P.S. (21/02/2016)

It seems that a launch campaign only finishes when everybody and everything has really returned home.  So I was asked to send the truly last report …


Last Friday, at the MIK, all our containers were loaded onto the special train, which then travelled during the night to Arkhangelsk.  Just before midnight we said good-bye to Pavel, our doctor.  And then the last group of the S3a launch campaign left Mirny around 1:30 in the morning to take the night train to Arkhangelsk, where we arrived a couple of hours later.  Luckily, we had some additional hours of sleep at the hotel .  Some of the Thales team followed the off-loading of the train.  This was done by 14:00.  Then we were all taken to the airport to meet the beast.  The loading of the Antonov started in the early evening.  At this point we had to say good-bye to Anton and Marina, who were taking their train back home to Moscow, a though moment for all of us.


Back on board, we had some time to explore our cabin – the twin toilet, the hidden smoking room, the kitchen with extensive and delicious catering, wobbly but comfortable seats, etc.  Finally, the Antonov could take off around 22:00 – a breathtaking experience.  The night in Ulyanovsk was again very short. Back at the airport in the morning, the formalities of passport control and luggage checking  took quite some time, more than 2 hours.  We all agreed that we had rather spent them in bed.  The 4.5 hour flight went so smoothly that we all slept for most of the time.


Upon arrival in Nice, a kind of pulling/pushing device was off-loaded and attached to the nose of the plane.  Then we were moved around the airport for almost 45 minutes until the final position had been reached.  We were greeted by sunshine and warm, soft air.  The Thales guys were very pleased to finally being able to use their sun glasses again.  And with the start of the off-loading of the plane, our journey home ended.


If I had to describe our campaign, I would say that it was just like the taking off in an Antonov – it was a very bumpy ride, we had moments that threw us back in our seats, there was a lot of noise from all sides, and most of the time we had no idea in which direction we were going.  But the moment of truth was smooth and weightless – BRAVO TO ALL !


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Last report (18/02/2016)

We still wanted to get back to you at the conclusion of this experience we wanted to share with you.
No report was released in the past two days, sufficient  messages where distributed and shared using the numerous media tools most of us is daily exposed to. I also hope that all of you had the opportunity to assist the launch in one of the many locations where it was broadcasted.


By now I think you already know most of what happened in the past two days:
The launch went perfectly, even if during the countdown we had a couple of little issues that disturbed our activities: first a power outage of few milliseconds at the MCC which, even if not stopped our EGSE to work, introduced some ….spicy elements in our otherwise…..boring day (everything green from start to end!)
During the last two hours before the launch, we had some uncertainty about the wind conditions because one of the measurement of the balloons used to check the wind speed at different heights was giving a singularity (totally out of trend) at a specific height. The measurement had to be repeated in order to confirm that the reading was incorrect and that conditions were green for launch.
Finally the launch took place and everything was perfect: orbit injection within 1 sigma from nominal conditions, immediate deployment of the Solar Array, smooth connection to Ground with associated Telemetry & Telecommand functions working perfectly: in less than 3 orbit the Satellite was in the safe “parking” orbit targeted for the LEOP activities.
LEOP activities are currently on-going and the two teams involved in the A and B shifts have already demonstrated to be fully in control of the situation. Only two “anomalies” were encountered so far: a too low temperature in the Horn of the SRAL antenna (which however remained within the min. qual limits) and the Star trackers which were refusing doing their job. This last point was rapidly understood as being linked to the need of patching the transformation matrix. Once done, star trackers started their nominal behaviour.


In conclusion, one and half a day after launch:
– Sentinel 3A LEOP activities are continuing according to nominal timeline (even a bit ahead…)
– Status of the spacecraft is nominal
– Transition from SAFE to NORMAL has been completed, allowing SRAL antenna horn temperature to recover to nominal range.
– Status and performance of the ground segment are nominal.
– The second orbit determination from flight dynamics confirmed the previous data and the excellent orbital parameters already determined immediately after the launch
– There is no significant risk for collision, therefore LEOP can proceed undisturbed without need for unplanned manoeuvrers


Here in Plesetsk luggage is ready for most of the people, with the exception of the few one’s that will accompany the GSE back to Europe through the dedicated Antonov Cargo planned on the 20th (and on ESA, side Claudia will be the courageous team representative).  Tears will flow, inevitable after having spent such a long time (longer than planned) all together, also with our Russian colleagues, but  it’s time to come back and recover our (quasi-)normal life.



