Launch Roundup: Electron launches for the 50th time; Falcon 9 returns to normal operations

by Aaron McCrea

Concluding a rare week that was void of any launches and riddled with scrubs, the spaceflight industry looks to return to the planned course of action with four launches from all over the world. This week, the 50th launch of Electron has taken flight, and SpaceX and CASC continue to dominate the launch calendar. 

SpaceX begins the week picking up the slack with three Falcon 9 missions that launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and Vandenberg, California. Later in the week, Rocket Lab launched the No Time Toulouse mission flying on Electron out of New Zealand. A day later, China flew its workhorse rocket, the Chang Zheng 2C, to launch a joint Chinese and French telescope.

Falcon 9 Block 5 | Starlink Group 9-1 

With the first Group 9 Starlink satellites now in orbit, four different types of Starlink Groups are actively being added to space at an incredible rate. After this launch was postponed from June 13 to June 14 and now to June 18, it officially lifted off on June 18 at 8:40 PM PDT (03:40 UTC on June 19).

Falcon 9 took 20 Starlink v2 Mini satellites with Direct-to-Cell capabilities to an inclined 53-degree orbit on a southeastern trajectory. Launching out of Space Launch Complex-4E in Vandenberg, California, B1082 took these satellites on its fifth flight to an initial orbit of 286 by 295 km where they were put into orbit by the second stage and deployed. Then, using the Starlink satellite’s Hall-effect thrusters, they headed to just over 500 km in altitude, to add even more support to the over 6000 active Starlink satellites already in orbit.

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

This booster completed the 246th consecutive landing on the autonomous drone ship Of Course I Still Love You, which was parked 642 km downrange in an identical landing position as the Starlink Group 8-7 and 8-8 missions. This was Falcon 9’s 62nd flight of 2024, putting SpaceX 43% of the way to the goal of 144 launches in one year, although the year has progressed 46%, leaving SpaceX just behind schedule by only a slim margin. 

Electron/Curie | No Time Toulouse

Electron has completed its 50th launch to complete the No Time Toulouse mission carrying the first-ever batch of five Kinéis 1-5 nanosatellites. After a two-day weather delay, Electron launched in an instantaneous launch window on June 21 at 6:13 AM NZT (June 20, 18:13 UTC) from LC-1B in Māhia Peninsula, New Zealand. Electron launched inclined at a 98-degree angle to the equator where it successfully delivered the payload to low-Earth orbit (LEO). 

After Electron reached LEO, Rocket Lab’s Curie kick stage circularized the orbit with an eight-second burn to a 635-km orbit. It released the satellites into their specific sequence, where they will move up to the final 650-km orbit under the satellite’s power. After Curie successfully releases the five satellites, it will conduct a lowering burn to safely deorbit the spacecraft into the Pacific Ocean.

Delivery of Kinéis nanosatellites to Rocket Lab for final testing before Integration. (Credit: Kinéis)

Kinéis is a French Internet of Things satellite operator and connectivity provider operating out of Toulouse, France. These satellites are Kinéis’s first in-house satellites to launch on Electron, with four more missions already planned for the future to launch 20 more nanosatellites. Kinéis already utilizes the Argos system of satellites that have been in orbit since 1978. Using these satellites and the new Kinéis nanosatellites, they will be able to create a constellation to greatly reduce the revisit time between satellite passes.

Falcon 9 Block 5 | Astra 1P/SES-24 

After a week filled with weather delays and an uncommon T-0 abort after Falcon 9 had already ignited its engines, SpaceX finally got back on its feet with the launch of Astra 1P/SES-24. This mission had already been delayed by two days due to bad weather at Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (CCSFS) in Florida.

Officially launching on June 20 at 5:35 PM EDT (21:35 UTC) after a scrub on June 18,  SpaceX used B1080 for its ninth flight. This booster lofted the Astra 1P/SES-24 television satellite into an inclined 19.2-degree geostationary orbit on an eastern trajectory from the same launch pad. It then landed around 648 km downrange on SpaceX’s autonomous droneship Just Read The Instructions.

SES-24/Astra 1P was built in Europe by Thales Alenia Space for the European television market and will provide updated capabilities of reliability and image quality to Germany, Spain, and France. SES-24/Astra 1P is a wide-beam satellite with 80 transponders. This gives it the ability to broadcast up to 500 HDTV channels.

Clean room photo of Astra 1P/SES-24 before shipping to Cape Canaveral. (Credit: Thales Alenia Space)

This was SpaceX’s first time launching an Astra satellite, with previous launches performed by Atlas V, Proton M, and Ariane 5. Now in orbit, this satellite will deploy its 45-meter-wide solar array, producing 20 kW of power — making it one of the most powerful satellites in geosynchronous orbit.

Chang Zheng 2C | SVOM

A brand new telescope has just made its flight to LEO on China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation’s (CASC) Chang Zheng 2C rocket. Launching successfully out of LC-3 of the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China on June 22 at 3:00 PM CST (07:00 UTC), Chang Zheng 2C delivered the Satellite Variable Objects Monitor (SVOM) telescope to an inclined 30-degree LEO. This payload will end up in a circular 625-km orbit with an orbital period of 96 minutes. This was Chang Zheng 2C’s fourth mission of this year and 78th mission of all time.

The SVOM mission is the first astronomical joint mission between the French Space Agency and China National Space Administration. This partnership is due to a memorandum of understanding in 2014 which was aimed to promote the exchange of research on common issues of interest for both nations. SVOM is the result of this cooperation. 

Final launch preparation of SVOM before integration into Chang Zheng 2C. (Credit: CASC)

The SVOM X-ray telescope will be used to detect and localize gamma bursts in the X-ray band using the ECLAIR instrument, observe gamma bursts in the soft X-ray range using the MXT instrument, measure the spectrum of high-energy bursts using the Gamma Ray Burst Monitor, and operate in the visible range to detect and observe the visible emission produced immediately after a gamma burst using the VT telescope. The goal of SVOM is to study the gamma-ray bursts from exploding stars to find out more about the unknowns of the universe, such as the deaths of massive stars, the births of black holes, and much more.  

Falcon 9 Block 5 – Starlink Group 10-2

Continuing to add to the brand new groups of Starlink launches, Starlink Group 10-2 took flight from CCSFS on Sunday, June 23 at 1:15 PM EDT (17:15 UTC).  The second stage took 22 Starlink v2 Mini Satellites to a targeted 264 x 278 orbit, inclined 53 degrees on a northeastern trajectory.

Booster 1078 took off for the 11th time from SLC-40 after completing its last mission only 26 days ago. It then landed in the Atlantic Ocean on A Shortfall Of Gravitas, one of SpaceX’s three autonomous drone ships. With all of the scrubs last week, three launches this week and likely at least four more Falcon launches, including Falcon Heavy next week, will pave the way for SpaceX to reach its target of 144 Falcon launches this year.

(Lead image: Electron on LC-1B in New Zealand before the launch of the No Time Toulouse mission. Credit: Rocket Lab)

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