Falcon 9 will launch the German SARAh-1 from Vandenberg

German military radar satellite SARAh-1 will be launched aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Vandenberg Space Force base on Saturday. The launch, which will be Falcon 9’s 25th flight this year, is scheduled for 7:19 a.m. Pacific Time (2:19 p.m. UTC) – less than 24 hours after the launch of the Starlink 4-19 on Friday. the Kennedy Space Center.

The launch on Saturday will use a proven flight Falcon 9 booster 1071-3. This accelerator previously launched the NROL-87 and NROL-85 missions from Vandenberg earlier in 2022, and the SARah-1 mission marks its third flight. SpaceX received the contract to launch SARAh for the German government in 2013.

Lifting from Space launch complex 4E (SLC-4E) at the Vandenberg Space Force base, Falcon 9 will head south, heading for a solar-synchronous polar orbit – a type of orbit often used by Earth observation satellites.

Once the two stages of the rocket are separated, the second stage will continue into orbit with SARah-1, while B1071 will boost to put on a trajectory back to the launch site. He will subsequently burn himself when entering and landing before landing on the concrete base in Landing area 4 (LZ-4), built on the site of the former SLC-4W launch pad next to the SLC-4E.

As the B1071-3 flies back to launch site, the second stage of the Falcon 9 and its only Merlin Vacuum (MVac) engine will launch the SARah-1 into orbit. SARAh-1 will operate in a circular orbit at an angle of 98.4 degrees to the equator, with an altitude of about 750 kilometers above the Earth’s surface.

Although there has been speculation that additional payloads may be co-flying with SARah-1 using the extra performance left in the Falcon 9 due to the low mass of the main payload, there is no confirmed information about other satellites involved in this flight.

SARAh-1 is the first of three spacecraft commissioned by the Bundeswehr – the German armed forces – to replace their longtime constellation SAR-Lupe. SAR-Lupe was the first local German reconnaissance satellite system to see its first launch in December 2006, when the SAR-Lupe-1 satellite entered orbit on a Cosmos-3M rocket from Russia’s Plesetsk cosmodrome.

Unlike optical reconnaissance satellites, radar imaging satellites such as SARAh-1 and its sister spacecraft can image the Earth in all weather and lighting conditions, such as cloudy, rainy night or other conditions that would limit optical observation using technique called Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR).

Weighing approximately four tons, the SARAh-1 is equipped with an active phased array radar with multiple electronically controlled antenna elements. Later this year, SARah-1 will be joined by the SARah-2 and SARAh-3 spacecraft, which carry passive reflector antennas. Passive satellites will work with SARAh-1 to increase the constellation’s resolution.

The constellation of five SAR-Lupe satellites (Lupe is German for “magnifier”) is capable of producing images in projector mode (focusing on one target), covering an area of ​​5.5 by 5.5 kilometers with a resolution of up to 0, 5 meters.

Each of the 770-kilogram SAR-Lupe satellites is also able to map an area of ​​up to 60 kilometers by 8 kilometers with a resolution of one meter and depict at least 30 areas of interest per day. The constellation has a response time of image requests in an area of ​​ten hours or less.

The constellation SARah is expected to bring significant improvements over SAR-Lupe, although the exact details of its capabilities have not been revealed.

SARAh-1 was developed and constructed by Airbus defense and space, with installation in Friedrichshafen, Germany. Friedrichshafen has been an important center of German outer space since the first Zeppelin airships were built there more than a century ago.

Imaging SARAh-1 in orbit (credit: Airbus)

The payload for radar imaging aboard the SARah-1 is a further development of a system that flew before the TerraSAR-X, TanDEM-X and PAZ satellites, which are already in orbit and also built by Airbus. Its flexible formatting and very fast targeting mean it can deliver images very quickly.

Following the unbundling of the Falcon 9, the SARAh-1 will begin the commissioning phase, which is scheduled to take place at the Airbus control center in Friedrichshafen. Operational calibration, validation and intelligence activities will be carried out by the Bundeswehr’s own satellite control center. The ground stations in Gelsdorf, Germany, and Kiruna, Sweden, will be used to communicate with spacecraft.

While SARAh-1 was built by Airbus, the common contractor for the constellation SARah is OHB System AG, based in Bremen, Germany. OHB, also the main contractor of the existing SAR-Lupe system, is responsible for the construction of the sister spacecraft SARah-2 and SARah-3. SARah-2 and 3 will use SAR-Lupe reflex technology, like the passive spacecraft in the constellation.

All three SARah satellites are expected to fly on board the SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets, with SARah-2 and 3 to launch together later this year.

Constellation SARah, centered SARah-1 (credit: OHB)

SARAh-1 is joining a wave of Earth observation satellites that have been launched in recent years as demand for satellite imagery grows due to wars, natural disasters, climate change and other events. Germany and other regional powers around the world are increasingly deploying independent satellite intelligence systems, an endeavor that was dominated by the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Faced with new security threats, the Bundeswehr’s nine-year, long-awaited ten-year SARah system is finally on its way to replacing the SAR-Lupe, which has long since lost its own ten-year life. .

(Main image: Falcon 9 in SLC-4E before the release of SARah-1. Credit: Michael Baylor for NSF)

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