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Wednesday, 27 February, 2002, 17:53 GMT
Space diary: Hot head and cold feet
Envisat, Esa
Not the easiest working environment
Two days and counting. Europe's biggest ever Earth-observation satellite, Envisat, will go into orbit in the early hours of Friday (GMT). Project manager Derek Todman details the latest preparations in Kourou, French Guiana, in his diary for BBC News Online.

Tuesday 26 February

Today, the Launch Readiness Review was held. This meeting is where the status of the launcher and satellite is reviewed to finally check if everything is OK for launch.


It does some strange things to your mind with a cold dry head and very damp, warm feet

We roll out to the launch pad tomorrow on schedule.

We have now started our countdown to launch. The satellite is switched on and the first activity is to fit the pyro arming plugs. This allows the pyros, which are effectively explosive bolts, to release various mechanical items after launch.

Envisat, Esa
Everything is ready: Envisat sits inside the fairing on top of the Ariane 5 rocket
They have to be held down during launch to survive the launch vibrations. The arming is an interesting operation, as it involves the team lying on a flat board that moves and allows the people inside the fairing through a small hole to work on the satellite.

It's quite a long operation and not made any easier by a temperature under the fairing of 13 Celsius and 10% humidity - and outside it's 26 degrees with a humidity of about 80%. The guys say it does some strange things to your mind with a cold dry head and very damp, warm feet.

So for us that's it for today; the night shift comes in soon to babysit the satellite overnight.

Envisat will ride into orbit on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe's spaceport in Kourou at 22:07 local time (02:07 CET, 01:07 GMT).

Built by a consortium of 50 companies led by Astrium, Envisat is the successor to the European Space Agency's ERS satellites. Envisat has an array of 10 instruments that will allow scientists to monitor the land, oceans, atmosphere and ice caps, to check on the health of the planet.


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