Thanks for having followed us all this time, it has been nice for us remotely located to share with you (and not only through this report) good and bad moments, our feelings until the final explosion of emotions!

See you all soon in Western Europe!

Weather in Plesetsk:  -2/-6 °C, partially cloudy

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Follow the launch live !


3_s3highres (2)


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L-1 (report #62, 15/02/2016)

Today  L-1 and …… GREEN FOR LAUNCH!

That’s it, no more doubts, the last “possible” uncertainties have disappeared: tomorrow is the BIG DAY!


– Technical Commissions, both the one at Plesetsk than the one at Moscow, released the Launcher fuelling and the final preparation of the launch.
– Launcher Booster fuelling performed during the day and completed successfully by early evening
– Weather forecast favourable, no risky conditions foreseen for tomorrow.
– Video crew for live transmission arrived from Moscow and satellite link check performed

All Countdown documentation has been updated following yesterday dress rehearsal and distributed to involved people.


Evening photo session performed before tomorrow morning the team will spread to different locations. (Note: we were jealous of the massive team photo we received by the Ops team at ESOC!)


In conclusion, we are GREEN for launch and ready to dress our BLUE shirts for the countdown.

Have a nice evening and….cross fingers.

Weather in Plesetsk:  -2/-6 °C, cloudy with snow

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L-2 Ground Control to Major Tom (report #61, 14/02/2016)

Today  L-2 and …… DRESS REHEARSAL (or in a less elegant way FAKE LAUNCH) DAY!

Let’s start from the conclusions and immediately state that the Dress Rehearsal was successful and now everything is ready for the real launch on Tuesday.

This morning a first team left for the MIK, where the first hours of activities take place, until the full switch on of the satellite. At mid-day the second team left for the MCC, ready to start their activity approx. 6 hrs before launch and to take over control of the spacecraft during the last 3 hrs before lift off.
This being the first full rehearsal with the real timing, we still found few steps of the procedure, in particular where relevant to communications between ESOC and Plesetsk, where few corrections are needed, but it is pure paperwork and tomorrow morning the “as run” of today will help generating the new baseline countdown procedure to be used on the day of the launch.

At the same time, few people of each team were still involved in emptying offices at the MIK and packing hardware to be returned home.

In parallel to the satellite activities also the Launcher performed the last electrical and functional checks. Everything went nominally.

This evening the lead of the Satellite and Launcher teams met and exchange the respective certificates stating that both elements are fully ready to proceed towards the launch. These two certificates constitute the input to two important meetings planned tomorrow morning:
– the first is a Russian Technical Commission that will confirm the GREEN status of all elements required for the launch of Sentinel-3A and will release the fuelling of the Rockot launcher
– the second is the State Commission which will meet in Moscow and that, based on the outcome of the Technical Commission, will give the green light to proceed for the launch on Tuesday.
The positive outcome of both meetings will allow releasing of a final certificate of readiness that will allow us to complete the LRR (Launcher Readiness Review).

In conclusion, everything remains GREEN for the launch.

Weather in Plesetsk:  0/-4 °C, cloudy


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L-3 Rehearsing (report #60, 13/02/2016)

Today  L-3 and ……1st DRESS REHEARSAL DAY!


Today has certainly been a much less spectacular day than yesterday. We enter the phase when the game is played mainly sitting in front of computers and no more handling the Hardware.
The fully integrated Launch Vehicle, inclusive of Payload, is now standing on the launch pad undergoing the last preparatory activities on launcher side.
On Satellite side, today we performed the 1st of our two dress rehearsal, the one “internal” to the project, aimed to verify the correct sequence and duration of each countdown step. Nevertheless, ESOC decided to connect for the whole time and to listen in, just to ensure all links are OK. The duration of today’s countdown was slightly shortened to remove periods were no Satellite activities were planned.
The dress rehearsal went OK, with two minor issues not related to any satellite problem but rapidly explained as linked to the way a parameter was configured in one of the EGSE.
Further few editorials were still identified  in the countdown procedure which will now be corrected.


Tomorrow the official dress rehearsal will take place, with the contribution of all involved parties.

In parallel to the preparation of the launch day, also the formal certification of the readiness to launch (LRR, Launch Readiness Review) is being prepared. In view of the current compressed schedule and of the specific approach followed by the Russian (they have their own LRR called “state commission” where we are not invited), the agreed approach is the one of an incremental LRR:
– We received today separate LRR presentations from the ESOC and from Thales confirming the respective readiness of the FOS and of the Satellite to support the launch, with as only open point the successful completion of the dress rehearsal which will take place tomorrow.
– The Russian dress rehearsal will take place tomorrow in parallel to our but it will end before. At the end of it, they will be ready to confirm launcher vehicle readiness.
– Similarly, we will be able to state Satellite final readiness at the end of our dress rehearsal.
– Late tomorrow evening we will communicate our Satellite readiness to the Russian Military Chief of the Rockot activities which will then participate early Monday morning to the State Commission, which should then give the final green light to the launch and authorise the fuelling of the Rockot Booster.

