This morning at 7:17 a.m. (PDT) local time in California, a SpaceX Falcon 9 launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base carrying three identical satellites for Canada’s RADARSAT Constellation Mission.
After a liftoff in dense fog the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket emerged from the fog bank to blaze a trail into orbit. Then at 8:20 a.m PDT (local time), just over an hour after launch, SpaceX mission controllers announced that all three satellites had been deployed from the Falcon 9 upper stage.
While everyone is cheering this accomplishment there’s still more work to be done. Now, mission controls at the Canadian Space Agency headquarters in Saint-Hubert, Quebec must establish communications to the satellites and confirm that each satellite has deployed its solar array. The solar array is critical in providing power to each satellite. Next comes an initial systems check. If everything looks good, then over the next several months the satellites will move to their intended orbits and all onboard systems will be thoroughly checked out before the satellites are officially declared operational. While it will be months before that happens, initial data from the satellites should be available within hours after launch.
The three Earth observation satellites primary instrument is a Synthetic Aperture RADAR that will scan the Earth, day or night, and in any weather conditions. The satellite also carry an Automatic Identification System (AIS) to monitor ships, in particular in the arctic. The satellites will be used for maritime surveillance, disaster management and ecosystem monitoring.
14 Canadian government departments will use the data along with university researchers. Some of the data will also be available for commercial uses. However, due to national security reasons, much of the higher resolution data will not be available publicly. What data that is made publicly will be published on the federal governments Open Data portal.
Each of the satellites weigh just over 1400 kg and will be in a Sun-synchronous orbit (flying over the poles) at an altitude ranging from 586 to 615 km.
The satellites will fly in formation, and in Canada’s lower latitudes will provide repeat coverage of a location once a day while in northern latitudes, in particular the Northwest Passage and areas north, four times a day.
The repeat coverage, or refresh rate of data is important. As an example of how the system works, say there is a spring flood issue in Ottawa. The first RCM satellite will pass over the affected area followed by the second 32 minutes later and the third 32 minutes after that. This allows three sets of data to be collected within 64 minutes each day.
UPDATE at 12:45 p.m. EDT: Communication from all three satellites has been received and all the satellites are healthy.
Watch a replay of the launch