Status Report

Jonathan’s Space Report, No. 606

By SpaceRef Editor
February 16, 2009
Filed under ,

Shuttle and Station

The Expedition 18 crew of Michael Fincke, Yuriy Lonchakov and Sandra Magnus continue work on board ISS. An incorrect configuration during a 2-minute orbit reboost on Jan 14 caused severe resonance oscillations on the Station, but NASA reports that no damage seems to have been done to the structure.

Progress M-01M undocked from the Pirs module at 0410 UTC on Feb 6. On Feb 8 it fired its engines at 0732 UTC to put it on a disposal trajectory into the Pacific; the debris fell in the ocean at 0820 UTC.

Progress M-66 was launched from Baykonur on Feb 10 and docked with Pirs on Feb 13 at 0719 UTC.


The first Iranian satellite was launched into orbit on Feb 2 at around 1834 UTC +/- 5 min on a southeastern trajectory from an unidentified launch site in Iran. Two objects are in orbits of 245 x 378 km x 55.51 deg and 245 x 439 x 55.6 deg; radio signals picked up by Bob Christy, Sven Grahn and Greg Roberts confirm that 2009-04A is the Omid payload and the 2009-04B is the Safir rocket final stage. Omid’s orbit is close to the announced plan of a 250-350 km altitude. The Iranian Students News Agency calls the launch vehicle Safir-2; it’s not clear if this is represents a different vehicle type from Safir-1, or just a serial number. Pictures of the launch show “Safir – Omid (2) IRILV” painted on the side of the rocket. Based on an Iranian video showing an animation of the launch, it appears that Safir is a two-stage launch vehicle.

The launch animation shows two half-annular payload clamps jettisoned into orbit at the time of spacecraft separation. These have not yet been cataloged.

The satellite has a mass of 27 kg (ISA web) or 25 kg (IRINN news agency) and it is a 0.40m cube. It carries an instrument to measure the space environment, and a GPS receiver modified for use in the unstabilized (i.e. tumbling) satellite, according to the Iranian Space Agency web site (Thanks to Reza Farivar for translation). IRNA associates the project with “Saa Iran Industries”, and connects it with the celebrations for the 30th anniversary of the revolution that brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power.

The launch site is believed to be at 35.23N 53.92E, southeast of Semnan (based on the work of Geoff Forden; it’s possible another site was used.) The ground track passes over this site at 1838 UTC. This isn’t the launch time, since the orbital track doesn’t take the slow first few minutes of flight into account. I looked at the difference between launch time and time of orbit-over-launch-pad for the two-stage Soviet 11K63 vehicle and found an offset of 4 to 5 minutes. If this offset applies to Safir, and the identification of the launch site is correct, the launch time would have been 1833-1834 UTC. (I also looked at 1963-1964 two-stage Thor Agenas and got offsets ranging form 1 to 4 minutes so I suspect the uncertainty in this correction is itself of order 3-4 minutes).

It is still not clear whether the 2008 Aug 16 Safir launch was just a test, or an orbital attempt that failed. The conclusion that Safir is a two-stage vehicle and not, as had been speculated, a three-stage one, tips me slightly more in favor of the orbital-attempt theory.


Russia’s Koronas-Foton solar physics satellite was launched on Jan 30. It will study flares in extreme UV, X-ray and gamma rays. The spacecraft is based on VNII EM’s Meteor-3 weather satellite bus, unlike earlier Koronas missions which were based on the Ukranian AUOS bus. Koronas-Foton entered a 539 x 562 km x 82.5 deg orbit.


The NOAA-N’ satellite was laucnhed on Feb 6 from Vandenberg; it was renamed NOAA 19 once it reached its 846 x 865 km orbit. NOAA 19 is the last in a long series of civil POES (Polar Orbiting Environmental System) satellites launched since Tiros 1 in 1960. The satellites were all built by RCA/East Windsor and its corporate successors (now Lockheed Martin). The original NASA Tiros satellites (1 to 9) were followed by the the TOS (Tiros Operational Satellites) Tiros 10 and ESSA 1-9, owned by the Weather Bureau (later ESSA, later NOAA), and then by the ITOS (Improved TOS), ITOS 1 and NOAA 1 to 5. A new design flew as Tiros N in 1978, with its siblings NOAA 6, B, 7 and 12; finally the Advanced Tiros N flew as NOAA 8-11 and 13-19. The DMSP Defense Meteorological Satellite Program satellites have a similar design; three remain to be launched.


Two Ekspress communications satellites were launched on Feb 10 for Kosmicheskiya Svyaz, the Russian Communications Satellite Co. Ekspress AM-44 is another in the AM series built by Reshetnev, with a mass of 2532 kg. The satellite has a L, C, Ku and Ka band communications payload. Ekspress MD-1 is the first in a new series built by Krunichev and based on the Kazsat satellite; it has a mass of 1140 kg and carries C and L-band transponders. Both communications payloads were supplied by the European company Thales Alenia Space.

