A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket shot through a dense maze of coastal fog and entered orbit on Wednesday from Vandenberg Air Force Base. It deployed three radar observation satellites to launch a $ 900 million Arctic Sea Surveillance mission to provide water, forests and farmland to the Canadian government.
The Radarsat Constellation Mission, which consists of three identical Earth Observation satellites, is led by the Canadian Space Agency and is one of the country's most expensive missions in space history.
The three Radarsat satellites departed at 4:17:10 (10:17:10 (EDT); 1417: 10 (GMT)) from the 4-East space launch complex in Vandenberg. Seconds later, the Falcon 9 emerged from a thick blanket of smoke seen from a distant mountain top camera, providing live views of the rocket's ascent.
Nine kerosene-powered Merlin main engines propelled the rocket into the sky with 1.7 million pounds of thrust. However, the viewing opportunities for spectators, photographers and VIPs gathering for the start in Vandenberg were thwarted by the dense fog that hung over the spaceport on the California Central Coast.
After the first stage of the Falcon 9 had been turned south across the Pacific Ocean, it was advanced into the upper atmosphere, then shut down for about 2 minutes, 13 seconds. The booster split a subset of its engines and lit it again to reverse the course and return to Vandenberg.
The 15-level first-stage booster landed in landing zone 4, just 400 meters from its launch pad, eight minutes after taking off. It was the 41st time that SpaceX successfully landed one of its rocket boosters, and the second rocket returned to Vandenberg.
The first station, which started Wednesday, launched a mission from Florida on March 2 to launch SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule. First pilot flight without a pilot to the International Space Station.
Meanwhile, the second stage of the Falcon 9 fired its only Merlin engine up to 8.5 minutes after the mission began. The upper stage was shut down, ran over the Antarctic and the Indian Ocean, and then briefly ignited its Merlin engine to bring the Radarsat satellites into a nearly circular orbit inclined 97.8 degrees to the equator unique tilting mechanism to position the radarsat satellites for separation from the launch vehicle. The spaceship, each weighing 1,430 kilograms, was dropped off the rocket one at a time.
A camera aboard the rocket showed the satellites orbiting into space, and the last spaceship parted from Falcon 9 at 8:19 PDT (11:19 EDT; 1519 GMT).
US military data indicated that the satellites fly at a height of between 361 and 373 miles (581 and 601 kilometers), and Canadian officials said ground crews had received first status signals from all three radarsat spacecraft to assess their health after successful start on Wednesday to confirm. 19659003] According to MDA, the main contractor for the Radarsat Constellation Mission, the satellites will expand their flat-panel radar antennas, each measuring 9.5 square meters, during the first days of the mission. The radars will be turned on for the first time 10 or 11 days after launch to perform functional checks and record the first test images.
Complete Commissioning and Calibration Campaign Will Last Three to Six Months The Canadian Space Agency will declare the RCM satellites operational and ready for periodic observations.
More than 125 Canadian companies from seven provinces helped develop and build the three new radarsat satellites. Canada's new fleet of earth-observation spacecraft follows Radarsat 1 and Radarsat 2 – launched in 1995 and 2007 – and is expected to continue operating the country's flagship satellite system until at least 2026.
"It's extremely important for Canada," said Mike Greenley, Group President of MDA, in an interview with Spaceflight Now before the start.
The RCM project will cost the Canadian government approximately $ 900 million ($ 1.2 billion), including development of satellites, take-off and take-off According to Canadian Space Agency's RSM mission manager Steve Iris, seven years of planned operations.
This makes RCM one of the most expensive Canadian-led space missions in history and one of the most expensive payloads ever launched by SpaceX.
Each RCM satellite carries a C-band radar with an extendable antenna array, transmitters and receivers.
Unlike optical cameras, radars can see through clouds. Observe day and night. The radars send out signals and measure the waves reflected from the earth's surface. They provide information on structures, ships, forests, ice and crops.
"Earth observation is crucial, and radar-based Earth observation offers Canada an excellent ability to handle the sovereignty and safety of Canadians," said Greenley.
A dozen Canadian government agencies, including the military, use radar data. This broad deployment is expected to continue with RCM.
"In addition to our resource-based economy, which requires the monitoring of our forests, mining, energy, and agribusiness, our climate-sensitive northern latitudes benefit from spaceborne radar systems, allowing the earth to be observed day and night in all weathers "Said Magdalena Wierus, project manager at the Radarsat Constellation Mission of the Canadian Space Agency.
Most of the long Canadian coastline is located in remote Arctic regions from terrestrial observation posts.
"We have a large part of the northern part of Canada with a low population density, and there is not much infrastructure there for monitoring, and there is the greatest impact of climate change, especially in permafrost," said Iris in one Press conference before the start. "With the constellation mission, we can monitor this region every day and monitor minor changes such as the deformation of the ground by the melting of the permafrost. We can do that four times a day. That's a big advantage over what we do now.
When observed in Spotlight mode, each of the three RCM satellites has a best resolution of 1 meter (3.3 in azimuth and 3 meters in range, which is comparable to the imaging performance of Radarsat 2.
With three satellites However, RCM can cover more areas.
600 kilometers, "said Wierus." One of the main improvements of the constellation is that together they are able to accurately locate a point on Earth every four days compared to Radarsat 2, which had an accurate retrieval every 24 days.
"Why is that important?" This is because we can use these images to measure, for example, changes in ground motion that help us better understand what It happens on Earth, "she said," The RCM can map any location on 90 percent of the Earth's surface daily, but will primarily map Canadian territory. " The concept of the artist of the Radarsat constellation mission in orbit with its radar antennas. Credit: MDA
In addition to monitoring the oceans and the environment, RCM satellites will monitor the movement of icebergs and the retreat and growth of glaciers and ice sheets. The observation satellites will also monitor natural disasters such as flooding and water pollution.
"The primary requirement of government users was the daily capture of the Canadian landmass and maritime approaches, including four-time images of the Arctic day," said Wierus. "RCM is able to cover all regions of Canada within 24 hours, which was not possible with Radarsat 2."
Wierus said the Canadian Space Agency is investigating ways in which the data collected by the Radarsat Constellation mission can be disseminated to the outside world by the Canadian government, which allows international scientists, businesses and the public to access the RCM images.
In addition to the radar image sensor, a radio receiver for collecting identification messages from seagoing vessels is installed in each RCM spacecraft.
The radar images help locate ships that may be in trouble, or rogue ships that do not want to be found. "
According to Greenley, MDA supports the Canadian government in developing an open data access policy for RCM. Radarsat 2, which is still in operation, is a commercial satellite partially funded by the Canadian government, with additional private sector investment from MDA, which is now part of Maxar.
MDA owns Radarsat 2 while the Canadian government owns the RCM satellites
The Canadian government expects to use approximately 250,000 RCM images per year, more than required by the government for images from previous radarsat missions. The launch on Wednesday was the seventh SpaceX mission of the year and the second of Vandenberg's in 2019. SpaceX teams on Florida's Space Coast are preparing a three-core Falcon Heavy rocket for the company's next launch, the earliest June 24 at 23:30 EDT scheduled (0330 GMT on June 25).
The Falcon Heavy starts from Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Another launch of the Falcon 9 from the neighboring Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is scheduled for July 21st by Loft SpaceX's next Dragon Supply Mission to the Space Station.
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