From Charlotte at the ATV launch campaign in Kourou over night - Ed.
Monday 30 January
During the very wet and rainy weekend which just passed, the propellant loading teams were busy preparing for the final loading of MON-3, set for Tuesday, 31 January; the teams will start loading 3,360 kg at 06:00. It is done in one continuous operation and it will take them until Friday morning.
The set up is very similar to the loading of MMH, and everything was carefully checked this afternoon.
In parallel, the 'late' cargo has started to arrive. ESA cargo, foreseen to arrive today, actually arrived at the Guiana airport yesterday. And tomorrow's cargo arrived today, so we had a busy evening doing the unpacking. Now all the bags are on their trolleys inside the locked cargo room. Tomorrow, a careful check will be done to see that everything matches up.
Update from Jean-Michel Bois: ATV team readying for launch
ESA's Jean-Michel Bois – head of the ESA operations team at ATV-CC – talks us through the status of ATV Edoardo Amaldi as we enter the final six weeks before launch, now set for 9 March 2012. Jean-Michel spoke with us last Thursday, just as a demanding, two-day simulation exercise for the entire team at ATV-CC was ending.
Jean-Michel talks about the differences between ATV-3 and previous ATV missions, getting the team ready to go and the emotion of watching the cargo vessel docking with the Station.
Hydrazine fuelling complete
Update from Charlotte: The loading of MMH (Monomethylhydrazine – ‘hydrazine rocket fuel’) on to ATV-3 finished in the early hours (Kourou time) this morning. The teams are now busy with the remaining two tasks in the fuelling procedure:
Pressurisation of the system to flight conditions, and
Cleanup & removal of the fluid ground support equipment from the filling hall (in Kourou's S5B building)
Edoardo Amaldi now has 2049 kg of MMH in its tanks!
The next step is preparation of the MON-3 (a mixture of Nitrogen Tetroxide and about 3% Nitric Oxide) loading, and this will keep part of the teams busy over the weekend to ensure that all is set for the actual loading next week.
ESA/CNES mission control team: handling any challenge
Simulation week at ATV-CC
It's a demanding week at ATV-CC in Toulouse as the joint ESA/CNES mission control team work their way through a series of intensive 'real-life' contingency scenarios designed to practice everyone in what to do if anything goes awry during the actual mission. And as ESA's Adam Williams points out in our video report (recorded yesterday during the docking simulation), the training is also designed to get the team to work, well, as a team - "where they can deal with anything thrown at them."
Russian cosmonauts train on ATV at ESA’s astronaut centre
Nice photo today from Lionel Ferra at ESA's European Astronauts Centre (EAC), in Cologne, where he's looking after ATV training for (the very experienced) cosmonauts Gennady Padalka & Yuri Malenchenko, who will be on board the ISS next year when ATV-4 docks as part of Expeditions 31. Where there's smoke, there's... (simulated) fire!
Simulation training at ATV-CC today
This week is a "hard week" at ATV-CC in Toulouse, France, according to ESA Mission Director Daniel Firre. The joint ESA/CNES mission control team is undergoing three days of rigorous simulation training, in which teams must deal with a range of problems and contingency situations that may arise during the real mission, set for launch on 9 March.
Docking simulation training at ATV-CC 26 January 2012. Credit: ESA/J. Harrod
"Today, ATV autonomously entered 'survival mode' - safe mode - just one minute after our until-then nominal docking. We don't know why! We did not yet establish a cable power connection to the ISS, and the ATV solar panels are not getting much sunlight, so we're on batteries and the clock is ticking. We have to figure out what caused the survival mode and fix the problem," says Daniel, speaking during a very short lunch break.
The faults, of course, are all artificially injected into the mission control system (who have no warning or advance notice) by a team of simulation engineers working in a separate room. While stressful, the realistic training is designed to prepare the controllers to handle any possible contingency situation that may occur during the real mission.
Tanking ATV-3 today with 2049kg of rocket fuel
Preparing to load MMH Fuel onto ATV3. Credit: ESA/C. Beskow
This sent in this AM from (a sleepy) Charlotte Beskow in Kourou, where teams today are loading MMH (Monomethylhydrazine - 'hydrazine rocket fuel') on board ATV-3 - Ed.
Today I under-slept... I can blame it on the fact that we will begin MMH fuelling preparations at 06:00 - or on my deteriorating eyesight (I couldn't read the alarm clock very well and only realised my mistake as I glanced at the wall clock before leaving at 04:45!).
We did the inspection of the MMH fuel loading set-up yesterday evening. It is fairly straightforward and consists of a big storage tank (containing 2,900 kg of MMH), 2 filters, a loading panel, a bubble tank (to ensure that the loaded MMH is free of bubbles), piping to the ATV, a line to recover the gas that is expelled as the fuel enters the tank, a waste tank (two, to be exact) and a cold trap which liquefies the fuel vapours (easier and safer to transport).
The system is set up for closed-loop operation which means that in case something goes wrong, the loaded fuel can be emptied back into the Storage tank.
This short paragraph translates, of course, into a lot of hoses, valves and procedures to ensure that we load clean fuel in a safe manner. Just as with loading of Russian fuel (which we did last week) only the Scape-suited operators are actually in the clean room. The test conductor, quality control, safety officers and the ESA representatives are in a separate room following the operations via camera and radio.
In total we are loading a total of 2049 kg of MMH. This will be done in one continuous operation by 9 teams. Estimated duration 30 hours.
Good news this AM sent in by ESA's ATV-3 mission manager Massimo Cislaghi: ATV-3 launch via Ariane flight VA205 is set for 11:00 CET, 9 March, followed by docking at 3:31 CET, 19 March. Note that these dates/times may shift (if so, we'll have news right here in the blog).
Video: In-flight call with André Kuipers on the ISS
André Kuipers has been on board of the ISS since 23 December 2011. From Astrium in Bremen, students called him on 25 January and talk to him about his life as an astronaut.
ATV-3: O2 filling complete – Air loading soon to start
Update from Charlotte in Kourou for Monday AM - Ed.
Oxygen (O2) loading finished late on Saturday. After a short weekend, the teams were back at the S5 building when the facility opened at 06:00 this morning. They are now busy preparing for Air loading.
In about one hour, we will inspect the set-up, a mandatory step before the actual loading can start. We are loading 33.3kg of Air and this will take roughly 4.5 hours.
Times in UTC
6/05 - ATV-4 moves to the BAF for final preparations
8/05 - ESA Operations Readiness Review
20/05 - Late-cargo loading
31/05 - Launch Readiness Review (planned)
5/06 Lift-off VA213 (planned) All dates subject to change