Japan: An H-IIA 202 rocket lifted off on Saturday, carrying GCOM-C1 (nicknamed SHIKISAI) and SLATS (dubbed TSUBAME) Earth-observing satellites.
The liftoff occurred at 10:26 a.m. local time (01:26 GMT; 8:26 p.m. EST on December 22) from the Yoshinobu Launch Complex at the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan.
The final countdown for the flight began about 14 hours before the planned liftoff when the H-IIA booster was rolled out to the launch pad. Both satellites were contained in a protective payload and attached to the launch vehicle.
A few hours before the launch, the last testing operation began and the rocket was filled with propellants. All the pre-launch preparations led to the ignition of the LE-7A engine some five seconds before liftoff.
The rocket thundered off from the pad when its twin SRB-A boosters were ignited and the launch vehicle commenced a short vertical ascent. Afterward, the H-IIA rocket turned south-east and started heading over the Pacific Ocean.
The two boosters powered the mission for the first one-and-a-half minutes and were separated 17 seconds after their burnout. Then, some four minutes and five seconds into the flight, the payload fairing was detached – revealing the mission’s duo of passengers. About two minutes and 39 seconds later, the rocket’s first stage was also separated and the second stage took control over the mission for the rest of the flight.
The second stage ignited its LE-5B engine nearly seven minutes after liftoff and was shut down some eight minutes later. The first shutdown of the second stage cleared the way for the separation of the GCOM-C1 satellite at T+16:21 minutes.
GCOM-C1 was placed into an approximately circular Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) at an altitude of 496 miles (798 kilometers), inclined by 98.6 degrees. SLATS was delivered to a low-Earth orbit (LEO) at an altitude of 112 by 167 miles (180 by 268 kilometers).
GCOM-C1 is part of the Global Change Observation Mission project. Its primary goal is to provide a global, long-term observation of Earth’s environment. JAXA expects that GCOM will play an important role in monitoring both global water circulation and climate change, as well as examining the health of our home world from space. The first satellite of the GCOM project, GCOM-W1 (Global Change Observation Mission – Water “SHIZUKU”) was launched into space in May 2012.
SLATS (Super Low Altitude Test Satellite “TSUBAME”) is the first Earth observation satellite to use a super low orbit – with an altitude lower than 186 miles (300 kilometers). The spacecraft weighs around 880 pounds (400 kilograms) and its dimensions are 8.2 by 17 by 2.9 feet (2.5 by 5.2 by 0.9 meters). The satellites are designed to be operational for minimum two years.
SLATS uses the ion engine technology developed by JAXA in order to verify its technology for orbit control at super low altitudes. Apart from photographing the Earth, the spacecraft will also collect technical data related to the atmosphere, that will be helpful in the design of future satellites.