Update from Charlotte Beskow in Kourou on the start of ATV-5 fuelling. We’ll get some photos later – Ed.

16 May – Friday

With ATV-5 now in the filling hall, S5B, it is time to proceed with the next big block of activities: loading of propellant and gas.

These are hazardous activities, so we proceed in a very precise and methodical manner. This means we do one step at a time, with a check point in between each, to make sure all the ‘t’s are crossed and the ‘i’s dotted.  These operations have been done five times already so every step is, of course, well known, but this doesn’t change anything. We are as careful as if it was the first time.

While the team preparatory meeting was going on, so was the setting up of the necessary ground support equipment as well as the transportation of fuel drums, etc.

We hold a meeting to authorise the first step in this process: UDMH loading.

(UDMH is a highly potent rocket fuel – Ed.)

17 May Saturday

The meeting continues with the discussion of some open points. While we ‘slave away at our computers’, the Russian Fuel System (RFS) loading teams are busy in S5B finalising the set up.

At the end of the working day we inspect the set up, i.e., check that the connections are correctly made. The system is simple yet very smart: a very complex diagram shows each unit, each control panel, each valve and each line. Each connection point has a label and each line has a big label at each end. So, doing a check is quite simple – follow the line and check the label. The labels are large with big lettering. Good thing considering the number of years I have been on the project! Diagrams that I could easily read for ATV-2 now require strong glasses… 🙂

19 May Monday

All is ready but we need yet another meeting to close out two actions. The start decision comes just in time, and the team speeds off to S5B to begin the first irreversible step, preparing the tanks for receiving fuel. Tomorrow morning we start loading 150 kg UDMH into each of the tanks!

So what does UDMH stand for? ‘Unsymmetrical DiMethylHydrazine – quite a tongue twister – which is why no-one ever says the full name…

–  Charlotte