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TWIRL 32: NASA preparing to launch Landsat 9 to observe Earth
by Paul Hill
We have several launches coming up over the next week. All of the missions on the schedule this week are satellite launches and among them the most interesting is NASA’s Landsat 9, an Earth observation satellite. The Landsat program currently has two satellites in orbit, Landsat 7 and Landsat 8 which launched in 1999 and 2013 respectively. The Landsat program itself has been up and running since July 1972.
Monday, September 27
The first launch of the week is ExPace’s Kuaizhou KZ-1A rocket carrying the Jilin Gaofen 2D satellite to Earth orbit. The launch is scheduled to take off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 6:17 a.m. UTC. If you remember us covering this launch before, it’s because we have; this year, it has been pushed back from March, April, and September 25. It will take full-colour images with a resolution of 0.76 metres over 40 kilometres.
The second launch of the day also take place in China but this time at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center. The launch of the Long March CZ-3B/E Is scheduled for an 8:15 a.m. UTC launch but it’s not clear what payload will be aboard. It’s rumoured that it could be launching a new generation of BeiDou (navigation) satellite.
The third launch of the day takes place at 6:11 p.m. UTC from Vandenberg AFB Space Launch Complex 3. An Atlas V 401 rocket will carry the Landsat 9 satellite and several CubeSats into orbit. As mentioned earlier, the Landsat program started in 1972 and has tracked the growth of cities over that time, the changing climate, and how land is used for agriculture and infrastructure.
The Landsat 9 satellite will be put into a polar orbit 705 kilometres above the Earth where it will survey the planet every 16 days. Images will cover 185km and each pixel will be 30 metres across. The satellite has been designed to last for five years but actually has enough fuel for the mission to go on for a decade or more.
Friday, October 1
The final mission of the week will take off from Uchinoura Space Center in Japan. An Epsilon rocket will be carrying the RAISE 2 satellite and several MicroSats. RAISE 2 is a demonstration satellite used for testing new technology in space. Among the MicroSats is the Debris Removal Unprecedented Micro-Satellite which will demonstrate technologies that future satellites need to remove the growing amount of space debris from orbit.
The exciting launch last week was that of the Tianzhou-3 module which was going to join on to the Chinese Space Station making station larger. The mission went ahead without a hitch, here’s the launch.
And here’s the Tianzhou-3 docking.
While three launches were scheduled last week, it looks like the Tianzhou-3 mission was the only one to get off the ground, so that’s all for this week’s recap.
Starlink could come out of beta next month despite pre-order backlog
by David Allen
Starlink could be coming out of its beta testing phase and be made publicly available next month, Elon Musk says. With just over a year in beta, Starlink believes it has enough positive feedback to abandon the “beta” moniker. Most users in the year-long beta have reported positive feedback from the high-speed internet service alternative.
The package consists of a Wi-Fi terminal and satellite dish in an automated self-install package costing $499. Service as of now is $99.00. Starlink has made every effort to make the service as price-friendly as possible, though challenges remain. Starlink is said to be working on a more rugged version of the device to better handle the weather elements.
Those looking for a quick answer to a high-speed internet connection may have to keep waiting even after the service goes public. Recently, customers with pre-orders have seen fulfillment dates fall into 2022-2023 timeframes. It's estimated that Starlink already has approximately 400,000 preorders waiting to be filled.
A service targeted for rural America and places where traditional broadband options don't exist, Starlink may offer a solid solution, but it sounds like users might be waiting a while to receive it. It'll be interesting to see how the service performs as more orders are filled.
TWIRL 31: Chinese Space Station set to grow as Taikonauts return to Earth [Update]
by Paul Hill
In the upcoming week, China will launch a Long March rocket carrying Tianzhou 3 that will dock with the Tianhe module of the Chinese Space Station. The Tianzhou 3 will be carrying supplies up to the CSS for the next group of astronauts who go there and it will become a permanent fixture of the space station giving astronauts more space to roam around or store items.
Monday, September 20
There will be two launches to start off the week, the first is a Long March CZ-2C carrying three satellites with the designation Yaogan 30 Group 11. This mission, which launches from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, is a little bit secretive. There’s no specific time for the launch and the mission of the satellites is not known, although, it is speculated that they could perform signals intelligence.
The second launch of the day should take off between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. UTC from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center. A Long March CZ-7 will be carrying the Tianzhou 3 which will be itself carrying cargo for use aboard the Chinese Space Station. As mentioned before, this craft will make up part of China's space station allowing astronauts more room to move around. With every new module that joins the Chinese Space Station, the easier it should become to see from Earth too.
Saturday, September 25
The final launch on the schedule is an ExPace Kuaizhou KZ-1A rocket carrying more Jilin Gaofen 2D satellites. These satellites are part of the Jilin 1 Earth observation constellation and perform image captures in full colour at a resolution of 0.76 meters of 40km of surface area. In the end, the constellation will be made up of 138 satellites.
The first launch of the previous week took place on September 14 when a Falcon 9 rocket launched more Starlink satellites into orbit. Everything went to plan and the first stage landed back on a droneship in the Pacific Ocean.
On the same day, a Starsem Soyuz 2.1b launched 34 OneWeb satellites into orbit from Kazakhstan. Like Starlink, OneWeb satellites beam internet back to Earth.
Also this week, we had the launch of the Inspiration4 mission aboard a Falcon 9 rocket topped by a Dragon capsule. The launch went ahead without a hitch and the crew are still orbiting as of Friday, September 17.
Finally, in the early hours of Friday (UTC), the Chinese astronauts came back down to Earth in a capsule slowed down by a parachute.
Update: Since publication, the Inspiration4 crew have also landed back on Earth.
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.
TWIRL 29: China set to dominate launch schedule this week
by Paul Hill
The upcoming week won’t see any really exciting launches, just run-of-the-mill satellite launches. Interestingly, all the launches with a definite launch window will be launching from China. Launch sites seeing action this week include the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, and the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.
Monday, September 6
The first launch of the week will see a Long March CZ-4C rocket carry the Gaofen 5-02 hyperspectral Earth-imaging satellite into orbit where it will make up part of the CHEOS constellation. The satellite will be carrying a number of scientific instruments that will allow it to perform atmospheric sensing to measure things like greenhouse gas emissions, trace gases and other atmospheric properties. This mission will launch from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center.
Thursday, September 9
The second launch of the week will take place at 11 a.m. UTC from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center. A Long March CZ-3B/E rocket will carry the Zhongxing 9B satellite into orbit. The satellite will provide various services such as TV and radio in China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. The lifespan of the satellite is 15 years and it’ll support or replace the Zhongxing 9A satellite which used too much fuel trying to correct its position.
Sunday, September 12
The final launch of the week is due to take place from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. A Long March CZ-2C rocket will be carrying two Yaogan satellites for the military. It’s unclear what the purpose of these satellites is.
Last Sunday, SpaceX’s CRS-23 mission managed to lift off following an earlier aborted launch.
Not long after launch, the CRS-23 Dragon docked with the space station. It was carrying operational cargo for those aboard the ISS.
The other rocket launch this week was Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket which was performing its maiden flight. Unfortunately, the craft exploded not long after launch, destroying the numerous payloads that were aboard. The launch failure was put down to ‘an anomaly’.