Arianespace to launch Soyuz rocket with European satellites
KOUROU, French Guiana — Arianespace is in final stages in their preparation to launch a set of European satellites designed for Earth observation, astrophysical research, and educational purposes. The spacecraft is scheduled to be sent on its way atop a Soyuz-STA rocket at 5:02 p.m. EDT (21:02 GMT) Friday, April 22, from the Soyuz Launch Complex (ELS) in Sinnamary, French Guiana.
The mission, designated VS14 in Arianespace’s numbering system, will be the company’s first Soyuz launch this year. The main passenger of the VS14 flight is the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Sentinel-1B Earth-observation satellite. Two smaller payloads will piggyback on the flight: a French microsatellite called Microscope, designed to conduct astrophysical research, and an educational project dubbed ‘Fly Your Satellite!’ – a trio of CubeSats built jointly by three European universities.
The launch campaign started on March 1 when initial preparations of the rocket’s Fregat upper stage commenced at the Soyuz launcher preparation building (MIK) at the Guiana Space Centre. Sentinel-1B arrived at the launch site one week later, while Microscope was delivered on March 10. ‘Fly Your Satellite!’ was shipped to French Guiana much later, on March 25.
Meanwhile, on March 21, the fueling of the upper stage was initiated along with the integration of the first and second stages of the rocket in the MIK facility.
During the first week of April, the teams were busy with the integration of the secondary payload on the launch vehicle’s Auxiliary Payload Adaptor Structure (APAS). Sentinel-1B, as the main passenger, was mated with APAS on April 14. During this period, engineers also conducted pneumatic and electrical tests on the launcher.
APAS was mated with the satellites which, in turn, was attached to the Fregat upper stage on April 13 and two days later this stack was encapsulated in the payload fairing. The rocket, now integrated with its passengers, was rolled out to the launch pad Tuesday, April 19.
The upper stage will now undergo functional tests and checks while the launcher will go through final verifications. The launch readiness review is scheduled for April 21.
After the scheduled launch on Friday, the Soyuz rocket will embark on a 4-hour trip to deliver the satellites into low-Earth orbit (LEO). If everything goes according to plan, Sentinel-1B will be placed at an altitude of 426 miles (686 kilometers), with an inclination of 98.18 degrees. The Microscope spacecraft will be conducting its research at an altitude of 442 miles (711 kilometers), inclined 98.23 degrees, whereas the CubeSats will be put into an orbit with a perigee of some 281 miles (453 kilometers) and an apogee of 413 miles (665 kilometers).
Weighing nearly 2.4 tons (2.2 metric tons), the Sentinel-1B spacecraft measures about 11 feet (3.4 meters) in height and has a diameter of 7.6 feet (2.3 meters). Manufactured by Thales Alenia Space, the spacecraft is based on the PRIMA bus. It is capable of generating up to 6,000 watts of power with its deployable solar arrays and is designed to be operational for up to seven years.
Sentinel-1B is a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) type C-band observation satellite. It will join its identical twin, Sentinel-1A, that was launched two years ago. These two satellites will work together to image any point on Earth in less than six days. Their powerful radar sensors will provide real-time all-weather coverage of land surfaces and bodies of water in Europe and the polar regions.
Sentinel satellites are part of a research program called Copernicus, managed jointly by ESA and the European Union. The program aims to provide operational information on land masses, oceans, and Earth’s atmosphere. The system consists of Earth observation satellites and in-situ sensors such as ground stations, airborne and seaborne sensors.
Developed by the French space agency CNES, the Microscope is a box-shaped microsatellite with a mass of about 668 pounds (303 kilograms). Its dimensions are 4.6 feet by 3.3 feet by 4.9 feet (1.4 meters by 1 meter by 1.5 meters). The spacecraft, based on the Myriade bus, features two solar cells and is designed to be operational for up to three years.
The Microscope satellite will test the equivalence principle described by Albert Einstein by using two concentric cylindrical test masses made of different materials—one titanium and one a platinum-rhodium alloy.
“Fly Your Satellite!“ consists of three student-built 4-inch (10-centimeter) CubeSats: OUFTI-1, e-st@r-II, and AAUSAT-4. Built by the University of Liege in Belgium, OUFTI-1 will test a new communications subsystem. E-st@r-II from the Polytechnic of Turin, Italy, will demonstrate an attitude determination system using measurements of the Earth’s magnetic field. AAUSAT-4, provided by the University of Aalborg, Denmark, will operate an Automated Identification System (AIS) receiver in order to identify and track the position of ships transiting away from coastal areas.
“Fly Your Satellite!” is part of the newly-established ESA Education and Knowledge Management Office’s program. The aim of this project is to give university students across Europe the chance to gain practical experience in key phases of developing a real satellite project—from integration, testing, and verification all the way to launch and operations.
The 151 foot (46-meter) tall Soyuz-STA rocket that will be employed in Friday’s launch is based on the Russian Soyuz-2 developed by TsSKB-Progress. It is a four-stage launch vehicle: four boosters (first stage), a central core (second stage), a third stage, and the restartable Fregat upper stage (fourth stage). It also includes a payload adapter/dispenser and fairing. The rocket is capable of delivering up to 3 tons (2.7 metric tons) into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO), and about 5 tons (4.5 metric tons) into a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). The STA version was flown for the first time in December of 2011.
VS14 will be the third Arianespace mission in 2016 and the sixth Soyuz flight this year. Sentinel-1B will be the 51st ESA satellite launched by Arianespace. The company’s next mission is scheduled for May 24, 2016, when a Soyuz-STB launcher will send two ESA Galileo satellites into orbit.
Video courtesy of Arianespace
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.