FRENCH GUIANA - In a stunning display of technology and international cooperation Arianespace today launched the first Soyuz rocket ever from outside former Soviet Territory. Lift off occurred on time at 7:30:26 am local time from the company’s spaceport in French Guiana. This marked the 1776th launch of a Soyuz booster – a world record.
The payload for this morning’s flight was two Galileo GPS satellites named Thijs and Natalia respectively. The names belong to two children- 9 year old Natalia from Bulgaria and 11 year old Thijs from Belgium. Both children won a competition sponsored by the European Space Agency for the honor.
The spacecraft were delivered to a circular orbit some 23,222 kilometers above the Earth with an inclination of 54.7 degrees. These spacecraft are the first two of five planned orbiters which will serve as a validation constellation for Europe’s new home grown GPS system. Eventually the constellation will be expanded to 30 such spacecraft providing free GPS coverage to all of Europe.
Today’s launch had been delayed 24 hours due to a faulty valve.
The roots of today’s launch date back to 1995 when Europe and Russia formed a joint venture called Starsem to launch Soyuz boosters out of the Baikonur Cosmodrome. To date the company has launched 23 successful missions. In 1998 Arianespace began studying the possibility of launching Soyuz boosters out of their facility in French Guiana and in 2004 a deal was inked allowing them to do so. Under this agreement the Russian space agency Roscosmos would oversee the Russian segment and Arianespace would oversee the European segment of the operation. This effort became known as the Soyuz at CSG program or just Soyuz CSG.
Construction of the Soyuz launch facility began in 2007. It was decided that the new launch site would be located some 12 kilometers northwest of Arianespace’s existing Ariane V launch complex. The facility would be patterned after the existing facilities at Russia’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome. It took 600 men over 2,000,000 man hours to complete the project. This included construction of the 92 meter long, 41 meter wide and 22 meter tall Launcher Integration Facility and the launch pad itself. It also included the construction of an 800 ton 39 meter tall Mobile Service Gantry – a facility that Plesetsk does not have.
In Russia, the entire rocket is assembled horizontally inside the Launcher Integration Facility. Once assembled, the payload in integrated with the launch vehicle which is then rolled out to the launch pad. The launch pad itself is a four level reinforced concrete platform that sits above the wide end of a mammoth tear drop shaped flame pit. The rocket is then raised into the vertical “launch” position and placed above a 15 meter circular opening on the launch table. A series of petal like umbilical’s surround the opening which are raised to service and fuel the booster. Lift-off occurs within 2 days.
The Europeans use the same basic plan with one important modification. The booster is constructed horizontally in the Booster Assembly Building however, the booster itself is rolled out to the launch pad first – about a week before launch. Once the booster has been erected on the launch pad the Mobile Service Gantry is rolled into place around the rocket. Once sheltered the spacecraft, safely tucked away inside it’s payload fairing, is raised to the top of the booster where it is integrated vertically. Just before launch the Gantry rolls back allowing the rocket clearance for flight.
The Europeans chose this approach for two major reasons. First the payload is always kept in the vertical which produces less stress on the spacecraft. The second reason is that the Mobile Service Gantry affords the booster a degree of protection from the space ports tropical weather.
Construction of the complex was completed in 2010
The launch vehicle used for today’s launch has a pedigree stretching back to 1957. It was first introduced to the world as an ICBM – the world’s first. At that time it was known only as R-7. This booster was later used to launch the world’s first satellite, the first cosmonaut, the first lunar probes, and Russia’s planetary probes. In 1966 it was modified to launch the Soviet Union’s new Soyuz spacecraft and it has carried that name ever since.
Today’s Soyuz launcher, the 9th incarnation of this rocket, is called the Soyuz ST. It is a four stage vehicle consisting of four boosters clustered around a central core (stage one and two). A third stage stands atop the second and the whole thing is topped with a Fregat upper stage. It is interesting to note that the Fregat upper stage started its life as an interplanetary spacecraft but its ability to start and stop its engine repeatedly (up to 20 times during a flight!) made it an ideal upper stage for commercial space missions.
The Soyuz ST has been heavily modified with all new digital electronics and an enlarged payload fairing. The European space port’s location near the equator means that the booster will get an extra push from the Earth’s rotation enabling it to launch significantly heavier payloads (50%) than it could from the much more northern locations of Baikonue and Plesetsk.
Arianespace intends to use the Soyuz ST as a medium life launcher. This, coupled with its venerable Ariane V heavy lift and its new Vega light lift rockets, will allow the company to accommodate nearly any size payload. There are even plans to add micro-sat dispensers to the ASAP-S satellite dispensers currently used to place multiple spacecraft into different orbits.
The "Soyuz at CSG" program is already a business success, with Arianespace having won 14 launch contracts even before the first launch. The next Soyuz CSG launch is scheduled for December. That mission will loft France’s Pleiades optical Earth observation satellite along with Chile’s SSOT Earth observation satellite. The payload will also include four French micro-satellites.
|Launch of the first European Soyuz Photo Credit: Arianespace
LAUNCH COUNTDOWN AND FLIGHT EVENTS
The countdown comprises all final preparation steps for the launcher, the satellites and the launch site. If it proceeds as planned, the countdown leads to the ignition of the main stage engine and of the four boosters, for a liftoff at the targeted time.
Beginning of the State Commission meeting for launcher fueling authorization -04:20:00
Beginning of Launch Vehicle fuelling with propellant components. -04:00:00
Launch Vehicle is fuelled with all propellant components -01:45:00
Mobile gantry withdrawal -01:00:00
Key on start (beginning of Soyuz synchronised sequence) -00:06:10
Fregat transfer to onboard power supply -00:05:00
Upper Composite umbilical drop off command. -00:02:25
Lower stage mast retraction -00:00:20
Preliminary thrust level -00:00:15
Full thrust level -00:00:03
Jettisoning of boosters +00:01:58
Jettisoning of fairing +00:03:38
Separation of main stage +00:04:48
Separation of 3rd stage +00:09:24
Fregat 1st burn +00:10:24
Fregat shut-down et beginning of ballistic phase +00:23:31
Fregat 2nd burn +03:40:05
Fregat shut-down +03:44:27
Separation of IOV-1 PFM and FM2 +03:49:27