Pathfinder Begins its Journey

Pathfinder is off!

It’s packed up and headed to India. Here, we’d like to share a few details on how we pack for transport and some of the precautions and things we do to keep everything perfect while in transit.
Looking around Spaceflight Industries this week, employees notice that our main “show-and-tell” exhibit is missing: the Pathfinder-1 spacecraft is gone! After many years of design, assembly, and test, the 50 kg imaging microsat is on its way to launch. But you won’t find Pathfinder at Cape Canaveral, Florida, nor Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. It is on its way to the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, India. That’s right, Pathfinder-1 is launching on the Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) in late September!

Preparing a spacecraft for transportation is rather more involved than packing your checked bags for an airline. Pathfinder is traveling in a hard plastic case, mounted on vibration dampeners to decrease shock forces from handling being transmitted to the satellite. The case also has a pressure release valve so the case does not implode/explode as the air pressure changes during flight. Pathfinder is double bagged with anti-static plastic to prevent any electrical charge build up, and the bag is purged with pure nitrogen to eliminate water vapor, which could condense on Pathfinder. Finally, there is a digital environmental monitor attached inside the case to record shock, pressure, temperature, and humidity every minute for the entire journey, just to make sure that everything goes OK.

Pathfinder did not leave by itself. Pathfinder was one of eleven pieces of cargo that is in transit to India. Other items include the Motorized Lightband separation system, fuel cart and butane fuel for Pathfinder, several boxes of test equipment, supplies, and repair items, and a mass simulator which we can launch in place of Pathfinder if the spacecraft develops a problem that prevents her from launching. In total, there are 187 types of items being shipped, and over 1200 individual pieces of equipment. They range from very expensive test equipment, all the way down to pens and pencils. You can never be too prepared to conduct highly technical operations at a remote site.

Stay tuned next week for the second installment of the Pathfinder-1 launch campaign blog. We will be talking about Pathfinder’s arrival and initial processing at the Spaceport!

Live from Chennai, India,

Jeff Roberts