Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Iran's failed Zafar launch: where did it go?

Zafar-1 launch on 9 Feb 2020. image: IRNA

On 9 February 2020 at 15:48:15 UT, Iran tried to launch a new satellite, Zafar-1, on a  Simorgh (Safir-2) rocket. Video released by the Iranian government shows that lift-off was succesful, and so was first stage separation and second stage ignition around 15:50:00 UT, and fairing separation around 15:50:18 UT. The upper stage next however failed to reach the necessary speed to put the satellite into earth orbit.

The intended orbit according to Iranian sources was a 530 km altitude, 56-degree inclination orbit. Orbit insertion however failed because the Simorgh upper stage burnt out at a speed of 6.533 km/s, almost 1 km/s short of the necessary 7.4 km/s,  according to the Iranian minister of Communications and Information Technology, Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi. The upper stage and satellite reached an apogee at 541 km altitude before making a long ballistic flight back to earth surface.

Zafar 1 on top of the Simorgh rocket at Semnan. Photo: IRNA

In order to get some idea where it's flight ended, I have modelled the failed launch in STK and GMAT.

The ascend to 541 km altitude was modelled in STK, with launch into the azimuth needed to reach a 56.0-degree orbital inclination (launch azimuth about 134.7 degrees - this was calculated with software I have written myself). I positioned apogee such as to correspond with an attempted orbit insertion about 10 minutes after launch (a typical value for launch into lower LEO). Burnout speed was put at 6.533 km/s, per Iranian sources.

The resulting State Vector was then used as input in GMAT to model the ballistic descend. I did this for two cases: for a 90 kg mass, ~0.25 m2 cross-section object corresponding to the Zafar satellite; and for a 1000 kg mass, 4.5 m2 cross-section object corresponding to the spent Simorgh upper stage. As I had no values for mass and size of the latter, I used values similar to a North Korean UNHA-3 upper stage. The MSISE90 atmosphere with current Space Weather was used in GMAT.


click map to enlarge

The result of this modelling is impact in the Indian Ocean some 25 minutes after launch and some 6400 km downrange from Semnan, at about 12 S, 88 E, for both the satellite and the Simorgh upper stage (see map above). These values should not be taken too strictly, given several uncertainties in the model input: they are ballpark figures.

As it turns out in this case, varying the mass and size have mostly minor effects on the impact position only (note: in an earlier modelling attempt posted on Twitter, the impact point came out closer to Iran, because in that initial model run I had been using a lower burnout speed).