Tag Archives: rocket launch video

Delta IV (5,4) launches WGS-9 successfully

Delta IV pulled off another flawless launch from Cape Canaveral today, placing the Wideband Global SATCOM-9 satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit.  WGS-9 is a military commsat operated by the United States Air Force but jointly procured by five other nations: Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and New Zealand.  This was not the first WGS satellite paid for by a foreign power; WGS-6 was contributed by Australia.  And ground stations have been paid for partially by partner nations, who, again, receive bandwidth in proportion to their investment.  USAF is moving towards launch of WGS-10 later this year, but that is expected to be the final element of the constellation, at least int the forseeable future.

This was the 35th flight of Delta IV, and the 108th successful Delta program launch in a row.  This flew in the 5,4 configuration — 5 meter fairing, 4 solid rocket motors.  Single-core Delta IV is expected to retire by the end of 2018, with only the Delta Heavy continuing on, alongside the Vulcan rocket that will be ULA’s next offering (intended to replace both Delta IV and Atlas V).

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H-2A places a Japanese spysat into orbit

Japan has launched their newest radar spy satellite, the Information Gathering Satellite (IGS) Radar 5, aboard the H-2A rocket from Tanegashima Space Center.  It joins an existing constellation of spy satellites which Japan began assembling in 1998 following a North Korean missile launch that flew over Japanese territory.  Officially, the IGS program supports civilian needs, such as disaster awareness, but the unspoken main goal is to keep tabs on Japan’s enemies.  This launch of course was not in response to last week’s North Korean missile tests; satellites and launch vehicles take years to plan and procure.  But I am sure Japan hopes for it to send a message all the same: we are watching.

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SpaceX launches EchoStar 23

SpaceX completed another uneventful climb to orbit out of the historic LC-39A, placing EchoStar 22 into geosychronous transfer orbit.  This was a less exciting launch than most Falcon 9 flights of late, as EchoStar 22 is very near the absolute limit of Falcon 9’s capacity.  Therefore, the landing legs and grid fins were omitted from the vehicle, as there would be no propellant left to attempt a return.  The first stage was expended with no attempt to recover.  This was also the first night launch from LC-39A in nearly eight years — the last night launch from this pad was STS-131, with the Space Shuttle Discovery, on April 10, 2010.  The first night launch from this pad was Apollo 17, on December 7, 1972.  It gives me joy to know that this will not be the last one:

Upcoming launches the remainder of March include an H-2 from Japan, a Delta IV from Cape Canaveral (was supposed to have launched, but was bumped to give Falcon 9 a second launch attempt), an Ariane V from South America, an Atlas V from Cape Canaveral, and finally the groundbreaking reflight of a Falcon 9 first stage on the SES-10 launch from Cape Canaveral (currently set for March 27).  As with any launches, these dates are subject to change for technical or weather reasons.

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The Rockoon is Back

Rockoon is such an awesomely crazy word, and what it means is almost crazier still — a rocket that is launched not from the ground or an aircraft but from a balloon.  This saves the launch vehicle from having to slog through the dense lower atmosphere, and is a lot cheaper than a big jet (a la Pegasus), but has two major problems: even the largest stratospheric balloons can’t carry very much, and they have absolutely no way of steering prior to ignition.

But the cheapness aspect was very attractive to some early rocket pioneers.  Van Allen (yes, that Van Allen) spearheaded an effort to lift sounding rockets by balloon in order to increase the apogee they could reach.  Van Allen and his team launched a number of rockoons for scientific and technological purposes in the 1940s and 1950s, and then the concept slowly faded as ground-based rockets became more powerful and abundant, driven by advances in ballistic missile technology, which of course has no use for a balloon-assisted launch.

But the concept never really went away, and every now and again, you hear of a company dabbling with it.  JP Aerospace has been pursuing a particularly novel variant, where instead of an expendable stratospheric balloon, they would use a reusable wing-shaped balloon that could cycle up and down as a sort of intermediary stage.  As part of that, they have made a few rockoon flights.  Several universities have begun dabbling in them as well.  Counterintuitively, as space technology has become more accessible, the market for very small rockets has grown.  The immediate future, or at least a pretty big piece of it, seems to be full of nanosatellites, and these neither need nor can afford a big launch vehicle.  Traditionally, they’ve hitched rides on the rockets used to launch big, conventional satellites, but the burgeoning market has led to new concepts for getting these little things to orbit.  The ISS carries launchers that can spit out Cubesats, which are typically sent up as payload aboard Progress, Dragon, or Cygnus and then loaded into the launchers via the Kibo lab’s airlock.  A recent PSLV launch carried a staggering 104 satellites, 96 of which were Cubesats — tripling the record for number of simultaneously launched satellites.  And yet the market still demands more options, so lower cost launchers dedicated to the smallsat market have begun to appear.

One of the latest is Bloostar, the rather charmingly named rockoon concept from the Spanish company Zero2infinity.  It’s an outgrowth of their existing work developing balloons for relatively low-cost flights to near space (called “Bloon”).  Bloostar is a rockoon system with a unique, custom-built launch vehicle instead of the old sounding rockets of the original rockoons.  And this week, it completed its first test flight, firing the engine for just a few seconds in a test of the ignition system and the navigation and telemetry systems.  Later flights are expected to test a full-duration burn and see how high they can get it to go.  😉

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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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China’s got a brand-new booster

The Kaitouzhe-2 (KT-2, or sometimes TK-2) solid-fuel rocket made its maiden flight (unannounced, as is typical for Chinese government flights) from Jiuquan Space Center, placing a small payload into a polar orbit.  Given the tendency to use liquid rockets for satellite launch services (they’re more versatile and more efficient), it’s been speculated that the rocket is really intended as a ballistic missile.  (Solids are more practical for this purpose, as they can be stored indefinitely in a fueled state and require much less infrastructure to launch.)  However, officially it’s a low-cost commercial satellite launch vehicle.  That would also be plausible, since this vehicle appears to be suitable for the suddenly burgeoning small satellite business.  They’re less fuel efficient than liquids, but they’re mechanically a lot simpler, which means they can usually be manufactured more quickly and in greater volume.

Anyway, if you’re like me, what you really want is to see a rocket.  So here it is!

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Atlas V successfully delivers NROL-79

Atlas V has put another notch in their impressive belt of successful missions.  It’s not a cheap rocket, but it is certainly reliable.  It’s an interesting launch to watch; the rocket seems to practically crawl out of Vandenberg.  This is the lightest variant of Atlas V, and from the performance I’d guess the payload/orbit is right at the limits of its capacity without boosters.  Makes it kind of fun to watch.  😉

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