SpaceX is now expected to launch an Italian Earth-observation satellite no earlier than today (Jan. 29), two days later than planned due to bad weather, and you’ll be able to watch it live here when it lifts off.
A two-stage SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket topped with the Cosmo-SkyMed Second Generation FM2 (CSG-2) satellite is scheduled to lift off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 6:11 p.m. EST (2311 GMT) on Saturday.
The Cosmo-SkyMed Second Generation program is funded by the Italian Space Agency, the Italian Ministry of Defense and the Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Scientific Research. The system consists of two satellites, which are designed to observe Earth using synthetic aperture radar (SAR).
Each COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation, or CSG, spacecraft, built by Thales Alenia Space, carries a radar instrument designed to observe Earth during day and night passes. After launching on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, the CSG 2 satellite will unfurl its X-band radar antenna for testing before entering service.
The satellite is capable of capturing colorized radar images with a horizontal resolution as good as 1 foot, or 30 centimeters. The highest-resolution images are restricted for use by institutions approved by the Italian government.
The second generation of Italian radar observation satellites will expand, and eventually replace, coverage provided by four first-generation COSMO-SkyMed spacecraft launched aboard United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rockets from 2007 through 2010.
The first CSG satellite, CSG-1, launched atop an Arianespace Soyuz rocket from Kourou, French Guiana in December 2019 and is currently operating in a sun-synchronous polar orbit, 385 miles (620 kilometers) above Earth. CSG-2 is headed for the same orbit.
The second CSG satellite was originally booked with Arianespace to launch on a European Vega C rocket. But delays in the development of the Vega C, an uprated version of the Vega launcher, have pushed back the new rocket’s debut to no earlier than May.
COSMO-SkyMed forms part of several international partnerships, with France sharing access to the military functions of the constellation in return for providing Italy with access to images from its optical satellites. Argentina is involved in the civilian side of the program, coordinating observations from its own SAOCOM satellites, equipped with L-band radar imaging payloads, with the X-band imagery generated by COSMO-SkyMed.
The Vega C would not be able to launch the CSG 2 satellite until later this year, following the Vega C’s inaugural mission. That prompted Italian officials to look for a new ride, eventually resulting in their selection of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket after Arianespace was unable to accommodate the CSG 2 launch.
This will be the third launch for this Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage. The booster previously helped launch the Arabsat-6A communications satellite and Space Test Program 2 mission for the U.S. military. For this flight, the rocket is expected to come back for a vertical touchdown at SpaceX’s Landing Site 1 at Cape Canaveral not long after launch.
COSMO-SkyMed satellites also track maritime traffic and oil spills, and help with search and rescue operations. The satellites have also provided data for scientists chart the impacts of climate change, from rising sea levels to the melting of glaciers.
The COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation satellites are designed to function at least seven years. The CSG satellites can capture images day and night with its radar instrument, surveying the planet in narrow-field and wide-field imaging modes.
The CSG-1 and CSG-2 satellites were ordered in 2015, with a follow-on pair of satellites, CSG-3 and CSG-4, being ordered in 2020 to expand the COSMO-SkyMed constellation. CSG-3 is scheduled for launch in 2024 while CSG-4 is scheduled for launch in 2027, with both satellites expected to fly aboard Vega-C rockets from Kourou, French Guiana.