Tag Archives: Xichang

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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China complete their Tianlian tracking and data relay satellite constellation

China has made no secret of their ambitions to have a world-class human spaceflight program, going beyond mere publicity stunts, and last week they completed one of the major elements for that: the fourth Tianlian tracking and data relay satellite.  These four geostationary commsats will cooperate to relay information from Chinese spacecraft to ground stations, allowing the same uninterrupted 24/7 high bandwidth communications that NASA has long enjoyed through its Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) constellation.  (Russia, by contrast, has relied on ground stations.  This is less of a handicap than one might think, given Russia’s enormous land area — although it can’t give them 24 hour coverage, their ground station coverage obviously dwarfs anyone else’s.)

Tianlian I-04 launched aboard a Long March 3C on November 22 from Xichang Launch Center.

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China, US, and Russia launch navigation satellites, North Korea launches . . . something

It’s been a noteworthy week in rocket launches.  First, last Monday, China placed another element of their Beidou satellite navigation constellation into orbit.  I found some nice amateur footage of it on YouTube — note the duration of time before you begin to hear the roar, and also note the characteristic red clouds at launch.  The entire Long March family uses hypergolic propellants, hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide, and before the mix evens out at ignition, the exhaust contains a lot of nitrogen tetroxide, a highly corrosive chemical still widely used in spacecraft engines, but phased out of American and European launch vehicles some time ago.  Still, this launch went off without a hitch, and it is fun to hear the palpable excitement and joy in the voiced of the onlookers.

Then, on Friday, the USAF placed the twelfth and final GPS 2F spacecraft into orbit.  This is the last of the Block II GPS spacecraft; the next launch will be the first of the Block III.  Launched aboard an Atlas V rocket with Centaur upper stage, the spacecraft was successfully delivered into the correct orbit.  The first stage is infamously powered by the RD-180 built by NPO Energomash in Russia.  It is a closed-cycle kerosene-LOX engine and among the most sophisticated kerolox engines ever designed.  The upper stage is powered by the venerable RL-10 by Rocketdyne, an expander-cycle cryogenic rocket engine powered by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.

And then, somewhat ambiguously, North Korea made a second satellite launch early this morning.  They gave few details on the payload, but an object was indeed placed into orbit and is being tracked, so the launch appears to have been successful.  Unlike the last launch, I have not heard any reports of the payload tumbling, so this time the payload must have separated properly from the upper stage.  (Disclaimer: I don’t speak Korean, so I have no idea what the commentary in this video is, though I think it may be a North Korean release.)

Lastly, and almost as if to show the North Koreans how it’s really done, the Russians <i>also</i> enhanced their navigation satellite constellation, placing a GLONASS satellite into orbit by a Soyuz 2 rocket from Plesetsk Cosmodrome:

The skies got a bit busier this week.

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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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Chang’e 3 is on its way!

Congratulations, China, on a successful launch of Chang’e 3!  May it fly straight and true, and land successfully.  The next real fun comes on December 14….

Watch the spectacular nighttime launch of the CZ-2B rocket from Xichang launch complex, with rocketcam footage as well:

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