Tag Archives: Kourou

Space news catchup! Vega, Blue Origin, GOES-16’s lightning mapper, and more!

It’s been really busy lately, so I haven’t has as much time to post as I’d like.  So today I will make up for it with a bunch of space news updates!

First off, a rocket launch is always fun.  Arianespace’s Vega launcher placed the Sentinel 2B environmental monitoring satellite into orbit from Kourou, French Guiana:

Meanwhile, GOES-16 continues its commissioning phase.  As part of that, it has returned its first view of lightning from 22,000 miles away, a demonstration of its incredible capacity at this range.  The green lines represent the coast of Texas.  The lightning is all in real time, and is overlaid over an image taken at the same time by GOES-16’s revolutionary Advanced Baseline Imager.

This full-disk image was created from data from the same instrument, and shows total lightning energy recorded over a one-hour period (an hour which included the image above; that really bright spot in this image is the same storm system over Texas):

And then let’s go back to rockets!  Blue Origin unveiled their New Glenn rocket today with an animation depicting its flight profile.  It is definitely similar to the strategy SpaceX is using, but one difference is that the engine, BE-4, will also by flying on another rocket, ULA’s Vulcan.  Another difference is the strakes.  It looks quite lovely, and I hope we’ll get to see it fly soon.  They do already have a customer for it: the first flight customer will be Eutelsat.

And then, how about some good news on the political front?  Cutting NASA has long been a bipartisan pasttime, but the tides seem to be changing.  A strong bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives voted to pass the NASA Authorization Bill, the first time they’ve managed to do so despite annual attempts in the past six years.  (NASA has been operating under continuing resolutions instead.)  This bill budgets $19.5 billion for NASA in 2017.  Of course, now we have to see what actually gets appropriated; that’s a separate battle, and will start with the White House federal budget request.  So cross your fingers, space geeks!

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Another successful Ariane V mission: Sky Brasil-1 and Telkom-3S

Just a few hours ago, Arianespace racked up their first heavy launch of the year, sending a dual-payload Ariane V with two geosynchronous commsats aboard from Kourou, French Guiana.  The payloads are Sky Brasil-1, to serve customers in Brazil, and Telkom 3S, to serve customers in Indonesia.  This was the ninety-first Ariane V mission overall.  The rocket has enjoyed a strong record, with only two failures and two partial failures out of 91 flights, and it has had no failures of any kind in the last seventy-six missions.

Next flight of 2017 will be a PSLV from India, to launch in just a few hours with a big mapping satellite and a veritable horde of 103 smallsats.  I will write about it tomorrow.  😉

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Soyuz flies to geosynchronous orbit

Soyuz has just completed its first launch to geosynchronous transfer orbit from Kourou, French Guiana, carrying Hispasat 36W-1, a commercial Spanish commsat, to space.  Normally, Ariane V would have been used for the flight, but the mighty rocket is booked out for a few years; Hispasat got to fly much sooner by selecting the Soyuz.

Other than the very distinctive conical shape of the rocket with its unique booster configuration, Soyuz has another feature distinguishing it from the other boosters that fly from Kourou — its bright orange plume.  All the other vehicles that fly from here include solid propellant — Vega’s first three stages are purely solid, and Ariane V features a pair of large solid rocket motors.  But Soyuz is all kerosene and LOX, so the plume is bright and short.

There is one intriguing difference to Soyuz operations out of Kourou — although the rocket is assembled horizontally, per its design, the payload is integrated vertically, per normal Arianespace operations and per the requirements of the payload.  (Russia has always favored horizontal integration, but the rest of the world generally favors vertical integration.  As with every engineering decision, there are trade-offs, and neither choice is fundamentally “right”.)  So the rocket rolls to the pad without a payload, and then the payload is added.  Arianespace released this lovely video showing the highlights of vehicle assembly:

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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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Successful launch of Göktürk-1A for Turkey on Vega

It’s been busy, so I missed posting this yesterday.  😉  This launch used Arianespace’s lightweight launcher, the all-solid-propellant Vega:

 

Meanwhile, India is presently in the final stages of PSLV launch preparations; I hope to post a successful launch video for them as well sometime tomorrow.  (If all goes well, that rocket will fly in just over an hour from now.)

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Launch of Soyuz MS-03 with the ISS crew and Ariane V with Galileo satellites

Today, two rockets lifted off.  First, from Kourou in French Guiana, an Ariane V launched the next five elements of the Galileo satellite navigation constellation:

 

Then, from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Soyuz MS-03 blasted off.  The crew are Russian Soyuz commander Oleg Novitskiy, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson (who, with this launch, has broken the record for oldest female astronaut previously held by Barbara Morgan), and French astronaut Thomas Pesquet of ESA.

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Ariane & New Shepard both fly!

Ariane V completed another flawless mission from Kourou, French Guiana yesterday, placing into orbit Sky Muster 2 for Australia and GSAT 18 for India.  Both are geosynchronous commsats, the mainstay of Ariane V’s customer base.

And also yesterday, Blue Origin completed the fifth flight of their New Shepherd reusable suborbital rocket.  This flight did continue to test the rocket, but that wasn’t the main focus.  This mission was an inflight abort test.  The booster did not simulate an emergency; after the spacecraft separated, it continued merrily along its way (albeit at lower thrust to compensate for the loss of mass) and returned neatly to Earth on its own.  The escape looked a bit, well, “blarg-tastic” is the word that came to mind for me, as it yawed around dramatically.  I would bet that Blue Origin will be studying the data from sensors inside to make sure G-loads didn’t exceed human tolerance; the point of an escape isn’t to be comfy, but to be survivable.  Nevertheless, this fifth flight is expected to be the final flight for this particular vehicle.

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