Israeli Shavit Rocket Delivers Malfunctioning Spy Satellite Into Orbit

Israel's Shavit 2 (Comet) rocket carried the Ofek-11 satellite into orbit on Sept. 13, 2016. Israeli media report that the satellite is malfunctioning. Image: Israeli Ministry of Defence.
Israel's Shavit 2 (Comet) rocket carried the Ofek-11 (Horizon) satellite into orbit on Sept. 13, 2016. Israeli media report that the satellite is malfunctioning. Image: Israeli Ministry of Defence.

Israel launched a Shavit2 rocket from its facility at Palmachim airbase on Sept. 13. The launch was the 10th one for the Shavit rocket system, which had its initial launch in 1988. The launch and delivery were successful, but Israeli media is reporting that the payload, the Ofek-11 satellite, is malfunctioning.

The Ofek-11 satellite in Tuesday’s launch is an optical imaging satellite, basically a spy satellite, operated by the Isreali Ministry of Defence. It operates at an altitude of 600 km. It’s orbital path is designed to pass over Israel’s region 6 times per day, allowing the Ministry of Defence to focus on targets of interest in their nation’s region.

Officials involved with the launch have successfully contacted the satellite. Amnon Harari, head of the Defence Ministry’s Space Department, told the Times of Israel that it was “not clear that everything was in order,” hours after the launch.

Doron Ofer is CEO of the Israel Aerospace Industries’ Space Division, the company that makes the Shavit rocket. He told the Times of Israel that due to the satellite’s path, and the rotation of the Earth, the satellite can only be contacted a few times per day. This complicates efforts to correct the satellite.

“We have downloaded some figures, and we are now checking them. It’s not functioning exactly the way we expected, and we don’t know what it’s status is,” Ofer said. “We are now working to stabilize it, but it will take some time because of the small amount of communication we have with it when it comes in our area.”

The Ofek-11 will be the 11th satellite that provides intelligence to the Israeli forces, but not much is known about its exact capabilities. For obvious reasons, the Israeli Defence Ministry is keeping things secret.

It is widely believed that this newest satellite is among the world’s most advanced satellite recon systems. It’s enhanced imaging system purportedly collects images at a ground resolution of 0.5 meters from its 600-Kilometer orbit.

The Ofek-11 surpasses its predecessor, Ofek-9, launched in 2010, which had only a 0.7 meter resolution. The Ofek-10 was a radar imaging satellite launched in 2014 to capture all-weather, day and night images at a resolution less than 1 meter. The overlapping nature of Israel’s satellite system eliminates any gaps in their ability to monitor their region.

Two weeks ago, Israel had another failure in its satellite efforts, though that one was much more catastrophic. The Amos-6 civilian communications satellite was going to be Israel’s largest satellite to date. However, the SpaceX rocket tasked with taking Amos-6 into orbit exploded on its Cape Canaveral launch pad.

Israel is the 8th country in the world to develop their own orbital launch capabilities. They launched their first satellite, the Ofek-1, aboard the maiden flight of their Shavit-1 rocket in 1988. Including that first launch, Israel has attempted 10 launches, and has been successful 8 times. All of those have been Ofek satellites, operated by the military.

All but one of Israel’s Ofek satellites have been launched by Israel’s Shavit-1 and Shavit-2 rockets. The lone exception is Ofek-8, also known as TecSar, launched aboard the Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).

Spacecraft Launches to Test the Hunt for Ripples in the Fabric of Spacetime

LISA Pathfinder Liftoff
LISA Pathfinder Liftoff

The European Space Agency successfully launched the LISA Pathfinder, a spacecraft designed to demonstrate technology for observing gravitational waves in space. The launch took place at Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana on a Vega rocket, at 4:04 GMT on December 3, (10:04 pm EST Dec 2), 2015.

Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of spacetime, which were predicted by Albert Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity. So far, because they are extremely tiny and incredibly faint, gravitational waves have proved to be elusive. The technology needed to detect them is highly sensitive and therefore has been difficult to conceive, plan and build.
Continue reading “Spacecraft Launches to Test the Hunt for Ripples in the Fabric of Spacetime”

More Spectacular Images from the MUOS-4 Launch

Stunning downrange plume over the rising sun, about 3 mins after launch of the MUOS-4 satellite from Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida. Used by permission. Credit and copyright: Mike Seeley.

Skywatchers across Central Florida got an unusual view early Wednesday morning in conjunction with the Atlas V launch of the MUOS-4 satellite.

“That wasn’t thunder this AM, Florida: An absolutely stunning MUOS launch!” tweeted photographer Michael Seeley, who shared several images of the launch with Universe Today. Mike is a freelance photographer and works with Spaceflight Insider. You can see more of his imagery at his website.

The pre-dawn light combined with unusual atmospheric conditions produced stunning views both during and well after the launch. The skyshow was visible across a wide area.

“Folks as far south as Miami and up to Jacksonville to the north saw it,” Universe Today’s David Dickinson said. “I even heard kids waiting for the school bus on our street crying out in surprise!”

You can read more about the launch and the mission in our article from Ken Kremer, but see a stunning gallery of images of the unusual cloud formations following the launch below:

A long exposure image of the light trail from the Atlas V launch of the MUOS-4 satellite, as seen from the ITL Causeway. Image used by permission. Credit and copyright: Mike Seeley.
A long exposure image of the light trail from the Atlas V launch of the MUOS-4 satellite, as seen from the ITL Causeway. Image used by permission. Credit and copyright: Michael Seeley.
A closeup view of the Atlas V MUOS-4 launch by United Launch Alliance. Image used by permission. Credit and copyright: Michael Seeley.
A closeup view of the Atlas V MUOS-4 launch by United Launch Alliance. Image used by permission. Credit and copyright: Michael Seeley.

Below are a group of images and video from UT’s David Dickinson, taken about 100 miles away from Cape Canaveral in Hudson, Florida:

The launch of the MUOS-4 satellite from Cape Canaveral, Florida on September 2, 2015 created an unusual noctilucent cloud display, visible even from 100 miles away. Credit and copyright: David Dickinson.
The launch of the MUOS-4 satellite from Cape Canaveral, Florida on September 2, 2015 created an unusual noctilucent cloud display, visible even from 100 miles away. Credit and copyright: David Dickinson.
Remaining noctilucent clouds about 25 minutes after the launch of the MUOS-4 satellite on board an Atlas V rocket on September 2, 2015. Image taken from Hudson, Florida, about 100 miles west of Cape Canaveral. Credit and copyright: David Dickinson.
Remaining noctilucent clouds about 25 minutes after the launch of the MUOS-4 satellite on board an Atlas V rocket on September 2, 2015. Image taken from Hudson, Florida, about 100 miles west of Cape Canaveral. Credit and copyright: David Dickinson.

A view from Hudson, Florida, about 100 miles west of Cape Canaveral after the launch of the MUOS-4 Satellite on September 2, 2015. Credit and copyright: David Dickinson.
A view from Hudson, Florida, about 100 miles west of Cape Canaveral after the launch of the MUOS-4 Satellite on September 2, 2015. Credit and copyright: David Dickinson.
An Atlas V rocket carrying the MUOS-4 mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41, creating a unique light display. Sept. 2, 2015. Credit: ULA.
An Atlas V rocket carrying the MUOS-4 mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41, creating a unique light display. Sept. 2, 2015. Credit: ULA.

The Most Unique Rocket Launch You’ll Ever See

A girandola taking off during a night launch. Via Pyropage.com

Have you ever heard of a girandola? I had not until we came across this video — which is pretty incredible! This might be one of the most unique things I’ve ever seen.

Girandolas are flying horizontal wheels and are a favorite of pyrotechnicians.

But as rudimentary as the setting looks in the video, girandolas are high precision, finely tuned instruments. According a group of fireworks professionals called the Pennsylvania Organization of Recreational Chaos (PORC), “you must have every driver (rocket motor) fire at the same time and be precisely tuned in order for the girandola to fly. There is very little room for error or it will not fly.”

