It is expected to be put into orbit by the end of July, 2020, by a Falcon 9 rocket of the company SPACEX, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base, U.S.A. The Argentinean engineers that will travel to the United States will comply with strict quarantine until July 12, and they must undergo two PCR tests with negative results to be allowed to enter Spacex’s facilities.
The Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation informs that the National Space Activities Commission (CONAE, in Spanish) is preparing the new launch campaign of the earth observation satellite SAOCOM 1B that had been postponed in March this year due to the quarantine ordered by the national government as a result of COVID-19 pandemic. The new campaign plans to send the Argentine satellite into orbit by the end of July from SpaceX’s facilities in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S.A., in a window of opportunities that runs from July 25 to 30.
SAOCOM 1A and SAOCOM 1B satellites comprise the SAOCOM Mission. Both satellites were developed and manufactured in the country by CONAE together with INVAP, main contractor of the project; the company VENG; the Argentine National Commission of Atomic Energy (CNEA, in Spanish); GEMA laboratory, dependent on the National University of La Plata (UNLP); among other 80 technology companies and institutions of the Argentine Scientific and Technological System. It also had the collaboration of the Italian Space Agency (ASI, in Italian).
The Argentine technical delegation responsible for the launch campaign will depart to the US on July 3 at night, on a special flight by Aerolíneas Argentinas. The delegation includes the Executive and Technical Director of the CONAE, Raúl Kulichevsky, and five professionals from the organization together with the representative of INVAP’s General Management, Guillermo Benito, and eleven professionals of the company. All of them are part of the team that will work in the testing stage of the satellite before its launching, and will control it during the launch at Spacex’s headquarters.
On July 13, the launch campaign of the SAOCOM 1B will begin. From that day on, the performance and health of the satellite will be tested as well as the assemblage and encapsulation operations inside the Falcon 9 launcher’s payload fairing. The launching date could be between July 25 and 30, the selected day will be duly informed.
Apart from the CONAE and INVAP teams, present in the US, the launch campaign is complemented by other three teams of professionals, present in Argentina, that will be in Buenos Aires City and the provinces of Córdoba and Río Negro.
The satellite will be constantly monitored from the Mission Control Center at Teófilo Tabanera Space Center, dependent on the CONAE, located in Falda del Carmen, Province of Córdoba, wherefrom the satellite’s first signs of life in space will be detected and all variables should be checked with the assistance of the teams stationed in two support rooms, at CONAE’s headquarter in Buenos Aires City and at INVAP’s in Bariloche. The activities will extend throughout the following days to remotely carry out the deployment operations of the huge thirty five square-meter SAR antenna (Synthetic Aperture Radar).
Argentine satellites with innovative technology
The SAOCOM mission brings into space a complex earth observation technology, which is a significant improvement in relation to usual optical sensors. It is an active instrument consisting of a Synthetic Aperture Radar, which operates in the electromagnetic spectrum range of the L-band microwaves.
The SAOCOM satellites were especially designed to detect soil moisture and gather information about the earth’s surface in any meteorological condition or time of day whatsoever. This is possible since the radar microwaves are able to go through the clouds and “see” even if it is cloudy during daytime or nighttime. These characteristics make the SAOCOM satellites particularly useful to prevent, monitor, mitigate and assess natural and man-made disasters.
Thanks to a collaboration agreement between the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA, in Spanish) and CONAE, the information provided by the SAOCOM mission on soil moisture will help agricultural producers to know the best time to sow, fertilize and irrigate crops such as soybean, corn, wheat and sunflower. It will also provide support in relation to the use of agrochemicals to control crop diseases, particularly to prevent fusariosis in wheat. A major contribution to the agricultural sector is the forecast about floods also provided by the SAOCOM mission, developed in the context of the cooperation between the National Institute of Water (INA, in Spanish) and CONAE.
COVID-19 preventive measures
The CONAE and INVAP teams, through their Safety and Hygiene Departments, made a specific protocol to prevent COVID-19, including all the campaign stages from the departure of each team member to the launching site until their return to the country.
A Safety and Hygiene Manager will travel as part of the team to control the implementation of the protocol for this mission and care for the staff members and their health. On Monday 29 and Tuesday 30, they were PCR tested for COVID-19, and the results were negative. The Argentine engineers will travel with medical insurance and personal protective equipment (PPE), following the protocol with preventive measures.