Awarua trackers ready for Ariane 5 job

Southland will get a touch of the space age today as technicians at Awarua help transport supplies to the International Space Station.

Technicians have been working at the Awarua Tracking Station for the past three months preparing for the launch of an Ariane 5 rocket, which will carry an automatic transfer vehicle (ATV) with supplies for the International Space Station.

Telemetry technician Herman Steenkamp said he would arrive at the Awarua Tracking Station about 1am today to begin preparing for the launch.

Ariane 5 will be launched about 10am today (NZ time) from a base in French Guiana, South America.

Mr Steenkamp said the Awarua team would track the rocket from 11am until about 2pm, sending data back to French Guiana so the European Space Agency knew the launch was on target and the ATV had separated from the rocket.

It was a long day, but it had to be done, he said. "You're always tired but you're concentrating. It's odd to concentrate for so many hours but you just have to do that."

All going well, the team would celebrate with some champagne before beginning to pack up the satellite and tracking gear, which collectively weighed about 2.2 tonnes, he said.

Travelling at speeds of 25,000kmh, the ATV would not reach the space station until June 15, as it would orbit the Earth for some time.

To prevent any glitches occurring during the launch, machines would be switched off the main power grid and would run on a generator, with a backup battery system in place in case the generator failed, he said.

Any wintry Southland weather should not affect the tracking as the antenna was able to operate in winds of up to 100kmh.

"It's not like the TV signal that when it rains it starts breaking up."

Mr Steenkamp expected the Awarua tracking station would be in action again next year when another Ariane 5 rocket would be launched.

The Southland Times