INTEGRAL road circus - motorized Hannibal's army on Europe's highways
11 July 2001Summer migrations in Europe tend to be southwards. But one caravan, composed of some thirty lorries, has started off in the other direction, from Italy to the Netherlands: ESA's INTEGRAL spacecraft is moving house.
Prime Contractor ALENIA Spazio has finished the integration and functional system tests on the gamma-ray satellite which is now going to ESA's European Space Research and Technology Centre at Noordwijk where environmental tests will begin in August.
The first of several convoys leaving Alenia's Turin facilities on 2 July marked the end of Italian-based satellite activities. These started in 1995 after Alenia was awarded the INTEGRAL contract to design and build the spacecraft.
"INTEGRAL has today demonstrated Alenia's maturity in dealing with such a major project," says Giuseppe Finocchiaro, INTEGRAL project manager at Alenia. "On average 70 people every month have been working on this project, with peaks of 120. We have had a very motivated team. Many of us were involved in building the BeppoSAX X-ray observatory, and we have been very interested in this new high-energy astrophysics mission."
"We have no sadness seeing the spacecraft leave because we are still involved in the environmental tests at ESTEC, then preparing the satellite for launch in Baikonour, and right up to the in-orbit commissioning phase."
INTEGRAL Italian Day
Alenia celebrated the completion of work in Turin with a press conference on 3 July. "With INTEGRAL fully integrated and tested, we have also completed several end-to-end tests of the ground segment with the spacecraft," explained Kai Clausen, ESA's project manager for INTEGRAL.
"The Proton launcher interface and launch operations are well defined. The Optical Monitor Camera and SPI have been delivered but our payload is not complete. JEM-X will come soon and special measures have been taken to overcome technical problems encountered by the IBIS imager. But we will be ready for launch as of October 2002."
IBIS co-principal investigator Pietro Ubertini was one of several speakers presenting the mission's scientific objectives. "Our instruments will open a new window on the Universe. Exceptional imaging and detailed spectroscopy will provide very fine and deep views and we really do expect to discover totally new things."
The size of the INTEGRAL program has required broad cooperation between ESA, national European research organisations, Russia and NASA. In this respect, ESA's Director of Science considers that INTEGRAL is setting an example. "It is the first mission where reusability (with an XMM-Newton service module) has allowed us to build a cornerstone for the cost of a medium-sized mission," says David Southwood. "We are not at the end of the road, but INTEGRAL is already a trail-blazer. It has been a testing ground for new ways of working with industry, and having to overcome many national difficulties, it has shown the way you can achieve your objective if you really try."
Weekly convoys northwards
Hannibal had thirty elephants to cross the Alps. INTEGRAL's road convoy will not climb through the mountains but will mobilise an equal number of road vehicles, heavy trucks and articulated lorries. The logistics of this exceptional journey have been planned for over a year.
"We are transporting not only the spacecraft itself but all the ground support equipment and test benches," explains Michele Suita, Alenia deputy programme manager, who will supervise activities at ESTEC. "We also are bringing the special containers that will be used to fly the spacecraft to Baikonour."
"Vehicles are now leaving every week on their 7-day long trip via the Ctte d'Azur and up the Rhone Valley to the Benelux countries. Three convoys with over-sized lorries require police escorts. Obtaining the necessary authorisations, particularly with the summer season holiday traffic has often been difficult."
By 22 July the entire INTEGRAL caravan will have arrived at ESTEC. Alenia and ESA staff then have a tight schedule: installing and testing the remaining scientific instruments on the spacecraft, environmental tests (vibration, acoustic and thermal) and further ground system verifications. Once these are all successfully completed, it will then be time to think once again of moving house - this time eastwards to Baikonour.