At the MIK, both Thales and ESA teams continued the packing of our containers.


On the personal front, just to confirm that the Thales staff that got injured yesterday left Plesetsk this morning escorted by a doctor, greeted by the all LC team. By tomorrow at noon he should be at home.

In conclusion, everything remains GREEN for the launch (becoming a bit white this evening as some snow flakes started falling).

Weather in Plesetsk:  0/-4 °C, cloudy

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L-4 Rolling (report #59, 12/02/2016)

Today  L-4 and ……ROLL OUT DAY!

Early this morning (meaning at 6:00 AM) we have been greeted by a wonderful dawn with a completely clear sky.
Having arrived at the MIK 20 minutes before start of the roll-out, we have witnessed the last preparatory activities from the Militaries, with all the people lined-up in front of their Military Chief being debriefed on their respective role.
Precisely at 6:00 AM the train convoy (Locomotive, thermal conditioning wagon with air conditioning system and equipment to measure environmental conditions during transport, and Satellite transportation unit) exit the MIK and started its 3 hour/6 km trip to the Launch Pad.

At 9:00AM we (I should say some us, as one group arrived a bit later) had the opportunity to assist at the Launch Pad the arrival of the convoy shining under the light of the sun just rising in front of it. No one could have hoped of something better! All good things have always a price attached….in our case it was the temperature that today was colder then in the past day: the -5deg on the thermometer in combination with an unusual cold wind at 30 km/hr resulted in a felt temperature of -11deg which tested the courageous people staying at the launch pad until 11:00. By the way,….in the meantime the sun left space to the clouds….

By that time the fairing was lifted on top of the Booster unit, connected and ready to start testing.
Today two test phases were planned:
– first the Russian team performed the electrical test of the launcher part until approx. 15:00
– after that we received the authorisation to switch on the Satellite for our Sentinel-3 electrical tests, for the first time in final launch configuration.
Satellite tests started at 15:15 and completed successfully at around 18:00.

From tomorrow onwards all activities will concentrate on the rehearsal of the launch day. As part of them, some switch on of the Satellite and battery charging phase are also included.

In conclusion of this report, I should mention that today Stephane, our ESA photographer and Dominique, our ESA TV producer, had both a glorious day: the first accompanying the Russian Photographer around the launch pad for almost 3 hours to ensure this special day was captured, the second trying to get decent interviews out of 4 semi-frozen people after standing in front of the launch pad for 2 hrs.

Unfortunately today, together with all the good news, we also have to report an accident that occurred during our visit to the Launch Pad. One of our Thales colleagues slipped on an icy part of the ground around the launch tower and broke his ankle. He will be repatriated to home in the coming days. All our thought and good wishes are with him.

Concerning the LC, after the WHITE dawn (train through the snow) and the YELLOW morning (sun on the Upper Composite),  we are GREENER than ever for the launch!

Weather in Plesetsk:  -4/-6 °C, partially cloudy

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L-5 Getting ready (report #58, 11/02/2016)

Today  L-5 and ……PACKING & PAPERWORK  DAY!

After the exciting events of the past days, today for the first time the work on the Flight Hardware was fully in the hands of the Russian teams.
The checks of the Upper Composite (UC) were completed, allowing a final group photo in front of it. Mid of the morning the UC was transferred from the Clean Room in the Main Hall where the train convoy which will transport it to the Launch pad is located. At this point the UC had to be prepared for its movement outside the building. The air conditioning system used to maintain the Fairing under controlled environmental conditions (temperature, humidity, cleanliness) has been tested and contamination measurements performed before connection to the fairing. In parallel the UC has been wrapped in thermal covers which will help reducing the thermal gradients and fluctuation during the trip to the launch pad.
Finally, later in the afternoon, the “packed” UC has been transferred from its stand on the rail wagon and prepared for the roll-out, that will take place tomorrow morning at 6:00AM (…..a long day is ahead of us!).

