Flying for Argentina

SAOCOM-1A launch from Vandenberg (William T Reid)

10 October 2018

Argentina’s two-satellite SAOCOM-1 synthetic aperture radar Earth observation mission is a truly international affair. The -1A unit’s 7 October SpaceX Falcon 9 launch from Vandenberg air force base in California was followed by a first “orbit determination” by a flight dynamics team at the European Space Agency, which is supporting the mission from its ESOC operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

The mission has been a joint project of the Argentine and Italian space agencies (CONAE and ASI), and will see the 1,600kg SAOCOM-1 satellites (SAtélite Argentino de Observación COn Microondas) join the four spacecraft in ASI’s COSMO-SkyMed SAR constellation. With the addition of SAOCOM-1B, scheduled for launch in September 2019, the enlarged constellation will give the two space agencies X- and L-band products and promises twice-daily coverage.

CONAE is understood to be focussing on measuring soil humidity in the Argentine lowlands and detecting natural and human-induced disasters: floods, landslides, oil spills, fires, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions. SAOCOM-1A and -1B – built by INVAP in Argentina – will be able to return 500 images from 15 daily orbits.

A SAOCOM 2 mission is planned to follow.

The -1A launch was notable, too, as a the first SpaceX flight from Vandenberg to attempt the recovery to land of its Falcon 9 booster – which returned as planned to Vandenberg.