Space transport roundup: Part 1 – Orbital Launches – Oct.27.2021

A sampling of articles, videos, and images dealing with space transport from late July till today (find previous roundups here). The roundup is split into three postings:

  • Part 1 Orbital launches
  • Part 2: Light orbital lift development, suborbital, space transport articles, news, videos, etc.
  • Part 3 SpaceX Falcon 9, Dragon, and Starship

Note: My link roundups on space transport, weekly space policy, etc have gotten too big and time-consuming.
And reader interest/visit rate has been low.  So I’ve decided to discontinue them after this issue and instead focus
on short posts dealing with specific space policy, transport, public participation, and technology topics.

** USA – Oct.16: ULA Atlas V sends Lucy spacecraft on mission to the Trojan asteroids near Jupiter. NASA, ULA Launch Lucy Mission to ‘Fossils’ of Planet Formation | NASA

Over the next 12 years, Lucy will fly by one main-belt asteroid and seven Trojan asteroids, making it the agency’s first single spacecraft mission in history to explore so many different asteroids. Lucy will investigate these “fossils” of planetary formation up close during its journey.

About an hour after launch, Lucy separated from the second stage of the ULA Atlas V 401 rocket. Its two massive solar arrays, each nearly 24 feet (7.3 meters) wide, successfully unfurled about 30 minutes later and began charging the spacecraft’s batteries to power its subsystems.

Lucy sent its first signal to Earth from its own antenna to NASA’s Deep Space Network at 6:40 a.m. The spacecraft is now traveling at roughly 67,000 mph (108,000 kph) on a trajectory that will orbit the Sun and bring it back toward Earth in October 2022 for a gravity assist.

Named for the fossilized skeleton of one of our earliest known hominin ancestors, the Lucy mission will allow scientists to explore two swarms of Trojan asteroids that share an orbit around the Sun with Jupiter. Scientific evidence indicates that Trojan asteroids are remnants of the material that formed giant planets. Studying them can reveal previously unknown information about their formation and our solar system’s evolution in the same way the fossilized skeleton of Lucy revolutionized our understanding of human evolution.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with the Lucy spacecraft aboard is seen in this 2 minute and 30 second exposure photograph as it launches from Space Launch Complex 41, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Lucy will be the first spacecraft to study Jupiter’s Trojan Asteroids. Like the mission’s namesake – the fossilized human ancestor, “Lucy,” whose skeleton provided unique insight into humanity’s evolution – Lucy will revolutionize our knowledge of planetary origins and the formation of the solar system. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Lucy’s Trojan destinations are trapped near Jupiter’s Lagrange points – gravitationally stable locations in space associated with a planet’s orbit where smaller masses can be trapped. One swarm of Trojans is ahead of the gas giant planet, and another is behind it. The asteroids in Jupiter’s Trojan swarms are as far away from Jupiter as they are from the Sun.

The spacecraft’s first Earth gravity assist in 2022 will accelerate and direct Lucy’s trajectory beyond the orbit of Mars. The spacecraft will then swing back toward Earth for another gravity assist in 2024, which will propel Lucy toward the Donaldjohanson asteroid – located within the solar system’s main asteroid belt – in 2025.

Lucy will then journey toward its first Trojan asteroid encounter in the swarm ahead of Jupiter for a 2027 arrival. After completing its first four targeted flybys, the spacecraft will travel back to Earth for a third gravity boost in 2031, which will catapult it to the trailing swarm of Trojans for a 2033 encounter.

** USA – Sept.27: ULA Atlas V launches Landsat 9 remote sensing satellite for NASA: NASA Launches New Mission to Monitor Earth’s Landscapes | NASA

A joint mission with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Landsat 9 lifted off on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex 3E. Norway’s Svalbard satellite-monitoring ground station acquired signals from the spacecraft about 83 minutes after launch. Landsat 9 is performing as expected as it travels to its final orbital altitude of 438 miles (705 kilometers).

… “Today’s successful launch is a major milestone in the nearly 50-year joint partnership between USGS and NASA who, for decades, have partnered to collect valuable scientific information and use that data to shape policy with the utmost scientific integrity,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “As the impacts of the climate crisis intensify in the United States and across the globe, Landsat 9 will provide data and imagery to help make science-based decisions on key issues including water use, wildfire impacts, coral reef degradation, glacier and ice-shelf retreat, and tropical deforestation.”

