Soyuz Fregat/MetOP-A finally launches

by Chris Bergin

The European Space Agency (ESA) MetOp-A (Meteorological Operational satellite programme) satellite has finally launched on top of a Soyuz ST Fregat launcher again Thursday.

Overall it was the sixth attempt to launch the new version of the workhorse Soyuz launcher, which was using a digital system for the first time.


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The troublesome issues with the new digital system used on the Soyuz once again caused the issue in the countdown on Tuesday – starting around the T-2 minute mark. Today’s launch was scheduled after high winds ruling out any attempt to be made on Wednesday.


The launch had been previously delayed three times, due to problems during the loading of propellants into the Soyuz Fregat. Another problem, this time with a booster, moved the launch back 24 hours. However, that suffered a scrub at T-2m 19 secs, leading to the delay of three months.

The showcase launch is the opening salvo of a European undertaking to provide weather data services that will be used to monitor climate and improve weather forecasts. 

MetOp-A will be launched to a Sun-synchronous orbit, 98.7 degrees to the Equator.

The MetOp programme’s series of three satellites has been jointly established by ESA and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), forming the space segment of EUMETSAT’s Polar System (EPS). Services will be shared between the US and Europe.

The main objective of the MetOp mission is to ensure the continuous and improved availability of operational meteorological observations from polar orbit whilst providing Europe with an enhanced capability for the routine observation of the Earth from space, and in particular, to further increase Europe’s capability for long-term climate monitoring.

The Soyuz/ST Fregat rocket is integrated at TsSKB-PROGRESS in Samara, Russia – and has been in service since November 1963 – with a superb launch record of 97 percent from 1650 launches.

The launcher procurement is undertaken under EUMETSAT responsibility, through Starsem, who provide both the technical interface and offer state of the art integration facilities at the launch site, the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The Fregat is a fourth stage which has been under development by NPO Lavotchkin since 1992.

The MetOp satellite services have been designed to provide global weather data until 2020. The mission includes a total of 12 instruments developed in cooperation with French Space Agency, CNES, and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

On Board Instruments: Source ESA.

AMSU-A1 and A2 (Advanced Microwave Sounding Units) to calculate atmospheric temperature and humidity profiles.
GRAS (Global Navigation Satellite System Receiver for Atmospheric Sounding) to measure atmospheric temperature and humidity.
HIRS/4 (High-resolution Infrared Sounder) to calculate atmospheric temperature and pressure.
IASI (Infrared Atmospheric Sounding Interferometer) to measure atmospheric temperature and moisture, and trace gases such as ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, methane.
MHS (Microwave Humidity Sounder) to measure atmospheric humidity and temperature.
AVHRR/3 (Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer) provides day and night imaging of land, water, clouds.
ASCAT (Advanced Scatterometer) to measure wind vectors over the ocean.
GOME-2 (Global Ozone Monitoring Experiment-2) to measure concentrations of atmospheric ozone and other gases.
A-DCS (Advanced Data Collection System) provides in-situ environmental data collection and Doppler-derived location service.
SARP-3 (Search And Rescue Processor) receives and processes emergency signals from aircraft and ships in distress.
SARR (Search And Rescue Repeater) receives and downlinks emergency signals from aircraft and ships in distress and provides a downlink for data received by the SARP-3.
SEM-2 (Space Environment Monitor) provides measurements to determine the intensity of the Earth’s radiation belts and flux of charged particles at satellite altitude.

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