ESA's Proba-V Turns On In Time To Catch Stunning Image Over Western France
May 17, 2013

ESA’s Proba-V Turns On In Time To Catch Stunning Image Over Western France

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

The European Space Agency (ESA) successfully launched its Vega rocket on May 7 carrying multiple payloads. The launch was meant to demonstrate the versatility of the agency´s VESPA multiple launch adapter. After last week´s early morning lift-off, Vega deployed three spacecraft into orbit: Estonia´s ESTCube-1, Vietnam´s VNREDSat-1 and the prime payload Proba-V.

ESA´s Proba-V, a next-generation "Earth Watcher" designed to image the planet´s vegetation, is now showing signs of life. Just over a week after being set into a polar orbit roughly 510 miles over Earth, the mini satellite was switched on just in time to grab an image of the land cover over western France.

The satellite´s Vegetation imager will map out the land cover and vegetation growth over the entire planet every two days. The data from the satellite will be used to alert authorities of crop failures and help scientists better monitor desertification and deforestation.

Upon switching the imager to the on position on Wednesday, the first images were relayed back to Earth of the lush interior of the Bay of Biscay along the French coast. The Proba-V mission is being operated by the ESA Redu center in Belgium.

The Redu center was able to easily bring the satellite online during the Launch and Early Operations Phase (LEOP) of the project, which occurred shortly after orbital placement.

“The first LEOP milestone was to check the first signs of life from the satellite as it flew over the ESA ground station at Kourou 40 minutes after separation,” explained Karim Mellab, Proba-V Project Manager in a statement.

“Then a full telemetry session confirmed the stabilization of the satellite´s attitude, or pointing direction. The onboard computer used ℠magnetorquers´ — basically magnets interacting with Earth´s magnetic field — to control the satellite´s attitude and compensate for the spin imparted by the separation,” noted Mellab.

“Since then, we have been checking the various subsystems one by one, confirming that they have made it through the stress of launch in working order,” he said. “These initial checks are now being followed by a diligent commissioning of every single detail of the overall system platform, instrument and technology demonstration payloads, which will take the next few months.”

Mission operators will conduct a careful cross-calibration of the Vegetation imager on Proba-V and the orbiter´s previous generation counterpart, France´s Spot-5 satellite. This cross-calibration check will ensure that data compatibility exists between the two satellites.

Proba-V is essentially a redesign of the Spot-4 and Spot-5 satellites, only in a downsized and much lighter package. Both of its predecessors have been in operation over Earth since 1998. Proba-V´s updated instruments will help scientists keep a close eye on the planet´s vegetation cover for the foreseeable future.

The satellite will also provide data to scientists all over the world once orbital commissioning of the satellite is complete and turned over to the ESA´s Earth Observation Programme.