How to Watch the Sentinel-3A Launch on Tuesday

Sentinel-3 is ejected from the Breeze upper stage of the ROCKOT launcher. (Credit: ESA–Pierre Carril)
Sentinel-3 is ejected from the Breeze upper stage of the ROCKOT launcher. (Credit: ESA–Pierre Carril)

PARIS (ESA PR) — Live from ESA, follow the event to celebrate the launch of the third satellite for Europe’s Copernicus environment monitoring programme.

The first in the two-satellite mission, Sentinel-3A, is set for launch from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia on 16 February at 17:57 GMT.

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ESA Teams Prepare for Critical Days

ESA's José Morales is Spacecraft Operations Manager for Sentinel-3A, a Copernicus satellite set for launch in February 2016. (Credit: ESA)
ESA’s José Morales is Spacecraft Operations Manager for Sentinel-3A, a Copernicus satellite set for launch in February 2016. (Credit: ESA)

DARMSTADT, Germany (ESA PR) — Moments after Sentinel-3A separates from its rocket, a team of European mission control specialists will assume control, shepherding the new spacecraft through its critical first days in space.

Carrying a suite of cutting-edge instruments, Sentinel-3A is set to join the Sentinel-1A radar satellite and the Sentinel-2A high-resolution optical satellite in orbit to monitor the health of our planet.

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Russians Doubt Reusable Boosters, Look to Phase Out Rockot Launches

Falcon 9 launch and landing. (Credit: SpaceX)
Falcon 9 launch and landing. (Credit: SpaceX)

Russia doesn’t seem overly impressed by the recent progress by SpaceX and Blue Origin in developing reusable launch vehicles. At according to TsNIIMash, which is the company’s main research institute.

“The economic feasibility of reusable launch systems is not obvious. First and foremost it will depend on how often launches will be made. At the moment it is hard to forecast which way the market of launch services will go when reusable space rockets become available. The designers are still to demonstrate the real costs of production and of making reusable stages for re-launching,” a TsNIIMash spokesman said.

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Russia Led in Launch Successes and Failures in 2015

Flight VS13 was the 13th Soyuz liftoff performed from French Guiana since this vehicle’s 2011 introduction at the Spaceport. (Credit: Arianespace)
Flight VS13 was the 13th Soyuz liftoff performed from French Guiana since this vehicle’s 2011 introduction at the Spaceport. (Credit: Arianespace)

Russia continued its dominance of the global satellite launch industry in 2015, conducting 29 of 86 orbital launches over the past 12 months. It also maintained its lead in botched launches, suffering two failures and one partial failure.

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Years of Failures Haunt Russian Space Program

Holy shi'ski! The rocket...it go KABOOMSKI! (Credit: Tsenki TV)
Proton rocket falls to Earth at Baikonur in July 2013. (Credit: Tsenki TV)

Sixteen botched launches in six years.

That’s the Russian space program’s sad record since May 2009. The failure of a Proton rocket earlier today with the loss of a Mexican communications satellite was yet another sign of the prolonged crisis affecting Russia’s once powerful space program.

The crash came less than three weeks after a botched launch left a Progress supply freighter spinning end over end like an extra point before it burned up in Earth atmosphere. There was also news today that another Progress cargo ship attached to the International Space Station failed to fire its engine as planned to boost the station’s orbit.

The list of Russian launch accidents over the last six years includes:

  • 13 complete failures resulting in the loss of all payloads;
  • 3 partial failures that left spacecraft in the wrong orbits;
  • complete loss of 20 spacecraft;
  • 6 Russian GLONASS navigation satellites destroyed; and,
  • an ambitious Mars mission left stranded in Earth orbit.

The table below shows the full extent of the damage.

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Russia Looks to Phase Out Rockot Launch Vehicle

Rockot launch vehicle
Rockot launch vehicle

It looks like we can add Rockot to the list of satellite launch vehicles that the Russians will be phasing out.

Russian media are reporting that the converted ballistic missile will be replaced by Angara and Soyuz-2.1v launch vehicles, which have had their initial flight tests over the past 14 months.

In addition to the availability of alternatives, there’s another reason for phasing out the Rockot: it depends upon components from Ukraine, with whom Russia is in conflict.

Media reports say that nation has banned export of Rockot parts in retaliation for the Russian annexation of Crimea and its support for rebel forces in eastern Ukraine.

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Year in Review: Launch Industry Disrupted in 2014

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SpaceX Founder Elon Musk has long talked about disrupting the launch industry with low prices and technological innovations. In 2014, the impacts of those efforts were felt far and wide as competitors responded to the threat the California company posed to their livelihoods.

