Chinese Long March 7 launches Tianzhou-1

Another space station launch occurred today with the Chinese launch of Tianzhou-1.  Carried to orbit by the countries Long March 7 rocket the cargo vehicle is due to perform an automated docking with the Chinese space station Tiangong-2.  The station which has been orbiting since 15th September 2016 is currently unmanned, however, a crew did say on board for 30 days in November 2016.

This was the second launch of the Long March 7 rocket and was the largest payload ever launched by China at 13 metric tons.

One of the tests that the Tianzhou will be performing is transfer of fuel to the station, this hasn’t been tried before and will allow them to keep the station in orbit longer by using the control thrusters on the station to change orbit as needed.

Future plans for the station are not clear at the moment, however, if the Tianzhou-1 is successful it could lead to other crewed launches in the future to utilize whatever was aboard the cargo vessel.

Over the last year or so the Chinese have been a lot more open about their launches including live streaming, including with English commentators.

Soyuz MS-04 launches to ISS

At 3:13 AM EDT today the Soyuz MS-04 was launched from Baikonur to begin a four orbit, six hour journey to dock with the International Space Station (ISS).

For the first time since October 2005, the vehicle was only carrying two crew members instead of the typical three. This is due to a change made by Russian to switch to only having two crew members on board ISS.

Cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin is on his fifth space flight and NASA Astronaut Jack Fischer is traveling for the first time.

Once in orbit, the vehicle deployed its Solar Arrays and KURS automated docking antennas and begun a series of approach burns allowing the crew to perform the accelerated docking path.

When the vehicle returns in September it will be carrying three crew members back to Earth as NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson will be staying on the station to ensure a three person crew remains.

ULA launches Cygnus on OA-7 mission to ISS

This morning at 11:14 AM EDT United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully launched another Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft towards the International Space Station (ISS). This was the third Cygnus that ULA has launched for Orbital and at the present time the last.

John Glenn Banner inside Cygnus

Named after the late John Glenn, former Astronaut and US Senator who passed away last December. The launch was delayed several times to allow ULA time to address some issues with the launch vehicle and pad, and then to accommodate the hectic ISS schedule. The vehicle is carrying 3,459 kg (7,626 lb) of cargo to the space station and will spend at least 80 days at the station before being released. After it is successfully completed its mission another of the Saffire experiments will be performed, where a controlled fire will lite. Once that is complete the vehicle will burn up in the atmosphere.

The countdown proceeded smoothly this morning with an on-time launch, which concluded when the Cygnus spacecraft was delivered to orbit.

This was ULA’s 71st Atlas V, 36th 401 config, 4th launch of 2017 and 119th consecutive successful launch keeping their perfect 100% record.

As a side note, this was the last launch for NASA PAO George Diller who has been the voice of NASA for many launches in the past.  We hope that he has a great and long retirement and will miss hearing his commentary.

SpaceX makes history with SES-10 launch

Today SpaceX once again made history with the first launch of a previously flown first stage booster. The Falcon 9 lifted off at 6:27 pm EDT today with the SES-10 payload.

The booster was previously used for the SpaceX CRS-8 mission on 8th April 2016, the booster was the first to successfully land on an Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS). Following a comprehensive review of the booster, SpaceX was confident that it was ready for a second mission which it completed today with the successful launch and landing this time back on the ASDS “Of Course I Still Love You”.

During a press briefing after the successful mission, Elon Musk revealed that the payload fairing had been successfully recovered to making yet another milestone in the march towards rapid reusability.

The SES-10 payload was successfully deployed to orbit 32 minutes after liftoff making this the fourth successful mission of 2017.

SpaceX launches EchoStar 23

After several delays originally for the static fire test and then the weather SpaceX successfully completed its third launch of 2017 this morning with the delivery of the EchoStar 23 payload to orbit.  Liftoff occurred at 02:00 with the ignition of the nine Merlin 1D engines that propelled the towards orbit.  35 minutes later confirmation of payload separation was posted by SpaceX.

Due to the weight and destination of the payload there was no attempt to land the rocket either on land or the ASDS.

The full launch video from SpaceX is below, liftoff occurred at 12:00 minutes in.

ULA launches NROL-79 mission

Following a smooth countdown this morning United Launch Alliance launched an Atlas V 401 carrying a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office.

Due to the nature of this launch the live broadcast was terminated after the payload separation occurred.

SpaceX CRS-10 launches

This morning SpaceX made history once again as it made its first launch from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center. The pad that had previously been used by NASA for Apollo and Space Shuttle launches has been refurbished by SpaceX over the last couple of years.

Designed to support the launch of Falcon Heavy, National Security Payloads and Crewed Missions 39A was called into duty following the September, 1st 2016 accident that resulted in the loss of LC-40 at neighboring Cape Canaveral.

The launch was originally scheduled to lift off yesterday but during to a 2nd Stage Thrust Vector issue they decided to scrub to allow time to investigate further.  The issue was resolved overnight and the countdown proceeded this morning to a 9:38 am EST launch when the nine merlin engines roared to life to propel the rocket to orbit.  Following completion of the first stage burn, the booster returned to Landing Zone 1 (LZ1) and landed making this the third time SpaceX has returned to LZ1.

ULA starts it’s 2017 launch manifest

United Launch Alliance began their 2017 launch manifest with the successful delivery of the Air Force’s Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) GEO-3 satellite.

The launch was originally scheduled to launch yesterday but was delayed due to a sensor issue on the RD-180 engine the Atlas V 401 and then a fouled range with an aircraft encroaching on the keep out zone.

The countdown today proceeded smoothly with an on time launch occurring at 7:41 pm ET from Space Launch Complex (SLC) 41 at Cape Canaveral and delivered the payload to orbit 43 minutes later.

SpaceX launches first of seven Iridium Next payloads

This afternoon SpaceX successfully returned to flight operations following the September 1st anomaly with the successful launch of ten Iridium Next satellites.  The launch was delayed several times due to the investigation into the anomaly, as well as the unfavorable weather around Vandenburg this week.

As a result of the investigation into the anomaly, there were several changes to the countdown process for this launch, the first and most obvious was the lack of payload during the static fire test.  Less obvious was the change to the fueling process in previous launches the RP-1 and LOX were loaded at the same time in the last 35 minutes of the countdown.  However for this launch the RP-1 loading started 70 minutes before launch with the LOX being loaded as before with 35 minutes left.

Following a smooth countdown the rocket lifted off on time and successfully deployed the ten satellites, however due to a ground station issue confirmation of the successful deployments took longer then expected.  The first stage also successfully landed on the ASDS in the pacific ocean.