Launch Roundup: ULA launches Delta IV Heavy; SpaceX launches three missions

by Trevor Sesnic

In what will be a quiet week for orbital launches, Rocket Lab launched its first suborbital Electron mission; SpaceX launched the Satria satellite to geostationary transfer orbit; China launched the Shiyan 25 payload to a Sun-synchronous low-Earth orbit; United Launch Alliance (ULA) will launch the penultimate Delta IV Heavy on the NROL-68 mission; and SpaceX launched two Starlink missions.

These missions marked 2023’s 91st through 95th launch attempts, with an orbital launch attempt occurring every 1.85 days.

Electron – DYNAMO-A

Rocket Lab’s first hypersonic accelerator suborbital test Electron (HASTE) mission lifted off on Saturday, June 17 at 9:24 PM EDT (01:24 UTC on June 18) from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 2 at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. In April of this year, the defense innovation unit selected the HASTE program to prototype a hypersonic launch under the hypersonic and high-cadence testing capabilities program. As the name implies, this program aims to increase hypersonic launch cadence and decrease cost.

Rocket Lab’s HASTE missions use its well-proven Electron launch vehicle with a modified kick stage and fairings. As the rocket is not attempting to reach orbit, Electron’s payload capacity increases to 700 kilograms; however, due to the classified nature of this mission, the payload and its mass are not known.

The suborbital launch had an inclination of roughly 38 degrees with the payload splashing down around 61 degrees West, 35 degrees North. Rocket Lab later confirmed the mission was successful.

Falcon 9 – Satria (PSN MFS)

On Sunday, June 18 at 6:21 PM EDT (22:21 UTC), SpaceX launched its 41st mission of 2023 on the Satria mission. Launching from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, the Falcon 9 launched the Satria (also known as PSN MFS) Indonesian Ka-band high-throughput communications satellite to geostationary transfer orbit.

The satellite will then spend the coming months raising its orbit into the 146-degree East geostationary Earth orbit slot.

Based on the Spacebus-Neo-200 fully electric satellite bus, Satria, which was built by Thales Alenia Space, has a mass of roughly 4,700 kilograms and an on-orbit lifespan of roughly 15 years. The satellite is operated by Satelit Nusantara Tiga and will provide 90,000 schools, 40,000 hospitals, and many other residential and government sites in Indonesia with 150 gigabits per second connectivity. The satellite has two deployable solar arrays and batteries to power the spacecraft during the lunar night.

The booster supporting this mission was B1067-12, which had previously supported CRS-22, Crew-3, Turksat-5B, Crew-4, CRS-25, Hotbird 13G, O3b mPOWER 1 and 2, and four Starlink missions. Following launch, the booster landed on SpaceX’s autonomous spaceport drone ship A Shortfall of Gravitas, which was tugged roughly 683 kilometers in the Atlantic Ocean by Doug. Additionally, Doug recovered of both fairing halves ~45 minutes after launch, 793 km downrange.

HR/MIN/SEC Satria Launch Sequence
00:01:14 Max Q (moment of peak mechanical stress on the rocket)
00:02:33 1st stage main engine cutoff (MECO)
00:02:37 1st and 2nd stages separate
00:02:44 2nd stage engine starts (SES-1)
00:03:30 Fairing deployment
00:06:33 1st stage entry burn starts
00:06:54 1st stage entry burn ends
00:08:10 2nd stage engine cutoff (SECO-1)
00:08:28 1st stage landing burn start
00:08:39 1st stage landing
00:27:40 2nd stage engine starts (SES-2)
00:28:36 2nd stage engine cutoff (SECO-2)
00:36:47 PSN SATRIA deploys

Chang Zheng 6 – Shiyan 25

On Tuesday, June 20 at 03:18 UTC, China launched the Shiyan 25 satellite atop the Chang Zheng 6 (CZ-6) rocket. This launch, lifting off from Launch Complex 16 at the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in China, marked 2023’s 92nd orbital launch attempt and the CZ-6’s 13th total launch and first of the year.

The Shiyan 25 was placed into a Sun-synchronous orbit and is a technology demonstration satellite for testing Earth observation techniques. The satellite was built by Shenzhen.

Falcon 9 – Starlink Group 5-7

SpaceX successfully launched its Starlink Group 5-7 mission from Space Launch Complex 4 East at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket lifted off on Thursday, June 22 at 12:19 AM PDT (07:19 UTC), placing 47 Starlink v1.5 internet communication satellites into an elliptical low-Earth orbit at 43.0 degrees.

This launch was the first West Coast launch targeting Starlink’s second-generation constellation; in the coming months, the Starlink satellites will raise their orbits to a 530-kilometer orbit inclined at 43.00 degrees. It is expected that this was the fourth-to-last launch of Starlink v1.5 satellites, with SpaceX focusing on its newer, more powerful Starlink v2 Mini satellites. These v2 satellites will also be used to replace the aging v1.0 satellites in Starlink shell one, which began launching in 2019.

Additionally, in recent research by Mallama et al., it was discovered that SpaceX’s efforts to reduce impacts on ground-based astronomers have been successful: despite Starlink v2 Mini’s larger size, the satellites are fainter in the sky than Starlink v1.0 and v1.5 satellites. It was noted that the Starlink v2 Mini satellites are bright during orbit raising and initial operations, but satellites in their operational orbits place their solar panels edge-on, resulting in observers being unable to see large portions of the solar array illuminated by the sun.


Starlink v2 Mini satellites magnitude data. (Credit: Mallama et al.)

This launch took the number of Starlink satellites launched to 4,642, of which 4,314 are still in orbit. Out of these, 3,622 are in their operational orbits.

Following launch, booster B1075-4 landed atop the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You, which was tugged downrange by Scorpius. SpaceX’s multi-purpose recovery vessel GO Beyond attempted to recover both fairing halves and provided drone ship support for this mission.

Delta IV Heavy – NROL-68

United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) first mission of 2023 successfully launched on June 22, 2023, at 5:18 AM EDT (09:18 UTC) from Space Launch Complex 37 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The Delta IV Heavy placed a classified satellite into geostationary Earth orbit, on a mission called NROL-68.

ULA’s artwork for the NROL-68 mission. (Credit: ULA)

This launch was originally scheduled for April 20, 2023. However, the flight was delayed due to a flight valve that exhibited off-nominal behavior; the valve was later replaced, clearing ULA to proceed with the launch. Due to the classified nature of this mission, the purpose and details of the spacecraft are unknown.

Falcon 9 – Starlink Group 5-12

Ending the week, on Friday, June 23 at 11:35 EDT (15:35 UTC), SpaceX successfully launched its final mission for the first half of 2023: Starlink Group 5-12. This launch lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40, at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, in Florida, and will place 56 Starlink v1.5 satellites into a low-Earth orbit.

This mission marked SpaceX’s 44th launch of 2023–a cadence that if sticks will result in roughly 90 launches this calendar year.

The booster that supported this mission, B1069-8, had previously supported CRS-24, Hotbird 13F, OneWeb Launch 15, SES-18 and SES-19, and three Starlink missions. Following launch, it successfully landed on SpaceX’s drone ship Just Read the Instructions, which was stationed roughly 640 kilometers downrange. SpaceX’s multi-purpose recovery vessel Bob will attempt to recover both fairing halves.

(Lead image: Falcon 9 launching the Satria mission. Credit: NSF)

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