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TWIRL 17: China to send first taikonauts to the Chinese Space Station
by Paul Hill
You could call last week’s quietness the calm before the storm because the upcoming week is set to be very exciting! On Thursday morning (UTC), China will launch the Shenzhou 12 atop a Long March rocket carrying the first three taikonauts – Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming, and Tang Hongbo – to the new Chinese Space Station.
Tuesday, June 15
The first launch of the week is scheduled to take place on Tuesday at 11 a.m. (UTC) from Wallops Island Launch Pad in Virginia, U.S. Northrop Grumman will be launching a Minotaur I rocket carrying a classified mission belonging to the National Reconnaissance Office. While details of this launch are quite scarce given its classified nature, the mission allegedly consists of three satellites. If you want to see the launch, there is a pre-event video on YouTube where you can set a reminder for when the event begins.
Thursday, June 17
The first launch on Thursday will be that of the Long March 2F/G carrying the Shenzhou 12 spacecraft manned by three taikonauts. The launch is slated for 1:17 a.m. (UTC) and will take off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming, and Tang Hongbo will be aboard and will be the first crew of the Chinese Space Station. After this crew launches, there will be a total of ten people in space.
The other launch scheduled for Thursday at 4:09 p.m. (UTC) is that of a SpaceX Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket which will be carrying the U.S. Air Force’s fifth 3rd generation navigation satellite for GPS. The new satellites provide better system security, accuracy, and reliability; they are all expected to have a lifespan of 15 years.
Friday, June 18
On Friday, a Long March CZ-2C rocket is expected to launch three satellites with the designation Yaogan 30 Group 09 which will perform electromagnetic detection and perform technical tests. It’s not clear what the overall mission for the satellites is but they may be used for signal intelligence purposes.
Sunday, June 20
The end of the week has two launches marked as ‘no earlier than’ which means they may not actually launch this week. The two launches include Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket which is set to make its maiden flight from Vandenberg AFB with several commercial payloads including the Spinnaker 3 dragsail prototype. The second launch is of India’s GSLV-F10 mission which will launch the EOS 3 satellite for India’s space agency, ISRO. EOS 3 will provide continuous remote sensing observations over India from a geostationary orbit.
While there were not many launches last week, there was an interesting astronomical event visible from some parts of the world – a solar eclipse! You can see footage of that below:
Jeff Bezos to fly to the edge of space in first New Shepard crewed mission
by Paul Hill
Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, is set to fly on the first crewed mission of Blue Origin’s New Shepard, according to a video he uploaded to Instagram. Bezos, who also owns Blue Origin, will be joined on the flight by his younger brother Mark Bezos. The flight is set to take place on July 20th, a little over two weeks after Jeff Bezos leaves his role as Amazon CEO.
In the video, Bezos said:
He goes on to ask his brother if he wants to go on the flight who says that he was awestruck to have received the offer. When the pair are aboard the rocket, they’ll be flown 60 miles above the planet’s surface on an 11-minute flight before coming back down to Earth. If the pair do not cross the Kármán line – the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space – they’ll certainly be very near to it.
With this flight, Bezos beats both Richard Branson and Elon Musk into space. Branson has expressed interest in going to space aboard one of his own craft but Elon Musk hasn’t announced any plans to go despite having the Dragon capsule which can take people into orbit.
TWIRL 16: It's a quiet week with some interesting but tentative launches
by Paul Hill
The upcoming week is the quietest it has been for space launches since This Week in Rocket Launches began four months ago. Just three rocket are listed on the schedule for the upcoming week and every one of them is marked as no earlier than which means they may not even take off this week. Additionally, we’ve heard about all of these missions in previous editions of TWIRL so there’s not too much new information. Be sure to check out the recap, though, for footage of last week’s launches.
Thursday, June 10
The first launch that could take place next week is that of India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV). The mission is officially titled GSLV-F10 and it’ll carry the EOS 3 satellite which will provide remote sensing observations over the Indian subcontinent from a geostationary orbit. EOS is short for Earth Observing Satellite, it will act as a quick monitoring system for natural disasters and hazards. The GSLV-F10 mission has been delayed several times since 2019 and we mentioned it in TWIRL #5.
The second possible launch on Thursday is that of Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket. The rocket will deploy from the Boeing 747 “Cosmic Girl” aircraft and carry six CubeSats into orbit for the U.S. Air Force’s Space Test Program, the Netherlands’ military, and SatRevolution. The U.S. Air Force has three CubeSats launching as part of the DoD’s Space Test Program’s Rapid Agile Launch (RALI) initiative, the Netherlands’ satellite is a military satellite called BRIK II, and SatRevolution’s satellites are called STORK 4 and STORK 5 and make up an optical satellite constellation.