The first Landsat satellite launched in 1972. Since then, NASA has always kept a Landsat in orbit to collect images of the physical material covering our planet’s surface and changes to land usage. Those images allow researchers to monitor phenomena including agricultural productivity, forest extent and health, water quality, coral reef habitat health, and glacier dynamics. …

See also

** USA – Sept.2: Firefly‘s first launch of Alpha rocket fails due to engine shutdown shortly after liftoff. The rocket nevertheless flew for 145 seconds but then lost control and was destroyed via the flight termination system. The company sees the launch as a sucessful first test flight:

Firefly conducted the first flight test of our Alpha vehicle on September 2, 2021. Although the vehicle did not make it to orbit, the day marked a major advancement for the Firefly team, as we demonstrated that we “arrived” as a company capable of building and launching rockets. We also acquired a wealth of flight data that will greatly enhance the likelihood of Alpha achieving orbit during its second flight. In short, we had a very successful first flight.

More at:

**** Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut tours the Firefly facilities :Tour Firefly Aerospace’s Factory and Test Site With Their CEO, Tom Markusic“:

Join me as I walk through Firefly Aerospace’s Texas test site and factory with their CEO, Tom Markusic. This was a highly detailed tour where we got to learn a ton about their engines, their rockets, and rocket science in general. It was super fun chatting with Tom because he has a Ph.D. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, so I learned a lot!

See also

** USA – Aug.28: Astra Rocket 3.3 launch aborted in flight due to engine failure. One of the five first stage engines failed to ignite properly at liftoff. However, the rocket still managed to remain upright and gain altitude after sliding horizontally away from the launch pad. The rocket was nevertheless doomed by the engine failure and the flight was aborted at the time of the main engine cutoff.

The USAF contracted Astra for this mission and a second one later this year. The company says it expects to launch three times by the end of the year and has a 50 mission backlog. The rockets will lift off from the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Kodiak Island, Alaska. So far, the company has yet to put a payload into orbit but came close earlier this year when a propellant mixture problem caused the upper stage to reach just short of orbital velocity.

**** October 12: Astra announced completion of the investigation of the August launch failure:

The issue we encountered was something we hadn’t seen before. Leading up to liftoff, the first stage propellant distribution system provides the rocket with fuel and oxidizer. We designed the system to quickly disconnect and seal when the rocket lifts off. On this launch, propellants leaked from the system, mixed, and became trapped in an enclosed space beneath the interface between the rocket and the launcher. Those propellants were ignited by the engine exhaust, causing an over-pressure event that severed the connection to the electronics that control the fuel pump, shutting down the engine less than one second after liftoff.

This is why the rocket hovered until it could take off with only four engines producing thrust. The vehicle then returned to a normal trajectory, passing through max-Q. After that point, the four remaining engines did not have sufficient power to enable the vehicle to make orbit.

Appropriate fixes have been implemented and October 27th is now set as the date of the next launch.

Other Astra news:

Astra’s rocket for the LV0007 launch.

** USA – Aug.10: Northrop Grumman launches Antares rocket with Cygnus vessel from Wallops Island commercial spaceport. Christened the S.S. Ellison Onizuka, the NG-16 Cygnus vehicle brought 3,723 kilograms of cargo to the ISS when it docked to the station on Thursday, Aug.12. The cargo includes scientific experiment materials, various equipment, food and supplies to support the crew, etc.

** USA/NZ – July 29: Rocket Lab Electron puts US military satellite into orbit in the first launch sinceing an upper stage failure on May. 15th. The smallsat Monolith, a project of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Laboratory, was initially going to be on the first Rocket Lab launch from Wallops Island, Virginia. However, delays in getting the launch termination system certified by NASA led to moving the launch to New Zealand.

**** Oct.20: Rocket Lab will attempt to recover the first stage on the next Electron launch. Rocket Lab to Recover Electron Rocket, Introduce Helicopter Operations During Next Launch | Rocket Lab

[Rocket Lab] will attempt a controlled ocean splashdown and recovery of the first stage of an Electron rocket during the company’s next launch in November. The mission will be Rocket Lab’s third ocean recovery of an Electron stage; however, it will be the first time a helicopter will be stationed in the recovery zone around 200 nautical miles offshore to track and visually observe a descending stage in preparation for future aerial capture attempts. The helicopter will not attempt a mid-air capture for this mission but will test communications and tracking to refine the concept of operations (CONOPS) for future Electron aerial capture.

