ULA preparing to launch WorldView-4 satellite from Vandenberg
United Launch Alliance (ULA) is preparing to launch the WorldView-4 satellite on Friday from Space Launch Complex 3E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Previously known as GeoEye-2, this spacecraft was manufactured by Lockheed Martin and is operated by DigitalGlobe.
Liftoff is set for 11:30 a.m. PDT (2:30 p.m. EDT; 18:30 GMT) Sept. 16 using an Atlas V 401 rocket – sporting a 4-meter fairing, zero solid rocket boosters, and a single-engine Centaur upper stage. The launch window is 14 minutes long. There is a 70 percent chance of acceptable weather during that time.
Preparations for launching the rocket began back in December 2015. ULA was planning on using the booster for the Mars InSight mission. However, since that flight was postponed, the company decided to place WorldView-4 on top instead.
This will be the first orbital launch from Vandenberg since the completion of upgrades to the U.S. Western Range. According to Spaceflight Now, the half-year outage “allowed allowed 1,100 pieces of critical equipment be unhooked and moved from one building to another in a total shutdown of the booster tracking network at Vandenberg.”
WorldView-4 is the successor (and complement) to the WorldView-3 satellite and incorporates many of the same systems. The two craft will be working together in DigitalGlobe’s constellation at an expected altitude of 617 km.
The spacecraft’s telescope is called the Geo-Eye Imaging System-2. It was designed and built by ITT Corporation and is capable of discerning objects as small as 12.2 inches (31 centimeters) on the Earth’s surface. In multispectral imagery, the resolution grows to 4 feet (1.24 meters). Multispectral imagery will be available in red, green, blue, and near-infrared channels.
The planned orbit is Sun-synchronous – a type of polar orbit in which the Sun is always visible to the spacecraft – with a period of 97 minutes. From there, it can cover the entire Earth as the planet rotates under the spacecraft’s orbit.
This launch has been a long time coming. Originally named GeoEye-2, work began in October 2007 when commercial imagery company GeoEye selected ITT Corporation (now Harris Corporation) to start building long lead-time items for the satellite’s camera system. A contract for construction of the full spacecraft was awarded to Lockheed Martin in March 2010.
Lockheed issued a subcontract to ITT Corporation in August 2010 to continue working on the camera system, which was delivered to Lockheed in April 2012, and was mated to the spacecraft’s bus the following month.
At the time, GeoEye-2 was planned to be launched late in 2012. However, in July 2012, DigitalGlobe agreed to purchase GeoEye. They finalized the merger in January 2013.
At the time, each company had a satellite being prepared for launch: WorldView-3 and GeoEye-2. Because WorldView-3 offered multiple infrared channels in addition to the standard panchromatic and multispectral channels, the company chose to proceed with its launch and to place GeoEye-2 into storage.
The decision to rename GeoEye-2 to WorldView-4 was made in July 2014, to better match the company’s branding. Due to a projected increase in product demand, the spacecraft was taken out of storage and prepared for launch. The total cost of the spacecraft, including insurance and launch, is estimated to be $835 million.
Eric Shear is a recent graduate from York University, honors bachelor in space science. Before that, Shear studied mechanical engineering at Tacoma Community College. During this time, Shear helped develop the HYDROS water-electrolysis propulsion system at Tethers Unlimited and led a microgravity experiment on the Weightless Wonder parabolic aircraft. Shear has worked for an extended period of time to both enable and promote space flight awareness. Shear agreed to contribute to SpaceFlight Insider’s efforts so that he could provide extra insight into interplanetary missions, both past and present.