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欧洲库鲁航天基地:南美热带丛林中的火箭发射塔

The rocket tower being built in tropical jungle
欧洲库鲁航天基地:南美热带丛林中的火箭发射塔

To get the best view of the vast European spaceport at Kourou in French Guiana, you have to climb a steep hill through tropical jungle. It’s a strenuous and, frankly, sweaty hike. But that’s not the worst of it.

欧洲航天基地发射场位于法属圭亚那(French Guiana)的库鲁(Kourou),如果你想要观看发射场的全景,就必须穿越热带丛林,爬上一座陡峭的山丘。坦白说,那会是一次非常费劲,让人汗流浃背的辛苦跋涉。但那还并不是最糟糕的。

At the top, the trees give way to a roofed wooden observation deck with ‘Casa Araignées’ (‘House of Spiders’) scrawled on a board above the entrance. Everywhere you look there are hand-sized spiders, their webs stretched across the wooden beams.

到达山顶,走出了森林,眼前是一座有顶的木制观察台,入口一块木板上写着潦草的几个大字“蜘蛛之家”(Casa Araignées)。你抬头四望,到处都是手掌大小的蜘蛛,织出来的蛛网缠绕跨越在木梁上。
 

Only if you pick your way carefully past them (the thought of getting entangled in a giant spider’s web is truly terrifying), can you see the landscape below and, dotted across the cleared jungle, the launch towers for Europe’s three rockets: Ariane 5, Soyuz and Vega.

只有当你小心地经过这些恐怖的蜘蛛网(一想到自己会被一张巨大的蜘蛛网缠绕住,真的很可怕),你才能看到下面的场景,三枚欧洲火箭:阿丽亚娜5号(Ariane 5)、联盟号(Soyuz)和织女星号(Vega)的发射塔散布在清理出来的丛林中。

The largest of these, Ariane 5, has been flying since 1996 and – despite a spectacularly catastrophic maiden mission – has proved to be the world’s most consistently reliable way to launch satellites into orbit and beyond. An Ariane 5 recently carried the giant BepiColombo spacecraft on the first stage of its long journey to Mercury. It’s also launched some of the world’s largest telecommunications, weather and navigation satellites.

三座发射台中最大的是阿丽亚娜5号,尽管首次发射以惊人的灾难收场,但自1996年以来一直在执行运载卫星上天的任务。这证明阿丽亚娜5号迄今仍然是全球将卫星送入轨道及更远的太空最可靠的方式。阿丽亚娜5号最近还成功运载展开第一阶段水星之旅的巨大的“哥伦布水星探测器”(BepiColombo spacecraft)升空。它还发射了一些世界上最大的电信、天气和导航卫星。

But hitching a ride on an Ariane doesn’t come cheap. It costs somewhere in the region of $100m (£78m) to launch a satellite on Ariane 5 (the exact costs are rarely disclosed). Recent entrants to the market such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX promise the same service for tens of millions of dollars less.

但是搭乘阿丽亚娜火箭进入太空可不便宜。用阿丽亚娜5号火箭发射一颗卫星大约需要1亿美元(7800万英镑,确切的价钱很少披露)。最近进入该市场的公司,如马斯克(Elon Musk)的SpaceX等承诺,未来将提供同样的服务但价格将减少数千万美元。

In response, Europe is building Ariane 6 - a 62m-high (204ft), multi-stage rocket, capable of launching medium and large spacecraft into a variety of different orbits. With its 2.4bn euro (£2.14bn/$2.74bn) development funded by the European Space Agency (Esa), everything about the new launcher is designed to be cheaper and more efficient than Ariane 5.

为应对这样的竞争,欧洲正在建造62米高(204英尺)的阿丽亚娜6号火箭,能够将中型和大型航天器发射到各种不同的轨道。6号火箭24亿欧元(21.4亿英镑/27.4亿美元)的开发项目由欧洲航天局(European Space Agency)提供资金,所有设计都力求发射卫星和航天器要比阿丽亚娜5号便宜,而且效率更高。

“We’re aiming to make something that will be very attractive in terms of price and service to customers,” says Charlotte Beskow, head of Esa in Kourou, who readily admits cost isn’t the only factor. “We also have the political will to have our own independent access to space, if we don’t have our own European launchpad then we will always be dependent on others.”

