Rocket Launch Catchup: Long March 3B, Zenit 3, Proton, Soyuz TMA-19M, PSLV

It’s been a busy week in rocketry!

China

December 9, China placed the Chinasat 1C communications satellite into orbit during a spectacular nighttime launch of the Long March 3B from Xichang space center.

Russia

Russia, meanwhile, had a typically busy time, with three launches.  First off on December 11 was what could end up being the final Zenit launch if Russia doesn’t resolve its issues with Ukraine, as that’s where Zenit is made.  It placed the Elektro-L 2 weather satellite into orbit for the Russian government, launching from Baikonur Cosmodrome (with musical accompaniment in this video clip):

The very next day, they launched a Proton rocket carrying a Russian military communications satellite of undisclosed function, but which experts believe is the second element of the Garpun data relay constellation, which serves a role similar to NASA’s TDRSS constellation.  I could not find a video of the launch, but I did find this one showing rollout of the vehicle.

And then yesterday Baikonur hosted a third launch, and easily the most anticipated of the week: the Soyuz TMA-19M launch, which delivered Yuri Malenchenko (Russia), Timothy Kopra (USA), and Timothy Peake (United Kingdom) to the ISS.  Launch and rendezvous were flawless, but final docking ran into a hiccup and Malenchenko completed the docking manually.  Peake, who is making his first spaceflight, is the first British astronaut in space actually under the auspices of the British government (via its membership in ESA); previous British astronauts have had to emigrate to the US and join NASA first (Michael Foale), or buy Soyuz seats with private funds.

And if you have the latest version of Firefox, Chrome, or Internet Explorer, you can see the view from a viewing location away from the pad in 360 video, courtesy of BBC News.  Makes you feel like you’re there!

India
Rounding out the week so far and cementing a very eastern hemisphere bias to the launch schedule is India, whose PSLV out of Satish Dhawan Space Center on Sriharikota Island successfully placed six Singaporean satellites into space at once, the largest being TeLEOS 1, an Earth observation satellite; the other five were small university-developed payloads.
Next Up:
Next are China’s Long March 2B, set to place the Dark Matter Particle Explorer into orbit tomorrow, a dual-payload Galileo launch by Soyuz, the Falcon 9 return-to-flight with Orbcomm payloads, a Progress launch, another Proton, and probably also the Gaofen 4 geosynchronous Earth observation satellite, before the year ends.
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