Arianespace press onward with dual-passenger Ariane 5 launch

by Tyler Gray

Despite an unfortunate launch failure that occurred last month, Arianespace successfully conducted its next flight of their Ariane 5 launch vehicle with two geostationary telecommunications/data relay satellites in EDRS-C and Intelsat 39. Tuesday’s launch took place from Ariane Launch Complex No. 3 (ELA-3) at the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. The 47-minute launch occurred at the opening of the window at 19:30 UTC.

This mission (known as Ariane Flight VA249) was the third flight for the Ariane 5 rocket this year following two successful launches that occurred on February 5 and June 20, respectively.

This was also the seventh launch for Arianespace in a year that has seen five successes and one failure, which occurred when their small-lift Vega rocket suffered a serious anomaly during the launch of the Falcon Eye 1 spacecraft for the United Arab Emirates as part of Vega Flight VV15 on July 10.

Ariane 5 and Vega are two of three launch vehicles that Arianespace currently operates at the European Spaceport, along with the medium-lift Soyuz launcher which is provided by the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos.

In a statement following the July 10 launch failure, Arianespace confirmed that preparations for the next Ariane 5 launch would remain underway, with the original target date set for July 24. However, the launch was postponed for two weeks as Arianespace studied and tested several components of the Ariane 5 as part of their investigation into the failure.

Eventually, Arianespace gave their approval to launch the mission on Tuesday, with two communications and data relay satellites  – EDRS-C and Intelsat 39 – serving as the passengers.

The Ariane 5 launcher carroed a total payload of approximately 10,661 kilograms (23,503 pounds).

The launch sequence for Ariane Flight VA249 was as follows:

Intelsat 39 – built in California by Maxar Technologies and based on the Maxar-1300 satellite platform – occupied the larger upper portion of the Ariane 5’s payload fairing and was released first during the launch sequence.

The high-power communications spacecraft will be stationed at the 62 deg. East longitude position following its deployment by Ariane 5, and will provide broadband networking and video distribution services to large portions of Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. The satellite’s estimated mass at liftoff is 6,600 kilograms (14,550 pounds).

The spacecraft features C- and Ku-band capabilities, and is designed with both wide and steerable spot beams that will support many broadband networking, video, and government customers located across the above regions.

Intelsat 39 with antennas fully deployed during testing – credit: Intelsat

Intelsat 39 was designed with a lifetime of 15 years on orbit. The satellite will replace the Intelsat 902 spacecraft, which was launched to the 62 deg. East position by Arianespace in August 2001.

Intelsat 39 was the 61st satellite launched by Arianespace for Intelsat, following the successful launch of the Intelsat 37e spacecraft on another Ariane 5 rocket in September 2017.

Meanwhile, the EDRS-C spacecraft, which will serve as the second node of the SpaceDataHighway network, took residence in the SYLDA – the secondary payload adapter that also functions as a shroud for a payload stowed inside. EDRS-C was the second and final payload released by Ariane 5 during Tuesday’s launch.

This spacecraft is the second payload for the European Data Relay System (EDRS), which is a public-private partnership between the European Space Agency (ESA) and Airbus Defence and Space.

EDRS-C during testing – credit: Airbus

EDRS, which has been dubbed the “SpaceDataHighway” network, will uniquely provide near-realtime data relay services using cutting-edge laser technology. It will also dramatically improve environmental and security monitoring, disaster response, and crisis management.

Once launched to its 31 deg. East longitude position in orbit, EDRS-C will be able to connect other low-orbiting satellites via laser at a distance up to 45,000 kilometers, along with intelligence UAVs or mission aircraft.

From that point on, ESA and Airbus will utilize both the EDRS nodes to increase the time that satellites, the International Space Station, and unmanned aircraft can send data back to Earth. The system thus enables the quantity of image and video data transmitted by observation satellites to be tripled and their mission plan to be reprogrammed at any time.

The first node, called EDRS-A, was launched as a hosted payload on the EUTELSAT 9B communications spacecraft back in January 2016 aboard a Proton-M launch vehicle.

EDRS-C was manufactured by OHB System AG and was based on their SmallGEO satellite bus. The laser communication terminals were developed by Tesat-Spacecom of Germany and the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

EDRS-C also hosts a Ka-band broadband communications payload known as HYLAS 3, which was provided by Avanti Communications under a contract with ESA as a customer-furnished item to OHB.

HYLAS-3 is set to complement the HYLAS 1 and HYLAS 2 satellites, which were also launched on Ariane 5 rockets in November 2010 and August 2012, respectively.

While HYLAS 1 and HYLAS 2 were designed to provide communications services to the Mediterranean region, the HYLAS 3 payload will primarily serve Africa. The spacecraft will have up to 4 GHz of Ka-band capacity, which will be configured across eight beams within a single steerable antenna.

The estimated liftoff mass of the EDRS-C/HYLAS 3 spacecraft was 3,186 kilograms (7,024 pounds).

EDRS-C/HYLAS 3 was the 132nd satellite launched for Airbus by Arianespace, the 52nd mission for ESA, and the fourth Avanti payload to be launched by Arianespace.

Arianespace has several more missions on the manifest for 2019, including a crucial rideshare mission known as SSMS POC. The mission is currently slated to launch on Vega Flight VV16 no earlier than September, pending the results of the investigation into the VV15 launch failure.

Arianespace and ESA have created an independent inquiry commission to review and identify any potential causes of the anomaly that occurred shortly after ignition of the Vega’s solid-fueled second stage, which resulted in the loss of the Falcon Eye 1 spacecraft for the United Arab Emirates armed forces.

The UAE and Arianespace are still planning to launch the second Falcon Eye satellite to orbit using another Vega launch vehicle later this year.

ESA’s Characteristic Exoplanet Satellite, or CHEOPS, is also set to fly alongside several other payloads on a Soyuz-Fregat rocket from French Guiana sometime between October 15 and November 14 of this year. CHEOPS will measure the size of known exoplanets by detecting minuscule fluctuations in the light of their parent stars, which is caused by transit events.

The 300 kilogram (661 pound) payload has an estimated 3.5-year lifespan, and will also help to provide targets for the European Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) and the NASA/ESA James Webb Space Telescope.

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