This week the time came to take one last look at CryoSat, as the launch fairing was sealed around the satellite. After that, as ESA Launcher Interface Engineer Kurt Büchler recounts, was a relatively quiet period for the team but a busy time for CryoSat itself.
Monday 26 September - Encapsulation
Today CryoSat will be placed under the fairing of the Rockot. Before that can happen, all non-flight items have to be removed. These for example are big hoisting brackets, protection covers of optical instruments or other sensitive surfaces, or tiny fastening screws. Normally they are coloured red or else they have a red label or ribbon. Therefore they are called red-tagged items. The last ones have been removed this morning. Of course there is an exhaustive list, and Klaus and Bill have arranged all removed items in systematic order and carefully tick them off the list.
When this is done the go-ahead for encapsulation can be given. One half of the fairing is already sitting on the encapsulation stand and is now moved connected to its support rig towards CryoSat. The second half is lifted by a crane onto the stand and can be cautiously moved with a hand wheel towards its counterpart. This operation is witnessed from all sides to make sure that there are no obstacles or that no thermal insulation gets squeezed in between. I can see the gap getting smaller and the gold coloured insulation of CryoSat disappears. That is the last view I have of the satellite.
The supporting rig now is removed and the upper composite can be seen unobstructed. Actually there is nothing else we can do in the MIK today, the day had been planned with some margin. So we can leave a little bit earlier and still enjoy the beautiful late summer evening.
Tuesday 27 September – Setting up the undertable room
Since we have handed over CryoSat to the upper stage, for the next few days we do not have the busy schedule like we had during these last weeks. So we can start an hour later. This will change again at the end of the week, when the upper stage will be rolled out and be transported to the launch tower for mating with the launcher.
Today's main activity is setting up the equipment in the so-called undertable room. Its entrance leads down a staircase to a corridor into a little room directly under the launch table - hence the name. Here we place electronic equipment that needs to be connected as close as possible via the 'umbilical cable' to CryoSat. This cable harness leads from the undertable room through the launch tower up to the satellite. Electronic units are needed there which allow us to monitor and control the status of the satellite until shortly before the launch, and which are connected to ESOC in Germany (via a normal ISDN data line) and to the MIK.
First the electronic racks have to be brought into the vault (the other nickname given to the room) which is not an easy task. Our strong men Martin, Wolfgang, Manfred and Fritz are hampered by a narrow corridor and obstacles like piping on the ground, but they manage, and finally the racks are placed in the vault.
Thomas and Bill are busy during the following hours to connect everything, to set up a connection with the MIK and with ESOC, and to make sure that ESOC can control the units as required, which is done with a test.
At the end of the working day everything is set up and works without problems. So we are prepared for the next milestone activity before the launch: switching on CryoSat when it is sitting on top of Rockot. This is planned for Sunday.
For today we are off early and can enjoy the wonderful warm weather.
Wednesday 28 September – Tidying up and visiting the space museum
L is the launch date 8th October, L-10 means we have ten days to go.
There is not so much to do during the days between encapsulation and roll-out. We now can deal with issues which had second priority in the past busy weeks. Bill is refining the launch procedure and the countdown manual, we have to agree and adjust it with all parties involved, Eurockot, Khrunichev, the Space Forces, ESOC...
We define which information we would like to see on the launch display in the MCC control centre. First of all of course is the Universal Time (UTC). Launch will take place at 15:02 UTC, this corresponds to 17:02 Central European Time and 19:02 local time in Plesetsk. Then of course countdown information is required. In fact we will not have a countdown to lift-off, but to a rocket internal parameter, which is called 'end of gyro setting'.
From this point in time all further events follow a strict time line: ignition, separation of the various stages and finally of CryoSat. This essential time parameter will also be used by ESOC. For the countdown however, it means that nothing visible will happen at zero time. About 11 seconds later the engines will be ignited, and after a further three seconds the lift-off will take place. During these 14 seconds the display will blink.
I don't know if this display will be publicly broadcasted. If this is the case here for all viewers: do not panic when there is no lift-off at zero!
I visit the clean room A. Wolfgang and Fritz are busy packing equipment in containers and the radiation wall is disassembled. I get a nice family picture of the mechanical equipment used. We also have a look at our logo which is going to be applied on the fairing. We were not so happy with it before: the white lines were not wide enough. The Space Forces had helped us and done a very good job. So this will look good on the launcher!
For the afternoon we are invited to the local space museum. It is not open to the public, so we are happy to have the opportunity. A lady guides us through the two big rooms with documents, photos, models, real hardware and a very realistic diorama of a Soyuz launch. I also like the glass cabinets with original Russian red-tagged items, because I have seen the same on CryoSat recently.
Thursday 29 September- Launcher activities and Spätzle
This is another quiet day, something to catch breath before next week which presumably will be very hectic. The only activity we have as a particular item today is to check that the ESA-CryoSat logo has been applied to the fairing. It basically will be visible in the last minutes before lift-off, when the service tower is retracted from Rockot and the launch tower proper. Then the upper half of the fairing can be seen sticking out of the transport and launch container. It has to look good for the official photographs!
Wolfgang steadily continues packing stuff in containers and preparing the transport back home. The Upper Composite has been transported to the main hall. It carries the thermal cover which it also will have on Saturday, when it will be rolled to the launch pad.
The thermal car, that will accompany it, produces a constant thermal clean environment by means of powerful generators. This makes the transport independent from nearly all weather conditions. Everything is connected and running as a test for Saturday. Also the electrical connections of the Breeze itself have been checked today: Status green. After that the Upper Composite is brought back to clean room B.
So these were the minor issues. The big one today: Astrium has invited everybody for Kässpätzle. This probably needs some explanation. Kässpätzle are a specialty of southern Germany. Main ingredients: flour, eggs, cheese, onions. A simple recipe, a lot of work: the dough has to be worked on, pressed through a special sieve into boiling water, onions have to be prepared (and you know what that means!) cheese put over it, put in the oven ... And all this for about 40 people.
Martin, Manfred, York, Reiner and Thomas did a great job, much appreciated from our guests from the Space Forces and Khrunichev as well. Thanks for this evening, I really felt a little bit at home!
Friday 30 September – Day off
Today's activities in the MIK will concentrate exclusively on the preparations for the roll-out tomorrow. There is nothing for us to do, therefore the majority of the team has a day off and only a few are in the MIK to monitor the activities there.
I have a free day, so I take my usual walk through Mirny. I pass the memorial which before I had taken for a general space monument, but now I know better. I have heard about it during our visit in the Space Museum.
In 1980 there was a big catastrophe in the Cosmodrome when a fuelled rocket exploded on the launch pad during service works. 48 people died, mostly young soldiers. It was a big setback for the Russians at that time. I take a few minutes to decipher some names on the commemorative stones.
In a little supermarket I buy some dark bread (which I like), cheese and fruit. Back in the hotel I am reading a book, exercising on the fitness machines, then off to the sports hall. The team has a friendly game against the Space Forces. They are all here from CryoSat to either play or watch. I join the watchers. Marc is here as well with his plastered leg and his Russian crutches, he is in a good mood, and even cannot stop himself to mutter complaints against some strategic moves. Sports fans ...!
Our team really is a match for the Russians this time. They can keep the game open for quite a long time. The first two sets are only just lost, the third one is then won. We see good actions, quick reactions and much commitment from all players. In the fourth set then the concentration is getting weaker – after more than one hour played with full steam - and finally the game is lost. This was great and a pleasure to watch. Of course a few toasts are given when we meet the Russian team later for a snack. I suspect we have some sore muscles in our team tomorrow!