Tag Archives: Baikonur Cosmodrome

Soyuz MS-05 launches to the International Space Station

The latest crew has arrived at the ISS!  The international crew (Russian, American, and Italian) launched from Baikonur into a rapid ascent profile that allowed them to dock just a few orbits later.

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Soyuz seizes second place in the “most payloads” race

Not that it’s exactly a race anymore; the game has clearly changed massively with satellite operators such as Planet Labs, the company also largely responsible for PSLV seizing first place in this category.  Planet Labs placed 88 of its “Dove” CubeSats into orbit on a PSLV last February, and another 48 aboard Soyuz last Friday.  These are imagery spacecraft, designed to completely rewrite the rules of satellite image procurement — instead of building massive, expensive, highly sophisticated spacecraft akin to spy satellites, they’re building CubeSat with relatively inexpensive cameras — but lots of them.  Their resolution is less, but the availability is much greater, and although the satellites are so small and light that they don’t stay in orbit for more than a few years, this also means they’re self-cleaning and easily replenished because they are so cheap.  It also partially compensates for their small size — they’re dwarfed by the big commercial imaging sats (to say nothing of spy satellites) but they fly much, much lower.

The primary payload aboard this flight was Kanopus-V-IK, a Russian civilian imaging satellite operated by Roscosmos for the purpose of emergency response.  It carries multispectral imagers particularly useful for tracking wildfires.  Kanopus-V-IK is a traditional spacecraft, large and equipped with propulsion.  The Doves were not its only smallsat neighbors for the flight; other payloads included eight Lemurs from Spire Global (to provide weather forecasting information), three CICERO cubesates from GeoOptics (Spire’s closest competitor), two LandMapper-BC cubesats from Astro Digital, Tyvak’s experimental NanoACE (to test propulsion for nanosatellites; Tyvak is a launch broker), the Flying Laptop (a smallsat capable of searching for NEOs while testing a new type of On Board Computer) from the University of Stuttgart, Technosat from the Technical University of Berlin, Norsat 1 & 2 (Norway’s first scientific satellites, to improve merchant marine tracking and communications, and originally scheduled to fly on a Soyuz out of French Guiana), the Japanese WNISAT 1R small weather satellite, the crowd-funded Mayak solar sail from Moscow Polytechnic University (which could become brighter than the ISS when deployed), and four other Russian CubeSats.

FYI, third place is 37 satellites.  It was set in 2014 by a Ukrainian-built Dnepr rocket out of Dombarovsky Air Base in Russia.  The fact that the three records have all been set in the last five years — and with such a huge gap — is indicative of a major trend in spaceflight.  Things are changing.

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Proton has returned to flight!

The Proton rocket, heavy-lift workhorse of the Russian fleet, has finally returned to flight.  The mission was a commercial one, sold through International Launch Services (a joint venture of RSC Khrunichev and Lockheed Martin), and carried the Echostar 21 commercial commsat to geosynchronous transfer orbit.  The launch was fully successful, which I’m sure was a bit of a relief after the year-long grounding extended by a frustrating series of delays: first it was grounded to study concerns with the Briz-M upper stage, and then it was grounded further when contamination found in the engines revealed a much larger pattern of fraud within the engine manufacturer, Voronezh Mechanical Plant.  Fallout from that included the humiliating order to turn Voronezh management over to their rival, NPO Energomash, which has been tasked with cleaning up the organization so that this does not happen again.

It’s good to see the old workhorse back in operation again.  There are four more Proton flights scheduled for 2017, as it works to clear out the backlog.

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Soyuz MS-04 has arrived at Station

The latest crewed mission to the ISS has arrived: Soyuz MS-04, with Soyuz commander (and future Expedition 52 commander) Fyodor Yurchikhin and flight engineer Jack Fisher.  The two men share an interesting interagency history — Yurchikhin was one of the first cosmonauts to fly aboard Shuttle, and Fisher is one of the first (possibly *the* first, I’m not sure) American astronaut to serve as Soyuz flight engineer, a situation necessitated by Roscosmos’ decision to reduce their crew size in an effort to save money.  The empty third seat was filled with supplies, and when they return, they will be joined by current Expedition 51 commander Peggy Whitson, whose mission has been extended a few months.

It was a beautiful liftoff from the plains of Kazakhstan:

As per current protocol, they made a rapid ascent profile, docking on the fourth orbit:

This brings Station up to a crew of five.

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Dragon arrives at ISS, and Progress begins its climb

The cargo trips to the ISS continue, with the CRS-10 Dragon arriving a day late (after waving off the first rendezvous due to faulty GPS data) and Progress MS-05 blasting off and returning the Progress capsule to flight after the unfortunate launch vehicle failure that destroyed the last one.  Progress Ms-05 also capped off the venerable Soyuz-U, as it was the final flight of that rocket variant.

Dragon has been berthed at the nadir port of the Harmony node, and Progress MS-05 is en route to dock with the nadir port of the Pirs compartment.

The final Soyuz-U launch:

And a timelapse of the Dragon berthing:

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Progress MS-04 lost on takeoff

Just days after the reentry of the latest Cygnus cargo vehicle, Russia has lost a Progress spacecraft.  Something went wrong during the third stage of the flight, and the vehicle broke up and reentered over the Tuva Republic of eastern Russia, just north of Mongolia.  Most of the vehicle is believed to have burned up in the upper atmosphere.  It will take time to determine exactly what happened, but initial indications suggest a premature separation of spacecraft and launch vehicle.

Progress was carrying 710 kg of propellant for Zvezda, 420 kg of water, 52 kg of oxygen, 315 kg of food, 115 kg of miscellaneous gear including medical and hygiene supplies, 83 kg of gear for the Russian segment’s toilet system, 67 kg of air purification hardware, an Orlan suit, cables, cameras, science experiements, and 87 kg of supplies for NASA (including equipment for the environmental control and water recycling systems).  All of that of course has now been lost.

 

Consumables on the station are within comfortable margins at present.  The next scheduled cargo flight is a Japanese HTV on Dec 9.

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Launch of Soyuz MS-03 with the ISS crew and Ariane V with Galileo satellites

Today, two rockets lifted off.  First, from Kourou in French Guiana, an Ariane V launched the next five elements of the Galileo satellite navigation constellation:

 

Then, from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Soyuz MS-03 blasted off.  The crew are Russian Soyuz commander Oleg Novitskiy, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson (who, with this launch, has broken the record for oldest female astronaut previously held by Barbara Morgan), and French astronaut Thomas Pesquet of ESA.

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