News of December 2001

Dates are those of the events (in UT) when available.
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Commercial Launchers | Government Launchers | Small Launchers
Missile Systems | RLVs, Reentry and Manned Systems | Space Propulsion
Spaceports | Industry | Launch Market | Agencies and Governments

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  Commercial Launchers

Cryospace Delivers ESC-A Tank
December 19

Cryospace, a joint-venture of Air Liquide and EADS Launch Vehicles, has delivered the liquid hydrogen tank for the first flight model of Ariane 5's ESC-A upper stage. Built in Les Mureaux, near Paris, the tank, which features a dome-shaped bulkhead to house the liquid oxygen tank, will be shipped to Astrium GmbH in Bremen, Germany, for integration into the stage. The maiden flight of the ESC-A, on an Ariane 5ECA, is tentatively scheduled for July 2002.

ILS Claims 12 Contracts in 2002
December 12

International Launch Services announces that it has signed contracts for 12 launches in 2001. These include five launches on GKNPTs Khrunichev Proton vehicles with Alcatel Space for two SES Americom satellites, with Echostar Corp. for Echostar 8, with Société Européenne des Satellites for Astra 1K and with an unidentified customer for a single satellite. Seven contracts were signed for launches on Lockheed Martin Atlas launchers. Four contracts are for Atlas 5 launches with Eutelsat for Hot Bird 6 on the maiden flight in May 2002, with Inmarsat for one of its Inmarsat 4 series spacecraft and with Lockheed Martin for two launches, one of which was assigned to Télésat Canada's Nimiq 2 direct broadcasting satellite. Two launches were booked on Atlas 3 with Asiasat for its Asiasat 4 satellite and with Echostar for its Echostar 7. Eventually ILS contracted with Space Communications Corp. of Japan to fly its Superbird 6 on the last Atlas 2AS
Editor's note: At least one of the two Alcatel satellites due to fly on Proton has already been cancelled but the launch contract is said to be still valid. The unidentified Proton customer could be Intelsat.

Astrium Delivers VEB for Ariane 5ECA
December 10

Astrium has delivered the first qualification Vehicle Equipment Bay for Arianespace's new Ariane 5ECA launch vehicle. The VEB will be shipped to Kourou, French Guiana, and mated to an ESC-A cyogenic upper stage to undergo a series of interface testing on the launch pad that will include stage chilldown, fuelling and dumping. The first flight of the Ariane 5ECA is due by mid-2002.

Intelsat to Launch on Proton, Zenit
December 10
The newly privatized Intelsat has reportedly selected Sea Launch Co. and International Launch Services to loft its next generation of satellites, the Astrium-built Intelsat 10. Two 5.7-ton Eurostar 3000 satellites are due for launch in 2003, on an upgraded version of the Zenit 3SL and a GKNPTs Khrunichev Proton.
Editor's note: Industry sources report that Sea Launch's bid was below US$60-million, i.e. well below the quoted price of the Zenit 3SL vehicle (US$80-85 million). The current demonstrated payload capacity of the Zenit 3SL to geostationary transfer orbit is 5,250 kg but Sea Launch claims to be able to increase it by 14% within one year by some minor modifications such as the removal of some equipment and the increase of the second stage's RD-120 engine's thrust.
Proton M and Zenit 3SL
(ILS/Sea Launch)

Due to the limited payload capability of the current Proton K/DM combination, the selected Proton vehicle is likely to be a Proton M/Breeze M which was tested once in April. It is the first time since the Intelsat 5 series in the late 70s that Intelsat backs off from its conservative policy of selecting only flight-proven launch systems.

Yuzhnoye Bids for Galileo Launches
December 4

NPO Yuzhnoye has proposed its Zenit 2 vehicle as a candidate launch system to deploy Europe's Galileo constellation of navigation satellites. The other identified bid on this mission is a joint offer by Arianespace and Starsem with a mix of Ariane 5ECB and Soyuz/ST vehicles. Galileo launches are tentatively scheduled to begin in 2004.
Editor's note: The proposed version is likely to be the modernized Zenit 2M featuring digital avionics from Sea Launch's Zenit 3SL version. An upper stage would be needed to complete the satellites deployment on their final 10,000-km-high orbit. Commercial launches of the Zenit 2 for non-Russian customers would be marketed by Sea Launch Co.