ULA Pivots. With SpaceX reeling off one successful launch after another, ULA pivoted on several fronts. One was to announce efforts to significantly reduce costs on its highly reliable but pricey Atlas V and Delta IV boosters. But, even that proved to be insufficient as SpaceX threatened ULA on several fronts.

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Russia Briefs: Vostochny, Angara, Super-Heavy & Asteroid Defense

Roscosmos head Oleg Ostapenko tours Vostochny. (Credit: Roscosmos)
Roscosmos head Oleg Ostapenko tours Vostochny. (Credit: Roscosmos)

Some brief items on the Russian space program:

Vostochny Construction Accelerated: Work on Russia’s new Vostochny spaceport will now be done on a 24-hour basis with the addition of more workers. “The number of workers will be increased manifold at the spaceport regardless natural and weather conditions,” Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said. The goal is to conduct the first rocket launch from Vostochny in 2015 and the first human mission in 2018. (ITAR-TASS: http://en.itar-tass.com/russia/728230)

Angara Launch Scheduled: After 19 years in development, the first launch of Russia’s new Angara 1.2 rocket will take place between June 25 and 30 from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome.  Angara is a family of modular launch vehicles designed to lift light to heavy payloads and to replace the Proton, Zenit, Rockot and Dnepr boosters. (ITAR-TASS: http://en.itar-tass.com/non-political/728637)

Russia Nears Decision on Super-Heavy Booster. Roscosmos chief Oleg Ostapenko says the agency is nearing a decision on a design for a new super-heavy launch vehicle. The initial version of the launch vehicle would launch 80 metric tons to low-Earth orbit (LEO) with future variants lofting 160 tons or more to LEO. (ITAR-TASS: http://en.itar-tass.com/russia/717993)

Rogozin Wants Asteroid Defense. During a visit to Chelyabinsk, Deputy Prime Minster Dmitry Rogozin called for Russia’s best minds to develop anti-asteroid technologies to protect Earth. “This is a dangerous phenomenon. Those who think that we know everything about the far reaches of deep space and that no catastrophe will happen are seriously wrong,” Rogozin said. In February 2013, a meteorite exploded over Chelyabinsk, causing extensive damage and injuries. (ITAR-TASS: http://en.itar-tass.com/russia/727565)

Russia 2013 Space Year in Review

Expedition 37 takes off for the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)
Expedition 37 takes off for the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Russia once again led the world in orbital launches in 2013, keeping the International Space Station supplied with a study stream of crew members and cargo while earning hard currency with commercial satellite launches.

Although the vast majority of Russia’s launches were successful, the spectacular failure in July of a Proton rocket — which nosedived into the ground shortly after liftoff — accelerated efforts to reform the nation’s failure-prone space program. By the end of the year, the Russian space agency Roscosmos had a new leader and a major effort was underway to consolidate a large part of the bloated and inefficient space sector under a single government-owned company.

During 2013, Russia introduced a new variant of its venerable Soyuz rocket while also making progress on constructing a new spaceport in the Far East and developing a larger human spacecraft to replace the Soyuz transport and a heavy-lift booster to facilitate deep space exploration.

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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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Busy Launch Week Begins on Monday with MAVEN Flight

Launch of Atlas V NRO satellite on June 20, 2012. (Credit: ULA)
Launch of Atlas V NRO satellite on June 20, 2012. (Credit: ULA)

The numbers are impressive.

  • 6 launches
  • 6 launch vehicles
  • ~ 40 satellites
  • 5 spaceports
  • 4 nations
  • 7 days.

That is the week in rocketry that will begin on Monday. The highlights include:

  • NASA’s MAVEN orbiter will study Mars’ atmosphere and climate (Monday, Nov. 18 at 1:28 p.m. EST — Cape Canaveral, Florida );
  • Minotaur I will set a new record for the number of satellites launched into space with by sending the military’s STPSat 3 and 29 CubeSats into orbit (Tuesday, Nov. 19 from 7:30 to 9:15 pm EST — Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, Virginia);
  • SpaceX will attempt to put its first communications satellite into geosynchronous orbit using its upgraded Falcon 9 rocket (Monday, Nov. 25 at 5:37 pm EST — Cape Canaveral, Florida).

Three additional launches will take place from Russia and Kazakhstan over that 7-day period. A table with all scheduled launches is below along with a map showing East Coast residents how they can view Minotaur I’s night launch on Tuesday.

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Rockot to Roar for 7 Years More

Rockot
The Rockot rocket. (Credit: NASA)

The Russian Rockot launch vehicle, whose name means “roar”, will continue to do so for at least another seven years:

The German-Russian company offering commercial launch services using converted Russian SS-18 missiles said it has enough usable missile hardware to continue operations through the end of the decade and is maintaining prices at between 30 million and 32 million euros ($39 million-$44.6 million) per launch.