The ‘Love At First Insight’ mission is scheduled to lift-off from Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand during a 14-day launch window that opens on November 11, 2021 UTC. The mission’s primary objective is to deploy two Earth-observation satellites for global monitoring company BlackSky, with the secondary objective to splash down and recover Electron’s first stage to further validate Rocket Lab’s recovery operations and hardware.

In addition,

The ‘Love At First Insight’ mission will also include new recovery hardware developments to Electron including an advanced parachute to be deployed from the first stage at a higher-altitude, allowing for a slower drift back to Earth to test communications and tracking for future aerial recovery. Electron also features improvements to the first stage heat shield which protects its nine Rutherford engines while they endure up to 2200 °C heat and incredible pressure on the descent back to Earth. A team of Rocket Lab engineers and technicians will again be stationed at sea with their purpose-built Ocean Recovery and Capture Apparatus (ORCA) to retrieve the stage from the ocean and return it to Rocket Lab’s production complex in New Zealand for analysis and inspection.

The ‘Love At First Insight’ mission follows two previous ocean splashdown recovery missions; the ‘Return to Sender’ mission in November 2020, and the ‘Running Out of Toes’ mission in May 2021.

Other Rocket Lab news:

** Russia – Oct.14: Arianespace Soyuz launches 36 more OneWeb satellites. The constellation of Internet service spacecraft has now reached halfway to its final size of.

** S. Korea – Oct.21: The Korea Space Launch Vehicle (KSLV)-I on inaugural launch reaches space but upper stage fails to achieve orbital velocity after premature shutdown. Also referred to as the Nari, the three-stage rocket was launched from Naro Space Center, a few hundred kilometers south of Seoul. The payload was a dummy mock-up of a satellite. Overall, this was a successful test of the first orbital rocket built with South Korean technology.

** Russia – Oct. 4: Soyuz sends three to the ISS including cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov and actress Yulia Pereslid  and film producer/director Klim Shipenk. Shkaplerov will join the ISS crew for several months while the actress and director will spend 12 days filming nearly an hour of footage for a film titled, The Challenge. This will be the first feature film shot in space with a professional actor and film maker. Soyuz MS-19 launches film crew to Station amid tightened Russian space reporting regulations –

*** Oct.17: Shipenk and Pereslid return to Earth with cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy, who had been in space for 191 days

** Russia – Sept.14: Soyuz 2.1b launches 34 OneWeb Internet communication satellites. Soyuz mission launches 34 OneWeb satellites to orbit –

** Russia – Sept.9: Russian Soyuz-2.1v launches Kosmos-2551 military reconnaissance satellite from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia.

** Russia – Aug.21: Arianespace Soyuz 2.1B launches 34 OneWeb satellites from Baiknour Cosmodrome. Total number of OneWeb satellites in orbit reaches 288.

** Europe – Oct.24: Ariane 5 launches two telecommunication satellites from the Guiana Space Centre close to Kourou, French Guiana. The stacked SES-17 and Syracuse-4A spacecraft combined weighed a total of 11.2 tons, a new record mass for Ariane 5 launches into geostationary transfer orbits. The telecom company SES owns the SES-17 satellite and will use it to deliver broadband coverage over the Americas, the Caribbean and over the Atlantic Ocean. Commercial aviation will be a priority market. France’s DGA (Direction générale de l’armement) defence procurement agency arranged the launch of Syracuse-4A, which will provide secure communications for the armed forces of France and will support NATO and European-led operations. The next Ariane 5 launch will send the James Webb Space Telescope into a far orbit out past the Moon.

** Europe – Aug.16: Arianespace Vega rocket launches Pléiades Neo-4 earth observation satellite and four cubesat secondary payloads. The solid-fueled rocket lifted off from the European spaceport in French Guiana (South America).