You can find more info about girandolas at the link above, or here and it looks like they are available for purchase here.

SpaceX Could Launch 17 Rockets in 2015, Including the Most Powerful Rocket Since Saturn V

With over 3.8 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, Falcon Heavy will be the most capable rocket flying. By comparison, the liftoff thrust of the Falcon Heavy equals fifteen Boeing 747 aircraft at full power. Credit: SpaceX

If all goes as hoped, SpaceX will have a very busy 2015. The commercial space company could launch as many as 17 rockets, including a mid-flight test abort of the Dragon capsule to demonstrate its in-flight crew escape system. Then there’s the launch that every rocket aficionado one has been waiting for: the demonstration mission of the 27-engine Falcon Heavy rocket.

Already, SpaceX has launched one mission in 2015, the CRS-5 Dragon resupply mission for the International Space Station that was delayed from December 2014. In addition to successfully hooking up with the ISS, SpaceX also tested out a flyback and landing system for the Falcon 9 first stage, which was deemed “mostly successful” despite a spectacular explosion when it careened off the target, a floating ocean barge. The next test of the landing system will occur with the launch of the solar wind monitoring DSCOVR satellite, which has just been delayed slightly to February 9.

While SpaceX itself does not list upcoming launch dates on its own website, a site put together by SpaceX enthusiast Lukas Davia called SpaceXStats has garnered a list of potential launch dates from NASA and other customers, and they say up to 16 more launches could take place this year. SpaceX will be launching more space station resupply missions, commercial satellite launch missions, and US government science and national security missions.

Delays like the recently announced launch delay for DSCOVR, will greatly impact how many launches SpaceX will be able to conduct this year. Musk has said his company could launch about one rocket per month during 2015, while other sources predict 10-12 launches for the commercial company.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon cargo capsule packed with science experiments and station supplies blasts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on Sept. 21, 2014 bound for the ISS.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon cargo capsule packed with science experiments and station supplies blasts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on Sept. 21, 2014 bound for the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

As reported in Spaceflightnow.com, SpaceX had a similar number of flights on its docket in 2014, including the Falcon Heavy’s debut launch and the Dragon abort tests, which has slipped to be on the launch manifest for 2015. Six Falcon 9 rockets ended up blasting off last year.

Most of the missions will take off from Cape Canaveral’s launch complex, where up to 24 launches could take place this year. Along with the launches from SpaceX, United Launch Alliance has launches schedule for satellites for the U.S. military, NASA and commercial companies.

Video: Falcon Heavy

The Falcon Heavy was originally scheduled for its first test flight in late 2012 or early 2013 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, but it now will launch from the refurbished pads at Cape Canaveral. SpaceX says this rocket was designed from the outset to carry humans into space and “restores the possibility of flying missions with crew to the Moon or Mars.”

The Falcon Heavy will lift over 53 metric tons (117,000 lb) to orbit, about three times the performance of the Falcon 9. It is comprised of three nine-engine Falcon 9 first stage booster cores and uses upgraded Merlin 1D engines.

Here’s a sampling of launches from SpaceXStats, see the full list here.

9 Feb 2015 DSCOVR NOAA Falcon 9 v1.1 SLC-40, Florida
17 Feb 2015 Eutelsat 115W B & ABS-3A Asia Broadcast Satellite Falcon 9 v1.1 SLC-40, Florida
March 2015 Dragon Inflight Abort SpaceX / NASA Falcon 9 v1.1 SLC-4E, Vandenberg, California
8 Apr 2015 SpaceX CRS-6 NASA Falcon 9 v1.1 SLC-40, Florida
H1 2015 Falcon Heavy Test Flight SpaceX Falcon Heavy LC-39A, Florida

Video: SpaceX’s Year in Review, 2014:

High Winds, Technical Issues, and a Boat Delay Orion Test Flight

NASA’s first Orion spacecraft atop Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida one day prior to launch set for Dec. 4, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com

Wind gusts, an issue with valves on the Delta IV Heavy rocket, and an errant cruise ship all contributed to scrub the scheduled maiden test fight of NASA’s Orion spacecraft.

