For the Intelsat 34 Mission Team, the Launch was the Beginning
By Mohinder Guru, Senior Manager, Intelsat Spacecraft Program Office
Part of a series from Intelsat team members overseeing the launch of Intelsat 34 (IS-34).
The launch of Intelsat 34 last Thursday was as exciting as they come! But while it was nothing less than “success in motion,” as the twitterverse claimed, it was only the beginning for the IS-34 mission team (pictured).
For weeks now, the combined Intelsat and SSL mission team has been planning meticulously for and rehearsing the maneuvers that will take IS-34 from transfer orbit — where the Arianespace rocket launched it — into geostationary orbit at 304.5°E and into operation for our customers. In fact, rehearsals using a ground spacecraft simulator have been underway since mid-July.
On Thursday evening, as soon as we confirmed signal acquisition from the satellite, we kicked off the carefully choreographed sequence of events that we had practiced.
First, we had to ensure that we could talk (telecommand) and listen (telemetry) to IS-34. We also quickly verified that all subsystems continued to properly function after the launch.
Next, we needed to get power to the satellite ASAP, which meant deploying the IS-34 solar arrays that will power it throughout its lifetime. Our Flight Dynamics team confirmed that the geometry among the satellite, the Earth and sun was optimal and then we proceeded to deploy the solar arrays.
To do so, we needed to perform all pertinent health checks on the various subsystems and then conduct a sequence of maneuvers to confirm that the satellite geometry as determined by Flight Dynamics was still optimal. Once that was completed, we deployed the south solar array, which was then quickly followed by the north array. Here is a video simulation of the solar array deployments:
It was late at night on 20 August when we confirmed that IS-34 had power.
Since then, we have been methodically raising IS-34 from transfer orbit to geostationary orbit. We do this by firing the satellite’s main thruster when the satellite is at its apogee (furthest point from Earth) in order to raise the perigee (closest point to the Earth). Doing this four times over several days, we will raise the perigee to the same altitude as the apogee, resulting in a circular orbit. As I am writing this, two of the four firings have already been completed successfully.
On a side note, this is the first mission we are conducting from Intelsat’s new East Coast Operations Center (ESOC), located inside the Intelsat administrative headquarters in Tysons Corner, Va., as the company moved here just over a year ago.
There are more maneuvers and in-orbit tests yet to come before IS-34 begins service. I’ll write again soon with another update as we work to bring IS-34 into service!