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Space launch highlights for 2014

Paul Sutherland, Feature writer
Jan 1, 2014, 8:00 UTC

Sen—Commercial companies will play an increasingly important part in space flight in 2014. Some will continue to fly satellites or carry supplies to the International Space Station. But a highlight is expected to be the first sub-orbital flights by Virgin Galactic.

After flight tests of the WhiteKnightTwo mother ship and its spacecraft SpaceShipTwo, plus firings of the rocket engine in 2013, Sir Richard Branson’s company is aiming to carry its first fare-paying passengers before the new year is over.

A Virgin Galactic spokesman told Sen: “We are on schedule for a 2014 launch of commercial service of the spaceship.” CEO George Whitesides added: “It is tremendously exciting to see years of work begin to come to fruition. We are proceeding cautiously but are moving efficiently towards our goal of commercial operations.”

A milestone some time during 2014 is set to be the first uncrewed test flight for NASA of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle which will eventually carry astronauts to an asteroid. A Delta IV Heavy rocket will lift the spacecraft from Cape Canaveral into an extended orbit around the Earth before it splashes down in the Pacific.

Any time after 7 January, Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus spacecraft will launch from Wallops Island, Virginia, atop an Antares rocket, on a commercial resupply mission to the ISS that was delayed from December because of the pump failure on the station.

The company is due to send another Cygnus on 1 May carrying more cargo and crew supplies to the orbiting outpost as part of their contract with NASA.

Rivals SpaceX will make their third commercial resupply mission to the ISS on 22 February, lifted by a Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Further cargo flights are due to follow on 6 June, 12 September and 5 December.

Routine Russian cargo flights by Progress rockets will launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, on 5 February, 28 April, 24 July and 22 October.

Four Soyuz missions will also fly from Baikonur, carrying new crews to the ISS. Soyuz 38 will lift off on 26 March with Steve Swanson, Oleg Artemyev and Alexander Skvortsov aboard. Soyuz 39 will follow on 28 May carrying Reid Wiseman, Maxim Suraev and Germany’s Alexander Gerst.

Space launch highlights in 2014

ESA's experimental IXV vehicle is due to make its first sub-orbital test flight in 2014, launched by a Vega rocket. Credit: ESA - J. Huart

On 30 September, Soyuz 40 will take Barry Wilmore, Yelena Serova and Alexander Samoukutyaev into orbit and finally, on 1 December, Soyuz 40 will carry Terry Virts, Italy’s Samantha Cristoforetti and another astronaut, yet to be named, to the ISS.

Early in 2014, the communications capability of the NASA Space Network will be boosted with the launch by an Atlas V from Cape Canaveral of the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite-L (TDRS-L) on 23 January.

Then on 27 February, the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory, an international mission led by NASA and the Japanese space agency JAXA, will blast off from Tanegashima Space Center, Japan, to provide state-of-the-art monitoring of rain and snowfall worldwide.

Biggest event in the European Space Agency’s year will be the encounter between its Rosetta space mission and Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The probe, launched ten years ago, will be woken from hibernation on 20 January.

First images of the comet are expected in May followed by a detailed survey, after which Rosetta’s lander Philae will touch down on the comet’s nucleus in November.

After successfully deploying payloads on its second flight in 2013, ESA’s new small launcher Vega will make its first commercial flight in spring, hoisting Kazakhstan’s DZZ-HR high-resolution earth observation satellite into space.

Albert Einstein ATV

The fourth ATV, Albert Einstein, pictured after undocking from the ISS on 28 October. Credit: NASA/ESA

Later in the year, it will launch ESA’s experimental IXV vehicle into a sub-orbital flight to test new technologies during its hypersonic and supersonic flight phases before the spacecraft lands in the Pacific.

In spring a Soyuz will lift-off from Europe’s spaceport at Kourou, French Guiana, for the first mission of ESA’s Copernicus Earth-observation programme. Sentinel Ia will provide 24-hour radar images to help in disasters, plus marine and land monitoring, civil security and climate studies.

Europe’s heavy-lift launcher Ariane 5 will also be busy. In June it will fly the fifth Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) Georges Lemaître to the ISS.

In a boost to Galileo, Europe’s satellite navigation programme, the rocket will launch six new satellites from mid-year, allowing full demonstration of the constellation’s power.

It looks sure to be another exciting year in space. Keep up to date by following - and Happy New Year from everyone on our news team as we continue to soar ever higher too!