Final Standalone Intelsat 34 Operation Complete

By Todd Schilb, Program Manager, Space Systems Acquisition

Part of a series from Intelsat team members overseeing the launch of Intelsat 34 (IS-34).

It’s great to be back on-site to witness another satellite launch. It really never gets old and I’m happy to be taking up where Mohinder left off and reporting back on the latest at the Guiana Space Center for the remainder of our time here.

I’m excited to report that this week IS-34 completed a major milestone before it moves  to the launch pad for lift-off. That’s because we loaded the spacecraft with enough propellants to complete an expected mission life of more than 15 years.

Let me take a step back for a moment and provide some context. Fueling is the last standalone spacecraft operation before we begin integration of the satellite with the launcher. We only undertake this step once we are certain the spacecraft is ready for its on-orbit mission. Over the last several days, as my colleague has been chronicling on the blog, we completed all the tests, reviewed all the data, and turned the spacecraft over to the “propellant team” for the critical loading operation.

The propellant loading operation is one of the most difficult and high precision operations performed on a spacecraft at the launch base.  Due to the hazards and precision required, I’m sure you can imagine that the propellant team is a highly trained, cohesive, dedicated and specialized unit.  They fly in just to perform this dedicated operation at launch bases all around the world. When their job is done, they fly out. It’s almost like spacecraft “special operations.”

You can see in the photo the specialized suits and precision loading equipment required for this operation.  The suits keep the operators safe from the toxic propellants and provide breathing air throughout the operation – the slightest contact with these chemicals could be deadly. At the same time, the team is measuring every ounce of propellant entering the spacecraft in order to reach our target of 3300 Kg separated spacecraft mass.

Late yesterday, the fueling operation concluded. As is tradition at Guiana Space Center, the entire team celebrated reaching this milestone with a post-fueling barbeque. Next up: we are moving onto the phase of launch preparations when we will integrate the satellite with the launcher.


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