A Russian-built Soyuz rocket launched from the Guiana Space Center on the northeastern coast of South America on Tuesday, boosting Europe’s MetOp-C satellite into orbit for the benefit of meteorologists around the world and capping off a generation of technology meteorological observation.
The 9,003-pound (4,084-kilogram) weather satellite lifted off from French Guiana atop the Soyuz ST-B launch vehicle at 7:47:27 p.m. EST Tuesday (00:47:27 GMT Wednesday).
Heading north over the Atlantic Ocean, the kerosene-fueled rocket released four first-stage boosters about two minutes after liftoff, then jettisoned a fairing covering the MetOp-C satellite after climbing into layers layers of the upper atmosphere.
The Soyuz core stage shut down just before five minutes into the mission, and a third-stage RD-0124 engine ignited to accelerate the MetOp-C spacecraft and a Russian-made Fregat upper stage to a speed quasi-orbital.
The Fregat engine fired twice to maneuver the MetOp-C satellite into a polar orbit about 800 kilometers above Earth, flying at an angle of 98.7 degrees from the equator.
The new meteorological observatory, owned by European meteorological satellite agency Eumetsat, deployed from the Fregat rocket stage an hour after liftoff as it flew past a ground station in Australia.
Arianespace, the French company responsible for Soyuz launches from French Guiana, said the mission was a success.
Ground controllers at the European Space Agency’s operations center in Darmstadt, Germany, have confirmed the on-target separation of the new weather satellite. Engineers tracking the satellite’s progress then checked MetOp-C’s solar array extension, a key step to begin charging the craft’s batteries.
Built by Airbus Defense and Space, the satellite is the third in a line of polar-orbiting weather observatories from Eumetsat. MetOp-C is the last of Eumetsat’s current generation of weather satellites in low Earth orbit, and a new line of six polar-orbiting European weather spacecraft – splitting sounding and imaging capabilities into two different satellite designs – will start to be launched in 2022.
With the successful launch of MetOp-C on Tuesday evening, Eumetsat has a fleet of three nearly identical satellites in polar orbit. MetOp-A was launched in 2006 and MetOp-B has been in orbit since 2012. Both flew into space atop Soyuz rockets from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and were designed for five-year missions, such as MetOp-C.
The three-satellite program cost around $4 billion (3.5 billion euros), including the spacecraft, launch services and operating expenses funded by Eumetsat, the European Space Agency and the French space agency CNES, according to Paul Counet, responsible for Eumetsat’s strategy, communication and international relations.
“Eumetsat is grateful to Arianespace for another successful launch, following those of MetOp-A and MetOp-B,” said Alain Ratier, CEO of Eumetsat. “It is now up to us to commission the satellite and the instruments in partnership with ESA, CNES and NOAA, until the end of January. After that, our scientists will work with expert users to validate the release products and get the service to users operational in early spring 2019.”
“Our EPS (Eumetsat Polar System) and its MetOp satellites equipped with innovative European instruments have brought weather observation from polar orbit to a new standard, and this is another success of our cooperation with ESA”, Ratier said in a post-launch statement. .
Meteorologists expect the addition of a third MetOp satellite will result in better data to feed weather forecasting models. MetOp-C will fly in roughly the same orbit as its two predecessor satellites, with a slight time lag.
“I think it’s very motivating, this tristar constellation that we will have with the MetOp satellites – the first time in operation that we will have this – because it means that every point on Earth will be observed three times in very rapid succession of 30 minutes,” said Florence Rabier, director general of the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts.
The three satellites are expected to operate together until the MetOp-A spacecraft is retired in early 2022.
“This is a very important launch as we ensure a safe transition to the next generation,” Ratier said. “We will also have, with three satellites, a more valuable system for our users and a more robust system.”
Officials never intended for three MetOp satellites to operate simultaneously, but the long lifespan of MetOp-C’s predecessors prompted Eumetsat to upgrade its control center to take advantage of the potential for better weather data.
“MetOp satellites in orbit have demonstrated their significant contribution to the accuracy of weather forecasts and continue to represent the most advanced polar-orbiting weather satellites in the world,” said Graeme Mason, head of MetOp programs at the European Space Agency, who purchased and developed the MetOp satellites for Eumetsat. “Furthermore, by far exceeding their original design lifespan, they provide an excellent return on investment to the meteorological community.”
