Category Archives: Space

Launch, Launch, GRAY LAUNCH!

I’ve been offline due to a heavy workload at the office, but I have time to catch up a bit with launch videos!

On October 30, Koreasat 5A launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket out of Kennedy Space Center’s LC-39A:

The next day, an Orbital ATK Minotaur C launched from Vandenberg AFB in California to place six SkySat satellites and four Doves into orbit.  Minotaur C represents the return to flight for Taurus, whose name was changed to Minotaur C to make a break from the bad luck that had plagued Taurus:

And then on November 5, a Long March 3B out of Xichang, China placed the next two Beidou spacecraft into orbit.  Beidou, when complete, will compete with the GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo constellations for satellite navigation.

On November 7 (in South America; it would’ve been November 8 in Europe), a Vega rocket from Arianespace placed the Mohammed VI-A observation satellite into orbit for the nation of Morocco, flying out of Kourou, French Guiana:

And lastly, after a one-day scrub due to an errant private airplane straying into the launch zone minutes before liftoff, the latest Cygnus cargo ship is on its way to the ISS.  Launched by an Orbital ATK Antares rocket out of Wallops Island, Virginia, this placed the OA-8 Cygnus “SS Gene Cernan” onto its path to intercept the ISS in a couple of days:

(PS. I’m from Minnesota.  So yes, it is Launch, Launch, Gray Launch.  And always will be.  😛 )

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NROL-52 flies on the fifth attempt

The Atlas V, performing flawlessly to place the classified NROL-52 payload into its unspecified orbit*, had a rare fifth launch attempt today.  This is the first time any Atlas V rocket has had to make this many attempts.  Of course, this one was launching from Florida, which is known for its fickle weather.  But fifth time was the charm, and the spacecraft is away!

 

*Spaceflight observers suspect that NROL-52 is a data relay satellite intended for geostationary orbit.  If they’re right, it will perform for the National Reconniassance Office a role similar to the civilian TDRS satellites operated by NASA, which allow continuous contact with spacecraft such as the ISS and the Hubble Space Telescope, among others.

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Progress MS-07 flies on the second attempt

Last Thursday, the Soyuz rocket experienced a very rare abort when one of two umbilicals failed to separate at the appropriate time.  This cost the perfect geometry required to attempt a new two-orbit direct ascent approach, so they reset for Saturday, with the plan of reverting to the traditional two-day chase.  Today’s launch was carried out flawlessly, and Progress MS-07 is on its way to the ISS.

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Sentinel 5P launches aboard Rockot

ESA’s Sentinel 5P environmental monitoring satellite has been successfully launched by a Russian Rockot booster out of Plesetsk Cosmodrome.  The subarctic launch site is ideal for polar orbiting spacecraft, and Sentinel 5P will require a polar orbit in order to carry out its mission of monitoring pollutants over every major city on Earth.  Built in Great Britain with Dutch contributions (primarily instrumentation), it’s part of the Copernicus Program, an ambitious international project to provide real-time data on the status of the Earth’s atmosphere, waterways, ice sheets, and landmasses to all, free of charge.  The booster, meanwhile, is a decommissioned Soviet ICBM; arms limitation treaties mean Russia cannot keep the entire inventory, so they have been putting them to work as commercial launch vehicles.  The Rockot inventory is largely a set of ICBMs purchased as a block from the Russian government in the 1990s by a consortium of Khrunichev (which made the rockets originally) and DaimlerBenz; Daimler’s portion has since been bought out by Astrium (part owner of Arianespace).

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SpaceX has reused another booster!

A Falcon 9 rocket successfully placed the SES-11/EchoStar 105 spacecraft onto geosynchronous transfer orbit, and recovered the first stage after an exceptionally hot reentry from this high-energy trajectory.  This was their third flight of a reused stage.

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Michibiki 4 (QZS-4) launched aboard H-IIA

A Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H-IIA rocket placed the Michibiki 4 spacecraft into orbit yesterday.  This is the latest element of Japan’s indigenous satellite navigation constellation.  The Michibiki constellation, which means “guiding the way”, is also called QZS – quasi-zenith satellite – because the complementary orbits of the four spacecraft will ensure that there is always a satellite near the zenith (as long as you’re in the Eastern Hemisphere, anyway, and particularly near a band from Japan to Australia).  They are all intended to operate at geosynchronous altitude, much higher than the GPS constellation, but at a significant inclination.  Geostationary satellites orbit on the plane of the Earths’ equator, which allows them to appear fixed in the sky.  Since these have an inclined orbit, they will trace a figure-8 pattern in the sky over the course of a day.  This variation will give GPS receivers something to track.  Yes, I did say GPS — Japan says this will be fully compatible with GPS signals.  It will be particularly beneficial in the dense urban areas of Japan, where GPS struggles to be accurate due to all the buildings blocking satellite signals.  With satellites that stand high in the sky all the time, it will be much easier to get enough signals for a fix.

This was H-IIA’s thirty-sixth launch.

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Falcon 9 places another 10 Iridium NEXT spacecraft into orbit

SpaceX completed one more launch early this morning from Vandenberg AFB, precisely placing the ten spacecraft on board into the vehicle into Plane 4 of the Iridium NEXT constellation, successfully recovering the first stage.  There’s no rest for the weary, however — SpaceX is on target for another launch, this one from the opposite coast, on Wednesday.

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