Tag Archives: CSG

A secretary in the jungle

If you are anticipating a technical blog – stop reading this now, as I am surely the least technical person in the Gaia Project Team. Let me introduce myself, I am Helma, the Gaia project secretary. I’ve been on the project since day one, which is about ten years ago, so I sometimes joke about Gaia being my first baby (I’ve had two actual babies in the meantime). When people ask me why I have to go French Guiana for months I tell them ‘to support our Launch Campaign’. Then I get ‘Yes but what do you actually do?’ Besides the normal work like documentation, handling timesheets, leave requests, and a million...

Gaia ready for fuelling

Towards the end of November, the first part of the Gaia launch preparation was complete: the satellite was 90% ready, with its tanks pressurised. The second part begins with filling the tanks with the appropriate propellants. This phase is particularly dangerous because the propellants are toxic, and there is also a risk of explosion, so it is carried out in a dedicated building. That’s why Gaia had to move from building S1B in the payload preparation complex (EPCU), where it has been since the start of the campaign, to the S5 building to be fuelled. How do you move Gaia from one building to another? Gaia, complete with its sunshield, could not...

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Gaia sunshield deployment time lapse sequence

Here are some nice time-lapse sequences from the deployment test of the Gaia Deployable Sunshield Assembly (DSA) on 10 October 2013, in the cleanroom at Europe’s spaceport in Kourou.     Since the DSA will operate in microgravity, it is not designed to support its own weight in the one-g environment at Earth’s surface. Therefore, during deployment testing on the ground, the DSA panels are attached to a system of support cables and counterweights that bears their weight, preventing damage and providing a realistic test environment. Once in space, the sunshield has two purposes: to shade Gaia’s sensitive telescopes and cameras, and to provide power to operate the spacecraft. Gaia will always...

Pyrotechnic and 24 bangs: The sunshield deployment

Several cameras have been strategically positioned around the spacecraft and programmed to take a picture every 3 seconds. Inside the cleanroom, utter silence pervades, which is interrupted only by the regular clicking of the cameras. Three windows provide a view of the cleanroom from the rooms outside. Behind those windows, the rooms teem with people. All eyes are glued to the spacecraft. The anticipation in the air is sliced by the sudden ringing of a red telephone on the wall. We’ve been expecting the call: the software team is ready to command the deployment sequence. There is only time for one last quick check: are we good to go? The team leader...

Installing the Gaia Sunshield

Six in the morning in Kourou: outside it is still dark, but the thermometers are already reading 24 degrees Celsius, and the relative humidity has remained 92% through the night. After sunrise at 06:18 today, the temperature will climb to reach a maximum of 34 degrees in the afternoon. The Gaia spacecraft, however, is inside the cleanroom, where the temperature is maintained at a constant 23 degrees. Air is circulated through filters to preserve a clean environment, and the humidity in the cleanroom will be kept at about 50%. In the airlock leading to the cleanroom, the Astrium Assembly, Integration and Testing (AIT) team and the SENER Sunshield team are getting ready...

IT Phone home

Being an Information Technology (IT) specialist may not sound as glamorous as some of the other roles that people have out here in Kourou, but it is just perhaps just as important since we all rely heavily on our computers and online communications, not only for a successful launch campaign, but also to stay connected with our families thousands of miles away back home. Being an IT specialist in the jungle also presents with it some unique challenges, but the unusual technical problems are probably the most interesting to deal with! I’m no stranger to Kourou launch campaigns, having worked on Rosetta and Herschel and Planck in the past. Before the Gaia...

From VS-07 to VS-06

Last week was busy with a number of electrical tests performed in two shifts. In practice it has been busier than anyone could have expected. Of course, electrical tests and the life of a team of more than 50 persons inevitably leads daily to a number of questions needing to be answered generally sooner than later. Our preparation was good enough to cover most of this. However, when postponement of the launch of four O3B satellites – originally planned for 30 September – was confirmed, adaption from all parties was necessary. We were originally assigned VS-07 (Vol Soyuz 7) and suddenly became VS-06. Just one digit change should not be dramatic but...

Gaia comes to life – spacecraft ready for switch-...

As soon as brought out of its transport container, Gaia’s verification and preparation for launch could start. The first verification activity allowed to confirm that transport did not impact the alignment of some sensitive equipment like thrusters and star trackers. Then, the Astrium Stevenage team took over and verified the functionality and leak tightness of Gaia’s propulsion systems. This is a must to comply to safety before pressurising gas tanks and loading propellant tanks with dangerous fluids. The picture shows the set-up of the spacecraft in the S1B clean room connected to its fluidic equipment. The next step is the electrical verification. A number of new participants just arrived to support the...

Out of the box – Gaia unveiled

The transport container with the spacecraft was opened on Monday last week in the clean room of the launch centre. In the clean room the air is strictly controlled to a very high level of purity,  the temperature is kept stable at 21 °C and the humidity below 60%. These conditions are very important for Gaia which has very delicate optical systems. Here are some photos showing the phase of opening the container. Above: The container has just been opened and the cover is ready to be lifted. On the left wall one can see the two fans of the redundant air conditioning system. Also the air inside the container has been...

Meet the team: what’s a Project Controller doing all th...

A launch campaign is the final big leap for a space project, where all the teams work hand in hand for several weeks: the ESA Team, the Industrial Team, CNES and Arianespace. It sees a significant number of people, performing different activities, from the critical fuelling of the spacecraft to the exciting pushing of the final button in the control room. But there are other people, working a little more in the background, that are necessary for the smooth running of all the compressed and fast activities during the campaign. For example, what is a Project Controller doing all the way into the jungle, where no programmatic papers nor procurement best practices...

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...