Driving Satellites

Commentary by Mike Mackowski


I have the privilege of working in the space industry as a power subsystem engineer for Orbital Sciences in Gilbert, Arizona. On February 11, 2013 the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (aka Landsat 8) spacecraft was launched and I was at the NASA Goddard mission operations center monitoring performance of this satellite that Orbital built for NASA and the US Geological Survey.

There is a lot more to getting a satellite launched and working than just bolting it to a rocket and flinging it loose. Once the satellite is in orbit, it’s not ready to use on the first day. Engineers and operators need to slowly and carefully activate and test out all of the equipment and operating modes. Spacecraft are generally launched in mode with only a few components operating, the minimum needed to maintain proper pointing and communication with the ground. This is done in case of any problems with the rocket or deploying of solar arrays and antennas.

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Launch Schedule – India 2013

Here is the current calendar for 2013 for Indian satellites and rocket launch vehicles as listed on the Forum at NASASpaceFlight on 21 December 2012:


  • Complete
  • Upcoming
  • February 4-10 11 – PSLV C20 FLP – SARAL + Sapphire + NEOSSAT + BRITE + UniBRITE + AAUSAT3
  • April – GSLV-D5 (Mk II return to flight) SLP- GSAT-14
  • Q1- PSLV C22 FLP- IRNSS-1A
  • Q2/Q3- GSLV Mk III X1, SLP – “atmospheric test”
  • October- PSLV C25 – MangalYaan (Mars Orbiter)


  • GSLV-D6 Mk II – GSAT-6
  • PSLV C23(XL) SLP- AstroSat-1 + LAPAN-A2 + LAPAN-ORARI
  • PSLV C24 – Spot-7
  • PSLV – IRNSS-2
  • PSLV – IRNSS-3

Last Updated 1 January 2013

2012 launches

2011 Launches

Launch Schedule – China 2013

Here is the current calendar for 2013 for Chinese satellites and rocket launch vehicles as listed on the Forum at NASASpaceFlight on 18 December 2012:


  • Complete
  • Upcoming
  • February – CZ-4B – TSLC, LC9 – CBERS-3
  • Early – CZ-4C – TSLC, LC9 – ‘multiple satellites’
  • June – CZ-2F/G – JSLC, 921 – SZ-10 Shenzhou-10
  • June – CZ-3B/E – XSLC, LC2 – ZX-11 Zhongxing-11 (Chinasat-11) / Supremesat-II
  • July – CZ-4C – TSLC, LC9 – FY-3C Fengyun-3C; XW-2 Xiwang-2
  • December 20 – CZ-3B/E – XSLC, LC2 – Túpac Katari ‘TKSat-1’ (Bolivia)
  • Second quarter – CZ-3B/E – XSLC, LC2 – ZX-M Zhongxing-M (Chinasat-M)
  • ?? – CZ-2D – JSLC, 631 – Shiyan Weixing-5; Chuangxin-4
  • ?? – CZ-2D – JSLC, 631 – GF-1 Gaofen-1
  • ?? – CZ-2D – JSLC, 631 – SJ-11 Shijian 11-05
  • ?? – CZ-2D – JSLC, 631 – TH-2 Tianhui-2
  • ?? – (New Launcher) – JSLC – ??
  • ?? – CZ-3B/GIII – XSLC, LC2 – Chang’e-3 (Moon lander/rover)
  • ?? – CZ-4B – TSLC, LC9 – SJ-13 Shijian-13A; Shijian-13B
  • ?? – CZ-4B – TSLC, LC9 – HY-2B Haiyang-2B (or 2014)
  • ?? – ?? – ?? – YG-17 YaoGan Weixing-17
  • ?? – ?? – ?? – YG-18 YaoGan Weixing-18
  • ?? – ?? – ?? – YG-19 YaoGan Weixing-19


  • June – CZ-2C/CTS-2 – XSLC – Barcelona Moon Team
  • August – ?? – TSLC – CBERS-4 (or June)
  • October / December – CZ-3B/E – XSLC – TurkmenistanSat/MonacoSat
  • December – CZ-4B – TSLC – FY-3D Fengyun-3D (Batch 2)
  • End – CZ-5 – WSLC – ??

