The satellite is almost ready to make a move from one clean room to another, for mating with the Breeze-KM upper stage that will deploy it into its final orbit. ESA Launcher Interface Engineer Kurt Büchler explains what still needs doing before CryoSat can finally move house.
Tuesday 20 September - Final Software Verification Test - Day 2
I have a late shift today, therefore I have the opportunity to take a walk again (the usual route, as you may expect ...) in the clear morning.
The continuation of the Software Verification Test goes on, with not much to see. However, during the day something unexpected occurs which will keep us busy the following day as well: a few data of the SIRAL instrument are not transmitted. The next day then will be used to demonstrate that this is indeed a software problem - that can be repaired - and not one of the hardware involved. Not to put the reader under too much stress: we finally do succeed! Other than that the SVT is finished as planned.
In the afternoon we get our instructions on the use of the gas masks. As I have explained in a previous entry, the propellant of the Breeze is poisonous and explosive and we have the Breeze inhouse as of the early morning hours of Wednesday. This means that we have to comply with stricter safety rules now. The most important requirement: have a gas mask at hand!
We receive our instructions by a safety officer from the space forces, who demonstrates how quickly a friendly Russian transforms into an alien (and back, of course): it takes five seconds. I must say this makes us aware that really a hazard is present.
The software test running just takes time, but nothing is really happening. I take the opportunity to privately say good-bye to CryoSat. Soon it will leave the clean room.
Wednesday 21 September -The Spacecraft Adapter Comes, Further Testing
Today we have planned a series of software tests to verify the data anomaly of yesterday is related only to software. As you can imagine this results in quite a few teleconferences with ESOC, ESTEC and Astrium, in order to define the best test programme.
At the end of the day we in Plesetsk are convinced, that we do not have a problem, but in the end the board of our Flight Readiness Review in ESTEC requires an additional specific test, before they are prepared to give the go-ahead for mating the spacecraft with the upper stage. This requirement arrives only late here in Plesetsk, so we will have to shift the joint operations to move CryoSat out of our clean room area A into the adjacent area B by one day.
In the meantime the preparations for these activities already had started. The spacecraft adapter is brought into our clean room. This is the interface frame which has two vital tasks: to connect the satellite safely with the launcher during lift-off and ascent, and - when the final orbit is reached – to disconnect CryoSat equally safely from the upper stage.
When the big door opens, we can see the fuelled Breeze as a black cylinder in the background. The interface adapter is mounted onto a massive cylindrical structure. When finally CryoSat is transported to the Breeze, it first will be connected to this adapter. From there these further activities can be performed.
For the fixation of CryoSat onto the adapter mounting surfaces these have to be absolutely levelled. The adjustment of the frame is a task of the Russian specialists. It is nice to see how they perform their work. Suddenly we have an atmosphere of sturdy Russian space technology in our clean room.
A majority group had already left with the first bus, and the smaller group just had to finalise the activities of the day, when we receive the requirement to add some tests tomorrow. This might delay our schedule, but we hope to catch up in the following days.
Thursday 22 September - Farewell, Clean Room A!
We all hope that finally today we can close the software issues of this week in order to continue. So the planned activities are fully focussed on software testing using our EGSE operators to achieve this goal. Therefore no further mechanical activities are foreseen, and the specialists get a day off. They all would deserve it, I must say, after the commitment everyone of them has shown during the past days, but we are determined to come to a positive result.
Finally we are rewarded: the test is successful, and the Flight Readiness Review Board in ESTEC decides (after teleconferences back and forth ...) that the results achieved justify giving us the authorisation to continue. This is a milestone for us and the launch campaign, because it means that now we can leave our clean room and put CryoSat on top of the Breeze upper stage, which is waiting in the adjacent clean room, fuelled and ready to mate with our satellite!
The Russian engineers have worked out a schedule which would allow recovery of the delay time and keep our launch date. It is a great effort from their side. This is very much appreciated. It also means that we can probably maintain our plan for an excursion on Sunday to the Kenozero National Park! (Not too far away, only four hours riding ...)
Suddenly the mood is improved, and after some minor checks and preparations on CryoSat for tomorrow the team decides - at the end of the working day - to take a farewell photo with CryoSat in the clean room. The fact that everyone has a gas mask results in a hilarious alien group photo. Compare and contrast the two photos: the same persons but not all of them in the same position (maybe not even the same clean coat ...). Try and guess who!
On our way back we make a short detour near Mirny to visit the Russian Control Center, called MCC. This will be the place where all information for CryoSat come together on the launch day, and where the final authorization to launch will be given by our project manager. As far as we are concerned, we are ready!