Russia launches Progress with cargo to ISS

Russia today used its Soyuz-2 rocket to launch a new Progress freighter to ISS, with its docking to the station to occur shortly.

The leaders in the 2023 launch race:

34 SpaceX
19 China
7 Russia
4 Rocket Lab

The U.S. still leads China 38 to 19 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 38 to 32. SpaceX by itself now trails the entire world, including American companies, 34 to 36.

Russia’s Soyuz-2 rocket launches classified military satellite

Russia today successfully launched a classified military satellite, using its Soyuz-2 rocket lifting off from Plesetsk spaceport in northern Russia.

The rocket traveled north over the Arctic Ocean, so its first stage fell harmlessly into the ocean.

The leaders in the 2023 launch race:

21 SpaceX
11 China
6 Russia
3 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise still leads China 24 to 11 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 24 to 21. SpaceX now trails the rest of the world, including other American companies, 21 to 24.

Russia launches military satellite

Using its Soyuz-2 rocket, Russia today launched a classified military satellite into orbit, lifting off from its Plesetsk spaceport in northern Russia.

The rocket flew north over the Arctic, with its first and second stages falling into the ocean.

The leaders in the 2023 launch race:

19 SpaceX
11 China
5 Russia
2 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise still leads China in launches 21 to 11 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 21 to 18. SpaceX now trails the entire world combined, including American companies, 19 to 20.

Russians launch unmanned Soyuz to ISS

The Russians today successfully launched an unmanned Soyuz capsule to ISS to replace the capsule damaged by a coolant leak in December.

The new capsule will dock to ISS in two days, on February 25th. Then on February 27th a Falcon 9 rocket will launch four astronauts on its Endurance reusable Dragon capsule. The damaged Soyuz capsule will be de-orbited shortly thereafter.

Because of the new Soyuz was intended to remain in orbit with its crew until September, Roscosmos and NASA agreed to keep the crew from the damaged Soyuz on ISS until then, making the mission of these two Russians and American Frank Rubio about a year long. There is a chance Rubio could set a new record for the longest American mission, depending on the exact day his mission returns.

The 2023 launch race:

12 SpaceX
6 China
3 Russia
1 Rocket Lab
1 Japan
1 India

American private enterprise still leads China 13 to 6 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 13 to 11. SpaceX alone still leads the entire world 12 to 11.

South Korea officially cancels Russian launch contract, signs Vega-C instead

South Korea yesterday officially announced that it has canceled a Russian contract that was supposed to use an Angara rocket to launch a multi-purpose satellite last year and signed a deal with Arianespace to use the Vega-C rocket instead.

The cancellation appears directly because of the sanctions against Russia due to its invasion of the Ukraine. Picking the Vega-C as a replacement at this moment however seems a strange choice, considering its last launch was a failure and it has failed three times in the last eight launches. I suspect Arianespace gave South Korea an extremely good price.

Meanwhile, South Korean officials still seem willing to continue another Russian launch contract, using a Soyuz-2 rocket launching from Kazakhstan. According to the article, officials are right now merely negotiating a launch date.

Soyuz-2 rocket launches Russian military satellite

Russia today successfully placed a military surveillance into orbit using its Soyuz-2 rocket, launching from its Plesetsk spaceport.

Like most launches from Plesetsk, the first stage and fairings landed in the interior of Russia, the drop zones in its far north.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

54 SpaceX
54 China
21 Russia
9 Rocket Lab

The U.S. still leads China 78 to 54 in the national rankings, but trails the entire world combined 85 to 78.

Russian Progress freighter successfully launches to ISS

Using its Soyuz-2 rocket Russia tonight successfully launched a new Progress freighter to ISS.

The spacecraft will take two days to rendezvous and dock with ISS, thus delivering 2.5 tons of cargo.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

48 SpaceX
45 China
18 Russia
8 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise still leads China 68 to 45 in the national rankings, though it now trails the rest of the world combined 72 to 68.

Russia launches 4 satellites with Soyuz-2 rocket from Vostochny

Russia yesterday successfully launched four satellites from its Vostochny spaceport, using its Soyuz-2 rocket.