Updated 1 January 2013

2012 Launches
2011 Launches

Your Very Own Personal Space Program

Michael Mackowski, a member of the Phoenix chapter of the National Space Society, has given us another interesting essay:

Your Very Own Personal Space Program

There are many ways folks express their interest in the space program. Some space enthusiasts read everything they can find and often have a large book collection. Some people accumulate souvenirs and autographs. Photos, patches, and pins are popular collectibles. Scale models can be another way to bring the space program to life in your home or office.

I have been inspired by space exploration since I was a youngster. Prior to finishing school and entering a career in aerospace engineering, my participation in the space program was limited to building scale models of the vehicles that were leaving the planet. Actually, I have never stopped building models of spacecraft, even while I build them for a living as an engineer. Like engineering, I find that modeling is just another expression of one’s creativity.

Over the years I have been participating in a network of other hobbyists with similar interests. What I have found is that many of these people, while being hobbyists and craftsmen in terms of their model building, are also passionate about space. My situation is a bit unique in that space is both my hobby and career. Most people who are passionate about space have other, usually non-technical careers. So one way they can feel closer to space exploration is by building small replicas of the hardware that makes it possible.

Certainly this sort of passion is the root of many hobbies. Military history buffs build models of tanks and fighter jets. Auto racing enthusiasts build race car models. Would be sailors rig up miniature ships and sailboats. People collect or paint miniature horses because they cannot afford to own a real horse. Airplane fans who cannot afford lessons or a plane can have a shelf full of models. Frustrated astronaut candidates build Apollo lunar modules and space shuttles. It’s not the same, but for many people it may be as close as you will get. It’s your own personal space program.

Enthusiasts want a piece of the space program they can see up close, hold in their hand, and relate to three dimensionally. Books and videos and internet sites are flat and virtual. A model is real and fills space. And you built it yourself. That’s why model building is more fulfilling than just collecting or buying pre-built souvenir models. You are now a rocket scientist, only scaled down, and with simpler technology. You have combined art with technology. You feel more a part of the movement, a part of the collective that is moving out to space. Through model building, you are more than an observer. You have made a statement, that by building this miniature monument to space exploration, you are supporting it, and proclaiming it to whomever enters your hobby room or office or wherever you chose to display your work.

If you can’t be an astronaut or be an engineer in the space industry, you can have your own little private miniature space program, and thus pay homage to whatever past or future off-planet venture that inspires you.

In that way, maybe it will inspire someone else, and the movement grows by one more.

NSS Urges Congress to Ease Export Control Restrictions on Satellites and Space-Related Items

The National Space Society (NSS) calls on Congress to ease export control regulations on spacecraft and related items, as urged by the Departments of Defense and State in their recent, joint “Section 1248” report, “Risk Assessment of the United States Space Export Control Policy.”

This report concluded that spacecraft and their components, designated as dual-use items, can safely be removed from the U.S. Munitions List (USML), which is controlled under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) by the Department of State.

Once off the USML, the report recommends that these items be placed on the Commerce Control List (CCL) managed by the Department of Commerce. Experts maintain that a failure to implement this change not only would continue to cause harm to the American space industrial base, but could actually pose a threat to national security and potentially impede current and future space exploration efforts.

“For many years, the U.S. space industrial base has been at a competitive disadvantage with other countries due to outdated and overly burdensome licensing processes under ITAR,” said NSS Executive Director, Paul E. Damphousse. “The U.S space export control system has created delays, driven up costs, and severely hampered the ability of the American space industry to compete in an increasingly global market, and this situation must not be allowed to continue.”

A distinguished panel of export control policy experts will discuss the recommendations outlined in the Section 1248 report at NSS’s upcoming International Space Development Conference (ISDC) in Washington, DC May 24-28, 2012. Patricia Cooper of the Satellite Industry Association will moderate the panel, which will include representatives from the Defense Department, Tauri Group, Bigelow Aerospace and the Universities Space Research Association. For more information about media access to the panel, please visit isdc.nss.org/2012 or email ISDC2012.Media@nss.org.

NSS believes that implementation of these recommendations will serve to bolster critical American space industries vital to space development and lead to increased cooperation in space exploration initiatives with our international partners. NSS agrees with the report’s goal, which is to urge Congress to enact legislation to “create higher walls around fewer items” and support the health and leadership of the U.S. space industrial base.