Yuzhnoye Proposes Zenit 3SL Upgrade
December 3

NPO Yuzhnoye is studying an upgraded version of the Zenit 3SL launch vehicle with new first stage carrying more propellant to increase the payload capacity to geostationary transfer orbit to 7,500 kg. The new stage will be made of a single liquid oxygen tank with two 22-m long, 2.2-m-diameter strap-on tanks for kerosene. This concept would allow to produce and fly the new vehicle with existing infrastructure.
Editor's note:
Sea Launch Co. is not involved in this study and has no plan to introduce this version in the short term according to its chairman & CEO, Wilbur Trafton. Current upgrades of the Zenit 3SL are focusing on a payload increase to GTO from 5,250 kg to 6,000 kg and most of this additional performance will result from a new thrust regime on the second stage's RD-120 engine which will be increased to 912 kN.

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  Government Launchers

Russia Meets Launch Schedule
December 28

Russia announces that, for the first time in five years, it has successfully completed all planned space launches of its calendar year. In all 23 orbital launches were conducted by the military space forces, including 7 Soyuz Us, 5 Proton Ks, 2 Molniya Ms, 2 Soyuz FGs, one Kosmos 3M, one Proton M and one Start 1 as well as four Ukrainian launchers - two Tsyklon 3s, one Tsyklon 2 and one Zenit 2.
Editor's note:
This schedule apparentely does not take into account at least three Proton K launches for International Launch Services which slipped to 2002 (DirecTV-5, Intelsat 903 and Astra 1K). A Soyuz launch, to loft a military reconnaissance satellite, is also suspected to have been postponed.

100th Delta 2 Delivers Satellites on Two Orbits
December 7

Boeing's 100th Delta 2 vehicle (a 7920 model) demonstrated high flexibility by delivering two satellites on two different orbits after liftoff from Vandenberg AFB, California. The Jason 1 joint CNES/JPL oceanography spacecraft was first delivered on a 1,320 x 1,330-km orbit with a 66.0° inclination after two burns of the second stage's GenCorp Aerojet AJ10-118K engine. Two more burns enabled the release of NASA's TIMED (Thermosphere, Ionosphere, Mesosphere, Energetics and Dynamics) satellite on a lower 627 x 640-km orbit with a 74.1° inclination.
Editor's note: This mission was the second to use the Astrium-designed Dual Payload Attached Fitting (DPAF), a dual launch payload adapter derived from Ariane's Sylda concept. Jason 1 is the first satellite to use the new Proteus multipurpose platform for small satellites jointly developed by Alcatel Space and CNES.

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  Small Launchers

Japan's METI Supports J-2 Development
December 10
Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) plans to invest ¥2.4 billion (US$20 million) to support the development of the GX medium-lift launch vehicle by Galaxy Express, a joint-venture led by Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries (IHI) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) . Total development cost of the GX is estimated at ¥50 billion (US$400 million), of which the Japanese government will provide one-third through the National Space Development Agency of Japan and some ministries. METI's support will concentrate on guidance software and hardware.

Editor's note: The GX launcher, formerly known as the J-2 or J-1U, will consist ina hydrocarbon first stage based on a Lockheed Martin Atlas tankage and powered by a Russian NK-33 engine provided by GenCorp Aerojet. The upper stage will be fuelled by liquid methane and liquid oxygen and powered by a new engine developed by IHI. First launch is due in 2006. In addition to IHI anfd MHI, the partners of the Galaxy Express venture are Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd., IHI Aerospace Co. (the former Nissan Aerospace), Japan Aviation Electronics Industry Ltd., Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. and Kokusai Sohko Co.

Tsyklon 2 Upgrade Proposed
December 4

NPO Yuzhnoye proposes to turn its military Tsyklon 2 two-stage vehicle in a launcher more suitable for commercial missions. The new version would feature the injection module of a decommissioned RS-22 ballistic missile (SS-24 'Scalpel') as a highly maneuverable upper stage and a redefined launch profile to keep longitudinal accelerations below 7 g. The payload capacity would be 1,800 kg at 750 km altitude and 65° inclination.
Editor's note: The Tsyklon 2 has a reported 100% launch success on 103 missions since 1969.

