Spaceflight Insider

Proton-M successfully lofts Eutelsat 9B communications satellite

EDRS-A liftoff on Proton-M

Liftoff of Eutelsat 9B (EDRS-A) satellite on Proton-M. Photo Credit: ILS

Commercial launch provider, International Launch Services (ILS), has successfully conducted its first flight this year, sending the Eutelsat 9B communications satellite to orbit. Liftoff of the Russian-built Proton-M rocket carrying the spacecraft took place as planned at 5:20 p.m. EST (22:20 GMT) from Launch Pad 39 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome located in Kazakhstan.

The launch campaign for this mission started in November of last year (2015), with the arrival of the Eutelsat 9B satellite at Baikonur Space Center. Then, an international team of engineers from the U.S., Russia, and France unloaded the spacecraft and multiple pieces of the ground support equipment to perform initial fit checks and stand-alone operations.

In December, the spacecraft, as well as the launch vehicle, underwent a series of tests, verifications, and checks. Works on the rocket’s Briz-M upper stage and on the payload adapter were completed without issue. These were crucial in order to advance to joint operations.

Another important step was the fueling of the satellite with monomethylhydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide propellants. When the spacecraft was fully fueled, joint operations got underway. This took place on Dec. 13 with the lifting of Eutelsat 9B and mating with the booster’s payload adapter. Teams connected umbilicals, conducted electrical tests, and finalized preparations prior to the lifting and mating with the rocket’s upper stage.

Proton-M rocket with Eutelsat 9B satellite at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Proton-M rocket with Eutelsat 9B satellite at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Photo Credit: Khrunichev

A multitude of checks were carried out to ensure that the spacecraft and Briz-M were both healthy, and were verified to be ready for upcoming operations.

On Jan. 24, the rocket was delivered to the fueling area where the upper stage low-pressure tanks were filled. The technical specialists completed the assembly of the launch vehicle, including the mechanical and electrical mating of the Proton-M booster with the ascent unit, consisting of the satellite, the adapter system, and Briz-M upper stage.

The launch was initially planned to take place on Jan. 25, but it was postponed due to weather-related logistical issues. Finally, the rocket was rolled out to the launch pad on Jan. 26.

Igniting its six RD-276 engines, the Proton-M started its climb out of Earth’s gravity well at the very opening of the launch window.

The booster reached maximum dynamic pressure or “max-Q” – within about a minute and a half after leaving the launch pad.

The boosters, with the first stage, were jettisoned approximately two minutes after launch.

The second stage and its precious cargo then continued its journey “up-hill” until stage separation approximately five minutes and 27 seconds into the flight.

The payload fairing separated from the vehicle about 20 seconds later – starting the next phase of the mission in which the stack, consisting of the third stage, Briz-M, and Eutelsat 9B flew for about another four minutes. Third stage separation occurred at T+9 minutes and 42 seconds, starting a 9-hour flight that will include five engine burns which should culminate in the Eutelsat 9B spacecraft being deployed some 9 hours and 12 minutes after liftoff.

The satellite is expected to be injected into a geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO). If everything goes as planned, it will operate there for up to 15 years.

Eutelsat 9B, built by Airbus Defence and Space, is a high-capacity Ku-band communications satellite. It was designed to address high-growth video markets in Europe. It should be able to do so by providing wide coverage for channels that require maximum reach into satellite homes and terrestrial headends.

Eutelsat company hopes that the satellite will be able to address high-growth linguistic digital TV markets in Italy, Germany, Greece, and the Nordic/Baltic regions.

The company was established in 1977, and currently operates a fleet of some 39 satellites located in geosynchronous orbits between 116 degrees West and 172 degrees East.

Eutelsat 9B, weighing approximately 5.2 metric tons, is based on the Eurostar E3000 platform. This particular bus can accommodate more than  100 transponders, a large number of antennas, and payload power requirements ranging from 4 kW all the way to 14 kW. The spacecraft features two deployable solar arrays and is fitted with 56 Ku-band transponders, connected to a broad European-wide beam and four regional beams over European countries.

