Entry 20: Encapsulation
9 March 2009 – After the spacecraft was mated with the Breeze Upper Stage last Friday, operations at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome continued in earnest over the weekend, achieving another significant milestone in the launch campaign – encapsulation.
Encapsulation is an operation that takes great care and precision as the half-shells of the launcher's fairing are gently closed around the GOCE satellite.
The entire launch campaign team was there to say good-bye as the slender spacecraft was gradually sealed from view. The protective half-shells will not be opened again until they are jettisoned around three minutes after launch.
Prior to encapsulation, the very last inspection was performed to make sure, for example, that nothing had been left behind by the Khrunichev crew whilst they had been tightening the fasteners that hold the spacecraft and preparing to close the fairing.
Following the encapsulation procedure, which went very smoothly, a large 'GOCE' label was applied to the outside of the fairing – which the team members all signed.
The spacecraft was then turned on to check the electrical connections after mating and all was fine!
As the configuration now comprises the Upper Stage, the satellite and fairing, it is referred to as the Upper Composite – and is due to be rolled out to the actual launch pad on Tuesday 10 March. Here it will join the rest of the launcher and made ready for lift off at 15:31 (CET) on Monday 16 March.