Saturday, January 30, 2016

Proton-M Successfully Lofts Eutelsat 9B Communications Satellite

Liftoff of Eutelsat 9B (EDRS-A) satellite on Proton-M. Photo Credit: ILS

The commercial launch provider, International Launch Services (ILS), has successfully conducted its first orbital mission this year, lifting the Eutelsat 9B communications satellite. Liftoff of a Russian-built Proton-M rocket carrying the spacecraft took place as planned at 5:20 p.m. EST (22:20 GMT) on Friday from Launch Pad 39 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome located in Kazakhstan.

The launch campaign for this mission started in November 2015, with the arrival of Eutelsat 9B satellite at Baikonur Space Center. Then, an international team of engineers from the U.S., Russia and France unloaded the spacecraft and multiple pieces of the ground support equipment to perform initial fitchecks and stand-alone operations.

In December, the spacecraft as well as the launch vehicle underwent a series of tests, verifications and checks. Works on the rocket’s Briz-M upper stage and on the Payload Adapter, done flawlessly, were crucial in order to advance to joint operations. Another important step was the fueling of the satellite with monomethylhydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide propellants. When the spacecraft was fully fueled, the joint operations started on Dec. 13 with the lifting of Eutelsat 9B and mating with the Payload Adapter. Teams connected umbilicals, conducted electrical tests, and finalized preparations prior to the lifting and mating with the rocket’s upper stage.

A multitude of checks were carried out to ensure that the spacecraft and Briz-M are healthy, verified and ready for upcoming operations. On Jan. 24, the rocket was delivered to the fueling area where the upper stage low-pressure tanks were filled. The technical specialists completed the assembly of the launch vehicle including the mechanical and electrical mating of the Proton-M booster with the ascent unit, consisting of the satellite, the adapter system, and Briz-M upper stage. 

The launch was initially planned to take place on Jan. 25, but it was postponed due to weather-related logistical issues. Finally, the rocket was rolled out to the launch pad on Jan. 26.

Igniting its six RD-276 engines, Proton-M started its short vertical ascent, reaching maximum dynamic pressure until the boosters with the first stage were jettisoned two minutes after launch. The launch vehicle then continued its ascent until second stage separation approximately five minutes and 27 seconds into the flight. The payload fairing separated from the launch vehicle about 20 seconds later, starting next phase of the mission in which the stack consisting of the third stage, Briz-M and Eutelsat 9B flew for nearly four minutes. Third stage separation occurred at T+9 minutes and 42 seconds, starting a 9-hour flight that will include five engine burns to release the spacecraft 9 hours and 12 minutes after liftoff.

The satellite is expected to be injected into a geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO). It will operate there for up to 15 years.

Eutelsat 9B, built by Airbus Defence and Space, is a high-capacity Ku-band communications satellite. It was designed to address high-growth video markets in Europe. It should be able to do so by providing wide coverage for channels that require maximum reach into satellite homes and terrestrial headends.

Eutelsat company hopes that the satellite will be able to address high-growth linguistic digital TV markets in Italy, Germany, Greece, and the Nordic/Baltic regions.

The company was established in 1977, and currently operates a fleet of some 39 satellites located in geosynchronous orbit between 116 degrees West and 172 degrees East.

Eutelsat 9B, weighing approximately 5.2 metric tons, is based on the Eurostar E3000 platform. This bus can accommodate over 100 transponders, a large number of antennas, and payload power requirements ranging from 4 kW all the way to 14 kW. The spacecraft features two deployable solar arrays and is fitted with 56 Ku-band transponders, connected to a broad European-wide beam and four regional beams over European countries.

The first Eutelsat satellite, named Eutelsat I F-1, was launched on June 16, 1983, by an Ariane 1 rocket from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

Eutelsat 9B also hosts the first data relay payload for the European Data Relay Satellite (EDRS) System being implemented through a Public/Private Partnership (PPP) between the European Space Agency (ESA) and Airbus Defence and Space. Dubbed the “SpaceDataHighway”, EDRS should provide near-realtime Big Data relay services using cutting-edge laser technology. According to ESA, it will dramatically improve access to time-critical data, aiding disaster response by emergency services and maritime surveillance.

The EDRS system of telecommunication satellites in geostationary orbit will allow very high data rate and bi-directional data relay communications between low-Earth orbit (LEO) Earth observation satellites and an associated ground station.

Thanks to the very high communication rates possible with laser (up to 1.8 Gbit/s) and the geostationary orbit positioning of the relay satellites, up to 50 terabytes per day can be transmitted securely in near-real-time to Earth, as opposed to the often 3 to 4 hour delay currently experienced.

“SpaceDataHighway is the equivalent of optical fiber in Space. It will revolutionize satellite and drone communications, and help to keep the European space industry at the forefront of technology and innovative services,” said Evert Dudok, Head of the Communications, Intelligence & Security business at Airbus Defence and Space.

The satellite that will be delivered into space together with Eutelsat 9B is designated EDRS-A and is the first of two spacecraft in this system.

The second EDRS satellite, designated EDRS-C, will be launched in 2017 atop another Ariane 5 rocket. Airbus and ESA are aiming to expand the capacity and provide global coverage of the system by 2020, with a third node to be positioned over the Asia-Pacific region.

When fully deployed, the system should be able to relay up to 50 terabytes of data from space to Earth every day. It will also be used by the International Space Station (ISS) to communicate with the ground, supporting its usual functions, such as live video transmissions or sending the results of experiments to the ground from Europe’s Columbus research module.

The 190-foot tall (58-meter) Proton-M booster that was used for Friday launch measures 13.5 feet (4.1 meters) in diameter along its second and third stages, with a first stage that has a diameter of 24.3 feet (7.4 meters). The total overall height of the Proton booster’s three stages is 138.8 feet (42.3 meters).

The rocket’s first stage consists of a central tank containing the oxidizer surrounded by six outboard fuel tanks. Each fuel tank also carries one of the six RD‑276 engines that provide power for the first stage. The cylindrical second stage is powered by three RD-0210 engines along with one RD‑0211 engine. Meanwhile, the third stage is powered by a single RD-0213 engine and a four-nozzle vernier engine. Guidance, navigation, and control of the Proton-M during operation of the first three stages is carried out by a triple redundant closed-loop digital avionics system mounted in the Proton’s third stage.

The Briz-M is powered by a pump-fed gimbaled main engine. This stage is composed of a central core and an auxiliary propellant tank that is jettisoned in flight following the depletion of the stage’s propellant. The Briz-M control system includes an onboard computer, a three-axis gyro stabilized platform, and a navigation system. The quantity of propellant carried is dependent on specific mission requirements and is varied to maximize mission performance.

Friday’s mission was the first launch conducted by ILS in 2016 and the 92nd in the company’s history. Eutelsat 9B is the 11th Eutelsat satellite and the 21th spacecraft built by Airbus that was launched by Proton-M booster. The next ILS flight is currently planned for April 23 when a Proton-M rocket is slated to lift off with the Intelsat 31 communications satellite.

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