ground controllers will briefly send it to a higher orbit by switching on its propulsion engines on Tuesday, at 13:35 UTC/GMT (17:35 Moscow time, 08:35 EST ) & 14:22 GMT (18:22 Moscow time, 09:22 EST).

After two orbit corrections, the Progress craft will be in an orbit around 500 km to deploy the Chibis-M micro-satellite. The mission is an small international collaboration project between Russia, Hungary and Ukraine.

Chibis-M is due to separate from the Progress craft at 23:19 GMT/UTC on Tuesday 24th January (03:19 Moscow time on Wednesday, 18:19 EST Tuesday) and will remain in orbit for at least four years studying lightnings and thunderstorms in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Chibis-M weights about 40 kg and carries about 12 kg of equipment to study high-altitude powerful pulses of gamma rays, X-rays and plasma discharges that sometimes accompany thunderstorms. The craft will hopefully help explain Terrestrial Gamma Ray Flashes (TGFs). TGFs, first discovered in 1994, are probably caused by electric fields produced above thunderstorms, but scientists are still uncertain as to the exact nature of the phenomenon. For more information about the Chibis-M micro-satellite click HERE

Chibis-M  micro satellite
Chibis-M micro satellite Credit: AMSAT-UK

After deploying the Chibis-M satellite, Russian ground controllers will fire the engines on the Progress craft one more time, before it meets a fiery death in the upper atmosphere somewhere above an uninhabited area of the Pacific Ocean at around 03:18 GMT on Wednesday (07:18 Moscow Time, 22:18 EST on Tuesday)

2011 Spaceflight and launches: A review

2011 rekindled, in a MASSIVE fashion, my love of rocket launches, space exploration and astronomy. As it’s the start of a new year,I thought I would compile a retrospective, biased account of what spaceflights and rocket launches excited ME during the past year.

Here are the bare facts:

  • 7 Nations (Europe, Japan, China, Russia, United States, Iran & India) launched at least one satellite into orbit
  • There were 7 manned flights: 4 Russian, 3 American. In total 28 people were ferried into space during 2011.
  • China conducted more launches than America in 2011
  • In total, there were 84 launches
  • It was the LAST flight of the American Space Shuttle fleet
    Fully retracted RSS showing Space Shuttle Atlantis
    Fully retracted RSS showing Space Shuttle Atlantis
  • It was the FIRST flight of the Zenit-3F (carried the Russian equivalent of Hubble into space) rocket
  • There were 6 mission failures
  • Contrary to what MOST people think, construction of the International Space Station (ISS) was NOT completed in 2011. It will be completed when the Russians send up their Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM) later in 2012

In terms of planetary exploration:

  • The MESSENGER probe entered the orbit of Mercury, becoming its FIRST artificial satellite
  • GRAIL A entered lunar orbit, after a journey of 3 1/2 months
    GRAIL A as it approaches Lunar Orbit
    GRAIL A as it approaches Lunar Orbit
  • The DAWN probe entered into orbit around VESTA; the 2nd largest asteroid.
  • Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), a probe the size of a small car was launched
  • Russia dipped its toes into interplanetary probes, after a 15 year gap, with Phobos Grunt; a mission to extract soil from the surface of Phobos (A martian moon) and return the sample to Earth.

Summary by Country

USA

The Americans conducted 3 manned launches during 2011. Some people may take issue with this but, the Space Shuttle Discovery is MY space shuttle.. Yes, the American government provided the funds, NASA and its contractors built and maintained the vehicle, and now, sadly, NASA is taking her apart, but in my own mind DISCOVERY IS MINE.

It was the 1st manned launch of 2011, and I was there to witness it. I witnessed the excitement,the sights,the SOUNDS. IT WAS AMAZING. HOW I got there is the story for another day.

Kennedy Space Centre showing Causeway
Kennedy Space Centre showing Causeway

STS-133 was the LAST flight of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Originally scheduled for launch in late 2010, the launch was delayed for a number of reasons including:

  • An orbital Maneuvering System vapor leak
  • A main engine controller problem
  • A Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate leak
  • Cracks in the external tank

Sounds like a long list, and it was. Total turnaround time was more than 111 days in total. Discovery finally launched on February 24th 2011 (and that almost didn’t happen as 5 minutes before the launch the down range computer froze and needed to be rebooted), and after a 14 day mission, that included 2 spacewalks, the installation of the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module to the ISS, and the sending of a humanoid robot called Robonaut into space, Discovery landed safely on 9th March 2011.