The Ekspress satellites were launched by a Proton-M with a Briz-M upper stage, using an unusual low (48 degree) inclination ascent trajectory to maximize payload capacity.

Ariane 5

Ariane 5 flight V187, vehicle L545 took off from Kourou on Feb 12. Its two communication satellite paylods were Eutelsat’s Hot Bird 10 and SES New Skies’ NSS 9. Ejected from the ASAP5 adapter on the upper stage were two small French military satellites, SPIRALE A and B. The 117 kg SPIRALE satellites carry infrared telescopes and will demonstrate a French missile early warning capability.

Low Earth Orbit debris

On Feb 10 at 1656 UTC two satellites collided in orbit 776 km above the Taimyr Peninsula in the Russian Arctic, generating hundreds of debris objects. This is the first accidental collision between two large payloads. The victims were Iridium 33 (24946), a circa-600-kg operational commercial communications satellite, and Kosmos-2251 (22675), an 800 kg 1993-era Strela-2M communications satellite belonging to the Russian Ministry of Defence. The Strela-2M satellites had lifetimes of around 3 years, and Gen. Yakushin of the Military Space Forces was quoted in Moscow Times as saying Kosmos-2251 went out of service in 1995. It did not carry a propulsion system; Iridium was active and did have propulsion, but apparently no collision avoidance maneuver was made.

The Iridium satellite spanned about 5 meters across its solar arrays. Strela-2M used gravity gradient stabilization, and probably spanned 17 meters including the gravity boom. When calculating collision probabilities, it’s important to remember that booms and antennae mean that many satellites have much larger cross-sections than the size of their main body would imply.

The debris from the collision has not yet been cataloged. A bright fireball seen over Texas on Feb 14 is almost certainly not related to this or any other artificial space debris.

Geosynchronous debris

Several new pieces of debris have been cataloged at geostationary altitudes. 33521 (1981-049D) is probably the GOES 5 apogee kick motor, and is in a 33801 x 49662 km x 22.1 deg orbit. (A sounder cover from the same mission is still unaccounted for). 33519 (1977-92L) is debris from the Ekran 2 battery explosion in 1978 Jun. 33509-33513 (1968-81K-P) are debris from the disintegration of Transtage 5 in 1992 Feb. This is the first time a large group of geosynchronous-band debris objects have been added to the catalog, but there must be many more not yet identified by the tracking network.

Table of Recent (orbital) Launches

Date UT       Name            Launch Vehicle  Site            Mission    INTL.  
Jan 18 0247   USA 202 (NROL-26) Delta 4H         Canaveral SLC37B  Sigint    01A
Jan 23 0354   Ibuki      )      H-IIA 202        Tanegashima       Rem.Sens. 02A
              SDS-1      )                                         Tech      02C
              SOHLA-1    )                                         Imaging   02
              SpriteSat  )                                         Science   02
              Kagayaki   )                                         Tech      02
              KKS 1      )                                         Imaging   02
              Kukai      )                                         Tech      02G
              PRISM      )                                         Imaging   02B
Jan 30 1330   Koronas-Foton     Tsiklon-3        Plesetsk         Solar phys 03A
Feb  2 1834?  Omid              Safir            (Iran)            Test      04A  
Feb  6 1022   NOAA 19           Delta 7320-10C   Vandenberg SLC2W  Weather   05A
Feb 10 0549   Progress M-66     Soyuz-U          Baykonur LC31     Cargo     06A
Feb 11 0003   Ekspress AM-44 )  Proton-M/Briz-M  Baykonur LC200/39 Comms     07A
              Ekspress MD-1  )                                     Comms     07B
Feb 12 2209   Hot Bird 10 )     Ariane 5ECA      Kourou ELA3       Comms     08A
              NSS 9       )                                        Comms
              Spirale A   )                                       Early Warn
              Spirale B   )                                       Early Warn

Table of Recent (suborbital) Launches


Date UT     Payload/Flt Name  Launch Vehicle  Site            Mission    Apogee/km
Dec 23 0300   RV-1 )          Bulava          TK-208, Barents R&D          100?
              RV-2 )
              RV-3 )
              ?    ) (Number of reentry vehicles unknown)
Jan 10 2317   NASA 30.073UO   Imp. Orion      Poker Flat      Ionosphere    98
Jan 26 0015   S-310-39        S-310           Andoya          Atmosphere   140?
Jan 29 0949   NASA 36.242UE   Black Brant IX  Poker Flat      Aurora       364
Jan 29 0951   NASA 21.139UE   Black Brant VC  Poker Flat      Aurora       133

|  Jonathan McDowell                 |  phone : (617) 495-7176            |
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SpaceRef staff editor.