Unboxing a New NASA Spacecraft

Narration: Steve Turek and Chris Giersch


Hey everyone, we’re here with Steve Turek from Orbital ATK. Something is about to happen that we haven’t shown here at NASA yet.

What you’re seeing behind us is the unboxing of the ICON spacecraft. We’ve shipped it from Gilbert, Arizona and we brought it here to the launch processing facility here at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Now, ICON is the Ionospheric Connection Explorer. That’s correct. And that’s going to be studying the upper atmosphere. It’s going to give us an understanding of our weather in our atmosphere and spatial weather. We don’t quite have a handle on what’s going on up there in the ionosphere. So this will give us an opportunity to understand that.

Now this is not a very big spacecraft in terms of what we normally think of satellites. That’s correct because it’s going inside a Pegasus rocket. And what is that Pegasus XL? It is an Orbital ATK rocket that gets integrated to the bottom of its L-1011. It’ll go to a launch box. It’ll be dropped and then the motors will ignite and it will put it in its orbit.

Now I understand what they’re going to do is that they’ve just taken off the top portion of the box. And why did they take it off in sections as a opposed to just taking all off at once? As you can see there’s a sub-structure underneath the shipping container lid. Now that sub-structure is a melinex-type cover with an aluminum sub-structure that inside there its being purged to keep ICON very clean.

We want to be able to have eyes on that sub-structure so we don’t bind up when we’re lifting the lower pieces of the lid. Alright, Steve. I think we’re getting ready to lift the second half here. We are. It looks like they have succeeded. They’re just going around. They’re looking at the perimeter to make sure there’s no hang ups and they’ll just continue forward lifting it up.

And of course, they’re lifting it very slowly to make sure they’re not going to hit the spacecraft. That’s correct. And it looks very good at this point. The crane has three speeds - really fast, fast, and a micro-slow speed. And right now it’s on a micro-slow speed. And this will take a few minutes before they can get to the point where they can remove it.

So just, for the first time you are seeing an unboxing of an actual NASA satellite. How cool is that. You can see the silver covers at the bottom, those are the solar ray panels. The solar rays provide power for the observatory.

At the bottom of the shipping container, you can see a little black box. Okay. That black box is a shock recorder, so during transit we can monitor, we will be able to download the data from that little box and it will tell us how much shock the observatory saw during its shipment.

That's a good point, so you drove this on a truck to California to take it to Vandenberg, but if it hits a pothole, if it hits, you know, something that, that really Yeah, there's speed bumps at the truck weighing stations that we try to avoid, so there's limited -- I mean it's a soft ride environmentally controlled truck. We don't think there are any issues during the shipment, but we do have it instrumented to provide that objective evidence that nothing was done during the shipment.

This is probably a dumb question, but, you know, a lot of these unboxings, the person gets to play with it. You know, you open up the box and I get to play with the phone. Can we go play with the spacecraft? No, no you can't play with the spacecraft. However, the spacecraft will play with us.

So once we get it inside the clean room, we will instrument it with EGSE, and we'll do a post-shipment test. What's EGSE? Electrical ground support equipment. Okay. So Steve, this is another part where we're bringing another piece of apparatus to attach to the spacecraft.

Yeah, this is the actual fixture that's going to lift ICON off of its shipping container base. It's called a vertical lift sling. Okay. It's a very critical lift. At this point, this is where you're actually lifting the observatory, the flight hardware, the $40 million-plus piece, off the ground onto this high stand for all the close-out and testing activities inside the tank A-10. 

Now the cool thing about this is, we don't get to show this on a normal basis. This is a first. I mean, to actually see a critical lift of a spacecraft being lifted off from the platform onto its -- what's this called again? This is the integration high stand.

Yeah so, this is going to be an awesome sight to see. This is the first time, so I'm excited.

Now, one of the things that I noticed for the folks who are in the bunny suits, they have a device that's attached from their suit to a hard point. What is that for?  That's an ESD ground strap. Okay.

So it not only protects the hardware from an ESD event -- electrostatic discharge event -- it also protects the operator, so if there was any surge of power coming back to the operator it would be filtered or absorbed by that. And it would be a bad day if they weren't wearing those, and they did have a static discharge on the spacecraft? If it had the potential to do life-threatening damage to them, yes.

Well, Steve, thank you so much for joining us. You've seen the first unveiling of a NASA satellite, ICON -- the Ionospheric Connection Explorer.