ATV-4 launch 18 April 2013 – L – 4 months
Ariane 5 VA211 launch – L – 8 hours

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

I am back in Kourou… it is a year since I was here but somehow it feels like yesterday. The space world is relatively small and very stable. We tend to stick to our projects until the very end and since many such projects last seven years, or more, we tend to run into the same people at regular intervals. ATV has been running since 1999 (at least in my case); Ariane for much longer. Therefore I start running into colleagues and acquaintances as soon as I enter the lounge at Orly.

Kourou, French Guiana Credits: ESA-S.Corvaja

Editor’s note: The latest instalment in Deputy Mission Manager Charlotte Beskow’s mission diary

ATV-3 preparation is entering the final stages!

 ATV is in the high bay of S5C at Kourou, the very large integration hall located a few km away from the launch zone. It is in two pieces, space craft and cargo carrier. Teams are busy with several tasks in parallel and we are making up for lost time by working three shifts per day and Saturdays.

On the spacecraft side, the teams are preparing for propellant loading. Prop loading is done at another area of S5 (S5B) and since the propellant is toxic there is a lot of logistics surrounding this activity. Most spacecraft load one type of prop (which in itself involves two components, fuel and oxidiser) but ATV needs to load two types. The one it will use itself (MON and MMH), and the fuel we carry for the Russian segment of the ISS (860 kg of UDMH/NTO).

All in all it takes more than eight weeks to load propellant; the actual loading of each type is done fairly quickly (roughly 24-hour shifts per type). The remaining time is to set up the equipment , check the set-up, bring in the fuel component, prepare it for loading, loading, removal of leftovers, cleaning of equipment, set up of equipment for the next component, etc.

18.12 – Tuesday morning

As I come down to breakfast, I immediately run into a host of colleagues so the morning conversation naturally turns towards ongoing launch campaigns. This is, as always, a fascinating topic – and a non-exhaustive topic.

ATV-4 assembly Credits: ESA/CNES/Arianespace/Optique Video du CSG

This is my first day on the ATV-4 campaign in Kouoru. This means that after the morning meeting, I attend the safety training. Even though I have done this three times already it is good to do it each time. Spectacular images from a launch failure in 1996 serve as a reminder that accidents do happen and that safety is indeed the responsibility of each and everyone of us… all the time.

The day flows smoothly and I fall into bed at 20:15 (early, yes but there is a 4-hour time difference from Europe).

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

After over 10 hours of sleep and a quick breakfast I head for the office. It feels like I have not quite digested the end of ATV-3 and I have a bit of difficulty grasping that ATV-4 is entering the final preparation stage.

On the cargo carrier, preparations are under way for two activities:

  1. ATV Jules Verne interior Credits: ESA

    Check the interior of the ATV to see that it conforms to what is expected. This is very important because when crew enters ATV in orbit, everything must be as foreseen and as per the various procedures. Anything else constitutes an unnecessary risk/delay/irritation. You know what is like to follow a procedure written by someone who never tried using it…! So what we do is ensure that everything that is mentioned in the procedures matches the reality that crew will see. Silly things happen all the time: labels upside down, labels swapped, missing labels, cargo fixations that are stuck, covering nets attached in such a way that you cannot access the equipment located behind them, etc. This will be checked during the night shift today.

  2. The other activity being prepared is the nominal cargo loading. ESA and NASA cargo has arrived, packed in special bags. A stowage plan has been worked out to ensure that the cargo fits and that the ATV centre of mass is exactly where it is supposed to be – this is very important during launch and flight. Loading the nominal cargo is almost the last task before activities stop over the Christmas period.  CSG closes its doors 22 December in the morning and only opens again on 3 January. This gives the ATV Kourou teams a well deserved rest.

Ariane 5 launch Credits: ESA/CNES/ARIANESPACE-Service Optique CSG

To add a bit of excitement to the activities this week, there is a launch tonight!

It is the 7th Ariane flight in 2012.

Info from the Arianespace website: (you can watch the live video transmission this evening via

The launch window opens at 22:49 Paris time, and closes at 00:08 tomorrow morning. Carrying the Skynet 5D secure military relay platform and Mexsat Bicentenario telecommunications satellite, the mission will bring a busy 12 months to a close – during which Arianespace already has performed six heavy-lift Ariane 5 flights and two medium-lift Soyuz launches from French Guiana, along with its support for the lightweight Vega’s debut at the Spaceport. 

In addition, the company’s Starsem affiliate launched one Soyuz from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

For Arianespace’s year-ending mission, its Ariane 5 rolled out today from the Spaceport’s Final Assembly Building to Ariane Launch Complex No. 3, where it is scheduled for today’s liftoff. 

Skynet 5D will be released first during the mission, deployed at 27 minutes after liftoff from the upper passenger position in Ariane 5’s payload ‘stack.’  It will be followed by Mexsat Bicentenario’s separation nine minutes later.

This is the 211th mission of an Ariane family launcher, and will be the 67th Ariane 5 launch to date. The flight’s total payload lift performance is an estimated 8,635 kg, which includes approximately 7,735 kg for the two satellite passengers.

We enter the ATV at 18:00 so we are not able to watch the launch (takes place 18:49 Kourou time). On the other hand we have all evening, so I’ll probably go out in the parking lot when lift off draws near.

— Charlotte