GIOVE-A success – Russia on form

by Chris Bergin

Russia’s fourth launch in eight days has blasted off on schedule in the early hours (05:19am UK time) of Wednesday, carrying GIOVE-A, the first of two pre-cursor spacecraft for the Galileo constellation, a new GPS network for the European Union.

Set to be active by 2008, Galileo tasked the European Space Agency (ESA) with creating the network of satellites, launched on Russian Soyuz-FG rockets with Fregat upper stage.

SSTL in England – deeply involved with the satellite construction and integration – watched the launch live from their control centre Surrey in a relaxed mood, as the launch lifted off with nominal stages before the final separation of the spacecraft.

Martin Sweeting of SSTL said: ‘What we’re looking for is confirmation of the orbit, so we can prepare the ground control center. We then send confirmation from the ground control centre to turn the spacecraft on and bring the solar panels to life.’

The launch occured right on time at 11:19 a.m. local time, as the Soyuz departed launch pad no. 6 and climbed into sunny skies over Baikonur Cosmodrome. Tracking cameras followed the launcher’s progress as it headed downrange across Kazakhstan and Russia.

After 8 min. and 48 sec. of flight, the GIOVE-A satellite and its Fregat upper stage were separated. A total of three burns with the Fregat upper stage will occur, leading to the GIOVE-A’s injection into its final 23,222-km circular orbit following a total flight time of 3 hrs 42 min.

SSTL confirmed they successfully switched on GIOVE-A’s systems at 10:33am UK time and the satellite is now operational.

GIOVE-B will be next to launch before the full Galileo system is put into place.

For live launch video, news, pictures and information, see here:

Russia round off a busy end of December with their fifth launch in nine days on Thursday, with the 2:28am (UK time) lift off of the AMC-23 (WorldSat-3) communication satellite – also from the Baikonur space center. Launch of the huge satellite will be onboard a Proton-M launch vehicle with Briz-M upper stage – on behalf of US communication giants SES Americom.

For live launch video, news, pictures and information, see here:

It is not unusual for the Russian Space Agency to launch a glut of missions late in December, but despite three failures year – a communications satellite Molniya 3-K, the European satellite CryoSat and the experimental craft with a solar sail that blasted off from a submarine in the Barents Sea – Russia has led the way in the amount of launches undertaken, for the second year running.

Much to the pleasure of Federal Space Agency chief Anatoly Perminov, Russia has now launched 49 rockets in two years – with 2005 beating 2004’s 24 launches by one extra mission.

‘Last year, we recovered the first place with launches and confirmed it this year,’ Perminov said to ITAR-TASS. ‘Russia launched 20 spacecraft, the US 12, Europeans five and China five. With Russia achieving 45 percent of all space launches in the world in the outgoing year.’

Perminov also confirmed that their arrangement to continue to be an option for transporting US astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), as the States still wait on May’s STS-121 test flight of Space Shuttle Discovery.

‘A seat will be reserved on every Soyuz rocket in 2006 for a U.S. astronaut,’ said Perminov, without wishing to elaborate. ‘We have our own commercial secrets.’

Related Articles