Status Report

Jonathan’s Space Report No. 559 2005 Dec 29

By SpaceRef Editor
December 29, 2005
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After a month without orbital launches, Dec 21 saw three orbital launches on a single day (as well as a suborbital Russian submarine missile launch). By Dec 29 Russia had launched eight satellites within eight days, repeating a familiar Russian operational pattern of a late November launch gap followed by a flurry of activity at the end of December before the new year holiday.

Progress M-55

The robot cargo spaceship Progress M No. 355 was launched as mission Progress M-55, ISS flight 20P, on a Soyuz-U from Baykonur. The 7-tonne craft docked with the Station’s Pirs module at 1946 UTC on Dec 23. The previous cargo craft, Progress M-54, will remain docked to the Zvezda module until March. Soyuz TMA-7 is docked to Zarya.


A Gonets-D1M (‘messenger’) low orbit communications satellite was launched on a light Kosmos-3M rocket on Dec 21 into a 1440 x 1450 km x 82.5 deg orbit. Gonets-D1M (or Gonets-M) is the civilian version of the military Strela-3 low orbit communications constellation. The launch also carried a military satellite called Rodnik, with cover name Kosmos-2416. I don’t know anything about Rodnik – the best guess is that it is an upgrade of the Strela-3. The Strela-3, originally flown in groups of six on the retired Tsiklon rocket, has been launched in pairs on Kosmos-3M since 2002 to the same orbit, so it makes sense that this is another pair of Strela-3 buses but with improved payloads.

Ariane 5

Arianespace continues its string of successes with the launch of Ariane vehicle 525, a standard (5GS) model with the EPS upper stage. It put the Insat-4A and MSG-2 satellites in orbit. The EPC core stage reached a 44 x 1702 km x 6.5 deg transatmospheric orbit and reentered over the Pacific. The EPS stage made a single burn to 620 x 35853 km x 3.9 deg and released the two satellites and the Sylda adapter.

Insat-4A is the first of a new series of Indian communications satellites. Built at ISAC/Bangalore, it is a 3081 kg (full; 1385 kg dry) satellite with Ku-band and C-band transponders. The Insat 4 series are slightly heavier than the Insat 2 and Insat 3 satellites they are replacing, but represent an enhancement rather than a new bus. Insat 4A made three orbit raising burns and reached geostationary altitude over the Indian Ocean at 0430 UTC on Dec 26, successfully deploying its solar arrays.

MSG 2 (Meteosat Second Generation) is a spin-stabilized weather satellite continuing the European Meteorological Satellite Organization (EUMETSAT) series of Meteosat geostationary weather satellites; it will become Meteosat 9 once operational. Launch mass is 2036 kg; dry mass is around 1000 kg. After reaching geostationary drift orbit, two covers on the SEVIRI telescope were ejected on Dec 29 over 30.4 deg E (at 0445 and 0500 UTC, according to Vladimir Agapov. Space Command has not cataloged the two 1-meter covers ejected from MSG-1/Meteosat-8, so probably won’t see the ones from this launch either).


On Dec 25 Russia launched a Proton with the Block 34 launch of three GLONASS navigation satellites; one Uragan, serial No. 798, and two improved Uragan-M, serial number 713 and 714. They were given Kosmos cover names. In recent years, GLONASS launches involved two of the old Uragan and only one Uragan-M.

Launch was by Proton serial number 410-12 according to the site; the satellites are in a 19110 x 19130 km x 64.8 deg orbit; the Proton third stage was tracked in a low parking orbit and the Blok-DM2 fourth stage is in a 19072 x 19122 km x 64.9 deg orbit. Two small ullage motors used to force fuel to the back of the tanks for the DM2 second burn are thought to be in elliptical transfer orbit, but have not yet been cataloged.


