Tag Archives: China

Catching up on launches and landings!

I’ve been remiss in blogging, so here’s a pile of videos to try to make it up. ¬†ūüėČ

First off, last Saturday China carried out the second launch of their new heavy-lift rocket, the CZ-5 (Long March 5), from their newest launch site on Hainan Island. ¬†CZ-5 is intended to support their deep space exploration aspirations, including eventual manned missions to the Moon, so a successful launch was very important. ¬†Unfortunately, it does not appear to have been successful. ¬†Initial indications suggest the first stage burned considerably longer than expected, which would suggest a possible engine failure resulting in the stage burning much longer in attempt to compensate, perhaps to propellant depletion. ¬†The second stage appears to have carried out a normal burn, but was clearly unable to make up the velocity shortfall. ¬†The upper stage and its seven-ton experimental commsat payload (Shijan-18) both reentered, most likely impacting in the Pacific Ocean. ¬†The strap-on stages of the CZ-5 operate on kerosene and LOX, while the core and upper stages burn LH2/LOX. ¬†The booster engines use a design licensed from NPO Energomash in Russia, the world’s undisputed leader in staged-combustion kerolox engines (it really is amazing how many vehicles around the world use their designs), while the cryogenic engines are domestically designed and produced.

Meanwhile, the first recycled SpaceX Dragon capsule completed its mission to the ISS. ¬†One of its payloads was the Roll-Out Solar Array (ROSA), an experiment to test a new type of solar array that is more robust than earlier roll-out designs (remember Hubble’s original arrays, which usually looked a bit twisted and wonky when deployed?) but more compact than rigid arrays. ¬†The experiment was almost a complete success, with the array generating lots of power. ¬†Unfortunately, retraction was unsuccessful, so the array had to be jettisoned in its deployed state.

The ROSA’s ride up also left the ISS, but in a more controlled fashion, and returned to Earth.

The CRS-11 spacecraft then made the first Dragon reentry at night.  Astronaut Jack Fisher photographed the plasma trail from orbit:

Rounding out the launches of the last few days is today’s launch of the tenth Falcon 9 of the year, placing Intelsat 35E into geosynchronous transfer orbit. ¬†Due to the size of the payload, this was flown as a fully expendable launch vehicle, with no grid fins and no excess propellant margin to carry out a reentry burn:

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Long March 3B delivers satellite to wrong orbit

In the rocket’s first anomaly since 2009, a Long March 3B failed to deliver a commercial Chinese television commsat to the correct geosynchronous transfer orbit. ¬†The first two stages of the flight were normal, but for reasons not yet clear, the third stage did not reach the desired target orbit before releasing the payload. ¬†The payload itself, Chinasat 9A, has deployed its solar arrays and is healthy, and controllers on the ground are assessing options for salvaging its mission. ¬†Depending on how far off they are from the target orbit, it may be possible to gradually raise the orbit using its maneuvering thrusters.

This has been done with other geosynchronous commsats whose launch vehicles suffered similar anomalies, most famously the first USAF AEHF satellite. ¬†In that case, the launch vehicle performed flawlessly, but AEHF-1 was equipped with an apogee kick motor to deliver it to geosynchronous transfer orbit; this failed to ignite, stranding it in the initial parking orbit. ¬†An agonizingly slow orbit raise was performed using the tiny Hall thrusters on the spacecraft, eventually successfully raising it to the proper orbit for its mission. ¬†It is unclear at this point whether a similar salvage will be possible for Chinasat 9A, but it’s definitely worth exploring. ¬†That said, preliminary radar data suggests the spacecraft is in an orbit inclined 25.7 degrees (instead of the 0 degrees that’s intended), with an apogee of 16, 360 km and a perigee of just 193 km — skimming the atmosphere, basically, which will rob it of precious energy each time it goes around, giving very little time to begin a recovery plan (if one is even possible). ¬†It’s very likely this spacecraft is lost, unfortunately, a reminder of how difficult spaceflight still is.

However, the initial part of the launch was as beautiful as one would expect of a rocket launch, although perhaps due to the third stage anomaly, I have been unable to find a longer video:

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Tianzhou-1 completes inflight refueling demonstration

Tianzhou-1 has docked with the unoccupied Tiangong-2 station and completed an on-orbit refueling demonstration.  The entire operation took five days.  Tianzhou-1, which is loaded with inert bags to act as mass models of station supplies, will remain at the station for a few months, conducting other tests, before undocking for a free-flight phase of the mission before it is commanded to a destructive reentry.

Tianzhou-1 is the heaviest payload ever launched by China, bigger even than the Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2 space stations, which speaks to the high aspirations they have for their subsequent stations.  They are planning something substantial, and capable of continuous occupation.  Tianzhou itself is designed to supply the needs of three crewmembers (in food, water, supplies, and breathable air) for a full month.