库鲁航天基地的主管贝斯考(Charlotte Beskow)说:“我们的目标是打造出价格和客户服务方面都非常有吸引力的运载项目。”她也承认成本不是影响建造阿丽亚娜6号火箭的唯一因素,“我们也有依靠自身进入太空的政治意愿,如果我们没有自己的欧洲发射台,那么我们将永远需要依赖其他国家。”

Fitted with upgraded engines and new solid boosters, Ariane 6 will come in the equivalent of regular and supersized versions, depending on the mass and orbital destination of the payload. It’s also getting a brand new launchpad and gantry – a structure the French engineers working on the project affectionately describe as a “moveable Eiffel Tower”, albeit a boxy, modernistic version.

装了升级版本的发动机和新的固态助进器,阿丽亚娜6号将会有两种规格版本,一种是相当于常规的型号,另一种则是超大型的版本。至于在执行任务时使用哪种型号,则取决于被运载的卫星或航天器的质量和轨道目的地。阿丽亚娜6号还配备了一个全新的发射台和发射门,这个新的结构被法国工程师们亲切地描述为一个“可移动的埃菲尔铁塔”(Eiffel Tower),尽管发射门是一个方形的、现代化的版本。

At the moment, the 90m-high (297ft) gantry is just a giant framework of girders, but in the coming months it will be covered in metal panels and the interior fitted with decks to encase the rocket. Unlike its predecessor Ariane 6 will be put together horizontally in a nearby building, before being hoisted-up into the launch tower for final assembly, fuelling and testing. Then, a few hours before launch, the whole structure will be moved away on rails to leave the rocket exposed on the launch pad.

目前,90米高(297英尺)的发射门只是一个巨大的框架梁,但在未来几个月,将会覆盖金属面板,内部安装甲板以固定火箭。与5号前身不同,阿丽亚娜6号将平放在附近的一座建筑中进行组装,然后被吊起放进发射门进行最终组装、加油和测试。然后,在发射前几个小时,整个发射门顺着轨道移开后,火箭就会裸露在发射台上。

“It’s what we did in the old days for Ariane 4 and it’s what we do for Vega and Soyuz, so it’s a proven technology,” says Beskow. “This time we’re doing it on a bigger scale but in terms of preparing the launcher, it’s quicker, it’s more efficient, it allows people to work in safe conditions and also from a weather point of view, it’s more convenient.”

贝斯考说:“这项工程是我们过去发射阿丽亚娜4号火箭采用过,也是我们发射织女星号和联盟号所做过的,所以这是一项经过验证的技术。只是这一次我们做的规模更大,但就发射装置的准备而言,它更快,效率更高,可以让人们安全工作,而且从热带气候的角度来看,也更方便。”

Launching from the equator – where the Earth is spinning faster than other latitudes – helps give rockets an extra boost to orbit. The downside is the tropical climate; every building at the spaceport is under continuous attack from the forest. Their exteriors are streaked green with algae, moss and mould. As a result, the inside of the launch tower will be air-conditioned and encircled by lightning conductors to protect the rocket and, more importantly, the team of engineers working on it.

法属圭亚那接近赤道,从赤道发射火箭有助于给火箭带来额外的升空动力,因为地球自转在赤道地区会比其他纬度地区快。但赤道地区也有不利的因素,那就是热带气候。库鲁航天基地的每一栋建筑都受到热带森林永不休止的侵袭。建筑的表面常年累月下已经被绿色的藻类,苔藓和霉菌包裹着。因此,发射塔的内部将设置空调,并用避雷针包围着,以保护火箭。更重要的是,这么做是要保护火箭的工程师团队。

It currently takes 35 days to prepare an Ariane 5 for launch. The rockets have to be hauled between different facilities on an extensive rail network, so the boosters and satellites can be added. With Ariane 6 the aim is to cut that time to just 12 days.

目前准备阿丽亚娜5号火箭的发射需要35天时间。火箭必须通过一个巨大的轨道网在不同设施之间移动拖运,以便将助推器和卫星附在火箭上。阿丽亚娜6号的目标是把准备时间缩短到12天。

“The final product will be very simple, very streamlined, it will look elegant – that’s how we’re going to save time,” says Beskow. “There will be fewer manipulations, fewer operations, they’ll be less transport and so fewer bottlenecks – it should offer quicker turnaround times, quicker ways into space.”

