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Argos-4: Road to Launch

October 3, 2022

In ancient Greek mythology, Argos was a giant with a hundred eyes known as “the all-seeing-one.” Nowadays, Argos' “eyes” still keep watch, but from roughly 530 miles above Earth. NOAA has now added another.

The Argos worldwide Data Collection System (DCS) is a network of instruments onboard polar-orbiting satellites that collect sensor and location data from both stationary and mobile transmitters around the world.

This vital information helps provide a better understanding of Earth’s physical and biological environment, including its weather and climate, as well as biodiversity and ecosystems. Information gathered via the Argos system also assists with maritime security, offshore pollution, and humanitarian efforts while enabling industries to comply with environmental protection regulations. However, Argos has most famously been used to track wildlife, particularly marine mammals and sea turtles since the 1980s, which has allowed researchers to learn more about them.

 

*Note: The GAzelle satellite was previously known as the Orbital Test Bed-3 satellite

The Argos system was first developed in 1978 as a tool for collecting and relaying atmospheric and oceanographic data under a Memorandum of Understanding between NOAA, NASA, and the French space agency, Centre National d'études Spatiales (CNES). Today, other international space agencies also participate, including the European Organization of the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), and others.

 

The Newest Argos Instrument

NOAA has been preparing for the launch of its latest contribution to the Argos worldwide Data Collection System—the Argos-4 instrument—which took place on Oct. 7, 2022 at 1:04 p.m. ET.

Argos-4, developed in a partnership between NOAA and CNES, the French Space Agency, was scheduled to fly as a hosted payload onboard the General Atomics GAzelle satellite on a Rocket Lab Electron spacecraft. Once operational in orbit, Argos-4 will work together with its sister Argos instruments to help improve and extend data collection around the world.

There are currently several thousand individual users, or programs, using Argos to track more than 13,000 objects, primarily wildlife. The U.S. is the largest Argos user (of 100+ countries that have Argos applications), and NOAA Fisheries is the largest in the country, with more than 30 individual programs for seals, turtles, and many other aquatic species in the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, Arctic, and Antarctic. 

The Gazelle satellite successfully completed its Pre-Ship Review last month before being shipped to Rocket Lab’s Complex 1 launch facility on the Māhia Peninsula in New Zealand for launch.

 

The GAzelle satellite prior to the Pre-Ship review at the General Atomics integration facility in Centennial, CO.
The GAzelle satellite prior to the Pre-Ship review at the General Atomics integration facility in Centennial, Colo. GAzelle is the host satellite for the Argos-4 Instrument. [Credit: General Atomics]
Image of the GAzelle satellite on Kick Stage
Once in New Zealand, the GAzelle satellite was mounted onto the Rocket Lab Kick Stage, which aids in orbital deployment once in space, prior to being placed within the Rocket Lab Electron Fairing (nose cone). [Credit: Rocket Lab]
The GAzelle satellite on the Rocket Lab Kick Stage as it was being encapsulated within the fairing.
The GAzelle satellite on the Rocket Lab Kick Stage as it was being encapsulated within the fairing. [Credit: Rocket Lab]
The closed Rocket Lab Electron Fairing containing the GAzelle satellite.
The closed Rocket Lab Electron Fairing containing the GAzelle satellite. [Credit: Rocket Lab]

Liftoff!

Liftoff took place on Friday, Oct. 7, 2022 at 1:09 p.m. EDT (Oct. 8, 2022 at 6:09 a.m. NZDT) from Māhia Peninsula, New Zealand.

 

The rocket carrying General Atomics’ GAzelle satellite sits on the pad ahead of launch. It is dark, as the sun has not yet risen.
The rocket carrying General Atomics’ GAzelle satellite sits on the pad at Rocket Lab’s Complex 1 launch facility on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand ahead of launch. [Credit: Rocket Lab]
The rocket carrying General Atomics’ GAzelle satellite lifts off, illuminating the dark sky behind it.
We have liftoff! The GAzelle satellite hosting NOAA's Argos-4 instrument successfully launched onboard a dedicated Electron vehicle from Rocket Lab’s Complex 1 launch facility on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. The GAzelle satellite was then successfully deployed into Low Earth Orbit. [Credit: Rocket Lab]

NOAA is honored to have been a partner with CNES for the provision of the Argos system since the late 1970s, and thrilled Argos-4 will take us to 50 years of cooperation.