Down to the last burn

The Breeze M has completed its 3rd and 4th burns, and the additional propellant fuel tank has been jettisoned. The vehicle is now in a five-hour coasting period. The 5th, and final, burn will occur at the end of this period. The 5th burn will last about 7 minutes, and about 15 minutes after that we will have separation of the Ciel II spacecraft. We’ll let you know the mission is complete the moment we have confirmation.

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2nd Burn

The Breeze M’s second burn has been completed successfully. The third burn will start in about two hours. Once the third burn concludes, the Breeze M will shutdown and jettison the additional propellant tank. Moments later, the Breeze M’s 4th burn will begin. We’ll confirm completion of the 4th burn as soon as we have official word.

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L-1

[img]/assets/Images/Media/Ciel-2-Blog/On-the-Pad.JPG[/img] The final launch countdown rehearsal went smoothly, and we are no longer tracking the upcoming launch by days. With the passing of 9:30am Sunday local Baikonur time, the 7/701 script is now running by hours. All thoughts are focused south to Launch Pad 39 and the integrated launch vehicle (ILV). One of the many traditions that our Russian partners have is the blessing of the ILV. Built into the script is a visit from one of the local Russian Orthodox priests to give his blessings and douse team members and the ILV with holy water in preparation for the upcoming launch. It is a very solemn Russian rite of passage for all of their launch vehicles, and no one is about to break from tradition at this point in the campaign, regardless of how cold the weather may be.  For those participating in the blessing for the first time, it’s quite an eye opener! Final checks and balances are being performed. At 11:00 a.m. Wednesday, 10 December Baikonur local time, there will be one final meeting with the State Commission. At this gathering, all parties will agree that the ILV is ready for fuel loading. Now the only thing we will wait to hear from all parties: The spacecraft and the ILV are “GO FOR LAUNCH!!!”

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Rollout to Launch Pad/Verticalization, L-4 Days and Counting …

[img]/assets/Images/Media/Ciel-2-Blog/Arriving-at-the-Pad.JPG[/img] Another early start to another day of the campaign, and it’s back to our work clothes from playing dress-up. After receiving the okay to roll to the pad, it is time to send the integrated launch vehicle (ILV) on its trip to Launch Pad 39.  The train was hooked up early Sunday morning. Once we reached the traditional 6:30 a.m. (local) departure time, the convoy was off on its two and a half hour journey.  With the train and ILV on its trip, the team headed back to the hotel for a hearty breakfast.  The rather uneventful train trip out to the pad could be watched from various points around Area 95. After breakfast, the team piled into the bus and headed out to the launch pad.  Everyone who wanted to attend was permitted to go on the pad deck to watch the incredible sight, as the assembled ILV rolled horizontally into position next to the flame bucket. Then it was hydraulically rotated to its vertical launch position. The Russian videographers and photographers at this milestone event took many pictures and interviewed the program directors of Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, ThalesAlenia Space, and International Launch Services.  The one common denominator of all the interviews: This entire campaign has been a TEAM effort on everybody’s part. It has been a top-notch team working together from every aspect. From spacecraft offload, to standalone operations, to joint operations: Everything to date has performed right on schedule. It is, as they say, a truly well-oiled machine The anticipation continues to build as we move from the daily schedule to what is referred to as the 7/701 script. This is the official countdown schedule that will bring us to launch day!

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Rollout Commission Meeting, L-5 Days to Launch

Breeze M fuel loading was completed right on schedule late Saturday afternoon. As we like to say after every important milestone, “Everything was nominal!” Considering the hazardous nature of the load operations, “nominal” is the RIGHT answer! Time to send the integrated launch vehicle (ILV) on its final journey prior to launch: transport to Launch Pad 39. Before that can happen, all parties involved in the campaign must get together for the Rollout Commission Meeting. This is a gathering of the heads of the myriad organizations involved in launching Ciel II. They gather for an official signing of a certificate stating that everything is go for transport to the pad and that pad operations can commence. Everyone from the spacecraft contractors to the local representatives of the electric company gave their “thumbs up” on the upcoming transport.  It is also an evening to put away the typical “working uniform” of jeans and sneakers to dress up and look good in jackets and ties. It was almost hard to recognize the participants!

