In an interview, Torsten Uhlhorn, head of logistics at OHB in Bremen, talks about the challenges of transporting a satellite by heavy-duty road haulage and why lengthy approval procedures throw a spanner in the works with many plans.
With a “dry weight” of around 2.5 tons, the EDRS-C communications satellite is no lightweight and, with a height of around four meters, no midget either. So how does OHB get the technological giant from the Bremen clean-room facilities to IABG in Ottobrunn?
Torsten Uhlhorn: We do this by means of heavy-duty road haulage with special permission and subject to certain conditions. These days, it takes more than a single day for a trip from Bremen to Ottobrunn in Bavaria in view of the roadworks along the motorway. The forwarding agent plans the route, with the maneuver usually scheduled for the night between 10 pm and 6 am as the roads are empty at that time. He then negotiates with the authorities of the states through which the satellite will be traveling.
So that’s all it takes to get the truck carrying the satellite onto the motorway?
Uhlhorn: No, of course not. We need to organize quite a few things before the truck leaves our premises. As soon as the departure date has been confirmed, we start planning. We need to apply for a special heavyweight road haulage permit from the Roads and Traffic Authority in Bremen as well as all the other German states that the satellite will be crossing. Unfortunately, it can take up to three weeks to complete all the paperwork and we have to factor this period into our calculations. Even more aspects need to be planned if the satellite is to be transported to a destination outside Germany. In such cases it can take at least eight weeks to obtain all the approvals.
And how is the satellite prepared for its journey?
Uhlhorn: This depends on the satellite of course. Generally speaking, the satellite is packed in a container under ISO-clean room conditions and remains in an airlock until it is transported. After it is loaded onto the truck, the police perform a departure check and also accompany our truck until it reaches the motorway.
But there is no motorway to the Kourou space center. What additional factors must be taken into account with air transportation?
Uhlhorn: Our SmallGEO communications satellite, for example, was carried on board an Antonov An-124 cargo aircraft from Munich to Kourou. That was pretty impressive. With a length of 69 meters, the cargo aircraft is truly enormous. Before take off, the air cargo must be checked to ensure that it is safe for transportation.
Back to Bremen. Given OHB’s very good order situation, you must surely experience bottleneck situations in the clean rooms and integration halls from time to time. Is this a logistic challenge?
Uhlhorn: Yes, absolutely. Obviously, we are thrilled with our Company’s business success. But it is forcing us to increase our clean-room capacities in Bremen. As a result, we are now building a new hall.
This sounds like a lot of work for the ten-strong logistics team.
Uhlhorn: That’s true. In addition to organizing transportation, coordinating the halls and ensuring the safety of the air cargo, my team also handle customs matters and special supplies and tools for the AIT staff among other things. Our team has ten members who go far beyond the call of duty and sometimes even work extended hours when a consignment has to leave the premises late in the day. That’s what I call true commitment.