It was followed by the final flights of Endeavour (STS-134), which carried the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-2), a device mounted on the outside of the ISS,designed to search for various types of unusual matter by measuring cosmic rays. For more information, on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer click HERE

The final EVER launch of a Space Shuttle; Atlantis launched on 8th July 2011 (STS-135). It was mainly a International space station (ISS) resupply mission, and carried the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) named Raffaello and a Lightweight Multi-Purpose Carrier (LMC). As an interesting aside, the mission also took the first iphone into space. Atlantis flew with only 4 astronauts; the lowest number of astronauts to fly aboard any Space Shuttle since STS-6 back in 1983. When the wheels of STS-135 slowed to a stop, on 21st July 2011, commander Chris Ferguson’s final words (see note below), brought an end to a 30 year program. It also usehered in an insecure future for NASA’s manned spaceflight program.

STS-135 Main gear touchdown

America has effectively ‘privatised’ low Earth orbit. No NASA launches will now take astronauts or supplies to low Earth orbit or the ISS.
NASA has issued funds to various private companies to supply craft that will do this. America is currently paying Russia around $60 million to transport its astronauts to and from the ISS.

A company called SPACEX was the first commercial provider to launch a rocket and retrieve a return capsule successfully in 2011.

SpaceX capsule after  first successful orbital flight
SpaceX capsule after first successful orbital flight (Credit: SpaceX)

It will, in February, launch a mission to indirectly ‘dock’ with the American segment of the ISS to provide supplies. America does not realistically expect to have a man rated craft (a capsule capable of safely transporting an astronaut to low Earth orbit) until around 2015-16.

Notable non manned missions, included the September 10th launch of the twin GRAIL probes to the Moon. These will map the Moon with incredible accuracy and hope to discover its origin. The first probe, (GRAIL A), successfully entered lunar orbit on 31st December. For more details of the GRAIL mission click Here

The other notable mission launched in 2011 was Mars Curiousity Laboratory(MSL), launched from Cape Canaveral on 26th November, atop a Atlas V rocket. It will test Mars’ habitability and whether or not life HAS or STILL exists on ‘The Red Planet’. To find this out, the rover will carry the biggest, most advanced suite of instruments for scientific studies ever sent to the martian surface. It’s method of landing is truly revolutionary, and this will be tested when the probe is due to land on the Martian surface during August 2012.

CHINA

China were VERY active in launches during 2011, surpassing America in the NUMBER of launches undertaken, to slip into second place in the annual table.

The majority of Chinese launches were either communication satellite deployments (for China and other countries), Earth observation (including environmental monitoring, oceanography), COMPASS satellite deployments (COMPASS is the Chinese answer to the American Global positioning satellite (GPS) system) or military satellites.

Without doubt, their most ambitious mission was the launch of China’s first space station module, Tiangong-1, on September 29th, followed by the launch of the unmanned module,Shenzhou 8, on 31st October. Tiangong-1 and Shenzhou 8 then docked twice in early November before Shenzhou 8 was returned to Earth on the 17th November. While, NOT a manned mission, all preparations for this mission, assumed it was manned, even to the point of putting food into the Shenzhou 8 module. The launch of Shenzhou 8, was broadcast live over the internet and satellite TV channels to much fanfare. The dockings were also shown live, on state television.

Chinese docking in space
Shenzhou 8 approaching Tiangong-1 Credit: CCTV

While China, still labours well behind Russia and America in terms of orbital accomplishments, they are catching up fast. They are certainly a country to look out for in 2012.

RUSSIA

Russia launched, by far, the largest number of launches; 35, but also had by far the largest number of mission failures (5 if you include Phobos Grunt). They conducted 4 manned flights to the International Space Station (ISS) and carried 12 passengers (6 Russian cosmonauts, 4 American, 1 Japanese and 1 astronaut from the European Space Agency)

Even taking into consideration the launch failures during 2011, the Soyuz rocket is still by FAR, the most reliable rocket ever developed with more than 1,700 launches under its belt, going back as far as 1957, with the launch of Sputnik.

