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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:
Germany could subsidise internet satellite receiver dishes for customers
by Paul Hill
Germany could help citizens in rural areas to buy receiver dishes for internet satellite services like Starlink, according to a report in Reuters. As things stand, the government is still fleshing out the details of a voucher scheme that would help customers get their homes kitted out with receiver dishes or any other technical equipment they need.
While the German government is looking to subsidise the technical equipment, it has said that customers in the rural areas of the country will still have to pay the monthly fee that’s part of their contract with the internet provider. Receiving internet connectivity from space does not come cheap, SpaceX’s Starlink, for example, costs €99 per month.
The subsidy that the government is looking into could save customers around $499. A Starlink kit includes a terminal to connect to the satellite network, a Wi-Fi router, and a mounting tripod. While quite expensive, the government has probably found that this is the cheapest option to connect people in remote areas.
In the UK, the government is spending £5 billion to upgrade rural broadband connections to gigabit speeds by 2025. The government is paying the bill because it doesn’t make economic sense for broadband providers to pay money to lay down the infrastructure just for the relatively few customers the hardware would serve. By subsidising the costs of satellite broadband, the German government is trying to meet similar ends as the UK government.
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 15: SpaceX's Dragon capsule set to carry cargo to the ISS
by Paul Hill
In the coming week, there are several missions lined up from the likes of SpaceX, Virgin Orbit, and China. One of the more interesting launches due to take place on Thursday is the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch which is carrying a Dragon 2 capsule that is transporting cargo up to the International Space Station
Tuesday, June 1
The first two launches of the week are slated for Tuesday, however, they’re also marked as No Earlier Than so we may not see either of them launch. The first launch is from Virgin Orbit which will fly its Boeing 747 ‘Cosmic Girl’ aircraft and perform an air launch of the LauncherOne rocket. The rocket will be carrying six CubeSats into orbit for the U.S. Air Force’s Space Test Program, the Netherlands’ military, and SatRevolution. If this launch goes ahead on Tuesday or the days afterwards, head to Virgin Orbit’s website where a live stream should be available.
The other launch we could see on Tuesday will be from the Chinese company Landscape, which is launching a Zhuque ZQ-2 rocket for the first time. While the first rocket launch will not be recovered, the firm is planning to recover the first stage of the rocket in future launches so that it can be re-used. This will help the firm reduce the costs of launching payloads into space.
Wednesday, June 2
On Wednesday, a Long March rocket is set to carry the Fengyun 4B satellite into orbit for the China Meteorological Administration. It will be used to collect imagery of storm systems, atmospheric sounding measurements, lightning maps, and space weather events. It’s unlikely that a live stream of this event will be available but launch footage could appear on YouTube after the event. The launch is set for between 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. UTC.
Thursday, June 3
At around 5:29 p.m. UTC on June 3, SpaceX is aiming to launch a Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket carrying a Dragon 2 capsule which is headed for the International Space Station. The capsule will be making a cargo delivery to the ISS. Aboard the capsule will be two ISS Roll-Out Solar Arrays (iROSA) for the ISS Power Augmentation (IPA) program.
Saturday, June 5
Northrop Grumman’s Pegasus XL rocket, set to deploy the TacRL-2 mission in orbit, has been mentioned several times in previous editions of This Week in Rocket Launches but still hasn’t launched. Saturday will be the next earliest date the rocket will take off. The mission is a part of the U.S. Space Force’s Tactically Responsive Launch program and is intended to be a technology demonstration.
Sunday, June 6
The final mission of the week comes from SpaceX again, although, it is marked as No Earlier Than. A Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket is set to launch the SXM 8 radio broadcasting satellite for SiriusXM’s digital audio radio service. The satellite has an unfurlable antenna reflector which enables it to broadcast to radios on Earth without the need for a dish antenna on the ground. SXM 8 will replace the XM 4 satellite and will provide service for 15 years.
The first flight to launch last week was SpaceX’s Starlink 28 mission which was carrying 60 Starlink satellites aboard the Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket. This mission was slated for Wednesday, May 26 and successfully launched on the day. You can watch the event below:
OneWeb also managed to get some of its satellites off the ground last week flying aboard a Starsem Soyuz 2.1b. If you’d like to see the coverage of the event, check out the following video:
The final launch which was mentioned in last week’s TWIRL that actually managed to get off the ground was the China National Space Administration’s Tianzhou-2 mission which is carrying cargo to the Chinese Space Station. You can see the footage of this launch below:
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: