ESA's solar system explorers come alive
08 May 2001Two pioneering ESA spacecraft, Mars Express and Rosetta, are currently being assembled and tested in preparation for launch in 2003. Now, for the first time, the painstaking progress towards the completion of these technological marvels can be observed daily on computer screens around the world.
The Mars Express webcam is located at the Astrium SAS integration facilities in Toulouse, France. The camera view focuses on the Electrical Validation and Functional Bench, which consists of experiment and spacecraft units as well as the extensive test equipment around the bench. Some of the units on the bench are final flight items and others are electrical or engineering models.
The test bench was installed in the Astrium SAS facility in the summer of 2000 and has been used to integrate the spacecraft and experiment units. The build-up of the test bench will proceed until September 2001 when a complete system will be available for integrated system testing to prove the overall Mars Express functionality.
At the completion of the system tests, and in coordination with the parallel development and testing of the spacecraft flight structure and propulsion system, the units on the test bench will be removed, packed and transported to Alenia Spazio in Turin for integration on the flight spacecraft, starting in October 2001.
Future views from the Mars Express webcam will show this integration at Alenia Spazio. Once the flight model has been integrated and checked, the entire spacecraft will be shipped back to Toulouse for environmental testing at Intespace during spring and summer of 2002.
The final terrestrial voyages of Mars Express will be a return to Turin after testing in Toulouse followed by the journey to the Baikonur launch site in Kazakhstan in the spring of 2003 for the scheduled launch the following June.
The Rosetta webcam currently broadcasts a view of the Rosetta spacecraft flight model being assembled in the clean room at Alenia Spazio, Turin. At the moment both the EQM (Electrical and Qualification Model) and PFM (Proto Flight Model) are located side by side at Alenia. The EQM will soon complete its Integration and Test programme and then all work will shift to the flight model.
In September 2001, once the spacecraft and its instruments are completed, the flight model will be sent to ESTEC in The Netherlands for the six-month-long environmental test campaign. It will then be transported to IABG in Munich for a DC magnetic test. Shipment to the Kourou launch site in French Guiana will take place towards the end of 2002.
Rosetta's eight-year odyssey to Comet Wirtanen will begin with the launch of an Ariane-5 rocket from Kourou in January 2003.