China and Russia launch a bunch of satellites

Russia today used its Soyuz-2 rocket to launch three communication satellites plus 19 commercial smallsats.

This was the first time Russia used the Soyuz-2 for these particular small communications satellites, as previously they had been launched by a variety of smaller rockets.

China in turn today used its Long March 4B to place two Earth resource satellites into orbit.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

25 China
15 SpaceX
10 Russia
4 ULA
4 Europe (Arianespace)

China has moved ahead of the U.S. 25 to 24 in the national rankings.

These numbers should change again in the next few days. The U.S. has had a number of scrubs and launch delays in the past few days. ULA has been repeatedly pushing back the previously delayed launch of a National Security Agency reconnaissance satellite due to a variety of problems related to its Delta 4 Heavy rocket. The launch is now set for just after midnight tonight (Monday night). [UPDATE: Launch scrubbed due to lightning and poor weather. Tentatively rescheduled for 11:58 pm (Eastern) on September 29.]

SpaceX meanwhile had to scrub a launch this morning (September 28) of another 60 Starlink satellites due to weather. No new launch date has yet been announced.

Northrop Grumman also has had to scrub tomorrow’s Antares launch of a Cygnus cargo freighter because of poor weather at Wallops Island. It is now set for the evening of October 1st.

SpaceX also has a scheduled launch tomorrow morning of a GPS satellite on its Falcon 9 rocket. This is also threatened by weather. There is also no word whether the ULA launch scrub will cause this launch to be delayed.

Russians sign deal to fly two tourists to ISS

Capitalism in space: Now that their Soyuz capsule is no longer required to fly NASA astronauts to ISS, the Russians have spare seats, and have now signed a deal with Space Adventures to fly two tourists to ISS in late 2021.

They will announce the tourist’s names later this year.

Space Adventures also has a deal with SpaceX to fly two tourists on a Dragon capsule on a week-plus long orbital mission (not docking with ISS). SpaceX also has a deal with the space station company Axiom to fly tourists to ISS. Next year could thus see two or three tourist flights to space.

Isn’t competition wonderful?

Fuel leak in Russian rocket in French Guiana

According to French engineers in French Guiana, “systematic signals from the alarm system [have been detected] indicating the presence of oxidizer vapors” from the Fregat upper stage for a Russian Soyuz-2 rocket.

Russia is sending a team of its own engineers there to trouble-shoot what is essentially a fuel leak.

It also suggests that Russia’s systemic quality control problems in its aerospace industry have not been solved.

From my perspective, I don’t see how Russia can really eliminate what appears to be poor workmanship throughout their space industry without introducing competition, something they have banned with the consolidation of their entire aerospace industry into a single government-run corporation.

Russia launches Progress freighter to ISS

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

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

6 China
6 SpaceX
6 Russia

The U.S. now leads both China and Russia 10 to 6 in the national rankings. This is the first time that Russia has been able to keep up with China in launches in several years. Since China had expected to launch more times than Russia in 2020, this suggests that China’s launch rate has been reduced because of the Wuhan flu. It at least appears that many of their smaller launch rockets have suspended launches.

We have also heard nothing recently about China’s planned mid- to late-April first launch of its Long March 5B. With only six days left in the month, one wonders if this launch too has been delayed.

Soyuz successfully launches three astronauts to ISS

The Russians early today successfully launched three astronauts into orbit, using their Soyuz-2 rocket and Soyuz capsule.

The crew, heading to ISS, is two Russians and one American, with the American the last purchased seat bought by NASA on a Soyuz. Unless they sign a new deal with Russia, the next Americans to go to ISS must fly on American capsules.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

6 China
5 SpaceX
5 Russia
2 Europe
2 ULA

The U.S. continues to lead China 9 to 6 in the national rankings.

Russia and China launch satellites

Today both China and Russia successfully placed satellites into orbit. China’s Long March 2D rocket placed four “technology test” satellites into orbit, while Russia used its Soyuz-2 rocket to launch a military communications satellite.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

4 China
3 SpaceX
2 Arianespace (Europe)
2 Russia

The U.S. continues to lead China 6 to 4 in the national rankings.

Russia and India launch satellites

Two launches since yesterday. First, Russia used its Soyuz-2 rocket to place another GPS-type Glonass satellite into orbit. This was Russia’s 20th successful launch in 2019, the first time that country has hit that number since 2015.

Then India used its PSLV rocket to launch a military radar reconnaissance satellite.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

29 China
20 Russia
12 SpaceX
7 Europe (Arianespace)
6 Rocket Lab
6 India

China remains the leader in the national rankings, 29 to 25 over the U.S.

Russians launch military satellite

Using a Soyuz-2 rocket the Russians today successfully launched a classified military satellite from its spaceport in Plesetsk.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

26 China
18 Russia
11 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)

China continues to lead the U.S. in the national rankings, 26 to 23.

These numbers will change again later today if Arianespace successfully launches two communications satellites. They have been trying to launch now for three days, but minor technical problems and weather have stymied them.

Roscosmos cuts price for Soyuz rocket launch

Russia has announced it is now charging only $48.5 million for a Soyuz-2/Freget launch, a significant reduction in its previous launch prices.

The basic price to launch Russia’s Soyuz-2.1 carrier rocket with the Fregat booster will stand at about $48.5 million, the Russian launch service provider, Glavkosmos Launch Services, has said. “On the first day of the International Astronautical Congress in Bremen, our team announced the basic price to launch a Soyuz-2.1 carrier rocket with the Fregat booster. It comes to $48.5 million,” the company said in a statement, posted on Facebook.

The launch of the Soyuz-2.1 without the Fregat booster would cost about $35 million. “Therefore, the delivery of 1 kg of cargo by a Soyuz-2 rocket will cost $20,000-30,000… which is below the average market price,” the statement reads.

This makes the rocket competitive with SpaceX’s Falcon 9, though (I think) it cannot place as much payload into orbit. This price drop also proves that SpaceX’s low prices are not merely “dumping,” as claimed by Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin. The Russians have now shown that they can launch at this price, just as SpaceX has. It merely took the competition from SpaceX to force them to cut costs for their customers.

Soyuz launches Russian GPS satellite

A Russian Soyuz-2 rocket today successfully placed one of that country’s GPS satellites in orbit.

Russia now has the lead over SpaceX in the 2017 launch race, having completed 14 launches, one more than SpaceX. It however trails the U.S.’s total (19) by 5. That U.S. total did not rise yesterday because a scheduled Atlas 5 launch by ULA was delayed because of a battery problem. Its new launch date is tomorrow.

Russia to phase out use of Ukrainian-built Soyuz rockets

As part of a major upgrade of its Soyuz rocket family, Russia is also ending its partnership with Ukraine in building those rockets.

The older Soyuz rockets rely on a Ukrainian control system — a relic of the rocket family’s Soviet heritage that in the aftermath of Russia seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in March looks like a threat to Russia’s space program. The rockets are based on the same core design that launched Sputnik and Yury Gagarin into space at the dawn of the space age. “The Soyuz-U and Soyuz-FG control systems are analog [systems] made in Ukraine,” Alexander Kirilin, CEO of the Progress Rocket and Space Center in the Volga city of Samara told Interfax on Monday.

However, the Soyuz 2 rockets use a Russian-made digital control system. Aside from further moving Russia’s space industry away from its reliance on Ukrainian components, the digital control system allows the rockets to handle a wider variety of payloads — making the tried-and-tested Russian rocket more versatile than ever before.

It is Russia’s plan to complete the transition to the new wholly Russian Soyuz 2 rockets for ISS missions within the next three years.