1.) The Soyuz launcher that will propel Gaia into space was moved to its launch pad at the spaceport in Kourou. The sixth Soyuz to be launched from this space center in South America was leaving the processing building (called MIK) on a special transport vehicle on rails for this trip to the launch pad in about 700 m distance. It passed through the mobile gantry before reaching its final destination (before being launched). At the launch pad the rocket was erected by a hydraulical system located on the mobile transporter. This is an “easy” stretch as the rocket weights only about 25 tons without fuel and without the upper composite consisting of Gaia and Fregat upperstage encapsuled in the fairing. All the access arms to the rocket were put in place before the mobile gantry was moved to enclose the Soyuz rocket. The mobile gantry protects the rocket from the subtropical climate at the spaceport. Please read this blog post for more details at http://reves-d-espace.com/2013/12/15/gaia-j-5-soyouz_sur-pas-de-tir/ and see the complete series of photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/13318050@N05/sets/72157638667776286/.
2.) Gaia was transported to the launch pad, too. As part of the upper composite, which also is comprided of the fueled Fregat upperstage and the fairing, Gaia was moved by a special transporter from the S3 building to the launch pad in 23 km distance. A crane of the mobile gantry was used to lift the upper composite to the top level in 36m altitude for the connection with the Soyuz launcher inside the gantry. It was bolted with more than 100 bolts to the third of the Soyuz VS06. Gaia has reached its final destination – before leaving Earth! Please see the impressive report with many images at http://reves-d-espace.com/2013/12/15/gaia-j-5-mise-en-place-du-composite-superieur-sur-le-lanceur/ and even more images here http://www.flickr.com/photos/13318050@N05/sets/72157638699486476/.
All reports and photo galleries reported about were provided by Isabelle D., the QA engineer of Gaia from EADS-Astrium. Many thanks for keeping us updated. Merci beaucoup!
In the days coming final checks of the launcher and its payload Gaia will be conducted at the launch pad – as usual. Assuming that no serious issues will be discovered everything looks very good for a launch on December 19. Let us keep the fingers crossed!
Update Dec. 16: ESA has bnow published a new blog post summarizing the processing steps during the recent week starting with the mating of Gaia with its Fregat upperstage and ending with installation of Gaia on the launcher. Enjoy the article here: http://blogs.esa.int/gaia/2013/12/16/the-final-pieces-of-the-gaia-jigsaw-puzzle/.