WASHINGTON — A Soyuz rocket successfully launched a European weather satellite Nov. 6, completing a constellation of polar-orbiting satellites and providing additional reassurance about the reliability of the Soyuz.
The Soyuz ST-B rocket lifted off from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana on schedule at 7:47 p.m. Eastern. The Metop-C satellite on the rocket deployed from the Fregat upper stage one hour after liftoff.
The 4,084-kilogram satellite, built by Airbus Defence and Space for the European weather agency Eumetsat, is the third and final satellite in the Metop series of polar-orbiting satellites. The spacecraft joins Metop-A, launched in 2006, and Metop-B, launched in 2012, both on Soyuz rockets from Kazakhstan.
Metop-C will operate in the same 817-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit, with a mid-morning crossing time, as Metop-A and -B. The three satellites will be spaced 120 degrees apart in the orbit until the retirement and deorbiting of Metop-A, scheduled for 2022.
Metop-C carries nine instruments to collect imagery, temperature and humidity profiles in the atmosphere, and sea surface conditions, as well as monitor space weather conditions. That instrument suite includes three provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as part of cooperation with Eumetsat that includes sharing of data from the NOAA-20 satellite, which offers complementary observations from its mid-afternoon orbit.
The launch is the third for the Soyuz since an Oct. 11 failure during the launch of the crewed Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft, forcing the use of the rocket’s abort system to escape from the rocket and safely land downrange from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. A Soyuz rocket launched a military payload Oct. 24 from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia, while another launched a Glonass navigation satellite Nov. 3, also from Plesetsk.
Russian investigators said Nov. 1 that the Oct. 11 launch accident was caused when one of the four side boosters of the Soyuz failed to separate cleanly, coming into contact with the core stage. That separation issue was blamed on a sensor that was bent during assembly of the rocket.
One more Soyuz launch, of a Progress cargo spacecraft, is scheduled for mid-November before the rocket is used again for a crewed mission. That launch, of the Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft carrying three people, is scheduled for Dec. 3.
The launch was the eighth mission this year for Arianespace, counting Soyuz launches from French Guiana along with its Ariane 5 and Vega vehicles. In comments at a post-launch ceremony, Arianespace Chief Executive Stéphane Israël said three more launches are scheduled through the end of the year, starting with the Vega launch of a Moroccan Earth observation satellite Nov. 20. That will be followed by an Ariane 5 launch of two communications satellites in early December and a Soyuz launch of a French reconnaissance satellite in mid-December.