Russian Rocket Launches Six Satellites From French Guiana
December 18, 2011

Russian Rocket Launches Six Satellites From French Guiana

A Russian Soyuz rocket lifted off this weekend from French Guiana´s Sinamary spaceport, only the second time a Soyuz rocket has ever lifted off from the European Space Agency´s (ESA) new launch facility in South America.

The rocket carried six low-orbit military-industrial satellites into space, including France´s Pleiades 1 satellite, designed to generate 3D and color images for both military and industrial use. The satellite has been designed to take pictures on the ground as small as 20 inches across.

Pleiades 1 was financed mainly by France´s defense ministry, and built by Europe´s largest space company, Astrium. Its instruments were supplied by Thales Alenia Space, based in Cannes, France. The Pleiades project was allotted $991 million, according to France´s National Center for Space Studies (CNES).

Pleiades carries gyroscopes that will allow it to swivel its telescope in quick time, enabling it to acquire a mosaic of images around its target in a single pass overhead.

Pleiades will serve both the military and the civilian sector, with a number of European countries, including Austria, Belgium, Spain and Sweden, funding the project to gain access to pictures the satellite takes.

A second Pleiades satellite is scheduled for launch in 2012.

“The fact that we will have two, twin satellites operating in a phased orbit separated by 180 degrees will give us something very powerful - a daily re-visit capacity. It means we will be able to gather information every day on any part of the globe,” explained Charlotte Gabriel Robez, Pleiades project manager with Astrium Geo-information Services to BBC News.

“This is key because it allows us to tackle applications such as rescue or crisis management, in the aftermath of an earthquake for example,” Robez told BBC News correspondent Jonathan Amos.

Aboard the rocket also were four ELISA micro-satellites for the French military, designed to test a new system for detecting radars from space through their electromagnetic signature. They will be followed by a prototype in 2020 if they prove successful.

The sixth satellite, SSOT, is a Chilean military satellite with ground resolution of 4.7 feet.

The commercial market for very high resolution imagery has become dominated in recent years by GeoEye and DigitalGlobe, two American companies which benefit from multi-billion-dollar contracts with US intelligence agencies.

Astrium Geo-information Services is hoping to grab a piece of that lucrative pie with Pleiades.

Pleiades arrived safely in its 435-mile-high polar orbit, after Soyuz lifted off on schedule and without incidence.

The Soyuz rocket made its first outside-of-Russia lift-off from the Sinnamary spaceport on October 21, carrying Europe´s first two Galileo navigation system satellites into orbit.

The new launch pad has been constructed in the Guianese jungle specifically for the Soyuz rockets. By operating closer to the equator, the rocket receives a bigger boost from the Earth´s rotation, meaning it can lift nearly double the mass that it could if launching from its traditional base in Baikonur, Kazakhstan.


Image Caption: The Soyuz launcher lifts off from the Guiana Space Centre, Saturday 17 December at 0:03 UTC. Credits: ESA/CNES/Arianespace/Optique vidéo du CSG.


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