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24-Jun-99 | Delta flight 271 – FUSE

NASA’s FUSE spacecraft is now in orbit, thanks to the flawless and on-time launch of Delta 271. The 7320-10C vehicle lifted off on 24 June from Cape Canaveral’s SLC-17A at 11:43:59.879 a.m. EDT and deployed its payload about 76 minutes later. The terminal count was incredibly smooth and only suffered a 5 minute delay thanks to the Cape’s usual suspect — a boat in the debris impact zone. Following solar panel deployment, FUSE Project Manager Dennis McCarthy said that the flight was “a joyful ride” and called Delta II “the best way to get there.” FUSE will provide high-resolution spectroscopy in the far ultraviolet range of the spectrum, never before possible, allowing scientists to address fundamental questions about the chemical evolution of the Universe.


24-Jun-99 | Mars lander at risk of cancellation

According to an alert published by The Planetary Society, the Mars Surveyor 2001 Lander mission is in danger of being cancelled due to budgetary constraints, despite the fact that the project is on schedule and within budget. There is no word from NASA at present. The lander is intended to be launched aboard a Delta II in April 2001.


23-Jun-99 | Globalstar vehicle stacking

At Canaveral, on Pad B, the vehicle for the next Globalstar mission is being stacked. Booster motors are mounted, and the second stage was hoisted into place on Tuesday. Launch is in less than 0 days.


15-Jun-99 | Delta flight 270 – Globalstar-3

The third Globalstar mission aboard a Delta II was successfully launched on 10 June, at 13:48 UTC. All four satellites were properly dispensed into their proper orbits. Three more Globalstar launches are scheduled in the next 3 months. One of these, Globalstar-5, is slated to carry the next “videoroc,” or on-board launch camera. Thursday’s launch commentary was provided by Marc “Moose” Lavigne, in his debut as Boeing’s on-air talent.


12-May-99 | Rain damages NAVSTAR on pad

At Cape Canaveral’s SLC-17A, the first Navstar IIR Global Positioning System satellite to fly since July 1997 has been postponed indefinitely. The spacecraft/third stage assembly were kept in storage during last week’s Delta III launch in case of a catastrophic failure at (or soon after) liftoff, and were transported to the pad on Thursday, 6 May. (Thanks to Florida Today‘s Justin Ray for sharing this information.) Unfortunately, rainwater intrusion into the Level 9 clean room during a heavy thunderstorm on 8 May has caused the Air Force to return the spacecraft to the payload processing facility for damage assessment. If there is little or no damage, payload integration and fairing installation will take a minimum of 9 days. If major repairs are needed, the spacecraft might have to be shipped back to Lockheed Martin in Valley Forge, Penna. In this case the launch vehicle would likely be destacked to clear the pad for the Delta II that will carry the FUSE spacecraft for NASA.

It is interesting to note that it is not possible for FUSE to be launched from Pad B. According to Justin Ray, who twice confirmed his information with Boeing’s Rich Murphy, FUSE must fly from Pad A because it is a 3-solid vehicle. Boeing has not done an engineering analysis on Pad B’s flame ducts, which were rebuilt to support Delta III launches, to determine the pulse effects at liftoff of a vehicle with only 3 solids. As there are few 7300 models on the docket, it is apparently more cost-effective to wait or destack than to perform the extensive engineering work. (Thanks again to Justin Ray.)


07-May-99 | Delta flight 269 – Orion F-3 (FAILURE)

Boeing has suffered a severe setback in the Delta III program, as the second mission has failed to achieve the proper orbit.

The spectacular night liftoff from SLC-17B, intending to carry the Orion F-3 comsat to geosynchronous orbit for Hughes and Loral, occurred at exactly 21:00 EDT on 4 May. The first stage with its nine booster motors (including 3 with thrust vector control) worked perfectly, vindicating Boeing’s confidence in the vehicle and the improvements made following last August’s guidance failure. Though a matter of some concern, the nozzle extension of the Pratt & Whitney RL10B-2 second stage deployed as expected, and the stage’s first burn was nominal.