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Tianzhou-1 launches on the maiden test flight of China’s new cargo vessel

Yesterday didn’t just see the launch of Soyuz MS-04; the Chinese also launched Tianzhou-1, the experimental first model of their new autonomous cargo vehicle to support their crewed space station program. ¬†Tianzhou-1 will dock several times with the now-uncrewed Tiangong-2 space station to validate the performance of the docking system and its ability to offload propellants into the station (a feature that has only ever been available in two other cargo vessels, Progress and Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle). ¬†This launch occurred using a Long March 7 rocket flying out of the new Wengchang Space Center on Hainan Island. ¬†Both the Long March 7 and Wengchang were built largely with the crewed program in mind; Hainan is much further south than any other Chinese launch centers, improving the available upmass. ¬†Long March 7 will be used to fly both Tianzhou and Shenzhou (the crewed vehicle).

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China’s got a brand-new booster

The Kaitouzhe-2 (KT-2, or sometimes TK-2)¬†solid-fuel rocket made its maiden flight (unannounced, as is typical for Chinese government flights) from Jiuquan Space Center, placing a small payload into a polar orbit. ¬†Given the tendency to use liquid rockets for satellite launch services (they’re more versatile and more efficient), it’s been speculated¬†that the rocket is really intended as a ballistic missile. ¬†(Solids are more practical for this purpose, as they can be stored indefinitely in a fueled state and require much less infrastructure to launch.) ¬†However, officially it’s a low-cost commercial satellite launch vehicle. ¬†That would¬†also¬†be plausible, since¬†this vehicle appears to be suitable for the suddenly burgeoning small satellite business. ¬†They’re less fuel efficient than liquids, but they’re mechanically a lot simpler, which means they can usually be manufactured more quickly and in greater volume.

Anyway,¬†if you’re like me, what you really want is to see a rocket. ¬†So here it is!

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Gaojing 1 commercial imaging satellites stranded in unusable orbit

The final Long March 2D of the year blasted off from Taiyuan Space Center in China’s Shanxi province. ¬†The primary payloads were the first two elements of the Gaojing 1 (or SuperView 1) constellation, intended to become China’s first commercial imaging satellite constellation, and compete directly with spacecraft such as the WorldView fleet. ¬†However, initial tracking data indicates some sort of anomaly, because instead of the desired circular polar orbit at an altitude of¬†500 km, they are orbiting in an elliptical orbit with an apogee of 524 km but a perigee of just 214 km. ¬†That perigee has them skimming the atmosphere; it’s estimated that the orbit could only remain stable for a few months. ¬†China has released no information, such as whether or not the satellites have sufficient propellant to boost their orbits independently in time to salvage some of their mission. ¬†That said, even if these satellites are lost, it isn’t the end for Gaojing: the constellation is planned to have a couple dozen satellites, so there is sufficient redundancy already. ¬†Still, I’m sure it’s a disheartening end to 2016 for the launch team.

With the next Proton launch now slipping into 2017, there is only one more launch scheduled for 2016: another Chinese launch, this one of a technology demonstrator satellite called TJS 2 that will test new broadcast communications technologies.

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Three days, three launches: ERG, Star One D1/JCSAT 15, and TanSat

2016 is wrapping up with some fireworks: three orbital rocket launches this week, and then possibly up to three more next week!

First off, on Tuesday, the Exploration of Energization and Radiation in Geospace, or ERG, spacecraft (to be renamed Arase after postlaunch checkout, after a river near the launch site) blasted off from the¬†Uchinoura Space Center on the island of Kyushu, Japan, atop an Epsilon rocket. ¬†The all-solid-prop Epsilon is a lower-cost replacement to the legacy Mu series of lighter-weight rockets, designed to require a very small launch team and capable of rapid deployment and hopefully to become a strong commercial contender internationally. ¬†This is only its second flight. ¬†Epsilon’s prime contractor is¬†IHI Aerospace; Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which builds the much larger H-II rocket, is a supplier, as is NEC. ¬†The payload, ERG, will be operated by JAXA on a highly elliptical orbit that will force it to pass repeatedly through the Van Allen Belts for the purpose of better understanding them. ¬†It will join two NASA spacecraft already on that mission, permitting three-way observation.

Then there were two launches yesterday.  First, from Kourou Space Centre in French Guiana, an Ariane V heavy lift rocket lifted two commsats to geosynchronous transfer orbit: Star One D1, to provide television and telecommunications services to South America for Embratel Star One of Brazil, and JCSAT 15, to provide television services for SKY Perfect JSAT Corp of Japan.

 

And then overnight, a scientific Earth observation satellite designed to monitor CO2 levels, TanSat, launched into polar orbit aboard a Long March 2D rocket from¬†Jiuquan in northern China. ¬†The spacecraft will be capable of mapping CO2 concentrations down to four parts per million worldwide, and also carries instruments relating to¬†cloud and aerosol detection. ¬†Don’t be alarmed by all the sparklies you see falling — those are sheets of ice illuminated by the brilliant rocket plume. ¬†Ice formation is extremely common on liquid-propellant rockets, since the oxidizer at minimum is chilled to cryogenic temperatures.

All of these launches were completely successful.  There are three more launches planned for 2016, and hopefully they will go just as well: another Long March 2D, a Long March 3B, and a Proton.

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