Ariane VA 224 on the launchpad. Credit: ESA-CNES-ARIANESPACE / Photo Optique Vidéo CSG

Ariane VA 224 on the launchpad. Credit: ESA-CNES-ARIANESPACE / Photo Optique Vidéo CSG

On 15 July, a powerful Ariane launcher will loft Europe’s final Meteosat Second Generation weather satellite into orbit from Kourou, French Guiana. For the mission control team at ESA, liftoff will mark the end of months of careful preparations and the start of the mission’s first critical phase.

In a 37-minute window starting at 21:42 GMT (23:42 CEST), Europe’s fourth and final Meteosat Second Generation (MSG) satellite will ride into space on a 55 m-tall Ariane 5 rocket together with co-passenger Star One C4, a telecoms satellite for Embratel. The dual launch had previously been set for 8 July, but was delayed by Arianespace due to last-minute precautionary checks on the rocket and spacecraft.

A team from ESA’s European Space Operations Centre, ESOC, Darmstadt, Germany, will assume control of MSG-4 immediately after separation and oversee its first 12 days in space – the critical launch and early orbit phase (LEOP) – before handing control over to Eumetsat.

During LEOP, two teams will work on shift in the Main Control Room 24 hours/day, using ESA’s global ground station network to conduct the well-rehearsed operations.

The first passenger, Star One C4, will separate from Ariane’s upper stage 28:15 minutes into flight, followed by MSG-4 at 40:22 minutes.

Separation marks the first occasion that the ESOC mission controllers can start sending telecommands to MSG-4 via the Malindi station in Kenya, performing the initial satellite configuration activities like switching on the attitude sensors.

Thruster burns and spinning up

Starting at about four hours into flight, MSG-4, which is released from the launcher spinning at 5 rpm, will be spun up to 55 rpm, and the satellite will perform a number of slews about its rotational axis to orientate itself correctly. These activities will continue into the second day in orbit.

Main Control Room at ESA's European Space Operations Centre, Darmstadt, Germany. Credit: ESA/P. Shlyaev

Main Control Room at ESA’s European Space Operations Centre, Darmstadt, Germany. Credit: ESA/P. Shlyaev

Starting on 17 July, the satellite will conduct the first of four crucial apogee motor burns, approximately one per day, to circularise its initially highly elliptical orbit. Each burn will last between around 80 seconds and 20 minutes.

Between 22 and 25 July, the protective covers on the camera will be discarded and the satellite will be spun up to its normal rotation of 100 rpm. The camera’s primary mirror will be unlocked and the instrument switched on and decontaminated.

If all goes as planned, by 26 July, the LEOP activities will come to an end with the satellite fully functional and located in its planned geosynchronous orbital slot some 36 000 km above Europe. It will then be handed over to Eumetsat for payload commissioning, preparing MSG-4 to serve as the in-orbit ‘hot backup’ to its three sibling satellites, which were all shepherded into orbit by ESOC.

Watch live

The liftoff will be streamed live from Kourou on 15 July starting at 21:27 GMT (23:27 CEST).

Timeline below is forecast only and all times are subject to change. Timeline assumes liftoff at start of 37-minute window at 23:42 CEST; times will be shifted accordingly if the liftoff occurs later in the window. See abbreviations at bottom of page.