The 1st ambitious Russian science endeavour, of 2011, was the Spektr-R mission. Spektr-R is free flying satellite carrying a 10-meter radio telescope, and is an international collaborative mission consisting of Russia, Australia, Canada, Europe, India, Ukraine and USA. It will be used in conjunction with ground based radio telescopes to obtain high quality radio images of radio objects in the Universe. This was launched on 18th July 2011 from the Baikonour Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan atop a Zenit-3F rocket. Currently the probe is undergoing final checks, before it becomes fully operational. Russian radio astronomers are very excited about this mission, and have in fact dubbed the 10m telescope, the “Russian Hubble”. Time will tell if this is the case.

TheSpektr-R radio telescope undergoing final tests
Above: Crowned with a 10-meter antenna, the Spektr-R radio telescope undergoes final tests. Credit: NPO Lavochkin.

In a 7 day period in August it appeared that the ‘wheels did come off’ the Russian space program. The failures started on 17th August with the launch of the Express AM4 satellite into orbit. Although the initial launch was a success , one of the subsequent burns to take the satellite into a higher orbit failed. AM4 Failure

This was followed by the more significant failure of the Progress 44P mission to ferry supplies to the ISS. The third stage rocket failed to fire correctly, and the rocket and supplies crashed into a Siberian mountainside.

This failure caused a temporary suspension of ALL Soyuz flights while a board of inquiry was formed to discover the reason for the failures. After a few weeks, it was determined that the Progress third stage that failed had clogged tubes supplying fuel to the engines, and that the failure of the AM4 satellite was due to a software error.

These failures caused the temporary, partial, de-manning of the ISS during the later part of the year.

The launch of the next manned Soyuz TMA-22 did not take place until 14th November and was a nervy affair. Thankfully, the launch proceeded without a hitch (although it occurred in a virtual blizzard) and the 3 man crew of Anton Shkaplerov,Anatoli Ivanishin and American astronaut Daniel C. Burbank entered the ISS on the 16 November 2011 for what is to be a 5 month mission.

The biggest blow, from a scientific standpoint, occurred the previous week (8th November) when a Zenit-2M carrying the Phobos-Grunt probe (a smaller probe from China and a microbe experiment from the Planetary Society) failed to leave Earth’s orbit.

Zenit rocket carrying aloft the Phobos-Grunt probe
Zenit rocket carrying aloft the Phobos-Grunt probe

Along with the Spektr-R mission, Phobos-Grunt was being seen as a renaissance of Russian interest in space sciences. The probe marked a return to planetary exploration for the Russians, after a gap of 15 years. The objective of Phobos Grunt was to land on Phobos (a Martian Moon), collect surface material and return this to Earth. After initially making it successfully into low Earth orbit, its rockets failed to fire to send it on its way to Mars. After exhaustive attempts by many agencies to contact the probe, defeat has been admitted by the Russians and the probe will return to Earth in early 2012. To find out more about the Phobos Grunt mission click Phobos Grunt stories

The final Russian launch failure occurred on 23rd Decmeber, when a Soyuz 2.1b rocket carrying a Russian communications satellite (Meridan 5) failed and parts crashed into the Siberian Town of Novosibirsk Oblast. Meridan 5 failure. Again, it was suggested the third stage engine had failed. This failure prompted Vladimir Popovkin,the head of the Russian Space Agency, to say the Russian Spacce Industry was “in-crisis” and required route and branch reform.

The very final launch of 2011 (scheduled for 27th December) was postponed when engineers spotted an anomaly in the Breeze M upper stage of the Proton rocket during preflight testing.

EUROPE

ESA (European Space Agency) consolidated its position with 5 flawless launches of the powerful Ariane 5 rocket from Kourou in French Guinea.
Ariane V204 Launch 1
2011 also saw the first launch of a Soyuz rocket from Kourou, as well as Arianspace’s continued involvement launching Soyuz 2.1a/Fregat launches from Baikonur with its collaboration in Starsem.

Notable payloads carried by ESA in 2011 included the Automated Transfer vehicle (ATV), Johannes Kepler, aboard an Ariane 5 rocket in February. This was an unmanned cargo craft designed to resupply the International Space Station (ISS). Johannes Kepler carried propellant (to boost the orbit of the ISS), air & dry cargo weighing over 7,000 kgs (15,000 lbs). It had a total mass of over 20,000 kgs (44,000 lbs),making it, at the time, the heaviest payload launched by the ESA. Once the ATV had been emptied, Johannes Kepler undocked from the ISS on 20th June, and burnt up on re-entry (by design) the following day over the Pacific Ocean.

