Juicing up our satellite: MetOp-B fuelled
From Luca (ESA), Baikonur, 31 August
MetOp-B’s Reaction Control System (RCS) – the mission's thrusters – has been fuelled and pressurised in preparation for launch on 17 September.
Fuelling MetOp-B Credit: ESA
The satellite was transferred to Starsem's Hazardous Processing Facility for the operation and a specialist team from Astrium carefully checked their equipment before operations could begin. The tank of thruster fuel (MetOp uses hydrazine propellant for propulsion. ) was also transferred from the storage area to the facility.
Hydrazine is a hazardous chemical and has to be handled carefully to ensure the safety of both personnel and the spacecraft. Hydrazine is highly flammable and also poses health risks if it comes in contact with skin or is inhaled. The team therefore have to wear protective suits with an air supply for fuelling operations.
The operators are specially trained to work in these suits while they transfer the propellant to MetOp-B’s RCS. The operations are directed from a remote control room under close supervision.
Monitoring hazardous fuelling operations Credit: ESA
The RCS has now been loaded with several hundred kilos of hydrazine and pressurised ready for launch. The next thing is to transfer the satellite to the Upper Composite Integration Facility for mating with the launch adaptor and the Fregat upper stage, before encapsulation in the launcher fairing.
MetOp checked for fuelling
From Nick (ESA), Baikonur, 24 April
Final health checks on MetOp-B’s Reaction Control System (RCS) have been completed in preparation for fuelling.
Checking the Reaction Control System
The RCS consists of tanks that will contain the Hydrazine fuel pressurised with Helium gas, and several small thrusters that can be used to adjust the satellite’s orbit after separation from the launcher.
The specialist team from Astrium Ltd, who prepare the RCS for launch, arrived in Baikonur in mid-April and quickly began to test the RCS to make sure everything was working correctly following shipment.
Tests include functional checks of the valves and pressure transducers, a calibration of the pressure sensors and tests to ensure there are no leaks and that the satellite is safe before activities begin to load the propellant. A Helium-tuned mass spectrometer is used to detect and measure any leakages.
In SCAPE suits
In parallel, the team also prepared the equipment for propellant loading. Hydrazine is a hazardous and highly flammable chemical so has to be handled very carefully to ensure the safety of the team and the satellite. There are also health risks if in contact with skin or inhaled.
For this reason, the team have to wear what is known as a SCAPE suit. This stands for Self Contained Atmospheric Protection Ensemble and is basically a protective suit with an air supply that allows the wearer to work safely. The operators are specially trained in working with Hydrazine whilst wearing these suits.
The RCS tests have all been completed and everything is ready to begin the loading of the propellant, making MetOp-B ready for launch.