Tag Archives: GLONASS

Launch/landing updates

It’s been a while since I’ve posted; work’s been crazy busy!  So I’ll quick catch you up with some of what’s gone up and down since I last posted:

On September 17, the latest Dragon capsule (CRS-12) returned from the ISS with a two tons of research material and hardware on board, including a population of laboratory mice sent into space to study effect on eyesight and movement.

On September 21, a Soyuz rocket from Plesetsk Cosmodrome placed the latest element of the GLONASS M navigation constellation into orbit.

On September 23, an Atlas V out of Vandenburg Air Force Base carried the classified NROL-42 into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office.

Obviously, they won’t tell us much about the payload, but the mission patch and the launch site both suggest a polar orbiting spacecraft.  The size of the fairing and quantity of boosters both suggest a very big spacecraft, which is fairly typical for spy satellites.  It is believed to be a signals intelligence spacecraft, which means its job will likely be to intercept communications.  Maybe.  😉

Lastly, the Tianzhou 1 spacecraft returned to Earth in pieces last Friday.  It was supposed to; it was an experimental robotic resupply and refueling spacecraft similar in function to Progress, which also undergoes a destructive reentry at the end of its mission.  Tianzhou 1 completed a successful mission docking with the uninhabited Tiangong 2 space station, transferring propellant, and then later undocking and safely disposing of itself.  Tiangong 2 is not expected to host any more human occupants, but remains in orbit as a procedures testbed for ground controllers.  It is not clear when the next space station will fly; China intends to greatly increase the size and functionality of their stations, but they have had a major setback with the failure of the last Long March 5 rocket.  This is the heaviest rocket they’ve built to date, and is intended to place the major elements of their new modular space station in orbit, but with a 50/50 operational record after two flights, some more work is needed before it can carry such valuable cargo.

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China, US, and Russia launch navigation satellites, North Korea launches . . . something

It’s been a noteworthy week in rocket launches.  First, last Monday, China placed another element of their Beidou satellite navigation constellation into orbit.  I found some nice amateur footage of it on YouTube — note the duration of time before you begin to hear the roar, and also note the characteristic red clouds at launch.  The entire Long March family uses hypergolic propellants, hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide, and before the mix evens out at ignition, the exhaust contains a lot of nitrogen tetroxide, a highly corrosive chemical still widely used in spacecraft engines, but phased out of American and European launch vehicles some time ago.  Still, this launch went off without a hitch, and it is fun to hear the palpable excitement and joy in the voiced of the onlookers.

Then, on Friday, the USAF placed the twelfth and final GPS 2F spacecraft into orbit.  This is the last of the Block II GPS spacecraft; the next launch will be the first of the Block III.  Launched aboard an Atlas V rocket with Centaur upper stage, the spacecraft was successfully delivered into the correct orbit.  The first stage is infamously powered by the RD-180 built by NPO Energomash in Russia.  It is a closed-cycle kerosene-LOX engine and among the most sophisticated kerolox engines ever designed.  The upper stage is powered by the venerable RL-10 by Rocketdyne, an expander-cycle cryogenic rocket engine powered by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.

And then, somewhat ambiguously, North Korea made a second satellite launch early this morning.  They gave few details on the payload, but an object was indeed placed into orbit and is being tracked, so the launch appears to have been successful.  Unlike the last launch, I have not heard any reports of the payload tumbling, so this time the payload must have separated properly from the upper stage.  (Disclaimer: I don’t speak Korean, so I have no idea what the commentary in this video is, though I think it may be a North Korean release.)

Lastly, and almost as if to show the North Koreans how it’s really done, the Russians <i>also</i> enhanced their navigation satellite constellation, placing a GLONASS satellite into orbit by a Soyuz 2 rocket from Plesetsk Cosmodrome:

The skies got a bit busier this week.

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ISS crew watches a rocket launch

This is pretty cool.  Russia recently launched a set of GLONASS navigation satellites aboard a Soyuz rocket, and the ISS crew spotted the vehicle in flight.  NASASpaceFlight has the scoop.

And while we’re talking rockets, SpaceX completed a test fire ahead of their upcoming commercial flight for ORBCOMM.   However, launch date is now TBD after the customer indicated a desire to conduct more testing on their payloads.  Falcon 9 is ready to go, but the satellites aren’t quite yet.  Still, check out this static fire at Cape Canaveral’s SLC-40:

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Amateur Video of the Proton Rocket Mishap

A video by a member of the public in Kazakhstan has surfaced. Locals will watch launches the same way Floridians watch launches from Cape Canaveral, though without the lovely white sand beaches to enjoy. This one gives an interesting larger context – and it’s interesting to note the delay before the sound reaches the viewer. You can see it getting into trouble pretty quickly; from this angle, it’s even more obvious as the rocket starts to yaw erratically, struggling to regain attitude control.

Note: there is apparently cussing on the video (totally understandable in the circumstances), so it might be NSFW if your boss speaks Russian.  😀

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BREAKING NEWS: Proton rocket accident at Baikonur

UPDATE: The rocket impacted 2.5 km from the launchpad, within the environs of Baikonur Cosmodrome, impacting near another Proton launchpad, according to this article: Russian Proton-M rocket crashes, erupts in ball of fire (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

A Proton rocket carrying a trio of GLONASS navigation satellites has crashed in Kazakhstan. The rocket was only seconds into the flight, so the vehicle had nearly a full load of unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide propellant on board. As the Russians do not use range safety packages as American and European launch providers do, the flight could not be terminated safely and so it impacted the ground largely intact. (Emphasis on “largely” — in the video, you can clearly see where aerodynamic forces start ripping it apart before the main structure impacts the ground.) I have not yet found a source indicating how far downrange it impacted; it’s clearly quite close to the launchpad, as the impact site is not beyond the horizon for the tracking camera:

Proton had a very troubled beginning, but has become quite reliable since — the five failures in recent years were mostly due to the Block DM upper stage, which is common with other rockets, and not with the Proton’s lower stages, although in one case the vehicle performed entirely correctly but failed to reach orbit because of operator error (it had not been loaded with enough propellant). It hasn’t had a first or second stage failure in many years. It is the only heavy lift rocket still in service which uses hypergolic propellants, a relic of Cold War ICBM design, and that makes it more dangerous than usual — hypergolics are extremely toxic, highly corrosive, and also burn spontaneously on contact with one another (which is what “hypergolic” means, in fact).

The last American heavy lift rocket that used hypergolics was the Titan IVB, which made its final flight from Vandenburg AFB on October 19, 2005. Titan IVB has been superceded by the Delta IV Heavy, which is entirely cryogenic. This Proton accident has shades of the final Titan IVA launch, in 1998, except that here you can see what a range safety system does for you. While in the above video we get to see the Proton start to yaw, then pitch, then start rolling rapidly as it turns downward, here the Titan IVA barely twitches before the onboard computer terminates the flight. Two big differences from the Proton footage is that you do not see the black cloud of smoke, because the self-destruct system has caused the hypergolic propellant to all be consumed in one huge fireball rather than continuing to burn on the ground, and the solid propellant from the twin boosters fly away from the fireball in flaming chunks rather like a terrifyingly large firework.

But at least it wasn’t anything like *this* one: the Nedelin Catastrophe, on October 24, 1960. Another hypergolic rocket, the R-16, exploded on the pad when a short circuit triggered second stage ignition. Over a hundred people lost their lives, fortunately including the fool (Air Marshall Mitrofan Nedelin) who had pressed them to continue work without safing the rocket first.


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