China Working on Reusable Space Plane, Low-Cost Launches & Satellite Constellation

The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) announced last week that it plans to launch a reusable space plane capable of taking off and landing on a runway around the year 2020.

Unlike traditional one-off spacecraft, the new spacecraft will fly into the sky like an aircraft, said Chen Hongbo, a researcher from the corporation. The spacecraft can transport people or payload into the orbit and return to Earth.

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Orbital Launch Statistics for 2016

The Soyuz MS-02 rocket is launched with Expedition 49 Soyuz commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos, flight engineer Shane Kimbrough of NASA, and flight engineer Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Ryzhikov, Kimbrough, and Borisenko will spend the next four months living and working aboard the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)
The Soyuz MS-02 rocket is launched with Expedition 49 Soyuz commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos, flight engineer Shane Kimbrough of NASA, and flight engineer Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

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There were 85 orbital launches in 2016, not including the Falcon 9 that exploded on launch pad prior to a pre-flight engine test. The launches break down as follow:

  • United States: 22 (22-0)
  • China: 22 (20-1-1)
  • Russia: 19 (18-1)
  • Europe: 9 (9-0)
  • India: 7 (7-0)
  • Japan: 4 (4-0)
  • Israel: 1 (1-0)
  • North Korea: 1 (1-0)

For a more detailed description of these launches, please read US, China Led World in Launches in 2016.

Let’s look at launches by booster and spaceport and the flights that were required for human spaceflight.
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Reports: Chinese Long March Rocket Fails in Flight

china_flagWith all the attention focused on the explosion of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launcher, another (apparent) rocket failure has received less attention.

News outlets report that a Chinese Long March 4C rocket failed to orbit the Gaofen-10 Earth observation satellite after taking off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre on Thursday morning.

The reports indicate the rocket’s third stage lost thrust, causing the satellite to burn up in the atmosphere. There are also reports and pictures online of rocket debris that fell on land.

There has been an odd silence about the flight from the official sources. Government-run television showed video of the launch, but there were no follow up reports indicating the flight had succeeded.

The Gaofen-10 is one of China’s most advanced Earth observation satellites, providing high-resolution imagery for civilian and military users.

China Plans to Significantly Boost Launch Rate

Long March launch
Long March launch

China is looking to significantly increase its launch rate through 2020.

China will launch about 150 of its Long March carrier rockets over the next five years, one of its space chiefs said on Friday, days ahead of celebrations marking the launch of the country’s first satellite 46 years ago.

“In the 13th Five-Year Plan period [2016-2020], we will see about 30 launches [of the Long March series] each year,” Chen Xuechuan, assistant president of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, told Xinhua.

There were 86 Long March missions in the five years from 2011 to 2015, and 48 from 2006 to 2010….

The launch of the SJ-10 retrievable scientific research satellite earlier this month marked the 226th mission of the Long March rocket family, and the pace of launches is accelerating.

“Our first 100 Long March missions took us 37 years. But it only took us seven years to complete the latest 100,” Chen said.

Thirty launches annually would be higher than China is planning more than 20 launches this year, including:

  • Tiangong-2 space station in the fall
  • Shenzhou-11 with two astronauts for a 30-day mission aboard the space station
  • Inaugural flights of the Long March 5 heavy lift rocket and the Long March 7 medium lift booster
  • a high-definition Earth observation satellite
  • two BeiDou navigation satellites.

China Test Fires Long March 5 Engine

Video Caption: All ground tests were completed on China’s largest-ever space rocket, the Long March 5, on Monday. The fifth-generation rocket from the Long March family is scheduled for a launch next year.

Worldwide Launches Hit 20-Year High in 2014

Orion Exploration Flight Test launch. (Credit: NASA)
Orion Exploration Flight Test launch. (Credit: NASA)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

It was a banner year for launches worldwide in 2014, with the total reaching a 20-year high as Russia and India debuted new launch vehicles, NASA tested its Orion crew spacecraft, China sent a capsule around the moon, and Japan launched a spacecraft to land on an asteroid.

There were a total of 92 orbital launches, the highest number since the 93 launches conducted in 1994. In addition, Russia and India conducted successful suborbital tests of new boosters.

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Falcon 9, Angara 5 & GSLV Mk. 3 Flights Highlight Crowded Launch Schedule

spacex_barge
First stage recovery barge (Credit: SpaceX)

With only two weeks left in the year, the global launch schedule is crammed with 9 launches, including the flights of new launch vehicles by Russia and India and an unprecedented effort by SpaceX to recover a first-stage for reuse.

Below are the highlights.

