Here are some pretty rocket videos to enjoy. 😉 First, from last week, the Atlas V launch of the WorldView 4 commercial imaging satellite, from Vandenberg AFB:
And then, in preparation for launch this week, here’s the Soyuz MS-03 rocket stack rollout at Baikonur Cosmodrome:
The international crew of Soyuz MS-01 have returned to Earth! Anatoly Ivanishin, Takuya Onishi, and Kate Rubins landed in Kazakhstan today. The lighting was phenomenal, and this is I think the clearest image I’ve ever seen of a Soyuz landing. You can see all the parachute lines and everything.
And the video is really good too. Watch right at the very beginning as you see puffs from the pyrotechnics firing to jettison the heat shield:
This was a busy week for spaceflight. In addition to the ongoing SpaceX investigation and the OSIRIS-REx launch, there was also a launch from India and a landing in Kazakhastan.
First off, the successful return of Aleksey Ovchinin, Oleg Skripochka, and Jeffrey Williams aboard Soyuz TMA-20M earlier this week:
You may remember them as the crew that had this awesome mission patch:
And then from Sriharikota, India’s Satish Dhawan Space Centre, an all-domestic GSLV rocket blasted off, delivering the Insat 3DR weather satellite to geosynchronous transfer orbit. The GSLV has had a difficult path, as various components are replaced or added or removed or changed and with an unfortunately high rate of failures. So this launch was particularly important for ISRO, which seeks to become a viable international competitor in the commercial launch market. Their rockets are cheaper even than Falcon 9, and GSLV’s increased performance over the highly reliable PSLV is critical in order to capture valuable geosynchronous business. (GSLV actually stands for Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle.) What’s more, ISRO will be depending on GLSV to place their next Chandrayaan moon probe into lunar transfer orbit — and that one will be their most ambitious deep space probe yet, featuring orbiter, lander, and rover in one mission. But until then, check out the Insat 3DR launch. Notice one unique feature: the core stage is solid, while the strap-ons are hypergolic, so the plume is inverted from what you’d expect on an Atlas or Long March launch. It’s an intriguing hybrid of a rocket — solid core, hypergolic strap-on boosters, and a cryogenic upper stage. And perhaps it is finally coming into its own.
Like this, apparently:
That’s the first stage of the Proton-M that launched Intelsat 31 to geosynchronous transfer orbit on June 9. It impacted in Kazakhstan, but considerably short of the expected impact zone, which is why it wasn’t found for a while. The Proton launch was technically successful, in that the payload was delivered to an adequate orbit, but that orbit was a bit slower than intended, and the Briz-M upper stage had to fire abnormally long to compensate for a shortened second-stage burn. Telemetry indicates that the second stage yaw control engine shut down shortly before the end of the programmed burn, causing the remaining engines to expend extra propellant to maintain the proper trajectory, which in turn caused the stage as a whole to burn out prematurely. But the fact that the first stage fell short suggests something went wrong in the first stage as well. Engineers have been looking at the recovered debris and the telemetry ever since the launch, and International Launch Services has announced that the launch of EchoStar 21, scheduled for August 29, will be delayed to sometime in October to give engineers more time to evaluate the anomaly and determine whether there is any risk with proceeding.
Proton has had something of a checkered history, and its image never fully recovered from a string of accidents a few years ago. It’s the cheapest launch vehicle in its weight class, which keeps it popular for geosynchronous commsats too large for Falcon 9 (which has nevertheless been eating into its market share). But its a hazardous vehicle, powered by toxic unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine (UDMH) and furiously corrosive nitrogen tetroxide (N2O4), a hypergolic combination (that is, the two chemicals will ignite spontaneously upon contact with one another). Watch also during launch videos for red smoke — that’s unused nitrogen tetroxide. This, as you might imagine, is part of why Kazakhstan isn’t entirely thrilled about hosting Baikonur Cosmodrome anymore — and why Russia is working to get away from Proton with heavier variants of the kerosene-fueled Angara. But in the meantime, this remains a very important part of the global rocket inventory, able to put massive commercial payloads into orbit at very competitive rates.
After the successful first flight of the Soyuz MS series spacecraft, Progress’ third MS-series spacecraft has followed it uphill. Soyuz and Progress share a considerable amount of engineering, so Progress is often used as the testbed for what will go into the crewed Soyuz, allowing them to test new technologies unmanned without wasting a spacecraft. As such, the launch sequence is nearly identical — the only visible difference is the lack of an escape tower and grid fins on the spacecraft, which will never undergo an in-flight abort; it would be abandoned to its fate instead.
The newest model of the venerable Soyuz spacecraft has reached orbit! As it’s a new model, it will not be taking the rapid ascent flight profile, and will instead spend the next couple of days gradually working its way towards the ISS while the crew performs testing to validate the new vehicle.
The crew are commander Anatoly Ivanishin of Roscosmos, flight engineer Takuya Onishi of JAXA, and flight engineer Kate Rubins of NASA. Ivanishin is making his second spaceflight; Onishi and Rubins are both rookies.
New features on the Soyuz MS include more efficient solar arrays, an improved Kurs rendezvous and docking system that does not require as many antennas (which has been an issue in the past; the additional antennas represented additional possible points of failure), digital video from the docking camera for the first time on Soyuz, a new navigational system, new sensors for guidance and attitude control, and the capability to use Russia’s tracking and data relay satellites. Soyuz has in past been confined to communications with ground stations. Unlike other countries, Russia has been able to get by with that, since it simply has so much ground to put stations on! But this will allow communications during almost a complete orbit, as NASA has enjoyed with Shuttle and now Station for decades.
Although this is the first crewed flight of Soyuz MS, the new systems have been tested in space — the same upgrades were made on the Progress MS series, of which there have been two so far. The third Progress MS is now scheduled to fly July 16.
Last Friday, a Proton rocket placed the Eutelsat 9B spacecraft into geosynchronous transfer orbit. In addition to providing broadband television support to customers in Europe, Eutelsat 9B also carries a unique new payload: EDRS-A. EDRS is the European Data Relay System, a system analogous to the American TDRS constellation, but with a revolutionary new laser-based system for transferring data along the chain. Two more spacecraft are scheduled this year for EDRS, including one which will be dedicated to data relay functions rather than piggy-backing on a commercial commsat. The first customers for the EDRS will the two Sentinel satellites, but the consortium operating EDRS hopes to get many more government and commercial customers.