Arianespace successfully launches BepiColumbo

Arianespace successfully launched the European Space Agency (ESA) & Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) BepiColumbo spacecraft toward Mercury.

The mission comprises two spacecraft: the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO).

This is the first European spacecraft to head to Mercury and will spend 7+ years traveling to the planet before entering orbit in 2025.  Once it arrives the two spacecraft will separate from the transport system and begin scientific exploration of the planet in 2026.

Following the successful launch the spacecraft was deployed to orbit xx minutes later, this was a short mission for Ariane 5 which typically takes 45+ minutes to deploy.

More information can be found here.

Arianespace launches four Galileo satellites

In the first of two launches today Arianespace successfully delivered four Galileo satellites to add to the constellation already orbiting the Earth.

There were a lot of lasts for this mission as shown below

With this launch the initial phase of the Galileo constellation is complete.  Future launches will be performed on the Ariane 6 which is due to start flying in 2020.

Further delays to JWST

This week NASA announced further delays to the James Webb Space Telescope which was originally supposed to launch this year and has now been delayed to Now Earlier Than (NET) 2021.

The delays which have been caused by several factors from human error during construction/testing, design complexity and basically poor management of the project are now causing some people to rename the spacecraft the Just Wait Space Telescope.

There is no doubt that if/when the spacecraft is launched and successfully reaches its final operating orbit that it will provide amazing new images of our universe and increase our knowledge of the universe.

However, with these continual delays, there are some additional factors that need to be considered.

– JWST is designed to launch on an Ariane 5 which is due to be phased out by Arianespace sometime in 2021-22. If there are further delays to JWST then Arianespace will need to maintain the launch pad at Kourou for the launch. There have been discussions about using other rockets but the design changes needed to accommodate could delay it even further.

– The manufacturer Northrop Grumman are operating under a cost-plus contract for JWST, therefore, the taxpayer is on the hook for any additional costs which are already predicted to pass $9.6 billion dollars assuming a launch date of March 2021.

– Other missions are waiting on the data from JWST, with the abilities that JWST brings to the table there are a lot of other future missions that are being designed to utilize the data that is returned. With these delays, these missions may also be impacted both in funding and having to wait for the new data.

Once the vehicle is launched the deployment process is not a simple one and while NG and NASA have done extensive testing (some of which has led to the latest delays) there is no guarantee that it will be 100% successful once in space. The biggest concern is the fact that the massive sun shield is needed to keep the telescope operating at the correct temperature and if there are any issues during deployment, like ripping that happened during testing, then it will not be able to do that and the telescope will pretty much be useless.

Additionally, due to the width of the main mirror, it has to be folded too and then the side segments have to deploy correctly. If this process fails then the telescope will not be able to operate correctly as there will be 6 mirror segments missing.

Due to its final orbit at the Lagrangian point (L2) it is not currently possible to service the telescope, therefore if anything goes wrong there isn’t anything that can be done. At some point in the future, it may be possible to send a crew out to the L2 but that is still quite a way off.

Yes JWST is a complex spacecraft and a lot has to go correctly during testing, during launch and once in orbit. If it is all successful and the spacecraft makes it to its operating orbit then the science it returns will be amazing but until then we just have to continue to wait and hope that nothing else goes wrong.

Arianespace SES 14/Al Yah 3 launch update

It now appears that the launch this evening was at least partially successful as announced by Arianespace, however, at present, we don’t know for certain if the satellites were deployed to the correct orbits or not.

SES made the following announcement, based on this it does appear that the Ariane 5 delivered the satellites into a lower than expected orbit, in the SES press release they announced that the spacecraft would require an additional four weeks to reach the desired orbit and would use its electric propulsion system to get there.

We don’t know what impact this will have on the Al Yah 3 satellite that uses the traditional chemical-based propulsion to reach it’s desired orbit before switching to an electric system for station keeping.

We will update the article when further news is available.

Arianespace SES 14/Al Yah 3 launch appears to have failed

Today’s Ariane 5 launch of the SES 14 and Al Yah 3 satellites appears to have failed sometime after the first stage separation. The launch lifted off at 5:20 pm EST and appeared to be going smoothly with the successful booster separation, payload fairing separation, and first stage engine burnout.

However, telemetry from the spacecraft was lost soon after the first stage separation and while the launch commentator continued to read out successful milestones it soon became obvious that something was wrong when the DDO (Launch Range Manager in English) wasn’t announcing those same milestones.

As the mission continued Arianespace paused their live stream of the events with the notice that they were waiting for satellite signal acquisition before resuming, after a while the CEO of Arianespace made an official announcement that there appears to have been an anomaly with the launch. That doesn’t mean that the satellites were lost but they will not know until they have researched further.

We will update this article as we receive more information from Arianespace but expect that there may be a delay to future launches.