This mission marked Arianespace’s 7th successful launch of the year and the second with Vega in 2021. It lasted one hour, 44 minutes and 59 seconds during which Pléiades Neo 4 separated on a sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 625 km while the four auxiliary payloads separated at 551 kilometers. …

… Today’s mission’s primary purpose was orbiting Pléiades Neo 4, the second of the four satellites of the Pléiades Neo constellation, the first being launched with Vega on April 28, 2021. With 30cm-native-resolution, best-in-class geolocation accuracy and twice-a-day revisit capability, the four Pléiades Neo satellites unlock new possibilities with the ultimate in reactivity. The satellite was fully funded and manufactured by its operator Airbus.

Pléiades Neo 4 was the 133rd Airbus Defence and Space satellite to be launched by Arianespace. There are currently 18 Airbus satellites in Arianespace’s backlog 11 of which will be launched with Vega and Vega C launchers. The last two satellites of the Pléiades Neo constellation will be placed into orbit in 2022 thanks to the next generation launch vehicle, Vega C.

** Europe – July.30: Arianespace launches Ariane V with two satellites for GEO transfer orbit. Ariane Flight VA254 lifted off from the from the Guiana Space Center (CSG) with “Star One D2, built by Maxar Technologies for Brazilian operator Embratel, and EUTELSAT QUANTUM for Eutelsat, developed with Airbus Defence and Space and the European Space Agency (ESA)”. This was the first Ariane V mission in nearly a year due to the slowdown with the pandemic and a grounding to deal with an issue with vibrations in the fairings.

The Star One D2 carries

Ku-, Ka-, C- and X-band transponders, that will enable it to expand broadband coverage to new regions in Central and South America and add an updated X-band payload for government use over the Atlantic region

The QUANTUM is an

With its configurable software-based design, EUTELSAT QUANTUM will be the first universal satellite in the world that can be repeatedly adjusted to the customer’s requirements at any time. It is equipped with electronically steerable receiving antennae and operates in Ku-band with eight independent reconfigurable beams. This configuration allows the operator to reconfigure in-orbit the radio-frequency beams over the coverage zones, providing unprecedented flexibility in data, government and mobility services.

There will be one more Ariane V mission before the launch of the James Webb telescope:

** India – Aug.12: Indian GSLV launch fails due to third stage problem. The Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk II (GSLV-F10), the most powerful rocket in the Indian stable of launch systems, lifted off with the EOS-03 earth observation satellite from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) SHAR in Sriharikota, India. This was was the fourteenth flight of ISRO’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) and the eighth of the upgraded Mark 2 version. Shortly after separation from the second stage, the cryogenic third stage began to lose attitude control and the engine failed to ignite. The mission had been delayed since March 2020 due to technical issues and the pandemic.

** Japan – Oct.26: JAXA launches QZS-1R navigation satellite on H-IIA rocket built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The launcher lifted off from Tanegashima Island in southwestern Japan. The QZS-1R replaces an aging member of Japan’s current constellation of three satellites in GEO. Eventually, the constellation will reach a size of 7 satellites and will provide an independent home-grown navigation service for the entire country.


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** China – Oct.27: Kuaizhou 1A rocket sends Jilin-1 Gaofen-02F hi-res optical imaging satellite into low earth orbit. The launch was carried out by Expace, a wholly owned subsidiary of the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. (CASIC), the government’s primary space organization. The Kuaizhou 1A is a four stage vehicle with solid fueled motors except for a liquid fueled top stage.

** China – Oct.24: Long March 3B launches space debris mitigation test satellite from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province in southwest China. No details were provided about the capabilities of the satellite or what sort of tests will be made. Presumably, it will rendezvous with an existing debris object, e.g. a derelict spacecraft or upper stage, or it release an object to test purposes. It will then carry out some operation that demonstrates one or more methods for de-orbiting such objects. These sort of techniques could also be used by a military satellite to disable an opponent’s spacecraft so there will be broad international interest in this mission. Interesting that the satellite was sent into geostationary transfer orbit rather than low earth orbit for such a test.

** China – Oct.15: Long March 2F sends 3 new crew members to Tiangong space station. The rocket lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert with the Shenzhou 13 spacecraft carrying with astronauts Zhai Zhigang (commander), Wang Yaping and Ye Guangfu will reach China’s new space station. The rendezvous and docking took place about 8 hours later. This is the second crew to go to the station and they are expected to remain there about six months. The first crew stayed for about three months.

