Latest instalment from Charlotte Beskow, deputy ATV mission manager, in her mission diary is live below – Ed.

28 September 2012 – Friday

The actual undocking and separation boost went like clockwork… almost.  The automatic undocking command sequence we had loaded on board stopped at one point, waiting for a command that nominally would have been sent by one of the on-board units once it had confirmed that the ATV had separated from ISS. After a very short exchange on the voice loop (quick because at that time we had the video image from the ISS showing ATV moving away) this foreseen situation was handled speedily, i.e. by the ATV-CC ground controllers.

ATV fired its thrusters and gently departed the vicinity of the ISS. This concluded another important step in this mission.

ATV-3 seen shortly after undocking on 28 September 2012. Credit: NASA TV

ATV-3 seen shortly after undocking on 28 September 2012. Credit: NASA TV

Half of the Engineering Support Team (EST) worked the complete night shift and the other half went to bed around 3:00 AM.

29 September 2012 – Saturday

I was on the late shift and so went to bed at 9:00 AM. At noon I woke up. The sky was overcast but I decided to go for a walk. After 45 min I had reached my intended goal, the stadium where a rugby match was to be played that evening (Toulouse home team against Toulon). Watching rugby is fun and I would like to see at least one match, in-situ, i.e. in the rugby crazy city of Toulouse.

By this time it was 14:00, and the sky opened. Having neglected to bring an umbrella  (I was in southern France after all…) I got totally soaked. One hour later I got back to my studio and spent the rest of the evening drying my clothes. Toulouse won.

30 September 2012 – Sunday

The EST team gather at ATV-CC for an ‘almost the end of mission’ briefing.

If all goes well during the night between Tuesday and Wednesday, then ATV-3 will have terminated its mission and we will all head for the airport, leaving no time for an EST briefing.

To compensate for the fact that we are all working on a Sunday (not to mention all the previous as well as the coming days) an EST team dinner is organised after the briefing.

The meeting is efficient. Once you are inside ATV-CC you have no idea of time, day of the week or month of the year and this helps.

The dinner is not a celebration but it is a nice event. Yes, ATV-3 has undocked, but the mission is not yet over, we are all on shift during the coming days as well, to ensure the re-entry.

We have the restaurant to ourselves (normally he is closed on Sundays) and the food is excellent. It gives us all a chance to relax a bit and talk about things not related to work. As mentioned before, the EST team is dispersed between three sites, none of them in Toulouse, and in an effort to keep costs down we keep our face-to face meetings to a minimum, i.e. we only see each other during important ATV operations.

In summary I could describe the ATV-3 mission as the one we, the EST, did not celebrate, viz:

23 March 2012 – 07:30 Launch:  
We do not celebrate; partly because this is the start of our intensive mission-related working period and partly because we have worked though the night, but mainly because the antenna boom did not deploy correctly.  We get the expected telemetry on 25 March, in good time before rendezvous with the ISS.

28 March 2012 – 00:30 Docking to the ISS:
We do not celebrate because at the end of the docking, an operator  inadvertently sends the wrong command to switch OFF some equipment no longer used. This is per se not a problem, but creates an inconsistent configuration that has to be reset. The EST leader decides to have this done at once… teams fall into bed several hours later.

29 March 2012 – Initial hatch opening:
Crew enters, installs a scrubber to remove anything harmful from the atmosphere in ATV, exits and closes the hatch again. The scrubber will run overnight.

29-30 March 2012:
Alarm inside ATV shows that one equipment involved in the interface with the ISS has failed. The ATV on-board systems immediately reconfigure themselves to a safe state. The failure must be investigated ASAP…

30 March 2012 – Final ingress:
Crew opens the ATV-3 hatch a second time and does the final installation of all devices to put ATV-3 into the nominal attached configuration.  

We do not celebrate due to the above-mentioned failure. ATV is in a stable and safe configuration but we are outside our nominal domain and so specific procedures have to be developed and tested in order to address the problem.

This is precisely the task for which we have an EST team, but these things do not happen overnight…

31 March – 24 September 2012:
The ATV-3 mission; we have a few failures to deal with and numerous operations in Toulouse so the team stays flexible and take turns in being on call. Some specialists are more heavily solicited than others; a special thanks to the DRS experts who had a very challenging mission. ECLS also had their work cut out for them… as well as the ESTLs who had to cope with an ever changing workplan. The entire team performed their duties in an excellent manner.

27 September 2012 – Planned date of ATV3 re-entry:
This does not happen due to an error during ATV undocking on Sept 25.  
The EST team’s stay in Toulouse is extended where possible. Luckily we all have tolerant families and friends, but some things cannot wait (removals, selling of property, retirement…). The manning is replanned accordingly.

28 September 2012, 23:44 – Undocking (finally):
ATV-3 undocks from ISS. We do not celebrate because we are now in free flight and have work to do to prepare the re-entry.

3 October 2012, ca. 5-6 AM – new planned date of ATV3 re-entry:
If all goes well, the EST will not celebrate this either. Partly because it will be the wee hours of the morning after a very intensive period but mainly since ATV-4 is already on day 30 of its launch campaign and we all have work to do.

As soon as we have slept a bit (hotel checkout is at noon), the EST heads for the airport. Tomorrow, Wednesday, is a normal working day and an ATV-4 Engineering Control Board has been planned for 9:00 AM – in the Netherlands.

One thing is clear: Murphy, has been very attentive to us throughout the last seven months! In fact he was quite active last night as well, and extended his activities to the restaurant where we had our EST dinner…

As mentioned above, Sunday was normally the owner’s day of rest, but he agreed to organise our dinner for us. Being a serious restaurateur, and only using fresh ingredients, he had gone to the market on Saturday morning to buy what he needed. I had called him before I went to bed after the successful undocking to say exactly how many were coming and the choice of each one. On Sunday morning he starts the preparations…

So all is set… right? No, when he comes in early on Sunday evening he has a nasty surprise. The ceiling in the kitchen has come down!!!! (Water leak on the floor above…). Total disaster. Everything he has prepared must be thrown out and the whole kitchen cleaned.

He seriously considers calling me to cancel, but then rolls up his sleeves and gets to work… Luckily he had purchased fresh food for both Sunday and Monday…

He tells me this after we have finished our dinner and I promptly relay it to the team. We all get a good laugh. It is a fitting story to this mission.

I keep thinking of a line in the excellent movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, where the happy-go-lucky hotel manager desperately repeats after every near disaster “every story has a happy ending. If it not happy then it is not over yet!!”

So here’s to a happy ending on Wednesday morning!

— Charlotte