Three satellites were part of Russia’s data relay satellite constellation, and one was the first test satellite of Russia’s proposed low Earth orbit broadband constellation, comparable to Starlink.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

48 SpaceX
45 China
17 Russia
8 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise still leads China 68 to 45 in the national rankings, but trails the world combined 71 to 68.

Russia’s Soyuz-2 rocket launches two military satellites

Russia today successfully launched from its Plesetsk spaceport two military satellites using its Soyuz-2 rocket.

Russian sources provided little information but it appears the launch was timed to allow these satellites to come close to an American military satellite.

Today’s launch of Kosmos-2561 and 2562 also seemed to mirror the trajectory of USA-326, with the American satellite passing over the cosmodrome roughly at the time of today’s launch.

If the latest launch is an inspector mission, it is possible that Kosmos-2562 is a subsatellite that was released by 2561 shortly after launch, as previous inspector satellites have done. Kosmos-2542 was believed to have been an inspector satellite, although never confirmed by Russia, and later released Kosmos-2543.

The launch was from the interior of Russia. The Soyuz-2 version launched was one with no side boosters, so that only the expendable core stage crashed in Russia.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

48 SpaceX
45 China
16 Russia
8 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise still leads China 68 to 45, though it now trails the world combined 69 to 68.

The launch of 36 OneWeb satellites by the biggest version of India’s GSLV rocket is right now counting down for a launch shortly. You can watch it here.

Soyuz-2 launches new Russian GPS-type satellite

Russia early today launched another satellite for its Glonass GPS-type constellation, using its Soyuz-2 rocket lifting off from its Plesetsk launch site.

After the Soviet Union fell in 1991, Russia’s Glonass constellation withered, with the country for years unable to replace the satellites as they aged and died. Only after free enterprise was encouraged in the 1990s and 2000s and the economy began to boom did the Russian government finally have enough tax dollars to begin launching replacements.

The Russian invasion of the Ukraine will certainly put a crimp in this recovery. As has Putin’s policy of using the government to nationalize many industries, such as its aerospace sector.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

46 SpaceX
43 China
13 Russia
8 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise still leads China 66 to 43 in the national rankings, and the entire globe combined 66 to 64.

Russia launches three astronauts to ISS; China launches Earth observation satellite

Russia today successfully used its Soyuz-2 rocket to launch three astronauts to ISS, two Russians and an American flying as part of the NASA-Roscosmos barter deal whereby each agency flies an astronaut from the other in order to make sure everyone knows how to use each other’s equipment.

China in turn today used its Long March 2D rocket to launch an Earth observations satellite into orbit.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

42 SpaceX
38 China
12 Russia
7 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise still leads China 58 to 38 in the national rankings, and is now tied with the entire world combined at 58.

Russia and China complete launches

Both Russia and a pseudo-commercial Chinese company today completed launches.

Russia used its Soyuz-2 rocket to launch a military reconnaissance satellite for Iran, along with 16 Russian smallsats. The rocket was originally going to launch a South Korean satellite, but that launch was cancelled due to Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine.

In China, the pseudo-company Galactic Energy used its four-stage Ceres-1 rocket to place three Earth observations satellites into orbit. Because three of the rocket’s four stages use solid rocket motors, they were likely reworked from military applications. Thus, Galactic Energy does nothing without the full approval and supervision of the Chinese government. It might have been funded privately, and focused on making profits, but it really owns nothing it builds.

Nonetheless, this was its third successful orbital launch, making it the most successful of these Chinese pseudo-companies. It is also developing a Falcon 9 clone rocket dubbed Pallas-1, which it hopes to launch next year.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

34 SpaceX
29 China
11 Russia
6 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise still leads China 49 to 29 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 49 to 47. A SpaceX Falcon 9 launch later today should strengthen this lead again.

The leade

Russia launches military satellite

Russia yesterday used its Soyuz-2 rocket to launch a military satellite believed intended as an “inspector” satellite, designed to get close to and track another American military reconnaissance satellite.

While no details about this payload are known, there is a suspicion that this payload might have been launched to match the trajectory and flight path of an American satellite, USA-326. This was launched by a SpaceX Falcon 9 last February on the NROL-87 mission and went into a 512 km altitude, 97.4° inclination orbit. It is speculated to be an experimental optical reconnaissance satellite.

