Launch Roundup – Arianespace launches Ariane 5 final flight; SpaceX flies one of last Starlink v1.5 flights

by Justin Davenport

Four launches were successfully conducted for the week of July 2 through July 9. The first one took place on Wednesday, July 5, with a European rocket successfully making its 117th and final flight. Later in the week, SpaceX successfully flew two Falcon 9 flights with Starlink payloads on Friday, July 7 and Sunday, July 9 – with the first successfully conducted from Vandenberg and the second one from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

However, the three Western launches were not the only ones that took place. Also on July 9, just under 17 hours before Starlink 6-5 flew, China launched two test satellites atop a Chang Zheng-2C with a YZ-1S upper stage from Jiuquan. There was no advance notice that this flight would occur until just before the flight. This week’s four flights were the 98th, 99th, 100th, and 101st orbital launch attempts of 2023.

Arianespace flight VA261 was the final launch of Ariane 5, capping off a storied career that featured numerous dual communication satellite launches, the Rosetta, BepiColombo, and Juice probes to the Solar System, ATV cargo flights to the ISS, and the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope.

VA261 carried the Syracuse 4B and Heinrich Hertz satellites, while the Starlink 5-13 mission from Vandenberg SFB, California was one of the last flights using Starlink v1.5 satellites before the v2 Mini takes their place on all Falcon 9 Starlink launches.

The next Starlink flight after 5-13 flew v2 Mini satellites, aboard Starlink 6-5 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The last scheduled v1.5 satellite launch is currently scheduled for July 12 aboard Starlink 5-15, also from Florida.

The Syracuse 4B satellite during pre-launch testing. (Credit: Thales Alenia Space)

Ariane 5 VA261 – Syracuse 4B and Heinrich Hertz

The Ariane 5 swan song, the second Ariane 5 — and Arianespace — launch of the year, lifted off on July 5 at 22:00 UTC from ELA-3 at Kourou, French Guiana. The rocket, taking flight after a previous delay to replace pyrotechnic lines, flew the French military’s Syracuse 4B communications satellite and the German DLR’s Heinrich Hertz satellite. Both satellites were successfully inserted into a geostationary transfer orbit.

The Syracuse 4B satellite, built by Thales Alenia Space and Airbus Defence and Space, is the latest communications satellite to fly for the French armed forces. The 3,850-kilogram satellite is equipped with military-grade Ka-band and X-band communications systems and is resistant to cyber attacks, electromagnetic pulse attacks, and jamming.

The Heinrich Hertz satellite, also known as H2 Sat, was built by a consortium led by OHB-System AG and contracted by the German space agency DLR and funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology. The 3,450-kilogram satellite, based on OHB’s small geostationary satellite bus, is intended to test new communications technologies and to provide telecommunications services for the German Bundeswehr (armed forces).

The Ariane 5’s first launch took place in 1996, although it failed due to a computer error. With the VA261 flight, the Ariane 5 has now completed its career after 27 years of flying, including 25 years of successful operational missions after its ill-fated first flight and the partially successful second flight in 1997.

A CZ-2C launching with two SatNet test satellites from Jiuquan, China on July 9 at 11:00 UTC.

Chang Zheng-2C/YZ-1S – 2x SatNet

The Chinese launched two SatNet test satellites for their upcoming low-Earth orbit communications satellite constellation, in a flight that was not widely announced beforehand. A CZ-2C launched from Jiuquan on Sunday, July 9 at 11:00 UTC, for the fifth CZ-2C flight of 2023 and the fifth flight of the YZ-1S upper stage.

The rocket launched into a polar-orbiting trajectory with the two satellites, and the flight was successful. This launch is the 499th successful launch in Chinese space history, with the methane-fueled ZhuQue-2 next week becoming the 500th successful Chinese launch if all goes well.

Falcon 9 deploys its payload of Starlink satellites. (Credit: Mack Crawford for NSF/L2)

Falcon 9 – Starlink Group 5-13

The Starlink 5-13 mission launched from SLC-4E at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California on Friday, July 7 at 12:30 PM PDT (19:30 UTC). The booster flying on this mission was B1063-12. This flight started off the second half of 2023 for SpaceX and became the 43rd Falcon 9 launch — and 45th orbital launch overall, not counting Starship’s flight test — for SpaceX in 2023.

Starlink 5-13 carried 48 satellites to orbit, and was the penultimate Falcon 9 flight carrying v1.5 satellites. The flight went into a 229 by 339 kilometer initial orbit at 43 degrees inclination, while the booster landed on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You in the Pacific.

The satellites will be moved in the coming months to their operational location, which is a 530-kilometer circular low-Earth orbit. Although these satellites are Starlink v1.5 spacecraft, they are being launched as part of the system’s second generation constellation. The first generation Starlink constellation, consisting of v1.0 and v1.5 satellites, filled out shells one and four, and largely filled out shells two and three.

View of a stack of 21 Starlink v2 Mini satellites before being enclosed in their fairing. (Credit: SpaceX)

Falcon 9 – Starlink Group 6-5

The Starlink 6-5 flight successfully launched from SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Sunday, July 9 at 11:58 PM EDT (03:58 on July 10 UTC), to finish out the week. This evening launch was the 44th Falcon 9 launch — and 46th SpaceX orbital launch overall — for 2023.

Starlink 6-5 carried 22 v2 Mini satellites to an initial orbit of 315 by 323 kilometers at 43 degrees inclination, while the booster safely landed on Just Read the Instructions in the Atlantic. The booster for this mission is B1058-16, which marked the 16th flight of a booster This booster has previously supported Crew Dragon Demo 2, ANASIS-II, CRS-21, Transporter-1, Transporter-3, and 10 Starlink missions. After the launch, the satellites will be moved in the coming months to their operational location, which is a 530-kilometer circular low-Earth orbit.

All future Falcon 9 Starlink launches after this month are slated to carry the v2 Mini satellites to make further progress on filling out the second generation constellation while work continues on readying Starship for future flights, and producing the full-sized v2 satellites.

Artist’s impression of Starlink v2 satellites being deployed from Starship. (Credit: SpaceX)

The v2 Mini satellites mass around 800 kilograms each, as opposed to around 307 kilograms per v1.5 satellite. This means that each Falcon 9 launch can accommodate fewer satellites than on first generation launches. However, the v2 Mini can provide four times the capacity of the earlier v1.0 and v1.5 satellites, enabled by a more powerful phased array antenna.

In addition, the v2 Mini also uses the E-band for backhaul and features new argon-fueled Hall-effect thrusters that generate more thrust and specific impulse than the previous generation’s krypton-fueled Hall-effect thrusters. Hall-effect thrusters are ion thrusters that use an electric field to accelerate propellant.

SpaceX has been authorized to launch up to 7,500 satellites for its second generation Starlink constellation. Once Starship becomes mature enough to launch satellites, the full-sized Starlink v2 satellites, massing roughly 1,200 kilograms each, and having an order of magnitude more bandwidth than the first generation, are expected to be launched in large numbers.

(Lead image: A Falcon 9 stands at SLC-4E at the Vandenberg Space Force Base. Credit: Jack Beyer for NSF)

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