贝斯考说:“最终的成品将非常简单,精简过程,外形也较优雅,这就是我们要节省时间的方法。控制减少,操作减少,运输减少,瓶颈也会减少,阿丽亚娜6号会提供更快的周转时间,作为更快进入太空的途径。”

But constructing a new launch gantry is only part of the engineering challenge. The most impressive engineering is below ground. On the surface, the launchpad will resemble an apron of steel and concrete but, once complete, its support structure will reach some 30m (100ft) beneath the soil. Either side, a pair of 20m-wide (66ft) tunnels have been built to funnel the flames from the exhaust and carry the water that’s sprayed at the rocket during launch.

但是建造一个新的发射塔只是这个工程挑战性的一部分。最令人印象深刻的是地下工程。在地面上,发射台将会竖起一个由钢和混凝土制成的“围裙”,这个混凝土的钢架一旦完成,其支撑结构将深达地下约30米(100英尺)。在地下支撑结构两边各修建了条20米宽(66英尺)的隧道,以减弱和排放火箭点火发射的火焰,并将发射期间喷在火箭上的水输送出去。

“We call it the deluge – we throw lots of water on it, so it reduces the vibrations on the launcher and the payload,” Beskow explains. “It also reduces the toxic fallout, so it’s very important.”

贝斯考解释说:“我们称这个结构为‘洪水’,我们倾泻了很多水进隧道,这减少了发射器和所载太空器的振动,减少了有毒的排放物,所以非常的重要。”

Right now, this latest European launch complex is a vast construction site with 600 workers employed here across two shifts. As I watch, seven high spindly cranes swing beams, concrete and rubble above me, sparks fly as technicians weld girders together and there is the constant pounding of pile drivers.

目前,这座最新的欧洲发射场只是一个巨大的建筑工地,600名工人分两班日夜赶工。当我驻足观看时,在我头顶上,七根高高的吊车正悬吊起横梁,混凝土和瓦砾,技术人员在焊接横梁,火花迸射,而打桩机则不断地敲击地面。

But, with the first Ariane 6 due off the production line in 2019 and the first launch planned for 2020, time is running short. Nevertheless, engineer in charge, Frédéric Munos, exudes a quiet confidence. After all, this is his fifth launchpad.

但是,由于第一架阿丽亚娜6号将在2019年完工,第一次发射计划定在2020年,发射台所剩的建造时间不多了。然而,负责的工程师穆诺斯(Frédéric Munos)却流露出平静的自信。毕竟这是他所打造的第五个火箭发射台。

“We just have to do it right, properly, with good design and no accidents,” says Munos, matter-of-factly. “We’ll be satisfied when we see the first launch, watched by the eyes of the world.”

穆诺斯说:“我们必需要正确地按照计划完成这项工程,还有设计优良,不要发生任何意外。只有这样,当我们将来在全世界关注下第一次发射阿丽亚娜6号时,我们会倍感满意的。”

Earlier this year, when SpaceX launched its Falcon Heavy from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, thousands of people travelled to see the launch. Because French Guiana is relatively isolated, comparatively few will ever witness, in person, the launch of an Ariane 6. But that’s something that Beskow also hopes to change.

2018年SpaceX在佛罗里达州肯尼迪航天中心发射了猎鹰重型运载火箭,当时有数千人前往观看那次发射。由于法属圭亚那地处偏远,很少有人能亲眼目睹阿丽亚娜火箭的发射。但贝斯考也希望改变这种状况。

“The trouble is because it’s in an ideal location, it’s also in a remote location – what I’d love to see is more people coming here just to see it, just as people go to Houston and Kennedy,” she says. “This is a European asset and it will be jaw-dropping to see.”

她说:“这是一个火箭发射的理想位置,却也是一个偏远的地方。我希望有更多的人来这里看看,就像人们去休斯顿和肯尼迪观看火箭发射一样。这是一项欧洲资产,亲眼目睹其发射你一定会瞠目结舌。”

If you do decide to visit, just remember one thing: watch out for the giant spiders.

如果你真的决定前去库鲁航天基地观看火箭发射,请记住一件事:小心那些巨大的蜘蛛。
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