While the Russian teams were working hard to perform the above activities, ESA and Thales teams concentrated on two tasks:
– packing of items no more needed in support of the launch
– complete the preparation of the  Launch day.
This last point involves various activities.
Some of the links have to be re-routed to allow a new network involving MCC, MIK, Vault, Launch Pad and ESOC. Some of these links need to be reinforced to ensure some redundancy. Also new phone lines have to be installed for the direct connections needed among key people during the count down. Also phone equipment needs some upgrading (headsets, different phones).
On the documentation side, we performed the last update of the various procedures/plans, with a last sanity check for consistency between documents used at Plesetsk and at ESOC.

This evening everything is ready for the roll-out of the UC tomorrow morning and for the first limited Dress Rehearsal on Saturday.

Everything remains GREEN for the launch!

Weather in Plesetsk:  +1/-1 °C, partially cloudy

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L-6 SENTImental (report #57, 10/02/2016)

Today  L-6 and … an EMOTIONAL DAY!

The morning we had no access (electrically) to the Satellite as the team of the military forces have been busy finalising the fairing. They have been sealing the various openings used to lock the fairing halves,  painting in bright white the fairing and applying the ESA and Eurockot Logo’s. Also the Russians performed electrical checks of their elements. In parallel to these activities, the Thales team started working around the packing for the return flight.

At around 13:30 the Satellite switch on took place, followed by a short check-out and by the battery charging. Everything was nominal.

In parallel, the….emotional part of the day took place. All teams were allowed to access the higher part of the fairing, where the logo’s are attached, and place their signature together with any thought or message they want to accompany the launch. This was really the last moment we could still “touch” the fairing and say good bye to the satellite and it was evident how many people had difficulty to control their emotions … among all teams.



At this point we would like also to mention another peculiarity we discovered in the past days, when we saw the chief of the military forces in charge of Rockot activities busy studying astronomic maps and making copy of pages. It is a tradition to associate each Rockot launch to a constellation made of a number of “bright” stars equal to the number of the launch. The Sentinel-3A launch will be the launch nr. 25 of Rockot and the Colonel has been selecting the constellation of  Libra (also known as Scales, one of the zodiac elements) as around it, it is possible to trace a line connecting 25 bright stars. Metaphorically, Libra the Scales serves as an age-old symbol of divine justice, harmony and balance.  A painting mask of this constellation has been produced and depicted on a lateral panel of the Breeze stage, to accompany the flight.


Leaving aside emotions and traditions, late afternoon part of the team went to the MCC (Mission Control Center) to start setting up the scene for the day of the launch. Some work still needs to be done in the coming days, to ensure all telephones are programmed with the key numbers and that the connections with the various locations are working.


In conclusion, the GREEN remains GREEN for the launch!

This evening some of our people, which were involved in the last inspection of the Satellite configuration, will start their trip back home. The core group will reduce……

Weather in Plesetsk:  +2/0 °C, cloudy and…..very slippery

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L-7 Farewell (report #56, 09/02/2016)

Today  L-7 and ……GOOD-BYE SENTINEL-3A!

At around 14:00 the two halves of the fairing were finally closed and Sentinel-3A disappeared from our view. A very emotional moment after so many years of hard work.

Also today the activities went very well and as originally planned.
This morning the fairing, which was temporarily closed around the Satellite for protection during last night, has been re-opened and the very last Non-Flight elements were removed:
– the last 4 thrusters on the bottom of the Satellite
– the SLSTR front scanning aperture
– the StarTrackers covers
– the -X CSS cover
At last, the pollution witness close to the interfaces with the launcher elements was removed.

Then the final inspection of the Satellite before encapsulation took place. Every surface was checked and pictures were taken of every side and every element, in order to have a full documentation of the status of the Satellite surfaces before encapsulation.  Finally, at around 12:00, the MIP took place were the drawers containing all removed Non-Flight items was checked against the list to ensure all elements were properly removed from the Satellite. At around 12:45 the authorisation to proceed with the encapsulation was given.

After few team pictures close (but not too much!) to the Satellite, the Military team has taken the lead and started their work.
The process of closing and sealing the fairing may last up to 13 hours and it is currently still on-going. It involves a lot of locking and checks of separate elements, the sealing of the various apertures and the mounting of the “tip”.  However at this point, these are all considered long but routinely tasks.


The first time we will be able to touch basis again with the Satellite will be tomorrow late morning, when a switch on and quick electrical check out will take place.
As a recall, the roll out of the Upper Composite to the launch pad, where the Rockot Booster is already waiting for us, will take place Friday early morning.

In conclusion, the GREEN is becoming always more GREEN for the launch!

Weather in Plesetsk:  +1/0 °C, cloudy


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