Who Will be the Last?
In five days, the Times Square Ball will drop to signify the arrival of the year 2021, and the United States has already wrapped up their launch manifest comprising of SpaceX’s Falcon 9, United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V & Delta IV Heavy, and even Astra’s Rocket 3.2. However, that doesn’t mean the world is going to wait until after New Year’s Day.
Over in French Guiana, an imported Russian Soyuz rocket will lift a French reconnaissance satellite called CSO 2 into orbit. What will the satellite do? Provide high-resolution and infrared imagery of our home planet. That also means a contribution to GPS navigation maps. You know how there’s an option on the “Map Display” menu called “Satellite”? Well, CSO 2 is going to help improve on the quality of what the world looks like from space.
For those who’ve been following up with the space program’s across the world, you know what a Soyuz rocket is like. It’s essentially the train to the International Space Station courtesy of the Russian Space Agency called Roskosmos. However, Soyuz can also be used as a satellite launcher just like any other unmanned rocket. But why launch from French Guiana out of all places? Main reason is so that separated stages do not drop on populated areas; that space center is located right on the Atlantic Ocean shore.
Being a Space Savant myself, I always expect rocket launches to be announced in public all the time. But little did I know that there were some rockets that lift off in secrecy without anyone knowing. The Chinese Long March rockets partake in national security missions too, which is actually key to the secrecy. The CSO 2 satellite is an exception, but other reconnaissance satellites have undisclosed purposes.
While the Soyuz awaits its end-of-year launch from South America, a million-dollar question remains in the air: who will actually be the last space agency to launch a rocket into orbit? Will it be the aforementioned CSO 2 reconnaissance satellite, or will it be a Chinese national security mission that only the nation’s military is aware about?