TWIRL 13: ULA to orbit missile early warning satellite

The TWIRL logo with the ULA mission artwork
Background image via ULA

The upcoming week in rocket launches promises to be fairly routine, that said, there are two particularly interesting missions. On Monday, the United Launch Alliance will orbit a U.S. military satellite that is designed to provide early warning of a missile launch and on Thursday, a Chinese Long March rocket will orbit the Tianzhou-2 cargo craft which will dock with the Tianhe module of the Chinese Space Station.

Monday, May 17

As mentioned, the United Launch Alliance is set to launch one of its Atlas V rockets (AV-091) into space carrying the U.S. military’s fifth Space Based Infrared System Geosynchronous (SBIRS GEO 5) satellite which has been designed for missile early warning detection. Secondary payloads going up on this launch include Technology Demonstration Orbiter 3 (TDO-3) and four CubeSats. You can find the live stream on YouTube.

Tuesday, May 18

The second launch of the week takes place on Tuesday. A Chinese Long March CZ-4B rocket will launch an ocean observation satellite called Haiyang 2D into orbit. It will use sensors to detect sea surface wind fields, sea surface height, and the temperature of the sea’s surface. As with most Chinese launches, you should not expect a live stream of this event but footage of the launch will likely surface on YouTube after the event.

Thursday, May 19

No more launches are pencilled in this week after Thursday. The first of the two launches is marked as ‘no earlier than’ and we’ve mentioned it on previous editions of TWIRL simply meaning it hasn’t launched yet. It consists of the Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket carrying the TacRL-2 mission into orbit. This mission is part of the U.S. Space Force’s Tactically Responsive Launch program and is intended as a technology demonstration.

The second launch scheduled for Thursday is that of the Long March CZ-7 carrying the Tianzhou-2 cargo craft. Once in orbit, Tianzhou-2 will dock with the Tianhe module of the Chinese Space Station (CSS) which itself was only orbited a few weeks ago. The Tianzhou-2 can carry up to 6.5 tonnes of cargo as well as two tonnes of propellant. Cargo missions to the CSS might become more frequent in future as China looks to send Taikonauts to live on the station.

Zhurong Rover

A graphic of the Zhurong rover

It was announced yesterday by China that it has successfully landed its Zhurong Mars rover at Utopia Planitia. It’s the first Mars rover from a country other than the United States to land successfully and marks a big leap for the Chinese space programme.

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