SpaceX to launch first Turkmenistan satellite tomorrow – weather permitting
Less than two weeks after Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX ) successfully launched the sixth Commercial Resupply Service mission (CRS-6) to the International Space Station, the Hawthorne, California-based firm is prepping yet another Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket for flight. SpaceX continues to ramp up their launch capabilities, this time planning on sending a commercial satellite aloft. SpaceX has been tasked with launching Turkmenistan’s first commercial satellite to geosynchronous orbit. The launch is currently scheduled for 6:14 PM EDT (UTC-4) from Launch Complex 40 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
With the static test fire required before any Falcon 9 launch successfully completed on Apr. 22, the primary issue which might cause a scrub of the launch is the turbulent Florida weather. Current forecasts provide a 60 percent chance of favorable conditions to get the mission underway on Monday, Apr. 27. Should that slip by 24 hours, those numbers plummet, only giving a 30 percent chance that weather will provide acceptable flight conditions.
The TürkmenÄlem spacecraft will allow Turkmenistan to operate its first National System of Satellite Communications (NSSC), with the Turkmenistan National Space Agency managing the satellite. The state run agency was created specifically to help foster the development of a national communications system with Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow giving the final approval for the agency’s creation in 2011.
The satellite, officially designated TurkmenAlem52E/MonacoSAT, was designed by the French and Italian owned Thales Alenia Space. The spacecraft has an estimated lifespan of 15-16 years. Constructed on the Spacebus-4000C2 platform, it carries 38 active Ku-band transponders. The 4000C2 is an enlarged version based on the very successful Spacebus 3000/4000 B-class spacecraft.
TurkmenAlem52E/MonacoSAT is a medium-class telecommunications platform weighing in at 9,920 pounds (4,500 Kg). Power for the satellite is provided by two solar arrays and an onboard battery system. The configuration gives the satellite up to 10 kW of power over a 100 Volt bus. Station-keeping is controlled with an S400 propulsion system – An Attitude and Orbit Control System (AOCS) with a built-in star tracker designed for Geostationary operations.
In order to place the satellite in orbit, the Turkmen Ministry of Communications signed an agreement with Space Systems International-Monaco S.A.M. The agreement allows the Turkmen satellite to be stationed at the Monaco-registered 52° east position.
Thales Alenia Space was created when Alcatel Space and Alenia Spazio merged in 2005. In 2006, Alcatel agreed to sell it a share of the company to the Thales group thereby creating the company in its current form. Thales Alenia Space has a long history of space activities. They provided the Multi-Purpose Logistics Modules used to transport cargo inside the Space Shuttle orbiters. The company also built the pressurized vessels for the Automated Transfer Vehicle and the Cygnus spacecraft. Thales Alenia Space also constructed several modules for the International Space Station (ISS) including the Cupola, perhaps the best window seat anywhere. The company has 14 industrial sites located in six countries. They employ more than 7,500 people.
“We appreciate Thales’ confidence in our ability to safely deliver Turkmenistan’s first satellite to orbit,” said Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX President and COO when it was announced her company would launch the satellite in 2013. “We are pleased to see the market expand with new entrants, and SpaceX looks forward to leveraging the world’s most reliable and advanced rockets for customers across globe.”
TurkmenAlem52E/MonacoSAT was originally scheduled to launch on a Chinese CZ-3B/G2 booster, but the launch operations were transferred to SpaceX in June of 2013. Changes to the United States’ International Traffic and Arms Regulations banned several US made components from being transported to China thereby necessitating the move to a US based launch provider.
Helium Woes Cause Launch Delays
The original launch date for the flight was scheduled for March 21, 2015, but that was changed after the discovery of a potential issue with the helium tanks. While the tanks onboard the Falcon 9 rocket for this flight were not affected, other tanks from the same production line failed in testing. As a precaution, SpaceX contacted Thales and reset the launch date to no earlier than April 24, 2015. The newest launch date of April 27, 2015, was set after a complete inspection of the helium pressure system onboard the Falcon 9.
New Controversy Appears
The launch of TurkmenAlem52E/MonacoSAT comes in the wake of new laws within the country of Turkmenistan banning the use of satellite dishes. The move is seen by some as a way of blocking access to independent media outlets. The government has maintained the move is strictly an aesthetic one as the dishes prove unsightly on multi-family dwellings. Residents of Turkmenistan have been urged to remove the dishes and subscribe to the government-run cable services instead.
For this flight, it does not appear SpaceX will be attempting recovery of the booster section. The company came close to a successful booster landing on the Apr. 16 CRS-6 flight. However, the vehicle toppled over and exploded during that attempt. The company is currently looking into a possible stuck throttle valve as having prevented a successful recovery.
If everything goes according to plan, tomorrow’s flight will mark the fifth Falcon 9 v1.1 that has taken to the skies this year alone – and the 18th since the booster’s first launch in June of 2010. This could be a banner year for the NewSpace firm, as it planning on conducting pad abort tests of its crew-rated Dragon spacecraft and is eyeing an end-of-year launch for its new Falcon Heavy booster.
Joe Latrell is a life-long avid space enthusiast having created his own rocket company in Roswell, NM in addition to other consumer space endeavors. He continues to design, build and launch his own rockets and has a passion to see the next generation excited about the opportunities of space exploration. Joe lends his experiences from the corporate and small business arenas to organizations such as Teachers In Space, Inc. He is also actively engaged in his church investing his many skills to assist this and other non-profit endeavors.