The first Eutelsat satellite, named Eutelsat I F-1, was launched on June 16, 1983, by an Ariane 1 rocket from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

EDRS-A and Eutelsat 9b are mated together in preparation for flight. Photo Credit: Airbus Defence and Space SAS

EDRS-A and Eutelsat 9b are mated together in preparation for flight. Photo Credit: Airbus Defence and Space SAS

Eutelsat 9B also hosts the first data relay payload for the European Data Relay Satellite (EDRS) System being implemented through a Public/Private Partnership (PPP) between the European Space Agency (ESA) and Airbus Defence and Space. Dubbed the “SpaceDataHighway”, EDRS should provide near-realtime Big Data relay services using cutting-edge laser technology. According to ESA, it will dramatically improve access to time-critical data, aiding disaster response by emergency services and maritime surveillance.

The EDRS system of telecommunication satellites in geostationary orbit will allow very high data rate and bi-directional data relay communications between low-Earth orbit (LEO) Earth observation satellites and an associated ground station.

Thanks to the very high communication rates possible with a laser (up to 1.8 Gbit/s) and the geostationary orbit positioning of the relay satellites, up to 50 terabytes per day can be transmitted securely in near-real-time to Earth, as opposed to the often 3 to 4-hour delay currently experienced.

“SpaceDataHighway” is the equivalent of optical fiber communications in Space. It will revolutionize satellite and drone communications, and help to keep the European space industry at the forefront of technology and innovative services,” said Evert Dudok, Head of the Communications, Intelligence & Security business at Airbus Defence and Space.

The satellite that will be delivered into space together with Eutelsat 9B is designated EDRS-A and is the first of two spacecraft in this system.

The second EDRS satellite, designated EDRS-C, will be launched in 2017 atop another Ariane 5 rocket. Airbus and ESA are aiming to expand the capacity and provide global coverage of the system by 2020, with a third node to be positioned over the Asia-Pacific region.

When fully deployed, the system should be able to relay up to 50 terabytes of data from space to Earth every day. It will also be used by the International Space Station (ISS) to communicate with the ground, supporting its usual functions, such as live video transmissions or sending the results of experiments to the ground from Europe’s Columbus research module.

The 190-foot tall (58-meter) Proton-M booster that was used for Friday launch measures 13.5 feet (4.1 meters) in diameter along its second and third stages, with a first stage that has a diameter of 24.3 feet (7.4 meters). The total overall height of the Proton booster’s three stages is 138.8 feet (42.3 meters).

The rocket’s first stage consists of a central tank containing the oxidizer surrounded by six outboard fuel tanks. Each fuel tank also carries one of the six RD‑276 engines that provide power for the first stage. The cylindrical second stage is powered by three RD-0210 engines along with one RD‑0211 engine. Meanwhile, the third stage is powered by a single RD-0213 engine and a four-nozzle vernier engine. Guidance, navigation, and control of the Proton-M during operation of the first three stages is carried out by a triple redundant closed-loop digital avionics system mounted in the Proton’s third stage.

The Briz-M is powered by a pump-fed gimbaled main engine. This stage is composed of a central core and an auxiliary propellant tank that is jettisoned in flight following the depletion of the stage’s propellant. The Briz-M control system includes an onboard computer, a three-axis gyro stabilized platform, and a navigation system. The quantity of propellant carried is dependent on specific mission requirements and is varied to maximize mission performance.

Friday’s mission was the first launch conducted by ILS in 2016 and the 92nd in the company’s history. Eutelsat 9B is the 11th Eutelsat satellite and the 21th spacecraft built by Airbus that was launched by Proton-M booster. The next ILS flight is currently planned for April 23 when a Proton-M rocket is slated to lift off with the Intelsat 31 communications satellite.

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Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.

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