By Brian Sing, Senior Program Manager, Space Systems
Last week was very exciting with the arrival of the Intelsat 33e satellite in French Guiana. The arrival of the satellite signaled the official start of preparing Intelsat 33e for launch on 24 August 2016 aboard an Ariane 5 vehicle.
At the Boeing factory in El Segundo, California, the satellite had been carefully wrapped and stored for shipping inside a special container designed to fit into the Antonov 124, the largest commercially available cargo plane in the world. It was then driven to the airport in California, and loaded onto the aircraft.
Taking the better part of the day, the loading is a complex affair as the container is almost the size of the hull of the aircraft. The aircraft is amazing as both the nose and tail open up to allow cargo to be loaded simultaneously in the front and rear.
After a full day of loading, the aircraft was ready to go to French Guiana. We tracked its flight from lift-off on Thursday morning to touchdown Thursday night with a stop in Florida for refueling.
By Friday, Boeing engineers and technicians were busily unloading the satellite from the shipping container at the Guiana Space Centre or, as it is known, Centre Spatial Guyanais (CSG), on the eastern side of South America.
Next, Boeing engineers will put the satellite through a series of tests to ensure that all systems are in perfect working order, as they were before the flight. Then, we will pressurize the propulsion system with gas to demonstrate the propulsion tank’s integrity for launch.
Meanwhile, another Intelsat team in French Guiana was gearing up for the arrival of the Intelsat 36 satellite, the co-passenger on this launch.
Each satellite has its own Intelsat team, assigned launch teams on the ground in CSG, and its own manufacturing team – Boeing for Intelsat 33e and SSL for Intelsat 36. The launch campaigns for Intelsat 33e and Intelsat 36 will be run separately until both satellites are fully integrated into the Ariane 5 a few days before the launch.