Despite the world economic crisis, Russia continued efforts to re-emerge as a space power during 2009. Russian space agency, Roskosmos, promised to conduct from 39 to 44 launches in 2009, versus 27 missions in 2008. In reality, Russia launched 32 space missions. The nation's manned space program was responsible for the increase, as a result of doubling of Russian transport vehicles heading to a nearly completed International Space Station. Even with a number of satellite launches postponed to 2010, Russia conducted more space shots than any other country in the world. So far, all passengers and payloads of Russian rockets made it to space without problems, for the exception of a Meridian-2 satellite, which ended up in a lower-than-expected orbit due to the under-performance of the Fregat upper stage. According to the head of the Russian space agency Anatoly Perminov, by the end of 2009, Russia had 61 functioning spacecraft in orbit, of which 48 operated within its projected life span.
As soul-searching within the American space program reached its climax in 2009, Russia, China and India continued solidifying their future plans in space. After several years of behind-the-scene studies, Russian space agency finally felt compelled to publicize its vision in space, with a nuclear-powered space tug at its center. China continued its slow but steady advance toward independent space station and India moved forward with its plans for a domestically built manned spacecraft.
SPACE EXPLORATION IN 2009: THUMBS UP
Moon's water bomb. Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) hit a permanently dark crater near the lunar South Pole on October 9, in the effort to trigger an explosion carrying traces of water detectable from Earth. First observations confirmed water presence.
Titan's lakes. On July 8, cameras onboard NASA's Cassini spacecraft captured a specular reflection of the Sun from the surface of Titan, a sure sign of a smooth, mirror-like substance covering some regions of Saturn's largest moon. Ideas to land a floating capsule on the alien-world lake received huge new inspiration.
Enceladus' ice-covered ocean. NASA's Cassini instruments have found sodium salts in ice grains of Saturn's outermost ring. Detecting salty ice indicates that Saturn's moon Enceladus, which primarily replenishes the ring with material from discharging jets, could harbor a reservoir of liquid water -- perhaps an ocean -- beneath its surface. The project scientists made the announcement on June 25.
Hubble repair. In May, NASA Space Shuttle made its fifth and last visit to the Hubble Space Telescope. This time, the crew of Space Shuttle Atlantis upgraded the world's most famous telescope to work in orbit for another five years. The telescope was then expected long outlive the Space Shuttle fleet, which delivered and maintained in space since 1990 before going into retirement in 2010.
Mars rovers discoveries and tribulations. Despite long outliving their projected life span and struggling with failing systems, a pair of Mars Exploration Rovers continued their endurance journey on the Red Planet.
ISS construction progress. After decades of efforts, a magnificent human outpost in the Earth orbit commenced a full-scale scientific operations with the crew of six. While a Russian segment still remained largely unfinished, its first new long-term element since 2001 was added in November.
Koronas-Foton launch. Russian space science showed first signs of revival after the post-Soviet collapse with the launch of the Koronas-Foton Sun-watching satellite on January 30.
Mercury exploration. For the first time since 1970s, human knowledge about Mercury was advanced dramatically thanks to data from NASA's Messenger spacecraft.
Kepler, Hershel and Planck launch. A whole new generation of sophisticated space observatories was sent to space by NASA and ESA during 2009.
Angara development progress. Live engine firings and South-Korean satellite launch attempt, brought the first stage of Russia's new-generation Angara rocket closer to the launch pad.
SPACE EXPLORATION IN 2009: THUMBS DOWN
Constellation uncertainty: Although the first prototype of NASA's next-generation rocket flew a mostly successful test mission on October 28, the future of the launch vehicle and the entire American manned space flight remained clouded during 2009.
Sea Launch bankruptcy. A pioneering commercial space venture had to file for Chapter 11 on June 22 while many of its customers were defecting to competing launch providers.
North-Korean satellite launch attempt. Rocket teams at an isolated Stalinist state attempted a satellite launch on April 5, 2009, which the official North-Korean media said was successful. The "satellite" reportedly relayed patriotic songs from orbit. The problem was nobody outside North Korea was able to tune in to those songs or see the satellite visually or on radar.
Iranian satellite. Perhaps, not coincidently, Iran, a major customer of the North Korean rocket-proliferation bazaar, did succeed in placing a domestically built satellite into space from its own territory on February 2. Despite being a remarkable success for Iranian engineers, the achievement was clouded by questions about future use of rocket technology by a murderous regime ruling the country.
Naro rocket failure. The first South-Korean satellite launch did not succeed on August 26 due to the failure of the payload fairing to separate. However representatives of Moscow-based Khrunichev enterprise said Russian-built first stage worked well.
Satellite collision. Russia's defunct Strela-2M ("Arrow") satellite collided with a US Iridium communications spacecraft on February 10. Both vehicles were reportedly pulverized into a cloud of debris, stressing a danger from contaminating space.
Koronas-Foton failure. Russian bid to jump-start its scientific research in space ended prematurely with the loss of the Koronas-Foton satellite just 10 months after its launch.
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter troubles. Onboard problems sent NASA's flagship Mars orbiter repeatedly into a safe mode, threatening the record-breaking mission.
