Completed rocket launches of September 2020

9th Oct 2020
September Rocket Launches

The space industry keeps pacing forward, as more companies work on their rocket launch plans despite the pandemic. This year about seven launches are made monthly, on average. So far, July had seen the largest amount of launches (14 total, 2 unsuccessful), while the smallest number was recorded in April (5 launches, 1 unsuccessful). September was no exception to the general trend. During the month, 9 launches took place. This month has also seen some delays and failures, however in general, September rocket launches can be considered successful.

SpaceX: Successful Starship SN6 test and minus one Starlink launch

SpaceX Starship SN6

Elon Musk’s aerospace company had a head start this autumn. On 3rd September, 60 Starlink satellites were sent into orbit as planned and a Starship SN6 test flight was carried out. The latter took place at the company’s launch facility in Boca Chica, Texas and became the second successful test flight of the prototype spacecraft. SN6 climbed to a height of 150 metres, shifted slightly to the side and softly landed on an adjacent platform near the launch site.

The second launch of Starlink satellites, scheduled for 17th September, had to be postponed due to weather conditions. The company hoped to launch again on 28th September, however the weather interfered yet again and they had to reschedule to October.

ArianeSpace Carries Out SSMS Mission for ESA

Arianespace’s Vega Rocket

The launch of a Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS) mission with 42 microsatellites, nanosatellites and CubeSats for commercial and institutional clients, which has been repeatedly postponed since spring, finally took place. On 3rd September at 01:51 UTC, Arianespace’s Vega rocket successfully launched from Kourou spaceport in French Guiana. This launch is notable for ESA as the first mission to deliver multiple payloads at once.

ULA: Delta IV Heavy failed to launch again

Delta IV Heavy Rocket

One of September’s biggest disappointments is the trice-failed launch of the Delta IV rocket, which was supposed to deliver the secret US military satellite NROL-44 into orbit. During the first launch attempt on 29th August, the launch was called off three seconds before the scheduled take-off due to a failure of the cryogenic propellants. The launch was rescheduled to 5th September, and then again to 29th September. Even then, it was postponed for a day due to bad weather conditions. The last launch was cancelled 7 seconds before the rocket was set to lift-off. This time, the delay was caused by a hydraulic leak in the mobile service tower.

Rocket 3.1 Astra Space – a bad start

Astra Space Rocket 3.1

The launch of this rocket was rescheduled more than once. The reasons varied from bad weather conditions to problems in the cooling system. Finally, once the launch was scheduled for 11th September at 11:19pm, the rocket launched from the coast of Alaska, however it crash landed after a few minutes in the air.

Prior to that, the company mentioned that this planned launch is only the first test, which may well turn out to be a failure. Astra Space management was prepared for failure and treated this situation as a valuable experience. The analysis revealed that a software problem is what caused the crash. The company plans to rectify this problem and attempt a second test flight by the end of the year.

Roscosmos Soyuz 2.1.B Gonets M – planned rocket launch success

Soyuz 2 Rocket

The launch of the Russian Soyuz 2 rocket with the Gonets-M communications satellite onboard went ahead on time and proceeded as planned without interruptions. According to Roscosmos, the Gonets-M spacecraft was successfully launched into orbit and transferred to their customer’s management — the Federal Space Agency of Russia.

China ChangZheng – the magnificent five of September rocket launches

China became the absolute record holder for the number of launches in September. On 4th September, the Chángzhēng 2F medium-class vehicle gave start to the series of successful launches, starting with the lift-off of an experimental reusable spaceplane from the Jiuquan spaceport. On 7th, 15th, 21st & 27th September, small remote sensing satellites Gaofeng, Jilin, and Hayang were launched. The devices were launched into orbit by light rockets ChangZheng 4B and ChangZheng 11. The latter was launched from the offshore floating platform “Debo-3” in the Yellow Sea.

However, this lucky streak was interrupted. On 12th September, the launch of a solid-propellant vehicle “Quanzhou-1A” with the satellite “Jilin-1” failed, and the cargo rocket was lost. Unofficial sources imply that system failure occurred during the operation of the liquid fourth stage, which is supposed to launch satellites into a circular orbit.

Despite the Quanzhou failure, China is an unconditional leader in the September space race. Russia and Europe share second place, while the US lags behind on the list of September rocket launches. 

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