ESA also launched the first two Galileo satellites aboard a Soyuz rocket from Kourou. The Galileo satellites will give Europe a global positioning system to rival the American GPS, and Russian GLONASS systems). ESA also launched a variety of communication satellites for Saudi Arabia, Luxembourg, India and the United Arab Emirates.

IRAN

Iran’s only launch in 2011, was on March 15th when the ISA (Iranian Space Agency) launched the Kavoshgar-4 (Explorer-4) rocket. The rocket carried a capsule designed to hold a live monkey, though no monkey was actually present. Since this launch, plans by the ISA to send a monkey into space seem to have been suspended.

INDIA

The ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) had 3 successful launches in 2011. All occurred from the Sriharikota space centre, North of Chennai, on the East coast of India. PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle)-C16 successfully launched 3 Satellites on April 20th. This was followed by PSLV-C17, which successfully launched GSAT-12 on July 15. Finally, PSLV-C18 successfully launched 4 satellites on October 12th 2011. India launchers carried more than 3800 Kg into orbit in 2011.

Indian rocket PSLV 18 launches
Indian rocket PSLV 18 launches

I’m sure there are launches i’ve forgotten, or missions I’ve missed. But there you are. This is a list of the 2011 missions that made me tweet. Follow me on twitter

I’m VERY excited about what 2012 could bring. MSL, GRAIL, DAWN, Spektr-R, Hubble to name but a few. “Let’s see what’s out there, TOGETHER.”

NOTE: A few moments after final wheel stop of Atlantis commander Chris Ferguson’s final words were: “Mission complete, Houston, After serving the world for over 30 years, the shuttle has earned its place in history, and it has come to a final stop.”

Phobos Grunt to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere in around 10 days

*** UPDATE 25th January 2011 18:05 GMT/UTC ***

US strategic Command has released what it considers to be the best estimate of where the Russian probe Phobos-Grunt crashed to Earth, or burnt up in the upper atmosphere. They estimate, based on telemetry radar imaging and orbital data a reentry time of 17:46 GMT/UTC on 15th January 2012. The craft is said to have burnt up at an altitude of 80 km at 46°S and 87°W, near the South American coastline. (see image below)

US Strategic Command prediction where Phobos Grunt burnt up
US Strategic Command prediction where Phobos Grunt burnt up

The effort, undertaken by US Strategic command, was part of a comprehensive reentry prediction campaign for Phobos–Grunt conducted by the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC), a technical forum for the worldwide coordination of activities related to human-made and natural debris in space.

IADC is an inter agency forum for the worldwide coordination of activities related to issues of human-made & natural debris in space. Members agencies include ESA, NASA, European national agencies and the Russian, Chinese, Canadian, Japanese, Ukrainian and Indian space agencies.

*** UPDATE 15th January 2011 18:05 GMT/UTC ***

Russia Today, a Russian based news organisation has reported that Phobos Grunt has crash landed into the Pacific Ocean. According to reports, the debris fell in 1250 kilometers to the west of the island of Wellington.
More details at: Russia Today announces CRASH of Phobos Grunt probe

*** UPDATE 14th January 2011 17:45 GMT/UTC ***

Roscosmos NOW suggests that Phobos Grunt COULD re-enter the atmosphere around the Falklands Islands, but still tomorrow, on the 15th January. Due to the orbital journey of the probe, anywhere between the southern part of England and Wales, to the lower tip of South America COULD be the re-entry point.

The re-entry will be one of the largest probes that has EVER plunged back into the Earth’s atmosphere. Due to the fact that it never ventured to Mars all the fuel designed for the mission has NOT been used.

When Phobos Grunt re-enters the atmosphere, it will be a 13 1/2 tonnes probe consisting of solar panels, probe machinery (including a small probe DESIGNED to survive re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere) and toxic cryogenic fuel (making up around 10 1/2 tonnes of the overall weight). This fuel is housed in an aluminum tank aboard the probe.

