Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Launch for Cosmos-1

Despite some reports to the contrary, and although also carrying a satellite called Cosmos, the reported explosion of a Molniya-M rocket in Siberia was not connected to the launch of Cosmos-1.

CREDIT: The Planetary Society
The Project Operations Pasadena (POP) room, the attic of the carriage house behind The Planetary Society. From left to right: Greg Delory, Sam Dallas, Emily Lakdawalla , and Paul Fieseler.

CREDIT: The Planetary Society
A few of of the ground stations tracking Cosmos-1.

Update (T + 2 min): Cosmos-1 appears to have had a nominal launch with successful first stage separation.

Update (T + 8 min): Hopefully the craft should have faring separation and be spinning up, first possible contact will not occur until T + 10 minutes when Cosmos-1 rises over the horizon at Petropavlovsk.

Update (T + 16 min): No communications from Russia as yet, but according to the timeline the kick motor should be firing at this time. The first reports of the launch are starting to appear on the wire services, although there are no details as yet.

The first possible in-orbit contact is at T + 24 minutes when Cosmos-1 rises over horizon at Majuro in the Pacfic Ocean where a temporary ground station has been established. If established this contact will last only 10 minutes.

Update (T + 25 min): The report coming in from Kamchatka is that they did not detect the spacecraft. This isn't unexpected and shouldn't yet be a cause for concern. The first contact from a permanent ground station is not until T + 1 hour 35 minutes when it passes over Panska Ves in the Czech Republic.

Update (T+ 31 min): Majuro reports reports no contact at this time...

Update (T + 32 min): Petropavlovsk now reports that some Doppler signal was received, but then then was lost. This might be connected with the fact that the motor burn was happening at that time.

Update (T + 35 min): More stories are starting to appear on the wire services, including a good summary from Associated Press. Majuro still reports no contact at this time...

Update (T + 46 min): Majuro has now reported that they did not receive a signal during their window. Again, this is not unexpected, however the next chance for contact with the spacecraft is not for another hour when it passes over the first permanent ground station in Panska Ves in the Czech Republic.

Update (T + 56 min): Analysis of partial Doppler data taken from Petropavlovsk indicates that the duration of the kick motor firing was approximately correct. However despite some people declaring a successful launch, without any direct telemetry signal from the spacecraft this isn't yet clear.

Update (T + 1 h 17 min): An update from Lou Friedman directly from the Moscow Operations centre,
Here's what we know and don't know. Indications are that orbit burn was received over Kamchatka. That data cuts off. This could be normal, related to the rocket firing; or it could indicate an anomaly. This is unknown. We also know that no signal was received at Kamchatka, and we also know that no signal was recieved at Majuro. From here on in, there's no communication at all wth the spacecraft until it goes over Panska Ves in the Czech Republic. A contingency plan for this is now being put into effect. The Panska Ves, Tarusa, and Bear Lakes stations will send commands to the spacecraft to try to turn it on. So in sum we have some precious data and a lot of silence. We have to wait at least 30 minutes before any possible contact, and possibly longer. It looks like it may be a long night here in Moscow and a long day in Pasadena.

Update ( T + 1 h 42 min): No contact from Panska Ves, Tarusa or Bear Lakes at this time. The next best contact opportunities are on the 5th and 6th orbits, several hours into the mission when the first pancam images are expected. However the ongoing lack of direct telemetry signal, and the interrupted Doppler data taken from Petropavlovsk may suggest that the spacecraft has been lost.

Update (T + 2 h 1 min): No contact...

Update (T + 2 h 20 min): Reporting from the Russian Strategic Command, which has been tracking the spacecraft, indicate that neither the Shemya or Kwajunlon ground stations have not seen anything.

Update (T + 2h 28 min): At this point it time it looks like there are two possibilities. Either the orbit is not the nominal one, in other words the spacecraft is not in the right place, or it didn't go into orbit at all. Spaceflight Now has the story...

Update (T + 2h 57min): Further analysis of the Doppler data suggests that at least initially the launch was nominal, however there is a lot of noise in the later data which is hard to interpret.

Update (T + 3h 6min): Looks like the people at the Planetary Society are starting to give up hope. All horribly reminiscent of Beagle-2, each failed attempt to contact the spacecraft make it look more likely that it was lost.

Update (T +3 h 29 min): Moscow has now switched from normal operations mode to one where they are searching for the spacecraft, but the next contact opportunity is not until 02:39:54 UT.

However the real problem is that, since there has been no contact with the spacecraft since it passed over Petropavlovsk, its location is not known and therefore pointing the radio antennas becomes very difficult. No news is expected for some hours now, and it is possible that the spacecraft will not be found for some weeks, if at all...

Update: It now appears that Cosmos-1 may be alive and in orbit?

Update: Or perhaps not...