Vega launch delayed 24 hours – now space flight

The Aeolus satellite of the European Space Agency, covered with a shroud, was lifted earlier this month on top of the Vega launcher in French Guyana. Credit: ESA / CNES / Arianespace – Photo Optique Video du CSG – P. Baudon

The launch of a European satellite to measure global wind fields has been delayed 24 hours to Wednesday, hoping for a better weather forecast at the launch base of the VEGA missile in French Guiana, officials announced on Monday.

The Aeolus satellite of the European Space Agency is ready to launch on board a Vega rocket with solid fuel, the smallest booster in Arianespace's fleet, to launch a three-year scientific mission to accelerate wind speeds in Earth's atmosphere. to check.

Officials from Arianespace, ESA and CNES – the French space agency – met on Monday for an evaluation of the readiness of the launch. Managers confirmed the readiness of the four-speed Vega launcher and the Aeolus spacecraft, but unfavorable high temperatures predicted during Tuesday's launch time caused a 24-hour delay.

The launch of the Aeolus mission is now scheduled for Wednesday with an immediate launch opportunity for 2120: 09 GMT (5:20:09 pm EDT, 6:20:09 French Guyana time), assuming wind conditions at the highest improve level.

"Wind conditions in the atmosphere along the path of the pitcher are among the flight safety elements that are taken into account for each Arianespace mission," Arianespace said in a statement Monday.

Officials familiar with Vega launch operations said the upper level exceeded the breached safety limits established to ensure that debris from an accident fading from populated areas during flight.

The irony of the start-up delay of the Aeolus mission due to winds was emphasized on an official ESA Twitter account.

After the launch, the Vega rocket flies from the spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, to the north to release Aeolus into a 199-mile (300 kilometers) polar orbit. Built by Airbus Defense and Space, the satellite will fly in an unusually low orbit for a scientific mission, bringing the observatory closer to the wind in the Earth's atmosphere.

Aeolus weighs about 3,000 pounds – exactly 1,367 kg, according to ESA's project manager for the mission – fully fueled for its launch from the Guiana Space Center on the northeastern coast of South America.

The Aeolus satellite is encapsulated in the Swiss nose cone of the Vega rocket in preparation for the launch. Credit: ESA / CNES / Arianespace – Photo Optique Video du CSG – J. Durrenberger

Aeolus carries a powerful, ultraviolet earth-indicating laser to enable the mission to measure the movement of air molecules in the atmosphere. Scientists have designed the mission to detect wind speeds at different levels in the atmosphere, from the surface to a height of nearly 100,000 feet (30 kilometers).

The Aeolus mission, named after a figure in Greek mythology appointed by the gods as "guardian of the wind", cost around 480 million euros – almost 550 million dollars at current exchange rates – to design , to develop and prepare for the launch. The development of Aeolus also extended over 16 years, a decade longer than originally planned.

"It was an exciting time," says Martin Kaspers, ESA & # 39; s product insurance manager for Aeolus mission. "We've had a lot of problems, we've solved them all, and we're here in Kourou with the spacecraft to get it into orbit around the earth so it can deliver data to the weather forecasting community."

No other space mission has been able to measure winds in several layers of the atmosphere on a global scale. Previous satellites were limited to deriving wind measurements by following the movement of clouds and aerosols, or by measuring the effect of winds on the surface of the ocean.

If scientists can demonstrate the reliability of Aeolus data after launch, meteorologists plan to include the information in global weather forecasting models. The new wind input could result in more accurate predictions, officials said.

"We were really on the edge of technology," Kaspers said. "Every time we solved a problem, we continued to move forward and suddenly we came across a different boundary, either on optics or on electronics, or on a mechanism, and each time we had to come up with new solutions. the end so long, but we are proud of it. "

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ StephenClark1.

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