MET GMT CEST VA224 MSG4/ESOC Tracking stations
-09:45:00 11:57:00 13:57:00 Start of launcher activities on launch pad in Kourou
-09:01:00 12:41:00 14:41:00 Satellite switch on to begin (Live telemetry from MSG available after –6:10 MET)
-07:30:00 14:12:00 16:12:00 B-Section of Mission Control Team on console in ESOC MCR; start of pre-launch activities in MCR
-07:15:00 14:27:00 16:27:00 Station engineers now on site at Kourou, Malindi & Perth tracking stations
-07:00:00 14:42:00 16:42:00 Network interface equipment in Kourou turned ON. This will enable a live cable connection between MSG-4 & ESOC until shortly before liftoff.
-06:30:00 15:12:00 17:12:00 Start of ESOC network countdown
** MSG transmitter to be switched ON
** OM at ESOC MCR conducting voice, status & time checks with all tracking stations
-06:21:00 15:21:00 17:21:00 ESA Kourou tracking station rotating to point at MSG-4 on top of Ariane 5 just a few km away
-06:20:00 15:22:00 17:22:00 Data cable interface in Kourou turned ON. This will enable a live cable connection between MSG-4 & ESOC until shortly before liftoff ESOC now watching for receipt of telemetry – live onboard status information – from MSG-4 sitting on top of Ariane 5. Signals can be received via data cable or via Kourou station
-06:04:00 15:38:00 17:38:00 ESOC now receiving live telemetry from MSG-4
-06:00:00 15:42:00 17:42:00 Perth & Malindi stations start ranging calibrations
-05:35:00 16:07:00 18:07:00 Ground Operations Manager conducts voice & status checks with all ground stations and ESOC Mission Control Team console positions
-05:20:00 16:22:00 18:22:00 Begin data flow tests on both prime and backup connections between Perth, Malindi & Kourou ground stations and at ESOC
-04:50:00 16:52:00 18:52:00 Start filling main cryogenic stage with liquid oxygen & hydrogen
-04:05:00 17:37:00 19:37:00 Flight Director at ESOC reports ground segment and tracking station status to Kourou
-04:00:00 17:42:00 19:42:00 ESA flight dynamics team now on console at ESOC
-03:20:00 18:22:00 20:22:00 Chilldown of Vulcain main stage engine
-02:00:00 19:42:00 21:42:00 A-Section of Mission Control Team on console in ESOC MCR
-01:50:00 19:52:00 21:52:00 OD in Main Control Room at ESOC conducts Go/NoGo roll-call From now on: Mission Control Team continuously checking satellite health & ground systems readiness for launch
-01:30:00 20:12:00 22:12:00 Engineers have left Kourou station, which lies within the liftoff danger area. It will continue operating via remote control
-01:27:00 20:15:00 22:15:00 OD in Main Control Room at ESOC reports ‘ready’ to Kourou
-00:50:00 20:52:00 22:52:00 SOM in Main Control Room at ESOC briefs ground stations on activities in first pass after MSG-4 separates from Ariane
-00:35:00 21:07:00 23:07:00 OD reports ground systems status to Kourou
-00:20:00 21:22:00 23:22:00 Arianespace issues final weather briefing OD reports ground systems status to Kourou
-00:11:00 21:31:00 23:31:00 MSG4 now on internal power
-00:07:00 21:35:00 23:35:00 All systems Go for launch; start Ariane automated sequence
-00:06:30 21:35:30 23:35:30 OD in Main Control Room at ESOC reports status to Kourou (final)
-00:04:00 21:38:00 23:38:00 Fuel tanks pressurised for flight
-00:01:00 21:41:00 23:41:00 Ariane on internal power
-00:00:04 21:41:56 23:41:56 Ariane onboard systems take over
-00:00:03 21:41:57 23:41:57 Ariane inertial reference systems switch to flight mode
00:00:00 21:42:00 23:42:00 Ignition of the cryogenic main stage engine
+00:00:07 21:42:07 23:42:07 Ignition of solid boosters and liftoff ESA Kourou station starts tracking launcher
+00:00:12 21:42:12 23:42:12 End of vertical climb; Ariane begins pitch motion
+00:00:17 21:42:17 23:42:17 Beginning of roll manoeuvre
+00:02:22 21:44:22 23:44:22 Solid rocket boosters jettisoned
+00:03:43 21:45:43 23:45:43 Fairing jettisoned; Ariane and payload now in space
+00:08:49 21:50:49 23:50:49 Main engine cutoff
+00:08:55 21:50:55 23:50:55 First stage separation
+00:08:59 21:50:59 23:50:59 Second stage ignition
+00:10:00 21:52:00 23:52:00 Expected loss of signal Kourou station
+00:24:00 22:06:00 00:06:00 Malindi station: AOS Ariane & AOS MSG-4 (carrier only)
+00:24:48 22:06:48 00:06:48 Second stage engine cutoff; injection into orbit
+00:28:15 22:10:15 00:10:15 Star One C4 separation
+00:30:56 22:12:56 00:12:56 Sylda separation
+00:40:00 22:22:00 00:22:00 AOS Perth
+00:40:19 22:22:19 00:22:19 MSG-4 separation MSG-4 now in free flight
+00:41:00 22:23:00 00:23:00 Mission control team at ESOC starting to uplink first telecommands to MSG-4 via Malindi station Malindi station starts transmitting to MSG-4
+00:42:00 22:24:00 00:24:00
+01:08:16 22:50:16 00:50:16 End of Ariane mission The Ariane upper stage will be safely deorbited
+04:07:00 01:49:00 03:49:00 MSG-4 spun up to 55 rpm
+05:35:00 03:17:00 05:17:00 MSG-4 reaches apogee height on orbit 1 (35 794.6km)
CEST offset = 02:00:00
Ariane launcher is also tracked by Natal, Ascension, Libreville ground stations. These are not indicated in this timeline.
LCC: Launcher Control Centre, Jupiter Control Room, Kourou, French Guyana
ESOC: European Space Operations Centre, Darmstadt, Germany
OD: ESA Flight Operaqtions Director in Main Control Room
VA224: Ariane launcher flight VA224
MET: Mission Elapsed Time – before/after liftoff times are -/+
MSG4: Meteosat Second Generation-4 spacecraft
AOS: Acquisition of signal
LOS: Loss of signal
MCR: Main Control Room at ESOC
OM: ESA Ground Operations Manager in Main Control Room
SOM: ESA Spacecraft Operations Manager in Main Control Room