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A payload section of the Soyuz ST-B rocket with MetOp-C satellite. Credit: Arianespace
MetOp-C satellite is fueled inside S3B facility in Kourou on Oct. 29, 2018. Click to enlarge. Credit: Arianespace
The launch vehicle for the MetOp-C mission rolls out to the launch pad on Nov. 2, 2018. Click to enlarge. Credit: Arianespace
MetOp-C lifts off on Nov. 6, 2018. Click to enlarge. Credit: ESA
Soyuz rocket delivers MetOp-C
A Russian rocket is carrying a European meteorological satellite into orbit, after lifting off from a jungle pad in equatorial South America. The launch of the Soyuz ST-B rocket from the ELS launch facility in French Guiana took place as scheduled on Nov. 6, 2018, at 9:47:27 p.m. local time (7:47 p.m. EST). The launch vehicle contracted by the Paris-based Arianespace is delivering the MetOp-C satellite for the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, EUMETSAT.
Soyuz ST-B mission (VS-19) with the MetOp-C satellite at a glance:
Designed for meteorological observations, MetOp-C will be the final spacecraft in the three-satellite constellation called EUMETSAT Polar System, or EPS.
Like two of its predecessors, MetOp-C will be inserted into a so-called "mid-morning" Sun-synchronous orbit, which is ideal for the coverage of the middle latitudes of the planet. It is nearly perpendicular to the plane of the Equator, and takes the spacecraft over both poles of the Earth during every revolution around the planet. Thanks to the daily rotation of the Earth below, each satellite has the ability of a global covering the entire planet.
The Sun-synchronous orbit allows the spacecraft to perform its primary purpose as weather forecaster, but also to study the composition of the atmosphere, ocean and land surface for a variety of studies.
The Metop-C is built by Airbus Defense and Space, formerly EADS Astrium, based on the company's SPOT MK3 bus. The same platform also served as a basis for ERS-1, -2 and Helios-1A, -1B satellites.
The MetOp trio is expected to be replaced with the second-generation satellites, known as EPS-SG, currently slated for a first launch in 2022, which are also expected to ride Soyuz rockets into orbit.
Artist rendering of the MetOp-C satellite in deployed position in orbit.
MetOp-C satellite specifications:
Preparations for flight
Managed by Arianespace, the launch of MetOp-C will be the 19th mission of the Soyuz rocket from the European launch pad near Kourou, French Guiana. In the Arianespace nomenclature, the flight received the designation VS-19.
Plans to launch the MetOp-C satellite on the Soyuz were first announced on Sept. 10, 2010, with the mission then expected in the 4th quarter of 2016. At the time, the spacecraft was expected to carry 12 instruments and have a mass of 4,250 kilograms at launch.
The MetOp-C mission eventually slipped to February 2018 and by March 2018, the launch was moved to September of that year. The satellite arrived in Kourou on June 26, 2018, but by August, the launch was rescheduled again from September 20 to November 6 or 7, 2018.
On Oct. 2, 2018, MetOp-C was transferred from the S1B processing building to the S3B facility in preparation for fueling, which was conducted from October 8 to 12. At the same time, the fueling of the Fregat upper stage for the mission was kicked off at the FCube building.
The three booster stages of the Soyuz ST-B rocket underwent pneumatic and propulsion tests from October 16 to 19, followed by electric tests from October 23 to 26.
On October 25, MetOp-C was integrated with the Fregat upper stage and on October 31, the payload section was encapsulated into its protective fairing to form the upper composite of the rocket.
The integrated three stages of the Soyuz launcher were rolled out to the launch pad on November 2, and on the same day, the upper composite was delivered to the pad and hoisted on top of the rocket. The final tests were conducted on November 5 in preparation for the liftoff on the next day.
Countdown milestones for the VS-19 mission on Nov. 6, 2018:
How MetOp-C was launched
A Soyuz ST-B rocket with the MetOp-C satellite lifted off on Nov. 6, 2018, at 09:47:27 French Guiana time (07:47 p.m. EST) from the ELS pad in Kourou. (It was 00:47 GMT, 03:47 Moscow Time on November 7).
After eight seconds of vertical ascent, the rocket headed north over the Atlantic Ocean. Four strap-on boosters of the first stage finished firing and separated one minute 58 seconds in flight. The payload fairing then split into two halves and separated at T+3 minutes 36 seconds.
The second stage completed its firing and separated four minutes 48 seconds into the flight. Moments earlier, the main engine of the third stage ignited and then fired through the lattice structure connecting the two stages until their separation.
According to Arianespace, the powered phase of the ascent for the first three stages of the launch vehicle lasted nine minutes and 24 seconds. The payload section, consisting of the Fregat upper stage and the satellite, then separated from the third stage. A minute later, Fregat fired its propulsion system for three minutes to enter a highly elliptical orbit with an apogee (the highest point) of 885 kilometers above the Earth's surface, which is close to the planned orbital altitude of the MetOp-C satellite.
The stack then climbed passively toward the apogee for 38 minutes and 43 seconds, before Fregat initiated its second engine firing to make the orbit circular. The maneuver lasted one minute 15 seconds. Another passive phase of the flight lasted six minutes and 30 seconds, before the successful release of the satellite into its planned orbit.
After the separation of its payload, the Fregat upper stage was programmed to maneuver into a disposal trajectory, which should result in its reentry into the Earth's atmosphere over the remote region of the Pacific Ocean.
The VS-19 mission timeline: