Extraordinary security measures on successful launch of the Emirates' Falcon Eye 2 spy satellite

Falcon Eye 2 has been launched into space by a Russian Soyuz rocket after discarding the European Vega that destroyed its twin Falcon Eye 1 and Spanish Ingenio.
French military deployed in Guyana mount security and defence against possible attacks from aircraft, helicopters, missiles and armed drones

PHOTO/Armée de Terre  -   French military deployed in Guyana mount security and defence against possible attacks from aircraft, helicopters, missiles and armed drones

The launch of a Russian Soyuz launcher on 2 December, carrying a dual-use satellite owned by the Emirate Government, was surrounded by the largest security deployment that the Kuru space base has seen since its doors opened over 50 years ago. 

Operation Titan's reinforcement, requested by the Emirate authorities from President Emmanuel Macron, was aimed at preventing, as it did, any kind of sabotage or terrorist action from causing the launching into orbit of Falcon Eye 2, its new observation platform for civilian and military use, to fail.

El Vuelo Soyuz número 24 ha despegado el 2 de diciembre, a las 02:33 de la madrugada, hora peninsular española, con el Falcón Eye 2 de Emiratos a bordo y quizás otros pequeños satélites de los que todavía nada se sabe
PHOTO/ESA-CNES-Arianespace-CSG - Soyuz Flight number 24 has taken off on December 2nd, at 02:33 in the morning, Spanish peninsular time, with the Emirates Falcon Eye 2 on board and maybe other small satellites of which nothing is known yet 

The coded VS24 or Soyuz Flight number 24, has risen to the sky at 02:33 in the morning, Spanish peninsular time. It has placed the Falcon Eye 2 at about 611 kilometres high and perhaps other small satellites as well, but nothing is known about them. Because of the time difference with Spain, in French Guiana - to the north of Brazil - it was 22:33 pm on December 1st.  

A high-resolution electro-optical observation platform weighing 1,190 kg, which Israel describes as a spy satellite, yet not considered a threat to its security. Fortunately, in less than an hour the launch was a complete success, as both the government of the Emirates and Arianespace, Europe's leading launch service company, were gambling their money and international prestige.  

Soldados franceses vigilan la entrada principal de la base espacial de Kurú, en la Guayana francesa. Al fondo, un modelo a escala natural del lanzador europeo Ariane 5
PHOTO/Armée de Terra - French soldiers guard the main entrance to the Kuru space base in French Guiana. In the background, a life-size model of the European Ariane 5 launcher. 

For Arianespace, suffering a new accident involving the launch of a satellite entrusted to be put into orbit would have been a very serious setback for the credibility of its launch operations. It should be remembered that a fortnight ago the flight of the Vega launcher on November 17 was a failure and destroyed the Spanish platform Ingenio and the French satellite Taranis.

El satélite que aparece en la imagen es el Falcon Eye 1, que quedó destruido en el lanzamiento del cohete Vega ocurrido en julio de 2019
PHOTO/WAM - Falcon Eye 1, which was destroyed in the launch of the Vega rocket in July 2019, is the satellite shown in the image.
Enhanced protection measures

Since the arrival of the satellite on South American soil, the satellite test and integration building and the launch area have been subject to extraordinary security measures around the perimeter, as well as around the Kuru space base and throughout French Guiana.  

This has involved an increase in the deployment of the French armed forces, which have provided ground, naval and air cover to the space base in order to prevent sabotage and terrorist attacks, including defence against missiles and attacks by armed drones. The military have been joined by the private surveillance services that guard the space installations on a daily basis.  

Arianespace, under instructions from the Emirates' armed forces which own the satellite, has also implemented a strict information blackout on the date and time of take-off, which was not lifted until November 28, when it announced the launch for November 30, which has subsequently been delayed twice for meteorological reasons. 

Satélite alta resolución de 1.190 kilos al despegue, Israel lo califica de satélite espía, pero no lo considera una amenaza para su seguridad, en especial ahora que mantiene relaciones cordiales con Emiratos
PHOTO/WAM - A high-resolution satellite weighing 1,190 kilos at take-off, which Israel describes as a spy satellite, though it is not considered a threat to its security, especially now that it has cordial relations with the United Arab Emirates.

A failure of the Soyuz rocket with Falcon Eye 2 or a malfunction once in orbit would mean the complete disappearance of the Falcon Eye project, designed to obtain images of the whole planet with a resolution of 0.7 metres. Seventeen months ago, on 10 July 2019, a Vega launcher also fired from Kurú should have put Falcon Eye 1, twin of Falcon Eye 2, into orbit. But about three minutes after take-off, when Vega Flight number 15 (VV15) was 80 kilometres high, a serious anomaly was detected that led to the loss of the satellite.

The two satellites were manufactured by the French branches of Airbus Space Systems and Thales Alenia Space, and cost around 800 million euros. They are the result of a government-to-government agreement signed in July 2013 between the Emirates and France, when the Republic was presided over by François Hollande and Prime Minister François Fillon.  

El fracaso del lanzador europeo Vega aconsejó al primer ministro y vicepresidente de Emiratos, Mohamed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, a confiar en el ruso Soyuz el envío al espacio del Falcon Eye 2
PHOTO/WAM - The failure of the European launcher Vega prompted UAE Prime Minister and Vice-President Mohamed bin Rashid al-Maktoum to rely on Russian Soyuz to send Falcon Eye 2 into space. 
Nine months late

Although the initial hypotheses put forward by the Emirati authorities favoured an act of sabotage, the Commission of Inquiry did not reach this conclusion. It ruled in September that the most likely reason for the accident was due to a "sudden and violent thermo-structural failure" in the Zefiro 23 solid fuel engine of the second stage of propulsion. 

The loss of its observation platform aroused the doubts of Emirates' prime minister and vice-president Mohamed bin Rashid al-Maktoum about the reliability of the Vega rocket. Together with Defence Minister Mohammed bin Ahmad al-Bawardi, in January this year the Emirates government decided to entrust the Russian Soyuz launcher with its second Falcon Eye, which is also marketed by Arianespace from Guiana, and to relegate the Vega rocket, which was the one under contract.

Imagen del Centro de Control Júpiter con los datos en tiempo real sobreimpresos de la misión VV15 del 10 de julio de 2019. A poco más tres minutos del despegue y a 80 kilómetros de altura se produjo el fallo en el cohete Vega
PHOTO/Arianespace - Image of the Jupiter Control Centre with real-time data overlay of the VV15 mission of 10 July 2019. A little more than three minutes after take-off and 80 kilometres above sea level, the Vega rocket failed. 

Veteran Soyuz had only a partial anomaly in flight during his 23 launches from Kurú, which did not result in mission failure. It happened in August 2014, when two satellites of the European Union's Galileo navigation and positioning constellation were transported to its orbit and failed. However, in the end both were able to be moved to their correct position and become operational. 

El proyecto Falcon Eye estaba configurado por una pareja de satélites gemelos de observación electroópticos. Emiratos mantiene en secreto si ha contratado una segunda plataforma para sustituir a la que fue destruida en verano de 2019
PHOTO/CNES-J. Carril - The Falcon Eye project was formed by a pair of twin electro-optical observation satellites. Emirates keeps secret if it has hired a second platform to replace the one destroyed in summer 2019. 

Falcon Eye 2 was initially scheduled to take off on March 5. But failures detected in the final stage of the Soyuz rocket caused it to be delayed. On March 15, the flight campaigns in Kurú were ordered to be suspended, the base was closed and the Russian technicians who operate the rocket left Guiana owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. In April it was scheduled for mid-September, then for mid-October, then for November 30, then for December 1, and finally for December 2.