The launch team has tentatively rescheduled a new liftoff time of 7:05 a.m. EST on Friday, December 5 as the opening of a 2-hour, 39 minute window. Launch coverage will begin at 6 a.m. EST tomorrow on NASA TV. However, forecasts call for just 40% chance of acceptable weather conditions on Friday.

The test flight was scheduled from Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for a four-and-a-half-hour test flight of an uncrewed Orion spacecraft to Earth orbit. The countdown was halted twice when wind gusts exceeded limits. The countdown was also delayed when a boat entered restricted waters off the coast near the Launchpad.

Then, during a third launch attempt an issue with propellant valves on the Delta 4 Heavy’s first stage could not be resolved before the launch window closed.

The planned two-orbit Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) flight around Earth will lift the Orion spacecraft and it’s attached second stage to an orbital altitude of 3,600 miles, about 15 times higher than the International Space Station (ISS) – and farther than any human spacecraft has journeyed in 40 years. It will test several key systems on Orion, including electronics, the heat shield and parachutes.

Universe Today’s Ken Kremer is on hand in Florida and will provide continuing coverage of the test flight. You can also follow NASA’s Orion Blog for updates.

NASA Releases Photos of Aftermath of Launchpad Explosion

An aerial view of the Wallops Island launch facilities taken by the Wallops Incident Response Team Oct. 29 following the failed launch attempt of Orbital Science Corp.'s Antares rocket Oct. 28. Credit: NASA/Terry Zaperach

NASA released images of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia following the catastrophic failure of Orbital Science’s Antares rocket shortly after liftoff on Tuesday, Oct. 28. Visible is damage to the transporter erector launcher and lightning suppression rods, as well as debris around the pad. But given the spectacular secondary explosion when the rocket fell back to the pad, the damage – as viewed from the air – looks relatively minor.

Another aerial view of the Wallops Island launch facilities taken by the Wallops Incident Response Team Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014 following the failed launch attempt of Orbital Science Corp.'s Antares rocket Oct. 28, Wallops Island, VA. Photo Credit: (NASA/Terry Zaperach)
Another aerial view of the Wallops Island launch facilities taken by the Wallops Incident Response Team Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014, following the failed launch attempt of Orbital Science Corp.’s Antares rocket Oct. 28, Wallops Island, VA. Photo Credit: (NASA/Terry Zaperach)

NASA and Orbital have begun and initial assessment of the accident, but they said it will “take many more weeks to further understand and analyze the full extent of the effects of the event.”

NASA added that a number of support buildings in the immediate area have broken windows and imploded doors. What suffered the most damage were buildings nearest to pad 0A, where the launch took place, as well as a sounding rocket launcher adjacent to pad 0A.

“I want to praise the launch team, range safety, all of our emergency responders and those who provided mutual aid and support on a highly-professional response that ensured the safety of our most important resource — our people,” said Bill Wrobel, Wallops director. “In the coming days and weeks ahead, we’ll continue to assess the damage on the island and begin the process of moving forward to restore our space launch capabilities. There’s no doubt in my mind that we will rebound stronger than ever.”

NASA also said that environmental effects of the launch failure were largely contained within the southern third of Wallops Island, in the area immediately adjacent to the pad. Air sample were taken in the area and of nearby Chincoteague Island, and no hazardous substances were detected at the sampled locations.

You can see more imagery at NASA’s Flickr page.

Universe Today’s Ken Kremer was interviewed for NBC News, and you can view the feature below:

Source: NASA

BREAKING: Antares Rocket Explodes at Liftoff

Seconds after liftoff, Orbital Science’s Antares rocket exploded as it rose from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, Virginia. In video, the explosion appeared to come at the base of the rocket. The entire stack then fell back to the ground, with a second larger explosion.

