ATV-2 lift-off on board Ariane 5 ES v200 - view from ATV-CC

ATV-2 lift-off on board Ariane 5 ES v200 - view from ATV-CC

Charlotte Beskow continues to update us on the the progress of ATV. Earlier on Monday, she sent in a detailed review on happenings during the past few days, prior and after the launch. Read more of Charlotte’s story below and after the jump.

Sunday, 20 February: the planners have their hands full!

D+4 and D-4
We live our lives as a function of ‘D-x’. ‘X’ minutes before boost, ‘Y’ minutes before MSU activation, ‘Z’ minutes before health check, etc. With ATV in orbit, the teams in Toulouse are now working 24/7 monitoring the vehicle and uploading the necessary flight commands in order to get ATV to the correct point in space, in the correct condition, and at the correct time in order to start the rendezvous with the ISS on Thursday. Docking is scheduled at 15:45 (GMT) and each activity that leads to that event is calculated and entered into the mission plan as a function of that time. The planners have their hands full!

Feb 16 – launch day

The weather fates contributed suspense to last week’s countdown! Right up to the last 40-50 minutes, I think most of us were mentally preparing for a repeat performance or the previous day’s delay. As it turned out, this was not necessary. When Ariane put ATV into orbit right on time and ‘spot on’ with respect to the intended injection point, everybody drew visible signs of relief as the solar panels deployed correctly. Our colleagues in Toulouse kept us posted about the early operations via SMS messages that arrived at all times. This was very helpful!

Feb 17 – Day after launch

In an ideal world, I would now take a leisurely breakfast and then head off to the office for the post-launch briefing before taking the afternoon flight to Europe. But with the direct flight full, I instead travelled to Paris via Fort de France and Point a Pitre on a flight that left already at noon.

My only regret was not having time to pass by the S5 satellite processing facility in order to say goodbye to all those I had not seen the previous evening and who had contributed to the launch.

It would also have been nice to spend an hour or two relaxing by the pool! However, I was in good company and despite being stuck either in an airplane or in a lounge, I spent a very enjoyable day – reliving the launch and everything that led up to it, swapping interesting stories, and looking at and sharing pictures taken by the others. Emails kept streaming in but for once they contained no actions! Instead, it was a steady stream of congratulations to the ATV teams from people who had followed the launch and who had kept fingers crossed throughout the countdowns.

It was one of those days that you feel like you are on top of the world!

All the long hours that everyone had put in over the past months (and years) had generated the result we hoped for; it was a day to remember. Now, it might be the day after launch, but everyone is busy. The Toulouse teams, for example, have just started their real work.

Astrium thermal and power experts are heading to Toulouse to participate in the EST (Engineering Support Team – the team from the mission project at ESTEC that work together with the mission operations team at ATV-CC ). The Astrium teams (AIT, Fluidic teams and others) are packing the equipment for the return to Europe. We need to clear out from the S5 area ASAP as other satellites are waiting to get in.

Ironically, the ESA team are winding up our activities at Centre Spatial Guyanais, but at the same time, are preparing for our return! Yes, if all goes well with ATV-2, we will be back at CSG with ATV-3 during the summer!!!

At CSG the CNES teams are busy cleaning up after themselves and preparing for the next launch. As I had lunch on the day of the launch the DDO (Mission Director of the launch centre in Kourou) for the next campaign came in, dripping wet with rain. He had just finished installing the next satellites in S1. Busy, busy, busy…

Feb 18

We land at Orly several hours late. I catch my flight to Toulouse, but the luggage doesn’t make it. No big problem except that my chargers are in the luggage… as are my door keys. Oh well, there are spare chargers here and there as well as spare door keys.

Over at ATV-CC, the teams are busy. ATV is performing really well. During the Jules Verne (ATV-1) mission in 2008, we had several alarms on the vehicle, but during the past years we have worked hard on all sides to remove all ‘nominal’ sources of alarms – i.e. adjusting thresholds, streamlining the conditions where alarms are considered valid, refining the parameters used to trigger the alarms, etc., etc. It seems as if this effort is really paying off. Still, it is early days. Too early to relax completely!

We will keep everyone on hand (or on shift) until ATV has docked safely. After that, we have some initial activities during the attached phase – in particular since the Shuttle Discovery will be arriving. After the departure of Shuttle, we can probably finally relax a bit!

Feb 20

Sunday. We are in the ATV Control Room and it could be any day of the week. It could also be any hour of the day or night, since the light never changes! The rooms are relatively quiet; people are working with their headsets and only two operations are planned for today. Both are executed as planned and without any anomalies.

Having spent the last several weeks in Kourou, I need a bit of time to refamiliarise myself with my tools and the set-up. It is a good thing that Johannes is behaving so well. On console, I activate the prepared displays and experience the pleasure of seeing them fill with real data from the vessel. Simulations are all very well, but not every parameter is replicated in a sim (it would be too complicated and too expensive), so when simulating failures individual displays often contain incoherent data. With the ‘real’ telemetry, this problem does not exist.

Our EST role is confined to monitoring, whilst the flight control team, located on the other side of the glass wall, manage the day-to-day operations. We get together at regular intervals to brief each other and to discuss the planning of upcoming events. A NASA representative participates, which is helpful since our activities are so closely linked to those of the ISS. Before leaving my position, I check the status of STS-133 (the Discovery shuttle flight). They are cleared to launch on 24 February – things are moving indeed!