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Busy Month of Launches Begins on Saturday

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)

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)

A busy launch month begins this weekend with the flight of a Russian Proton rocket from Kazakhstan on Saturday and an early-morning lift-off of a SpaceX Falcon 9 on Sunday carrying a Dragon freighter bound for the International Space Station.

International launch providers are planning 11 launches through April 15.  The U.S. plans four launches while the Russians are planning three, the Europeans two, and India one. One of the European launches will involve a Russian Soyuz rocket that will fly from the European launch base in South America. The final flight during this period will be of a Sea Launch Zenit 3SL rocket, which is a joint Russian-Ukraine program.

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Russian Government Mulls Takeover of Troubled Sea Launch as Company President Resigns


Sea Launch Zenit booster

UPDATE: Sea Launch President Kjell Karlsen has resigned “to pursue other opportunities outside space industry. After his departure, the Company’s senior executive team will carry out Mr. Karlsen’s former duties and responsibilities.  Mr. Karlsen has been with Sea Launch since 1999, serving as the President since 2008 and member of its Board of Directors since 2010.”

Space News reports the Russian government is mulling a takeover of the troubled Sea Launch company.

Moscow has asked the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, and Russian manufacturer RSC Energia, which holds 95 percent of Swiss-registered Sea Launch, to submit an overview of the financial situation of the maritime launch services company, Rogozin said in remarks posted on the Russian Cabinet website. The Russian government holds 38 percent of Energia, which supplies the upper stage of the Sea Launch rocket.

Should the government go forward with the deal, it likely would move the oceangoing rocket pad and command ship from Long Beach, Calif., to a Russian port on the Pacific Ocean, Rogozin said. “Something tells me that if we go for it, then the base will definitely be outside the United States,” he said.

The government could potentially use the company to carry out some of the federal launch contracts and would not be inclined to ship sensitive spacecraft to the Unites States to undergo preparation for launch, Rogozin said.

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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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Ukraine’s 2013 Year in Space Review


Zenit launch from Baikonur

Ukraine had a mixed record in space in 2013. While the Dnepr rocket returned to service with a pair of successful launches after a two-year gap, one of two Zenit boosters ended up in a watery grave after it failed shortly after launch.

Ukrainian companies had better luck as a components supplier. Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares — which boasts a Ukrainian-supplied first stage — racked up two flawless flights. Meanwhile, the European Vega booster made a second successful flight with a Ukrainian fourth stage on board.

Meanwhile, a joint partnership with Brazil to launch the Cylcone-4 rocket from South America made progress even as it suffered additional schedule delays that have pushed back the maiden flight into 2015.

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Ukraine Looks to Extend Space Cooperation with U.S., China


Ukraine_logoSpace News has an extensive Q&A with Yuriy Boyko, Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister for Ecology, Natural Resources, Energy and Space. The interview primarily focuses on the nation’s space program, its joint Cyclone 4 launch vehicle program with Brazil, and its efforts to increase cooperation with the United States and China.

Some of the highlights:

  • Ukraine’s main launch vehicles include Zenit (Sea Launch, Land Launch), Dnepr (joint program with Russia), Cyclone 4 (joint program with Brazil), and the first stage structure for Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares.
  • Ukraine spends between $400 million and $500 million on its space program mostly for science work, but receives about $600 million annually in revenues from commercial work;
  • Brazil and Ukraine have committed $1.5 million (split equally) over a three-year period to Cyclone 4, which should have its first test flight from the Alcantara Launch Center by early 2015;
  • The partners hope that South American countries with satellite programs will flock to the Alcantara facility on Brazil’s Atlantic coast;
  • The upper stage developed for the Cyclone 4 could be a good fit for the Antares rocket;
  • Boyko recently completed consultations with NASA and U.S. commercial space companies concerning cooperative programs, with the two governments establishing a framework for further cooperation;
  • There are no specific cooperative programs to announce yet between Ukraine and American government and private entities;
  • Ukraine would like to become involved in the International Space Station program;
  • Boyko says that Ukrainian specialists have extensive experience with radiation shielding technology, which could help the United States with human Mars and deep space missions;
  • Ukraine is consulting with China, which is very interested in developing large propulsion systems.

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Launch Providers Duke it Out at Sat Conference in Paris

Atlas V launches OTV3 into orbit from Cape Canaveral. (Credit: Pat Corkery, United Launch Alliance.)

Atlas V launches OTV3 into orbit from Cape Canaveral. (Credit: Pat Corkery, United Launch Alliance.)