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Breeze M Filling Up

It is Friday morning and L-5 days to launch. After two relatively quiet days of Integrated Launch Vehicle (ILV) checks, it is time to move it to the Breeze M fueling station. This is day one of two days of one of the more hazardous operations that will take place during a launch campaign. The ILV is positioned on a specially designed rail car – it needs to support the entire length and mass of a fully integrated Proton M launch vehicle! With the ILV ready to roll, the troops gathered outside of Hall 111 in anticipation of the transport.  It’s breathtaking to watch the horizontal ILV roll slowly out of the building. The only thing that could bring on more goosebumps would have been Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” playing on loudspeakers as it came out! The unit is towed out, and then backed up into the Breeze M fueling station, which looks like a huge carport. This is its home for two days as the Breeze M multi-burn main engine takes on fuel. All fueling operations are completely controlled by Khrunichev specialists.  Because of the nature of the fueling operations, Building 92A-50 is cleared of all nonessential personnel. With a couple of days off – or at least away from the office – for most of the team, it is time for another barbecue! Even though it has cooled off significantly since our first barbeque, everyone is ready to gather around the grills for some freshly grilled meat and camaraderie. Add in the beans, potatoes and dessert and you have got a perfect Friday afternoon in Baikonur.

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The Ride to Hall 111

[img]/assets/Images/Media/Ciel-2-Blog/Fully-Assembled.JPG[/img] The signing festivities are complete and it is once again time to get down to business. With the rail transporter in place in Hall 101, the Ascent Unit (AU) is lifted from the tilter and positioned over the train. As team members gather to watch, the slow and rather brief train ride gets underway. The train pulls out of Hall 101 and moves down the rails, then a switch is moved so the train can back up and move towards the entrance to Hall 111. This is the hall which houses the complete Proton M/Breeze M rocket that will take the Ciel II satellite into orbit. Hall 111 is huge. Hall 101 was earlier described as being able to hold a soccer match. Hall 111 can hold the grandstands as well. As the AU enters the room, we can only marvel at what is seen: the complete launch vehicle (LV), laying horizontal in its support stand. Pictures do not do justice to the impressive sight of the LV in this room. The AU is lifted from the transporter and is placed on a holding dolly. Very little time was wasted before the AU was mated to the launch vehicle (LV). With the AU on its rail dolly, Khrunichev specialists hand cranked the unit and aligned it with the LV. It is finally one complete unit, known as the integrated Launch Vehicle (ILV).  While Khrunichev puts the ILV through two days of electrical checks, thermal shielding installations and readiness checks in preparation for the move to the Breeze M fueling station, the ThalesAlenia Space (TAS) team performs their own pre-transport checks side-by-side with Khrunichev in Hall 111. As you can most likely tell by the pictures, there’s plenty of room in that huge hall for everyone to work in unison.  Needless to say, the excitement is building as everyone sees the finished product and wraps up preparations for its final leg of a long journey: To the Breeze M fueling station and then off to Launch Complex 39. To celebrate the successful transportation of the AU to Hall 111, the Pinkertons hosted burrito night at the Polyot. We hire these guys and gals to do security? They could open the best Tex-Mex restaurant this side of the Rio Grande – or at least this side of the Aral Sea!

