A final, full rehearsal has confirmed that teams at ESA’s mission control are ready for tomorrow’s launch of the Sentinel-1B radar satellite.
An Arianespace rocket carrying Sentinel-1B is set to deliver the next satellite in Europe’s Copernicus Earth environmental monitoring programme into orbit tomorrow.
Liftoff on a multistage Soyuz from ESA’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, is planned for 22 April at 21:02 GMT (23:02 CEST).
Sentinel-1B will join the identical Sentinel-1A, which has been in orbit since April 2014, to form a twin-satellite constellation, orbiting 180° apart.
The Sentinel-1 mission will image the entire Earth every six days using radar, providing data that support vital services such as monitoring Arctic sea ice, surveillance of the marine environment and mapping for forest, water and soil management (more information on Sentinel-1).
Capping the months-long intensive training, the mission control team at ESA’s ESOC space operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany, conducted a full rehearsal yesterday, a crucial final step before any launch.
Sentinel-1B on Soyuz
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“The launch rehearsal is one of the last milestones before lift off, and it cements the months of team training and, before that, years of preparation that go into preparing to fly a new satellite,” says Paolo Ferri, ESA’s Head of Mission Operations.
Realistic practice countdown
In the 10-hour rehearsal, the team were joined by specialists from the Sentinel programme and from European industry to conduct a realistic ‘live’ practice countdown and lift off using the same software, control systems and networks that will enable ESOC to assume control of the satellite tomorrow after it separates from the Soyuz upper stage.
Engineers received live status signals from Sentinel-1B mounted on top of its Soyuz in Kourou via a data cable. This connection will be maintained until just a few minutes before launch, and will be dropped when the umbilical attached to the rocket drops away just before liftoff.
Launch controllers from France’s CNES space agency and Arianespace at Kourou, as well operators in the ground tracking stations in Sweden, Norway and Antarctica, also took part in the rehearsal, communicating with ESOC via voice loops, data links and even fax machines.
The satellite will separate from the Fregat upper stage at 21:26 GMT (23:26 CEST), and then automatically execute a sequence of commands that include transmitting its first status report to ESOC at about 21:28 GMT (23:28 CEST) via the ground station at Svalbard, Norway.
“The team expect to receive these first signals about twenty five-and-a-half-minutes into flight, although this could be earlier or later by a few seconds, and then start sending their first commands to Sentinel-1B shortly afterwards,” says ESA Flight Director Pier Paolo Emanuelli.
In addition to the flight control engineers, specialists from ESOC in areas such as flight dynamics, ground stations, ground software, networks and control systems supported the rehearsal, as they will throughout the mission.
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