Space | 11. May 2010

TanDEM-X is on its way to Baikonur!

Since my last report, the satellite, weighing in at 1350 kilograms, has arrived safely at Franz Josef Strauss Airport in Munich, packed in its air-conditioned transport container, and will set out at 18:00 today on the next leg of its journey on board an Antonov AN-124 bound for Baikonur in Kazakhstan. Immediately after it lands on 12 May, the launch campaign will start. The satellite will be unpacked, filled with hydrazine fuel and then put through a series of tests. One week before its launch date, the satellite will be transported to its silo, in which the Dnepr-1 launch vehicle that will take it into orbit is ready and waiting. The satellite will then be installed on the launcher, its batteries will be charged and the final tests will be conducted. Then, all anyone can do is to cross their fingers and wish it well!


The last few weeks have been especially tough for TanDEM-X. At IABG in Ottobrunn, near Munich, the satellite had to undergo tests under simulated space conditions. Vibration and high-intensity noise tests were included on this programme, which aimed to ensure that the satellite was indeed capable of contending with the mechanical and acoustic loads that are imposed during a launch. The interaction of the satellite with its control room in Oberpfaffenhofen has also been tested via a data link and it passed with flying colours – an important prerequisite for commencing satellite operations after separating from the launcher.

On 21 June 2010 at 08:14 local time in Baikonur – 04:14 Central European Summer Time (CEST) – the launch button will be pressed and the rocket will be propelled out of its launch canister in the silo using high-pressure provided by a solid-propellant gas generator. The rocket motors will ignite immediately after ejection from the canister and the flight begins in a southerly direction that will place TanDEM-X in orbit over Earth’s polar regions. A quarter of an hour later, at the latitude of the Equator and to the east of Africa, the launcher will reach the selected orbit and the satellite will be released into space. It will overfly Madagascar and then we will wait impatiently for its first signals, which we expect at the earliest after a further quarter of an hour. They should be received via Norway’s ‘Troll’ ground station in the Antarctic. The second contact with a ground station will not be until the satellite is above Svalbard, on the island of Spitzbergen in the Arctic Ocean – because it first has to cross the Antarctic and then the Pacific, this time on a northerly course.

However, first, let’s look towards Baikonur. From there, Michael Bartusch will be reporting for our next blog entry. He is the project manager for the TanDEM-X mission, and will be keeping a close eye on the satellite over the next few weeks.