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TWIRL 30: Civilian astronauts set to go to space in Dragon capsule
by Paul Hill
After a boring last two weeks in space launches, this week promises to be a lot more interesting. The main focus is the Inspiration4 Crew Dragon mission set to launch in the very early hours on Thursday (UTC, Wednesday local time) carrying pilot Jared Isaacman and three civilian astronauts; Hayley Arceneaux, Sian Proctor, and Chris Sembroski. Unlike Jeff Bezos’ trip to space, the Inspiration4 crew will stay in Earth orbit for several days before coming back to Earth.
Monday, September 13
The first launch of the week will come from SpaceX, which is launching a Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket from Vandenberg AFB. The rocket will carry 60 Block 1.5 Starlink satellites that are equipped with laser com terminals. The satellites will join the Starlink constellation and provide internet to subscribers on Earth. This launch should be available on the SpaceX website after it has taken place or as a live stream on its website during the event.
The second launch will be a Long March CZ-2C taking off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. It will be carrying two satellites with the designation Yaogan 32 Group 02. It’s unclear what the purpose of the satellites is but they’re reportedly going to perform signals intelligence work. The launch was delayed from September 12 but hopes to launch at 7:45 a.m. UTC on the 13th.
Tuesday, September 14
On Tuesday, the private French-Russian company Starsem will launch a Soyuz 2.1b rocket with a Fregat upper stage carrying 34 OneWeb internet satellites to Earth orbit. This mission was delayed from August 26 and September 9 so, hopefully, the mission will succeed this time. OneWeb is a competitor to SpaceX and has already announced plans to beam internet to commercial flights and the Canadian military.
Thursday, September 16
On Wednesday evening, but Thursday morning (1:01 a.m.) on Universal Coordinated Time, we’ll see a SpaceX Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket take off from Florida carrying the Crew Dragon spacecraft containing a crew of four. The Inspiration4 mission will see pilot Jared Isaacman and three civilian astronauts spend about three days in Earth orbit before returning to Earth. Isaacman is joined on the mission by Hayley Arceneaux, Sian Proctor, and Chris Sembroski. When the crew comes back to Earth, they will splash down in the Atlantic Ocean near Cape Canaveral.
Sunday, September 19
The final mission of the week will launch from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. An ExPace Kuaizhou KZ-1A rocket will launch carrying the Jilin Gaofan 2F satellite. It will join the Jilin 1 Earth observation constellation which is run by Chang Guang Satellite Technology Company and is the 20th satellite to join the constellation. It will capture full-colour images down to 0.76 meters over a swath of 40km.
Last Tuesday at 3:01 a.m. UTC, a Long March 4C carrying the second Gaofen 5 satellite launched. It will be using instruments to observe the atmosphere and measure greenhouse gas emissions, trace gases, and more.
On Thursday, a Long March 3B launched the Zhongxing 9B satellite into orbit to replace the Zhongxing 9A satellite. The satellite is used for telecommunication and will help provide radio, TV and other services in China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan.
Also on Thursday, the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation launched a Soyuz 2.1v carrying the Kosmos-2551 satellite from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome. It will perform Earth observation tasks.
Crew-2 Dragon mission successfully launches towards ISS
by Paul Hill
NASA has announced that astronauts aboard the SpaceX Crew-2 Dragon are now in orbit following an early morning launch and are headed for the International Space Station (ISS). This is the second time a SpaceX Crew Dragon craft is taking astronauts to the ISS.
The rocket, which launched at 5:49 a.m. EDT on Friday from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is carrying NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet. Their time aboard the ISS will last six months while they perform various science experiments and ISS maintenance.
You can see the launch highlights and post-launch coverage in the video below:
Commenting on the launch, NASA Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk said:
The astronauts are set to autonomously dock at the ISS’ Harmony module nearly 24-hours after launch at 5:10 a.m. EDT on Saturday. The docking, hatch opening, and welcoming ceremony will be live-streamed on NASA’s website. Once aboard, there will be 11 astronauts and cosmonauts on the ISS but four of them are set to depart back for Earth after a couple of days so it shouldn’t be too cramped up there.
TWIRL 4: Firefly Aerospace Alpha rocket set for maiden flight
by Paul Hill
In the coming week, it's expected that there will be around five rocket launches from the likes of Firefly Aerospace, SpaceX, Rocket Lab, and Glavkosmos. The most interesting launch will be that of the Firefly Aerospace Alpha rocket which is making its maiden flight from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket, which we have been saying will launch for the last two weeks, still hasn’t launched yet but could do on Monday.
Firefly Alpha The first launch of Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket will be carrying commercial payloads for Benchmark Space Systems and AstroGrams. The mission will also deploy a Spinnaker 3 dragsail prototype. In its first launch, the Alpha rocket will carry several projects from the Dedicated Research and Education Accelerator Mission (DREAM) programme which gives students and small companies a way to put their payloads in space.
The rocket has been delayed several times since late 2019 so hopefully, it can perform the flight on Monday as planned. If it does get it off the ground it will fly a ‘dogleg’ inclination which is considered to be a safer option, protecting those near to the base, at the expense of more fuel being used.
Also on Monday, Rocket Lab could launch its Electron rocket carrying the Blacksky Global 7 satellite and SpaceX is expected to send up a Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket carrying the SXM 8 radio broadcasting satellite for SiriusXM’s digital audio radio service (DARS). The SXM 8 will carry a large unfurlable antenna reflector which permits radio broadcasts to be sent back down to Earth without the need for a large dish receiver on the ground. It will be replacing the XM 4 satellite and has a lifespan of 15 years.
