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Archive for 2001

06-Jun-01 | Delta reentry debris lands in science museum; Air Force wants it back reports (3 June 2001) that the U.S. Air Force has requested the return of three pieces of debris from a 1996 Delta II launch that survived reentry over South Africa and which are currently on display in a Cape Town science museum. The parts are likely from the Aerojet second stage of one of three Global Positioning System launches that occurred that year. Just why the innocuous, micrometeorite-scarred fragments are important to the USAF is not mentioned.

24-May-01 | NASA approves Deep Impact

NASA has approved development of Deep Impact, a robotic spacecraft which will attempt to collide a probe with a comet nucleus in order to study the comet’s interior. A $279 million mission, the seventh* in NASA’s Discovery Program, Deep Impact is slated to launch aboard a Delta II rocket sometime around January 2004. (NASA Press Release, 24-May-01)

22-May-01 | Delta flight 285 – GeoLITE

On Friday, 18 May, Delta flight 285 launched the Geosynchronous Lightweight Technology Experiment (GeoLITE), a test payload for the National Reconnaissance Office. This was the first flight for NRO by a Delta. Delta’s predecessor and sibling, Thor-Agena, was the workhorse for NRO’s Corona program from 1960 to 1972. (As I was out of town during this launch, I recommend you check out Justin Ray’s coverage for Spaceflight Now.)

11-May-01 | GOES-2 shuts down

GOES-2 has been moved into a graveyard orbit and was commanded to shut down its communications system on Saturday, 5 May 2001. Part of the world’s first operational, geosynchronous meteorological satellite system, GOES-2 (Geosynchronous Operational Environmental Satellite) was launched aboard Delta 131 on 16 June 1977 and was operated by NOAA until 1993. (Spaceflight Now, 8-May-01)

07-May-01 | RXTE finds evidence of frame dragging

An astronomer at Goddard Space Flight Center using the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer has found observational evidence that rotating black holes create a whirlpool effect, essentially twisting the fabric of spacetime around them. (NASA Press Release, 30-Apr-01) This may sound like old news, as LAGEOS-1 helped scientists determine much the same thing about the Earth, albeit on a lesser scale, some three years ago. RXTE was launched on Delta 230 in December 1995. (LAGEOS dates back to 1976, aboard Delta 123.)

13-Apr-01 | Delta flight 284 – 2001 Mars Odyssey

2001 Mars Odyssey is on its way, thanks to a picture-perfect flight by Delta 284.

With a terminal count devoid of any major issues, and a weather report that could not have been sunnier, there was nothing to stand in the way of the three-stage model 7925-9.5 Delta’s launch in the first instantaneous window on Saturday morning, 7 April. Offical liftoff time was 11:02:21.860 a.m. EDT, a fraction ahead of the nominal window — an eager thumb on the Engine Start button, perhaps. Not that it mattered, as the Delta soared straight and true along its course to deploy the spacecraft, exactly as planned, a little over 31 minutes later. (As of 12 April, NASA is postponing Odyssey’s first TCM from 16 April to sometime in late May. Thanks to Delta’s exceedingly precise accuracy, spacecraft propellant will be conserved for use during and after arrival at Mars.)

Best of all, the twin on-board videorocs provided spectacular views of nearly all phases of the launch. Previous Delta launches, notably ACE and Stardust, have carried a videoroc, but Saturday’s launch returned easily the best pictures yet. Cloudless skies meant the aft-viewing camera had a clear view of the retreating Cape, including the neatly-framed, growing shadow of the rocket’s exhaust plume. The violence of staging did not disrupt transmission as it did during Stardust, resulting in a beautifully static-free shot from MECO through fairing jettison. At the same time, the forward-facing camera looked inside the fairing as it blasted away in an instant, revealing the solar panel and gold foil swaddling of Odyssey. Finally, thanks to a downlink most likely provided by a ground station in Fucino, Italy, we saw for the first time ever a truly amazing sight: the spin-up and separation of the third stage and payload from the second stage. Unfortunately the video signal was lost prior to third stage ignition, to the obvious (and vocal) disappointment of the folks in the control center.

Commentary: Whoever had the idea for the dual videorocs, be they at Boeing or NASA, deserves kudos for this launch. The video was so clean, and exciting to watch, that the major newscasts couldn’t help but replay the footage on the evening news. Even the local stations got on board, so to speak. Best of all, from Boeing’s standpoint at any rate, is the fact that the cameras raised the visibility of a workhorse launch vehicle that often toils in relative obscurity. More often than not, I noticed the newscasters mentioned the Delta rocket by name, frequently in the opening sentence of the item.

