Kourou, French Guiana (SPX) May 05, 2011
The first fully-assembled Soyuz in French Guiana was unveiled Wednesday as the completed vehicle made its initial appearance during ongoing dry run evaluations at the Spaceport.
This workhorse Russian vehicle emerged under partly sunny skies as the 52-meter-tall service gantry made a maiden roll-back, having protected the Soyuz during final integration and checkout activities on the launch pad that began last Friday.
The gantry's removal occurred during a simulated final countdown, which marks a new phase of the dry run evaluations being conducted ahead of Soyuz' commercial service entry with Arianespace later this year.
Under the direction of a European/Russian launch team, this activity replicated the basic elements of an actual Soyuz countdown to three minutes before liftoff - when it purposely was stopped, allowing procedures to be confirmed in the scenario of a launch-day "hold."
The chronology will resume tomorrow, and is to continue through a simulated liftoff, downrange flight and payload deployment.
Soyuz' gantry is one of the most visible changes in Spaceport operations when compared to the long-existing processing flow for this launcher at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
With a height of 52 meters to the top of its curved roof, the Spaceport's purpose-built gantry allows payloads to be installed atop the Soyuz vehicle in its vertical position - as is the practice with Arianespace's Ariane launchers and the new lightweight Vega.
It represents a change from the horizontal Soyuz integration process employed for both the launcher and payload at Baikonur Cosmodrome.
Bruno Gerard, Arianespace's project head for Soyuz at the Spaceport, said the gantry provides access to a vertically-erected launcher on the pad that is similar as the two-piece "frame" service tower system used at Baikonur Cosmodrome.
"Both systems have basically the same access to an erected Soyuz, with the upper work stands located in three-meter level intervals," Gerard explained.
"Our gantry at the Spaceport has the additional infrastructure needed to integrate the Soyuz' upper composite - which consists of its Fregat upper stage, satellite payload and the payload fairing."
Following the planned countdown "hold," the launch team went through the procedures of bringing Soyuz to a safe configuration, and the gantry was moved from its parked location back into position around the launcher.
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