Entry 9: Last-ever look at GOCE
4 September 2008 – As preparations for the launch of GOCE on 10 September continue on schedule, an important milestone has just been achieved as engineers at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia say farewell to the satellite as it is encapsulated in the two half-shells of the launcher's fairing.
Now sealing the slender five-metre long GOCE (Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer) satellite from view, the protective fairing will not be opened again until around three minutes after launch. Then, two minutes after the fairing half-shells have opened and dropped away, the second stage is released leaving the Breeze-KM Upper Stage to take GOCE to its injection orbit of 285 km above the surface of the Earth. At that moment, the GOCE transmitters will switch on automatically and we will receive the first telemetry signal from GOCE in space.
The process of joining GOCE to the Breeze-KM Upper Stage and placing it in the fairing requires great care and precision. With only 15cm to spare, the spacecraft, which had already been fixed to the Breeze-KM adapter, was lifted and transferred by crane to join the Upper Stage. Once positioned, the procedure to join the two together took place and the now so-called 'Upper Composite' was thoroughly checked. With the launch campaign team satisfied that everything was correct, the final task was to apply the GOCE and Eurockot logo stickers to the outside of the fairing.
The GOCE satellite has been at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome since the end of July 2008 undergoing preparation for launch. Now activities have now turned to rolling-out the Upper Composite to the actual launch pad, which is about 5 km from the spacecraft preparation facilities, and integration with the rest of the launcher. Launch will then take place on Wednesday 10 September at 16:21 CEST (14:21 UTC). The launcher is operated by Eurockot Launch Services, a joint venture between EADS Astrium and the Khrunichev Space Centre (Russia).