Dnepr Rocket Launches Earth-Watching Satellite for Thailand

Dnepr Rocket Launches Earth-Watching Satellite for Thailand
An artist's depiction of the Thailand's Earth-observing THEOS satellite. (Image credit: EADS-Astrium)

GLASGOW,Scotland — Thailand's Theos Earth high-resolution optical Earth observationsatellite was successfully placed into a transfer orbit Wednesday by aRussian-Ukranian Dnepr silo-launched rocket after nearly two years of delaysrelated to launch-vehicle availability, according to Thai authorities andsatellite prime contractor Astrium Satellites.

Thesilo-launched Dnepr rocket, a convertedballistic missile, placed the 1,576-pound (715-kg) Theos into a 428-mile (690-km)parking orbit after the launch from Russia's Yasny spaceport, in the Orenburgregion 74 miles (120 km) west of Orsk.

Afterinitial tests at that orbit for several days, Theos will use its onboardpropulsion to climb into its operating orbit at 510 miles (822 km), inclined at98.7 degrees relative to the equator.

Astriumspokesman Matthieu Duvelleroy said initial telemetry showed the satellite hadbeen placed into the correct orbit and was healthy.

Thailand'sGeo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (GISTDA) contractedwith Astrium to build Theos in July 2004. The contract included a Theos groundsegment and a training program for Thai engineers. The company now is trainingChilean engineers for the launch of an Astrium-built Chilean optical Earthobservation satellite in 2010.

Theos hastwo optical imagers, one providing a 7-foot (2-meter) ground resolution and aswath width of about 14 miles (22 km), and the second providing color imageswith a 49-foot (15-meter) resolution and a 56 miles (90-km) swath width. Thesatellite is designed to operate for five years, but has enough fuel for atleast seven years.

Thaiauthorities will use Theos for environmental management, civil securityincluding natural-disaster monitoring and defense-related applicationsincluding illicit plant surveillance, as well as border and maritime control.

GISTDAoriginally had planned a launch in early 2007 with the Russian-German EurockotLaunch Services GmbH, whose Rockot vehicle launches from Russia's PlesetskCosmodrome. The contract was canceled when Eurockot was confronted with a partsshortage and could not guarantee a 2007 launch.

But ISCKosmotras of Moscow, which commercializes Dnepr launches, ran head-on into an ongoing Russianlaunch problem: drop-zone authorizations from states down-range of thelaunch site — states that no longer accept that rocket stages land on theirterritories.

Kazakhstan,Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan all have objected to launches pending compensationagreements.

Oneindustry official said Kosmotras' likely ongoing difficulties in securinglaunch authorization from nations, plus a sharp price increase in Kosmotraslaunch prices, will cause owners of Earth observation and other smallsatellites to look for other options.

Sir MartinSweeting, founder of small-satellite builder Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.of Guildford, England, whose company has used Dnepr in the past, said theSunday success of Space Exploration Technologies' Falcon 1 rocket couldhelp keep prices of small-satellite launchers down.

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Charles Q. Choi
Contributing Writer

Charles Q. Choi is a contributing writer for Space.com and Live Science. He covers all things human origins and astronomy as well as physics, animals and general science topics. Charles has a Master of Arts degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia, School of Journalism and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of South Florida. Charles has visited every continent on Earth, drinking rancid yak butter tea in Lhasa, snorkeling with sea lions in the Galapagos and even climbing an iceberg in Antarctica. Visit him at http://www.sciwriter.us