Journey to launch site completed
Europe’s largest-ever telecom satellite has completed its terrestrial travels and is now set to begin its last and longest journey – climbing into space next month from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.
Alphasat left the Intespace test centre in Toulouse, France on Monday morning for Toulouse Blagnac airport, where an Antonov 124 aircraft was waiting to carry it to Cayenne in French Guiana.
The giant cargo plane is one of the largest of its kind, but inserting the satellite into its hold was a delicate process, with the 20-tonne container leaving little margin for error.
Loading was done by early afternoon, with supporting ground equipment completing the shipment.
The aircraft and its precious space-bound cargo took off at 20:30 CEST on Monday evening. A pit stop in Lisbon, Portugal, filled the Antonov’s tanks for the long Atlantic crossing. Environmental conditions such as container temperature were checked to make sure everything was safe and the intricate technology on board was doing well.
The remaining flight time to Cayenne was around seven hours. An armada of lorries and cranes stood waiting to unload and transport all of the equipment to the spaceport. The temperature of the satellite continued to be closely monitored and controlled, achieved by connecting a remote power supply to the container as soon as the aircraft landed.
The various support containers were unloaded first from the Antonov’s tail. Alphasat was carefully rolled onto a special ramp installed at the front of the plane, and then lifted by crane onto a special truck.
Its journey over, the container was left overnight in an airlock to decontaminate and allow for the environmental conditions to stabilise before opening on Wednesday. The final preparations for Alphasat’s launch on 25 July can then begin.