Tag Archives: Long March 3B

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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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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Long March 3B and Kuaizhou blast into the New Year

The first two launches of 2017 are complete: a Long March 3B carrying a technology demonstrator payload to geosynchronous orbit, and the first commercial Kuaizhou flight.

Long March 3B blasted off from Xichang Space Center last Thursday:

Close on the heels of that flight, a solid-prop Kuaizhou 1A rocket made its first commercial flight, launching from Jiuquan Space Center.  This is the rocket’s third flight, but the first with a paying customer other than the Chinese government.  Kuaizhou was developed as a low-cost rapid-response rocket that could compete favorably with the increasing range of commercial options presently on the market.  The payload is a set of small commercial imaging satellites.

Falcon 9 was expected to also launch by now, but unfortunately the wild and wet weather currently soaking California has delayed the flight.  The weather is not expected to clear up before they butt up against time scheduled for an Atlas V dress rehearsal, so the next launch opportunity is January 14, weather permitting.  The FAA signed off on the accident investigation and gave the green light for the launch attempt a few days ago, so once the skies dry up again, they’ll be good to go.

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Rocket Launch Catchup: Long March 3B, Zenit 3, Proton, Soyuz TMA-19M, PSLV

It’s been a busy week in rocketry!

China

December 9, China placed the Chinasat 1C communications satellite into orbit during a spectacular nighttime launch of the Long March 3B from Xichang space center.

Russia

Russia, meanwhile, had a typically busy time, with three launches.  First off on December 11 was what could end up being the final Zenit launch if Russia doesn’t resolve its issues with Ukraine, as that’s where Zenit is made.  It placed the Elektro-L 2 weather satellite into orbit for the Russian government, launching from Baikonur Cosmodrome (with musical accompaniment in this video clip):

The very next day, they launched a Proton rocket carrying a Russian military communications satellite of undisclosed function, but which experts believe is the second element of the Garpun data relay constellation, which serves a role similar to NASA’s TDRSS constellation.  I could not find a video of the launch, but I did find this one showing rollout of the vehicle.

And then yesterday Baikonur hosted a third launch, and easily the most anticipated of the week: the Soyuz TMA-19M launch, which delivered Yuri Malenchenko (Russia), Timothy Kopra (USA), and Timothy Peake (United Kingdom) to the ISS.  Launch and rendezvous were flawless, but final docking ran into a hiccup and Malenchenko completed the docking manually.  Peake, who is making his first spaceflight, is the first British astronaut in space actually under the auspices of the British government (via its membership in ESA); previous British astronauts have had to emigrate to the US and join NASA first (Michael Foale), or buy Soyuz seats with private funds.

And if you have the latest version of Firefox, Chrome, or Internet Explorer, you can see the view from a viewing location away from the pad in 360 video, courtesy of BBC News.  Makes you feel like you’re there!

India
Rounding out the week so far and cementing a very eastern hemisphere bias to the launch schedule is India, whose PSLV out of Satish Dhawan Space Center on Sriharikota Island successfully placed six Singaporean satellites into space at once, the largest being TeLEOS 1, an Earth observation satellite; the other five were small university-developed payloads.
Next Up:
Next are China’s Long March 2B, set to place the Dark Matter Particle Explorer into orbit tomorrow, a dual-payload Galileo launch by Soyuz, the Falcon 9 return-to-flight with Orbcomm payloads, a Progress launch, another Proton, and probably also the Gaofen 4 geosynchronous Earth observation satellite, before the year ends.

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A weekend of rocket launches!

I’ve been offline for a bit due to busy home schedules, so here are a pile of rocket launch videos to make up for it!

Friday, Proton launched Turksat 4B, a commercial Turkish commsat, from Baikonur Cosmodrome:

Same day, China sent up APSTAR-9, a commercial Chinese commsat, from Xichang aboard a Long March 3B.  This is a very lovely amateur video of the launch:

Also, SpaceX has selected their return-to-flight mission: in accordance with their incremental approach, the RTF mission will be a low-risk Orbcomm flight that doesn’t require the upper stage to relight.  The flight will be in about a month or so.

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