The XMM X-ray space observatory is the largest scientific spacecraft ever built in Europe. It is due to be launched by an Ariane 5 launch vehicle from Kourou (French Guiana) on 8th December 1999. XMM with its seven metre telescope tube, is over 10 metres long. For transportation, an oversized sea container was built in Switzerland. It is an air-conditioned, super-clean and shock-proof box, 15m long by 5m wide and 5 m high in which the spacecraft lies horizontally. The only practical way to get this special consignment to its South American launch site was to ship it first on a barge to Rotterdam and then on a vessel MN Toucan used by the Arianespace launcher transportation company.
MN Toucan, the roll-on roll-off cargo vessel was built in the Netherlands to assist in Arianespace projects. The vessel is 115,6 meters long, with 5 meters draft in order to dock at Kourou's Pariacabo port regardless of the tide. Its sailing speed is 15 knots with an autonomy of 10 thousand nautical miles. It can accommodate 800 tons of cargo, including items 96 meters long, 8 high and either 13 or 17m wide. The ship has two cranes, capable of hoisting 28 and 40 tons. The ship's use implied special safety requirements - it has two engines, two main propellers, two rudders and two thrusters.
The launch services provider has already decided to reinforce its fleet to meet rocket launch requirements. A construction of a sister ship has just been completed and it will soon enter the service.
More information: XMM space observatory, Robert Laine