TWIRL 95: SpaceX is set to launch NASA's SWOT mission atop a Falcon 9 this week

The TWIRL logo in front of the SWOT mission

We have a number of interesting launches this week. Notably, SpaceX will be launching NASA’s SWOT mission that will do the first global survey of the Earth’s surface water. Another mission that’s pretty interesting is Landspace’s launch of the Zhuque ZQ-2 rocket. It will be the rocket’s maiden flight.

Monday, December 12

  • The first launch of the week comes from China. A Long March 4C rocket will carry an experimental satellite to orbit called Shiyan 20A. Not too many details about the satellite are known but previous Shiyan satellites were described as experimental Earth observation satellites that perform land surveys, help with urban planning, and disaster prevention and mitigation. The mission is due to blast off at 9:20 a.m. UTC from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

Tuesday, December 13

  • The first mission on Tuesday will see Arianespace launch an Ariane 5 ECA+ rocket. It will be carrying the Galaxy 35 and Galaxy 36 communications satellites and the MTG-I1 meteorological satellite into orbit. The Galaxy satellites will provide C-band TV broadcasting services to the United States and the MTG-I1 will provide weather imagery over Europe for Eumetsat. The rocket will take off at 8:30 p.m. UTC from French Guyana.
  • The second launch will see Rocket Lab launch an Electron rocket with small radio frequency monitoring satellites for Hawkeye 360. The name of the satellite is Hawk 6A/B/C and the mission is dubbed “Virginia is for Launch Lovers”. It will take place at Wallops Island from 11:00 p.m. UTC. It should be streamed live on Rocket Lab’s website.

Wednesday, December 14

  • There’s just one launch locked in for Wednesday at the time of writing. The private Chinese company, Landspace, will launch the Zhuque ZQ-2 rocket on its first flight from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. It will be carrying 11 payloads into space. This mission will see the rocket's first stage be expendable but in future missions, it plans to recover it by landing it, similar to what SpaceX does. The launch will take place at 9:10 a.m. UTC.

Thursday, December 15

  • Finally, SpaceX is due to launch a Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Surface Water Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission for NASA. The launch is due at 11:46 a.m. UTC from Vandenberg AFB in California. The SWOT mission has the objectives of taking the first global survey of the Earth’s surface water, observing the fine details of the ocean surface topography, and measuring the change of terrestrial surface water bodies over time.


  • The first launch last week was the Kuaizhou-11 rocket carrying the VHF Data Exchange System (VDES) test satellite. This is an interesting launch because we don’t normally see that much of this rocket.
  • Next, a Long March 2D rocket launched the Gaofen-5 01A satellite from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center. It will be used for things like pollution reduction, environment monitoring, and climate change studies.
  • Next up, a SpaceX Falcon 9 carried up 40 OneWeb satellites to space. The satellites provide internet connectivity from space, similar to SpaceX’s own Starlink satellites.
  • On December 9, the Smart Dragon-3 performed its first launch, carrying 14 satellites to space. Interestingly, it took off from a sea-based platform in the Yellow Sea.
  • Finally, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 carrying the Hakuto-R M1 and Lunar Flashlight missions. Hakuto-R M1 consists of a lunar lander and two rovers from a private Japanese firm called iSpace. The Lunar Flashlight is a NASA mission consisting of a small satellite that will use near-infrared lasers to map ice in the shadowy parts of the Moon.

That’s all we have this week, be sure to check in next time!

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