The maturity of Arianespace's Soyuz launch system at French Guiana - and its confirmed role as a full-fledged member of the company's launcher family - were demonstrated once again by tonight's successful orbiting of the Pleiades 1B satellite from the Spaceport.
During a flight lasting 55 minutes, the Soyuz vehicle deployed its 970-kg. passenger into a targeted circular orbit of 695 km., inclined 98.2 deg., marking the medium-lift vehicle's fourth mission from French Guiana since its introduction at this near-equatorial launch site in October 2011.
Pleiades 1B is a very-high-resolution dual-use satellite designed to provide optical imaging coverage for French and European defense ministries, institutions and civil users. It joins the twin Pleiades 1A spacecraft that was launched in December 2011 on Arianespace's second Soyuz mission from the Spaceport.
Arianespace Chairman & CEO Jean-Yves Le Gall noted tonight's launch was the ninth at French Guiana in 2012 for the company's launcher family; following the lightweight Vega's maiden flight in February; medium-lift missions with Soyuz in October and today; along with heavy-lift Ariane 5 flights in March, May, July, August, September and November.
Le Gall thanked all involved in these successes, including the teams who work at the Spaceport for such an "impressive" year - during which a total of 23 primary and secondary payloads were placed into orbit from French Guiana.
The Pleiades 1A and 1B satellites launched by Arianespace create an optical observation system with great agility, a quick-response ground segment and daily revisit capability - offering a new generation of "real-world" satellite Earth imagery at a resolution of 70 cm. Both Pleiades spacecraft are based on smaller, less expensive and more agile platforms than their predecessors - the highly-successful Spot satellite series that was lofted by Arianespace on its Ariane family launchers beginning in 1986.
France's CNES space agency is prime contractor and architect for the Pleiades system, which is organized as part of a joint effort with Italy - whose Cosmo-Skymed satellite series delivers radar imaging coverage of the Earth.
Pleiades program participants are the space agencies of France, Austria, Belgium, Spain and Sweden; along with the defense ministries of France, Italy and Spain.
The Pleiades 1A and 1B spacecraft were built by EADS' Astrium division.
Arianespace will wrap-up its 2012 launch activity at the Spaceport with a year-ending Ariane 5 mission on December 19 to orbit the Mexsat Bicentenario and Skynet 5D satellites.