From Catherine (ESA), 28 October 2013
This week the satellites will be on the move again. We start the exciting, but complex period of ‘joint operations’ – mating the three satellites with the adapter and the upper stage.
Removing solar panel covers. (ESA/M. Shafiq)
This will last the whole week, if everything goes smoothly as hoped and planned.
Today, the detailed plan of the joint operations will be put into action. Teams from Astrium, Krunichev and the Russian military start to manoeuvre all the pieces into place in preparation.
Inspecting solar panel cover removal, (ESA/M. Shafiq)
The space available in cleanroom 101A is already tight, but nevertheless the satellites have to be moved to make room for the ‘adapter service stand’ and the adapter itself.
The adapter service stand is a working platform that enables access to the underside of the adapter to install the bolts to hold the satellite in place and to facilitate the electrical connections.
The first task to prepare for the joint operations involves moving the satellites to the far end of the hall and stow them in a vertical position.
The doors between the two cleanroom halls are then opened. This afternoon the adapter service stand and all the service equipment needed for mating will be brought into hall 101A alongside the satellites.
Checking the solar panels. (ESA/M. Shafiq)
Another highlight in today’s activities, which was carried out this morning, was to remove the protective covers from the solar arrays and carry out a visual inspection.
Tomorrow, Tuesday, the adapter will be installed on the service stand and all electrical connections completed and checked.
Wednesday is the big day when the first of the satellites will be hoisted into place on the adapter. Transferring the satellite from its current position on the mechanical ground support equipment to the adapter is a slow and delicate process.
Three Swarm satellites waiting for checks in preparation to join them to the launch adapter. (ESA/M. Shafiq)
The satellite will be lowered into position on the adapter and the three brackets of the satellite are then bolted into position. The electrical connections on the satellite are re-installed and checked.
Using the same procedure, the second satellite will follow on Thursday.
Preparing for joint operations. (ESA/M. Shafiq)
The adapter is a circular structure and with two satellites connected in place it is essential that it can be kept stable until the third and final satellite can be connected.
On Friday the third satellite will be hoisted into place on the adapter.
The distance between the satellites is very tight, only 15 cm on the circumference of the adapter so the Astrium team has to manoeuvre the third satellite with extreme care. The task of positioning the final satellite in place will require exact manoeuvring and positioning of the satellite on the adapter and extreme dexterity of the technician to connect the final bolt.
The first Swarm satellite in a vertical position ready to join the launch adapter. (ESA/M. Shafiq)
By Friday evening the three satellites should all be safely connected to the adapter.
However, this is not the end of the week’s tasks. Saturday will see the start of preparations to join the now assembled satellite and adapter stack to the launcher’s upper stage.
On Sunday, which will be 11 days before launch, the satellite and adapter stack will then be mated with the upper stage.
All this will mark the end of a very busy week and will be a critical milestone in our activities to prepare Swarm for launch.
We will try find time to send updates everyday so that you can follow all the steps as they happen.