Satellites packed like sardines

Nov 11, 2013
Separated by a few centimetres. Credit: ESA–M. Shafiq

(Phys.org) —The complex task of placing all three Swarm satellites on their launch adapter is complete. This is another significant milestone in preparing ESA's latest Earth observation mission for liftoff, which is now set for 22 November.

The Swarm constellation will measure the strength and direction of the magnetic and electric fields around Earth. The aim is to understand the individual sources of the – each with their own characteristics in space and time.

This will provide insight into many natural processes, from those occurring deep inside the planet to weather in space caused by solar activity. In turn, this information will yield a better understanding of why the magnetic field is weakening.

The three identical satellites have been at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia since mid-September. As part of the campaign to prepare for , each has been through a rigorous series of tests and been fuelled for their life in orbit.

Engineers and technicians at the launch facilities have spent the last week carefully placing the three satellites on the tailor-made launch adapter. This is part of the of the rocket and holds them in place within the fairing during the climb to space. Critically, it allows the three to be released simultaneously into orbit.

The three Swarm satellites are launched together on a single Rockot from Plesetsk, Russia. The satellites are placed on a Breeze-KM upper stage with a tailor-made dispenser for simultaneous separation. Credit: ESA/ATG Medialab

But it is a very tight squeeze – there are only centimetres between the satellites.

Placing the third one on the adapter was particularly challenging because it had to be manoeuvred very carefully so as not to damage the two already in position.

Bruno Bergaglio, ESA's launch campaign manager, said, "It is very satisfying to see the three Swarm satellites safely on the adapter.

"Some very careful manoeuvres and dexterity were involved in positioning and bolting them onto the adapter.

"The different teams have all worked really hard reach this milestone and we now look forward to the next important step – encapsulating them in the rocket fairing."

The third Swarm satellite being carefully manoeuvred onto the launch adapter. Packed like sardines, the next major step will be to encapsulate the constellation within the rocket fairing in preparation for launch on 22 November 2013. Credit: ESA–M. Shafiq

The satellites have a rather unusual shape: trapezoidal with a long boom that is deployed once in orbit.

Solar panels cover the satellites' 'roofs'. Standing back-to-back on the adapter, the assembly is now protected by antistatic foil. This closes the gaps between the satellites so that the surface of the are not contaminated by particles.

Meanwhile, the Russian military is preparing the rocket. The upper stage and fairing have been transferred to the pad and will join the booster for testing They will then be returned to the integration facility so that the satellites can be encapsulated in the fairing.

Swarm will be launched on 22 November at 12:02 GMT (13:02 CET)

Explore further: Preparing to launch Swarm

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Preparing to launch Swarm

Sep 20, 2013

With the launch of ESA's Swarm trio set for 14 November, the first satellite has arrived safely at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia. This new mission will unravel one of the most mysterious aspects of our ...

Swarm launch postponed

Oct 31, 2013

The launch of ESA's magnetic field mission from Plesetsk, Russia, has been postponed by about a week.

Last look at weather satellite

Sep 12, 2012

(Phys.org)—As preparations for the launch of Europe's latest weather satellite continue on track, the team in Kazakhstan has said farewell to MetOp-B as it was sealed in the Soyuz rocket fairing. Liftoff ...

Swarm constellation heads north

Feb 20, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- The three satellites that make up ESA's Swarm magnetic field mission were presented to the media today. Following a demanding testing programme, the satellites were displayed in the cleanroom ...

SMOS and Proba-2 satellites installed in launch tower

Oct 28, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- In readiness for launch on 2 November, ESA’s SMOS and Proba-2 satellites - encapsulated in the launcher fairing - have been transported from the cleanroom and installed in the launch tower ...

Twin Galileo satellites fuelled and ready for launch

Oct 02, 2012

The twin Galileo satellites are now fully fuelled and mated together atop the upper stage that will haul them most of the way up to their final orbit. The launch is now planned for the evening of 12 October.

Recommended for you

Titan offers clues to atmospheres of hazy planets

8 hours ago

When hazy planets pass across the face of their star, a curious thing happens. Astronomers are not able to see any changes in the range of light coming from the star and planet system.

Having fun with the equation of time

9 hours ago

If you're like us, you might've looked at a globe of the Earth in elementary school long before the days of Google Earth and wondered just what that strange looking figure eight thing on its side was.

The source of the sky's X-ray glow

Jul 27, 2014

In findings that help astrophysicists understand our corner of the galaxy, an international research team has shown that the soft X-ray glow blanketing the sky comes from both inside and outside the solar system.

User comments : 0