Ariane 4 rocket launches French Spot 5 satellite

Posted: May 3, 2002

The French Spot 5 remote sensing satellite became the 200th payload to be launched by Arianespace Friday night, riding an Ariane 4 rocket into orbit around Earth's poles.

  Ariane Ariane Ariane Ariane The Ariane 4 rocket blasts off with Spot 5 from the ELA-2 launch pad. Photos: Arianespace
Marking the sixth Ariane launch in less than 100 days, the Ariane 42P rocket with twin solid-fueled boosters lifted off as advertised at 9:31:46 p.m. EDT (0131:46 GMT Saturday) from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana. Just over 19 minutes later, Spot 5 was released into orbit to complete the 70th consecutive successful flight of an Ariane 4 launcher dating back to 1995.

"Since the start of 2002, Arianespace has clearly demonstrated the ability to match its launch pace to the availability of satellite payloads," said Arianespace Chairman and CEO Jean-Marie Luton. "This operational flexibility -- which is the result of our long experience -- constitutes an essential element of our competitiveness, which is recognized and highly appreciated by our clients."

The launcher's ascent ground track took it on a northerly course away from South America and just off the Eastern seaboard of North America. Residents of the New England states reported seeing the rocket's third stage perform an apparent fuel dump shortly after spacecraft separation.

Orbital parameters were on target and close to pre-flight predictions, Arianespace reported in a statement.

Spot satellites are placed into an orbit that allows them to "revisit" an exact point above Earth every 26 days, letting scientists obtain images and data of a region on a regular basis. The Sun-synchronous orbit also keeps the sun angles on the ground constant during each imaging pass, which is usually at about 10:30 a.m. local time.

Spot 5 is the fifth in the Spot series of satellites that are operated by Spot Image with the backing of the French space agency CNES. It joins Spot 1, Spot 2 and Spot 4 already in space producing images and data. Spot 3 was lost in an on-orbit failure in 1996.

  Spot 5 The Spot 5 spacecraft readied for launch in Kourou. Photo: Arianespace
CNES President Alain Bensoussan said, "I would like to recognize the excellent work of industry that produced Spot 5, including Astrium and Alcatel Space."

"This successful mission illustrates the fundamental role played by CNES in Europe, with its development of access to space and its support of applications that benefit all of us on a daily basis," Luton said. "I also would like to include in this recognition Belgium and Sweden, whose commitments to programs such as Spot and Ariane ensure the success of a real pan-European space policy."

Over the next two months, Spot 5 ground controllers will put the new spacecraft through its paces. Included in the tests are the satellite's electrical, propulsion and control systems, along with the scientific instruments.

The next step will be in October, when officials will conduct a complete review of all the images and data gathered to ensure that they fit the users' needs.

Once Spot 5 operations get into full swing to begin a five-year mission, customers from varied backgrounds such as mapping, disaster relief, city planning and defense will be using information and images taken by Spot 5. Other possible applications include environmental monitoring, agricultural and forestry uses, and even telecommunications companies that are looking for the right places to erect cellular telephone towers.

DigitalGlobe of the United States -- operator of the QuickBird Earth-imaging satellite -- has signed an agreement with Spot Image for exclusive rights to market data from the Spot satellites to U.S. military and agricultural users. A similar contract has been signed with ImageOne of Japan for marketing and distribution of products there.

"Not only does our relationship with Spot Image afford us the product options we are so interested in, but we also get to partner with a market leader that has been providing satellite imagery for the past two decades," said Herb Satterlee, President and CEO of DigitalGlobe.

  Spot 5 An artist's concept of the Spot 5 spacecraft in orbit. Photo: Astrium
The Astrium-built Spot 5 spacecraft features several upgrades and new instruments that were not included on earlier Spot models. The most prominent new addition is the High Resolution Stereoscopic imaging instrument that can obtain two images at the same time to allow for more accurate digital topographic and elevation maps.

Spot 5 also carries two High Resolution Geometric imagers that trace their heritage to Spot 4. These devices can acquire images that have a resolution as low as 2.5 meters in black-and-white and 10 meters in color.

The final primary instrument aboard Spot 5 is the Vegetation 2 camera that provides near-daily worldwide coverage with a resolution of one kilometer.

Other new additions to Spot 5 include a new star tracker that produces more accurate image positioning, and a new ability to process up to five images at once. Weighing 3,030 kg at launch, Spot 5 also is quite a bit larger than its predecessor Spot 4 -- launched in 1998.

Also on the Ariane 42P launcher was a pair of amateur radio payloads called Indefix for AMSAT-France. The two small 6 kg picosats remained attached to the third stage and will be turned on in about 10 days. They will operate on battery power for an expected lifetime of 40 days, transmitting telemetry and pre-recorded voice messages over radio frequencies.

This 151st launch of an Ariane rocket was also the 112th flight of an Ariane 4 and the 15th mission of an Ariane 42P. The weight of the 200 payloads carried by Arianespace totals more than 430,000 kg.

Arianespace's next launch comes on June 5 when an Ariane 44L will loft the Intelsat 905 communications satellite. The next Ariane 5 mission is slated for mid-June when it will carry a pair of communications spacecraft.

Flight data file
Vehicle: Ariane 42P
Payload: Spot 5
Launch date: May 3, 2002
Launch time: 9:31:46 p.m. EDT (0131:46 GMT)
Launch site: ELA-2, Kourou, French Guiana, South America
Satellite broadcast: to be announced