Eurockot conducts final Rockot mission with Sentinel-3B satellite

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WASHINGTON — Eurockot Launch Services’ last mission using the Russian-German Rockot launcher took place successfully April 25 from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Northern Russia.

Rockot, an intercontinental ballistic missile converted into a space launch vehicle, lifted off at 1:58 p.m. Eastern with the 1,200 kilogram Sentinel-3B Earth observation satellite. The three-stage vehicle deployed the satellite in a low Earth orbit roughly an hour and a half later. ESA confirmed the satellite phoned home to a ground station in Sweden.

Anna Zorina, Eurockot’s program and customer support manager told SpaceNews by email April 25 that the Sentinel-3B “is the last Rockot mission by Eurockot.”

The European Space Agency had been one of Eurockot’s principal customers, but now relies on Vega, the light-lift rocket produced mainly in Italy and operated by the European launch consortium Arianespace. Sentinel-3B was procured in 2010, two years ahead of Vega’s maiden flight.

ESA has no further missions with Rockot, spokeswoman Brigitte Kolmsee told SpaceNews. “Future launches will be accommodated by Vega,” she said by email.

Eurockot, a joint venture of Europe’s ArianeGroup (51 percent) and Russia’s Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Centre (49%) provides commercial launch services with Rockot vehicles. Formed in 1995, the company has launched satellites on Rockots since 2000, mainly orbiting scientific and remote sensing spacecraft.

With ESA now using Vega and preparing long term for the next generation Vega C, it is unclear how much future demand will exist for Rockot missions. Domestic Russian demand would likely be the primary reason for the launcher’s continued existence.

Rockot has launched 28 times since 2000, according to Russian state corporation Roscosmos, 14 of which were through Eurockot. Roscosmos could not be immediately reached for comment.

ESA used Rockots for five missions, including three Copernicus satellites:  Sentinel-3A in February 2016, Sentinel-5p in October 2017 and today’s launch of Sentinel-3B.

Sentinel-3B is the seventh satellite launched as part of ESA, the European meteorological organization Eumetsat, and the European Commission’s Copernicus environmental program. It is the identical twin of Sentinel-3A and will share the same orbit 140 degrees apart after commissioning. Thales Alenia Space built both satellites, which measure ocean characteristics such as temperature, colour, and sea level, as well as land characteristics including vegetation health, river and lake water levels, and wildfire behavior. Telespazio manages the Sentinel-3 satellites’ ground segment operations.