Launch Roundup: Starliner ready for second launch attempt; Falcon 9 will launch the first batch of new spy constellation


For the second week, all eyes have been on the upcoming first crewed flight test (CFT) of Boeing's Starliner spacecraft. The first attempt was aborted last Monday after concerns with the liquid oxygen relief valve in Centaur's second stage. The launch will be attempted again this Friday and will be the 100th overall mission for the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket, and the first time the vehicle has carried a crew. This CFT mission will also be the first crewed launch from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in the post-Apollo era.

Earlier this week, many people in the Northern Hemisphere experienced panoramic views of a rare aurora on Friday night, caused by a level 5 geomagnetic storm – the first of this extreme G5 level since 2003. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory noted an X-class solar flare (X5.8) on May 10. Despite concerns about disruption to communications and GPS as the flare disturbed that layer of our atmosphere, satellites in low-Earth orbit appeared to perform better than expected. SpaceX confirmed Monday morning that all Starlink satellites in orbit are safe after experiencing the storm.

Electrical discharges briefly disrupted most long-distance shortwave radio signals, but ham radio operators can temporarily enjoy longer reach than usual this week. This would be due to the ionized atmosphere reflecting more radio waves back to Earth rather than being lost to space. One launch occurred during this period – Chang Zheng 4C successfully deployed Xi'an-23 into orbit from China.

X5.8 and X1.5 solar flates compared Credit NASA SDO

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured images of two solar flares classified as X5.8 and X1.5 events on May 10 and 11. (Courtesy NASA/SDO)

SpaceX will launch its 50th Falcon 9 mission of the year on the first launch of the week. At the time of publication, SpaceX has three Falcon 9 missions planned, including two Starlink missions and another for the National Reconnaissance Office. While details remain classified, it is believed to be the first of a new enhanced spy satellite constellation delivered by SpaceX and Northrop Grumman. The second of these Starlink missions currently has a launch window of less than two hours until Starliner launch, making it a busy night at the Cape.

Next week will mark the fifth anniversary of the deployment of the first batch of test Starlink satellites. The network, which now has 2.7 million subscribers in 75 countries and counting, is currently projected to generate $6.6 billion in revenue by the end of the year.

By the time the week ends this year, there will have been 96 orbital launch attempts worldwide so far – that's 29 more than the same point last year and more than double the previous year.

Falcon 9 Block 5 | Starlink Group 8-7

Despite what the mission numbering suggests, as they are not always launched sequentially, this will be the third launch of Starlink satellites in the Group 8 shell. Launch is scheduled for Tuesday, May 14 at 9:29 a.m. PDT (16:29 UTC) from the pad at Vandenberg Space Force Base's SLC-4E. This will be the company's 50th Falcon 9 launch so far this year.

The booster has not been officially announced yet, and will land on an autonomous droneship of course i still love you, The most likely candidates are B1063-18 and B1075-11 which are renewed and awaiting assignment.

The payloads of the Group 8 missions, to date, have included a mix of Starlink V2 mini satellites and heavier Direct to Cell variants – these have an advanced modem on board that enables cellphones to communicate directly with them, which is connected to cellphone towers in space. serves as. , Payloads on this mission are expected to be deployed into an initial orbit of 336 by 345 kilometers, inclined by 53 degrees, after which the satellites will lift themselves to an altitude of about 535 kilometers. The previous mission, Group 8-2, was halted for a day before deploying 20 satellites, 13 of which were new variants.

Earlier in the week and before this launch, SpaceX had launched a total of 6,393 Starlink satellites, of which 5,233 have moved into their operational orbits and 415 have re-entered.

Deployment of Starlink v2 Mini and DTC satellites on the Group 8 1 mission in April 2024 Credit SpaceX

Deploying Starlink V2 Mini and Direct-to-Sell satellites on the Group 8-1 mission in April 2024. DTC satellites are furthest from view. (Credit: SpaceX)

Soyuz 2.1b | Cosmos 2576 (unknown payload)

Soyuz 2.1b is expected to launch from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia at 20:00 UTC on Tuesday, May 16. The window extends until May 26, according to the exclusion zone notice indicating an impact area in the Barents Sea.

There are currently no details available for the payload, which is anticipated to target polar orbit.

Atlas V N22 | Starliner CFT

The highly anticipated first crewed launch of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft was originally scheduled for Monday, May 6, from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. This first launch attempt was aborted due to a problem with the liquid oxygen relief valve on Centaur. Second stage of the Atlas V rocket.

This valve produced an audible rattle which was discussed over comms during the live stream and ultimately launch director Tom Hayter III decided not to proceed with the launch out of an abundance of caution. ULA noted in the post-scrub briefing that it had observed oscillation issues with this particular valve on five previous missions, removal of which would not have prevented launch. The vehicle was returned to the vertical integration facility to have the valves replaced.

