Loss of Weather Satellite Adds to Russia’s Near Decade of Launch Failures

Another fine day for Russia’s space program. A Proton crashes with three GLONASS satellites in July 2013. (Credit: Tsenki TV)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

For the second year in a row, Russia came tantalizingly close to breaking a string of launch failures extending back nearly a decade.

In three days, the nation’s space program would have gone 12 months without botching a launch. Thirty days after that, an entire calendar year would have passed without a full or partial launch failure. Last year, Russia came within four days and 30 days of those marks, respectively.

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Mid-Year Launch Report: U.S. (& SpaceX) in the Lead

Screenshot of SpaceX Falcon 9 Bulgaria 1 satellite launch. (Credit: SpaceX)

We are now halfway through 2017, so it seems like a good time to take a look at the year in orbital launches.

ORBITAL LAUNCHES THROUGH JUNE 2017
NATIONSUCCESSES
FAILURES
PARTIAL FAILURESTOTAL
United States130013
Russia8008
China6017
Europe5005
India4004
Japan3104
New Zealand0101
TOTAL392142

A total of 42 launches have been conducted thus far, with 39 successes, two failures and one partial failure. The two failures were inaugural flight tests of new boosters.

American companies have launched 13 times. Nine of those flights have been conducted by SpaceX, giving the company more launches than anyone else thus far. United Launch Alliance successfully three three Atlas V boosters and one Delta IV rocket.

Russia has conducted eight launches. Included in the total are two Russian Soyuz flights conducted from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana.

China is close behind with seven launches. Six flights were successful, but a Long March 3B booster suffered a partial failure earlier this month that left a spacecraft in a lower-than-planned orbit.

LAUNCHES BY VEHICLE THROUGH JUNE 2017
LAUNCH VEHICLENATIONSUCCESSES
FAILURES
PARTIAL FAILURESTOTAL
 Falcon 9United States9009
 Soyuz 2Russia6006
 Ariane 5 Europe4004
 Atlas VUnited States 300 3
 H-IIAJapan3003
 Long March 3BChina2013
 PSLVIndia2002
 Delta IV United States1 001
 GSLV Mk II India 1 001
 GSLV Mk III India 1 001
KT-2 China 1 001
 Kuaizhou 1 China 1 001
 Long March 2D China 1 001
 Long March 7 China 1 001
 Proton Russia 1 001
 Soyuz-2.1vRussia 1 001
 VegaEurope 1001
 Electron New Zealand0101
 S-520-4 Japan010 1
TOTAL392142

Europe follows with five successful launches, including four using the Ariane 5 booster and one using the Vega launcher.

India launched four times, with the highlight being the successful first orbital test of the new GSLV Mk. III booster. The launch vehicle — the nation’s most powerful to date — had been previously tested during a suborbital flight without an upper stage.

Japan also launched four times with three successes. The maiden flight test of Japan’s new SS-520-4 nanosat launcher failed in January, destroying some CubeSats.

New Zealand made the orbital launch list for the first time this year. The maiden flight test of Rocket Lab’s Electron booster failed to orbit an inert mass. Rocket Lab is a U.S.-New Zealand company.

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Russia to End Rockot Launches

Rockot launch vehicle

The end of the line is coming soon for Russia’s Rockot (Rokot) launch vehicle.

The converted intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) has only two more missions on its manifest before the program ends. In the months ahead, it will launch Sentinel 5P and Sentinel 3B Earth observation satellites for ESA and the European Commission.

The Sentinel 5P launch is set for June. Tass reports the Sentinel 3B flight will likely occur late this year or early 2018.

Rockot is being phased out in favor of the newer Angara-1.2 and Soyuz-2.1v boosters, which are capable of launching lighter payloads.

Rockot is a converted SS-19 ICBM built by Khrunichev and operated by Eurockot Launch Services. Flights are conducted from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia.

The three-stage booster is capable of lifting 1,950 kg (4,299 lb) in low Earth orbit (LEO) and 1,200 kilograms (2,646 lb) into sun synchronous orbit (SSO).

Rockot has launched 30 times, with 27 successes, two failures and one partial failure.

Dnepr launch vehicle. (Credit: ISC Kosmotras)

The retirement of Rockot ends Russia’s second program that used  in converted Soviet-era ICBMs as satellite launchers. In 2015, the country ended a joint program with Ukraine to convert SS-18 missiles into Denpr launch vehicles.

Dnepr was capable of lifting 4,500 kg (9,921 lb) to LEO and 2,300 kg (5,071 lb) to SSO.

The booster was launched 22 times, with 21 successes and one failure. The last flight was on March 25, 2015.

Dnepr launches were conducted out of Yasny in Russia and Baikonur in Kazakhstan.

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COMSTAC Recommends Against Lifting Ban on Commercial ICBM Use

A Minotaur V rocket carrying NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) lifts off from at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit: NASA/Chris Perry)
A Minotaur V rocket carrying NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) lifts off from at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit: NASA/Chris Perry)

The FAA Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) voted last week to recommend that the U.S. government maintain its ban on the use of excess ICBM motors for launching commercial satellites. The recommendation to the FAA is a non-binding one.

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IMF: Ukraine Space Sector Possibly Suffered 80 Percent Revenue Loss

The first stage of Orbital Sciences Corporation's Antares rocket is shipped out from Yuzhnoye design bureau in Ukraine. (Credt: Yuzhnoye)
The first stage of Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares (aka, Taurus II) rocket is shipped out from Yuzhnoye design bureau in Ukraine. (Credt: Yuzhnoye)

The International Monetary Fund estimates the Ukrainian space industry lost up to 80 percent of its revenues following the Russian invasion of the eastern part of the country.

