This Week’s Launch Roundup: Project Kuiper Protoflight and Galactic 04 Take the Spotlight

In the world of space exploration, this week is packed with exciting launches and missions. United Launch Alliance (ULA) is gearing up for its second Atlas V launch of the year, while Amazon’s subsidiary, Kuiper Systems LLC, is preparing to place its first Kuiper demonstration satellites into orbit. Meanwhile, China has already kicked off the week with a successful launch of three Yaogan military reconnaissance satellites. SpaceX is also in action, with a Falcon 9 Starlink launch on the schedule, and Virgin Galactic is set to take a suborbital tourist flight with the first Pakistani astronaut on board. Lastly, the original Vega small satellite launcher will complete one of its final flights. Let’s dive into the details of these exciting missions.

China’s Chang Zheng-2D launch vehicle took off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China, carrying three Yaogan military reconnaissance satellites. The satellites are destined for low-Earth orbit, marking the ninth CZ-2D flight of 2023 and the 81st mission overall for this type of rocket.

Next up is SpaceX’s Falcon 9, which will launch a batch of 22 Starlink v2 Mini satellites. The launch will take place from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and will contribute to SpaceX’s goal of providing global broadband coverage. The Falcon 9 booster will attempt a successful landing on the barge “Just Read the Instructions” stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.

Virgin Galactic is also making headlines with its VSS Unity spacecraft, set to embark on a suborbital tourist flight. This mission will carry the first Pakistani astronaut, along with five other passengers, to the edge of space. The flight will be commanded by Kelly Latimer, with former Shuttle astronaut CJ Sturckow as the pilot. Virgin Galactic lead astronaut trainer Beth Moses will also be on board, crossing the unofficial “McDowell Line” at 80 kilometers altitude, where the US Air Force and FAA award astronaut wings.

Meanwhile, Amazon’s Project Kuiper is ready for its first flight, known as the Project Kuiper Protoflight. This mission aims to launch two prototype satellites for the upcoming Kuiper broadband satellite constellation. The satellites, named Kuipersat-1 and Kuipersat-2, will be placed in a low-Earth orbit of 500 kilometers and inclined 30 degrees to the Equator. This launch marks the beginning of Amazon’s competition with SpaceX’s Starlink in the race to provide global broadband coverage.

Lastly, the original Vega small satellite launcher will complete one of its final flights. The Arianespace VV23 mission, scheduled for Friday, will carry multiple payloads, including THEOS-2, FORMOSAT-7R/TRITON, and SSMS no. 5. This launch will take place from the Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana.

Overall, this week is full of exciting developments in the world of space exploration. From China’s military reconnaissance satellites to Amazon’s entry into the broadband satellite constellation race, there is no shortage of innovation and progress. As we witness these incredible missions, we are reminded of the boundless possibilities that lie beyond our planet’s atmosphere.