Launch roundup: Falcon Heavy launches largest GEO satellite, Rocket Lab’s Electron to complete 40th flight

by Bella Richards

The week of July 24 through July 30 will end the month with at least four more launches, focused mostly on increasing the number of Earth-imaging satellites sent to space. Firstly, China launched Yaogn satellites atop the Chang Zheng 2D; SpaceX also launched a Starlink mission and Falcon Heavy launched the largest-ever geostationary (GEO) satellite into space, the EchoStar XXIV (Jupiter 3).

The Earth-imaging satellites include the Singapore government’s latest synthetic aperture radar (SAR) payload, which launched from India, and the first of Capella Space’s Acadia satellites launching from New Zealand with Rocket Lab. The “We Love the Nightlife” mission will mark Electron’s 40th launch into space. These launches will mark the 111th through 115th orbital launches of 2023.

Long March 2D (CZ-2D) – Yaogan 36 Group 05

Kicking off the first event of the week is a Chang Zheng 2D (CZ-2D) rocket launch for the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, sending three Earth observation satellites to orbit.

The rocket lifted off on Wednesday, July 26 at 20:02 UTC. The rocket will launch from Launch Complex (LC) 3 at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center (XSLC).

The launch will come only three days after the two-stage CZ-2D successfully sent four satellites into space from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on Sunday, July 23. The mission sent China’s first communications satellite with flexible solar panels, called Lingxi-03, into low-Earth orbit (LEO).

Falcon 9 Block 5 — Group 6-7

Keeping up with the momentum, SpaceX launched its next batch of Starlink satellites into space, notching up the company’s missions of 2023 to 50.

The satellites were launched atop a Falcon 9 from Space Launch Complex 40, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, on Friday, July 28, at 00:01 EDT (04:01 UTC). The Falcon 9 first stage landed on the autonomous spaceport drone ship A Shortfall of Gravitas barge in the Atlantic Ocean.

The first stage that flew on this mission was B1062-15–the third Falcon 9 booster to fly for a fifteenth time.

The event would be the second Starlink launch of the week, following days after sending 22 Starlink v2 Mini satellites in Group 6-6 into orbit on Sunday, July 23.

Falcon Heavy — Jupiter 3 (EchoStar XXIV)

Also launched on Friday, July 28 at 11:04 PM EDT (03:04 UTC on July 29), is satellite communications company EchoStar Corporation’s latest high-density satellite, Jupiter 3, which will provide better connectivity to customers across America. Roughly eight minutes after launch, Falcon Heavy’s side boosters will return on Landing Zones 1 and 2.

The satellite is the most massive GEO satellite ever launched, massing 9,200 kilograms, and lifted off from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Development of the satellite was announced in August 2017, after Colorado-based Maxar Technologies was selected by EchoStar’s subsidiary, Hughes Network Systems, to build EchoStar XXIV. The multi-spot beam Ka-band satellite has 18 technological advances, including the miniaturization of electronics, solid-state amplifiers, and better antenna designs.

The satellite is engineered to deliver 500 gigabits per second to customers across North and South America, providing advanced coverage to support several applications, and offering more than double the capacity of its predecessor, Jupiter 2.

The satellite was originally supposed to launch in 2021, but Maxar Technologies experienced production issues causing several delays. In November 2022, the company said it would compensate EchoStar for the ongoing delays, waiving all remaining milestone payments.

Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C56) — DS-SAR

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully launched Singapore’s next Earth Observation satellite into LEO on Sunday, July 30 at 00:01 UTC. The mission, dubbed DS-SAR, was ordered by the Singaporean government’s Defence Science and Technology Agency and is the second SAR satellite launch for the nation. The satellite was built by Israel Aerospace Industries and will be operated by Singaporean defense and engineering company, ST Electronics.

DS-SAR satellite prepares for launch. (Credit: ISRO)

The 360-kilogram payload was launched by India’s four-stage Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C56) from the First Launch Pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre. The DS-SAR will serve both government and commercial customers, focusing on maritime security and oil skills.

The event will come just over a year following Singapore’s first SAR satellite, which launched on June 30, 2022. Dubbed NeuSAR, the small 160-kilogram satellite was supported by Singapore’s national space office, the Office for Space Technology & Industry to serve as a pathfinder for a potential constellation.

Electron — “We Love the Nightlife”

After signing a deal with Rocket Lab in February this year, California-based Capella Space will see the first installment of its Acadia satellite constellation fly to space. Rocket Lab’s two-stage Electron rocket was scheduled to launch the first Acadia satellite from Launch Complex 1 in Māhia Peninsula launch, New Zealand on July 30, but the rocket aborted at T-0.

According to Rocket Lab, the satellites will be deployed to a 640-kilometer mid-inclination orbit.

Rocket Lab will launch three more satellites for Capella Space, and the four will eventually form the Acadia constellation.

The Earth-imaging Acadia satellites are slated to offer increased imaging capability and better communications connectivity for customers. The satellites feature SAR technology and are designed, manufactured, and operated by Capella Space.

This is the third time Rocket Lab will launch a Capella Space payload, following the Stronger Together mission in March 2023, and the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Opticalmission in August 2020, which sent the company’s first satellite in its SAR constellation into space.

The mission will also be significant for Rocket Lab, as it will mark Electron’s 40th launch into space.

“Reaching 40 Electron launches is a wonderful milestone for our team members who have built the most reliable small launch vehicle in history, and we’re delighted to share such a significant launch with our long-standing mission partner Capella,” said Peter Beck, founder, and CEO of the launch company.

(Lead image: Singapore government’s DS-SAR satellite ready for launch. Credit: ISRO)

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