On Monday, October 17, 2011 at 14:36 in the laboratory of the Space Research Centre PAS two gentle clicks were heard. Faces of the PW-Sat project engineers revealed gladness. After years of development, months of construction and weeks of testing, an important phase of the project was finally completed – the satellite was ready to leave the Polish laboratories and begin the journey to the spaceport in French Guiana. Two clicks of latches meant a successful closing of a special box in which PW-Sat will travel now.
Late in the afternoon the box was already on board a train heading to Amsterdam. From there it will go to ESTEC (European Space Research and Technology Centre), the major technology center of the European Space Agency, located in Noordwijk (Netherlands). ESTEC is the first stop for the PW-Sat on its way to South America. Almost every element of satellites and spacecraft built by ESA passes through ESTEC’s labs. PW-Sat – to be launched on ESA’s rocket – is not an exception and will spent next few weeks in ESTEC together with other CubeSats prepared for Vega’s mission.
Construction of the first Polish satellite has been successfully completed. All components of the PW-Sat has been connected and tested extensively. The satellite is ready for shipment to the European Space Agency, where the final work and installation of satellite onto Vega rocket will be performed.
Today, on 17 October 2011 (Monday), at 12:00 noon, at the Space Research Centre of Polish Academy of Sciences (Warsaw, ul. Bartycka 18A) the official presentation of the satellite will take place.
The tests campaign of PW-Sat satellite was a great success. During a few last weeks the satellite was subjected to the simulated conditions of rocket launch and to the expected environment of the space.
The most violent were the vibration tests, performed in the Air Force Institute of Technology. PW-Sat, placed in a box simulating the P-POD container, has been repeatedly shaken. Shocks have a different character – a single pulses, a long series of random vibrations. In the critical moments, the satellite was subjected to a load factor fifty times greater than Earth’s gravitational pull. Though shaken, PW-Sat remained not stirred – came out of the test without any damage. Another series of shocks wait for the satellite at ESA labs, but then it will be placed inside P-POD container, along with two another CubeSats.
The next step was a thermal-vacuum tests. This time the satellite was placed in a special chamber, and then the air was removed. Atmospheric pressure at the sea level is about 102,400 pascals, but at an altitude of several hundred kilometers, where the PW-Sat will orbit, drops to a millionth (or even billionth) of a pascal. The vacuum chamber simulates such conditions and allows for changes in temperature as well.
During the functional tests, the satellite’s subsystems were inspected to find out if the electronics was still able to operate. PW-Sat worked as expected – has activated its computer, deployed the antennas and started the communication session. Indeed, PW-Sat demonstrated the readiness for spaceflight.
European launcher Vega, on board which PW-Sat will sail to orbit, began its journey from Europe to French Guiana. Elements of rockets – Zefiro 23 and Zefiro-9 engines and the fourth stage – were constructed in Avio plants (Italy). Now, protected and packed in sealed boxes, are hosted onboard the MN Colibri vessel, previously used for the transport of the Ariane rocket.
The Colibri first stop on the route will be Rotterdam, where additional elements of Vega and the Italian satellite LARES are going to be loaded on board. Then the ship will cross the Atlantic, heading for the South American port of Cayenne. While at Cayenne, the precious cargo will go directly to the spaceport in Kourou – now by land. The first stage of Vega rocket is already there, waiting for the new cargo from Europe.