Soyuz demonstrates its Arianespace mission flexibility by delivering five satellites into multiple low Earth orbits
Arianespace’s third flight of 2016 has demonstrated the versatility of its medium-lift Soyuz launcher, which deployed five European satellites of varying sizes into three different low Earth orbits during a mission lasting four hours.
Departing the Spaceport in French Guiana at the precise launch time of 06:02:13 p.m. on April 25, Soyuz first released Sentinel-1B – a spacecraft for radar surveillance of the environment and for security issues – at 23 minutes into the mission. Three miniaturized CubeSats were then deployed at 2 hours, 48 minutes after liftoff, followed by the separation of the Microscope scientific satellite at 4 hours into the flight.
The pace continues for 12 Arianespace launches in 2016
Noting that Arianespace remains on track for its goal of conducting up to 12 missions this year with its complete launcher family, Arianespace Chairman & CEO Stéphane Israël thanked the various players in tonight’s success in his post-launch comments. They included the Russian space sector (supplying the Soyuz launcher and its re-ignitable Fregat upper stage, which performed multiple burns during tonight’s mission), the French CNES space agency and European Space Agency for their support at the Spaceport launch base, and Arianespace’s own teams.
Flight VS14 was the 14th mission from the Spaceport in French Guiana for Arianespace’s medium-lift launcher.
The workhorse Soyuz once again demonstrated its mission adaptability with this latest launch, designated Flight VS14 in Arianespace’s numbering system. It was the Russian-built vehicle’s 14th liftoff from the Spaceport in French Guiana, and the 40th Soyuz mission overall for Arianespace (which includes 26 launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, performed by the company’s Starsem affiliate).
With the five-satellite payload deployed during Flight VS14, Soyuz has lofted 38 payloads from the Spaceport on missions to: low Earth orbit; medium Earth orbit; Sun synchronous Earth orbit; and an escape trajectory to the second Lagrange point (L2), located approximately 1.5 million kilometers from Earth.
Overall, the vehicles in Arianespace’s three-member launcher family have performed 275 launches, utilizing the medium-lift Soyuz, heavy-lift Ariane 5 and lightweight Vega.
Arianespace’s goal: “To put space at the service of a better life on Earth”
Sentinel-1B was the largest satellite deployed during Flight VS14, with a mass at liftoff calculated at 2,164 kg. Developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) on behalf of the European Commission for the Copernicus Earth observation program, Sentinel-1B is the second spacecraft in the Sentinel-1 family of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) observation satellites – and follows Sentinel-1A, orbited by Arianespace on another Soyuz from French Guiana in April 2014. Sentinel-1B was built by Thales Alenia Space based on the PRIMA multi-role platform developed for the ASI Italian space agency.
“Sentinel-1B is the third satellite launched by Arianespace to deploy the Copernicus space segment,” Arianespace’s Israël said. “Through Copernicus, Europe is developing its own global monitoring system to better address our environment and security issues, an objective which is fully in line with our ambition to put space at the service of a better life on Earth.”
Israël added that he looked forward to the further broadening of Europe’s space ambitions, which, in addition to Copernicus and the Galileo navigation satellite constellation (also being orbited by Arianespace launchers), will open new chapters for secured defense communications, global connectivity and environmental monitoring. “In so doing, we see the European Commission as a key anchor customer for future launch services with the Ariane 6 and Vega C [follow-on launch vehicles],” he stated.
CubeSats to prepare students for science and technology careers
During the second phase of tonight’s Flight VS14, Soyuz released three CubeSats for the European Space Agency’s “Fly Your Satellite!” program, an educational outreach with European universities that provides students hands-on experience to foster their interest in careers of science and technology, especially in the space sector.
This image depicts Sentinel-1B as it was released during Flight VS14’s multi-payload deployment sequence. At left is Soyuz’ Fregat upper stage, on which the ASAP-S platform was installed with its three CubeSats. At ASAP-S’s center is the extender/adapter that housed the Microscope satellite.
The CubeSats had a mass at liftoff of 1 kg. each, and were deployed by a small dispenser system called P-POD, which weighed 3 kg and was installed on the ASAP-S platform that accommodates auxiliary payloads for Soyuz missions. They were the 52nd, 53rd and 54th satellites launched to date by Arianespace for the European Space Agency.
These miniaturized spacecraft are: OUTFI-1, a demonstrator for the D-STAR communications protocol, from the University of Liège in Belgium; the Polytechnic Institute of Turin, Italy’s e-st@r-II, serving as a demonstrator for a 3-axis attitude control system using the Earth’s magnetic field; and AAUSAT-4 from the University of Aalborg, Denmark, to demonstrate the reception of signals from an Automatic Identification System (AIS), identifying and locating ships sailing offshore in coastal regions.
Validating a scientific principle from Albert Einstein
Completing Flight VS14 was the deployment of Microscope, the French CNES space agency’s satellite developed to verify the equivalency principle for inertial and gravitational mass as stated by Albert Einstein.
Microscope (the French acronym for: Micro-Satellite à traînée Compensée pour l’Observation du Principe d’Equivalence) had a liftoff mass of just over 300 kg., and was based on CNES’ Myriade small satellite bus – with cold-gas microthrusters provided by the European Space Agency and a development cooperation with numerous European entities involved.
The satellite carries two concentric cylindrical test masses made of different materials – one titanium and one a platinum-rhodium alloy. Their movement will be minutely controlled inside independent differential electrostatic accelerometers to keep them motionless with respect to the satellite. If the equivalence principle is verified, these two masses will be subjected to the same control acceleration; if different accelerations have to be applied, the principle will be violated – an event that would shake the foundations of physics.
Microscope was the 15th satellite launched by Arianespace for the CNES space agency. For its ride into orbit, it was positioned at the center of Soyuz’ ASAP-S platform – housed inside an extender/adapter.
The next Arianespace mission: Soyuz with two Galileo satellites
Following tonight’s success, Arianespace will maintain its mission pace in 2016 with another Soyuz launch – scheduled for May 24, carrying two more satellites for the European Galileo constellation of navigation spacecraft.
These Full Operational Capability (FOC) platforms will become the 13th and 14th satellites in the Galileo constellation for the European Commission, continuing Arianespace’s launch services in support of Europe’s high-precision positioning service operated under civilian control.
Both FOC satellites for the upcoming Soyuz mission – designated Flight VS15 – currently are undergoing their pre-launch processing at the Spaceport.