The final launch is of Northrop Grumman’s Pegasus XL rocket which will perform an air launch from the L-1011 “Stargazer” aircraft. It will deploy the Space Force’s TacRL-2 mission to orbit. TacRL-2 is short for Tactically Responsive Launch and is said to be a “technology demonstration”. This mission has been mentioned in a number of TWIRL articles but seemingly never manages to launch.
The Fengyun 4B took off last Wednesday atop a Long March rocket. The satellite will be used by the China Meteorological Administration to collect images of storm systems, create lightning maps, and more. You can see the launch event below:
On Thursday, SpaceX launched its Dragon 2 capsule on a Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket to the International Space Station carrying Roll-out Solar Arrays. You can see the launch below:
The Dragon 2 docked at the ISS on Saturday, footage of the event is here:
Finally, SpaceX had its SXM-8 mission marked as no earlier than, luckily, the firm managed to get the rocket off the ground early on Sunday morning (UTC). The SXM-8 satellite is a radio satellite with an antenna reflector that negates the need for ground-based dish antennas. You can see the launch below:
On this day in history
By Stergios Georgopoulos
Elon Musk confirms first SpaceX ocean spaceport is under construction
by Stergios Georgopoulos
Last year, SpaceX announced plans to build floating spaceports for space travel and hypersonic flights around the Earth. The floating launchpads, built on refurbished oil platforms, will serve as a launch and landing platform for the Starship rocket, a spacecraft that the company intends to use to fly astronauts to the Moon, as well as for the exploration and habitation of Mars in the coming years.
On Sunday, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted that Deimos, the first of the two platforms, is under construction and is expected to become operational next year. Both launchpads, the other one being Phobos, are named after Mars’ moons. The tweet was in response to a fan, who shared a rendered concept image of the offshore spaceport.
Earlier this month, the company performed a successful soft landing of the latest iteration of Starship, dubbed SN15, for the first time. Previous tests of older prototypes all saw the spacecraft blow up at landing and had varying degrees of success.
TWIRL 14: SpaceX and OneWeb to orbit more internet satellites
by Paul Hill
In the coming week, we could see five launches from various countries and companies including China, SpaceX, and OneWeb. The two aforementioned companies will send up some of their respective internet satellites while China will re-attempt to launch the Tianzhou-2 cargo craft which will try to dock with the Tianhe module of the new Chinese Space Station.
After outlining the launches scheduled for the upcoming week, there will be a recap section with launches and other events from the past week.
Tuesday, May 25
The only mission penned in for Tuesday is the Tactically Responsive Launch 2 (TacRL-2) mission which we have mentioned several times before. Now, as was the case before, the mission is marked as No Earlier Than so it may not even launch. The mission will see Northrop Grumman’s Pegasus XL rocket launch from the L-1011 Stargazer aircraft. The mission has been called a technology demonstration and an orbital launch service mission and is part of a U.S. Space Force programme.
Wednesday, May 26
SpaceX is set to launch a further 60 Starlink satellites on Wednesday at 6:59 p.m. UTC as part of its Starlink 28 mission. The firm launches Starlink satellites almost every week without issue although the weather does sometimes cause a launch to be delayed. The satellites will be carried into orbit on a Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket and will join in with the rest of the Starlink constellation to beam internet connectivity back down to Earth. The launch will be streamed on SpaceX’s website and a recap video will be available post-launch.
Thursday, May 27
We’ve got two launches planned for Thursday, the first is a Long March CZ-3B/E carrying the Fengyun 4B geostationary weather satellite for the China Meteorological Administration and the other is the launch of 36 OneWeb satellites aboard a Starsem Soyuz 2.1b rocket.
The Fengyun 4B has been designed to collect images of storm systems, take atmospheric sounding measurements, help to create lightning maps, and observe space weather events. The OneWeb satellites, similarly to Starlink, will beam the internet back to Earth for use on aeroplanes, by governments, and more. Once complete, the OneWeb constellation may consist of 7088 satellites.
Saturday, May 29
The final launch of the week will take place at the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Saturday at 12:56 p.m. UTC. The China National Space Administration will attempt to launch the Tianzhou-2 cargo craft to the Tianhe module of the Chinese Space Station to deliver three months worth of personal supplies for three astronauts. This supply mission is critical for China so that it can send up three of its Taikonauts to the new space station in the near future.
The first mission we mentioned last week was the launch of the Space Based Infrared System Geosynchronous (SBIRS GEO 5) satellite. You can watch the event below:
China’s ocean observation satellite, Haiyang 2D, was also successfully orbited by a Long March CZ-4B rocket, you can see a short clip of the launch footage below:
Finally, in This Week in Rocket Launch 12, we mentioned that Virgin Galactic was looking to launch the VSS Unity rocketplane but that it was marked as No Earlier Than. The mission finally went ahead yesterday (May 22). You can see coverage below: