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.
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.
Russia’s efforts to find a new home for its failure-prone Sea Launch company has taken officials to rising South American power — and charter BRICS member — Brazil.
That’s theword from Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin anyway.
“A quite remarkable dialogue at the level of experts is currently in progress; possibly, the idea may take shape within the BRICS group, or in our bilateral relations with Brazil, of carrying out such joint launches and furnishing assistance to Brazil in developing its space industry and making its own spacecraft,” he said, adding that Brazil already had its own space site close to the ocean that would fit in well with such tasks. (more…)
Russian media are reporting that the first flight test of the new Angara 5 booster was successful on Wednesday from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome.
The rocket consisted of five Universal Rocket Modules (URM) powered by RD-191 engines clustered as the first stage. Upper stages used on other boosters were to put a dummy payload into geostationary orbit. It’s not clear whether that effort was successful.
NYON, Switzerland, August 22, 2014 (Sea Launch PR) – Sea Launch announced today a series of cost-reduction measures designed to address an upcoming gap in the launch manifest of the Zenit-3SL system. According to plan, it is expected that Sea Launch will resume and start stepping-up its launch activity during mid-2015/mid-2016 time frame.
First Launch in 16 Months After February 2013 Failure
NYON, Switzerland, May 27, 2014 (Seal Launch PR) – Sea Launch SA has successfully launched the EUTELSAT 3B satellite today from at its ocean-based Launch Platform Odyssey. This marks the completion of Sea Launch’s first mission in 2014, its third for Eutelsat, one of the world’s leading satellite operators, and its 36th mission overall.
The Zenit-3SL rocket carrying the spacecraft lifted off at 14:09:59 Pacific Daylight Time (PDT) on Monday, May 26th (21:09:59 UTC, 23:09:55 CEST) from the launch platform, positioned at 154 degrees West longitude in the Pacific Ocean. One hour later, the Block DM-SL upper stage inserted the satellite, weighing 5,967 kilograms (13,155 lbs.) into geosynchronous transfer orbit, on its way to a final orbital position at 3 degrees East longitude. Eutelsat acquired the spacecraft’s first signals from orbit shortly after spacecraft separation. All systems performed nominally throughout the launch mission.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the Russian Federation was left with some key installations and capabilities in newly-independent nations. Kazakhstan had authority over the main launch facility at Baikonur, while Ukraine found itself in control of ballistic missile producer Yuzhmash, the Yuzhnoye bureau that designs Yuzhmash’s rockets, and a host of other defense companies.
Today, more than 50 Ukrainian arms factories turn out technologies that are vital for the nation’s tottering economy and the Russian military that now threatens to invade it. The factories are located in the southern and eastern portions of Ukraine, where Moscow-based separatists have wrestled control away from local authorities.
With the fate of these regions and companies still very much up for grabs, the outcome is of concern far beyond eastern Ukraine. Launch providers in the United States, Europe and Brazil are looking on with great concern and trepidation.
Nine launches are scheduled worldwide for the month of May. The manifest includes three launches by American providers, three by Russia, one joint Russian-Ukrainian flight, and one launch each by Japan and Europe.
The U.S. launches include six Orbcomm OG2 communications satellites by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, and a pair of military satellites to be launched by ULA’s Atlas V and Delta V rockets.
The Russian launches include a new crew to the International Space Station, two communications satellites (1 with Ukraine), and a reconnaissance satellite. Arianespace will launch a pair of communications satellites with Ariane 5, while the Japanese H-2A will launch the ALOS 2 Earth observing spacecraft.
There have been 24 orbital launches through April, all successful. That number will rise to 33 if all scheduled launches are completed in May.
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)
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.
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 Newsreports 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.
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.
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.
Space 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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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.