On 9 March, after a successful stack test with its sister
spacecraft (FM 8), the fourth and final Cluster II satellite (FM 5)
completed its rigorous series of environmental tests. With the
successful culmination of their assembly, integration and verification
programme, the Cluster II quartet are now ready for transportation to
Baikonur Cosmodrome, the next major landmark on the road towards
launch this summer.

Driven by strict time
constraints, the ESA project
team, working closely with its
industrial and scientific
partners from all over Europe,
has succeeded in meeting all of the deadlines. Just one year ago,
the first spacecraft to be completed by prime contractor Dornier
Satellitensysteme (FM 6) was delivered to the test facilities at IABG
near Munich. It was followed at regular intervals by FM 7, then FM 8
and FM 5. All four spacecraft were briefly brought together for a
press briefing at IABG in November 1999, and the test programme
for the final satellite was finally completed this week.

“When we created the original timetable, we wondered if we had
set ourselves an impossible task,” said John Ellwood, ESA project
manager for Cluster II. “However, we have successfully delivered
the spacecraft on time, within specifications and within our budget.
This is a testimony to the remarkable efforts of everyone involved.”

For the moment, FM 5 and FM 8 will remain in the clean room at
IABG. Both spacecraft will be put into their containers, which will be
closed but not pressurised, and they will then be taken across
southern Germany by road convoy to Basle/Mulhouse airport on 7
April. If all goes according to plan, they will be loaded onto a giant
Russian Antonov cargo plane for shipment to Baikonur via Moscow
on 11 April.

The other Cluster II spacecraft – the first pair to be completed – will
have already preceded them. Safely cocooned in their containers,
they will be transported from the Dornier plant in Friedrichshafen. to
Basle/Mulhouse airport on 31 March, and wing their way towards
Moscow a few days later. For them, launch will be just 10 weeks
away … and counting.

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