Russians announced a change in plans three weeks before takeoff
According to Starsem, the launch service provider contracted by the European Space Agency (ESA) to deliver the MetOp-B meteorological satellite to space, the mission has to be delayed by at least two months. The spacecraft was originally supposed to launch on May 23.Now, the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (Eumetsat), which manages the space agency's meteorological satellites, has received word that the Baikonur Cosmodrome will not be able to support the launch until the second half of July.
The main reason for the delay is that no safe drop zones are available for the originally scheduled time frame. These zones are used by officials to dispose of components that fall from the delivery system that ferries the satellite to space.
For the MetOp-B spacecraft, ESA is using a medium-lift Soyuz-Fregat rocket, which was provided by the Russian Federal Space Agency (RosCosmos) and manufacturer RSC Energia. The rocket is designed to drop some components as it ascends, and currently there are no safe zones for these drops.
Due to schedule conflicts with other missions that ESA plans to launch over the next few months, it was impossible for Starsem to secure a launch window sooner than the end of July. Until appropriate security measures are employed, RosCosmos will not allow the mission to takeoff from Kazakhstan.
“After successful completion of all planned tests by ESA and industry, the MetOp-B satellite will be kept in a safe environment in the Starsem facilities in Baikonur, ready to be fueled,” a press release from ESA says in response to the announcement.
Regardless of when the new MetOp-B launch date is set, takeoff will definitely occur beyond June 19. At that time, ESA plans to launch its new, geostationary MSG-3 satellite from the Kourou Spaceport, in French Guiana, South America.
“The MetOp-B satellite is the second of three polar orbiting MetOp satellites procured on behalf of Eumetsat by ESA from a European industrial consortium led by Astrium,” ESA experts add.
“The satellite also includes instruments delivered by the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from the United States. The MetOp satellites form the space segment of the Eumetsat Polar System,” they go on to say.
MetOp-B will join MetOp-A, the first satellite in the series, which was launched back in October 2006, and began relaying science data back to Earth on May 15, 2007. A third member of the constellation, MetOp-C is scheduled to launch from Kourou in 2017.