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.
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.
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.
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
AIST & Calibration Spheres
Long March 3B
Long March 4B
Long March 3B
Long March 4B
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There is some good news to report out of Russia about two delayed launch vehicle development programs.
The Soyuz 2-1v light launch vehicle has been scheduled for its first test flight on Dec. 23. Meanwhile, the first prototype of the Angara rocket has made it to the launch pad at Plesetsk more than 18 years after the Russian government approved the program.
In related news, engineers have conducted nearly 70 test firings of the cryogenic RD-0146 upper stage engine, which is intended to fly on later versions of the Angara launch vehicle as well as the Proton rocket.
Spaceflight Now reports that the Soyuz 2-1v rocket will launch the student-built AIST microsatellite and SKRL 756 calibration spheres on its inaugural mission scheduled for two days before Christmas.
The Soyuz 2-1v is a light version of the venerable rocket. Four booster strap-on booster rockets have been removed, and the first-stage engine has been replaced with NK-33 engines left over from the Soviet manned lunar program.
A look ahead to the coming year in space finds the introduction of new launch vehicles in the United States and Russia and a third attempt to launch a Russian-Korean rocket from South Korea. Meanwhile, China will send another crew to its orbiting space station and a rover to the moon.
The inaugural launch of the Soyuz-2-1v rocket has been delayed from this year until sometime in 2013 due to a live test firing failure that damaged the rocket.
RussianSpaceWeb.com reports that a planned 200-second firing of the first stage engine failed after only a few seconds, resulting in damage to the propulsion section of the rocket.
The website’s sources indicated that “an erroneous shutdown command had been issued based on data from the RD-0110R steering engine which indicated that the engine’s turbopump exceed an allowable rotation speed. The turbine of RD-0110R was destroyed, even though all input parameters for its operation seemed to be normal.”
The test article and stand have been repaired. The next live firing is now set for the end of February.
In the meantime, the Chemical Automation Design Bureau (KBKhA) reports that it successfully test fired a RD-0110R steering engine on Nov. 22 at its test facility.
The new rocket is a scaled-down “light” version of the traditional Soyuz launch vehicle that is designed to deliver up to 2,800 kg of spacecraft into low Earth orbit. Modifications include eliminating four strap-on boosters and replacing the first-stage engine with the NK-33 motor, which was originally developed for the Soviet Union’s aborted manned moon program.
Russia is moving steadily toward a planned September launch of the stripped Soyuz 2-1v rocket designed to launch small satellites into orbit. Two tests last month verified key elements of the new rocket, Russian officials say.
On April 19, engineers successfully completed the first cold flow test of the first stage using liquid oxygen and kerosene. The test was done in preparation for the first first-scale test firing of the rocket set for later this year.
The following day, engineers at the United Engine Corporation completed the forth and final test firing of the first stage’s NK-33A engine at the Vintay facility. The company announced that the engine has fired without any problems for 157.5 seconds. The total firing time for the four tests is 600 seconds.