Phobos Grunt Probe
Phobos Grunt Probe Credit: Roscosmos

The fact that it’s an aluminium tank is good, as this means that when the probe re-enters the atmosphere, the aluminium,as its a fast conductor of heat, should ensure near uniform warming of the toxic fuel. This SHOULD ensure it unfreezes and IGNITES sooner, which means it will ignite HIGHER in the upper atmosphere, causing LESS potential damage.

*** UPDATE 12th January 2011 22:00 GMT/UTC ***

The Russian news agency, Interfax, is reporting that Roscosmos has now suggested the craft might fall into the Indian Ocean between the eastern African coast and the island of Madagascar approximately at 47 degrees eastern longitude and 7 degrees southern latitude.

“The change of place and time of the fall of the Phobos-Grunt debris is due to the decrease in its orbit altitude, solar activity and the atmospheric condition,” the latest statement said.

We can expect more announcements of this nature with various locations being suggested as we get closer to the point where the probe actually does re-enter. As the orbit of Phobos Grunt covers virtually anywhere from the southern part of England to the Southern tip of South America (51 degrees above and below the equator) anywhere in between could be a possbile entry zone. The hope is that as 70% of the Earth is covered in water, any segments that survive re-entry will either land here, or in an uninhabited area.

World Map. Shaded are is where Phobos Grunt could re-enter atmosphere
Map shaded area shows where Phobos Grunt could re-enter atmosphere

All we can safely say is this: A Russian spacecraft weighing over 13 1/2 tonnes (of mostly toxic fuel) WILL re-enter the atmosphere VERY soon.

To find out more of the details of the Phobos Grunt mission, including why the rocket carries 10.5 tonnes of toxic fuel and what effect this could have on the Earth, click HERE

*** UPDATE 11th January 2011 19:45 GMT/UTC***

Roscosmos has issued a statement, today reinforcing their estimate of the 15th January for the probe’s re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, and have for the first said the the probable fallout area will be the Indian Ocean area, southwest of Jakarta, the Indonesian capital.

Also in a separate statement, which many are interpreting as a dig at America, Russian officials are suggesting “external forces” may be responsible for recent Russians launch mishaps, and that perhaps Phobos Grunt may have failed because it was struck by some type of antisatellite weapon. While providing no evidence to back up his claims, Vladimir Popovkin the director of the Russian space agency is reported to have said that:

“the frequent failure of our space launches, which occur at a time when they are flying over the part of Earth not visible from Russia, where we do not see the spacecraft and do not receive telemetric information, are not clear to us,”

With recent funding, personnel and security issues that have beset the Russian space Industry recently, these, in my view, are a far more logical explanation to the current woes of the Russian Space Program that any suggestion of any “external forces”.

*** Original story ***

The Russian probe, Phobos-Grunt is expected to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere on January 15th, (+/- 2 days) according to the latest information provided by Russian Air & Space Defence Troops’ spokesman Alexei Zolotukhin. No actual impact point was given.

He also acknowledged that this date could change depending on certain other factors. These can include:

  • The thickness of the atmosphere
  • Solar activity
  • The orientation and spin of the probe

Over Christmas, the Americans announced that they thought Phobos-Grunt would re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere on January 14th, and land in the Helmand region of Afghanistan. Based on the factors above, the fact that the Americans named a date well in advance and a very specific location, these claims were met with skepticism.

Whenever the probes does re-enter, due to the population distribution on the planet and the fact that 70% of the planet is covered in water, it is highly likely the probe with either land in a remote area or in the sea.

Zenit rocket carrying aloft the Phobos-Grunt probe
Zenit rocket carrying aloft the Phobos-Grunt probe

The Phobos grunt probe was the first attempt by Russia to launch an interplanetary probe for nearly 15 years. It was mainly designed to fly to the Martian Moon, Phobos, extract a soil sample (the Russian word for soil is Grunt) and then return this sample to Earth. If successful, it would have been a VERY exciting mission.

It was launched from Site 45 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, on November 9th 2011, at 00:16 Moscow Time (20:16 GMT, 15:16 EST, on November 8th), on board a Russian Zenit-2SB41.1 rocket.

While the rocket placed the probe into a successful initial orbit, the engines on the probe designed to fire the craft to its journey towards the Martian Moon failed to fire, and the probe has been drifting helplessly in orbit ever since. Extensive attempts by Russian, European and American ground stations have not been able to make any meaningful contact with the probe.

