ATV-3 – 3-7 December 2012: Post-Flight Review
ATV-4 – 18 April 2013: Launch (forecast) = L – 4.5 months…
Tuesday, 3 December 2012
It has been two months since I last provided some information. You’ll be forgiven for thinking that this silent period is due to a bit of post mission peace and quiet… nothing could be further from the truth!
Editor’s note: The latest instalment in Deputy Mission Manager Charlotte Beskow’s mission diary
ATV-3 undocking, initially set for 25 September, took place in two steps due to a mishap in the programming of the communications link (see Extra information on undocking postponement – Ed.). A minor error with no major consequence apart from the ATV rejecting commands sent to it; undocking had to be postponed to 28 September. In theory we could have undocked the following day (i.e. 26th – Ed.) but – like at any busy hub – other tasks were already planned and the replanning of resources (human as well as material) took a bit of time. One of the important things that had to be done was to notify shipping in the planned re-entry zone so that they could keep away (not that there is much traffic in that part of the South Pacific, but still…).
We ended up undocking on 28 September and re-entering on 3 October. As usual, most of our work was done during the wee hours of the morning, leading to a rather tired team turning up for the debriefing on Friday morning, 4 October. Also as usual, this was a drawn-out affair, punctuated by various calls of: “… can I go first because I have very little to report and my flight is leaving…”.
ATV-3 was a very successful mission and the various team members again showed a remarkable ability to cope with whatever came their way.
With plenty of traffic to and from the ISS (Soyuz, Progress, Space-X, HTV), this lead to a lot of ‘nominal’ planning and replanning activities. In addition, we had a few anomalies with our vessel, both human errors and technical errors. None of them were serious but still this made for a relentless pace of work for the entire duration of the six-month mission.
When those of us in Toulouse gathered Friday evening for the ‘end of mission celebration’ it was a low-key affair. With some difficulty we stayed awake until 10 pm….
Monday morning, 8 October, saw us attacking four simultaneous tasks:
- ATV-3 post-flight analysis (urgent since any change had to be quickly identified in order to be ready for ATV-4)
- Continue ATV-4 launch-site preparations (Friday, 5 October, was already Day 32 of the Einstein launch campaign)
- Some updates to the ATV-CC control center during the ‘lull’ between end of the ATV-3 mission and the start of the ATV-4 simulation campaign
- Training of newcomers to the ATV-4 flight control team. As usual there is some staff turnover and the newcomers need extensive training
In addition, the integration campaign in Kourou (for ATV-4) and the post-flight analysis were already turning up some ATV-4-specific problems that had to be dealt with. The following days/weeks seemed to resemble the previous ones, i.e. an unending series of meetings lasting long into the evenings.
Conclusion? Anyone who thinks that this is becoming routine (and there are a few) needs to think again.
Some images from ATV-4 arrival in Kourou
Thursday, 6 December 2012: History repeats itself
Noordwijk, ESTEC: Our Site Services office sends out a travel alert. Brace yourselves for a heavy snowstorm over Benelux. It is expected that traffic (air/rail/road) will be severely disrupted by snow and heavy wind. If you do not have to venture out then stay home..
History repeats itself. We are at the end of three days of meetings to discuss the final list of changes (partly resulting from the ATV-3 post flight analysis and partly from anomalies detected during ATV-4 preparation) that must be done for ATV-4.
Time is short and the board must take decisions quickly. So the room is full of people who, obviously, have travelled from across Europe, and who are all scheduled to depart tomorrow, Friday, 7 December, with evening flights. ESTEC (and all the weather services in Benelux) have just come out with a weather warning. Heavy snowfall is expected and all who can are asked to work from home… The funny thing is that this happened last year, too… and the year before… and if I look in my diary for 2009, we were struck by a freak snowstorm in Houston on the last Friday of the Joint Operations Working Group (4 Dec) — Funny, it never snows in Houston… — causing havoc with our return back to Europe.
We conclude the preparations shortly before 20:00 in the evening…
Friday, 7 December 2012: History repeats itself indeed… Board meeting
I wake in the morning and he snow is falling…
Here’s an image of ESTEC as I get into work after skidding along snowy roads, taking care to avoid getting too close to cyclists, attempting to navigate the snow and wind (and frequently falling over in the process).
The lead system engineer is already here; the secretary of the Board arrives shortly thereafter, properly attired, and confirming that public transport is working.
If nothing else, events like this certainly serve to lighten up the atmosphere!
Thursday, 13 December 2013: Launch campaign continues
ATV-3 is just another memory but ATV-4 is fast approaching the launch. We are on Day 89 of the campaign and Russian water is being loaded into two of the three ATV tanks.
At ESTEC, the Department has gathered all the ATV staff for the yearly Christmas lunch.