The MetOp satellites are part of a transatlantic partnership between Eumetsat and NOAA, owner of the US fleet of civilian weather monitoring spacecraft. NOAA’s polar-orbiting weather satellites circle the Earth in overhead orbits in the afternoon local time, while MetOp satellites provide mid-morning coverage.
Forecasters also use data from the US Air Force’s polar-orbiting weather observatories, which fly into orbit with early morning passes.
The open data sharing system ensures meteorologists in the United States, Europe and around the world have a broader picture of the conditions that determine the formation and movement of weather systems.
“We are excited to have the next MetOp satellite on board,” said James Yoe, administrative director of the Joint Center for Satellite Data Assimilation, a multi-agency research center between NOAA, NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense. . “Having a third MetOp satellite in orbit not only provides a backup. It also means more data and stability for our weather forecasting needs.
Polar-orbiting weather satellites are best suited to gather information about storms and atmospheric dynamics that go into numerical weather prediction models for medium-range forecasts of 12 hours to 10 days, according to Eumetsat. NOAA, Eumetsat and the weather agencies of Russia, India, China, South Korea and Japan also operate weather satellites in geostationary orbit more than 22,000 miles (nearly 36,000 kilometers) above the equator, providing near real-time images useful for short-term forecasting.
MetOp-C carries instruments to monitor temperature, humidity, trace gases, ozone and wind speed over the ocean. Several of the instruments were provided by NOAA, in exchange for contributions from European instruments flying on US weather satellites.
The three NOAA-provided instruments aboard MetOp-C include the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) built by Harris Corp. in Fort Wayne, Indiana, used for global cloud cover and surface temperature measurements. The radiometer is the last of its type to be launched, following a series of AVHRR instruments flown on board US and European weather satellites since 1978.
The Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit, built by Northrop Grumman in Asuza, California, is also on board the MetOp-C satellite. The microwave sounder collects atmospheric humidity profiles and is also the last of its kind to be launched on a polar-orbiting weather satellite.
Future NOAA and Eumetsat weather satellites will carry upgraded instruments to collect similar or improved data.
The other US-built instrument on MetOp-C is the Space Environment Monitor, which collects space weather data in low Earth orbit.
Two US-supplied instruments that flew on the first two MetOp satellites – the high-resolution infrared radiation sounder and a communications package to relay distress signals to search and rescue forces – did not fly on MetOp-C, according to Counet.
MetOp-C’s European instruments include the French-made Infrared Atmospheric Sounder Interferometer for vertical atmospheric profiling and surface temperature monitoring, the Microwave Humidity Sounder for atmospheric humidity data, the advanced scatterometer for measuring winds over oceans, the Global Ozone Monitoring Experiment, and the GNSS Receiver for Atmospheric Sounding, which measures the distortion of GPS navigation signals as they pass through the atmosphere.
It is expected that all weather forecasting agencies around the world will use MetOp-C data.
“The accuracy of the MetOp numerical weather forecast data at the Met Office is quite deep – it’s huge,” said Simon Keogh, Head of Satellite Products and Data Systems at the UK Met Office. “We estimate, using our scientific methods and forecast sensitivity experiments, that around 25% or more of the forecast benefit of all the observational data we use comes from the MetOp satellites that we have – that is – ie MetOp-A and MetOp-B – so we’re really looking forward to adding MetOp-C to that to help add resilience to the global observing system and also add those additional benefits.
An Argos receiver is also on MetOp-C to relay data from small transmitters attached to ships, buoys and wildlife to track environmental changes and animal movements.
Tuesday evening’s launch marked the third consecutive successful flight of a Soyuz rocket since the failure of a Soyuz-FG booster that led to the emergency landing of a two-man crew shortly after liftoff on October 11. of Kazakhstan en route to the International Space Station. The station’s next crew is scheduled for launch on Dec. 3, following another Soyuz launch scheduled for Nov. 16 carrying a Progress freighter to the space station.
Arianespace’s next launch is scheduled for November 20, when a Vega solid-fuel launcher will carry a Moroccan military optical reconnaissance satellite into orbit.
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