French Guiana: ESA’s Sentinel-1B is set to join its identical twin Sentinel-1A in orbit to deliver all-weather, day-and-night radar images of Earth’s surface as part of Europe’s Copernicus programme. The satellite will be launch on Friday from ESA’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana at (23:02 CEST) 21:02 GMT.
The two satellites working in tandem will cover the whole planet every six days, supporting vital services such as monitoring Arctic sea ice, surveillance of the marine environment and mapping for forest, water and soil management (more information on Sentinel-1). In preparation for flight, teams at ESA’s control centre in Darmstadt, Germany, were immersed in intensive training for the past few months, completing 15 day-long simulation sessions.
In a typical ‘sim’, teams of experts from mission control, flight dynamics, ground stations and software engineering sit ‘on console’ in specialised control rooms to rehearse all critical phases of the satellite’s upcoming flight using sophisticated simulation software.
“We’ve already been flying Sentinel-1A since 2014, so for most of the team, training to fly 1B means refresher training,” says Spacecraft Operations Manager Ian Shurmer.
“The simulations pushed everyone very hard, and we especially rehearsed for possible problems with the complex series of deployments that must occur after separation from our rocket. If there’s a problem with one deployment, we have to fix that before we can go on to the next,” says Ian, although he stresses no issues are expected.
After establishing a radio link and conducting initial health checks, the control centre will work around the clock for the next three days to shepherd Sentinel-1B through its critical early days in space, ensuring that all flight control, navigation, communication and attitude control systems are working as planned.
“We won’t get to a ‘power-positive’ state – when the satellite’s first solar array delivers sufficient power for normal operations – until about five hours into flight, and that’s just one critical moment,” says Flight Operations Director Pier Paolo Emanuelli, who oversees all Sentinel missions at mission control.