Tag Archives: commsat

Bulgaria enters the space community, as the second reused Falcon 9 flies!

SpaceX completed another successful launch today — and the first droneship recovery of a reused booster — placing BulgariaSat1 into geosynchronous transfer orbit.  It was the hottest and hardest return yet, and not quite squarely on the droneship (“Of Course I Still Love You”), but it was successful.

SpaceX isn’t quite done yet — they’re planning another launch on Sunday with the second set of ten Iridium Next satellites from Vandenberg AFB.  It’s a busy launch weekend; I’ll have more rocket launch videos tomorrow.  😉

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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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Falcon 9 has lifted its heaviest payload to geosychronous orbit to date: Inmarsat-5 Flight 4, a massive commsat designed to support inflight WiFi and mobile broadband.  The spacecraft was originally slated to fly on SpaceX’s gigantic Falcon Heavy, but the increase in Falcon 9 capacity with the current version (v1.2) meant that if the booster recovery was abandoned, they could actually do the mission with this vehicle.

This is the SpaceX live feed, captured for our enjoyment.  The feed starts 11 minutes into the video, and launch is at 20 minutes.

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Space updates: Soyuz MS-02 returns, John Glenn to fly again, Chinasat 16, and Cassini’s next step

I’ve been way busy the last few days, so I regret I have not posted as often as I’d like.  But I’ll start making up for that.  😉  First off, the landing of Soyuz MS-02 from the ISS!  The imagery is great; you even get to see the capsule venting hydrogen peroxide as it descends under parachute (at which point the thrusters are no longer useful, so they dump the propellant to make it safer on the ground).  This completes the Expedition 50 mission.  On board were Sergey Ryzhikov, Andrey Borisenko and Shane Kimbrough.  Two crew will launch on the next Soyuz, due to funding constraints at Roscosmos which has forced them to make the difficult decision to reduce their crew size.  On a positive note, the commander of Expedition 51, who took command upon this crew’s departure, is Peggy Whitson, and NASA has just decided to extend her mission by three months.  She currently holds the female spaceflight endurance record, and by the end of her extended mission, will also capture the American spaceflight endurance record.

Meanwhile, in Florida, crews are preparing the next Cygnus vehicle, named for astronaut John Glenn, to be launched aboard an Atlas V to the ISS.  This trip will carry experiments to create new targeted chemo drugs in microgravity for Oncolinx (an experiment which will consume a lot of crew time; it’s stuff that cannot be done anywhere else), a crystal growth experiment that goes beyond the basic science of previous experiments and aims to build new radiation detectors, a mini greenhouse (the most sophisticated sent to space to date) with wheat and Arabidopsis seeds, 34 Cubesats in the pressurized compartment (to be deployed later from Kibo), and 4 Cubesats to be deployed by Cygnus itself after departing the station.  Finally, there are two experiments to be carried after Cygnus has completed its primary mission — the third SAFIRE test to better understand fire in microgravity, and three small reentry bodies that will be ejected prior to Cygnus’ reentry, a process which they are expected to survive.  They will splash down in the ocean and sink, however, so they aren’t expected to be recovered.  Instead, they will be continuously transmitting temperature data via the Iridium constellation, allowing testing of new heat shield materials under real-world circumstances.  Note: launch was delayed from March to April 18 due to a launch vehicle technical issue which has been resolved.

And although Falcon 9 has taken a lot of business away from Chinese launch vehicles, they still have a solid lock on their burgeoning government program.  A Long March 3B blasted off from Xichang with the Shijan 13 (Chinasat 16) communications satellite on board.  This is the highest-bandwidth spacecraft that China has launched, and in addition to acting as a technology demonstrator for several projects (including ion propulsion and laser communications), it will provide high-bandwidth Internet service to airline, ship, and train passengers in and near China.

And lastly, on a bittersweet note, yesterday JPL uploaded the instructions for Cassini’s next Titan flyby.  In six days the Cassini spacecraft is moving towards a major milestone — the last flyby of Titan.  This flyby will be used as a gravity assist to move the spacecraft from its current ring-grazing phase to the final phase of the mission, called the Grand Finale.  It will fly closer to Saturn that anything ever has before, completing several orbits before impacting Saturn in September.  But it will return astonishing data that could not be captured any other way, including passes through the tenuous outer atmosphere of Saturn and through the D ring itself.

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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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EchoStar 19 successfully launched by Atlas V

Atlas V chalked up another successful mission today, blasting off from Cape Canaveral in the 431 configuration (4-meter fairing, 3 solid boosters, single-engine Centaur).  The payload was EchoStar 19, a commercial commsat that will be operated by HughesNet to provide high speed satellite Internet service across North America.  It’s unusual to see the highly reliable but expensive Atlas V flying a commercial mission; in this case, HughesNet selected the vehicle due to rapid availability.  They are currently constrained from growing their service due to all of their existing spot-beams being at full capacity; EchoStar 19 will provide 160 more spot-beams, allowing them to grow beyond their current million customers.  The spacecraft is expected to enter service in March, following on-orbit testing, and will join HughesNet’s two other spacecraft, EchoStar 17 and Spaceway 3.

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Intelsat’s first double-launch, aboard Ariane V

The venerable and highly reliable Ariane V roared into space from Kourou, French Guiana yesterday, carrying two Intelsat payloads to geosynchronous transfer orbit.  Intelsat 33e and Intelsat 36 were released into the desired trajectories on the first double-launch for one of the world’s oldest commercial satellite operators.  These new satellites are in Intelsat’s “Epic” class and are intended to expand Intelsat’s market from traditional satellite users (a market they presently dominate in the Western Hemisphere) to mobile users (a market presently dominated by Inmarsat).  Epic spacecraft have cutting-edge capabilities for rapid adjustments in the bandwidth available depending on need, making them far more capable than their predecessors in the market.

As far as Arianespace is concerned, it was one more successful launch:

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