Intelsat 29e Launch: An Epic Start
By Brian Sing, Senior Program Manager, Space Systems Acquisition
Thursday night’s launch of Intelsat 29e was probably one of the most satisfying launches of my career – and not just because this was the first Intelsat EpicNG satellite, representing the next generation of satellite design in the industry.
The day started about 12 hours before lift-off, which was set for 8:20 p.m. local time (UTC/GMT-3).
Early that morning, we began the sequence of events by asking Boeing to power up the satellite and confirm the health status. (Remember, at this point, the satellite was safely stowed inside the Ariane 5 launch vehicle.) The status was reviewed simultaneously by the Boeing team in California and the local team here in French Guiana. This is actually a rigorous process that involves verification by Chief Engineers at Boeing and our Intelsat Field Office at Boeing. You can understand why it’s so important – if the satellite is not healthy, then the launch would have to be postponed.
As soon as I received confirmation that the satellite was healthy, I instructed Arianespace to start the process of loading cryogenic fuels (liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen) into the first and second stage of the Ariane 5 rocket. This is no fast task, as the ground crews and the automated equipment had to load approximately 415,000 lbs. of super-cold liquid hydrogen and oxygen into the Ariane 5 tanks.
As this was going on, Boeing continued the launch preparation script to put the satellite in launch configuration. This included finalizing all parameters and putting the satellite onto internal power. Once I received confirmation that this was complete, I informed the Arianespace Mission Manager: “Intelsat 29e is on internal power and ready for launch.”
As the clock ticked down, the satellite and launch vehicle team have to observe certain “no go” parameters to ensure a successful launch. If any “no go” satellite parameters are violated, I am to immediately hit the RED button and stop the countdown.
Thankfully, for this mission, I didn’t have to hit the red button.
For me, I felt a little more invigorated than usual knowing that this was such a momentous event for Intelsat. In addition, senior Intelsat executives were on hand to watch the launch along with many of our customers who were surely thinking about the impact of this satellite on the services they provide to their customers. Talk about pressure!
The lift-off was magnificent and we were right on the dot as the Ariane 5 dropped us off in Geo Transfer Orbit (GTO) precisely where predicted. After the rocket separated from the satellite, I relayed to our team at Boeing El Segundo to start looking for the first faint signals emitting from Intelsat 29e. As predicted, the signal was received in the right spot and the right time by our Kumsan, South Korea, Ground Station. Boeing subsequently verified the health of IS-29e by sending commands and receiving good telemetry.
In the photo, Ken Lee, our Senior Vice President of Space Systems, and I (at right) unfurl the Intelsat banner in Jupiter Mission Control to celebrate the successful launch.
Now comes the next series of steps to fully deploy the reflectors and solar arrays and maneuver the satellite to its orbital slot at 310° East so it can begin serving our customers. I’ll let some of my colleagues take over the blogging duties from here. I’m going to go enjoy a traditional post-launch barbeque here in French Guiana before heading home.