Status Report

Jonathan’s Space Report No. 599 2008 Sep 4

By SpaceRef Editor
September 5, 2008
Filed under , ,

Test launch of Iranian satellite launch vehicle

On Aug 17 the Fars news agency reported the launch of the Omid (‘Hope’) satellite from Iran. The BBC reports the name as ‘Safir-e Omid’ (‘Envoy of hope’). However, other reports indicate that this was either a suborbital test or a launch of a dummy satellite, and that the Omid satellite was not aboard. According to an article by Jim Oberg, launch was at 1932 UTC Aug 16 and the second stage failed catastrophically at 152 km. Launch was from the site south of Semnan in the northern part of the Dasht-e-Kavir desert.

Previous reports of Iranian space activity have been mangled by poor translation. I am not sure whether this was only a suborbital test launch of a prototype satellite launch vehicle, or was a failed orbital attempt. It is also unclear whether the orbital version has two or three stages; a Feb 2008 AP report suggests 3 stages and I find this more plausible. In any case, it does now seem clear that no satellite reached orbit on this try.

The launch vehicle is probably derived from the Shahab-3 missile, which in turn is descended from the North Korean Nodong. A mockup of the vehicle shown earlier this year had the words ‘SAFIR IRILV’ on the side in the Roman alphabet. ‘Safir’ means ‘envoy’ or ’emissary’, and IRILV presumably stands for Islamic Republic of Iran Launch Vehicle. The Al Alam (Tehran) news channel’s web site reports that ‘Safir Omid’ is 22m long and 1.25m in diameter with a (launch) mass of 26t. Most analysts seem to have concluded that ‘Safir’ is the name of the rocket and ‘Omid’ of the proposed payload, and I think that is probably correct.


GLAST (the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope) has been renamed FGST (Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope). Both the LAT and GBM instruments are returning good data.


Ariane vehicle L542 launched two communications satellites on Aug 14. Superbird 7 (which will be called Superbird C2 in service) is a Ku-band Mitsubishi Electric (MELCO) DS2000 class satellite for Japanese television broadcasting, and AMC 21 is a Ku-band satellite for SES Americom’s North American services. AMC 21 uses an Orbital Star 2 bus with a Thales Alenia comms payload.


The Inmarsat 4F3 maritime communications satellite was launched by a Khrunichev Proton on Aug 18. The Inmarsat satellite was deployed in a 4310 x 35812 km x 22.8 deg orbit with the Briz-M stage after intermediate orbits of 172 x 173 km x 48 deg, 254 x 5000 km, and 408 x 35876 km x 46 deg. The Briz-M drop tank is in a 312 x 13603 km x 46.2 deg orbit; the Proton third stage fell back to Earth from a -919 x 164 km x 47.9 deg orbit.

Inmarsat 4F3 is an Astrium/Toulouse Eurostar 3000 satellite with a launch mass of 5960 kg and a solar panel span of 45m, with a large 10-m diameter L-band mobile comms antenna. It is owned by INMARSAT Ltd. of London, the now-privatized International Maritime Satellite Organization.

ATK Launch Vehicle

Alliant TechSystem’s suborbital ATK Launch Vehicle (ALV) had its first launch on Aug 22 at 0910 UTC from pad 0B at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, Virginia. Intended to reach around 370 km, it went off course and was destroyed at an altitude of around 3.5 km, 27 seconds after launch. The rocket used an Orion 50S first stage and Star 37FMV second stage, and carried the HyBOLT and SOAREX-VI hypersonic research experiments.


Kosmotras has launched a Dnepr rocket carrying five commercial imaging satellites for RapidEye AG of Brandenberg. The satellites have a moderate resolution imager (around 6 meter resolution) to provide rapid response data products for agricultural applications like storm damage assessment. They were built by Surrey Satellite in Guildford.

Dnepr launches result in two objects cataloged in orbit together with the payloads, one in the payload delivery orbit and one in a much more elliptical orbit. One object is the launch vehicle upper stage, which unusually is mounted above the payloads, reflecting its heritage as a missile MIRV bus; the second object is a ‘gas dynamic shield’ below and covering the payloads, which is ejected once orbit is reached. The upper stage separates in a posigrade (forward) direction, with thrust continuing after payload separation. Therefore, we can assume that the eccentric orbit object is the rocket stage and the low orbit object is the plume shield. In STRATCOM’s satellite catalog, names assigned to the objects agree with this assessment for most Dnepr launches, but 2006-029 and 2007-028 have the objects swapped. I suspect this is an error, and assume that for the RapidEye launch object 2008-40H is the rocket stage, in a 617 x 1350 km orbit, while 2008-040G is probably the plume shield, in a 598 x 631 km orbit similar to the RapidEye payloads.

Table of Recent (orbital) Launches

Date UT       Name            Launch Vehicle  Site            Mission    INTL.  
Jul  7 2147   Protostar 1  )    Ariane 5ECA      Kourou ELA3       Comms     34
              Badr 6       )                                       Comms     34
Jul 16 0520   Echostar 11       Zenit-3SL        SL Odyssey, POR   Comms     35A
Jul 22 0240   SAR-Lupe 5        Kosmos-3M        Plesetsk          Radar     36A
Jul 26 1831   Kosmos-2441       Soyuz-2-1B       Plesetsk LC43/4   Imaging   37A
Aug  3 0334   Trailblazer )     Falcon 1         Omelek            Tech      F01
              PreSat      )                                        Tech      F01
              Nanosail-D  )                                        Tech      F01
              Celestis    )                                        Burial    F01
Aug 14 2044   Superbird 7 )     Ariane 5ECA      Kourou ELA3       Comms     38A
              AMC 21      )                                        Comms     38D
Aug 16 1932   Test payload?     Safir            Semnan            Test      F02?
Aug 18 2243   Inmarsat 4 F3     Proton-M/Briz-M  Baykonur LC200/39 Comms     39A
Aug 29 0716   RapidEye-1 )      Dnepr            Baykonur LC109    Imaging   40A
              RapidEye-2 )                                         Imaging   40B
              RapidEye-3 )                                         Imaging   40C
              RapidEye-4 )                                         Imaging   40D

RapidEye-5 ) Imaging 40E

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SpaceRef staff editor.