Chinese Long March 2D launches Venezuela’s VRSS-1 satellite

by Rui C. Barbosa

A Chinese Long March 2D (Change Zheng 2D) has launched with Venezuela’s VRSS-1 ‘Francisco de Miranda’ remote sensing satellite on Saturday. The launch took from place from the Pad 603 at the Launch Complex 43 in the South Launch Site (SLS), marking another important step in the growing cooperation between the two countries.

VRSS-1 Launch:

After the successful launch of the VENESAT-1 ‘Simon Bolivar’ communications satellite on October 29, 2008, the Chinese and Venezuelan governments signed a new contract for the design, development and construction of a new satellite, the VRSS-1 (Venezuelan Remote Sensing Satellite).

The contact was signed on May 26, 2011, at the capital city of Venezuela, Caracas, in the presence of Ricardo Menendez Prieto, Minister of MPPCTII (Ministerio del Poder Popular para la Ciencia, Tecnologia, Inovacion y Industrias Intermédias) and Mr. Yin Liming, president of China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC).

According to the contract, CGWIC acted as the prime contractor on the $144.8 million dollars deal – broken down into $67.8 million was for the satellite purchase, $22 million for the launch service, $3 million for the first orbital operations, $16 million for the satellite control system in Venezuela, $22 million for the software, $2 million for the simulation system and $7 millions for the technicians training.

VRSS-1 satellite is based on the CAST 2000 platform developed and manufactured by China Academy of Space Technology (CAST). The ground application system, such as remote sensing data and images receiving stations, were also built by CAST. China Satellite Launch and Tracking & Control General (CLTC) was responsible for launch operation and TT&C services.

VRSS-1 is the first remote sensing satellite system for Venezuela, which will be mainly used for earth resource investigation, environmental protection, disaster monitoring and management, crops yield estimation and city planning etc.

According to Mariano Imber, Executive Director of the Agencia Bolivariana para Actividades Espaciales – ABAE (Bolivarian Agency for Space Activities), the satellite will also be used “for the prospect of the productive systems, like the mining, agricultural and fishing, also being used for urban planification by the Ministry of House care and habitat.”

Talking to journalists on September 21, Mariano Imber added “this space project will also be used for the environmental management, disaster detection and emergencies that can happen in several areas of Venezuela.” Also according to Mariano Imber, the satellite will be capable of real time information about what’s happening in the Venezuelan coast line.

Orbiting at an altitude of 639 km, with three daily passes over Venezuela, the satellite will have a 2.5 meter resolution, taking 350 images each day, according to Jorge Arreaza, Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation. Miranda will pass over the same area of Venezuela each 51 days.

On board the satellite there are two high-resolution cameras and medium resolution cameras. The high resolution cameras have a spatial resolution of 2.5 meters in panchromatic mode and 10 meter resolution in multispectral mode.

The medium resolution cameras have a spatial resolution of 16 meters. At launch, the Venezuelan Miranda satellite had a 880 kg mass. It will operate for a minimum of five years.

After the initial period of in orbit verification and tests, the satellite will be delivered to Venezuela, who will control it from the Base Aeroespacial Capitán Manuel Ríos (Bamari) – Capitán Manuel Rios Aerospace Base, located on El Sombrero city, Guárico state.

Other elements of the agreement between China and Venezuela is the construction of the ‘Centro de Investigación, Diseño y Ensamblaje de Satélites’ (Research, Development and Integration Center), a small satellites factory at Puerto Cabello, Carabobo state, that will be operated by Venezuelan technicians, and the presence in China of Venezuelan technicians and scientist that are learning and preparing future technological developments in their country.

Future plans are looking for the development of a third satellite, this time built by Venezuela.

Born in Caracas on March 28, 1750, Sebastián Francisco de Miranda Rodríguez, is commonly known as ‘Generalissimo’ Francisco de Miranda.

He was a Venezuelan revolutionary that had planned the independence of the Spanish colonies in South America.

This plan failed, but he is usually regarded as a forerunner of Simón Bolívar, who successfully liberated a vast portion of South America from the Spanish domain.

The CAST 2000 is a compact satellite platform characterized by its high performance, expandability and flexibility.

