A Russian Dnepr rocket launched a record-breaking thirty-seven satellites on Friday morning local time, deploying a cluster of spacecraft for scientific research and commercial operation. The mission departed on schedule from Dombarovsky in Southern Russia at 01:11 local time (19:11 UTC on Thursday).
Dnepr Record Breaker:
With thirty-seven satellites aboard the Dnepr, Friday’s launch saw the record for most spacecraft launched by a single rocket broken for the fourth time in less than a year.
The previous record was set at 34 by January’s Antares launch with Orbital Sciences’ first CRS mission to the International Space Station.
Thirty-three of the satellites were deployed directly by the Dnepr – as opposed to being released by other payloads or transported to the International Space Station for later deployment – which is also a new record. That record had previously been held by an American Minotaur launch which occurred last year.
Deimos-2, KazEOSat-2 and Hodoyoshi-3 and 4 were the main payloads for what was the twentieth Dnepr launch.
Built by South Korea’s SATREC Initiative for Deimos Imaging of Spain, the Deimos-2 satellite follows on from the smaller Deimos-1 which launched in 2009.
Based around the SI-300 bus, Deimos-2 has a mass of around 300 kilograms (660 lb). It will be used for high-resolution Earth imaging; it’s EOS-D imager is capable of producing pictures at resolutions as high as 0.75 metres (2.5 feet).
KazEOSat-2, which was previously known as the Medium Resolution Earth Observation Satellite, or DZZ-MH, will be operated by Kazakhstan Gharysh Sapary, the main contractor to the space programme of Kazakhstan.
Built by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited of the United Kingdom, KazEOSat-2 is based upon the SSTL-150+ satellite bus and carries a camera which can image the Earth at resolutions of up to 6.5 metres.
The 185 kilogram (408 lb) satellite will complement the larger and higher-resolution KazEOSat-1, which was launched by Europe’s Vega rocket in April.
The University of Tokyo’s Hodoyoshi-3 and 4 are prototype remote sensing satellites.
With masses of 60 and 66 kilograms (132 and 145 lb) respectively, Hodoyoshi-3 carries two cameras with resolutions of 40 and 200 metres (131 and 656 feet), while Hodoyoshi-4 is equipped with a single, more powerful, instrument providing a resolution of 6 metres (20 ft) per pixel.
The spacecraft are also equipped for further technology demonstration, and store-and-forward communications.
The other payloads on the Dnepr include AprizeSat-9 and 10, which will be used for commercial communications. The ownership of these satellites is not entirely clear; they were built by SpaceQuest, who will operate them for the early phases of their missions.
Once operational, the two twelve kilogram satellites may be transferred to exactEarth or retained for operation by SpaceQuest. They are the eleventh and twelfth satellites in a series which was originally named LatinSat.
BRITE-Toronto and BRITE-Montreal, also known as BRITE-CA 1 and 2, are the fourth and fifth members of the six-satellite Bright Star Target Explorer (BRITE) constellation, a joint venture between Canada’s Universities of Toronto and Montreal, Austria’s University of Vienna and the Polish Academy of Sciences.
The two satellites launched on Friday form the Canadian part of the constellation, although the University of Toronto were responsible for designing all six satellites and manufacturing most of them. The final BRITE satellite, Poland’s Heweliusz, is scheduled to be launched atop a Chang Zheng 4B rocket from China later this year.
The BRITE programme is aimed at studying variations in the amount of light coming from the brightest stars visible from Earth. The Canadian satellites are identical apart from the filters used in their telescopes; Toronto’s satellite will use a red filter to study the lower-energy end of the spectrum, while Montreal’s will study light with shorter wavelengths using a blue filter.
BugSat-1, which will be operated by Argentina’s Satellogic S.A, is a 22 kilogram technology demonstrator. Intended to demonstrate a medium-resolution camera in addition to UHF and C-band communications systems, the satellite will be made available for amateur radio users at the end of its primary mission.
Saudi Arabia’s SaudiSat-4 spacecraft will be used to study whether a phenomenon called the photoelectric effect, which causes metals to emit electrons when exposed to ultraviolet radiation, can be use to cancel out electrical charges which build up in satellite components over time.
The 100-kilogram (220 lb) satellite was built by the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) in association with NASA’s Ames Research Center.
TabletSat-Aurora was developed by Russian company Sputnix. A 25 kilogram (55 lb) spacecraft, the satellite will be used to test the TabletSat-2U-EO bus upon which it is based. In addition, the spacecraft will observe the Earth, returning images with a resolution of up to 15 metres (49 feet).
The UniSat-6 satellite, of Rome’s La Sapienza University, is a technology demonstration mission which follows on from last year’s UniSat-5 mission. Like UniSat-5, UniSat-6 carries CubeSat dispensers however it lacks the PocketQube deployers flown on the previous mission.
Four CubeSats are expected to be deployed from UniSat-6 at a later date. AeroCube-6 is an American technology demonstration satellite which will be operated by The Aerospace Corporation. Intended to test a new CubeSat bus, it is a single-unit satellite with sides of 10 centimetres (3.9 in), which will collect data on radiation levels in low Earth orbit.
It is joined by Lemur-1, a prototype Earth-imaging satellite for NanoSatisfi Incorporated, also of the United States. The three-unit CubeSat carries visible-light and infrared imagers, however its primary objective is to demonstrate how the satellite bus functions under operational conditions.
A three-unit CubeSat, TigriSat, is the first satellite to be launched for Iraq. Built for the country’s Ministry of Science and Technology by Iraqi students working at the La Sapienza University in Rome, TigriSat will be used to monitor dust storms in Iraq.
