Let the Final Launch Preparations Begin: Intelsat 34 at the Guiana Space Center

By Mohinder Guru, Senior Manager, Intelsat Spacecraft Program Office (pictured)

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

I’ve been so busy, I can’t believe it’s been more than a week since I stood on the runway and watched the touchdown of our precious cargo—Intelsat 34. The spacecraft arrived safely at the Ensemble de Préparation Charge Utile or “EPCU,” which is the payload preparation facility at the Guiana Space Center (CSG) in Kourou, the entrance of which is shown in the picture.

The environment here is home to different flora and fauna: tropical rainforests, coastal mangroves, savannahs and many types of wetlands. I thought the rainy seasons had finished but was I wrong (despite the sunny photo). There have been daily downpours on and off. Luckily, I packed my brolley (umbrella). The truth is that no matter the weather, after beginning work on Intelsat 34 in June of 2013, it is thrilling to finally be at this point in the process of preparing for the 20 August launch.

As I’m sure you can imagine, a launch campaign like this requires a level of intercompany teamwork that surpasses any industry I can think of!  Each day begins with a daily status meeting. Team members from CSG/CNES (the launch facility), Arianespace (the launcher), SSL (the manufacturer) and Intelsat get together to share information on progress made to date and the next steps that need to be taken in advance of the launch.

Each member of the launch team has specific tasks. Arianespace monitors the progression of our co-passenger, the Eutelsat E8WB built by Thales, as well as the preparations of the Ariane V rocket. SSL orchestrates three important preparation steps with regard to the satellite which I describe in detail below:

First is the adapter fit check. (The adapter is how the IS-34 is mated to the launch vehicle.) This is the first time the launcher flight hardware is physically integrated to the spacecraft, ensuring there are no electrical or mechanical issues. I am pleased to report that this check was completed successfully.

In this photo, you will find  Joe Foust (at right), SSL’s Vice President of Systems Production and me in front of the adapter fit check. With years of experience with Intelsat satellites, like me, Joe appreciates the energy and excitement of an Intelsat launch campaign.

Joe and Minda

The second step is to complete all electrical testing and verify that the propulsion system does not leak. In this phase, SSL validates that the spacecraft is operating flawlessly and nothing has changed since the satellite was shipped from California. This includes conducting final closeout inspections of the spacecraft and taking photographs. Currently the team is making excellent progress and anticipates completing these tasks by the end of next week.

The third step is to measure the dry mass of the spacecraft on a special measurement system – the load ring – that has to be correctly and accurately calibrated. This is an important parameter because the total mass of the spacecraft with fuel cannot exceed the contractual mass, which is 3,300 Kg. Since the lifetime of the spacecraft is directly dependent on the amount of fuel it carries, it is important to utilize the remaining mass to its maximum by filling up the propellant tanks as much as the system allows.

Here is the load ring, which is being calibrated in preparation for holding the satellite during dry-weighing:

Load ring for dry mass weighing

Only after successful completion of these steps will the spacecraft be authorized to be fueled. All is progressing well at this writing. I will report back on our progress to the launch of #Intelsat34 soon!

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