It was a busy week for launches, as a Long March 3B, a Falcon 9 and an Atlas 5 lifted off, carrying a lunar rover, a communications satellite and a classified payload, respectively.
China started us off on Sunday with a launch of the Long March 3B at 12:30 p.m. EST out of the Xichang Launch Facility. The Long March was carrying Chang'e 3, China's third lunar probe. The spacecraft is expected to land on the Moon, in a plain known as Sinus Iridium (or "The Bay of Rainbows") on December 14th. It will then deploy a rover, Yutu (or Jade Rabbit), that is expected to study the Moon's rocks and soil as well as send back high-resolution images from the surface. Since not much is known about the trajectory of Chang'e-3, Mike Loucks
(with the help of Robert Christy
) has done some astrodynamics work to piece together a guess of the trajectory over at The Astrogator's Guild.
Next up was Space X and the Falcon 9 launch out of Cape Canaveral, FL, on Tuesday evening. After scrubbed attempts on Monday, November 25 and Thursday, November 28, the Falcon 9 left the pad at 5:41 p.m. EST carrying SES-8 to orbit. SES-8 is a telecommunications satellite and the first launch to a geostationary transfer orbit for the Falcon 9.
Finally on Thursday there was the launch of the Atlas 5 out of Vandenberg at 11:14 p.m. PST. The payload for the Atlas 5 was NROL-39, a National Reconnaissance Office satellite. There were also 12 CubeSat payloads on the Atlas 5 including: AeroCube 5, an Aerospace Corp test of pointing and tracking between two CubeSats; ALICE, from the Air Force Institute of Technology; SNaPm TacSat6 and two SMDC-ONE from the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command; CUNYSAT 1 from Medgar Evans College; IPEX from Jet Propulsion Laboratory; MCubed 2 from the University of Michigan; and FIREBIRD 1A and 1B from Montana State University.
The SSC (or NORAD catalog number) for Chang'e-3 is 39458; SES-8 is 39460. The SSC numbers for the Atlas 5 payloads are not confirmed yet.
Next week, there are Proton and Long March 4B launches scheduled for Sunday, December 8.