Earlier this week, dominant launch provider Arianespace, upstart SpaceX, failure prone Sea Launch, and surprise entrant Lockheed Martin duked it out rhetorically at the World Satellite Business Week in Paris.

Arianespace stressed its experience and reliability, SpaceX promised to start flying on a regular basis, and Lockheed Martin likely stunned everyone with an announcement that its Atlas V — a reliable workhorse for government satellites — actually won a bid for a commercial payload. And Sea Launch said it was looking for more work to do.

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Failure Prone Zenit Launch Vehicle Successfully Returns to Flight


Land Launch Zenit booster

The problem-plagued Zenit launch vehicle returned to flight on Saturday with the successful launch of the Israeli Amos-4 communications satellite from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The 3.5-ton satellite, which was built by Israel Aerospace Industries for Israeli operator Spacecom, will deliver Ka- and Ka-band communications to the portions of the Middle East, Russia and south and east Asia.

This is the first successful flight of the rocket since the failure of a Sea Launch Zenit-3SL on Feb. 1. The launch vehicle crashed into the Pacific Ocean shortly after take-off when its first stage failed, taking the Intelsat 27 satellite down with it.

The Zenit launch vehicle, which has a success rate of just over 85 percent, was originally intended for multiple uses. Four Zenits were attached to the core of the giant Energia launch system designed to lift the Buran space shuttle into orbit. Zenits were also designed to fly separately as a replacement for the Soyuz booster for manned flights and as a satellite launcher.

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ILS Appoints Vice President for Mission Assurance


ILS_logoAugust 20, 2013 (ILS PR) - International Launch Services (ILS) has appointed Kirk Pysher as vice president of mission assurance and product development. Pysher will bolster ILS’ focus on performance with responsibility for the overall quality review and monitoring of the Proton Quality Management System (QMS), oversight of Proton production processes and procedures, and regular reporting to industry customers and insurers on quality improvements performed by Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center (Khrunichev). Pysher will report directly to the ILS President, Phil Slack.

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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.




Upper Stage




Dec. 5, 2010 Proton Block-DM 3 GLONASS satellites Crashed in Pacific Ocean Block-DM overfilled with fuel making it too heavy to send satellites into orbit
Feb. 1, 2011 Rockot Breeze-KM GEO-IK 2 Stranded in useless orbit Failed restart of Breeze-KM
Aug. 18, 2011 Proton Breeze-M Express-AM4 Stranded in useless orbit Breeze-M under performance
Aug. 24, 2011 Soyuz-U Block-I (3rd stage) Progress M-12M freighter Burned up over Siberia Blocked fuel line in third stage
Sept. 27, 2011 ICBM
(Possibly Avangard)
Missile failed during initial test, crashed 5 miles from launch site Failure of first stage
Nov. 9, 2011 Zenit-2SB
Fregat (Russia) Phobos-Grunt (Russia) Stranded in Earth orbit, re-entered atmosphere Fregat upper stage failure
Dec. 23, 2011 Soyuz-2.1b Fregat Meridian-5 Re-entered over Siberia Failure of Block-1 third stage engine
Aug. 23, 2012 Proton Breeze-M Telkom 3 (Indonesia), Express MD2 Satellites stranded in useless orbits;  Breeze-M later exploded, creating large debris field Breeze-M failure
Dec. 8, 2012 Proton Breeze-M Yamal-402 Placed satellite in wrong orbit; satellite reached planned orbit using on-board propellant Early shutdown of Breeze-M
Jan. 15, 2013 Rockot Breeze-KM 3 Strela 3M Rodnik satellites One satellite reportedly lost, two others placed in orbit; controllers unable to maneuver upper stage to lower orbit for rapid re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere Erratic behavior of Breeze-KM
Feb. 1, 2013 Zenit-3SL
Block DM-SL (Russia) Intelsat 27 Rocket and satellite fell into the sea First stage failure
July 2, 2013 Proton Breeze-M 3 GLONASS Satellites Crashed at launch site First stage failure

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Zenit Cleared for Return to Flight as Sea Launch Completes Accident Investigation


sea_launch_zenitBern, Switzerland, June 3, 2013 (Sea Launch PR) – Sea Launch AG has announced that the Failure Review Oversight Board (FROB) issued its final summary report of findings on May 31, following its review of the investigation into the cause of the January 31, 2013 failed launch attempt of the IS-27 spacecraft.  It had been previously reported that the FROB concluded that the failure was isolated to the Zenit 3SL 1st stage hydraulic power supply unit (BIM) with no other contributors identified.

