18 July 2014
South Africa successfully assisted with the launch of Nasa’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite on 2 July – the latest in a number of such launches South Africa has been involved in – the South African National Space Agency (Sansa) revealed on Thursday.
Minutes after the launch of the OCO-2 satellite from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on 2 July, Sansa’s Hartebeesthoek ground station, west of Pretoria, picked up the rocket’s signal and began providing live video feed to United Launch Alliance, the US company responsible for launching the satellite.
“Our coverage included the second stage burn-2 and live video footage of the spacecraft separation,” Sansa space operations manager Yunus Bhayat said in a statement. “Sansa’s exclusive location and technical expertise put us in a position to monitor these key events, as they take place over African airspace.”
Tiaan Strydom, international business manager at Sansa, said that Hartebeesthoek was the only station in the southern hemisphere with this type of capability, “and there is no room for error”.
“The events that take place after launch are crucial to the housekeeping of satellites and to make sure that they are on track in terms of their specific flight trajectories and functionalities in space,” Strydom said. “If these events are not monitored, they could be catastrophic.”
As the Delta II rocket carrying the satellite approached the horizon, Sansa witnessed the second stage burn-2, which included the ignition of the second engine to propel the satellite into its insertion orbit. Soon after, the spacecraft camera was switched on to monitor the separation.
Both the second stage burn-2 and the live video streaming happened in a matter of 11 minutes. “The camera is located on the strut, looking forward at the spacecraft,” Bhayat said, adding: “We employ multiple redundancies in the form of antennas and sub-systems to minimise the risk of failure.”
According to Sansa, the OOCO-2 satellite is expected to provide insight into how the Earth adjusts to increased production of carbon dioxide, working from a vantage point in orbit that will allow it to take readings on a scale never achieved before.