To find out more of the details of the Phobos Grunt mission, including why the rocket carries 10.5 tonnes of toxic fuel and what effect this could have on the Earth, click HERE

GRAIL probes successfully enter Lunar orbit

NASA’s Jet propulsion Laboratory has confirmed that after 2 separate burn operations, conducted 24 hours apart, that both GRAIL probes; GRAIL A and GRAIL B, have successfully been placed into their initial Lunar orbits.

The process started yesterday (31st December 2011), with the burn of the engines on the GRAIL A probe. This started 13:21 PST (16:21 EST, 21:21 GMT/UTC). Engine shutdown occurred after a 40 minute burn, and JPL soon confirmed successful insertion of GRAIL A into Lunar orbit. The initial orbit is 56 miles by 5,197 miles (90 kilometers by 8,363 kilometers) around the moon and takes approximately 11.5 hours to complete

GRAIL A as it approaches Lunar Orbit
GRAIL A as it approaches Lunar Orbit

Successful insertion of GRAIL A into Lunar orbit has been confirmed.

Celebrations after confirmation of GRAIL A in Lunar orbit
Celebrations after confirmation of GRAIL A in Lunar orbit

After a scheduled delay of almost 24 hours, GRAIL B burn started its burn precisely on time at 14:05 PST (17:05 EST / 22:05 GMT/UTC) on January 1st 2012 to place the spacecraft into an elliptical 11.5 hour orbit. This burn was scheduled to last around 39 minutes. The closest approach to the Moon was approximately 85 miles above its surface.

Grail B Burns as it enters Lunar Orbit
Grail B Burns as it enters Lunar Orbit

Over the next few weeks, the GRAIL team will perform a number of burns on both spacecraft, to gradually reduce this orbit from 11.5 hours to just under two. At the end of these maneuvers, and when the Science phase of the project begins (scheduled for early March), the spacecraft will be orbiting at an altitude of only 34 miles (55 kilometers) above the surface of the Moon. This science phase is due to last 82 days, at which point both craft will be deliberately crashed into the Moon’s surface.

For previous stories relating to this story, see:

1st GRAIL probe set to enter Moons orbit

GRAIL Launch

1st GRAIL probe set to enter Moon’s orbit

NASA’s twin spacecraft to study the moon from crust to core are nearing their New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day main-engine burns to place the duo in lunar orbit.

Named Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL), the 2 spacecraft are scheduled to be placed in orbit over the next 36 hours. The first one (GRAIL-A) will enter orbit starting at 1:21 p.m. PST (16:21 EST, 21:21 GMT/UTC) today (December 31st 2011), while the 2nd probe (GRAIL-B) enters the Moon’s orbit at 14:05 PST (17:05 EST / 22:05 GMT/UTC) tomorrow (January 1st 2012).

Our team may not get to partake in a traditional New Year’s celebration, but I expect seeing our two spacecraft safely in lunar orbit should give us all the excitement and feeling of euphoria anyone in this line of work would ever need,” said David Lehman, project manager for GRAIL at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.

Delta II rocket showing GRAIL

The distance from Earth to the moon is approximately 250,000 miles (402,300 kilometers). While NASA’s Apollo astronauts made the journey to the Moon in around 3 days, the GRAIL spacecraft have taken about 30 times longer. They were launched atop a Delta 2 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in September 10th 2011,and have covered more than 2.5 million miles (4 million kilometers) to get there.

Grail trajectory to the Moon

This low-energy, long-duration trajectory has given mission planners and controllers more time to assess the spacecraft’s health. The path (see image above) also allowed a vital component of the spacecraft’s single science instrument, the Ultra Stable Oscillator, to be continuously powered for several months. This will allow it to reach a stable operating temperature long before it begins making science measurements in lunar orbit.

IGNITION!!!!

Close up of Delta II Carrying grail

This mission will rewrite the textbooks on the evolution of the moon,” said Maria Zuber, GRAIL principal investigator from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge. “Our two spacecraft are operating so well during their journey that we have performed a full test of our science instrument and confirmed the performance required to meet our science objectives.

