The first Soyuz rocket launch in the Americas successfully took place at 6:30 a.m. ET on October 21, after a one day delay on the first attempt. VS01 is the first Soyuz flight from Arianspace's spaceport in French Guiana and the first new rocket type to be launched from the facility in over a decade. Today's flight put a total of 1,580 kilograms into orbit, including two Galileo satellites weighing 700 kilograms each.
Originally scheduled early on the morning of October 20, the first launch attempt was delayed about two hours before liftoff due to a third-stage valve problem that appeared during fueling, according to various news reports. An Arianespace (News - Alert) official attributed the problem to ground operations rather than a rocket hardware problem.
Up until this morning, the only rockets flown out of French Guyana were made in Western Europe, with the Ariane 5 being the primary and sole vehicle flown since 2003. The latest version of Ariane 5 is designed to put up to 10 metric tons of payload into geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO), typically a pair of communications satellites. Ariane 5 is also used to launch the European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) into low earth orbit (LEO) for International Space Station (ISS) resupply, and can deliver up to 20 metric tons to LEO.
The Soyuz ST-B rocket flown today is capable of putting up to 3,150 kilograms into GTO or larger amounts into lower flights when launched from French Guyana. It is an “evolved” version of the Soyuz family that includes an upgraded digital flight control system, an increased performance third stage, and a larger Soyuz ST payload faring. A RD-0124 engine replaces the Soyuz's stock RD-0110 third stage engine to add 34 seconds of additional specific impulse (isp) to increase overall launch performance.
While offering some economies of scale by putting two larger satellites into orbit at once, Ariane 5 is starting to run into some too-big/too-small issues. Launch customers with smaller satellites don't need the power Ariane 5 offers while it has become more difficult to put two larger/heavier communications satellites onto a single Ariane 5 launch.
Adding Soyuz to the options available from French Guyana provides a medium-sized launch option for Arianespace. In 2012, Vega will start operations at the spaceport to round out the portfolio. Made in Europe, the four stage Vega is designed to accommodate smaller scientific spacecraft and other lighter-weight payloads. Vega is designed to put up to 1,500 kilograms into a 700 kilogram circular polar orbit.
Doug Mohney is a contributing editor for TMCnet and a 20-year veteran of the ICT space. To read more of his articles, please visit columnist page.
Edited by Jennifer Russell