Dec. 18. GSLV Mk.3: India will conduct the first test flight of its new medium-lift GSLV Mk. 3 launch vehicle. This will be a suborbital launch that will carry a prototype of a human spacecraft. Satish Dhawan Space Centre

Dec. 19. SpaceX CRS-5:  SpaceX will send a Dragon freighter on the company’s fifth commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station. The company will attempt to recover the first stage of the Falcon 9 booster for reuse by landing it on a barge. Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

Dec. 25. Angara 5: Russia will conduct its first test of its new Angara 5 heavy-lift booster, which will send a dummy payload into orbit. The launch follows the suborbital flight of the smaller Angara 1.2, which tested the core stage for this new family of boosters. Plesetsk Cosmodrome

The table below shows flights scheduled for the rest of the year.  Schedule subject to change without notice.

UPDATES: The GSLV launch was successful. Russia has delayed the Strela flight to Dec. 19, and SpaceX has rescheduled the Falcon 9 launch to no earlier than Jan. 6.

DATELAUNCH VEHICLEPAYLOADLAUNCH SITENATION
Dec. 18GSLV Mk.3CARESatish DhawanIndia
Dec. 18StrelaKondor E1BaikonurRussia
Dec. 18SoyuzO3b F3KourouRussia
Dec. 19Falcon 9CRS 5CCAFSUSA
Dec. 24SoyuzLotus SPlesetskRussia
Dec. 25Angara 5Dummy payloadPlesetskRussia
Dec. 26SoyuzResurs P2BaikonurRussia
Dec. 28ProtonASTRA 2GBaikonurRussia
DecemberLong March 3AFengyun 2GXichangChina

Source: Spaceflight Now

Chinese Launch Failure Due to Blocked Fuel Line

Long March 2C. (Credit: CGWIC)
Long March. (Credit: CGWIC)

Space News reports on the recent failure of a Chinese launch vehicle:

China’s launch-services provider on March 3 said the December failure of a Long March 4B rocket was due to debris that blocked fuel intake of an upper-stage engine, resulting in the loss of the CBERS-3 Earth observation satellite owned jointly by China and Brazil.

In a statement, The China Great Wall Industry Corp. (CGWIC) said the debris, which caused the premature shutdown of the second of two third-stage engines, likely came from “the launch vehicle pressurization feeding system or the assembly process of the third-stage engine.”

“Corrective actions including strengthening quality management and perfecting the foreign object debris-control techniques [during] assembly, integration and test” would be put into place immediately, CGWIC said, on both delivered vehicles and those under production.

Read the full story.

Busy Holiday Launch Schedule Set for End of 2013

Zarya, the first component of the International Space Station, launches flawlessly at 1:40 a.m. EST on November 20, 1998, from Kazahkstan (Credit: NASA)
Proton rocket launch (Credit: NASA)

Today’s successful launch of ESA’s Gaia spacecraft from French Guiana kicked off a busy global holiday flight schedule for the final days of 2013. Seven launches are on the schedule through New Year’s Eve, although it’s not clear whether all of them will be conducted.

LATE DECEMBER LAUNCHES

#

Date

Launch Vehicle

Launch Site

Nation

Payload

Result

76

12/19/13

Soyuz

Kourou

Europe/Russia

Gaia

Success

77

12/20/13

Long March 3B

Xichang

China

Tupac Katari

78

12/23/13

Soyuz 2-1v

Plesetsk

Russia

AIST & Calibration Spheres

79

12/25/13

Rockot

Plesetsk

Russia

3 Rodnik communications satellites

80

12/26/13

Proton

Baikonur

Russia

Express AM5

81

12/31/13

Falcon 9

CCAFS

USA

Thaicom 6

82

TBD

Long March 4B

Taiyuan

China

Gaofen 2

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Long March Failure Destroys Chinese-Brazilian Satellite

long_march_launch

UPDATE, 12/10/13:  Space News is reporting the failure was caused by an unspecified malfunction in the rocket’s third stage. The vehicle’s builder, the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology, is investigating.

The failure of a Long March 4B rocket has destroyed the China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite (CBERS-3).

“There was a malfunction of a launch vehicle during flight and hence satellite positioned in orbit has not been provided. Preliminary evaluations suggest that the CBERS-3 has returned to the planet,” according to a statement posted on the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI) website.

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China Gets Busy Holiday Launch Season Off to a Good Start

A Long March 3-B rocket lifts off with China's Chang'e-3 lunar rover. (Credit: CAST)
A Long March 3-B rocket lifts off with China’s Chang’e-3 lunar rover. (Credit: CAST)

UPDATE: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch has been shifted to Tuesday evening.

China has kicked off a busy month with the successful launch of the Chang’e-8 lunar rover mission. There are 15 launches on the manifests of the world’s rocket companies in December. If all missions are completed and none are added, there will be 85 orbital launches for the year.

SpaceX is the next to go on Tuesday evening, with the company hoping its third attempt to launch the SES-8 communications satellite is a charm.  The launch window opens at 5:41 p.m. EST, and SpaceX will webcast the attempt.

