Tag Archives: rocket launch video

NROL-52 flies on the fifth attempt

The Atlas V, performing flawlessly to place the classified NROL-52 payload into its unspecified orbit*, had a rare fifth launch attempt today.  This is the first time any Atlas V rocket has had to make this many attempts.  Of course, this one was launching from Florida, which is known for its fickle weather.  But fifth time was the charm, and the spacecraft is away!

 

*Spaceflight observers suspect that NROL-52 is a data relay satellite intended for geostationary orbit.  If they’re right, it will perform for the National Reconniassance Office a role similar to the civilian TDRS satellites operated by NASA, which allow continuous contact with spacecraft such as the ISS and the Hubble Space Telescope, among others.

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Progress MS-07 flies on the second attempt

Last Thursday, the Soyuz rocket experienced a very rare abort when one of two umbilicals failed to separate at the appropriate time.  This cost the perfect geometry required to attempt a new two-orbit direct ascent approach, so they reset for Saturday, with the plan of reverting to the traditional two-day chase.  Today’s launch was carried out flawlessly, and Progress MS-07 is on its way to the ISS.

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Sentinel 5P launches aboard Rockot

ESA’s Sentinel 5P environmental monitoring satellite has been successfully launched by a Russian Rockot booster out of Plesetsk Cosmodrome.  The subarctic launch site is ideal for polar orbiting spacecraft, and Sentinel 5P will require a polar orbit in order to carry out its mission of monitoring pollutants over every major city on Earth.  Built in Great Britain with Dutch contributions (primarily instrumentation), it’s part of the Copernicus Program, an ambitious international project to provide real-time data on the status of the Earth’s atmosphere, waterways, ice sheets, and landmasses to all, free of charge.  The booster, meanwhile, is a decommissioned Soviet ICBM; arms limitation treaties mean Russia cannot keep the entire inventory, so they have been putting them to work as commercial launch vehicles.  The Rockot inventory is largely a set of ICBMs purchased as a block from the Russian government in the 1990s by a consortium of Khrunichev (which made the rockets originally) and DaimlerBenz; Daimler’s portion has since been bought out by Astrium (part owner of Arianespace).

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SpaceX has reused another booster!

A Falcon 9 rocket successfully placed the SES-11/EchoStar 105 spacecraft onto geosynchronous transfer orbit, and recovered the first stage after an exceptionally hot reentry from this high-energy trajectory.  This was their third flight of a reused stage.

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Michibiki 4 (QZS-4) launched aboard H-IIA

A Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H-IIA rocket placed the Michibiki 4 spacecraft into orbit yesterday.  This is the latest element of Japan’s indigenous satellite navigation constellation.  The Michibiki constellation, which means “guiding the way”, is also called QZS – quasi-zenith satellite – because the complementary orbits of the four spacecraft will ensure that there is always a satellite near the zenith (as long as you’re in the Eastern Hemisphere, anyway, and particularly near a band from Japan to Australia).  They are all intended to operate at geosynchronous altitude, much higher than the GPS constellation, but at a significant inclination.  Geostationary satellites orbit on the plane of the Earths’ equator, which allows them to appear fixed in the sky.  Since these have an inclined orbit, they will trace a figure-8 pattern in the sky over the course of a day.  This variation will give GPS receivers something to track.  Yes, I did say GPS — Japan says this will be fully compatible with GPS signals.  It will be particularly beneficial in the dense urban areas of Japan, where GPS struggles to be accurate due to all the buildings blocking satellite signals.  With satellites that stand high in the sky all the time, it will be much easier to get enough signals for a fix.

This was H-IIA’s thirty-sixth launch.

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Falcon 9 places another 10 Iridium NEXT spacecraft into orbit

SpaceX completed one more launch early this morning from Vandenberg AFB, precisely placing the ten spacecraft on board into the vehicle into Plane 4 of the Iridium NEXT constellation, successfully recovering the first stage.  There’s no rest for the weary, however — SpaceX is on target for another launch, this one from the opposite coast, on Wednesday.

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Sixty Years of Orbital Spaceflight

October 4.

Sixty years ago today, the Space Age was inaugurated with the surprise launch of Sputnik 1.  Both the Americans and Soviets had been racing to launch scientific satellites, in honor of the International Geophysical Year (lasting July 1957 to December 1958), and because it would be an exceptionally good way of demonstrating the accuracy and reliability of their nascent ICBM programs with a suitably scientific cover.  But launching your first satellite is no easy task.  (Even today, most rocket programs start out with a lot of explosions, and modern rocketeers have the experience of their predecessors to help guide them.)  Both sides were seriously behind.  The Americans were developing an ambitious solar-powered vehicle called Vanguard 1 (essentially named for its rocket, the US Navy’s Vanguard — this was in the days before the USAF called dibs on nearly all rocket work) but it was behind schedule.  The US Army had its own program, called Explorer, but it had been largely shelved in favor of Vanguard.  (It didn’t help that the US Army’s main rocket team had a lot of the former Nazis brought over under Operation Paperclip.  Werner Von Braun and his team would go on to lead the triumphant Apollo program, but in 1957 they still faced deep suspicion even as they settled into their new home at Redstone Arsenal.)

