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Three Canadian radar satellites ready for launch from California – Spaceflight Now

Technicians prepare the Radarsat Constellation Mission satellites for encapsulation within the nose assembly of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Credit: MDA / SpaceX

SpaceX team working at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California completed preparations Tuesday before the launch of a Falcon 9 rocket Wednesday with a trio of Canadian built radar observation satellites in circulation.

A few minutes after the liftoff Wednesday morning, Falcon 9's first stage will return to a landing zone back at Vandenberg for SpaceX's second onshore rocket landing in California.

The 229 ft long (70 meter) Falcon 9 rocket is set for launch at 10:17 EDT (7:17 PM PDT; 1417 GMT) Wednesday from Space Launch Complex 4 East at Vandenberg, a military base around 140 miles ( 225 kilometers north-west of Los Angeles.

There is a 13-minute launch window for the launch Wednesday, otherwise the rocket Falcon 9 will have to wait to fly another day.

Three spacecraft of 3.152 pounds (1.430 kg) are packed on top of the Falcon 9 rocket to continue a series of Canadian radar observation satellites launched since 1995.

Radarsat Constellation Mission, or RCM, consists of three identical satellites built by MDA. a Canadian division of Maxar. The Canadian Space Agency is leading the project to provide radar images to the Canadian government in pursuit of national security, scientific research and environmental monitoring.

"We still have a lot of check stools to go, but so far so good," said Mike Greenley, group manager for the MDA, in a telephone interview Tuesday from the Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Radarsat Constellation Mission follows Canada's former radar observation satellites, Radarsat 1 and 2, launched in 1995 and 2007.

"It's extremely important for Canada," Greenley said of RCM.

The RCM project costs the Canadian government about $ 900 million, including the development of the satellites, the launch and seven years of planned operations, according to Steve Iris, RSM Mission Manager at the Canadian Space Agency.

It makes RCM one of the most costly Canadian led space missions in history and one of the most expensive payloads ever launched by SpaceX.

Each RCM satellite has a C-band radar instrument, with an expandable antenna array, transmitter and receiver.

Unlike optical cameras, radar can see through clouds and make observations day and night. The radar instrument emits signals and measures the waves reflected from the earth's surface, providing information on structures, ships, forests, ice and crops.

Artist's concept for Radarsat Constellation Mission. Credit: MDA

"Earth observation is critical, and radar-based earth observation gives Canada excellent capability to handle Canadian sovereignty and security," Greenley said.

A dozen Canadian authorities, including the military, use Radar data. The broad use is expected to continue with RCM.

"In addition to our resource-based economy that requires monitoring of our forests, mining, energy and agricultural industries, our northern latitudes that are sensitive to climate change are increasing from space-based radar systems that can observe the Earth day and night in all weather conditions," Magdalena says. Wierus, a project management engineer at the Radarsat Constellation Mission at the Canadian Space Agency.

Most of Canada's long coastline lies in remote areas of the Arctic, away from terrestrial observation posts.

"We have a large part of the northern part of Canada that has a population of low density and there is not much infrastructure for monitoring, and this is where it has the greatest effect from climate change, especially on the permafrost," says Iris in a press conference before launch. "So with the constellation mission, we will be able to monitor that region every day and monitor subtle changes such as soil deformation due to permafrost melting. We will be able to do it four times a day, which is a big advantage compared to what we do now. "

When observing in spotlight mode, each of the three RCM satellites has a best resolution of 1 meter (3.3 feet) in azimuth and 3 meters (9.8 feet) in the range. This can be compared to Radarsat 2:

But with three satellites, RCM can cover more territory.

"It's a three satellite mission that revolves around the Earth, evenly distributed, every 96 minutes at a height of about 600 kilometers (373 miles) ), "said Wierus." One of the most important improvements in the constellation is that together they can ensure that a point on the earth is reproduced exactly every four days compared to Radarsat 2, which had an exact return of every 24th day.

"Why is this important? It is because we can use these images to measure changes in the ground movement, which, for example, can help us understand what is happening on the earth better," she says. "RCM has the capacity to form some 90% of the Earth's surface daily, but will mainly depict Canadian territory. "

In combination with maritime surveillance and environmental monitoring, the RCM satellites will track the movement and retreat of the icebergs and the growth of glaciers and ice sheets. "The greatest demand from government users was to cover the Canadian landmass and shipping daily, including images of the Arctic four times a day," Wierus said. "RCM can cover all regions of Canada within a 24-hour period, which was not possible with Radarsat 2."

Wierus said the Canadian space agency is exploring ways to distribute data collected by the Radarsat Constellation Mission outside the Canadian government, which allows international researchers, companies, and the public to access RCM's images.

