Solar arrays are very sensitive. A special rig helps remove them from the transport containers without damage. Credit: ESA/C. Beskow

ATV-3 launch: Day 59 of the Launch Campaign – Saturday, 15 Oct

The latest update from ESA’s Charlotte Beskow in Kourou – Ed.

What were you doing this morning? Celebrating France’s win in the Rugby Semi finals perhaps?

Here in Kourou the Galileo team were probably savouring the fact that Soyuz, carrying their two satellites, was rolled out to the pad yesterday… their launch is planned for 20 Oct and the VIPs have started arriving!

The ATV preparation teams had something different on their minds: Getting Edoardo Amaldi (ATV-3) ready to mount and test the first of four solar arrays.

A crane is lifting the five-tonne spacecraft onto a stand. Credit: ESA/C. Beskow

This sounds easy but is, in fact, somewhat complicated. The solar arrays are, of course, very sensitive to light and therefore have to be protected at all times. The arrays come in big transport containers. In the picture you see both the container and the rig.

You can also see the unpacked array (the first one of the four), ready and waiting for the next step of the spacecraft integration process.  As you can see, there is a lot more to launching a spacecraft than the spacecraft itself.

The spacecraft has been made ready and is placed on a stand. Since it weighs ca. 5 tonnes, this involves using a crane and being very, very careful.

The place where the solar arrays are to be installed is indicated by the pink protective sheeting.

Six people move nine tons of equipment into the right position. Credit: ESA/C. Beskow

Once this was done, a clampband was installed to allow us to tilt the entire spacecraft. The clampband goes on the interface between the spacecraft and the mechanical support. Once the spacecraft was securely attached to the mechanical frame it had to be tilted and rotated to bring it in line with the deployment rig. This is pretty spectacular and was closely watched by the team.

Next, all that had to be done was to move the spacecraft and align it perfectly with the rig — and then rotate Edoardo Amaldi to bring the fixation points in line with the rig.

Simple right? Actually yes! So how many people do you need to move nine tonnes of equipment? Roughly six (provided you have an airpad system). How do you know where to go? A piece of string on the floor gives the lateral position! And strings hanging from the rig touch the spacecraft.

So all is set for the next step… lunch!

— Charlotte

Editor’s note: Access the full image gallery of the morning’s work via Flickr