As of December 28th 2011, GRAIL-A is 65,860 miles (106,000 kilometers) from the moon and closing at a speed of 745 mph (1,200 kph). GRAIL-B is 79,540 miles (128,000 kilometers) from the moon and closing at a speed of 763 mph (1,228 kph).

After orbital insertion both probes will orbit the Moon every 11.5 hours. Over the following weeks, the GRAIL team will perform a number of burns on both spacecraft, to gradually reduce this orbit to just under two hours. At this point, and when the Science phase of the project begins, the spacecraft will be orbiting at an altitude of around 34 miles (55 kilometers) above the surface of the Moon. This science phase is due to last 82 days, at which point both craft will be deliberately crashed into the Moon’s surface.

For more information, relating to the GRAIL mission, click HERE

*** UPDATE 31st December 2011 21:49 GMT/UTC ***

Burn of GRAIL A seems to be going well. Probe engines have fired successfully and hopefully the probe will be in Lunar orbit soon. For Live updates, of the orbital insertion, visit NASA Solar System Eyes

Engine shutdown occurred a few moments ago. All seems well. Awaiting confirmation of successful insertion into Lunar orbit.

GRAIL A as it approaches Lunar Orbit
GRAIL A as it approaches Lunar Orbit

Successful insertion of GRAIL A into Lunar orbit has been confirmed.

Celebrations after confirmation of GRAIL A in Lunar orbit
Celebrations after confirmation of GRAIL A in Lunar orbit

GRAIL B will now start the same process tomorrow, starting at 14:05 PST (17:05 EST / 22:05 GMT/UTC). GRAIL B is currently just over 307,000 miles from the Moon.

*** UPDATE 1st January 22:12 GMT/UTC ***

GRAIL B burn has started to place the spacecraft into an elliptical orbit of around 11.5 hours.

Grail B Burns as it enters Lunar Orbit
Grail B Burns as it enters Lunar Orbit

Proton ILS rocket launch postponed as fault found in Breeze-M upper stage

A proton rocket launch carrying a SES communications satellite was cancelled today after engineers testing the rocket spotted an anomaly in the Breeze M upper stage.

The upper stage will now be replaced. This will involve removing the rocket from the launch pad, and replacing the defective component(s). This will involve a delay of at least 25 days…

Poised to be the largest satellite in the SES fleet, and replacing an existing NSS-7 satellite, the SES-4 will enhance what is already the largest neighborhood in the Atlantic. SES-4 will be a hybrid satellite featuring high powered C-band coverage and incremental global capacity which is ideal for video distribution, government and VSAT services. The satellite’s Ku-band payload will provide enhanced coverage and capacity across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Western Africa and Latin America.

SES-4 is the largest satellite ordered by SES to date, weighing 6,180 kg. Satellite Mission Lifetime is designed to be 15 Years.

No new launch date has been provided by the ILS (international Launch Services) launch team.

*** UPDATE 28th December 2011 ***

ILS (international Launch Services) have just announced that the SES-4 communication satellite will be launched on the 21st January 2012 from the Baiknour Cosmodrome.
more to follow

Search continues for failed Soyuz and Meridan satellite

Officials are still searching for parts of the failed Meridian 5 military communication satellite and parts of the Soyuz rocket that failed correctly to launch on Friday 23rd December.

Launch & impact area of Soyuz
Launch & impact area of Soyuz

The third stage of the Soyuz rocket, a stage that has become notoriously unreliable over recent months, is the section believed to have caused the launch failure from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Northern Russia. All was going well with the flight, until around 7 minutes into the flight.

The searches are being concentrated in the Novosibirsk region of Siberia, near the areas of Azimuth, Chernakova, Vagaytsevo, Ust-Orda which stretches for more than 100 square miles. Residents have been informed they should also examine their own gardens. This is after a report of a segment of the failed rocket impacting a house owned by Andrei Krivoruchenko. He said that he heard a huge noise and a crash as the satellite hit the roof, while he was in the house with his wife.

“I climbed up onto the roof and could not work out what had happened. Then I saw a huge hole in the roof and the metal object,” he told Russian state television.

Town authorities have informed Mr. Krivoruchenko that if the claims are verified, the State will pay for the repair to his property.

This failure has culminated in the head of the Russian space Agency Vladimir Popovkin stating that the Russian Space industry is in “CRISIS” and that things are looking very serious. For more news on what prompted those comments, click HERE