RISAT-1 Launch

TV Coverage
Live Coverage of the Launch of the Radar Imaging Satellite (RISAT-1)
Image Credit: NDTV

The launch time is 0017 UTC, or 5:17 PM Phoenix time, Wednesday.

The on board computer has taken over the countdown.

T-minus 10 minutes.

Successful Launch.

Second stage has begun its burn.

All systems are nominal.

Third stage has ignited around 5 minutes into the flight.

At 9 minutes into the flight, the fourth stage has ignited.

18 minutes into the flight, separation of the satellite has been completed.

Congratulations to India.

TV Coverage
Live Coverage: T-Minus 5 Minutes
Image Credit: NDTV

TV Coverage
Image Credit: Doordarshan News

TV Coverage
Live Coverage: Ascent
Image Credit: Doordarshan News

TV Coverage
4th Stage Burn
Image Credit: Doordarshan News

A Huge Embarassment for North Korea

The North Korean attempt to launch their satellite named “Kwangmyongsong-3” aboard their three stage rocket “Unha-3” has ended in failure just prior to, or during the separation of the first and seconds stage.

The timeline for the flight follows:

  • 22:38:55 UTC on 12 April 2012: the rocket lifted off
  • 22:39:49: Sejong the Great has detected the rocket on its radar
  • 22:41:10: The radar blip splits into two (A and B); presumably an explosion happened.
  • Altitude: 70.5 km, Speed: Mach 5.6
  • 22:42:55: the rocket passes over the South Korean island of Baengnyeong. Altitude: 151.4 km, Speed: Mach 4.4
  • 22:47:42: Object A broke up into pieces and disappeared from the radar
  • 22:48:02: Object B broke up into 3 pieces at an altitude of 11 km and at mach 1.7. The nominal splashdown point is 190-200 km west of Kunsan.
  • Source

Speculation is they will attempt to set off nuclear explosion to salve the public relations wounds, but experts suspect they no longer have enough plutonium for that to happen.

Delta IV Places NROL-25 into Orbit

Delta IV
Delta IV Launch with NROL-25 Spy Satellite
Image Credit: ULAA United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV 5,2 finally got off the ground Tuesday, launching the NROL-25 spy satellite. The launch had been delayed since 29 March due to evaluations of the RL10B-2 upper stage engine.

Observers believe that the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) spacecraft is the second in a new series of radar imaging satellites. An Atlas V launched the first of these craft in September of 2010, and it followed the same 123 ° retrograde orbit.

This spacecraft is probably carrying a synthetic aperture radar system, capable of observing surface and underground through all kinds of atmospheric conditions.

You Tube has the full launch video:

ESA Vega Set for Qualification Flight on 2/13/2012

ESA Vega Launch Vehicle VV01 On the Pad in Kourou, French Guiana.
Image Credit: ESA – S. Corvaja, 2012

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) newest launch vehicle VEGA is set for an inaugural flight on Monday, 13 February 2012. The vehicle is carrying nine satellites, and the launch window opens at 1000 UTC and closes at 1230 (3:00 AM – 5:30 AM Phoenix time).

The payload includes:

  • LARES laser relativity satellite
  • ALMASat-1 from ASI
  • seven CubeSats from European Universities

Flight Profile
ESA Vega Launch Vehicle VV01 Flight Profile
Image Credit: ESA- J. Huart, 2012

ZiYuan III Satellite Launch by China

LongMarch 4B
ZiYuan III Launch aboard the Chinese Long March 4B
Image Credit: Xinhua

China launched its first satellite of the year on 9 January at 0317 UTC. The satellite was placed in orbit by a Long March 4B (Chang Zheng-4B -Y26) rocket, from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in China.

The ZiYuan-3 (ZY-3) satellite is a high-resolution geological mapping satellite. Instruments include an infrared multispectral scanner (IRMSS), and three high resolution panchromatic cameras. Monitoring will include land resources and water conservation. Other tasks include urban planning, support of farming programs and reduction in the impact of natural disasters.

The satellite will orbit in a 505.984 km sun-synchronous solar orbit with 97.421 degree inclination. This orbit will have a re-visit cycle of 5 days. Surveys will run from 84 degrees north and 84 degrees south latitude.