It's not rocket science! Actually it is, and it's been a busy frickin week

Russia and China light blue touch-paper, stand well back

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Russia and China celebrated a pair of successful launches this week, with a Rockot booster placing Sentinel-3B into orbit while China's Long March 11 lobbed five imaging sats into space.

The launch for the European Space Agency (ESA) on Wednesday evening from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome added to the growing Copernicus fleet with a twin for the already-launched Sentinel-3A satellite.

Originally designed for carrying nuclear warheads, the two stages of the Rockot fired for five minutes before the Briz-KM upper stage ignited to shepherd the satellite into an orbit approximately 800 km above the surface of the Earth.

ESA engineers at the European Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany, received their first telemetry from the spacecraft confirming all was well 92 minutes after lift-off.

The team expects to spend the next few days checking that the satellite’s systems are working before taking the following five months getting the thing commissioned for up to 12 years of science operations.

Hot on the heels of the Russian launch, Chinese rocket scientists lit the blue touch-paper of their solid-fuel rocket, the Long March 11.

At 12:42 Beijing time on 26 April, the secretive space agency sent a constellation of five satellites into orbit aboard what is only the fourth launch of the Long March 11.

Little is known about the Long March (or Chang Zheng) 11, but observers suspected that, like the Rockot, it is derived from a missile. The four solid fuelled stages are estimated to be able to lift a payload of 1,000 kg into orbit.

The first launch of the booster occurred in 2015 and the three subsequent lift-offs have all been successful.

The Zuhai-1 payload consists of a constellation of small satellites, intended to support activities such as agriculture and city management on Earth, is equipped with high resolution video imaging cameras.

China intends to attempt a sea-launch this year using the Long March 11 in order to expand the orbits achievable with its rockets without requiring copious amounts of fuel.

Next week will see the maiden launch of the block five version of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 carrying the Bangladesh Bangabandhu telecommunications satellite on 4 May and NASA’s Insight Mars lander launching a day later on 5 May. ®


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