Airbus-built GRACE-FO Satellites Successfully Launched from California
(Source: Airbus; issued May 23, 2018)
VANDENBERG, California --- Yesterday evening (21:47 CEST), the twin GRACE-FO (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On) satellites, developed and built by Airbus, were successfully launched into Space from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, USA, using a Falcon 9 launcher.

GRACE-FO is a joint project between NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ) in Potsdam, near Berlin. Accurate measurements of the inter-satellite range between the two co-planar, low altitude polar orbiting twin satellites will allow the production of global and high-resolution models of the Earth's gravity field, offering details of how mass, in most cases water, is moving around the planet.

11 minutes after lift-off, the two Earth observation satellites, each weighing around 600 kilograms, separated from their dispenser structure, which was also built by Airbus to transport and hold the satellites during launch. A short time later, the GRACE-FO satellites ‘reported for duty’ via the McMurdo ground station in Antarctic. The mission is being operated from the space operations centre of the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany.

Once maneuvered into their operational orbits, both GRACE-FO research satellites will circle Earth in a polar orbit of around 490 kilometres, with a distance of 220 kilometres between them. The mission is planned to last at least five years. The satellites constantly measure the distance between each other to within a few microns using a microwave system built at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which manages the mission for NASA.

At the same time, a sensitive accelerometer, built at ONERA in France, accounts for non-gravitational effects, such as atmospheric drag and solar radiation.

The data are being used to track the movement of liquid water, ice and land masses by creating monthly maps of the changes in Earth’s gravitational field. GRACE-FO will continue this essential climate record established by the predecessor GRACE mission (2002–2017), also a joint project between the United States and Germany.


The GRACE-FO satellites also feature a new inter-satellite laser ranging interferometer instrument, developed in a German/American joint venture, which is being tested for use in future generations of satellites. In addition, each satellite records up to 200 profiles per day of temperature distribution and water-vapour content in the atmosphere and the ionosphere to aid weather forecasting.

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Successful 6th Launch of 5 New Iridium NEXT Satellites
(Source: Thales Alenia Space; issued May 23rd, 2018)
CANNES, France --- The sixth batch of Iridium NEXT satellites built by Thales Alenia Space has been successfully launched by SpaceX from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The success of this sixth launch for the Iridium NEXT program further solidifies the company’s reputation for excelled expertise as prime contractor for sophisticated satellite communications (SATCOM) systems.

“55 Iridium NEXT satellites are now in orbit and performance is exceeding expectations. The next two sets of 10 Iridium NEXT satellites are nearing completion and will be soon awaiting the 7th and 8th launches. I can confirm that everything is on track to meet our objective, namely to launch all 75 Iridium NEXT low earth orbit satellites in 2018,” declared Denis Allard, Iridium NEXT Vice President for Thales Alenia Space.

Thales Alenia Space, the system prime contractor for the Iridium NEXT program, is in charge of engineering, integration, and in-orbit validation of all 81 Iridium NEXT satellites. The satellites are manufactured in a production line process by Thales Alenia Space’s subcontractor Orbital ATK, at its Satellite Manufacturing Facility in Gilbert, Ariz. under the supervision of a dedicated local Thales Alenia Space and Iridium team. Launch and Early Operations (LEOP) and In Orbit Tests are performed by Thales Alenia Space in coordination with Iridium, from Iridium’s Satellite Network Operation Center (SNOC) in Leesburg, Va.

The Iridium NEXT constellation will offer global connectivity thanks to 66 interconnected satellites at an altitude of 780 km, along with nine spares in parking orbits and six more spare satellites on the ground. This global network provides unrivaled capabilities for communications on the move (individuals, land vehicles, aircraft and ships), and ensures fully global coverage, including the poles and over the ocean.

Thanks to its global coverage and independent operation, not requiring any ground infrastructure, Iridium NEXT provides vital assistance under very challenging conditions, such as in isolated areas, during natural disasters or during conflicts, to name a few. Its independence from local ground infrastructures delivers secure communications, including protection against intrusion and hacking.


A joint venture between Thales (67%) and Leonardo (33%), Thales Alenia Space also teams up with Telespazio to form the parent companies’ Space Alliance, which offers a complete range of services and solutions. Thales Alenia Space posted consolidated revenues of about 2.6 billion euros in 2017 and has 7,980 employees in nine countries.

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