Three Swarm satellites were carried onboard three Volga-Dnepr Airlines’ IL-76TD-90VD freighter flights at Plesetsk Cosmodrome from Munich, Germany, following an intermediate stop in Archangelsk, Russia over a five-day period.
The satellites, which had a total weight of over 60 tons, required precise and sensitive loading to eliminate any risk of damage. This was achieved using guide rails to load and unload the high value satellites.
Representatives of Astrium GmbH were on hand to provide constant in-flight monitoring of the satellites, including the special temperature conditions that needed to be maintained inside the aircraft’s cargo compartment. The satellites were successfully unloaded at Plesetsk airfield and then trucked to the integration facility at Plesetsk Cosmodrome.
The Swarm is the third project in the series of Earth Explorer missions implemented by the European Space Agency (ESA) under its Living Planet Programme to analyse in unprecedented detail the Earth’s geomagnetic field and its evolution over time. The Swarm constellation consists of three satellites that will be launched simultaneously from Plesetsk Cosmodrome, located some 800km north of Moscow, on a single rocket launch vehicle in November 2013.
Another IL-76TD-90VD flight delivered 15 tons of equipment, mainly comprising Astrium-developed Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec), from Munich to Baltimore, USA. The NIRSpec is intended for a large, infrared-optimised space telescope known as the James Webb Space Telescope, which is due to be launched on Ariane 5 in 2018. It will be used to explore the first stars and galaxies that formed in the early Universe after the Big Bang.