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Ariane 6 set to launch 3Cat-4 CubeSat for Earth observation
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Ariane 6 set to launch 3Cat-4 CubeSat for Earth observation
by Erica Marchand
Paris, France (SPX) May 09, 2024

Ariane 6, Europe's latest heavy-lift launcher, is set for its inaugural flight, carrying multiple missions each tasked with unique objectives ranging from Earth observation to technology testing in orbit. This article highlights the 3Cat-4 mission, a 1-kg Earth Observation CubeSat developed under ESA's 'Fly Your Satellite!' program by the Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya.

The mission of 3Cat-4 is primarily educational, aimed at training students in space mission operations while providing them with real-world project responsibilities. Alexander Kinnaird, ESA Engineering Coordinator, explains, "The primary goal of the mission is educational; training a group of students in the techniques and methodologies involved in flying a space mission, while conducting challenging teamwork with a real sense of responsibility."

Scientifically, 3Cat-4 will measure vital climate variables using 'Global Navigation Satellite System Reflectometry' (GNSS-R). This technique involves analyzing the reflected signals from Earth of navigation satellites like Galileo and GPS to study weather phenomena, land topography, and ocean data such as ice coverage.

Additionally, 3Cat-4 is equipped with an 'L-band radiometer' for analyzing soil moisture and ocean salinity and includes a system to track ships and mitigate radio frequency interference, crucial for accurate microwave radiometry observations.

A key feature of 3Cat-4 is its compact 0.5-meter spring-like antenna, which once deployed, will enable detailed Earth observations that are generally expected from larger missions. Lily Ha, ESA coordinator for university student activities, comments on the mission's scope, "3Cat-4 will demonstrate the capacity for small CubeSats to provide a big Earth Observation service, motivating not only the students involved but also the wider community."

Ariane 6 is scheduled for launch in June-July 2024, succeeding the long-serving Ariane 5. Cristina Del Castillo Sancho, ESA engineering coordinator, reflects on the project's impact, "Throughout the project, we have seen several cohorts of brilliant students making the technology behind 3Cat-4 possible. They dared to dream of this complex mission, and they were enabled by both ESA Education and their university with the necessary expertise and resources."

The launch operations will be managed from the Barcelona Operations Centre, with the team poised to command the satellite and monitor its data from the Montsec Ground Station in the Pyrenees, Spain. Luis Juan, 3Cat-4 Team Leader, expresses his enthusiasm for the launch, "It is so very fulfilling to see our satellite finally ready for launch. It has been an incredible journey for all the people involved, and the amount of knowledge gained during the development is difficult to over-emphasise."

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