Status Report

Jonathan’s Space Report No. 547 2005 May  8

By SpaceRef Editor
May 9, 2005
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Space Station

The Soyuz TMA-6 spaceship was launched from Baykonur on Apr 15 at 0046 UTC on the Soyuz-FG No. 14 launch vehicle. It entered orbit at 0055 UTC and docked with the Station’s Pirs module at 0220 UTC on Apr 17. Commander is Sergey Krikalyov of Russia; Flight engineer-2 is John Phillips of NASA. Together they make up the Space Station’s Expedition 11. After docking Krikalyov became the Station commander and Phillips became the Station flight engineer and Science Officer. Soyuz flight engineer-1 was Roberto Vittori of the European Space Agency, on the ENEIDE mission, designated EP-8 (visiting crew 8).

It’s interesting to note that Russia has managed a very regular launch schedule to the Station since 2000, with launches every April and October (the April 2000 launch was the last flight to Mir, and was followed by the first Soyuz flight to ISS in Oct 2000).

(Note: Soyuz TMA is the kind of spacecraft that docked to the Station; its mass is around 7 tonnes. Soyuz FG is the kind of rocket that launched the Soyuz TMA, with a mass of around 300 tonnes.  AP said “A Russian Soyuz-FG rocket carrying two astronauts and a cosmonaut arrived at the international space station Saturday night” – this is a goof, although I admit it’s confusing that the spaceship and its launch vehicle have similar names.)

Soyuz TMA-5 landed with Sharipov, Chiao and Vittori on Apr 24 at 2207:27 UTC, after undocking from Zarya at 1845 UTC and a deorbit burn at 2117 UTC. The crew landed on muddy ground in Kazakhstan at 51 03N 67 18E.

The Expedition 11 crew of Krikalyov and Phillips were expecting to greet the STS-114 Shuttle crew in only a few weeks, but the Shuttle’s return to flight has been delayed until at least July while new ice countermeasures are added to the External Tank. After further tests at the pad, the Shuttle will be rolled back to the VAB and removed from the ET-120/RSRM-90 stack, probably to be assembled instead to the ET-121/RSRM-91 stack originally planned for STS-121.


NASA’s DART (Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology) mission began on Apr 15 with the 1627 UTC takeoff of Orbital’s L-1011 Stargazer aircraft from Vandenberg. At 1726:50, passing through the drop box at 123W 36N, the airplane dropped its Pegasus XL cargo and five seconds later the Pegasus XL first stage ignited on its way to space. At 1736 UTC the Orion 38 solid motor third stage completed its burn at about 500 km altitude and entered orbit. The DART spacecraft is built around the Pegasus HAPS hydrazine-fuelled fourth stage, which fired at 1738 UTC to raise apogee to around 760 km (orbital data from prelaunch estimates). DART, which is controlled autonomously by on-board software with no ground commands, made rendezvous with the MUBLCOM satellite at about 0400 UTC on Apr 16. The plan was to stationkeep within a few meters but not make physical contact. Initial reports said DART closed to within 100m, but then detected that it was running unexpectedly low on propellant and backed off from the target to end its mission prematurely. Alarmingly, it now seems that DART collided gently with MUBLCOM, changing its orbit by a tiny amount. It’s still not clear if this was a physical collision, or the effect of DART’s rocket plume hitting MUBLCOM. Tracking data show MUBLCOM in a 739 x 749 km orbit prior to the rendezvous and 741 x 750 km afterwards. In any case, this is bad news for the robotic rendezvous tech, as you want to avoid unwanted collisions above all – software should have aborted  the approach if there was a chance of hitting the target. After the mission, DART’s HAPS stage fired again on Apr 18 to lower its orbit to 394 x 746 km.


Boeing Sea Launch orbited the Spaceway communications satellite on Apr 26. The 6080 kg Spaceway 1, owned by DirecTV, carries 48 high-frequency Ka-band transponders for data transmission and television broadcasting. The satellite was placed in a slightly subsynchronous transfer orbit of 261 x 34097 km x 0.02 deg. In an unusual orbital strategy,  Spaceway has used a mixture of perigee and apogee burns to reach a 17-hour elliptical orbit of 10507 x 45519 km x 0.13 deg by May 6; presumably it will circularize once the period has been raised to 24 hours.

NRO satellite

A classified NRO satellite was launched by Lockheed’s Titan IV B-30 from Cape Canaveral on Apr 30. Analysts have suggested it is a radar imaging satellite, the fifth in the LACROSSE/ONYX series built by Lockheed Martin/Denver. The satellite has been observed in a 481 x 705 km x 57.0 deg orbit by hobbyists from Toronto to Moscow, and the launch was visible to many along the east coast of the US. The satellite used its onboard propulsion system to circularize the orbit at 712 x 718 km x 57.0 deg early on May 4.

The Titan core’s first stage fell in the ocean off Newfoundland, safely missing the Hibernia oil platform whose proximity to the planned impact zone had triggered controversy about the launch in Canada.


India’s PSLV-C6 put its Cartosat-1 mapping satellite in orbit on May 5. The satellite has 2.5-meter resolution cameras. The launch inaugurated a second PSLV pad at the Satish Dhawan Launch Center on Sriharikota Island. HAMSAT, or VUSAT, is a small secondary amateur satellite from AMSAT-VU, the Indian branch of the amateur satellite organization. The satellites are in a 609 x 646 km x 97.9 deg orbit. The PS4 final stage is in a 607 x 717 km x 97.8 deg orbit following its depletion burn, together with two small debris pieces.

Table of Recent Launches

Date UT       Name            Launch Vehicle  Site            Mission 


Apr 11 1335   XSS-11            Minotaur        Vandenberg SLC8  Tech 11A Apr 12 1200   Apstar 6          CZ-3B           Xichang          Comms 12A Apr 15 0046   Soyuz TMA-6       Soyuz-FG        Baykonur LC1     Spaceship 13A Apr 15 1726   DART              Pegasus XL/HAPS Vandenberg       Tech 14A Apr 26 0731   Spaceway 1        Zenit-3SL       Odyssey          Comms 15A Apr 30 0050   USA 182?          Titan 4B        Canaveral SLC40  Radar? 16A May  5 0445   Cartosat )        PSLV            SDLC SLP         Imaging 17A               HAMSAT   )                                         Comms 17B

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