Venus Express ready for 'mating' with upper-stage
The Venus Express spacecraft is now sitting on its Launch Vehicle Adaptor (LVA), ready for the ‘mating’ with the Fregat upper-stage rocket, and only weeks away from launch on 26 October 2005.
Following the completion of the propellant loading, Venus Express was transferred from the Hazardous Processing Facility to the Upper Composite Integration Facility at Baikonur on 30 September. Here, the joining (or mating) of the spacecraft with the LVA, and subsequently with the Fregat upper stage and the payload fairing will take place.
On 1 October, the spacecraft was lifted off the base of its transport container using the facility crane, and was carefully moved over the LVA by a team of specialist mechanical operators from Alcatel Alenia Space Italia (Italy).
The spacecraft was then lowered gently on to the LVA, an operation requiring a very high degree of precision in order to achieve a proper fit of the two items. Because the spacecraft was loaded with half a ton of highly flammable and toxic propellant, all non-essential personnel had to leave the facility for safety reasons.
With this being completed, a specialist team from CASA (Spain) proceeded with the installation of the ‘clampband’. The clampband is a metal band, tensioned to the equivalent of roughly 2.5 tons, that sits around the circular interface section between the spacecraft and the LVA and clamps the two items together.
The clampband includes two pyrotechnic boltcutters, which will eventually be electrically connected to the Fregat upper-stage electrical system. In flight, after injection into the transfer trajectory to Venus, these boltcutters will be fired, thereby cutting the clampband and allowing separation of the spacecraft from the launch vehicle.
The mating procedure was completed by the connection of the spacecraft's electrical umbilical connectors to the Launch Vehicle Adaptor's harness, which is in turn connected to the electrical ground support equipment.
The spacecraft was switched on, and had a short and very basic functional test, which successfully verified the proper connection of all umbilical lines used for telemetry, telecommanding and spacecraft power. It is now ready for the ‘mating’ with the Fregat upper-stage rocket.