By the end of the summer of 1957, the Americans knew they were badly behind, thanks to spyplane imagery of the Soviet rocket facilities in Kazakhstan.  But they also knew the Soviets were having trouble as well.  As far as they knew, it was still anyone’s game.

The Soviets, meanwhile, were keenly aware of the Americans’ efforts.  They were planning a scientific satellite at least as ambitious as Vanguard 1, codenamed Object D, and had been working on it for a couple of years with the specific aim of launching during the International Geophysical Year.  But although Object D’s booster, the R-7 missile (granddaddy of the modern Soyuz rocket), was ready, the spacecraft was not.  It still looked likely to fly in the International Geophysical Year, but the Kremlin really wanted something to fly by early October, to hit the auspicious dates on the Soviet calendar, and also to make sure they beat the Americans to it.  So program director Sergei Korolev came up with a couple of other proposals.  One was a ‘korabl sputnik”, or spaceship satellite, to carry a live animal into orbit and back.  But this was far too ambitious to attempt; the first such spacecraft would not fly until the following July.  A prototype satellite, a “prosteyshiey sputnik”, was proposed instead.  First, he proposed one that would carry an animal to orbit but not be capable of returning it.  This, too, would take too long.  So, in the end, a third spacecraft was propose: an even simpler “prosteyshiey sputnik” that would be little more than a highly polished sphere containing a battery and a transmitter. This would be light enough for the R-7 rocket as it existed at the time (Object D had gained a lot of weight in the design process, as tends to happen, and needed an upgraded R-7 to launch it), shiny enough to be seen by the naked eye as it orbited, and trackable by anyone with a radio.

The design process for “PS-1” was frenetic; the designers had barely a month to design and build it, and so they dispensed with drawings, simply building as they went.  And on October 4, 1957, it flew.

Designated Sputnik 1 (“satellite 1”), the object was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome and stoicly bleeped out its signal for twenty-one days, until its battery was exhausted.  Atmospheric drag eventually pulled it out of orbit a few months later, but its impact had been felt around the world.  This tiny and inconspicuous satellite of no scientific or technical or strategic value had blasted the entire world awake, and launched the Space Race.

PS-2, the satellite with a live passenger, launched less than a month later, on November 3.  Designated Sputnik 2, it carried the dog Laika into orbit.  It was never intended to return her to Earth, but she died almost immediately into the mission anyway, doomed by a faulty environmental control system.  The Americans, meanwhile, were terrified that they had fallen far behind technologically.  The first two attempts to launch a Vanguard satellites were spectacular failures, exploding on the pad (the press dubbed the project “Flopnik”), and the US Army was allowed to restart their Explorer proposal.  On January 31, 1958, a Juno rocket out of the Cape Canaveral Missile Annex placed an extremely simple satellite, Explorer 1, into orbit.  The spacecraft was essentially an instrumented nosecone atop the fourth stage of a Juno rocket, similar in size to a a modern Cubesat (although somewhat longer, due to its pointed nosecone).  It was much smaller than Sputnik 1, but carried more useful instruments; Explorer 1’s biggest claim to fame is discovering (quite accidentally) the existence of the Van Allen Belts.  After that, the US Navy finally got Vanguard 1 into orbit; it’s extremely small (Soviet premiere Nikita Khruschev derisively compared it to a grapefruit) but the Vanguard missile was able to place it into a very high orbit, and it was powered by solar panels, the first spacecraft to generate its own power.  Vanguard 1 was able to operate for about six years before its power systems failed, and because the orbit was so high, it actually remains in orbit today, the oldest manmade object in space.  Lastly, Object D finally flew on May 15, 1958. It took two tries to launch it, but on the second attempt, the one and a half ton spacecraft finally made it to orbit.  It produced a great volume of data on particles and radiation in the upper atmosphere, and ran off its own solar panels for about two years before its orbit decayed.

But it was Sputnik 1, that unassuming polished metal sphere, that riveted the world’s imagination and fired off the Space Race.  The spacecraft that followed it would be far more capable, but it had been the first.

In sixty years, we’ve gone from Sputnik to spacecraft orbiting other planets and even leaving the solar system altogether.

Where will we be in sixty more years?

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