The launch comes after a new object was tracked just a week ago from the USA 326 spy satellite. It was designated object 53315 and cataloged in a 348 x 388 km orbit.

…The USA-326 satellite phased over the launch site just as the Soyuz-2.1v rocket launched. This also matches the northerly direction NOTAM that was announced before the Soyuz launch. What is possible is that the Kosmos-2558 payload is an inspector satellite that will be used to monitor the appearance and behavior of USA-326 and/or object 53315.

The Soyuz-2 rocket itself was a rarely used variation of this rocket, using no side boosters.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

33 SpaceX
26 China
10 Russia
5 Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab tried three times yesterday to also launch, but high winds eventually forced it to scrub the launch, rescheduling for tomorrow.

American private enterprise still leads China 46 to 26 in the national rankings, and the entire globe combined 46 to 43.

China and Russia successfully launch satellites

Both China and Russia today successfully places satellites into orbit.

China used its Long March 4C rocket to place an Earth observation radar satellite into orbit. Russia in turn used its Soyuz-2 rocket to launch a military surveillance satellite. As both launched from interior spaceports, both dumped first stages and boosters on their respective countries.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

12 SpaceX
9 China
5 Russia
2 Rocket Lab

The U.S. still leads China 19 to 9 in the national rankings.

Russia launches military communications satellite with Soyuz-2 rocket

Russia today successfully launched its tenth Meridian military communications satellite from its Plesetsk spaceport in the Russian interior, using a Soyuz-2 rocket.

Like China, Russian launches drop the expendable first stages and boosters on land. From the article:

On March 17, 2022, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced danger zones in three areas of the Komi Republic: the “Vashka” site in the Udorsky District, and “Zheleznodorozhny” site in the Knyazhpogostsky and Kortkerossky districts. According to the warning, the launch of the Soyuz-2 rocket was planned for March 22, 2022, between 15:00 and 17:00 Moscow Time (8:00 – 10:00 a.m. EDT). Backup launch opportunities were reserved for March 23, 24 and 25.

The announced impact sites matched the ground track required for the mission to access an orbit with an inclination 62.8 degrees toward the Equator, which is used by Meridian military communications satellites.

Such danger zones in Russia are the routine for every launch since Sputnik in 1957. And unlike China Russia never made any effort to develop methods for controlling the crash landing of its first stages.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

11 SpaceX
6 China
4 Russia

The U.S. still leads China 17 to 6 in the national rankings.

OneWeb signs deal with SpaceX to launch its remaining satellites, replacing Russia

Capitalism in space: Just 18 days after its contract with Arianespace was suspended because of Russia invasion of the Ukraine, OneWeb has now signed a deal with SpaceX to use its Falcon 9 rocket to launch the remaining 200+ satellites in its satellite constellation.

Few details about the agreement were released Monday morning. “Terms of the agreement with SpaceX are confidential,” OneWeb said in a statement.

OneWeb said the “first launch” with SpaceX is expected before the end of this year, suggesting the company anticipates multiple flights on SpaceX rockets.

It appears that launches could start before the end of this year

There are two big losers in this story. The obvious one is Russia, as it has lost OneWeb as a satellite customer. The second, less obvious, is Arianespace, as it appears it has also lost OneWeb as a customer. It will also have to refund OneWeb any payments the satellite company made for launches that have not occurred, even those that Arianespace had paid Russia for which Russia is refusing to refund.

Though no details have been released about the deal, I would not be surprised if OneWeb got a better price than what it was paying Arianespace. I also suspect that Elon Musk was willing to make this deal with OneWeb, the prime competitor to his Starlink satellite constellation, because he favors the Ukraine in this war.

Finally, this deal will not only make Russia look bad, it will make SpaceX look magnificent. Its PR value cannot be measured for the company.

Russia launches three Russians to ISS on Soyuz-2 rocket

Russia today successfully launched three astronauts to ISS on its Soyuz-2 rocket, the first time the crew on a Russian launch to ISS was entirely Russian.

The docking at the station is expected three hours after launch.

