Monday, October 9, 2017

Long March 2D Blasts Off with VRSS-2 Earth-Observing Satellite

The launch of a Long March 2D rocket with the VRSS-2 satellite from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 12:13 p.m. local time on October 9, 2017. Photo Credit: China Spaceflight

A Long March 2D booster lifted off from Launch Area 4 at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Gansu Province, China, carrying Venezuela’s second remote sensing satellite known as VRSS-2. The launch took place at 04:13 UTC (0:13 a.m. EDT) on Monday, October 9, 2017.

The rocket thundered off the SLS-2 launch pad at the Launch Area 4, igniting the YF-21C booster of its first stage, which consists of four YF-20C engines. Generating nearly 3,000 kN of thrust, this stage commenced the initial phase of the flight consuming nitrogen tetroxide and unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine.

The first stage controlled the mission for nearly three minutes. During this phase of the flight, the rocket started heading South, over mainland China and toward the South China Sea. After the separation of its core stage, the launch vehicle ignited the YF-24C cluster engine of its second stage, which continued the mission for the next seven minutes.

The second stage, tasked with deploying the VRSS-2 spacecraft into designated orbit, finished its job about 10 minutes after liftoff. The satellite was then successfully inserted into a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) at an altitude of 385 by 431 miles (619 by 694 kilometers), inclined 98 degrees.

Although the mission was launched for a foreign customer, China kept the details about the liftoff and preparations for the flight under wraps. The mission dates back to 2014 when in October an agreement was signed between Venezuela’s Ministry of People’s Power for Science, Technology and Intermediate Industries, and the China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC). Under this contract, CGWIC built and launched the VRSS-2 satellite into space.

China initially scheduled the mission for September 2017; however, the recent setbacks with Chinese launchers forced the country to delay many orbital flights. In result, the launch of VRSS-2 slipped to October 9.

September was a busy month for the teams at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center as the preparations for the flight entered its decisive phase. After the satellite passed its initial checkouts and tests, the engineers commenced the assembly of the launch vehicle. Afterward, the satellite was attached to a fully assembled Long March 2D rocket and encapsulated in a payload fairing. The Launch Readiness Review (LRR) was conducted on October 6 what gave the mission a “go” for the liftoff.

The Venezuelan Remote Sensing Satellite 2 (VRSS-2), named Sucre after a Venezuelan independence leader Antonio José de Sucre, weighs about one metric ton and is based on the CAST-2000 satellite bus. This compact platform is designed to host a number of payloads for various applications including navigation, remote sensing, and communications.

VRSS-2 is fitted with two deployable solar arrays and is equipped with a panchromatic camera with a resolution of 3.3 feet (one meter) and a multi-spectral imaging system with a resolution of 13.1 feet (four meters). It also features shortwave infrared (SWIR) and long wave infrared (LWIR) imagers. The dimensions of the spacecraft with its solar panels fully deployed are 6.9 by 25.9 by 5.74 feet (2.1 by 7.9 by 1.75 meters).

The VRSS-2 satellite will be employed for collecting imagery of Earth for different Venezuelan government agencies during its operational lifetime of five years. It is Venezuela’s second remote sensing satellite.

The first satellite in the series – VRSS-1 (named Miranda after Venezuelan revolutionary Sebastián Francisco de Miranda) – was also built by CGWIC and was based on the CAST-2000 platform. The spacecraft was launched into space by a Long March 2D rocket on September 29, 2012, to study the territory of Venezuela and help with planning, agriculture and disaster recovery. The satellite is equipped with two different resolution cameras.

The Long March 2D launcher that was used to deliver VRSS-2 into space, is a two-stage rocket developed by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology. It is mainly employed to launch satellites into low-Earth orbit (LEO). The 135 feet (41.15 meters) tall booster can launch payloads of up to 3.5 metric tons to LEO and has an SSO capability of up to 1.3 metric tons.

The rocket was launched for the first time on Aug. 9, 1992, from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center orbiting the Fanhui Shei Weixing FSW-2-1 recoverable satellite.

Monday’s flight was the 252nd flight of the Long March rocket series. It was also the fourth orbital launch from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in 2017 and the 10th mission carried out by China this year.

The next Chinese launch is currently set for November 15 when a Long March 4C rocket will orbit the country’s Fengyun 3D meteorology satellite and the Head-1 ship tracking spacecraft for the Dutch company Head Aerospace. However, some other mission could be launched sooner as China conducts many of its orbital flights unannounced and the country plans to perform at least eight orbital flights during the remainder of the year.

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