It’s not all bad; two successful launches

The Antares failure was disappointing, of course, but don’t despair, space fans — there’s good stuff too!  This week has also seen two flawless launches.  The first, just a few hours after the Antares failure, was a Progress supply run to the ISS, launched aboard a Soyuz FG from Baikonur Cosmodrome.  This was Progress M-25M, making the 57th Progress flight to the ISS.

It then docked with the station’s Pirs module, after flying a new trajectory that allowed it to carry an additional 660 pounds of cargo — though probably its most important cargo is 1,940 pounds of propellant that will later be loaded onto Zvezda.  (That won’t happen until it has an opportunity to relocate to the aft port, which is the only one equipped for propellant transfer.  Progress modules typically stay at station much longer than American cargo vehicles do, often staying up for many months and only departing when they need to make way for another.)  YouTube user Trent Faust made a nice time lapse of the docking (which spares you watching the 30 minute unedited version, and comes with a lovely soundtrack that Trekkies will recognize):

And then yesterday, from Cape Canaveral Air Station, Atlas V completed its fiftieth mission.  To date, it has enjoyed an enviable flight record, with only one partial failure in its entire history; in 2007, the Centaur upper stage cut off prematurely, leaving the payload of two naval observation satellites for the NRO in suboptimal orbits.  The two satellites were able to correct their orbits and are still in operation today, although they are expected to have a reduced lifespan due to that early propellant consumption.  Yesterday’s flight placed GPS IIF-8 into orbit, maintaining the GPS Block IIF constellation.  There are some lovely rocketcam shots towards the end of the video.

Since it’s not a classified mission, ULA could provide coverage for the entire flight.  This edited highlights video concludes with a lovely shot of the departing satellite at the very end.

This is the fourth and final GPS Block IIF launch this year, and the eighth overall.  There will be two more next year, leaving two spacecraft left, with launch dates TBD.  The next generation of GPS satellites is already in production; GPS Block IIIA, currently set to fly no earlier than 2016.  Block IIIA was authorized over a decade ago, but has suffered a lot of delays; Block IIF is a gapfiller to maintain capabilities until the new and improved system can become operational.

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