It is fitted with an S-band TT&C sub-system, X-band data transmission sub-system and 3-axis attitude stabilization, and is able to offer highly precise control, large-range sway and flexible orbit control, highly integrated housekeeping and a highly effective power supply.

This platform has already been successfully applied in several Chinese small satellites, including the Huanjing-A, B satellites, and its performance and reliability have proven to be excellent.

This platform is also capable of operating in low, medium and high orbits, and has a life span of more than three years. The CAST 2000 bus mass is between 200 – 400 kg and the payload capability is between 300 – 600 kg. The satellite has a 3-axis stabilisation and a sway attitude control capability.

In general the platform can be used for Earth observation, technology demonstration, scientific exploration, Earth environmental exploration, meteorological research and application, communications and navigation.

VRSS-1 launch:

After launch and after separation from its launch vehicle, the Miranda satellite will enter in one of the most critical phases of the mission with the opening of its solar panels. With the solar panels open, the satellite will settle on a three months evaluation period where all its systems will be checked in orbit, starting on Day 3 of the mission.

Following the calibration phase, the first images taken by the Francisco Miranda cameras will probably be sent back to Earth on October 3.

The Chang Zheng-2D launch vehicle is a two-stage rocket developed by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology. With storable propellants is mainly used to launch a variety of low earth orbit satellites.

The development of CZ-2D begin in February 1990. To meet the demand of SSO satellites, the payload fairing of 3350mm in diameter and attitude control engine for second stage have been successfully upgraded since 2002. This launcher is mainly used for launching LEO and SSO satellites.

The 41.056m tall CZ-2D can launch a 1,300 kg payload into a 645 km SSO. Its first, second stages and payload fairing are all 3.35m in diameter, while the entire first stage is the same as the Chang Zheng-4.

The second stage is based on CZ-4 second stage with an improved equipment bay. Lift-off mass is 232,250 kg, total length 41.056 meters, 3.35 meters in diameter and fairing length 6.983 meters.

The first stage is equipped with a YF-21C engine capable of a ground thrust of 2,961.6 kN and a ground specific impulse of 2,550 m/s. It has a burn time is 170 seconds and consumes 183,200 kg of N2O4 / UDMH.

The second stage consumes 45,550 kg of N2O4 / UDMH via a YF-24C cluster engine with a main engine vacuum thrust of 742.04 kN and a vernier engine with a vacuum thrust of 47.1 kN. It can use two types of fairings, depending of the cargo.

The first launch of the CZ-2D was on August 9, 1992 from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, orbiting the Fanhui Shei Weixing FSW-2-1 (22072 1992-051A) recoverable satellite.

This launch was the 168th Chinese successful orbital launch and the 168th launch of a Chang Zheng launch vehicle. It was also the 54th orbital launch from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, the third orbital launch from Jiuquan this year and the 13th Chinese orbital launch in 2012.

The Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, in Ejin-Banner – a county in Alashan League of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region – was the first Chinese satellite launch center and is also known as the Shuang Cheng Tze launch center.

The site includes a Technical Centre, two Launch Complexes, Mission Command and Control Centre, Launch Control Centre, propellant fuelling systems, tracking and communication systems, gas supply systems, weather forecast systems, and logistic support systems.

Jiuquan was originally used to launch scientific and recoverable satellites into medium or low earth orbits at high inclinations. It is also the place from where all the Chinese manned missions are launched.

Presently, only the LC-43 launch complex, also known by South Launch Site (SLS) is in use. This launch complex is equipped with two launch pads: 921 and 603. Launch pad 921 is used for the manned program for the launch of the Chang Zheng-2F launch vehicle (Shenzhou and Tiangong). The 603 launch pad is used for unmanned orbital launches by the Chang Zheng-2C, Chang Zheng-2D and Chang Zheng-2C launch vehicles.

The first orbital launch took place on April 24, 1970 when the CZ-1 Chang Zheng-1 (CZ1-1) rocket launched the first Chinese satellite, the Dongfanghong-1 (04382 1970-034A).

(Images via Venezuelan State TV, ChinaNews.Cn and Wikipedia).

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