Russian/Ukrainian Zenit rocket puts Angola’s first satellite into orbit

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A Ukrainian Zenit rocket with a Russian Fregat upper stage successfully launched Angola’s first communications satellite into orbit today. [Update: While the rocket succeeded, it appears there is a problem with the satellite, which Russia built for Angola. Engineers have lost contact with it.]

The launch occurred earlier today, but it took nine hours for the Fregat upper stage to complete several engine burns and maneuvers to place the satellite in the correct orbit. Considering that it was a Fregat upper stage that caused the launch failure of a Soyuz rocket last month, it seemed wise to wait for these maneuvers to complete successfully before announcing this launch a success.

That Russia and Ukraine worked together to make this happen is quite amazing, considering that the two countries are essentially still fighting a war against each other. It also indicates, as noted by this article, that the future of Zenit and the Ukrainian rocket industy might not be dead.

Angosat 1 was originally supposed to blast off on a Zenit rocket from Sea Launch’s commercial ocean-going platform in the Pacific Ocean. But Sea Launch flight operations ceased in 2014, and Russian officials considered launching Angosat 1 on the heavy-lift Angara 5 rocket before deciding last year to put the satellite on a fully-assembled Zenit booster already in storage at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

At the time of the last Zenit launch in December 2015, there were no more missions on the Ukrainian-made rocket’s manifest, leaving the Zenit program’s future in question.

But with the switch of Angosat 1’s launch to a Zenit rocket, and the purchase of Sea Launch infrastructure mothballed in Long Beach, California, by a commercial Russian airline company, there are plans for the resumption of Zenit missions in the future. The new Sea Launch company, called S7 Sea Launch, ordered a dozen new Zenit launch vehicles from Yuzhmash in April for ocean-based missions and flights staged from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Another Zenit rocket is slated to launch a long-delayed Ukrainian telecom satellite from the Baikonur Cosmodrome next year.

This launch also probably closes out the launch schedule for 2018, with the standings as follows:

29 United States (including all companies)
20 Russia
18 SpaceX
17 China

Russia, China, and SpaceX have all indicated that they are aiming for a launch rate of about 30 launches per year. If that happens in 2018, we could see the most rocket launches next year since the late 1980s.



  • geoffc

    R-171 is what Tim Allen meant on Tool Time when he said “More power!” Almost 1.8 million lbs thrust! F-1 equivalent in scale.

    THAT is what a main engine should perform like. None of this piddly 190Klbs thrust so that you need 9 of them. Pshaw! (Sure with 9 smaller ones you can land, but more power!!!)

  • Localfluff

    So the story goes that they couldn’t launch it on the bankrupt rocket, because of some proxy-armed conflict in Nooneknowsland. Instead, they for a while booked it on one of the many non-existing launchers. But since the blueprints weren’t making the customers satisfied enough to make the final payouts, they finally just happened to find an old rocket in some storage building. The failure was due to the payload (not to the delays, or so I suppose they will argue years to come).

    Since they need help, they are free to quote me in their commercials without charge. It’s Xmas.

  • CaptainEmeritus

    It has been reported, the satellite ceased communicating as it was separated from the upper stage that placed it into the geostationary transfer orbit.

  • Lee S

    Bob, you must know that the”war” on Russia, by the USA and Europe is as much theater as anything else…
    Russia has no need, no money for, and quite frankly no intention of expanding its borders… the war games are there to sell arms.
    It is no surprise that backstage its business as usual…

  • Lee S wrote, “Russia has no need, no money for, and quite frankly no intention of expanding its borders.”

    Hm. I wonder would the people in the Crimea would say to that, since they were in the Ukraine before this war started and now are under Russian rule. As are large areas of the Donbass region. See for example the map here, which clearly shows that Russia has expanded its borders significantly since the war started in 2014.

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