Sunday, December 11, 2011

Air Freight Specialists Ship a Piece of Logistics History

Mars is Final Destination for Latest Consignment
Shipping News Feature

RUSSIA – US – MARS – Project freight forwarding contracts tend to be the most glamorous branch of the world of logistics but sometimes even they can pale by comparison with where their precious, and normally out of gauge cargo ends up. This can be the case with exotic rigs that travel to the depths of the ocean or deep into the jungle but the shipping movement undertaken by Volga-Dnepr Airlines makes even those destinations seem commonplace.

The Russian operators of the giant Antonov AN-124-100 ‘Ruslan’ aircraft recently took responsibility for the shipment of major parts of the launch vehicle for NASA’s most ambitious rover mission to Mars which were delivered to Cape Canaveral in time for a successful take off on the 26th November. Volga-Dnepr was charged with delivering the Atlas V active expendable launch system, part of the Atlas rocket family operated by the Lockheed Martin-Boeing joint venture, United Launch Alliance which they shipped via the AN-124-100 freighter aircraft from Huntsville, Alabama.

This is just the latest space mission to call upon Volga-Dnepr’s air logistics expertise. Since 1997, Volga-Dnepr has regularly provided transportation services for the U.S. space launch programme. In addition to delivering the Atlas V launch system, the airline has also carried the Russian-built RD-180 engines used in Atlas V from Moscow via Denver to Cape Canaveral. The Russian carrier also delivers the Atlas V payload fairing developed by RUAG Emmen in Switzerland and the Centaur upper stage from Huntsville to Cape Canaveral.

Each Atlas V rocket delivered by Volga-Dnepr’s AN-124-100 aircraft weighs up to 25 tonnes and is 36 metres in length. It has a diameter of 3.8 metres and is 4.3 metres high in transport configuration. The weight of the Centaur upper stage reaches up to nine tonnes. It measures 14 metres in length and 3.3 metres in diameter.

The Mars Science Laboratory ‘Curiosity’ will take eight and a half months to reach its destination. Onboard is a car-sized rover vehicle that will scour soil and rocks for any signs of current or past environments on the planet that could have supported life. NASA says Curiosity is the largest and most complex piece of equipment ever to try to reach the surface of another planet. Dennis Gliznoutsa, Group Commercial Director (Charters) for Volga-Dnepr said of the company’s role:

“A lot of careful planning goes into these transportation operations. Their unique character lies in high-technology specificity. While in flight, we maintain design target parameters in relation to temperature and air pressure in the cargo compartment. Quality assurance is undertaken for all stages of the loading and transportation process, and this is reflected in the customer’s process charts.

“These shipments once again demonstrate that Volga-Dnepr’s fleet of AN-124-100 aircraft, with their unique operating capability, are able to deliver the most technically complex cargo shipments in accordance with the most specific requirements of our clients. We are delighted to assist our long-term customer, United Launch Alliance, in providing services to space mission programmes which broaden the horizons of the whole of humanity.”

Photo: An idea of what ‘Curiosity’ might look like on the surface of the Red Planet