Rocket Report: Japan launches Moon mission; Ariane 6 fires up in Kourou

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A Japanese H-IIA rocket lifts off from the Tanegashima Space Center with an X-ray astronomy satellite and a robotic Moon lander.

Welcome to Edition 6.10 of the Rocket Report! A Japanese spacecraft has joined the international flock of missions traveling to the Moon this year, but you’ll need to practice patience on this one. It will take about four months for Japan’s small lander to get into lunar orbit, then more weeks to align with the mission’s target landing site. We’re crossing our fingers this lander will see the same success as India’s Chandrayaan 3 mission.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets, as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

India launches its first solar research satellite. Less than two weeks after landing its first mission on the Moon, India launched a solar observatory on September 2 toward an orbit nearly a million miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth around the L1 Lagrange point. This mission, named Aditya-L1, lifted off on India’s workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle and entered orbit around the Earth, where the spacecraft is expected to perform five maneuvers to escape Earth’s gravity and head to its distant observation post.

Observing the Sun … The Aditya-L1 spacecraft weighed about 3,260 pounds (1,480 kilograms) at launch and carries seven Indian-built payloads to observe the photosphere, chromosphere, and the Sun’s corona, according to the Indian Space Research Organization. Four of these instruments will image the Sun, and the other three will measure fields and particles at the L1 location, providing data about solar flares and space weather. The launch of Aditya-L1 continues a successful year in space for India.

China launches rocket from ocean platform. A solid-fueled launcher owned by the Chinese startup Galactic Energy fired off from a mobile ocean-going barge in the Yellow Sea on September 5, Payload reports. This was Galactic Energy’s first sea-based launch and the sixth time a Chinese rocket has launched satellites from an ocean spaceport. Galactic Energy’s 62-foot-tall (19-meter) Ceres 1 rocket, capable of hauling 880 pounds (400 kilograms) of payload into low-Earth orbit, launched four small data relay satellites on this mission.

Busy times for Galactic Energy … The sea launch continues a busy year for Galactic Energy, one of several quasi-commercial Chinese launch companies. This was the fourth launch of Galactic Energy’s Ceres 1 rocket since July 22 and the company’s fifth mission this year. Overall, China has launched 41 orbital-class rockets in 2023, trailing the United States but ahead of all other nations combined. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

Virgin Galactic preps for third commercial mission. Virgin Galactic is preparing for its third commercial mission to carry a group of paying passengers to the edge of space. The flight window for this mission, called Galactic 03, opens Friday morning at Spaceport America in New Mexico. As of this writing Thursday, Virgin Galactic has not announced the names of any of the passengers, but it’s expected to carry three customers, two pilots, and one of Virgin’s astronaut trainers.

Long wait … Virgin Galactic says this mission will carry the company’s first group of “Founder astronauts” who purchased tickets for their suborbital spaceflight as early as 2005. “This community, comprised of approximately 800 individuals representing over 60 different countries, enjoys access to distinctive experiences designed to inspire and to enrich their spaceflight experience,” Virgin Galactic says. This will continue what Virgin hopes will be a monthly cadence of commercial flights to the edge of space, roughly 50 miles (80 kilometers) over the New Mexican desert.

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Hypersonic missile test scrubbed. The US military called off a test of a hypersonic missile at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, on Wednesday. The Pentagon didn’t say much about the test, which was revealed by postings of airspace and maritime warning notices advising pilots and sailors to keep clear of the missile’s expected flight path, Ars reports. The test launch was expected to be one of the final milestones before the US Army fields the nation’s first ground-based hypersonic weapon, which is more maneuverable and more difficult for an enemy to track and destroy than a conventional ballistic missile.

Another delay … The US military’s development of hypersonic missiles has been stymied by delays and test failures. The Pentagon canceled an air-launched hypersonic missile program after problems during testing, while the hypersonic missile that was supposed to be test-launched from Cape Canaveral this week is designed to enter service with the Army and the Navy. The scrubbed test this week comes six months after the military called off the previous test launch attempt due to a battery problem. “As a result of pre-flight checks the test did not occur,” a spokesperson for the Office of the Secretary of Defense told Ars. “The Department was able to successfully collect data on the performance of the ground hardware and software that will inform the continued progress toward fielding offensive hypersonic weapons.”

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