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Soyuz completes its eighth mission with Galileo satellitesOn December 17, 2015, a Soyuz rocket lifted off from its launch pad in Kourou, French Guiana, successfully delivering the fourth pair of fully operational Galileo satellites, known as FOC-M4. Being the 13th launch of the Russian-built rocket from its South-American launch pad, the mission had a designation VS13.
Eighth Galileo mission (VS13) in December 2015
The liftoff of the Soyuz-ST-B/Fregat-MT rocket from the ELS pad near Kourou, French Guiana, took place as scheduled on Dec. 17, 2015, at 8:51:56 a.m. local time in French Guiana (6:51 a.m. EST). (It was 11:51 GMT and 14:51 Moscow Time.) The 13th Soyuz launch from Guiana (under designation VS13) carried a total of 1,603 kilograms of payload, including a pair of Galileo FOC-M4 satellites and a dispenser built by RUAG Space. The same company also supplied the ST fairing covering the payload during the initial phase of the flight.
These were the seventh and eighth FOC (Full Operational Capability) spacecraft in Europe’s Galileo navigation program. However counting four In-orbit Validation, IOV, satellites, which were also pressed into operational service, they became the 11th and 12th spacecraft in the operational Galileo constellation.
Following this Soyuz launch, the deployment of the Galileo constellation will shift to the heavier Ariane-5 ES rocket, carrying four satellites at a time. As of December 2015, the first Ariane-5 mission with a Galileo quartet was expected in the second half of 2016. Soyuz is still expected to fly one Galileo mission in 2017 and four more launches are considered for 2019 and 2020. The same rocket could also be used to launch 2nd-generation satellites beginning in 2025.
The VS13 mission will be the unprecedented 12th orbital launch attempt during the year for Arianespace, counting six Ariane-5 and three Vega launchers, which this European company also operates from ELA-3 and ELA-1 pads in Kourou, French Guiana.
Soyuz VS13 mission with Galileo satellites at a glance:
Initial launch profile of the Soyuz-ST rocket (mission VS13) with Galileo FOC-M4 satellites in December 2015. Credit: Arianespace
Mission profile of the Soyuz-ST rocket (mission VS13) with Galileo FOC-M4 satellites in December 2015. Credit: Arianespace
According to Arianespace, which manages this mission for the European Space Agency, ESA, the powered phase of the first, second and third stages on Soyuz was to last about nine minutes. The third stage of the launcher will then be separated from the upper composite, comprising the Fregat upper stage and the two satellites. The three lower stages and the fairing were to fall back into the sea.
After a first burn, the upper composite is spun up during a ballistic phase lasting about three hours and 15 minutes. Then, Fregat will ignite its own engine to bring the upper composite to a transfer orbit over the Earth. At a pre-determined point of this orbit, Fregat will ignite for a second burn lasting four minutes to reach the circular orbit of separation. At the end of the mission, the Fregat upper stage will be emptied of any remnants of its pressurized contents and deactivated.
The entire orbital insertion process is expected to conclude three hours, 47 minutes and 57 seconds after the liftoff with the release of the satellites into a 23,222-kilometer orbit with an inclination 54.946 degrees toward the Equator.
The satellites will later use their own propulsion system to lower their altitude in order to enter their operational orbit in the Orbital Plane C of the Galileo constellation.
Preparations for launch
Galileo satellites No. 11 and No. 12 arrived to French Guiana on Nov. 2, 2015, aboard a transport plane, landing at Félix Eboué International Airport near Cayenne. The pair was then transported to the S1 facility in Kourou for checkout.
By December 8, the satellites were integrated with their payload dispenser inside the S3B facility in Kourou. By December 11, in the same building, the composite was attached to its Fregat upper stage.
The Soyuz-ST rocket was rolled out from its integration building to the launch pad on Dec. 14, 2015. The next day, the upper composite including the satellites, the Fregat and the payload fairing were also brought to the pad, hoisted to the top of the rocket and integrated with the rest of the launch vehicle.
Galileo FOC-M3 launch sequence on Sept. 10, 2015:
Galileo FOC satellites
The current Galileo satellites are built by Bremen-based OHB System as prime contractor, with their navigation payloads provided by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. UK, a 99%-owned subsidiary of Airbus Defense and Space. The two spacecraft to be orbited by Arianespace on Flight VS13 will be the seventh and eighth OHB-built satellites.
Known specifications of Galileo FOC-M4 Sat 11 FM08 Andriana and Sat 12 FM09 Liene:
Read much more about the history of the Russian space program in a richly illustrated, large-format glossy edition:
Payload section of the Soyuz-ST rocket with Galileo satellites. Credit: Arianespace
Galileo satellites for the FOC-M4 mission are being prepared for integration with their Fregat upper stage inside the S3B facility on Dec. 9, 2015. Credit: Arianespace
Galileo FOC-M4 satellites and their Fregat upper stage. Credit: Arianespace
Payload section with Galileo satellites is being integrated with Soyuz rocket on a launch pad. Click to enlarge. Credit: Arianespace
Soyuz-ST-B rocket lifts off on the VS13 mission on Dec. 17, 2015. Credit: ESA