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Blog from Baikonur: MetOp-B in orbit

Airbus Defence and Space’s MetOp-B weather satellite successfully launched on 17 September

MetOp-B, the second of three Airbus Defence and Space-built meteorological satellites has been launched from Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

Baikonur, 17 September 2012 – Today, at 22:28 local time (17:28 hours BST or 16:28 UTC), a Soyuz rocket successfully launched the Airbus Defence and Space-built MetOp-B satellite into space from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. A little less than one hour and nine minutes after the launch, the upper stage of the launch vehicle successfully released the satellite into its designated orbit at an altitude of approximately 800 kilometres.


Copyright: EUMETSAT

Copyright: EUMETSAT

17 September (launch day)

Today’s the day! Our payload module (PLM) and service module (SVM) operators have been at the consoles since 06.30 this morning. At 12:58 the PLM on-board software was uploaded to the two computers and the HIRS and AVHRR instruments successfully switched on. For the PLM team the work now is done. All we have to do now is wait and cross our fingers until the ‘fuse’ is ignited! The launch window opens at 22:28 (local time in Baikonour)/17:28 BST. Good luck, MetOp-B!

Good luck, MetOp-B!

14 September (3 days to launch)

Today is “roll-out” – a very special day. The Soyuz launcher, now consisting of the first stage (with the four boosters),

 Soyuz launcher, now consisting of the first stage (with the four boosters)

the second stage (the lower central part), the third stage and the Upper Composite (the Fregat fourth stage with our MetOp inside) is transported lying in the horizontal position by train to the launch pad.

Soyus (with our MetOp inside) is transported lying in the horizontal position by train to the launch pad

The MetOp-B TeamOnce at the launch tower, Soyuz is tilted upright and connected with the ‘umbilical link’.

The Airbus Defence and Space teams from Toulouse and Friedrichshafen are happy … and are crossing their fingers for a successful launch.


13 September (4 days to launch)

Today the fairing was put under wraps in order to protect the UC against heat, cold and dirt. Temperatures on the launch pad can reach as low as -40°C in winter and as high as +50°C in summer, and sand storms are quite a frequent occurrence.

In the meantime, our team has also begun packing up: no fewer than three giant Antonov cargo planes are needed to take all our material and equipment back to Europe. It’s all hands to the pump now, and even our very own payload module project manager from Friedrichshafen is getting stuck in!

Life of a space engineer ...

12 September (5 days to launch)

On the launch site, preparations on ‘our’ Soyuz rocket are continuing on schedule. In the meantime the UC (the Upper Composite – the launcher fairing and the MetOp-B satellite) has been coupled with the third stage of the launcher and the electrical functions thoroughly reviewed. Both the UC and the third stage will be connected with the rest of the launcher in the horizontal position … and our check-out team is getting ready for the ‘dress rehearsal’ of the count-down.

MetOp-B launch campaign

11 September (6 days to launch)

A lot has happened over the weekend. The assembled MetOp + fairing configuration now form what is known as the UC (Upper Composite). For transport from the cleanroom, the UC was put onto an air-conditioned train, and travelled to the launch site, where it arrived safely this morning. Unfortunately we were not authorised to be present for this part of the activities. But we did get to go on a tour of the town, which was extremely interesting.

Market in Baikonur

8 September (9 days to launch)

We are getting close to the target, with only nine days to the launch. The fairing, which covers the payload, was placed over the satellite – and that was last time we saw our ‘baby’. Shortly before that, the cables supplying some instruments with dry and highly pure nitrogen were detached. All 13 instruments, including the Airbus Defence and Space-provided ones – ASCAT (Advanced SCATterometer), GRAS (GPS Receiver for Atmospheric Sounding) and MHS (Microwave Humidity Sounder) – are safely ensconced now until they arrive in space. If everything goes as planned, ASCAT will measure wind velocity and direction over the ocean surface and GRAS will measure temperatures in the upper troposphere and stratosphere.

MetOp-B encapsulation

Video Link:

7 September (10 days to launch)

The day was very busy with inspections and final mechanical activities. Before we could start work today MetOp had to be tilted horizontally by the Russian crew. Then our NASA/NOAA partner checked the AMSU-A1 and AMSU-A2 (Advanced Microwave Sounder Unit) instruments, two all-weather vertical temperature and humidity sensors which also monitor sea-ice coverage. The sensor on the IASI (Infrared Atmospheric Sounding Interferometer) instrument, a CNES-supplied sounder for highly precise measuring of temperature, humidity, ozone and other trace gases in the atmosphere as well as sea surface temperature and cloud properties, had its covers removed. At the same time GOME (Global Ozone Monitoring Experiment), a spectrometer operating in the visible and UV range which is primarily tasked with atmospheric ozone level monitoring, was again checked for cleanliness.

MetOp had to be tilted horizontally

MetOp had to be tilted horizontally

6 September (11 days to launch)

Today was the final opportunity to access the instruments in the vertical position. The Microwave Humidity Sounder (MHS), a microwave radiometer for the measurement of humidity in the atmosphere, was examined for the last time. Also, the SEM (Space Environment Monitor) instrument provided by the US’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which will monitor the flux of charged particles and radiation fields surrounding the Earth, was declared fit for flight.

MHS (Mircowave Humidity Sounder)

MHS (Mircowave Humidity Sounder)

Photo: MetOp-B mounted on the Launch Vehicle Adapter ( © ESA )

5 September

Yesterday (4 September) MetOp-B was mated with the Fregat fourth stage of the Soyuz launcher, which will place MetOp-B into its final orbit. This activity was carried out together with our Russian partners. The Airbus Defence and Space technicians placed the satellite up to 40 cm above the Fregat stage, then the Russian technicians took over and the satellite was lowered and secured. After the mechanical work the umbilical line was connected and the on-board computers were given their last on-ground check – all was successful.

Photo upper left: MetOp-B mounted on the Launch Vehicle Adapter (© ESA)

METOP-B on the Launch Vehicle Adapter

4 September 2012

The satellite has now been fuelled with 350 kg of hydrazine and was last week mounted on the launch vehicle adapter, the part connecting the satellite to the rocket.













Martin Müller, AIT manager of METOP PLM (PayLoad Module)

Martin Müller,  AIT manager of METOP PLM (PayLoad Module)

Martin Müller, MetOp AIT Manager

Airbus Defence and Space blogger Martin Müller, MetOp AIT Manager, arrived in Baikonur at the end of February in temperatures of -30°.

About MetOp-B

MetOp-B, the European operational polar orbiting weather satellite is ready for the countdown in the Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. A Soyuz launcher will place the 4.1 tonne satellite in orbit. Once in its polar orbit at an altitude of 817 km, MetOp-B will provide a wide range of global measurements that are essential for weather forecasting and climate monitoring.

MetOp-B is the second of three weather satellites procured by the European Space Agency (ESA) and Eumetsat from Airbus Defence and Space. The satellites are launched at five to six year intervals (MetOp-A was launched in 2006 and MetOp-C is scheduled for launch in 2017) to ensure the programme will be operational for at least 16 years.

Weather satellites are essential for ensuring the safety of citizens, infrastructure and industry in Europe and beyond. Only they can continuously provide weather and climate data spanning the entire planet.

Earth ObservationMetOp