Eurockot Lands More Contracts
December 4

Eurockot Launch Services GmbH announces that it has signed contracts for two launches on November 19 with an undisclosed customer. The two undisclosed payloads are scheduled to fly on Rokot vehicles by mid-2002 and mid-2003. In addition, Eurockot has contracted with the Czech Academy of Sciences to fly its MIcroaccelerometric Measurement Of Satelite Accelerations (Mimosa) microsatellite as a co-passenger to Canadian Space Agency's Most on the first "Launch-a-Piggy" (LAP-1) flight on a Rokot KS in October 2002. Built by Space Devices Ltd., Mimosa will study the density of the uppermost levels of the atmosphere.
Editor's note: Eurockot's new customer could be its own shareholder GKNPTs Khrunichev which earlier announced that it would subcontract the launch of two Intersputnik 100M geostationary communication satellites to its subsidiary. These 450-kg spacecraft, based on Khrunichev's new Yakhta bus, will be launched to low Earth orbit and will complete their flight to geostationary orbit using a plasma propulsion system.

Rokot KM

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  Missile Systems

Russia to Reduce Missile Forces
December 26

Russia plans to reduce the number of its ballistic missiles by about 30% by 2006, limiting its operational fleet to 500. The reduction would be parallel to a proposed reduction of the number of nuclear warheads to 1,500-2,200 units.

Missile Defense Ground-Based Interceptor Fails
December 13

The second test flight of the Ground-Based Interceptor developed by Boeing Missile Systems & Tactical Weapons for the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense Segment (formerly National Missile Defense system) ended in failure about 10 seconds after launch. The three-stage vehicle, based on an Alliant TechSystems GEM-40 solid rocket motor as first stage with two Pratt&Wittney Chemical Systems Division Orbus 2 motors as second and third stages, weered off course shorly after leaving its silo in Vandenberg AFB, California. The flight termination system was activated and the booster crashed in the ocean some 10 km downrange. The 1st Booster Verification Test (BVT-2) flight was successfully conducted on August 31.

GBI prototype in integration


Editor's note: The GBI is intended to replace the Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space Payload Launch Vehicle as the primary booster for the Exo-atmospheric Kill Vehicle interception test flights as well as for the operational system. Before this failure the first interception test with the GBI/EKV combination was due in 2003 from the Kwajalein Missile Range. However, the GBI development program is already 16 months beyond schedule and both Orbital Sciences Corp. and Lockheed martin are studying Alternate Boost Vehicles for the EKV to replace Boeing as GBI prime if the current design cannot be developed in time.

U.S. to Pull Out of ABM Treaty
December 12

U.S. president George Walker Bush has told leaders of the U.S. Congress that he intends to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty signed in 1972 with the Soviet Union by mid-2002. An official announcement is expected on December 13 and a formal note will be sent to Russia in January as the treaty requires a six-month notice before abandoning the pact.
Editor's note: The launch of an unarmed Minuteman 3 ballistic missile, presumably to test missile defense tracking radars that would breach the ABM treaty, has been on hold since October and was recently re-mainfested for July 2002.

M51 SLBM Deployment Testing
December 10


EADS Launch Vehicles plans to conduct a series of deployment tests of the M51 sea-launch ballistic missile from French Navy's nuclear submarines through late 2002, using a full-scale dummy missile, dubbed 'Jonas.' These tests will include submarine ejection of the missile and validation of the interfaces with the submarine. Two validation tests of critical elements of the Jonas mock-up were successfully completed in Marseille on November 15 and 28.
Editor's note: The M51 program was decided in January 1996 to replace French navy's current M45. The M51 is a cheaper version of the M5, whose development had been decided in 1992 but was facing major cost difficulties. EADS Launch Vehicles is prime contractor for the program on behalf of the Délégation Générale pour l'Armement, the French Ministry of Defense's procurement agency.
Russia and U.S. Meet Disarmament Objective
December 5

Both the United States and Russia have reportedly met the disarmament objectives set by the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start 1) signed on December 4, 1994. The treaty commanded that within 7 years, the number of ground-based strategic ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads be decreased to 1,600 missiles and 6,000 warheads for each country. The treaty lasts for another 8 years with control teams from each countries visiting the other's facilities to ensure compliance with the regime.
Editor's note: Under the Start 2 treaty Russia and the U.S. will have to reduce further their arsenal to 3,500 warheads.

