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

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

The silo-launched Dnepr rocket, a converted ballistic 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 Orenburg region 74 miles (120 km) west of Orsk.

After initial tests at that orbit for several days, Theos will use its onboard propulsion to climb into its operating orbit at 510 miles (822 km), inclined at 98.7 degrees relative to the equator.

Astrium spokesman Matthieu Duvelleroy said initial telemetry showed the satellite had been placed into the correct orbit and was healthy.

Thailand's Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (GISTDA) contracted with Astrium to build Theos in July 2004. The contract included a Theos ground segment and a training program for Thai engineers. The company now is training Chilean engineers for the launch of an Astrium-built Chilean optical Earth observation satellite in 2010.

Theos has two optical imagers, one providing a 7-foot (2-meter) ground resolution and a swath width of about 14 miles (22 km), and the second providing color images with a 49-foot (15-meter) resolution and a 56 miles (90-km) swath width. The satellite is designed to operate for five years, but has enough fuel for at least seven years.

Thai authorities will use Theos for environmental management, civil security including natural-disaster monitoring and defense-related applications including illicit plant surveillance, as well as border and maritime control.

GISTDA originally had planned a launch in early 2007 with the Russian-German Eurockot Launch Services GmbH, whose Rockot vehicle launches from Russia's Plesetsk Cosmodrome. The contract was canceled when Eurockot was confronted with a parts shortage and could not guarantee a 2007 launch.

But ISC Kosmotras of Moscow, which commercializes Dnepr launches, ran head-on into an ongoing Russian launch problem: drop-zone authorizations from states down-range of the launch site — states that no longer accept that rocket stages land on their territories.

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

One industry official said Kosmotras' likely ongoing difficulties in securing launch authorization from nations, plus a sharp price increase in Kosmotras launch prices, will cause owners of Earth observation and other small satellites to look for other options.

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

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