UAE successfully launches earth observation satellite

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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Falcon Eye 2
Launch of Falcon Eye 2 in the Soyuz rocket

UAE’s latest satellite, Falcon Eye 2 has been launched into space from the French Guiana Space Center after months of delays caused by technical problems and the pandemic.

A Soyuz rocket carried the satellite into the orbit. This spacecraft will act as an Earth observation satellite and provide pictures for critical missions, emergency relief, regional security and peacekeeping operations. It also monitors ecological changes and variations in geographical features.

The spacecraft, which weighs 1,190 kilograms, separated from the rocket and was positioned 611 kilometers above Earth in a near-circular orbit.

Two similar satellites were developed for the UAE Armed Forces as part of the Falcon Eye program. The first one was Falcon Eye 1, lost in space last year after the failure of the Italian Vega rocket carrying it. The launch of Falcon Eye 2 was postponed a few times in the past couple of months due to factors such as bad weather and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Khalifa Al Rumaithi, chairman of Falcon Eye program said, “We are proud in this moment and I’d like to thank my crew and to the Emirates for working side by side with their partner for five years.”

“I confirm that tonight we’ve been successful with the Soyuz launch and Falcon Eye is in its targeted orbit,” commented Stephane Israel, chief executive of Arianespace.

The satellite will give high-definition photographs from around the globe for military and civilian usage.

“The Falcon Eye system added lots of abilities to support the country’s mission by maintaining the security of the country and the stability of the region. It is really considered to be a capability owned by a few countries worldwide.” said a senior official with the Falcon Eye project.

Planning for the satellite started five years ago and the satellite was created by Airbus Defence and Space and Thales Alenia Space, in Toulouse, France. Its production was supervised by the UAE Space Agency. The Emirati team was trained by the Airbus to control the satellite’s systems. This will enable photos and intelligence reports to be retrieved by the ground control in Abu Dhabi.

Philippe Pham, senior vice president of Earth observation, navigation and science at Airbus Defense and Space said that his team would hand over the satellite’s control once they assured it was totally operational.

“We are proud to lead the industrial team and to be part of a very high-resolution Earth-observation mission for the UAE. Falcon Eye is a state of the art satellite. But it’s not just a satellite, it’s a full space system, including the ground segment and the image processing capabilities. It will deliver top-quality observation imagery for the customer.” he added.

Michel Roux, Falcon Eye program director at Airbus, said this had been one of their longest launch projects due to the lags caused by the COVID-19 issues. “We started early this year, but the campaign had been stopped for several months. This is the year of COVID-19 and with lockdown, travel restrictions and the difficulty to work normally, it created several delays,” he concluded.