Swarm mission control ready for triple launch

November 20, 2013
Main Control Room at ESA's Space Operations Centre. Credit: ESA/J.Mai

After months of intensive training, the Swarm mission control team are ready for liftoff on Friday. The team will carefully shepherd the trio of magnetic explorers through their critical launch and early orbit phase, ready to react to any problem.

The data from this new , planned to last four years, will be used to study the mysteries of Earth's magnetic field, its interactions with the solar wind and relation to global change.

At 12:02 GMT on 22 November, a Rockot launcher will climb into the sky, soaring high above Plesetsk, Russia, 800 km north of Moscow. Some 91 minutes later, the Swarm trio will be released into orbit at 490 km.

That moment will mark the culmination of years of careful preparation capped by months of at ESOC, ESA's European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

Working at consoles in the Main Control Room, the Swarm team will be waiting tensely as the satellites perform their automated sequence and then come to life, beaming their first signals back to the engineers via ground stations in Sweden and Norway.

"For us, AOS – acquisition of signal – marks the start of the mission, and it's the crucial moment we've been training for," says Juan Piñeiro, Spacecraft Operations Manager for Swarm.

Swarm mission team in training. Credit: ESA

"It's just one critical moment during 'LEOP' – the three- or four-day Launch and Early Orbit Phase – during which we have to execute a series of key steps in the right order at the right time."

During LEOP, teams will work around the clock to check out all the satellite systems and payload, and deploy the critical magnetic payload boom late in the evening of the first day.

Hundreds of orbital manoeuvres for a trio

Starting during LEOP, the Swarm trio will steadily separate into different orbits. Swarm-A and -B will drop to around 460 km and fly in tandem, while Swarm-C climbs to 530 km.

This process will take several months, because the satellites carry only simple thrusters that provide very modest 'puffs' of thrust of Freon gas. It will take hundreds of these manoeuvres to get them into their final scientific orbits.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

Training of the mission operations teams has lasted over a year, with the last few months being especially intense.

The training sessions simulate each phase of the mission, and often run through a full 12-hour shift.

In a 'Sim' engineers use the actual mission control system to operate and fly a faithful software replica of the real Swarm satellites that respond to their commands just as the real ones will.

Experts from across the Agency – including flight dynamics, Estrack ground stations and software support and from the Swarm project and industry teams – also take part.

"The Sims have been very demanding; there are many scenarios in which something might go wrong, and we have to be able to implement fixes for the possible contingencies," says Juan.

"During one Sim, we had to deal with multiple faults in some of the systems in all three satellites. In another, in addition to the satellite and ground system problems, one of the engineers was unexpectedly taken off console by the simulation managers because he had suddenly become 'sick', and the team had to step in to cover the missing expertise."

Ready to go

Training continues almost until launch. A final LEOP simulation took place on 15 November, and the final, dress rehearsal is set for 19 November, followed by a final briefing for everyone involved in the launch on 21 November.

"It's been a long time to get to this point, but we're ready," says Pier Paolo Emanuelli, Swarm Flight Director.

"The teams are ready, the operations centre is ready and we are looking forward to a very exciting liftoff on Friday."

About the Swarm mission

Using carefully calculated orbits and five instruments on each of the three satellites, Swarm will provide information needed to untangle the sources of Earth's magnetic field and electric currents around our planet.

The data will help to build global models of the magnetic field generated by our planet's core and crust.

Explore further: Swarm constellation heads north

Related Stories

Swarm constellation heads north

February 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 before they ...

Weather satellite to be delivered in orbit to Eumetsat

September 10, 2012

Later this month, Europe's newest meteorology satellite, MetOp-B, will blast into space from Baikonur Cosmodrome. For mission control teams at ESA, liftoff marks the start of 72 hours of intense focus during the mission's ...

Preparing to launch Swarm

September 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 planet: the magnetic ...

Swarm launch postponed

October 31, 2013

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

Satellites packed like sardines

November 11, 2013

(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 ...

Swarm on the launchpad

November 19, 2013

Preparations for Friday's launch of ESA's magnetic explorer have reached an important milestone – the constellation is now in the Plesetsk launch tower.

Recommended for you

Earth flyby of 'space peanut' captured in new video

July 31, 2015

NASA scientists have used two giant, Earth-based radio telescopes to bounce radar signals off a passing asteroid and produce images of the peanut-shaped body as it approached close to Earth this past weekend.

Image: Hubble sees a dying star's final moments

July 31, 2015

A dying star's final moments are captured in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The death throes of this star may only last mere moments on a cosmological timescale, but this star's demise is still quite ...

Exoplanets 20/20: Looking back to the future

July 31, 2015

Geoff Marcy remembers the hair standing up on the back of his neck. Paul Butler remembers being dead tired. The two men had just made history: the first confirmation of a planet orbiting another star.

Dense star clusters shown to be binary black hole factories

July 29, 2015

The coalescence of two black holes—a very violent and exotic event—is one of the most sought-after observations of modern astronomy. But, as these mergers emit no light of any kind, finding such elusive events has been ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.