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 placed with a huge crane onto the access ramp.
A winch secured by strong cables pulls the container into the plane.
Finally, the depressurization door was opened to avoid over pressure.
The remaining launch and ground equipment is loaded through the back of the plane. The containers are placed into the plane with the two airplane cranes with 10 tonnes capacity each.
The inside of the passenger zone. That’s were Giuseppe and his colleagues sit during the flight.
The cockpit: The flight team is composed of four people: two pilots, one flight mechanic and a navigator.
After closing the nose of the plane and the back, the aircraft is ready to take off.
This post was originally written in French by Isabelle Desenclos from Toulouse. She has worked in the past months as Quality Assurance engineer on Gaia at Astrium and followed the Gaia loading an the airport in Toulouse yesterday. The full version of this post in French is available in her personal blog.