At precisely 6:14 PM local time (EDT), Turkmenistan is set to launch a Falcon 9 rocket into orbit in hope of seeing SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies) successfully carry the nation’s first communications satellite, TurkmenÄlem 52E, into geosynchronous space.
Preparations began Sunday evening, when a SpaceX ground crew moved the rocket to Launch Complex 40 in Cape Canaveral where it’s expected to have liftoff in just a few hours as there’s a 60% chance of favorable weather during the spacecraft’s 90 minute launching window.
The Falcon 9 rocket (which sports the U.S. flag on one side and the Turkmen flag on the other) will break the sound barrier and will only carry the satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit, before leaving it to make its way to the final destination, Monaco’s geostationary slot at 52 degrees East, through its onboard thrusters.
In exchange for hosting the satellite, Space Systems International-Monaco and the Turkmen Ministry of Communications signed an agreement that allows Monaco to commercialize 12 of the 38 Ku-band transponders on the TurkmenÄlem 52E.
Based on Thales’ Spacebus 4000 C2 spacecraft bus and built in France by French-Italian company Thales Alenia Space, the TurkmenÄlem 52E has a medium mass of 4,500 kilograms (9,900 lb), a lifespan of approximately 15-16 years and enough fuel to stay on station for more than 18 years. It will provide Turkmenistan’s Ministry of Communications with phone, TV, Internet and data services for national use and commercial customers.
It was built in 27 months and has a coverage zone of more than 90 countries from across Central Asia, Europe and Africa. Additionally, Thales Alenia Space also built a new ground control station near Ashgabat and trained Turkmen engineers on the “basic space activities and technology” needed to operate the satellite.
Human Rights Watch say the satellite was partly commissioned in an attempt to remove privately-owned satellite dishes from apartment buildings in Turkmenistan: “A move that unjustifiably interferes with the right to receive and impart information and ideas, this serves to further isolate people in Turkmenistan, one of the most closed and repressive countries in the world, from independent sources of news and information”.
Controversy does not escape the subject as officials with the international human rights watchdog organization suggest the government commissioned the satellite to restrict the access of outside news sources such as Radio Azatlyk, a Turkmen language affiliate from the U.S.
Provided it all goes according to plan and the weather remains favorable, the Falcon 9 rocket will be operating close to its maximum capacity, discarding its legs and fins to achieve higher orbit. It will be powered up 10 hours before scheduled liftoff, with fueling scheduled to begin around the 3 hour mark.
The last 10 minutes of the countdown will be controlled by an automated sequence that handles events as the rockets switch to internal power and control. The Range Control Officer and Launch Director will give their final clearance in the last 2 minutes before launch.
Image Source: spaceflightnow.com