Monthly Archives: August 2013

Hard work and a successful launch as reward

At 02:45 this morning, the 2nd Antonov carrying the Deployable Sunshield (DSA) and the remainder of the Ground Support Equipment landed in Cayenne. Waiting to meet it and unload the cargo were the Centre Spatial Guyanais (CSG) transport team supported by Astrium “heavy gang” with representatives from ESA and Arianespace.   This meant a very early start from Kourou for all involved in the activity. Just part of the ups and downs of a launch campaign. The operation went very smoothly and thanks to some welcome “ti” dejeuner with hot coffee kindly delivered by Freelance, we were able to complete the loading of the trucks in good time for the road journey...

Preparing for the arrival of the Gaia sunshield

Today is dedicated for preparations for the arrival of the second shipment with the Deployable Sunshield Assembly and the electrical ground support test equipment. We just heard that the Anotonov has arrived at the airport in Cayenne and the off-load is currently ongoing. It will then be transported by truck to the spaceport. We’ll share pictures once it has arrived. Here is a nice animation showing the deployment of Gaia’s 10m diameter sunshade once in space. Meanwhile, the launch team continues to grow with the arrival of ESA and Astrium members. With the inspection of the satellite successfully completed, preparations continue for the start of the check-out of the propulsion systems. People...

The first days of a launch campaign in French Guiana

Reading the Gaia blog reminds me of the launch campaign of Hipparcos, Gaia’s precursor mission launched in 1989, when I was on training in Kourou to become Range Operations Manager (or DDO – Directeur d’opérations in the French space jargon). I was privileged to be the first non-French staff member seconded by ESA to work for CNES at the Spaceport. In those days, we were launching Ariane 3 and Ariane 4 vehicles. The arrival of a new launch team was always an exciting moment. The DDO and his team had been preparing for many months, and this was the start of a work-intensive project of two to three months leading up to...

Gaia’s first days at the spaceport in Kourou

Just after landing in Cayenne, Felix Eboué airport, the Gaia spacecraft container and accompanying equipment have been transported by trucks to Europe’s spaceport in Kourou CSG (Centre Spatial Guyanais). Due to works on the road and due to the locally famous cycle Tour de Guyane, the transport was tricky to plan, with a risk to be forced to wait a few hours at the airport in case of delayed departure. Thanks to the timely arrival of the plane and to the good preparation, the spacecraft container convoy reached the S1B integration building at CSG in time. During transport under the tropical heat, the atmosphere inside the spacecraft container is controlled using a...

We are in Kourou!

The Antonov 124-100M, transporting the Gaia spacecraft, took off from the Toulouse Blagnac airport at 20:00 on 22 August. I was part of the cargo as passenger together with two Astrium colleagues: one of them, Tommy, was in charge of regularly checking that the temperature and humidity levels inside the Gaia container were always pleasing the spacecraft (those conditions were maintained by two independent air conditioning systems). The rest of the crew were nine members of the flight team (pilots, flight engineers, meteorologist, etc.) and the team of eight in charge of uploading and offloading the cargo, all Russian speaking. After a couple of hours of flight we landed in Porto to...

Gaia shipment to Kourou in Antonov airplane

Yesterday, Gaia was transported in a special convoy from the Astrium premises to Toulouse-Blagnac airport from where it departed for the launch site in Kourou in an Antonov plane. The transport of a satellite to the launch base needs to be handled very carefully and requires unusual means. Therefore, the satellite was put into a container before, in order to protect it from the external environment.       The plane was already waiting at the runway when the container with Gaia arrived: An Antonov 124-100, the second largest plane in the world (after A380), capable to carry up to 150 tonnes.         The 10 tonne Gaia container was...

The next steps: A timeline of the final launch preparat...

The Gaia spacecraft is now safely packed into its container at the Astrium premises in Toulouse where it was built, awaiting its departure end of this week for the launch site. The next time, we’ll see the satellite will be at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. Exciting! Giuseppe will report on the happenings and send pictures from the arrival directly from Kourou next week. In the meantime, let’s have a look at the next steps. In total, some 70 people from ESA and Astrium will be in Kourou, working in two shifts, Monday to Saturday, to get everything ready for launch. Until the launch window opens on 17 November, there are plenty...

Ready for launch!

With the final tests and the Mission Flight Acceptance Review successfully concluded, Gaia is now ready for launch and has been assigned a launch window from 17 November to 5 December 2013. Meanwhile Gaia has been ‘switched off’ and packed, and will be shipped to Kourou in the second half of August in order to prepare for its launch. Ready to go at last! The Gaia spacecraft is seen here at the Astrium premises, being packed in its high-tech case in preparation for shipping to Kourou. The shipment of Gaia will take place in two steps: The spacecraft will leave Toulouse on 22 August at 20:00, landing in the early morning of...

Gaia’s European adventure

In this first entry of the Gaia blog, we catch up with the spacecraft before it departs Europe to Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. The Gaia Flight Model (FM) spacecraft has now completed all the necessary test campaigns and is ready for shipment to the launch site. Acoustic Test Gaia was placed in the acoustic test chamber at the premises of Intespace in Toulouse, France, and subjected to a simulation of the acoustic environment it will experience during launch. The extreme acoustic levels during launch are due mainly to the noise of the launcher’s engines, with a smaller contribution from the airflow over the fairing during the climb through Earth’s atmosphere at...