Saturday, October 7, 2017

Long March 2D to Deliver Venezuelan VRSS-2 Earth-Observing Satellite into Orbit

The assembly of the VRSS-2 satellite. Photo Credit: Bolivarian Agency for Space Activities

China is preparing for its second orbital mission after a three-month long period with no launches. This time it will send a Long March 2D rocket into space carrying the VRSS-2 Earth-observing satellite for Venezuela. Liftoff is planned between 4:05 and 4:33 UTC (0:05 and 0:33 EDT) on Monday, October 9, from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China’s Gansu Province.

The mission is a result of an agreement signed in October 2014 between Venezuela’s Ministry of People’s Power for Science, Technology and Intermediate Industries, and China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC). Under this contract CGWIC was obligated to build and launch the VRSS-2 satellite.

Although the mission was initially scheduled for September 2017, 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.

Very little is known about the preparations for the launch and the mission itself as Chinese media keep details about the liftoff under wraps. What is obvious is that the rocket has been already assembled and the satellite was attached to it and encapsulated in a payload fairing.

After the planned liftoff, the Long March 2D rocket will most likely stick to its usual mission profile, igniting its YF-21C engine delivering 2,962 kN of thrust. The launch vehicle will start a 10-minute long flight, heading South over mainland China. The mission will conclude with the insertion of the VRSS-2 satellite into a sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) at an altitude of 385 by 431 miles (619 by 694 kilometers), inclined 98 degrees.

The initial phase of the flight is expected to last nearly three minutes and will end in the separation of the rocket’s first stage. Then the second stage, utilizing a YF-24C cluster engine, will assume control over the flight. It will continue the mission for about seven minutes, heading towards designated orbit in order to successfully deploy the spacecraft.

The mission’s sole passenger is the Venezuelan Remote Sensing Satellite 2 (VRSS-2), named Sucre after a Venezuelan independence leader Antonio José de Sucre. The spacecraft 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 in 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 short wave infrared (SWIR) and long wave infrared (LWIR) imagers.

The VRSS-2 satellite will be employed for collecting imagery of Earth for different Venezuelan government agencies. It is Venezuela's second remote sensing satellite.

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 in two different resolution cameras.

The Long March 2D launcher that will be employed to deliver VRSS-2 into space, is a two-stage rocket developed by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology. It is mainly used 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 will be the 252nd flight of the Long March rocket series. It will be also the fourth orbital launch from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in 2017 and the 10th mission conducted by China this year.

The next Chinese launch is currently scheduled 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.

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