CryoSat undergoes final testing before launch
With the launch of ESA’s ice mission just six months away, the CryoSat satellite is currently undergoing a period of crucial final testing before being shipped to the launch pad in Russia. This series of demanding tests began in August, and so far the results have been excellent.
At the beginning of last month the CryoSat satellite was shipped from the prime contractor Astrium GmbH’s facility in Friedrichshafen, Germany (where all the components of the spacecraft had been tested and pieced together), to the Space Test Centre at IABG (Industrieanlagen Betriebsgesellschaft mbH) in Ottobrunn, Germany. Here, the spacecraft is being thoroughly tested to make sure that it is compatible with the Rockot launch vehicle and that it will withstand the rigors of the launch.
CryoSat will be the first Earth Explorer satellite to be realised as part of ESA’s Living Planet Programme. Over three years this mission will determine rates of change in the thickness of polar ice-sheets and floating sea-ice to improve our understanding of the relationship between the Earth’s ice cover and global climate. Although it was hoped that CryoSat would launch at the end of this year, last minute difficulties encountered in the procurement of some high quality, space-qualified, electronic components have delayed the launch until 25 March 2005.
The mechanical tests were successfully completed earlier this month. This is considered a major achievement since, contrary to the standard approach of building a satellite, no mechanical model of CryoSat was developed to be tested. Guy Ratier, the CryoSat Project Manager stated that, “The success of this innovative cost-saving approach is the clear outcome of the experience and know-how gained by the European space industry in previous projects. CryoSat project development is based on this extremely valuable heritage.”
The mechanical tests involved such things as a ‘mass property test’ sequence, which proved to be in excellent agreement with predicted performances, a ‘fit-check test’ to make sure that it can be attached to the launcher correctly and a test to simulate the separation of the satellite from the launcher (a short video of which can be seen from the link on the right-hand bar). The satellite then underwent conventional vibration tests to confirm that it will survive the shock and vibration that is experienced during the launch and flight.
Following the successful outcome of the mechanical tests, the spacecraft is now being prepared for the long series of electrical tests before entering the ‘Thermal Chamber’ for environmental testing. However, the results of these tests will not be available until the beginning of next year.
These tests will mark the final stage in the development of the mission, after which the satellite is scheduled to be shipped to the launch site in Plesetsk, Russia in mid-February 2005.