Triple success for Russia / ESA

by Chris Bergin

A trio of launches took place in the space of four hours on Wednesday. A further three launches are scheduled over the next eight day period.

The Russian Progress M-55 re-supply ship was first, launching from Baikonur on a Soyuz-U – en route to the ISS. A Cosmos-3M rocket, carrying two satellites, then followed an hour later from the Plesetsk space pad. Finally, the Ariane 5 G was back in action with the launch of MSG-2 and INSAT 4A from French Guiana.
The Progress M-55 launched at 6:38pm UK time (1:38pm Eastern), set to arrive at the Pires docking port on Friday evening (7:55pm UK time). The 20th Progress to head to the ISS will be a welcome arrival for NASA astronaut Bill McArthur and Russian cosmonaut Valery Tokarev – now three months into the stay on the ISS – with their Christmas presents arriving on the shipment, along with over 9,000 lbs of cargo on board.

Follow the specific Progress M-55 prep and launch thread – with pictures and timelines, here:

The launch of the Cosmos-3M rocket, carrying two satellites from the Plesetsk space pad in Russia’s Arkhangelsk region, was delayed from yesterday’s scheduled lift off time, due to a fault with the rocket computer systems during pre-launch.

‘A mechanical fault in the automatic systems was revealed during the pre-launch procedures, and therefore the rocket launch was postponed to Wednesday,’ Russian Space Forces spokesman Alexei Kuznetsov told Interfax on Tuesday.

The rocket was carrying the Rodnik military satellite – which has now been re-named Kosmos-241 after achieving orbit. It will be used by the Russian Ministry of Defence, with its exact purpose classified.

Also heading uphill was the Gonets-D1M satellite – joining and replenishing the current network of satellites. The highly unusual-looking craft will add to a Russian low-orbital system of a personal multifunction satellite communication – which transmits digital, speech, text and video data.

The launch took place at the scheduled time of 7:34 UK time.

For further information, images and launch progress, click here:

Rounding up the busy day of launches was the Arianespace Ariane 5 G launch from the European Space Agency spaceport in French Guiana.

The Ariane 5 G was be carrying two satellites, launching at the scheduled time of 10:33pm UK time, with the INSAT 4A communications satellite and the Meteosat Second Generation spacecraft (MSG-2) – Europe’s newest meteorological satellite.

The go-head was granted after engineers confirmed the November 16 launch of an Ariane 5 ECA on Flight 167 went to plan, with no outstanding issues with the vehicle.

The first of this breed of spacecraft (launched as MSG-1, since renamed Meteosat-8) was launched in August 2002 – and declared operational in January 2004. With the launch of MSG-2, two MSG satellites will be functional in geostationary orbit, the operational one being at 0 degrees longitude which is above equatorial West Africa, the other being on stand-by with 10 degrees of separation, to ensure continuity of service into the future.

‘The larger, more powerful Meteosat Second Generation design takes images at more wavelengths and at shorter intervals than its parents, making it particularly suitable for short-term forecasting of sudden troublesome weather phenomena, such as snow, thunderstorms and fog,’ noted ESA.

The INSAT 4A – a telecommunications satellite – was placed into orbit for the Indian Space Research Organisation.

The successful flight by the Ariane 5 tonight marks Arianespace’s 24th year of dual-satellite launches. Most notably the first of those missions was conducted with an Ariane 1 launcher on June 19, 1981 – which carried the Indian APPLE experimental geostationary communications satellite, along with the Meteosat F2 spacecraft, direct descendants of tonight’s payload.

Follow the specific Ariane 5 G prep and launch thread – with news and live launch coverage, here:

Three more launches will finish off a busy year – especially for the Russians, who have a trio of missions over a four day period, as follows:

December 25 – Baikonur – Proton-K/DM-2 – two Glonass-M and one Glonass.
December 28 – Baikonur – Soyuz-FG/Fregat – GIOVE-A.
December 29 – Baikonur – Proton-M/Briz-M – AMC-23 (WorldSat-3).

Up-to-date information on all unmanned space flight can be viewed here:

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