A full ‘dress rehearsal’ involving teams on both sides of the Atlantic took place yesterday, marking the last major step in training teams for the Sentinel-1A lift off on 3 April.
Launch of ESA’s Sentinel-1A radar satellite will mark a new shift in European Earth observation, focusing on operational missions to support users for decades to come.
As part of the Copernicus programme, Sentinel-1A is the first of a two-satellite mission that will image land and oceans using highly precise radar, enabling the pair to acquire imagery regardless of weather.
Lift off is set for 21:02 GMT (23:02 CEST) on a Soyuz rocket from Kourou, the seventh Russian-built Soyuz to take off from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.
Final simulation training
Yesterday, teams at ESOC, ESA’s operations centre in Germany, worked with the joint ESA, Arianespace and industry launch team in Kourou to complete the comprehensive final simulation of the countdown and launch sequence.
For the mission control team, the ‘sim’ was the last in an intensive series spanning the past several months. During the rehearsal, the mission control team received live signals from the satellite via an umbilical connection that will be disconnected shortly before launch.
On Thursday, the Soyuz launcher will provide Sentinel-1A with a spectacular ride into orbit at about 693 km altitude, and mission controllers expect to receive the satellite’s first signals around 25 minutes later.
Intense activity on both sides of the Atlantic
The past few days have seen intense activity in Kourou to prepare the payload and its rocket.
On 21 March, Sentinel was fuelled. Late last week, it was encapsulated in the aerodynamic fairing together with the Fregat upper stage, forming the ‘payload stack’.
On 31 March, the three-stage Soyuz was rolled out from its integration building and erected vertically on the launch pad.
Yesterday, the payload stack was mated on top of Soyuz, inside a mobile gantry.
Today, ESA, Arianespace and Russian launch vehicle experts are due to complete a Launch Readiness Review that looks at all systems required to support the mission prior to giving the go-ahead for fuelling and count-down preparations.
In parallel, the mission control team at ESOC will hold their final team briefing, to review the centre’s readiness for launch.
On launch day morning, final preparations at the launch site include fuelling the Soyuz and removing the mobile gantry from the vehicle.