There were two launches in the early hours today: a Falcon 9 out of Vandenberg AFB and an Ariane V out of Kourou, French Guiana.
The Falcon 9 delivered 10 Iridium NEXT satellites into orbit. The first stage landed on the barge Just Read The Instructions. The ship Mr Steven attempted to catch one of the two payload fairing sections, but again was unsuccessful, with relatively high wind shear believed to be a contributing factor. All ten spacecraft were deployed properly and appear to be healthy. Unfortunately for those of us viewing at home, the notorious sea fog of Southern California rolled in before liftoff. But the rocketcam views were all great at least!
Then Ariane 5 departed from Kourou, carrying the next four elements of the Galileo satellite navigation constellation to orbit. When complete, Galileo will supplement GPS and GLONASS, and also provide a domestic navigation capability for users in the European Union in the event access to GPS or GLONASS is no longer available. This was the final flight of the Ariane 5 ES configuration, with a hypergolic upper stage. The Ariane ECA configuration, which is popular with commercial customers, uses a cryogenic upper stage that can only be relit once in orbit; this makes it suitable for large commsats and duplex launches, but not for more complex multi-payload launches such as this one, which requires multiple restarts. Ariane 5 will not perform any further Galileo launches; the next launches are expected in 2020 and will use the Ariane 6. The weather on the coast of French Guiana was unusually clear, so this one has some wonderful ascent ground photography.
It’s been positively ages since I’ve last posted, but here’s something to get me to come back out: an absolutely stunning video of the Soyuz MS-09 launch. Soyuz launches are always fun, trying to spot things like the Korolev Cross, but this one’s extra special, because it’s got some brand new rocketcam images taken from the exterior of the Soyuz spacecraft during ascent. You get to see launch events that previously have been invisible to the public. Around 3:30, watch for the launch shroud falling away; from there on out, the footage is entirely Soyuz exterior. Around 9:40, watch for the upper stage drifting away, firing a cold gas thruster to ensure a safe separation. The quality isn’t spectacular, but it’s a view we’ve not been allowed to see before. Crew on board are Sergey Prokopyev (Roscosmos, Soyuz commander and spaceflight rookie), flight engineer Alexander Gerst (ESA), and flight surgeon Serena Auñón-Chancellor (NASA, also a spaceflight rookie).
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).
Arianespace launched the lightest of their three vehicles on Tuesday (sorry for my late post; it’s been busy) placing two Earth observation spacecraft into orbit: VENµS and OPTSAT-3000. Yes, you read that right — there’s a lower-case mu in the name of the first one. I think you’re meant to pronounce it “Venus”, but I’m not 100% sure.
VENµS is the Vegetation and Environment monitoring on a New Micro-Satellite (VENµS), which is where the mu comes from — one of the more creative acronyms I’ve seen. 😉 It was built by the Israeli Space Agency and will be operated by France’s CNES, which also supplied one of the instruments, as a cooperative venture between the two nations. This is Israel’s first major scientific spacecraft, following on from a nanosatellite they flew earlier in the year. The spacecraft will also test a Hall effect thruster supplied by ISA.
OPTSAT-3000, meanwhile, is Italy’s first optical surveillance spacecraft. It, too, was built in Israel, but this one is for military purposes. It joins Italy’s existing fleet of radar surveillance satellites. OPTSAT-3000 is part of a qui-pro-quo arrangement between the Italian and Israeli governments; in exchange for buying the satellite from Israel, Israel bought a set of Italian fighter jet trainers. The exact capabilities of OPTSAT-3000 are of course undisclosed, although Italy did indicate it would be comparable to Digital Globe’s best WorldView images.
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.
Ariane V has added to an already busy launch week with a successful liftoff, placing two geosynchronous commsats onto the geosynchronous transfer orbit. HellasSat 3/Inmarsat -S-EAN, a spacecraft jointly owned by Hellas Sat and Inmarsat, will provide S-band and Ku-band services to customers in Europe, the Mideast, and Africa. GSAT 17, a civilian commsat operated by the Indian Space Research Organization, will provide C-band services to customers in India, mainly television services. This was the 80th successful consecutive Ariane V launch.
Today, Shane Kimbrough (USA) and Thomas Pesquet (France) ventured outside the ISS to complete the 40th spacewalk from the US segment of the International Space Station, and the 198th overall. (Note: most of the ISS spacewalks were conducted not from Station at all but from Shuttle, which is why the total spacewalk number appears so inflated by comparison.) Today’s activities revolved mostly around prepping PMA-3 for its upcoming move to the Harmony node, where it will become available for future commercial crew operations. This mostly consisted of unplugging things. They also installed a new multiplexer/demultiplexer (MDM), did some work on the external cameras, lubricated the SSRMS, and completed some inspection work. This video covers the entire spacewalk, not just the highlights, so maybe flip around through it to find interesting bits. 😉 This includes egress; you have to go up to about 45 minutes before they’re even emerging from the airlock. (Spacewalks are complex; it’s not like going for a casual stroll.)