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TWIRL 18: SpaceX to deliver missions to Sun-synchronous orbit
by Paul Hill
Following an exciting week where we saw three Chinese astronauts arrive at their space station for the first time, we have a less certain week ahead. There could be eight rocket launches in the upcoming week, however, only two of these missions have a definite launch time, the rest are listed as No Earlier Than. If these missions don’t launch, next week could be pretty quiet.
Monday, June 21
The first mission that could take off on Monday is Rocket Lab’s STP-27RM mission. The customer for this mission is the U.S. Air Force which is having its Monolith satellite launched, equipped with a space weather instrument, atop an Electron rocket. It’s expected that this mission will demonstrate the ability of small satellites to carry large aperture payloads. It will launch from Launch Complex 2 at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, Wallops Island, Virginia.
The second launch of the day will be an Iranian Zoljanah rocket carrying the Nahid 1R satellite into a geosynchronous orbit. The rocket will take off from the Imam Khomeini Space Launch Center in Semnan. This mission was delayed from March. It's also marked as No Earlier Than so it may not take off on Monday.
Wednesday, June 23
The third mission of the week comes from Virgin Orbit and is also marked as No Earlier Than. This STP-27VPA mission will see the LauncherOne rocket perform an air-launch from a Boeing 747 called Cosmic Girl. It will carry six CubeSats into orbit for the U.S. Air Force’s Space Test Program, the Dutch 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.
Friday, June 25
Friday has the potential to be the busiest launch day, however, three of the five launches are marked as No Earlier Than.
The first launch on Friday is that 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. It is marked as No Earlier Than.
Next up we have a Rocket Lab Electron rocket carrying two BlackSky satellites. They will join the BlackSky constellation which can produce 1000 images per day as still or as videos. Each satellite has a lifespan of three years and the full constellation should consist of 60 satellites.
The final No Earlier Than mission on Friday is 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.
On Friday, a Roscosmos Soyuz 2.1b will launch the Pion-NKS 1 satellite for the Russian military. It is described as an electronic intelligence-gathering satellite. Pion-NKS 1 is a new type of reconnaissance satellite that will be used for naval surveillance.
The final mission is SpaceX’s Transporter-2. A Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket will launch several payloads to Sun-synchronous orbit as part of the rideshare mission. Aboard will be the Kleos Polar Vigilance Mission consisting of four satellites, at least four NuSats for Satellogic, YAM 3, Mars Demo 1, and a Vigoride CubeSate carrier with Skycraft, TROPICS Pathfinder, Sen EarthTV, and IRIS-A. This mission was moved forward from July but delayed from June 24.
The first mission we mentioned last week was Northrop Grumman’s Minotaur I rocket carrying a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office. This launch successfully went ahead.
The exciting mission last week was the one carrying Chinese astronauts to the Chinese Space Station. Just hours after launch, they arrived at the space station. You can see clips from their arrival below.
Three Yaogan-30 remote sensing satellites were also launched from China earlier in the week. You can see the launch from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center below.
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.