Joint Operations

Jan. 25 marked a major milestone for the THOR 5 team. Orbital’s propellant team successfully completed loading the spacecraft with hydrazine fuel. This operation took the better part of the day and, because it was potentially hazardous, afforded another day of rest for most of the team. We all look forward to the successful completion of propellant loading operations, not just because it signifies the end of spacecraft standalone operations and a continuing positive progression of the launch campaign, but also because it means we get to throw a Post-Fueling Party. This feast occurred on Jan. 26. The few parties we have throughout the campaign are a great time for team members to relax, cut loose and bond in activities not directly related to the spacecraft or launch vehicle operations. As with any Russian get-together our party was not complete without a number of toasts made by KhSC, ILS and Orbital. Some team members decided to head out early, while the hardiest of us danced away into the night. [img][/img] Because standalone operations were at an end, we had no choice but to start joint operations on Jan. 28 with the mating of the THOR 5 Spacecraft to the KhSC payload adapter (or PLA). The PLA allows the spacecraft to rest comfortably on top of the Breeze M, which is the upper stage of the Proton M launch vehicle. The PLA also houses the Saab-built separation system, which will gently separate THOR 5 from the Breeze M when it reaches its destined geostationary orbit. Stay tuned for more updates regarding joint operations; including mating the SC/PLA assembly to the Breeze M, and the encapsulation of the whole structure into what we call the Ascent Unit or AU.


Takin’ Care of Business

After a leisurely and uneventful 5-hour train ride, the spacecraft and its support equipment made it safe and sound to Building 92A-50. And yes, as the song says, it is now time for “takin’ care of business,” that business being preparation of the SC and the rocket for final assembly together. Many warm and rested personnel were on hand to meet the SC, unpack the train cars and begin a week’s worth of what is commonly known as stand-alone testing. It is a busy time for everyone involved in the campaign as the three stages of the Proton booster have been delivered to Khrunichev.


Safety first

This past week the team has been focused on with what we call standalone operations. During this period Orbital conducted mechanical and electrical tests on THOR 5 to confirm that the spacecraft is operational and ready for its trip into orbit. I am pleased to announce that these tests were all completed successfully. THOR 5 is now being readied to have its fuel tanks filled. This is a potentially extremely hazardous operation, for which the very capable Orbital propellant team has been carefully preparing. Before this operation can be undertaken, though, our team was required to evacuate the Processing Facility for the better part of two days. This was because the Breeze M upper stage for this weekend’s Proton mission with the Russian Express satellite was being fueled just outside the facility. So for the safety of the whole team we got a two-day break. Many members used this time off to rest, while others decided to take a trip (or two) into Baikonur Town and to the Yuri Gagarin Museum, on the grounds of the Cosmodrome. Baikonur Town is a very interesting place full of nice people, good food and drink, and bargains to be had for those team members who decided to do a little shopping. With our two-day break coming to a close the whole team must now prepare for fueling THOR 5, which is occur Friday.


Unpacking the Spacecraft

Beginning late on Sunday, and carrying on through the early hours of Monday, the team undertook the task of unpacking the THOR 5 spacecraft from its container. It was necessary to complete this process quickly, as the THOR team had to be out of Processing Hall 101 Monday morning to make way for a Russian satellite coming into the same hall. That spacecraft, Express, is scheduled to be launched Jan. 28 in the first flight for Proton in 2008. The unpacking process began with the removal of the lid of the spacecraft container. The spacecraft had been wrapped in special blankets to protect it from any possible contamination during its journey to Baikonur. Next, the blankets were carefully removed and our team got its first look at THOR 5 at the Cosmodrome. At this point a few satellite specialists inspected the spacecraft for any signs of damage. As expected, no damage was found, so we commenced removing our valuable package from its container. [img][/img] The spacecraft made the trip in the horizontal position. In order to remove it from the container, it had to be rotated to a vertical position, which was carefully and successfully completed by the team from Orbital. Now in its vertical position, THOR 5 was ready to be lifted by crane from its container and transferred a few feet onto a rolling dolly, where it will spend the next many days undergoing tests of all its critical systems. This is a period we refer to as Standalone Operations, where the spacecraft manufacturer, Orbital, performs tests on and ultimately fuels the spacecraft in anticipation of mating it with the Breeze M/Proton M launch vehicle.


Breeze M Delivered

The Khrunichev-built Breeze M upper stage that will be used for the THOR 5 launch arrived today at the launch site, on an Antonov AN 124-100 cargo plane. The team is in the process of moving it to Assembly and Testing Building 92A-50 for prelaunch preparations. With the Breeze M’s arrival, all key components – the core Proton rocket, its upper stage and the spacecraft – are now at the launch site. During the next week and a half, the operations with the launcher and the spacecraft will be performed independently by different teams in the same building. Then joint operations, including mating the satellite to the launcher, will begin.


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