Bremen, Germany-based Eurockot Launch Services GmbH, a joint venture between Astrium of Germany and Khrunichev of Russia, is presenting itself as a low-cost alternative to Europe’s new government-backed Vega rocket, and to the Russian-Ukrainian Dnepr vehicle, whose price is similar but whose future availability is unclear….

Poetsch said Eurockot is interested only in those missiles made in the 1990s. He said that among those, there are about 80 remaining whose condition has been checked and that are available to Rockot — enough to continue service to the end of the decade.

 

Read the full story.

Russian, Ukrainian Rockets Prone to Failure in Recent Years

Another fine day for Russia's space program. A Proton crashes with three GLONASS satellites.
Another fine day for Russia’s space program. A Proton crashes with three GLONASS satellites.

The spectacular crash of Russia’s Proton rocket on Tuesday — with the loss of three navigation satellites — was simply the latest in a series of launch failures that have bedeviled the Russian and Ukrainian space industries over the last 30 months.

The table below shows a tale of woe that began in December 2010 and has resulted in the loss of 15 spacecraft and cost the heads of the Russian space agency Roscosmos and launch vehicle builder Khrunichev their jobs.

RUSSIAN & UKRAINIAN LAUNCH FAILURES SINCE DECEMBER 2010

Date

Rocket

Upper Stage

Payload

Result

Cause

Dec. 5, 2010ProtonBlock-DM3 GLONASS satellitesCrashed in Pacific OceanBlock-DM overfilled with fuel making it too heavy to send satellites into orbit
Feb. 1, 2011RockotBreeze-KMGEO-IK 2Stranded in useless orbitFailed restart of Breeze-KM
Aug. 18, 2011ProtonBreeze-MExpress-AM4Stranded in useless orbitBreeze-M under performance
Aug. 24, 2011Soyuz-UBlock-I (3rd stage)Progress M-12M freighterBurned up over SiberiaBlocked fuel line in third stage
Sept. 27, 2011ICBM
(Possibly Avangard)
Missile failed during initial test, crashed 5 miles from launch siteFailure of first stage
Nov. 9, 2011Zenit-2SB
(Ukraine)
Fregat (Russia)Phobos-Grunt (Russia)Stranded in Earth orbit, re-entered atmosphereFregat upper stage failure
Dec. 23, 2011Soyuz-2.1bFregatMeridian-5Re-entered over SiberiaFailure of Block-1 third stage engine
Aug. 23, 2012ProtonBreeze-MTelkom 3 (Indonesia), Express MD2Satellites stranded in useless orbits;  Breeze-M later exploded, creating large debris fieldBreeze-M failure
Dec. 8, 2012ProtonBreeze-MYamal-402Placed satellite in wrong orbit; satellite reached planned orbit using on-board propellantEarly shutdown of Breeze-M
Jan. 15, 2013RockotBreeze-KM3 Strela 3M Rodnik satellitesOne satellite reportedly lost, two others placed in orbit; controllers unable to maneuver upper stage to lower orbit for rapid re-entry into Earth’s atmosphereErratic behavior of Breeze-KM
Feb. 1, 2013Zenit-3SL
(Ukraine)
Block DM-SL (Russia)Intelsat 27Rocket and satellite fell into the seaFirst stage failure
July 2, 2013ProtonBreeze-M3 GLONASS SatellitesCrashed at launch siteFirst stage failure

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Khrunichev Struggles With Upper Stage Quality

Following the failure of a Proton rocket earlier this month, Khrunichev published figures on its launches and success rate for the past five years to correct what it saw as erroneous information circulating in the media.

The data and analysis below is based on that information. I have added success rate percentages, rewritten Khrunichev’s information to make it more readable, and added my own analysis.

The overall picture is one of a company struggling with quality control on its own upper stages, with the resulting loss of about 10 percent of its launches.

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Russian Rockets Face Competition From Vega

Vega's upper composite, comprising LARES, ALMASat-1, seven CubeSats and the fairing, was transferred to the pad on 24 January and added to the vehicle at Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana. Credits: ESA - M. Pedoussaut, 2012

Space News reports that nine years of European effort coupled with a bout of inflation have produced a Vega rocket that can compete with Russian boosters for launching small payloads:

Europe’s Vega small-satellite launcher, whose inaugural flight is scheduled for mid-February, will be sold commercially for about 32 million euros ($42 million) per launch — a price that can compete with converted Russian ballistic missiles, Vega officials said Jan. 23.

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