The three radar sat constellation mission satellites under encapsulation within the payload display of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Credit: MDA / SpaceX

In addition to the radar imaging sensor, each RCM spacecraft is hosted by a radio receiver to collect identification messages transmitted by shipping.

"Overlayed on top of the radar images, this can help find ships that may be in trouble, or rogue ships that don't want to be found," says Wierus.

According to Greenley, MDA supports the Canadian Government in the development of an open data application policy for RCM. Radarsat 2, which is still in operation, is a commercial satellite partly funded by the Canadian government, with additional private investment from the MDA, now part of Maxar.

The MDA owns Radarsat 2, while the Canadian government owns the RCM satellites

The Canadian government says it expects to use approximately 250,000 RCM images per year, more than government demand for images from previous Radarsat missions.

Wednesday's launch will be SpaceX's seventh year's mission and the company's second from Vandenberg in 2019.

After the liftoff, the Falcon 9 rocket will be headed south over the Pacific Ocean, which is driven by 1.7 million pounds of driving force from the first stage nine Merlin 1D main engines, guzzling a mixture of super-cooled petroleum and liquid oxygen propellants.

The launch puts on the Radarsat Constellation Mission on Wednesday will use a first-step booster that earlier flew on March 2 on a mission to the Rome Kennedy Space Center in Florida to send SpaceX's first spacecraft vessel in the Crew Dragon on an unilateral test flight to the International Space Station.

At T + plus 2 minutes, 13 seconds closes the first stage main engines, followed by separation of booster around four seconds later. The second stage of the Falcon 9, powered by a single Merlin engine, will ignite at T + plus 2 minutes, 24 seconds, to accelerate the RCM satellites in orbit.

The protective composite cover covering the RCM satellites during the launch will jettison at T + plus 2 minutes, 49 seconds, when the rocket has risen above the dense lower layer of the atmosphere.

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket stands vertically at Space Launch Complex 4-East at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The launch that puts on the Radarsat Constellation Mission uses a first step booster that previously flew on March 2 on a mission from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to send SpaceX's first spacecraft Crew Dragon on an unilateral test flight to the International Space Station. Credit: SpaceX

At the same time, the first stage will begin maneuvering to return to Vandenberg, which begins with a re-firing with three of the first-stage Merlin engines to interrupt the rocket's downrange speed and reverse course back to the launch site.

After the gain burn, booster will regenerate some of its combustion intake engines, followed by ignition of the first stage center motor for a final brake maneuver as it falls down to a landing plate about a quarter mile 400 meters) from Falcon 9's starting point at the Vandenberg Air Force Base .

After being equipped with a four-part landing gear, the impact of Falcon 9's booster stage is expected to be about eight minutes after picking up at Landing Zone 4, a circular concrete pad previously known as the Space Launch Complex 4-West, which was once a companion for the SLC-4E site, which was first used by Titan rockets, and now by SpaceX's Falcon 9 vehicle.

The rocket landing scheduled for Wednesday day will be the second landing on land through a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster at Vandenberg after a first stage return last October following the launch of an Argentine Earth observation satellite.

SpaceX has logged thirteen additional Falcon 9 rocket landings on Cape Canaveral after its launch from the East Coast, along with 26 successful returns to the company's ocean-going drone ship.

The company warned that residents near Vandenberg can hear a sonic boom during the rocket landing on Wednesday.

"There is a possibility that residents of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo County may hear a sonic boom during the landing attempt," said SpaceX in a statement. "Santa Barbara County holders are likely to hear the sonic boom, but what the residents experience depends on weather conditions and other factors. "

This satellite view shows Landing Zone 4 (lower left) and Space Launch Complex 4-East (right) at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California Credit: Maxar

Falcon 9's second stage continues its The RCM satellites first place the payloads a preliminary parking run around eight and a half minutes in the flight, and after stretching over the Antarctic, the upper stage will reign for a short four-second firing about 50 minutes after the lift to inject the RCM satellites into a almost 373 miles high (600 kilometers) orbit with a slope of 97.7 degrees to the equator.

The satellites are mounted on a speciald esigned dispenser manufactured by Ruag Space, a Swiss headquarters, with a tilt mechanism to ensure that spacecraft has ample space to separate from the rocket in circulation.

The satellite separations are offset about four minutes apart, with the last of the three being planned for expansion by 62 minutes into the mission.

Canadian ground controllers predict that the first radio signals from the satellites will arrive within two hours of launching to confirm the spacecraft is all alive and healthy.

The satellites will expand their flat radar antennas, each with an area of ​​about 9.5 square meters within the first few days of t he mission, according to the MDA. The rows will start for the first time 10 or 11 days after the start, says MDA officials, to begin function checks and take the first test images.

The full commissioning and calibration campaign takes 3-6 months, when the Canadian space agency will explain the RCM satellites operationally and ready for regular observations, officials said.

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