Tag Archives: Kourou

Video report from Kourou on L-1

ESA's Gaia mission is set for lift off from Kourou to produce an unprecedented 3D map of our Galaxy by mapping, with exquisite precision, the position and motion of a billion stars. Lift off is currently scheduled for 10:12 CET, 19 December 2013, on top of a Soyuz launcher from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou. This highlight video provides background scenes from Kourou, showing final integration of the launcher, installation of the aerodynamic fairing, mating of the upper composite to the launcher and roll out to the launch pad. It also includes statements by Giuseppe Sarri, ESA's Gaia Project Manager, and Timo Prusti, ESA's Gaia Project Scientist.

Installation on the launch adapter

Following the filling of the tanks, the Gaia satellite enters the Combined Operations Phase: the “COP”. This involves all the different stages by which the satellite is put on to the launcher, the launcher is put on the launch pad, and the launch itself. All of the activities on the satellite are carried out at this time according to a schedule established by Arianespace, who also manage all of the active participants of this combined phase: Astrium as the prime contractors of the satellite, Roscosmos for the Russian launcher, RUAG for the payload adapter and the clamp band, Arianespace or its subcontractors for the electrical testing of the launcher, and CNES for...

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...

Gaia is whole again

After a month full of uncertainties, Gaia transponders are back and in good health. Following their business class return flight to Kourou, both Gaia transponders have been re-integrated in the spacecraft, re-connected, and functionally verified. At the completion of five days of intensive testing, all results were positive, allowing the re-installation of the solar array panels and of the multilayer insulation (MLI) blankets, which had to be removed for operator access (see picture). This progress allows the team to reaffirm the recently agreed launch date of 19 December. As of Monday 25 November, we will be able to resume the spacecraft preparation, beginning with pressurisation of the gas tanks. This is a...

We are back!

Of course you have all noted that when we started our blog the launch date of Gaia was 20th November and now the countdown to launch shows 20th December. Why is that? Let’s start from the beginning. On Saturday, 19th October, at about 16:30 when I was shutting down the computer in my office in Kourou and preparing for a sunny Sunday, I received a phone call from the person responsible for one of the key systems embarked on the spacecraft. There had been a failure on a satellite already in orbit and the analysis of the failure pointed towards a design mistake. The consequence was that the lifetime of a tiny...

Some Gaia numbers

We have heard and read many numbers about Gaia: the number of stars and other objects that it will observe, the maximum observable magnitude, the microarcsecond of accuracy and the remarkable focal length of 35 m. We have also read that such a powerful telescope on Earth would be able to detect a button on the spacesuit of an astronaut on the Moon. But let’s look at more hidden numbers. It took over 3.5 million hours to study, design, build and test Gaia. That’s about 300 people working full time for 7 years, spread over 74 different companies and 16 countries. Meanwhile the design and implementation of the science and the operations...

The pieces of the puzzle are coming together

The activities on the spacecraft are almost finished. The great achievement of last week was the smooth deployment of the sunshield. The Astrium and Sener teams are now giving the final touch to configure the satellite for flight. This week we will check for the last time the leak tightness of the propellant tanks and then Gaia will be ready to move to another building (called S5A) where it will be fuelled. With Gaia almost ready it was time to have a look to other pieces of the puzzle. We therefore paid a visit to the MIK building (MIK is the Russian acronym for the huge hall where the three stages of...

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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...

Trip of a lifetime: Young ESA’s visit to Kourou

Ever flew over Kourou? Ever climbed a palm tree? Ever slept in a hammock in the jungle? Ever been to paradise with the devil around the corner? We, some of the Young ESA members, were the lucky ones who actually experienced it all in French Guiana two weeks ago. It was possible thanks to the perfect organization of Juan de Dalmau who guided us for a week through the culture, nature and spaceport – and yes, it was great fun! We had the chance to learn about the culture in French Guiana as well as taste the rainforest life! During the first days we visited Cayenne and its traditional market, spent some...

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...