Iraq previously claimed to have launched a satellite in 1989, however this was discredited after footage of the rocket exploding during first stage flight surfaced. Analysts have also determined that it was unlikely to have been an orbital launch attempt in any case.
Antelsat, the fourth satellite to be deployed from UniSat-6, will be Uruguay’s first spacecraft. It is a two-unit CubeSat, which will be used for amateur radio, Earth observation and to advance Uruguayan satellite technology.
In addition to the CubeSats aboard UniSat-6, twenty-one more will be deployed from the Dnepr itself.
DTUSat-2 is a Danish satellite being launched for the Danmarks Tekniske Universitet. It will be used to aid studies of bird migration by relaying data from GPS trackers attached to the birds. Duchifat-1 is a single-unit CubeSat which will be operated by Israel’s Herzliya Science Centre.
The spacecraft has served as an educational project and once in orbit will be used to test location determination, with the satellite returning data on its calculated position to be plotted onto maps on the ground.
Eleven Flock-1c spacecraft will be launched for Planet Labs’ Flock constellation. Earth imaging spacecraft, each three-unit CubeSat is equipped with cameras capable of producing photographs at resolutions of up to three metres.
Following four technology demonstration missions using Dove satellites, the first twenty-eight Flock-1 spacecraft were carried into orbit by January’s Cygnus mission, for subsequent deployment from the ISS. Twenty-eight more satellites will be launched aboard the next Cygnus mission, currently scheduled for July.
NanoSatC-Br 1, a single-unit Brazilian spacecraft, is based on a kit purchased from ISIS. The spacecraft carries a magnetometer to study the South Atlantic Anomaly, an area where the Van Allen belts are unusually close to the Earth’s surface exposing satellites to greater radiation levels than would otherwise be expected at those altitudes.
The Platform for Attitude Control Experiments (PACE) CubeSat will be used by Taiwan’s National Cheng Kung University to test an attitude control system, returning data on how the satellite’s orientation changes as it attempts to manoeuvre. By studying its performance, the satellite’s operators hope to be able to develop better attitude control systems for small satellites.
Perseus-M 1 and 2 are the first six-unit CubeSats to launch, with dimensions of 30 by 20 by 10 centimetres (12 by 8 by 4 in). The satellites will be operated by Russia’s Dauria Aerospace, having been constructed by Dauria’s American subsidiary Canopus Systems. Each spacecraft carries an AIS receiver intended to collect data on the position and status of ships at sea.
Ukraine’s PolyITAN-1 will be operated by the country’s National Technical University. It is intended to demonstrate that Ukraine can conduct a CubeSat mission and study the performance of the satellite’s single-unit bus in orbit. POPSAT-HIP-1 will test attitude control and imaging systems for Singapore’s Microspace Limited. It is a three-unit CubeSat.
The last two CubeSats, QB50P1 and QB50P2, form part of the QB50 programme which aims to launch and operate a constellation of fifty small satellites for scientific research. These two demonstration satellites will be operated by Belgium’s von Karman Institute with contributions from other institutions.
QB50P1 carries an Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer, an attitude control experiment, a thermocouple to monitor the spacecraft’s temperature and FUNCube-3, an amateur radio payload for the Dutch branch of AMSAT. QB50P2 carries the same attitude control system and thermocouple, combining them with a French amateur radio system and the FIPEX experiment for the Technical University of Dresden, which will study the oxygen flux in the satellite’s environment.
Converted from the R-36 missile, the Dnepr is a three-stage rocket which incorporates the two stages of the R-36MUTTH, with the missile’s post-boost module converted to act as a third stage and satellite dispenser.
The R-36 originally served as an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering an 18 megaton nuclear warhead, although later versions were equipped to carry up to ten Multiple Independently-Targetable Reentry Vehicles (MIRVs), each armed with a nuclear device.
Another variant, the R-36O, was designed to place its warhead into orbit, and then deorbit it onto a target anywhere in the world.
This was subsequently banned under an international treaty in 1979.
The Dnepr made its first launch in April 1999, when it deployed Britain’s UoSAT-12. Among the other payloads it has launched on previous missions are the two Genesis demonstrators for Bigelow Aerospace.
Launched in 2006 and 2007, these prototype inflatable space station modules paved the way for the work Bigelow is now doing on inflatable space habitats and an experimental module for the International Space Station.
Friday’s launch marked the Dnepr’s twentieth flight, with only one of its previous missions ending in failure. That came in July 2006, when a first stage hydraulic failure brought down a cluster launch which had been carrying eighteen satellites.
The Dnepr launched from a silo at Site 370/13 of Russia’s Dombarovsky launch site. The first stage did not ignite until the missile is clear of the silo, with ejection being accomplished by means of a gas generator at the aft of the vehicle which separated shortly after ejection is complete.
The first stage was powered by four RD-263 engines, while an RD-0255 powers the second stage and an RD-869 powered the third. The payloads were enclosed within a Gas Dynamic Shield, which protected them from the exhaust of the third stage, in addition to a regular payload fairing.
This shielding is necessary because, due to its missile heritage, the third stage flies backwards with the payloads mounted on the same side as its engine nozzles.
Spacecraft separation occurred while the stage was still firing, with the satellites ejecting from the back of the rocket. Once separation was complete, the stage continued to burn to remove itself from the operational orbit.
The Dnepr launch was the thirty-fourth orbital launch of 2014, and the first to make use of a Dnepr. The Dnepr’s next launch is scheduled for no earlier than August, with five satellites including Japan’s Hodoyoshi-1 and Asnaro-1.
Russia’s next launch, in early July, will see a Proton-M orbit a Luch communications satellite. This will be a return-to-flight mission for the Proton, which suffered its ninth failure in ten years in May.