Successful Missile Defense Test
December 4

Minuteman 2 and PLV
(U.S. Air Force/LMMS)

After multiple postponements since October 24, the U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense Organization eventually conducted its third successful interception test of a simulated incoming intercontinental ballistic missile in five attempts. An Orbital Sciences Target Launch Vehicle (TLV), based on a refurbished Minuteman 2 ballistic missile, was launched from Vandenberg AFB, California, carrying a dummy warhead and a decoy balloon. Some 20 minutes later, a Lockheed Martin Payload Launch Vehicle (PLV), based on the second and third stages of a decommissioned Minuteman 2, was launched from the Kwajalein Missile Range, Marshall Islands, carrying a Boeing-Raytheon Exo-atmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV). The PLV was reportedly guided by a beacon onboard the target warhead but the EKV used its onboard sensors for the final interception, after successful discrimination between the warhead and the decoy.
This interception test, part of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense Segment (formerly National Missile Defense system) development, was similar to the previous one, on July 14. A more complex 6th interception test, is tentatively planned for February 2002.
Bad Weather Delays Missile Defense Test
December 2

Bad weather conditions over the Vandenberg AFB area, in California, have forced the U.S. Air Force to postpone again its fifth interception test for the development of a Ground-Based Midcourse Defense Segment (formerly National Missile Defense system) on behalf of the U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense Organization. A new launch attempt is tentatively planned on December 4 (December 3 PST).

Missile Defense Test Postponed
December 1st

The fifth interception test to be conducted by the U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense Organization for the development of a Ground-Based Midcourse Defense Segment (formerly National Missile Defense system) had to be postponed by 24 hours as high winds over Vandenberg AFB, California, prevented the launch of a refurbished Minuteman 2 ballistic missile which was due to loft a dummy warhead and a decoy balloon to serve as targets for the Raytheon Exo-atmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV). A new launch attempt is tentatively planned on December 3 (December 2 PST).
Editor's note: The test previously slipped from November 29 due to a damage detected on the Minuteman payload fairing. An ablative insulation layer had to be glued back into position.

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  RLVs, Reentry and Manned Systems

Preparation for Shenzhou 3 Underway
December 31

People's Liberation Army Daily reports that thousands of technicians and military personnel volunteered to cancel their holidays in order to continue to prepare the launch of the Shenzhou 3 prototype manned spacecraft at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre (JSLC).
Editor's note: This announcement follows a 10-day full scale tracking rehearsal at sea by China's entire fleet of Yuanwang tracking ships.

Successful X-38 Drop Test
December 13

X-38 Drop Test

A subscale test model of NASA's X-38 crew return vehicle demonstrator successfully completed the eighth drop test flight in the program. Vehicle 131R, a 82% model of the actual operational CRV, was released from a B-52N carrier aircraft at 13,725 m, its highest altitude to date. The vehicle reached transonic speeds (more than 800 km/h) during its 4,200-m glide down before its drogue chute slowed it to 95 km/h in order to enable the deployment of its 700-sq.m parafoil. The following 12-minute descent was controlled by a NASA pilot astronaut from a remote cockpit simulator. Landing occured at lees than 60 km/h on Rogers Dry Lake near the Dryden Flight Research Center, in Edwards AFB, California, which is in charge of the test campaign on behalf of the Johnson Space Center.

Editor's note: The success of this test flight, which demonstrated technologies which could be sued on other fiuture manned space systems, was of paramount importance for the team developing the CRV in order to preserve the program from further budget cuts and actual cancellation.

X-33 Demonstrator Scrapped
December 12

Dismantlement of the NASA/Lockheed Martin X-33 single-stage-to-orbit technology demonstrator has begun at U.S. Air Force Plant 42, in Palmdale, California. Hardware from the ill-fated partly-assembled vehicle, will be dispatched between NASA and subcontractors for use on future programs.
Editor's note: The US$1.2-billion X-33 program was terminated in March. A plan to complete the vehicle on behalf of the U.S. Air Force was shelved in September. Lockheed Martin's highly innovative VentureStar design had been selected in July 1996 against a winged vehicle designed by Rockwell International and McDonnell-Douglas Delta Clipper vertical take-off and landing concept.