On Dec 28 a Starsem Soyuz-FG rocket with a Fregat upper stage delivered the 602 kg Surrey-built GIOVE-A satellite to orbit. GIOVE-A, the Galileo In-Orbit Validation Element, is Europe’s first navigation test satellite and is a precursor to the Galileo system which will be the European equivalent of GPS. GIOVE-A is owned and developed by the European Space Agency, but the operational GNSS (Galileo Navigation Satellite System) itself is a European Union project. GIOVE-A carries two rubidium atomic clocks and a large L-band phased array antenna.

The Soyuz-FG entered a mildly suborbital trajectory and its upper stage fell in the Pacific. The first Fregat burn reached a roughly 220 km circular orbit, probably at 52 deg inclination; the second burn was to a transfer orbit around 220 x 23200 km; and the third burn put GIOVE-A in its initial 23011 x 23258 km x 56.05 deg orbit. Unfortunately the Starsem press kit does not give details of the Fregat rocket burns, so the details here are guesswork. The quoted target orbit is 23616 km circular, easily within reach of GIOVE-A’s butane propulsion system.

The three modern navigation satellite systems are quite similar: the United States GPS satellites are in a 20140 x 20220 km x 55.0 deg orbit, the Russian GLONASS system is in a 19120 x 19140 km x 64.8 deg orbit, and the initial GIOVE planned orbit is 23616 x 23616 x 56.0 deg. All of them transmit at L-band (1.5-1.6 GHz). Contrast this with the first generation navsat systems, which used Doppler beacons instead of atomic clock signals – the now-retired US Navy Transits operated at 1000 x 1200 km x 90.0 deg and the Russian Tsiklon/Parus/Tsikada continue in a 970 x 1010 km x 83.0 deg orbit, both using much lower frequencies around 0.15 MHz. The higher orbits mean fewer satellites, but stronger signals.

AMC 23

SES Global’s 5035-kg AMC-23 was launched on Dec 29 by an International Launch Services/Krunichev Proton-M No. 535-13 with a Briz-M upper stage (No. 88514). AMC-23 is an Alcatel Alenia/Cannes Spacebus 4000C3 satellite which was originally built as Americom 13, then Worldsat 3, and is now to provide Ku-band and C-band multimedia and telecom services over the Pacific. The C-band payload will be partly used by the Japanese JSAT system. SES, based in Luxembourg, bought the old RCA (later GE) Americom system in 2001. The Briz-M delivered the satellite to a 6193 x 35615 km x 18.5 deg transfer orbit, leaving its secondary propellant tank in a 311 x 15526 km x 49.6 deg intermediate orbit. The Proton third stage was suborbital on this launch. AMC-23 will use its Astrium S400 apogee engine to reach geostationary orbit.

Table of Recent Launches

Date UT       Name            Launch Vehicle  Site            Mission    INTL.  
Nov  8 1407   Inmarsat 4F-2     Zenit-3SL       Odyssey, POR     Comms       44A
Nov  9 0333   Venus Express     Soyuz-Fregat    Baykonur LC31/6  Space probe 45A
Nov 16 2346   Spaceway 2 )      Ariane 5ECA     Kourou ELA3      Comms       46A
              Telkom 2   )                                       Comms       46B
Dec 21 1838   Progress M-55     Soyuz-U         Baykonur LC1/5   Cargo       47A
Dec 21 1934   Gonets-D1M   )    Kosmos-3M       Plesetsk LC132/1 Comms       48A
              Kosmos-2416  )                                     Comms       48B
Dec 21 2233   Insat 4A   )      Ariane 5GS      Kourou ELA3      Comms       49A
              MSG 2      )                                       Weather     49B
Dec 25 0507   Kosmos-2417 )     Proton-K/DM2    Baykonur LC81/23 Navigation  50A
              Kosmos-2418 )                                      Navigation  50B
              Kosmos-2419 )                                      Navigation  50C
Dec 28 0519   GIOVE A           Soyuz-FG/Fregat Baykonur LC31/6  Navigation  51A 
Dec 29 0228   AMC 23            Proton-M/Briz-M Baykonur LC200/39 Comms      52A

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SpaceRef staff editor.