Corrective actions are expected to be complete on the existing flight units in the June/July time frame and do not involve any design changes to the flight hardware.  The corrective actions focus on additional standalone inspections and testing of the BIM prior to installation into the Zenit 1st stage engine compartment.

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Review Board Identifies Cause of Sea Launch Failure


sea_launch_zenitInvestigators have identified the cause of the failure of a Sea Launch Zenit launch vehicle at the end of January:

“The investigations isolated the failure to the Zenit-3SL first stage hydraulic power supply unit (BIM) used to pressurize the RD-171M main engine gimbal actuators. No additional contributors to the failure were found. The BIM failed approximately 3.9 seconds into the flight due to the abnormal performance of the pump that’s function is to pressurize the hydraulic oil supplied to the RD-171M main engine gimbal actuators. The pump failure was the result of contributing factors associated with a pump manufacturing process that proved difficult to control.”

Read the full press release below.

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Energia Pledges ‘Unfailing Commitment” to Failure-Prone Sea Launch


sea_launch_zenitMOSCOW, Russia and BERN, Switzerland – February 6, 2013 (Sea Launch PR) – S.P. Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation “Energia” (“RSC Energia”) spoke out today about its unfailing commitment to the long-term success of the Sea Launch program following the launch failure of Intelsat 27 spacecraft on February 1, 2013. RSC Energia has been the leader and the operator of the Sea Launch program since 2010.

In a statement, the General Designer and the President of RSC Energia, Vitaly Lopota said:

“We profoundly regret about the last week’s loss of the Intelsat 27 spacecraft. Many people worked hard to build the spacecraft, the launch vehicle and support the launch campaign. As we have been working in the space industry for over 65 years we continuously strive for perfection and reliability in everything that we attempt, but sometimes we fall short. The ocean-based launch system, Zenit launch vehicle and upper stage Block DM are a trusted means of payload delivery which combines the best in rocket-building technology and processes of recent decades. The launch failure is being investigated and analyzed. Its findings will be announced in the near future.”

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Boeing Sues Sea Launch Partners for $356 Million


sealaunchBoeing has filed suit against its Sea Launch partners, alleging they failed to pay it more than $356 million owed after the Sea Launch joint venture went into bankruptcy in 2009.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Friday, targeted RSC Energia, a company partially owned by the Russian government, and two Ukrainian state-owned companies, PO Yuzhnoye Mashinostroitelny Zavod and KB Yuzhnoye.

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Sea Launch Puts Intelsat 27 Satellite into the Drink


The first hint of trouble came when the Sea Launch webcast suddenly cut out less than a minute after launch of the Zenit-3SL booster.

Was there some problem with the streaming? Or was it something more serious?

The latter.

Sea Launch AG announced today that approximately 40 seconds after liftoff of the launch of the Intelsat 27 spacecraft, all telemetry was lost indicating a loss of mission. The spacecraft, built by Boeing Satellite Systems was launched on a Zenit-3SL launch vehicle from the equator on the ocean-based Odyssey launch platform, positioned at 154 degrees West longitude.

Sea Launch will establish a Failure Review Oversight Board to determine the root cause of the incident and will provide additional information, as it becomes available, on the Sea Launch website at: www.sea-launch.com.

The failure marks a major setback for the company, which is majority owned by Energia Overseas Limited. The company uses Ukrainian-built Zenit-3SL rockets that are launched from an ocean-going platform that is towed to the equator.

Sea Launch had made four successful launches since it emerged from bankruptcy in 2011. The company has launched 35 times since 1999, with three failures and one partial failure.


Sea Launch Rocket Cleared in Launch Anomaly Investigation


sea_launch_zenitPALO ALTO, California and BERN, Switzerland– Dec. 19, 2012 (Sea Launch-SS/L PR) – Space Systems/Loral (SSL) and Sea Launch AG (Sea Launch) today announced that the Independent Oversight Board (IOB) formed to investigate the solar array deployment anomaly on a satellite launched in the spring of 2012 has successfully reached a unanimous conclusion.

The IOB, which was comprised of three highly regarded industry experts, worked with a comprehensive team of engineers from both SSL and Sea Launch to conduct an exhaustive investigation of data from the launch vehicle, the spacecraft, and interactions between the two.  Extensive data provided by Sea Launch were instrumental in achieving the findings which led to the investigation’s positive conclusion.

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