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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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Report: Another Launch Anomaly for Russia’s Space Program

UPDATE: TASS is reporting the primary payload, Kanopus ST,  failed to separate from the upper stage. Efforts to correct the problem have reportedly failed.

Russian media are reporting that one of two military satellites placed into orbit by a Soyuz 2-1v rocket  has failed to separate from its Volga upper stage after launch on Saturday from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome.

The Kanopus ST satellite includes sensors designed to track submarines, and the KYuA 1 secondary payload is a passive spacecraft that would be used to calibrate ground-based military radars. It’s unclear which spacecraft might still be attached to the upper stage.

This was the second launch for the Soyuz 2-1v, which successfully flew its maiden flight in December 2013. The rocket is a slimmed down version of the Soyuz 2 launcher, with the four booster rockets removed from the first stage and he NK-33 engine replacing the RD-117 motor. The launcher is capable of playing up to 2,850 kg into low Earth orbit.

TsSKB Progress, which manufactures the Soyuz 2-1v, began developing the Volga stage in 2008 as a cheaper alternative to the Fregat upper stage. The Volga is based upon a propulsion module that has been used on previous spacecraft. It successfully flew on Soyuz 2-1v first flight in 2013.

Brazil Abandons Troubled Cyclone-4 Program

Cyclone 4 first and second stages. (Credit: Alcantara Space)
Cyclone 4 first and second stages. (Credit: Alcantara Space)

It looks like the rumors I reported last month are true. Brazil has decided to pull out of its joint program with Ukraine to launch satellites aboard Cyclone-4 boosters from the Alcantara Launch Center.

“It is an accumulation of issues,” said Petronio Noronha de Souza, AEB’s director of space policy and strategic investments. “There have been challenges on the budget issues, on the technological aspects, in the relationship between Brazil and Ukraine and in the actual market for export that would be available. So it is a combination of things.”

In an April 14 interview at the Latin America Aero and Defense, or LAAD, show here, Noronha de Souza said a formal government announcement, likely from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on the program’s stoppage was imminent.

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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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Russia Severing Ties With Ukraine on Dnepr, Zenit Launch Programs

Dnepr launch vehicle. (Credit: ISC Kosmotras)
Dnepr launch vehicle. (Credit: ISC Kosmotras)

Roscosmos officials made announcements this week that they would be suspending a joint program with Ukraine to launch Dnepr rockets and were no longer interested in buying Ukrainian Zenit boosters, deepening problems for that embattled nation’s space program and its struggling Yuzhmash factory.

Dneprs are converted SS-18 ballistic missiles that are converted into satellite launchers by Ukraine’s Yuzhmash launch vehicle manufacturer. The boosters are launched by the Moscow-based Moscow-based Kosmotras International Space Company, which is Russian-Ukrainian joint venture.

Russian media report three Dnepr launches scheduled this year will be carried out. However, The Moscow Times reports the future of the venture remains cloudy. It is possible the program will end, or Russia will convert the missiles to satellite launchers without Ukrainian participation.

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Russia Gears Up for Angara 5 Test, Eyes Ending Use of Rockot

Rockot launch vehicle
Rockot launch vehicle

Following a successful suborbital flight of the Angara 1 booster in July, Russian space officials are gearing up to test the larger Angara 5 launch vehicle by the end of the year.

The Khrunichev-built Angara is a modular family of rockets on which additional boosters are added to the first-stage core.  Angara 5 is designed to place 24.5 metric tons of cargo into low Earth orbit (LEO). The smaller Angara 1 can loft 3.8 metric tons to LEO.

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Swiss Space Systems Forms Partnership With Russian Rocket Companies

SOAR spaceplane atop an A-300. (Credit: S3)
SOAR spaceplane atop an A-300. (Credit: S3)

SOCHI, Russia, February 19, 2014 (S3 PR) — Swiss Space Systems (S3), the aerospace company, announced today the signature of new partnerships with Russian companies specializing in space propulsion systems.  This constitutes a key milestone towards the realization of S3’s project.  JSC Kuznetsov will provide the rocket engine used for the suborbital shuttle developed by S3, while RKK Energia will study the conception of the upper stage destined to place satellites in low earth orbit. This is the first time that a European company collaborates with Russian companies specializing in the development and manufacturing of propulsion systems. This agreement with the creators of the world’s best rocket engines constitutes a decisive milestone achieved by the Swiss aerospace company.

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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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Russia Successfully Launches Maiden Flight of Soyuz 2-1v

Russian Soyuz-1 booster. Credit: Pavel Kolotilov
Russian Soyuz-1 booster. Credit: Pavel Kolotilov

A Russian Soyuz 2-1v lifted off from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome on Saturday, successfully orbiting a satellite and two calibration spheres in the first launch of the new booster.

The “light” launch vehicle, which is designed to lift small payloads, is a significantly modified version of the venerable Soyuz launch vehicle that has been a mainstay of Soviet and Russian space programs since 1966.It maintains a similar outward appearance, but it is very different on the inside.

Modifications include the use of a NK-33 engine in the first stage, the elimination of four first-stage booster rockets, and the use of a Volga upper stage. The NK-33 engines are left over from the Soviet program to land men on the moon, which was canceled in the early 1970’s.

For its maiden launch, the Soyuz 2-1v orbited two SKRL-756 calibration satellites and the AIST-1 micro-satellite.

The new launch vehicle is capable of orbiting payloads weighing between 2,800 to 2,850 kg to low Earth orbit depending whether it is launched from the Plesetsk or Baikonur cosmodromes. Plans call for launching the booster from the new Vostochny spaceport now being constructed in the Russian Far East.

The Soyuz 2-1v was the 80th orbital launch of 2013 worldwide. There are no additional launches planned for the rest of the year.