Secretive UAE Falcon Eye 2 Satellite Launched on Soyuz

The VS24 mission launched successfully after almost nine months of delays.
Chris Young

An Arianespace Soyuz rocket successfully launched a reconnaissance satellite for the United Arab Emirates on December 1 following months of delays caused by technical issues and COVID-19.

The Soyuz ST-A rocket launched from French Guiana at 8:33 p.m. Eastern Time carrying a Falcon Eye 2 satellite, which separated almost an hour after launch, Arianespace reports.


UAE's Falcon Eye setbacks

Following the launch, the Falcon Eye 2 satellite separated after two burns by the Fregat upper stage of the rocket. The 1,190 Kg Falcon Eye 2 satellite was constructed by Airbus Defence and Thales Alenia Space for the UAE armed forces.

The UAE and the two companies have kept the exact specifications of the top-secret satellite under wraps, only stating that it produces "very-high-resolution" images, Space News writes. The UAE's Falcon Eye 1 was destroyed in a Vega launch failure in July 2019.

The launch took place almost nine months after the originally scheduled date. Arianespace postponed the original launch in early March this year due to a problem with the Fregat upper stage.

Though the Fregat problem was resolved in the same month, Arianespace and the French space agency CNES then decided to suspend all launch activities at the spaceport due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Two weather-related delays then occurred on November 28 and 29, and another launch attempt was scrapped on November 30 after an issue with a range safety system at the launch site.

Busy holiday period for Arianespace

The Falcon Eye 2 launch is the first of three Soyuz missions Arianespace has planned to launch this month. The company will launch a set of OneWeb satellites on December 17 on a Soyuz from Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia.

Another Soyuz launch from French Guiana will take place between Christmas and New Year's Day, Stéphane Israël, chief executive of Arianespace, said during the VS24 launch webcast. The payload for that last launch is yet to be confirmed.

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