The Camaraderie of the Intelsat 34 Launch Campaign

By Todd Schilb, Program Manager, Space Systems Acquisition

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

There is a special kind of esprit de corps one experiences as part of a launch campaign like that of Intelsat 34. Far away from home in tropical French Guiana on the eastern coast of Latin America, teams from Intelsat, SSL, Arianespace, and even our launch partner Eutelsat, work together day in and day out for thirty days – all with the same goal of ensuring a successful launch on 20 August. After dozens of launch missions together from the Guiana Space Center, some fun traditions have evolved.

In my last post, I wrote about the fueling of the satellite as a major milestone on our path to the launch pad.  Once the “prop” (short for “propellant”) team completes this arduous task, they have an opportunity to take a quick break in the form of the post-fueling barbeque. Talk to anyone who has worked on a launch campaign and they will tell you this is one of the highlights of their launch base experience. I can tell you, it’s not only homesick Americans that look forward to this event; our French hosts and co-passenger can’t wait to take a moment, dig into the delicious fare and share stories of launches—new and old.

Thanks to the hospitality of SSL we were treated to the familiar tastes of home, like California tri-tip and barbeque ribs. On this campaign, Carlos Monteon (SSL) stepped up to take on the duty of head chef. Expectations were high – and he and his crew delivered. Standing next to Carlos (at left) are Muhammad Whady (SSL spacecraft manager, center) and Ben Anit (SSL prop, at right), and they are true launch campaign veterans:

Carlos, Mohammed, Ben

“Mo,” as we call him, has been coming to Kourou since 1984; and based on the stories he tells, you can bet the conditions in Kourou have improved immensely since those early days. For Ben, IS-34 was his 37th satellite propellant loading operation. Veterans like Mo and Ben are incredibly generous with their experience, you can find them mentoring and passing down these traditions to the next generation of launch base operators.

The Arianespace picnic is another long-standing tradition of the launch campaign. This is where we get to socialize once again with our co-passenger and Arianespace hosts. Here we can see Raphael Mussalin (outgoing CTO of Eutelsat), Marie-Laure Chauffour (Arianespace IS-34 Program Director), Grant Gould (SSL Launch Vehicle manage), myself, Yohann Leroy (incoming CTO for Eutelsat), and Jean-Marc Durand (Arianespace Launch Vehicle Mission Director):

Raphael Mussalian, Marie-Laure Chauffour, Grant Gould, Todd Schilb, Yohann Leroy, Jean-Marc Durand

For this campaign picnic, we relaxed at an outdoor riverside restaurant where we enjoyed local creole style Kourou cuisine and were entertained by an unusual demonstration of water jets:

Water jet demo

Launches are truly a team effort, and these events give us time to make new relationships, re-establish old ones and share best practices as we prepare to move ahead in our quest to achieve a successful launch. Next, we will be encapsulating IS-34 under the rocket fairing, which has been adorned with the IS-34 logo (pictured, above left)– another launch base tradition.

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