Jonathan's Space Report No. 590 2008 Jan 16

Status Report From: Jonathan's Space Report
Posted: Thursday, January 17, 2008


Shuttle and Station

The Expedition 16 crew of Whitson, Tani and Malenchenko remain aboard ISS. Progress M-61 undocked from the Pirs module at 0359 UTC on Dec 22. Progress M-62 was launched from Baykonur at on 0712 UTC on Dec 23 and docked with Pirs at 0814 UTC on Dec 26. (Note that until Dec 30, Space Command tracking confused Progress with its final rocket stage, which reentered on Dec 26.) Progress M-62 is spacecraft production number 362 and is ISS flight 27P.


Three Uragan-M (Glonass-M) navigation satellites, nos. 21, 22 and 23, were launched on Dec 25 by a Proton-M with a Blok DM-2 upper stage. This is the first time the Energiya Blok DM-2 (11S861) has been used with the new Proton-M launch vehicle instead of the older Proton-K.


GPS 57 made its apogee burn at 2320 UTC on Dec 22 into a 20143 x 20317 km x 55.0 deg orbit.


The African-owned RASCOM-QAF-1 satellite was still in its initial transfer orbit 10 days after launch; manufacturer Thales Alenia Space has reported a problem in its propulsion system. No new US orbital data for the satellite have appeared since Jan 1, so it may now have begun raising its orbit. Even if it reaches its geostationary location, the operational lifetime of the satellite is expected to be severely shortened.

USA 198

The National Reconnaissance Office's USA 198 spacecraft was launched into a 261 x 16776 km x 60.0 deg orbit on Dec 10. According to independent observers, it maneuvered to a 12-hour, 515 x 39705 km x 62.6 deg Molniya-type orbit sometime around Dec 28. The spacecraft is thought to be a data relay communications satellite.

Seven Mystery Skylarks

Occasionally I throw out a historical mystery in the hope that some reader will have the answer. Here is today's: the Skylark sounding rocket was the mainstay of the British suborbital space science program from 1957 to 1978, and then served as the vehicle for various European microgravity programs, especially TEXUS, until its retirement in 2005. The UK Science Research Council's Skylark science flight program was cancelled in 1977-78. But, from 1973 to 1978 there were seven launches from Woomera in the SL1290 series that appear only in a comprehensive listing of Skylarks from the manufacturer and not in any of the compendia describing the science program. What were they, and which agency launched them? Here are the details I have:

1973 Jul 17          Skylark 3 AC             SL1291
1974 Jul 22          Skylark 3 AC             SL1292
1975 Feb 28          Skylark 3 AC             SL1293
1975 Jul  3          Skylark 6 AC             SL1295
1977 Jun  8          Skylark 3 AC             SL1298
1978 Nov 15          Skylark 3 AC             SL1296
1978 Dec 13          Skylark 3 AC             SL1297

Anyone out there have any data on these launches? Geoff Richards just sent me the speculation that they might be related to development of components for the Chevaline reentry vehicle on the UK's Polaris missiles, which seems plausible. It's also possible they were some kind of ozone monitoring program by the Meteorological Office, which wouldn't have appeared in the Science Research Council documents.

NASA 36.243UG

Stephan McCandliss reports that his far UV telescope and LIDOS UV spectrograph have flown again, on sounding rocket NASA 36.243UG launched at 0523:00 UTC on 2008 Jan 11. This was the first flight of a Black Brant IX Mod 2 from White Sands. The Mod 2 uses a Mk 70 Terrier booster and the new Black Brant Mk1 sustainer. The igniter for the Mk1 was recently redesigned following the failure of NASA 40.17UE in 2006 Mar. This third flight of LIDOS was targeted on the Orion Nebula, and the orbit was around -6370 x 315 km.


NASA's Messenger probe flew past Mercury at 200 km altitude at 1904 UTC on Jan 14. This was the first Mercury encounter since Mariner 10 in 1975. The flyby hyperbola is inclined 5.0 deg to the Mercurian equator, and the encounter changes Messenger's orbit around the Sun from 0.33 x 0.75 AU to 0.32 x 0.70 AU. After more flybys, Messenger will enter orbit around Mercury in 2011.

Thuraya 3

A Boeing GEM (GEO Mobile) communications satellite with a large antenna for cellphone service was launched by Boeing Sea Launch Zenit-3SL on Jan 15. The Zenit-3SL returned to flight successfully after its 2006 failure. The payload is Thuraya 3, for Thuraya Satellite Comms. based in Abu Dhabi and was inserted into a 729 x 35889 km x 6.2 deg orbit.

Table of Recent (orbital) Launches

Date UT       Name            Launch Vehicle  Site            Mission    INTL.  
Dec  9 0015   Kosmos-2434       Proton-M/Briz-M  Baykonur LC81/24  Comms     58A
Dec  9 0231   Cosmo 2           Delta 7420-10    Vandenberg SLC2W  Radar     59A
Dec 10 2205   USA 198 (NROL-24) Atlas V 401      Canaveral SLC41   Comms?    60A
Dec 14 1317   Radarsat-2        Soyuz-FG/Fregat  Baykonur LC31     Radar     61A
Dec 20 2004   GPS 57 (USA 199)  Delta 7925       Canaveral SLC17A  Nav       62A
Dec 21 2141   Rascom-QAF-1 )    Ariane 5GS       Kourou ELA3       Comms     63A
              Horizons 2   )                                       Comms     63D
Dec 23 0712   Progress M-62     Soyuz-U          Baykonur LC1      Cargo     64B
Dec 25 1932   Kosmos-2435)      Proton-M/DM-2    Baykonur LC81/24  Nav       65A
              Kosmos-2436)                                         Nav       65B
              Kosmos-2437)                                         Nav       65C
Jan 15 1149   Thuraya 3         Zenit-3SL        Odyssey, Pacific  Comms     01A
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