OCO launch failure. NASA's first dedicated mission to measure carbon dioxide from space has failed following a rocket malfunction on February 24.
Phobos-Grunt bluff. Despite a stream of reports that Russia's flagship planetary mission was nowhere near readiness for launch in 2009, the Russian space agency kept refuting stories, chastising journalists, and denying rumors about the inevitable delay until the bitter end. In September, just two months before the "launch date," the delay to 2011 had finally become official.
ORBITAL LAUNCH ATTEMPTS IN 2009 (as of August 3, 2023 ):
The 2009 space launch score card (as of December 4, 2014 ):
Canceled missions of 2009
2009: A Proton/Breeze M was scheduled to launch an Echostar 13 (CMBStar) satellite for an EchoStar Communications Corporation. The contract for the mission was announced on Feb. 21, 2007. Delayed from June and November 2008. By March 2009, EchoStar stopped the development of the CMBStar satellite.
Mid-year 2008: A Zenit-3SLB to launch AMC-21 spacecraft for SES Global from Baikonur. The launch contract was announced on June 1, 2006. Switched to the Ariane-5 rocket.
Delayed from July 2007: Shtil-2.1 booster to launch Sumbandila satellite for South Africa and Compass-3 for Russian space agency, from a submarine in the Barents Sea. (Delayed from Dec. 15 and 25, 2006, April and June 20, 2007. Switched to an Indian launch provider, then took a the hitchhiker spot on the Russian Meteor mission.)
Second quarter (summer): The Soyuz-2 rocket to launch Thor 6 communications satellite for Telenor of Norway from Kourou. In the spring of 2009, the mission was delayed from the second to the fourth quarter of 2009 and was apparently had to be moved from Soyuz-2 to the Ariane-5 rocket as a result.
2009: The Russian Soyuz rocket to fly its first mission from Kourou, French Guiana, with the Australian comsat Optus D3. (Soyuz launches from Kourou were originally expected as early as 2006. The launch of Optus D3 was initially scheduled for November 2008, however by mid-2007 was pushed to March 2009. In the meantime, Optus D3 payload was switched to Ariane-5 and launched successfully in Aug. 21, 2009. (In March 2008, the first Soyuz launch from Kourou was expected by mid-2009. By mid-2008, it was delayed to the end of 2009-beginning of 2010.)
This page is compiled by Anatoly Zak and S. Günes
All rights reserved
Last update: August 3, 2023
Arrow hits the target: Russia's defunct Strela-2M ("Arrow") satellite collided with a US Iridium communications spacecraft on Feb. 10, 2009. Both vehicles were reportedly pulverized into a cloud of debris. In the aftermath of the incident, Western press was full of inaccurate depictions and wild speculations about the design of the Russian satellite, including a ludicrous claim by the Wall Street Journal about a nuclear reactor onboard the spacecraft. In reality, Strela-2M was powered by drum-shaped solar panels. This was apparently the first instance in the history of space exploration, when two satellites have collided in space. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak
After many delays, the GOCE remote-sensing satellite finally took off on March 17, 2009. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2005 Anatoly Zak
An almost completed International Space Station was photographed by the departing crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery at the end of the STS-119 mission on March 25. Credit: NASA
Dwarfed by towering Hubble Space Telescope, astronauts John Grunsfeld, positioned on a foot restraint on the end of Shuttle Atlantis' remote manipulator system (RMS), and astronaut Andrew Feustel (bottom center), conduct the fifth and final spacewalk on May 18, during the STS-125 mission to refurbish and upgrade the planet's most famous astronomical instrument. Credit: NASA
The Sun reflects from the surface of a lake on Saturn's moon Titan in a photo taken by the Cassini spacecraft on July 8. Credit: NASA
The first Sterkh satellite launched on July 21 was designed to navigate emergency services to distressed vessels and aircraft. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak
The 2009 Moscow air and space show, MAKS-2009, was held on August 18-23, in the town of Zhukovsky. The highlight of the event was the presentation of the Russian vision for manned space program in the next 30 years and the new-generation manned spacecraft. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak
On August 25, 2009, a Russian-build booster powered by RD-191 engine lifted the first South-Korean space vehicle (top), paving the way to the Angara family of rockets. However, the mission itself failed due to the failure of the Korean-built upper stage. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2009 Anatoly Zak
A scale model of Russia's flagship planetary mission, Phobos-Grunt was demonstrated at the ILA 2008 air and space show in Berlin. Despite official promises to launch the mission in 2009, most industry insiders considered such schedule unrealistic. The official Russian media admitted a delay to 2011 only in September 2009. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak
A giant cliff bisects a crater in one of beautiful vistas of Mercury shot by NASA Messenger spacecraft as it was zooming past the planet on October 6. Credit: NASA
NASA's Centaur rocket stage plunges into the lunar surface, followed by LCROSS "shepherd" spacecraft on Oct. 9, in a bid to release and detect water ice in the resulting blast. Preliminary data did confirm the presence of water, however scale and visibility of the impact was greatly overestimated. Credit: NASA
Europe's SMOS satellite was launched on the Rockot booster in 2009. Copyright © 2010 Anatoly Zak