Post Tue Jul 19, 2011 9:48 am

2011's first launches

2011 started with a double launch on 20th of January when an American and a Russian satellite have been placed in orbits around the Earth.

The first launch took place from complex 45 in Baikonur at 12:29 GMT. A Zenit 3F rocket has put in orbit, in a complex scenario which took over 9 hours, the first Electro-L satellite- a new series of high altitude meteorological observatories built in Russia.
Electro-L 1 weights 1766 kg and it will be parked in a GEO orbit above the Equator at 76 degrees East longitude -somewhere above the Indian Ocean, where, for at least 10 years the sensors will perform meteorological observations.
The satellite which will be operated by Russian Space Agency Roskosmos, has been built by NPO Lavochkin, but it will be integrated in the International Meteorological Satellite System.
It carries several onboard experiments:
-MSU-GS or Multispectral Scanner Geostationary
-GGAK-E or Heliogeophysical Complex on Electro-L a complex instrument which contains several modules:
-SKIF-6 or Corpuscular Radiation Spectrometer
-SKL-E or Solar Cosmic Rays Spectrometer
-GALS-E or Detector of galactic cosmic rays
-ISP-2M or Solar constant sensor
-VUSS-E or Solar UV radiation sensor
-DIR-E or Solar X-ray radiation flux sensor
-FM-E or Magnetometer instrument
-GEOS&R or Geostationary Search and rescue system

The next Electro-L satellite will be launched somewhere in 2012 but the same technical platform will be used by several Russian missions including Phobos-Grunt which will fly to Mars.
At the present Russia is using the services of a single meteorological satellite-Meteor M1, but it has in plan to build a network of 3 SSO satellites and 3 GEO satellites.

The second launch took place from complex 6 of Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
For the first time there, a Delta 4 heavy rocket left the ground at 21:10 GMT in order to carry to orbit a spy satellite for NRO- National Reconnaissance Office.
As with the precedent cases, very few information went to the press, however it is known that the new satellite called NROL L-49 is a Keyhole KH-11 class satellite and it will replace into operation the older, 2001 launched, USA-161 satellite.
NROL L-49 is a massive 15 tons satellite, sharing a lot from the design point of view with the Hubble Space Telescope but this time being used not for astronomic targets but for ground ones.
All the images (which can go to resolutions of 10 cm) are stored and processed by the operators of NGA- National Geospatial Intelligence Agency for collecting strategic information.
The satellites from this class operate from SSO orbits having the perigee at 200 km, the apogee at 1000 km and almost polar inclinations approximately 97.8 degrees.
The Keyhole series has started in the early 60s most of those platforms being built by Lockheed Martin at an individual price of 2 billions dollars.
It had to be replaced by the new FIA series based on a contract signed with Boeing Satellite Systems, but the entire program has proved to be a major management failure due to the successive delays encountered.
Under the time’s pressure, NRO decided to cancel the Boeing contract and to sign a new one with the old partner Lockheed Martin- but until the new satellites will arrive (estimated to be earliest in 2017), the American agency has chosen to use the old reliable platforms.
In conjunction with the Keyhole satellite, NRO operates also some other classes: Lacrosse, DSP- Defense Support Program (which will be in a short time replaced by SBIRS- Space Based Infrared System), SDS- Satellite Data System, DSCS- Defense Satellite Communication System, Milstar or DMSP- Defense Meteorological Satellite Program.

This flight, numbered 352 in the Delta rocket history, was the third Delta 4 launch from the California base, but the first of the heavy version and the first to be used for testing this type of rocket in a LEO scenario. It is coming after the refurbishment of the Vandenberg spaceport- initially built in 60s for serving the space shuttle and the American medium class launchers.
The next NROL mission (L-66) will be launched in February from the same base aboard a Minotaur 1 rocket, while the next Delta 4 launch will happen in April from Cape Canaveral with the NROL L-27 satellite.
In 2010 USA performed only 15 launches, a negative trend compared with the previous years, being equaled for the first time by China- but we should also say that this was a record for the Chinese space program.