On Saturday next week, another Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket will take off, this time carrying 60 Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit. Whereas Rocket Lab has been continually delaying its latest planned launch, SpaceX is in fact bringing this launch forward. It was initially planned to take place sometime in the second quarter.
The final launch of the week comes from Glavkosmos, a Roscosmos subsidiary, which is flying a Soyuz 2.1a rocket with a Fregat upper stage carrying two Korean CAS500 (Compact Advanced Satellite 500) satellites. These are designed for the observation of Earth and were built by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute. The Soyuz rocket will also be taking several other satellites into orbit as well as Astroscale’s ELSA-d active debris removal demo mission.
Finally, SpaceX’s Starship SN11 could launch soon but we do not know when. If you’d like to follow all the latest developments on this front, be sure to check out the Neowin forum thread which is updated regularly by the Neowin community.
TWIRL 3: Rocket Lab to attempt launch of delayed mission
by Paul Hill
Last week was quite good for SpaceX with it almost successfully landing its Starship rocket during a test, unfortunately, it caught fire and exploded on the pad. Rocket Lab also had to delay its “They Go Up So Fast” mission which we covered in This Week in Rocket Launches #2 but will make another go of it this week.
Aside from Rocket Lab’s mission to put several satellites into orbit, there will be two SpaceX launches carrying more satellites for the Starlink constellation as well as a Chinese mission carrying an experimental satellite called Xin Jishu Yanzheng 6 which replaces a satellite that was lost last year.
Rocket Lab’s launch will be performed by one of its Electron rockets, it will carry the Blacksky Global satellite and several CubeSats named Centauri 3, Gunsmoke-J, M2 (A/B), Myriota 7, and Veery Hatchling. Electron rockets are very light, weighing in at just 12,500 kg; this is probably where the inspiration for the name of the mission came from. The launch will be live-streamed on the company’s website on or around Wednesday if the launch goes ahead.
On Wednesday and Saturday, SpaceX will launch Falcon 9 rockets, both carrying 60 Starlink satellites. Internally, the missions are known as Starlink V1.0-L20 and Starlink V1.0-L21 respectively and the total payload mass weighs in at 15.6 tonnes with each satellite weighing 260 kg. There are 1141 Starlink satellites in orbit but the firm plans to orbit nearer 10,000 satellites eventually before ramping the number up above 30,000 so we’ll see these launches for a long time. To watch these launches, check out SpaceX’s YouTube channel which will carry recordings if you miss the live events.
Before SpaceX’s second launch, China will send up its Long March CZ-7A carrying the Xin Jishu Yanzheng 6 satellite. The satellite is experimental and a part of a series of demonstration missions being carried out by the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA). As is typical with Chinese launches, video and photos of the launch will appear online following the launch but there likely will be no live stream.
There are plenty more rocket launches every week for the remainder of the month so be sure to look out for next week’s This Week in Rocket Launches (TWIRL).
TWIRL 1: SpaceX set to launch 60 Starlink satellites this week
by Paul Hill
'This Week in Rocket Launches' is a new weekly series that aims to bring you a round-up of all the planned rocket launches over the coming week. With India, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States all sending missions to Mars and private companies like SpaceX inserting Starlink satellites into Earth’s orbit, the occurrence of rocket launches is pretty frequent. Streams to upcoming launches will be provided where possible but some space agencies only post videos after launch.
This week, there are five rocket launches from China, India, Iran, Russia, and SpaceX. There’s nothing super exciting such as human flights this week, instead, all of the missions are concerned with getting various satellites into orbit. The launch with the most delays is the SpaceX mission which planned to fly in November, December, January 27, 29-31, February 1-5, 7, 16, and 17 - hopefully, it gets off the ground this week to take a batch of Starlink satellites into the Earth's orbit.
The first launch will come sometime on Monday in China. A Long March CZ-4C rocket will take the Yaogan 31 Group 03 satellites into orbit where they will perform electromagnetic environment surveys and other related technology tests. It’s unclear what time the launch is slated for but the Long March rocket will take off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center and if we see any footage it will be after the event.
The next launch is slated for Thursday, this time from the Islamic Republic of Iran which is using its Simorgh rocket to carry the Pars 1 satellite into orbit. The mission will launch from the Imam Khomeini Space Launch Center in Semnan after it was delayed last year. Pars 1 has been described as the country’s most advanced remote-sensing satellite and will apparently monitor the country’s agricultural lands, forest and lakes, as well as help estimate the damage from fires and floods that occur.
SpaceX is up on Friday at 2:40 AM UTC (Thursday 21:41 PM local time). A Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket will take 60 Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit and further boost the firm’s satellite internet coverage which it recently began opening up to customers. The YouTube channel CosmoSapiens already has a YouTube event lined up so feel free to set a reminder, you might also get to watch the launch directly on SpaceX’s YouTube channel and SpaceX’s launch page.
After SpaceX’s launch, Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, will launch a Soyuz 2.1b rocket carrying the first Arktika-M remote sensing and communications satellite that will be used for weather forecasting and monitoring the environment in the Arctic region. The 2.1-tonne payload will sit in a highly elliptical 12-hour Molniya orbit and carry a multi-spectral imager for hydro-meteorological studies and rescue system transmitters for cases where emergency communications are needed. The mission has been delayed several times since 2018 but as long as the weather is good, the dependable Soyuz rocket should take off successfully on Sunday from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan.
The final launch of the week comes from Sriharikota in India. The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) will carry the Amazonia 1 satellite as well as three CubeSats: Anand, Saditsat, and Unitysat. Amazonia 1 is a Brazilian satellite that’s equipped with an optical camera to monitor environmental conditions in the Amazon. This launch was originally scheduled for September and February 22 but hopefully, it lifts off on the 28th.