Additionally, Boeing engineer and launch commentator Marc Lavigne deserves a mention. Lavigne, who from what I understand fell into the commentator role due to his ability to read a telemetry strip chart like the back of his hand, only continues to improve in his play-by-play account of launch events. When you’re watching the flight on a stop-motion “streaming” webcast, sometimes the only way to know what’s going on is to listen to Marc. (By the way, for those interested in seeing the face behind the voice, check out Boeing’s new 2-minute promotional video, The Legacy Continues. [warning: 16Mb file] Lavigne is the most prominently featured person in the whole video — he’s the guy wearing the fish tie with his headset. We’re not sure who he knows in the video production department.) -ed.

Odyssey, the third orbiter in NASA’s Mars Surveyor program, contains three primary science instruments that will map the Martian surface in terms of mineralogy, morphology, and elemental composition, and measure the surface environment’s radiation levels. Among other benefits, these measurements will allow scientists to search for water and shallow buried ice, data that will come in handy for future human exploration of the Red Planet. Mars Odyssey is in a healthy state of cruise and has already travelled more than 1 million miles from Earth.

05-Apr-01 | NASA chooses Swift as MIDEX-3

NASA has exercised an option on its 2000 Launch Services contract with Boeing to launch the Swift Gamma Ray Burst Explorer spacecraft. Swift, the third mission in the NASA MIDEX program, is scheduled to launch in September 2003 aboard a 3-stage Delta II using three booster motors and a 10-foot-diameter composite fairing. (NASA press release, 3-Apr-01)

24-Mar-01 | Quickbird 2 to fly on a Delta

Delta II has been selected to launch QuickBird 2 in October, according to Spaceflight Now, 23-Mar-01. With a ground resolution of just 2 feet (61 cm), the Earth imaging satellite will provide the highest resolution images commercially available. The article’s author, Justin Ray, informs us that EarthWatch, Inc., owner of the satellite, has received a license from NOAA to operate a 0.5-meter resolution system. This agreement circumvents the U.S. Government’s restriction on non-military satellites with clarity below 5 meters that has supposedly delayed Radarsat 2 for a few years.

22-Feb-01 | NEAR performs first-ever landing on an asteroid!

On Monday, 12 February 2001, two days shy of a full year in orbit, NEAR Shoemaker became the first spacecraft in history to land on the surface of an asteroid.

In an unprecedented and incredible feat of tele-navigation, controllers at the JHU Applied Physics Lab (in consultation with navigators at JPL) directed NEAR to perform a series of four braking burns that altered its orbit to intersect 433 Eros in its “Saddle” region. At a distance of 316 million kilometers from Earth and a one-way transmission delay of over 17 minutes, real-time control of the landing was impossible. NASA estimated the likelihood of receiving a signal after landing (or more accurately, impact) at one chance in 100.

As it approached, NEAR continued to transmit pictures of the surface of Eros, one every 30 seconds or so, with ever increasing detail. The last image, only partially transmitted before impact, showed an area just 20 feet across. Against all odds, at 15:02:10 EST the signal reached Earth: NEAR had survived! (Actual landing time at the asteroid was 19:44:35 UTC, according to JSR 447, 19-Feb-01.)

The event must have been quite similar to the laughably gentle landing depicted in a NASA animation, for the impact at around 3.5 miles per hour did not damage any of the systems necessary for broadcast, and NEAR continued to send a low-bandwidth carrier signal. APL is still receiving telemetry as well, and a brief extended mission has been approved in order to attempt measurements with the gamma-ray spectrometer. Video images will not be taken, however, as NEAR’s camera was designed to be far-sighted and would only show blurs for close-up objects (such as an adjacent asteroid).

NEAR was launched aboard a Delta II rocket on 17 February 1996, the first mission in NASA’s Discovery Program. Other Discovery missions include Mars Pathfinder, Stardust, and the future Genesis, CONTOUR, Deep Impact, and MESSENGER missions, all of which will fly aboard Delta vehicles.

14-Feb-01 | EUVE shut down

The era of EUVE, the Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer, has ended. After making its last observations on 26 January, the spacecraft was commanded to switch off on 2 February. Also known as Explorer 67, EUVE was launched on Delta flight 210 on 7 June 1992, and opened a never-before-seen range of the electromagnetic spectrum to scientific observation. EUVE completed its primary mission in 1996 and has been a platform for guest observations ever since. It will likely perform an uncontrolled reentry about one year from now. (Jonathan’s Space Report #446, 10-Feb-01)

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