X-38 Drop Test with Astronaut in the Loop
December 7

NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center will conduct the eighth drop test flight of a X-38 crew return vehicle demonstrator model on December 13. This test flight, the third of Vehicle 131R, is presented as the "highest, fastest and longest" ever conducted and will feature a NASA astronaut, Ken Hamm, remotely piloting the vehicle and its parafoil from a simulated cockpit through an hybrid synthetic vision system combining actual video from the demonstrator and computer generated 3D topography of the landing zone.
Editor's note: Under current revised plans, the X-38 Vehicle 201 would conduct its orbital reentry mission no earlier than January 2005. It would then be refurbished as the first operational CRV and flown to the International Space Station in August 2008.

Weather Stops Shuttle Launch
December 4

The launch of NASA's Space Shuttle Endeavour on the STS-108 mission to the International Space Station had to be called off 5 minutes before liftoff due to weather conditions over the Cape Canaveral area in Florida with excessive moisture in the clouds and risks of rain over the thermal protection system during ascent The launch was postponed by 24 hours.
Update: The launch was successfully performed on December 5.

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  Space Propulsion

RD-180 Testing Complete
December 19

Lockheed Martin Astronautics has completed the ground testing of the NPO Energomash RD-180 engine for all versions of its Atlas 3 and Atlas 5 families of launchers.

RS-68 Certified
December 19

Boeing Rocketdyne's RS-68 cryogenic engine was certified by the U.S. Air Force for use as primary propulsion system for the Common Booster Core stage on Boeing's Delta 4 family of launchers. During its test campaign at NASA's Stennis Space Center, the RS-68 has logged 18,645 seconds of cumuilated burn time in 183 hot firing tests.

Aerojet Test Fires RCE Element
December 18

Gencorp Aerojet has completed an initial firing test campaign for the ignition and pulsing system it designed for the Reaction Control Engine (RCE), an advanced thruster system under development on behalf of NASA's Space Launch Initiative. RCE's igniter was fired for duration of 5, 10 and 20 seconds. A second series of tests, to be completed in February 2002, will focus on the engine's pulsing system.

Astrium Builds Propulsion Facility in Germany
December 14

Astrium is investing €20 million to build a new production plant for rocket engines in Ottobrunn, Germany. This 10,000-sq.m Ariane Center, to be completed during the third quarter of 2002, will be devoted to the manfacturing of combustion chambers for the Vulcain 2 and Vinci cryogenic engines for the future versions of Ariane 5. This new facility will allow to cut production cycles by 30%.

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Russia Studies Venezuelian Spaceport
December 14

Russian teams are evaluating possible sites to establish a spaceport in Venezuela for unspecified small launch vehicles. The study has reportedly been underway since October. Venezuela expects to gain from Russian technologies for remote sensing and develop its own national launch system within 20 years.
Editor's note: Russian projects for nearly equatorial launch sites have been burgeoning recently. In addition to Kourou, French Guiana, and Australia's Christmas Island, a project in Cam Ranh, Vietnam, was reported earlier this month.

Florida Launch Pad for Tsyklon 4
December 4

Tsyklon 4

As an alternate solution to Brazil's Alcântara Launch Center, NPO Yuzhnoye is considering the possibility to launch its new Tsyklon 4 vehicle from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The improved Tsyklon, to be developed in partnership with Italy's FiatAvio would be able to loft 1,350 kg to geostationary transfer orbit (28.5° inclination) from the U.S. site while a launch from Alcântara would provide a GTO payload capacity of 1,600 kg with an inclination reduced to 2.3°.
Editor's note: FiatAvio's role in the Tsyklon 4 is expected to remain limited in the short term as the Italian company is focusing its current efforts on ESA's Vega small launcher.
Khrunichev Studies Vietnam Spaceport
December 3

GKNPTs Khrunichev is reportedly studying the possibility to build a Universal Launch Platform for its Angara family of launchers in Cam Ranh, an abandoned U.S. airfield in Southern Vietnam (12°N, 109°E). International Launch Services, which plans to market the Angara outside Russia, denies any involvement in the project.
Editor's note: A site in Cam Ranh would allow launches to geostationary transfer orbit with a narrow ground track between Borneo and the Philippines. Since Vietnma is not a signatory of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the transfer of Russian launch vehicle technology to the site could lead to commercial sanctions by the U.S. State Department. KB Transportnogo Mashinostroeniya (KBTM), the designer of the Angara launch complex, is likely to be involved in the project too.

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