The reason for the all-Russian crew has nothing to do with the Ukraine War. Initially NASA and Roscosmos were negotiating to have an American on this flight as part of a barter deal, whereby astronauts from the two space agencies fly on each other’s capsules in an even trade to gain experience with each. In October both agencies agreed to hold off the first barter flight until ’22. With the on-going sanctions however it is now unknown whether that barter deal will go forward.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

10 SpaceX
6 China
3 Russia

The U.S. still leads China 16 to 6 in the national rankings, with SpaceX having a scheduled Starlink launch this evening.

OneWeb and Arianespace scramble to find a rocket to launch satellites

Capitalism in space: With the cancellation of the last six Soyuz-2 launches for OneWeb and Arianespace due to Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, the two companies are struggling to find an alternative rocket to launch the remaining 216 satellites that would complete OneWeb’s satellite constellation.

OneWeb has already paid Arianespace for the launches, so the responsibility to get the satellites in orbit is at present Arianespace’s. The problem is that its flight manifest for both the Ariane-5 (being retired) and the new Ariane-6 rocket are presently full.

Going to another rocket provider is problematic, even if a deal could be negotiated. The flight manifest for ULA’s Atlas-5 and Vulcan rockets is also filled. Though SpaceX’s Falcon 9 could probably launch the satellites, that company’s Starlink satellite constellation is in direct competition with OneWeb, which makes it unlikely the two companies could make a deal.

There have been negotiations with India to use its rockets, but it is unclear at present whether this will work.

One other option is to buy a lot of launches from the smallsat rockets of Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbiter, and Astra. This will likely cost more because more launches will be required, and that would required a complex negotiation between all parties.

Russia to lose seventeen launches due to Ukraine sanctions

This article at Space News today provides a nice summary of the number of launches that Russia’s Roscosmos will likely lose in the next three years due to the break off of commercial operations against that country because of its invasion of the Ukraine.

According to the article, Russia will lose sixteen launches. The list however misses one South Korean satellite scheduled for launch on an Angara rocket later this year. The total breakdown of this lost business is therefore as follows:

13 launches lost in 2022
3 launches lost in 2023
1 launch lost in 2024

The entities impacted are as follows:

Government launches:
Europe: six launches in ’22 and ’23, totaling eight satellites
South Korea: two launches in ’22
Sweden: one launch in ’22

Commercial launches:
OneWeb: six launches in ’22, totaling 199 satellites
Axelspace: one launch, totaling four satellites
Synspective: one launch

If the Ukraine War were to end today, it is possible that most of the government launches would be reinstated. The commercial companies however are almost certainly going to find other launch providers, no matter what. OneWeb for example is hardly going to trust its business to Russia after that country cancelled the launches and (at least at this moment) has confiscated the already delivered satellites.

If the war continues for another two or three months, then all this business will vanish for good, as alternative rocket companies will likely be found.

This list however does reveal one interesting fact. It appears that very few private companies have been interested in buying Russian launch services, with or without the Ukraine War. Most of Russia’s international customers have been other governments. Even OneWeb falls partly into this category, as it is half owned by the United Kingdom.

This fact suggests that Russia’s product has simply not been competitive against the new commercial market. The governments meanwhile probably had political motives in addition to economics to throw their business Russia’s way. Those political motives are now gone.

Confirmed: Tomorrow’s OneWeb launch on Soyuz-2 rocket cancelled

Russia’s state-run press today confirmed that the launch tomorrow of another 36 OneWeb satellites on a Soyuz-2 rocket from Baikonur has been cancelled.

The decision was announced by Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin.

He also instructed to stop preparations for the launch of British OneWeb communications satellites from three spaceports. “All the launches from all Russian launch pads in Kourou, in Baikonur and at the Vostochny Cosmodrome involving the OneWeb company are to be stopped,” the Roscosmos CEO said.

Rogozin has already said that Russia will not refund OneWeb any money it paid for any of the cancelled launches. Nor will Russia return the OneWeb satellites in Kazakhstan to OneWeb.

Meanwhile, it appears that OneWeb is aggressively searching for new launch alternatives.

“We’re looking at U.S., Japanese and Indian options,” Chris McLaughlin, OneWeb’s chief of government, regulatory affairs and engagement, said March 3. “But in the first instance, we’re pointing to Ariane and saying you still owe us a number of launches.”