The company is hoping to get one more launch in by the end of 2013 on Dec. 20 with the Thaicom 6 satellite as the payload. Some other notable launches scheduled for December include:

  • Antares/Cygnus: Orbital Sciences first commercial cargo delivery to the International Space Station (Dec. 17);
  • Soyuz 2-1v:  The first flight of Russia’s “light” version of the venerable booster (Dec. 23);
  • GSLV/GSAT 14:  India will make a re-flight of a cryogenic engine that failed to fire during its inaugural mission in April 2010 (TBD);
  • Long March 4B/CBERS 3: China will launch a Earth resources satellite jointly developed with Brazil (Dec. 10);
  • Atlas V/Delta IV: These two ULA military launches will bring the company’s total to 12 for the year (Dec. 5 & 12);

SCHEDULED LAUNCHES FOR DECEMBER 2013

Date

Launch Vehicle

Launch Site

Nation/Company /Agency

Payload

Result

USA

12/03/13

Falcon 9

CCAFS

USA/SpaceX

SES 8

12/05/13

Atlas V

VAFB

USA/ULA/USAF

NROL-39

12/12/13

Delta IV

CCAFS

USA/ULA/USAF

GPS 2F-5

12/17/13

Antares

MARS

USA/Orbital/NASA

Cygnus 2

12/20/13

Falcon 9

CCAFS

USA/SpaceX

Thaicom 6

RUSSIA

12/08/13

Proton

Baikonur

Russia/ILS

Inmarsat 5

12/19/13

Soyuz

Kourou

Russia/Europe/Arianespace

Gaia

12/23/13

Soyuz 2-1v

Plesetsk

Russia/TsSKB-Progress

AIST & Calibration Spheres

12/26/13

Proton

Baikonur

Russia/ILS

Express AM5

CHINA

12/02/13

Long March 3B

Xichang

China/CNSA

Chang’e-3

Success

12/10/13

Long March 4B

Taiyuan

China/CNSA

CBERS 3

12/20/13

Long March 3B

Xichang

China/CNSA

Tupac Katari

TBD

Long March 4B

Taiyuan

China/CSNA

Gaofen 2

INDIA

TBD

GSLV

Satish Dhawan

India/ISRO

GSAT 14

JAPAN

TBD

H-2A

Tanegashima

Japan/Mitsubishi
/JAXA

ALOS 2

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China Launches Rover to Moon

A Long March 3-B rocket lifts off with China's Chang'e-3 lunar rover. (Credit: CAST)
A Long March 3-B rocket lifts off with China’s Chang’e-3 lunar rover. (Credit: CAST)

A Chinese Long March-3B rocket lifted off from the Xichang Launch Center early Monday morning carrying a six-wheel lunar rover named Yutu (Jade Rabbit).

The Chang’e-3 lander is scheduled to touch down on China’s Sinus Iridum in mid-December, and Yutu will then begin a three-month exploration of the surface. The lander and the rover each possess a sophisticated suite of instruments.

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Chinese Engineers Propose Super Heavy Booster

long_march_launch
Although no formal program has been approved, Chinese engineers are eying super heavy boosters designed to send taikonauts to the moon and beyond:

Chinese engineers are proposing a Moon rocket more powerful than the Saturn V of the Apollo missions and matching the payload of NASA’s planned Space Launch System (SLS) Block 2, the unfunded launcher that would put the U.S. back into super-heavy space lift.

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China to Hold Long March Pricing Steady

long_march_launch
Space News
reports on pricing for the Long March, a family of boosters that has racked up an impressive series of launch successes:

The company selling Chinese Long March rockets on the commercial market said Sept. 24 that it is maintaining prices for telecommunications satellite missions at about $70 million, a price it says is backed by a 96 percent success record over 181 flights as of Sept. 23.

In a series of presentations here, officials from Chinese government agencies and China Great Wall Industry Corp. (CGWIC), the company that markets the Long March vehicle, said the Long March rocket has established itself with domestic and export demand despite the 15-year ban on U.S.-built satellite launches aboard Chinese rockets.

Until Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, Calif., arrived on the scene with advertised launch prices that bested even those of the Chinese, the Long March was considered the low-cost option among providers of rockets carrying satellites to geostationary transfer orbit, where most communications satellites are dropped off in orbit.

CGWIC officials point out that SpaceX has yet to prove its ability to maintain its prices — between $58 million and around $65 million for commercial customers — as it inaugurates its Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket and ramps up production to meet the company’s large commercial backlog.

Read the full story.

A Closer Look at Ariane 6

Ariane6_configs
Two possible configurations for the Ariane 6 launch vehicle with two and three strap-on boosters at the base. (Credits: ESA /CNES/Arianespace)

CNES has published an overview of the planned Ariane 6 launch vehicle, which could eventually replace Ariane 5 in 2021 if the project gains the support of ESA members next year.

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