Julian Clover puts on his thermals for a trip to the launch site of Telenor’s Thor 5 in Kazakhstan
It’s cold, minus 18 degrees cold to be precise, but Thor 5 looks splendid in the glow of the Baikonour sunlight.
The Russian Orthodox priest who was on hand to bless the rocket was good enough to wait until we arrived before casting holy water both on the launch pad and anyone that happened to be in the way at the time. The Proton Breeze rocket is designed to function at temperatures down to minus 50 Celsius and I was thankful we didn’t have to find out. Minus 28 degrees was the worst that we experienced in what turned out to be a slightly prolonged visit.
En route to the launch site the following day it was discovered that a small problem with the launch vehicle meant a 24-hour delay.
But how do you entertain yourself when stepping outside involves wrapping up like the Michelin Man? The Hotel Sputnik is apparently Italian-owned. This became apparent when switching on the hotel TV, which showed a selection of channels, all Italian apart from the two or so Russian networks.
Channel 1 was on in the hotel bar as we gathered on Saturday night. The programme would not have looked out of place on any Western network. The talent show involved various circus acts that would then be marked out of ten by the panel of judges. The clown scored badly with the points being all at sixes and sevens, but the dancing bear who seemed to need a little persuasion to perform somersaults was in its element in catching hoops and placing them over his head, Simon Cowell would presumably not have been prepared to argue with the contestant.
The hotel was probably a little taken aback by the party of 80 or so clients from satellite operator Telenor, their launch partners ILS and the satellite manufacturer Orbital, making its debut for a European operator.
Despite our best efforts to improve the takings, particularly at the bar, takings at Hotel Sputnik are not apparently what the owners were anticipating. So having been assembled like a piece of Ikea furniture there are plans to move it again piece by piece to the middle of the launch facilities.
The lack of broadband access meant that our articles on the launch were sent back to London by a mix of text and telephone in a curious mix of old and new that ultimately saw a successful launch and an extension of Telenor’s satellite fleet.