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Payload Fairing Installed

[img]/assets/Images/Media/Ciel-2-Blog/Whered-SC-Go.JPG[/img] This is a time of many goodbyes.  The mid-campaign exit charter left with more than half of our French colleagues and one of the customer representatives.  It is also time to say goodbye to the spacecraft (SC), visually anyway, as the payload fairing is ready to be installed. With the SC horizontal and hovering above a rail track, the bottom half of the fairing is situated on a rail car below. It sits in a cradle and is hand cranked in to position under the SC. Once that is in place, the upper half of the fairing is hoisted up by crane and positioned above the prone SC and lowered to mate with the bottom half. Under the watchful ThalesAlenia Space (TAS) team’s supervision, the maneuvers were successful and the Ciel II SC was officially encapsulated in preparation for its ride into orbit. This newly assembled configuration is now called the ascent unit (AU). Once the two halves are secured, the team spends two days performing electrical tests and verifying communications with the encapsulated SC. The term “team” certainly applies in this case, as a veritable plethora of activities are ongoing while the TAS specialists and the Khrunichev teams work together performing pre-launch testing. It is impressive to behold the satellite hovering in a horizontal position, and seeing the whole AU cantilevered off of the tilter stand is even more impressive. Time now to mate the AU to the Proton launch vehicle! The fun continues… One of the more technical operations that is performed is the signing of the payload fairing by the entire launch team. It takes a lot of coordination with all the parties. The exacting nature of this complex operation is really quite a spectacle, as the team members take turns climbing up the ladder, putting their personal touches on the fairing logos and then climbing back down the ladder.  The critical decisions include: what to write and who to dedicate the launch to: parents, children and loved ones of all sorts are named on the fairing as a tribute to them from the launch team members.  It’s a great photo opportunity for the team. It is also the last thing we do prior to mating the AU to the launch vehicle. It has been a long road for the SC contractors and their satellite, and it is at this point that they hand it over to the capable hands of our Russian partners from Khrunichev.

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Stand-alone Testing Complete

[img]/assets/Images/Media/Ciel-2-Blog/Mated.JPG[/img] Yahoo! Stand-alone testing is complete.  We have started the next phase known as Joint Operations.  This is when the SC is mechanically and electrically mated to the Launch Vehicle hardware.  To put it simply, this is when we start making the little pieces into one big piece! Joint Operations involves a lot of hard yards (man hours) being put in by a plethora of people.  The first step was to mate the SC to the adapter system – a conical structure that attaches to the bottom of the SC. Next, the SC-adapter combo was mated to the Breeze M upper stage. We successfully completed these steps today after about 18 hours of work, taking into account all the testing and mechanical and electrical checks that had to occur.  Today at 1600 hours, the SC-adapter-Breeze M stack will be rotated from vertical to horizontal and encapsulated in the payload fairing. The combination of all these pieces into a single unit is known as the Ascent Unit (AU). The SC will remain in a horizontal orientation until we move the whole launch vehicle to launch pad four days before launch. The first order of business and required for encapsulation is the need to have the SC in a horizontal position. This is one of the more jaw-dropping operations to witness. The newly mated Breeze M engine, PLA and satellite fully loaded with propellant are mounted to a turnover fixture (aka the tilter). That is a whole lot of inches and a whole lot of pounds, supported only by the clampband (a thin metal ring that joins the SC to the PLA).  The entire structure is rotated from vertical to horizontal in order to install the payload fairing.  It can be quite nerve-wracking during these 30 minutes. However, the method once again proved to be successful. The Breeze M, the payload adapter and the flight hardware moved to horizontal just as they were designed. It really is a spectacular sight to see.

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Giving Thanks

[img]/assets/Images/Media/Ciel-2-Blog/SES-Chefs.JPG[/img] SES Engineering and ILS hosted a Thanksgiving feast fit for kings and launch campaign personnel.  The cooking started the previous afternoon and continued into our Thanksgiving Day since there was not enough space to cook all of the birds.  Everyone used the half-day break before joint operations to enjoy the turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and quintessential cranberry sauce.  (No Thanksgiving is complete without it!) The mouth-watering feast was prepared by our in-house SES Engineering chefs.   In addition to launching satellites, our customer (launch program manager and engineers) could give the best chefs around the globe a run for their money! All of us are away from our loved ones on this special day.  Even with land and oceans separating us from our families, the unity of our Baikonur family made the day more poignant! After our early dinner, we piled into the bus and vans to head out to the viewing area for the Soyuz launch.  We joined what seemed like half of Baikonur town to watch what turned out to be a spectacular launch, with the engine plumes catching the setting sun and blazing red, orange and blue. We concluded our day with … you guessed it: a late supper of copacetic turkey sandwiches then headed off to bed to prepare for an early morning start to joint operations.

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Contact Us!

For the latest news and information, or if you have a question, please email ILS at contactus@ilslaunch.com