This statement implies that OneWeb is trying to get Arianespace to pick up the cost of any launches where Russia has been paid but will not launch. This way OneWeb won’t have to pay twice for the launch. This strategy will only work if the partners in the European Space Agency, which owns Arianespace, decide to cover OneWeb’s losses to Russia, which makes this a political decision.

OneWeb scraps further launches from Russia

OneWeb’s board of directors has voted to cancel all further launches of its satellites from Russia, refusing to meet Russia’s demand that the United Kingdom divest its half share in the company.

On Thursday, OneWeb said the company’s board had voted to suspend all launches from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, where the Russian spaceport operated by Roscosmos is based.

OneWeb didn’t elaborate on the vote. But the UK’s Business and Energy Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, said his government had refused to divest from OneWeb, which received funding from British authorities in 2020 to stave off a bankruptcy. “The UK Government supports OneWeb’s decision,” Kwarteng tweeted on Thursday. “In light of Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, we are reviewing our participation in all further projects involving Russian collaboration,” he added.

OneWeb hasn’t commented on the company’s contingency plans. But it’s almost certainly looking for a new launch partner. Russia’s Roscosmos previously helped OneWeb send up 428 of 648 satellites for its internet system, which is designed to serve enterprise users.

This decision, combined with Russia’s decision to suspend further Soyuz-2 rocket launches from French Guiana, essentially ends Russia’s partnership with Arianespace. It also likely ends for many years Russia’s place in the international launch market. OneWeb and Arianespace were its last remaining international customers, and their business is now gone. Even if the Ukraine War was settled today, I suspect neither would wish to renew their business with Russia.

As for OneWeb, it has a number of options in the growing launch market, with Arianespace’s rockets its most likely choice. Financially, the delay hurts them in two ways: First, they have paid Russia for a number of launches already, and Russia has said it will not refund the money. Thus, those launches will cost twice as much. Second, the delay hurts them in their effort to compete with SpaceX’s Starlink constellation.

Rogozin halts launch of OneWeb satelllites planned for March 5

The head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, today announced that he has halted all launch preparations for the March 5th launch of 36 OneWeb satellites on a Soyuz-2 rocket from Baikonur in Kazakhstan unless he received reassurances by March 4th that they would not be used for military purposes against Russia.

Roskosmos head Dmitry Rogozin announced that the mission would not proceed unless he received assurances by 21:30 Moscow Time on March 4 of non-military use of the satellites. Rogozin also demanded that the British government give up its stake in OneWeb.

I suspect Rogozin’s action here is a response to SpaceX’s delivery of Starlink terminals and the activation of its use for the Ukraine to fight the Russian invasion.

It is now certain that all the planned Soyuz-2 OneWeb launches this year will likely not occur, unless the situation in the Ukraine becomes settled quickly. This means OneWeb will have to scramble to find a new launch provider and pay for the launches a second time, since they have already paid Russia for, according to sources I spoke to last night, the next four Russian launches. It won’t get a refund from Russia, for sure.

OneWeb launches from Russia threatened by Russian war in the Ukraine

While all signs suggest that this week’s launch from Kazakhstan of another 36 OneWeb satellites will proceed as planned, later Soyuz-2 launches either from Russia or French Guiana now seem doubtful.

Russia has suspended all further Soyuz-2 launches from French Guiana. And though all the Kazakhstan launches have been paid for and Russia appears willing to proceed, the war has created issues.

But even if Baikonur remains open, it is unclear whether export restrictions could affect the transport of OneWeb satellites from where they are made in Florida to the launchpad in Kazakhstan.

Another potential wrinkle, unrelated to sanctions: OneWeb has traditionally used An-124 aircraft that are operated and maintained by Ukraine’s Antonov to ship its spacecraft overseas. Availability issues aside, airspace restrictions over Europe could complicate otherwise routine logistics.

It will not surprise me if OneWeb will look for other launch services, though this will certainly damage its bottom line. First, it will likely not get a refund from Russia for the Soyuz-2 launches, which means it will pay twice for those launches if it switches to another rocket company. Second, the war is likely going to delay further launches regardless, which will delay roll out of its service and thus prevent it from obtaining customers.

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