However, the second stage shut down less than one second after beginning its second burn, which was intended to last for 151 seconds and raise apogee from about 750 to 14,000 nautical miles. This is the second failure of an RL10-based stage in a week, following the launch of a Titan 4 on Friday, though as yet the causes of these two mishaps are unknown and likely unrelated. Boeing has convened an investigation board, headed by Dr. Russell Reck, director of engineering technology for Expendable Launch Systems. Initial data point to the upper stage engine hardware, rather than the guidance software, so upcoming Delta II flights should not be affected.


05-May-99 | MGS begins full-time ops

Mars Global Surveyor (Delta 239) began full-time mapping operations on Tuesday, 9 March, in a sun-synchronous, 1.97-hour orbit. Controllers continue to diagnose a blocked azimuth gimbal on the high-gain antenna that is preventing full motion of the HGA. In the meantime, HGA mapping continues with the available range of motion, and will continue to be possible until February 2000. (Latest info)


28-Apr-99 | Delta III aborted at T-minus 2 seconds

Last week’s Delta III on-pad abort at Cape Canaveral’s SLC-17B was caused by a ground-support software glitch. The main engine ignition command was never sent to the vehicle.

This marked the fourth scrub for this vehicle, which will carry the Orion F-3 comsat to geosynchronous orbit for Hughes and Loral. Boeing has replicated the error in ground tests and has completed a revision, and the next launch opportunity will be in less than 0 days, pending the successful launch of a Titan 4B on Friday. Available launch windows are:

The entire launch window on Thursday, 22 April, was a nail-biter, with three holds during the terminal count and a period of concern over wind shear data. At least two of the holds were caused by overly tight constraints during the vehicle’s transition from external to internal systems. For instance, a loss of merely two digits from a very long sequence of numbers for more than 400 milliseconds was enough to set off a momentary alarm and stop the count. All three alarms are considered by the launch team to be known and understood, and each time the count resumed at the 4 minute mark. The final countdown of the night was set for liftoff at 10:05 EDT, with about 4 minutes 30 seconds to spare in the 69-minute window. The weather report was green all the way.

Then came the main engine abort, somewhere in the last two seconds of the count. Main engine valves were not commanded to open, so contrary to Greg High’s inadvertent comment at T+2 seconds, it was not a “hangfire.” This sort of thing has occurred at least four times during the Delta II program, which uses the same RS-27A main engine package as the Delta III, and each of those vehicles went on to successful flights. Turnaround time depends of course on fixing the problem, but at a minimum it will take 48 hours: the Thrust Vector Control system requires that much time when its hydraulics have been activated, or “blown down.”

Exciting as the scrub was to watch, my nervousness was not aided by the shenanigans with Boeing‘s webcast. It began with the audio feed broadcasting solely in Korean, but as the count ran down someone figured out this was happening, and took to wandering around several blue menu screens on their satellite system to straighten it out. They found the Boeing audio feed after a while, but didn’t turn off the Korean audio until midway through one of the terminal counts, during which time they fed noise (and blue screen) for about 10-15 seconds before restoring the English only. Finally, the Boeing anchorwoman wins the irony award for talking over the main loop procedural patter during the last terminal count with “we’re going to remain silent….”


19-Apr-99 | NAVSTAR vehicle stacking

At Cape Canaveral, on Pad A, the vehicle for the first Navstar IIR Global Positioning System satellite since July 1997 is being prepared. The first two stages and all 9 solid boosters have been erected. The GPS spacecraft was scheduled to be mated to the Delta third stage, a Star 48B solid motor, spin balanced, and installed atop the vehicle by Monday, 12 April. Because of the busy range, this Delta II is now scheduled for launch on 4 May.


19-Apr-99 | MGS begins operations

Mars Global Surveyor (Delta 239) began full-time mapping operations on Tuesday, 9 March. The spacecraft is in a sun-synchronous, 1.97-hour orbit, and until the evening of 15 April was in excellent health. At that time the spacecraft went into contingency mode (which is apparently not as severe as “safe mode”) due to a stuck hinge on the high-gain antenna. Controllers are in the process of diagnosing the problem. (Latest info)


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