Launch Roundup: Russia to return to the Moon in Luna 25 mission, Virgin Galactic to complete first fully private space tourism flight


It’s a busy week in spaceflight, especially for Russia. The week of Aug. 7 following through to Aug. 13 will see Russia launch two missions to space, including the nation’s fourth-generation radio navigation satellite, GLONASS-K2, and Roscosmos’s first mission returning to the Moon in over four decades, dubbed Luna 25.

SpaceX is also sending one more batch of its Starlink v2 Minis into low-Earth orbit (LEO), and China is yet again launching another unknown payload into space. More details about China’s launch should be disclosed during or after the event.

Lastly, Virgin Galactic will complete the second of its previously announced human spaceflight missions, Galactic 02, which will send three fully private tourists into space. If all missions go to plan as expected, the number of orbital launch attempts will notch up to 123 this year so far.

Soyuz 2.1b/Fregat-M — Glonass-K2 No. 13

The Russian Space Force is set to launch the first of its fourth generation GLONASS-K2 satellites into space on Monday, Aug. 7. The satellite will launch atop a three-stage Soyuz 2.1b/Fregat-M rocket from Russian spaceport Plesetsk Cosmodrome at about 10:10 AM EDT (14:10 UTC). The Fregat-M is the optional upper stage that typically flies on either the Soyuz 2.1b or Soyuz 2.1a launch vehicles.

Soyuz-2.1B medium-lift rocket launches GLONASS-M satellite from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in 2018. (Credit: Russian Space Force)

GLONASS-K2 is the latest radio satellite navigation system developed by ISS Reshetnev (Information Satellite Systems), likened to Galileo or GPS. The satellite is unpressurized and masses 1,645 kilograms and will launch into a circular orbit with an orbital period of 11 hours, 15 minutes, and 44 seconds.

The satellite is the first of 24 that will eventually form the GLONASS-K2 constellation. The satellites are expected to operate for ten years, and while its lifespan is the same as its predecessor, GLONASS-K, it has been designed with several advancements, including more power, more accurate chronometers, and additional CDMA signals.

The first GLONASS satellites were operational from 1982 to 2005, followed by the GLONASS-M constellation, which launched from 2003 to 2016 and is still in use. In 2011, the first GLONASS-K satellite was launched into space and represented the first unpressurized version of the Russian navigation satellites, therefore greatly reducing its mass.

Falcon 9 Block 5 — Group 6-20

The next batch of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites is set to launch on Tuesday, Aug. 8. The 22 v2 Mini satellites are slated to lift off into LEO just before 12:00 AM EDT (04:00 UTC) from Vandenberg Space Launch Complex 4 (SLC-4E) in California.

Following separation, the first stage will attempt to land on ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ drone ship in the Pacific Ocean. At this time, boosters for this flight are unknown, but the launch will mark the 54th mission for SpaceX in 2023 — and the 51st for the Falcon 9.

A Falcon 9 launches the first batch of Starlink v2 mini satellites from Florida. (Credit: Stephen Marr for NASASpaceflight/L2)

Chang Zheng 2C (CZ-2C) — Unknown Payload

The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) is scheduled to launch an unknown payload into space on Tuesday, Aug. 8, at around 7:00 PM EDT (23:00 UTC). The payload is set to lift off atop a Chang Zheng 2C (CZ-2C) rocket — also known internationally as a Long March 2C — from Launch Complex 9 at the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in China. The launch will mark the sixth mission for the CZ-2C in 2023.

The two-stage CZ-2C completed its last flight on July 9 from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China, sending the Weixing Hulianwang Jishu Shiyan payload into LEO, which was confirmed to be an internet constellation satellite technology pathfinder.

SpaceShipTwo — Galactic 02

Virgin Galactic is scheduled to fly its second commercial mission on Thursday, Aug. 10, sending three private customers into space onboard the SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity spacecraft. The vehicle is set to lift off from Spaceport America in New Mexico at 10:00 AM EDT (14:00 UTC) and will be carried by the White Knight Two VMS Eve aircraft before release. If it is anything like Galactic 01, which launched on June 29, the mothership will carry SpaceShipTwo to an altitude of 44,500 feet before releasing the spacecraft to fly into space.

The crew of Galactic 02 includes pilots CJ Sturckow and Kelly Latimer, Virgin Galactic’s chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses, and private customers Jon Goodwin, Keisha Schahaff, and Anastatia Mayers. Moses was a passenger on VSS Unity’s test flight in February 2019.

Who will crew #Galactic02 on August 10? Meet our first private astronauts who will also become the first Olympian and first Caribbean astronauts in space:

Jon Goodwin | Astronaut 011 |
Keisha Schahaff | Astronaut 012 |
Anastatia Mayers | Astronaut 013 |

Follow their…

— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) July 17, 2023

Jon Goodwin will be the second person with Parkinson’s disease — and the first Olympian — to travel to space, after competing in the 1972 Munich Olympic games. The two remaining customers, Keisha Schahaff and Anastatia Mayers, will be the first mother-daughter duo to travel to space. Further, the two will also be the first space tourists from the Caribbean Islands. Anastatia will be the second youngest person to be on a spaceflight at 18 years old, followed slightly behind by Oliver Daemen, who flew on Blue Origin’s NS-16 mission in July 2021 — also at the age of 18.

Galactic 02 will be the first fully private space tourism mission for Virgin Galactic, following Galactic 01, which carried three members from the Italian Air Force and the National Research Council of Italy. Virgin Galactic expects to complete space tourism flights every month from now on.

Soyuz 2.1b/Fregat-M – Luna 25 & Others

For the second time within a week, a Soyuz 2.1B/Fregat-M rocket will launch a payload into deep space, and the mission will be the first return to the Moon for Russia since 1976. Luna 25 is the first mission part of Roscosmos’s new Moon exploration program and will lift off from Site 1S at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia on Friday, Aug. 11 at 7:10 PM EDT (23:10 UTC), with a total launch mass of 1,750 kilograms.

Luna 25, also known as Luna-Glob-Lander according to NASA, is a Russian lunar lander mission set to probe the south-polar region of the Moon. The spacecraft will study the composition of the polar regolith and the plasma and dust components of the lunar polar exosphere. The mission will carry 30 kilograms of scientific instruments, including a robotic arm for soil samples and drilling hardware, and is built to survive on the lunar surface for at least a year.

Luna-25 being installed on the stand of the space head and docked to the upper stage Fregat-M. (Credit: Roscosmos)

Alongside Luna 25 will be 13 other small satellites for different customers, including two 6U Cubesats developed by Sputnix. The rocket will launch the payloads into a Trans Lunar Injection (TLI) to slingshot the spacecraft toward the Moon. Followed by Luna 25 will be Luna 26, set to map the lunar surface, then Luna 27, a heavy lander that will collect samples of the surface, then Luna 28, which will return the samples to Earth, and finally Luna 29, which will land a heavy lunar rover on the Moon.

(Lead image: Roscosmos assembling the Luna 25 ahead of launch. Credit: Vostochny Space Center)

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