- Press Release
- Dec 5, 2022
Artemis, one year after launch
A mission brought back from the edge, a world premiere in space, European
engineers grappling with the challenge of a launch malfunction: such are
the results of Artemis’s first, adventurous year in space.
For Artemis is still alive, doggedly advancing towards its working
position in geostationary orbit, with ion engines not originally designed
for such a task. Already it has demonstrated a new way of relaying data
between satellites, premiering laser links in space. One year ago, Artemis
was widely thought to be as good as lost; now, the spacecraft promises to
perform its mission for advanced telecommunications.
Exactly one year ago, due to a malfunction in its upper stage, Ariane 5
left ESA’s telecommunications satellite Artemis in a lower than intended
elliptical orbit. The apogee (maximum distance from Earth) was only 17 487
km, far short of the targeted geostationary transfer orbit with an apogee
at 35 853 km. A team of ESA and industry specialists responded vigorously
with a series of innovative control procedures to rescue the spacecraft.
Daring manoeuvres were executed and these proved not only very successful
but also highly efficient. Using almost all of the available chemical
propellant, Artemis managed to escape the orbit in which it had to contend
with the deadly Van Allen belts and to reach safely a circular orbit at an
altitude of 31000 km only a few days after launch.
A long haul to geostationary orbit
Since then, the rescue efforts have continued unabated using the four ion
engines mounted on the satellite redundantly in pairs. These novel
engines, instead of conventional chemical combustion engines, use ionised
xenon gas. They were originally designed only to control the satellite’s
inclination by generating thrust perpendicular to the orbital plane. The
rescue operation however required thrust to be generated in the orbital
plane to push the satellite to final geostationary orbit. This could be
realised by rotating the satellite in the orbit plane by 90 degrees with
respect to its nominal orientation.
Taking optimum advantage of the spacecraft flight configuration, new
strategies were developed not just to raise altitude but also to counter
the natural increase of in orbital inclination. To implement those new
strategies, new on-board control modes, a new station network and new
flight control procedures had to be put in place.
The new concept for steering the ion propulsion engines includes entirely
new control modes never before used on a telecommunication spacecraft, as
well as new telecommand and telemetry and other data handling interface
functions. In all, about 20% of the original spacecraft control software
had to be modified. Thanks to the re-programmable on-board control
concept, these modifications could be loaded by uplinking to the satellite
software “patches” amounting in total to 15 000 words, the largest
reprogramming of flight software ever implemented on a telecommunications
By the end of December 2001 work on the new software had been completed
and it was subsequently validated using the spacecraft simulator as test
bed. With the characterisation of the four engines all preparatory
activities were completed and on 19 February this year the orbit-raising
manoeuvre was started using only the ion propulsion system.
Since the start of orbit-raising operations spacecraft controllers have
had to respond to many kinds of unforeseen situations, since the new
strategy could only be tested realistically on the spacecraft itself.
Unlike traditional pre-flight acceptance testing, no test-bed is available
to exactly replicate the current scenario.
Thanks to the extreme flexibility and redundancy inherent in the system
design, steady progress in the orbit-raising process has been maintained,
albeit at a lower rate than would theoretically be possible. By its first
birthday, Artemis – through dogged operation of its ion engines with their
very modest thrust of only 15 milli-Newton – has climbed in altitude by
more than 1500 km. On average, 15 km raise has been achieved per day.
For several reasons, two of the four ion engines (those on the south
panel) cannot be used at present. So orbit-raising is now continuing using
a single engine on the north panel. Using additional spacecraft roll bias,
an altitude increase of 15 km per day is still being achieved. With some
3000 km to go, about 200 days will thus be needed to reach geostationary
altitude, allowing the Artemis communications payloads to go operational
in early 2003.
Payload tests and performances
Several months passed between arrival in the parking orbit and
commencement of orbit-raising manoeuvres. That time was used to carry out
commissioning and payload performance verification.
In November/December 2001 payload tests were performed. These tests could
only be done every fifth day, when the Artemis feeder link antenna beam
“illuminated” ESA’s test station in Redu (Belgium). Further constraints
arose from the fact that some payload frequencies can be used only when
Artemis is at, or close to, its nominal orbit position.
Nevertheless, enough opportunities were found to demonstrate that all
payloads (S-band and Ka-band and optical data relay, Navigation and L-band
mobile payload) are available and that their performances are in line with
pre-launch results. In other words, they are fully compliant with
Correct operation of the closed loop tracking system for the Ka-band
inter-orbit antenna was also demonstrated. The antenna acquired a signal
transmitted from Redu and maintained the link automatically while Artemis
drifted slowly across the sky.
The most spectacular event was the demonstration of SILEX operations.
Following initial successful commissioning using ESA’s optical ground
station on Tenerife, the optical link was established between Artemis and
SPOT 4. On 30 November 2001, for the first time ever, image data collected
by a low-flying spacecraft were transmitted by laser to a
(quasi-)geostationary satellite and from there to the data processing
centre in Toulouse.
In total, 26 attempts were made to establish the optical link and all 26
were successful. The link was never lost before the pre-programmed point
in time. Link quality was almost perfect: a bit error rate better than 10
(exp -9) was measured. This means that 1 bit at most is received
erroneously per 1 000 000 000 bits transmitted.
Transfer to the geostationary position is taking longer than expected –
for the various reasons explained above. Artemis is now expected to arrive
at its nominal position at the beginning of 2003. Once on station, its
payloads will be used as follows:
- ·Eutelsat will use the L-band payload commercially;
- ·EGNOS, the European Global Navigation Overlay System, will use the
Navigation payload operationally;
- ·Spotimage will use the optical payload SILEX for at least 5 passes per
- ·Envisat will use the Ka-band data relay payload for at least 10 orbits
- ·EGNOS, the European Global Navigation Overlay System, will use the
Artemis has so far shown itself to be a very robust satellite. It was
necessary and proved possible to operate many of the subsystems outside
the specified ranges and even in modes that had not been thought of before
launch. This would have not been possible without enormous commitment from
the industrial teams taking part in the rescue operation: Alenia Spazio as
prime contractor, the Altel (Alenia Spazio-Telespazio) consortium as
spacecraft operator and Astrium, which is responsible for operation of the
ion thrusters system and for spacecraft attitude and orbit control.
For further information, please contact:
Artemis Project Manager
Phone : 00 31 71 565 3168
Fax : 00 31 71 565 4093
ESA Media Relations Service