ATV-3 Launch minus 7 weeks - Day 125 of Launch Campaign
ATV-3 Docking minus 8 weeks and... ATV-4 Launch minus 1 year and 2 months
Latest update from ESA’s Charlotte Beskow in Kourou. This post written Friday 20 January – Ed.
16 Jan - Monday
I split my day between working here (physically and mentally) and preparing for the JORR (Joint Operations Readiness Review – see Jean-Michel Bois' report here – Ed.), which will take place tomorrow (17 Jan) in Toulouse. Today's technology allows me to connect via the Internet and follow the presentations in real time. Via phone and a conference call, I can participate almost as if I were present. The only drawback is the four-hour time difference.
17 Jan - Tuesday
I wake up when the alarm goes off at 03:45. At 04:30, I am at my desk, with the system up and running. When we break for lunch my watch shows 08:45, perfect! I am just in time for the daily meeting here at CSG. Trouble is, that when that is over, the JORR resumes. Never mind...
18 Jan - Wednesday
It rains enormously! Inside our offices, all is dry, and I manage to get out by 19:30. Just in time to get to the local cinema. Tonight is the last chance to see Les Intouchables, a French film that has gotten excellent reviews.
It was absolutely great! See it, even if you do not speak French. You'll understand anyway...
19 Jan - Thursday
You know you are in the right job when the message that you can also work on Sunday is greeted with a collective smile!!
This is what happened this morning. For various reasons we were running a bit behind schedule and needed to find an additional 16 hours to prepare for the final part of propellant loading. Saturdays were already booked, and night shifts are not allowed, so there were few options that would allow us to meet the target date to transfer ATV-3 to the BAF (Final Assembly Building) on 7 February.
CSG gave us the 'good news' this morning just as the final loading of Russian propellant got under way. We were all relieved!! The planning had been prepared under the assumption that this extra day would be granted and so we were able to conclude the planning meeting fairly quickly.
For obvious reasons (safety requirements - Ed.) we could not be present in S5B for the NTO (Nitrogen Tetroxide) filling – but TV monitors allow us to follow the action.
I can also follow what is happening from a special room where the test supervisor reads out the instructions, one by one, to the operators. There were three teams involved today and the loading of 560 kg of NTO was scheduled to take ca. 14 hours. In parallel, the teams were setting up the equipment we will need to load oxygen and air. This activity is planned for Saturday and Monday.
First, they set it up in S5C, then they check it for cleanliness and leak tightness, and then, tomorrow (20 Jan), move it all over to S5B. The reason, of course, is that while fuelling is going on in S5B nothing else can be done. This launch campaign is a lot about planning, logistics, pragmatism and attention to the myriad (if mundane) details associated with moving around large quantities of equipment.
20 Jan - Friday
Woke up super-early because of the noise made by the people setting up the local market beneath where I am staying. I got to the office really early, but others are there before me. The NTO loading teams have been there since 06:00 and are now busy emptying the various ground support equipment and removing all the toxic remains. Everything needs to be cleared up and removed before we can start setting up for the oxygen loading.
The meeting to give the 'Go Ahead' for that takes place in the afternoon.
We have one question for Europe and try to get hold of the system engineer. It is 21:00 in Bremen... we call, but no reply so we leave a message. A little later he calls back. He had just stepped off the plane. 'No problem', he says with a smile in his voice: 'You can call me tomorrow and we'll sort it out'
The meeting concludes with an 'OK' to load - plus a few actions to close before the actual loading between now and tomorrow morning.
As I write, the set-up is still ongoing and will only finish late this evening, so we have agreed to meet tomorrow morning at 06:00 to check everything. The nice thing is that no one protested - no groans or complaints around the table. Everyone just nods and says 'OK.'
Affaire a suivre, as they say…
PS: I keep using the terms 'S5B', 'S5C' and 'BAF' – so it's time to explain what these refer to...
In case you are wondering what the rectangular lights above S5C and S5A are, the simple answer is that these are pictures from a poster hanging inside S5C!