The 52-meter-tall stack with the Starliner capsule atop the Atlas V N22 launch vehicle will soon be transported back to the pad of SLC-41 for its second launch attempt. The launch is now scheduled for Friday, May 7 at 6:16 pm EDT (22:16 UTC). SC3 calypso It has already scheduled two days of flight time on the Uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT-1) mission in December 2019, making its second flight in space.

This CFT Mission will achieve many achievements. This is the first crewed launch of this new vehicle, the first from the pad of SLC-41, and the first from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station since the launch of Apollo 7 in 1968.

    The CST-100 Starliner capsule is placed atop the Atlas V (Credit NASA/Kim Shiflett)

The CST-100 Starliner capsule is placed atop the Atlas V. (Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

It will also be the 100th mission launched by the Atlas V rocket family, the first time an Atlas V will carry a crewed spacecraft and the first crewed mission for NASA's Commercial Crew Program that will not be conducted with a SpaceX capsule. Onboard are two experienced NASA astronauts, Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Pilot Sunita “Sunny” Williams, who will become the first women to make the first flight of a new orbital vehicle. Suni named the spacecraft to acknowledge his love of the ocean and Jacques Cousteau's ship, which also bore the same name.

The N22 configuration of the Atlas V has no fairing, two side boosters, and two RL-10A engines on the Centaur upper stage. Approximately 15 minutes after launch, Starliner will separate following jettison of the nosecone “ascent cover” and aeroskirt. It will then continue its journey towards the International Space Station (ISS) using its thrusters on the service module.

This will be the first time this capsule has docked with the ISS – the SC2 vehicle was the only Starliner capsule to do so previously on the OFT-2 demonstration mission. SC3 calypso The station is expected to dock at the forward port Harmony The module launched at 04:48 UTC on May 8 and will remain on station for approximately seven days.

Atlas V and Starliner roll onto the pad (Credit: Max Evans for NSF)

The Atlas V and Starliner roll onto the pad. (Credit: Max Evans for NSF)

Once completed, this mission will certify the vehicle for regular crew rotation missions to the ISS awarded ten years ago to SpaceX and Boeing as part of the Commercial Crew Program. To date, SpaceX has conducted eight operational crew missions to the ISS under this contract. Starliner will provide the redundancy NASA sought when awarding the contract to the two providers. Once certified, NASA will commit to one Crew Dragon launch per year and alternate crew rotation between the two vehicles, although SpaceX will also fly Dragon for additional private missions such as Axiom-4 and Polaris Dawn.

With a diameter of 4.56 meters, Starliner is slightly smaller than the Orion capsule used on the Artemis missions and slightly larger than the Crew Dragon and Apollo command modules. The capsules will typically carry a maximum of four astronauts with a mix of crew and cargo on each flight. All remaining Atlas launches have been allocated before the vehicle is retired in approximately eight years. Six of these launches are set aside for NASA's Starliner missions to the ISS, as well as Kuiper missions. Starliner can fly on a Vulcan if that vehicle is certified as human-rated by the time Starliner's first six flights on an Atlas V are completed.

Boeing Space is already working to prepare the SC2 crew module that flew the OFT-2 mission for the upcoming Starliner-1 crew mission in 2025. Starliner-1 will remain in orbit for approximately six months. calypso It is then expected to support the second and fourth Starliner crew missions from 2026.

Falcon 9 Block 5 | Starlink Group 6-59

The second scheduled Starlink mission of the week is currently scheduled to launch less than two hours after the planned launch of the Starliner CFT. Lift-off is planned for Friday. on May 17 at 7:52 p.m. EDT (23:52 UTC) from either SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Base or SLC-39a at Kennedy Space Center. There is a typical four-hour launch window for launching this batch of Starlink V2 mini satellites into low-Earth orbit.

Details are still emerging, the booster has not yet been handed over, nor the autonomous drone ship on which it will land some 600 kilometers further.

Falcon 9 Block 5 | NROL-146

Falcon 9 is planned to launch no earlier than Sunday, May 19, from SLC-4E at Vandenberg Space Force Base, carrying a classified mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). Details for the payload aboard this NROL-146 mission are obviously limited, but it is understood it will be the first of six batches to be launched this year in a new satellite imaging constellation. The NRO awarded $1.8 billion contracts to SpaceX and Northrop Grumman to build these satellites in 2021.

Troy Meinke, principal deputy director of the NRO, said at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Strategic Forces that this will be the first operational launch of the NRO's new expanded architecture, noting that performance on previous NROL launches had given a comfortable sense of cost. Was established. And performance. Although the agency has not specified the estimated constellation size, nor disclosed the number of satellites in this first payload, it has suggested that the project could provide a tenfold increase in intelligence gathering and that it Will quadruple the number of satellites. To revolve around.

The booster for this mission has not been officially announced yet. It is expected to land on an autonomous droneship of course i still love you,

(Main image: The Atlas V N22 stack with Starliner Calypso awaiting launch from the first crewed launch attempt last week. Credit: United Launch Alliance)


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