ROCKOT Tailored to Launch GRACE Satellites
The launch of NASA`s GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) satellites on 17th March 2002 from Plesetsk Cosmodrome was Eurockot`s first commercial mission for a paying customer. This customer was the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) which shared the GRACE mission by way of an agreement with NASA and which was responsible for contracting the launch services for this programme.
Eurockot was the only commercial launch service provider to meet the launch requirements defined by DLR in an international invitation-to-tender. Due to the complexity of their instrumentation, the design of the GRACE spacecraft required a relatively high volume payload fairing of the launch vehicle. Rockot features a fairing of over 6 metres height and 2.6 metres diameter. These dimensions allowed a comfortable accommodation of the scientific instruments of GRACE. The DLR contract also called for the design, manufacture and provision of a customised spacecraft dispenser to mount the two GRACE spacecraft during the launch phase. Under a subcontract to Eurockot, this dispenser was built by the EADS SPACE Transportation daughter company Rostock System Technik of Germany.
On 17th March 2002 Rockot deployed the twin GRACE satellites into a near polar orbit of 89 degrees inclination and a 500 km altitude with very high injection accuracy making this launch a complete success.
Both GRACE spacecraft measure the earth`s gravitational field from an altitude of 500 km with a very high precision. This degree of precision, combined with monthly recurring measurements will allow the exact definition of land masses and oceans and will thus contribute significantly to the earth's geology and hydrology and thus to global climate research.