According to NASA TV, there were no injuries reported at the launch site but there appears to be damage to the launch pad.

We’ll provide more information and updates as they become available. NASA and Orbital said they would be scheduling a news conference. Our Ken Kremer is on location at Wallops.

This is the first launch failure for NASA’s commercial space companies. Antares has had five successful launches. The launch was originally scheduled for Oct. 27 but was scrubbed when a boat entered restricted waters off the coast from the launch site.

The mission, was the third of eight Commercial Resupply Services missions that Orbital Sciences is under contract to NASA. The Cygnus capsule, named by Orbital the “SS Deke Slayton” after the late astronaut, was carrying 2,290 kilograms of cargo for the International Space Station.

This video was shot by journalist Matthew Travis at the press site at Wallops:

Every Falcon 9 Launch in One Image

A photo montage of every Falcon 9 launch so far. Used by permission. Credit: SpaceXStats.

If you’re a fan of SpaceX, you’ll love the website SpaceXStats. Writ large on the site are real-time countdowns to upcoming launches, all sorts of SpaceX statistics, launch manifest info, and fun trivia (there’s a countdown to how many days until Elon Musk’s bet about getting to Mars by 2020 or 2025 expires.)

The owner of the site, Lukas Davia, recently created a fantastic Falcon 9 launch collage, which was originally posted on imgur and discussed on Reddit (where there’s a 16,000-strong SpaceX community).

Lukas told Universe Today that one r/SpaceX user recently inquired if anyone had come across SpaceX montages. “While I don’t have the time for any serious video editing, I did have enough time spare to create a photo montage,” Lukas said via email. “Since I’m the owner of spacexstats.com, I already had all the launch images and assets necessary to produce it, stored locally on my computer. Using Adobe Photoshop, the whole process took just over an hour, from a blank canvas to the final image – and didn’t require much more than layer masks and guides to create. I then submitted it to /r/SpaceX & /r/space on Reddit, where it (quite surprisingly) managed to generate over 1,300,000 views in less than 24 hours.”

He added that he does plan on producing similar SpaceX graphics and perhaps updating this one in the future, “although I fear at SpaceX’s recent launch cadence, it’ll become unsuitably wide at some point!” he said.

Be sure to click on the image above to see the full resolution size.

Thanks to Lukas for sharing his montage with Universe Today.

Awesome Video of a Satellite in Orbit

Image of the TechDemoSat-1 in orbit, taken minutes after separation of the satellite from the Soyuz-2 launcher and shows a view of the Earth from Space, with the spacecraft's Antenna Pointing Mechanism in view. Credit: SSTL.

Here’s a great video from a camera mounted on the exterior of the TechDemoSat-1, an in-orbit technology demonstration mission from the UK. It launched on July 8, 2014 on a Soyuz-2, and the video shows the satellite moments after separation from the upper stage. The satellite even took a selfie, below.

The video shows the satellite’s rotation and reveals a spectacular vista of “blue marble” Earth (visible is cloudy skies over the Pacific, south of French Polynesia).

It’s interesting to note that some identified flying objects zip past the field of view: At :25 seconds, the Fregat upper stage of the Soyuz-2 rocket appears as a gold object passing away from the satellite left to right at a distance of approximately 60 meters. At :34 seconds a white “dot” crosses the frame left to right – which has been identified as one of the other satellites that shared the ride into orbit with TechDemoSat-1.

“It is very rare to see actual footage of our satellites in orbit,” said Sir Martin Sweeting, Executive Chairman of Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), the company behind the mission, “and so viewing the video taken from TechDemoSat-1 moments after separation from the rocket has been a hugely rewarding and exciting experience for everyone at SSTL. We are delighted with the progress of commissioning the TechDemoSat-1 platform, and are looking forward to the next phase – the demonstration of a range of new technologies being flown on this innovative mission.”

The satellite is roughly the size of a refrigerator but wieghs just 150kg. TechDemoSat (TDS-1) carries eight separate payloads from UK academia and industry plus other payloads from SSTL for product development. Find out more here from SSTL.