** China – Oct.14: China launches Long March 2D launches H-alpha Solar Explorer plus 10 smallsats.

** China – Sept.27: Classified Shiyan-10 satellite launched by Long March 3B. Just two hours after the KZ-1A launch discussed below, the LM-3B lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province. The satellite was inserted into a geostationary transfer orbit but apparently there followed a malfunction of some sort perhaps with the satellite’s onboard engine. However, the satellite eventually began to use its onboard thrusters to reach its target orbit.

** China – Sept.27: Kuaizhou 1A (KZ-1A) rocket puts Jilin-1 Gaofen-02D remote sensing satellite into polar orbit. The rocket lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Inner Mongolia. The number of Jilin-1 Gaofen-2 satellites in orbit now numbers five.

** China – Sept.20: Long March 7 rocket launches Tianzhou-3 cargo vehicle to the Tianhe space station. The rocket lifted off from the Wenchang spaceport in Hainan, an island in southeast of China. The vehicle docked to the station just 7 hours later. The cargo includes propellant to maintain the station’s orbit and various consumables and equipment. The next crew of three are set to launch to the station on October 13th.

** China – Sept.17: Shenzhou-12 crew returns from Tianhe space station. The three taikonauts -Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo – rode in the Shenzhou-12 return module as it parachuted onto the Gobi Desert, Inner Mongolia. The crew was the first for the new Tianhe space station, which currently consists of the core module and the Tianzhou-2 supply vehicle. During their 90 day mission, they prepared the core module for operation and for the arrival of additional modules later. The Tianzhou-3 uncrewed supply vehicle is set to launch to the station on Sept. 20th. A second crew is expected to go to the station in early October for a six month stay.

** China – Sept.9: Long March 3C rocket sends Zhongxing-9B direct broadcast satellite to geostationary transfer orbit. The rocket lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province in southwest China,

** China – Sept.7: Gaofen 5-02 Earth-observation satellite launched on Long March 4C rocket. The rocket lifted off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in northern China’s Shanxi province. The satellite, developed by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology, uses hyperspectral imaging to monitor “air, water and environments”.

** China – Aug.24: China launches two rockets on same day. A Long March-3B rocket successfully inserted a new communication technology experiment satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit after liftoff from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China’s Sichuan Province. Later in the day, a Long March-2C carrier rocket put three satellites into low earth orbit from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China. Two of these spacecraft are test satellites for a planned Internet services constellation.

** China – Aug.19: Chinese Long March-4B launches two Tianhui-2 earth observation satellites from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center. The Tianhui 2 series are a quasi-secretive group of Earth observation satellites

** China – Aug.5: Long March 3B launches military communication satellite. This was the fourth Chinese launch in the past 8 days, counting the failure of the iSpace Hyperbola 1 discussed below.

The Zhongxing-2E satellite, operated by China Satellite Communications, launched at 16:30 UTC onboard a Long March 3B/E rocket, or Chang Zheng 3B/E, from Launch Complex 2 (LA-2) of the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwestern China. It is the desired launch site of the country´s space program for launches beyond low Earth orbit (LEO).

China Satellite Communications is owned by the Chinese Government, and the line of Zhongxing satellites are used to provide general communication services for the military.

Zhongxing is suspected to be the fourth satellite of the Shentong-2 military communication satellite line. They are operated by the Chinese army and provide communication services for voice and text communications.

** China – Aug.4: Chinese Long March 6 launches 2 technology test satellites from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in Shanxi Province in northern of the country.

KL-Beta-A and KL-Beta-B were built by the Shanghai Institute for Microsatellite Innovation of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and are operated by the German company KLEO-connect. The Beta satellites will help test new interference suppression technology for Ka-band mobile communications satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) and Geostationary orbit (GEO).

** China – Aug.3: Launch of commercial Chinese rocket fails. The Chinese company iSpace suffered the second failure in a row of the solid fueled Hyperbola rocket.

** China – July 29: Chinese Long March 2D launches Tianhui 1-04 earth observation satellite from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwestern Gobi Desert.


Continue to Roundup Part 2: Light orbital lift, suborbital, space transport articles, news, videos, etc.

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