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Archive for 2002


06-May-02 | Delta flight 291 – Aqua

Following a flawless countdown that NASA’s launch manager characterised as “a snoozer,” Delta flight 291 launched on Saturday, 4 May, to put Aqua into its proper orbit. Official liftoff time was 09:54:58:290 GMT, at the opening of a ten-minute launch window.

This launch of a two-stage Delta 7920-10L was a significant one for Vandenberg AFB. It was the fourth Delta in a row to launch from the west coast range. The only other time this has happened was back in 1971-72, when Delta still had the convenience of working from two launch pads at once. (Space Launch Complex 2-East was decommissioned in 1972; today only the concrete apron remains and the site is used for equipment storage.) In fact, this is the only time SLC-2W has hosted more than two consecutive launches. Kudos to the entire Delta team for their hard work in the wilds of the central California coast.

The flight had a number of other notable aspects. It was the first flight of Boeing’s new stretched-length payload fairing, designated “10L” and three feet longer than the standard 10-foot-diameter composite fairing; it was chosen to accomodate Aqua’s large dimensions. Being a polar-orbit flight, the ground stations used to track the rocket ran the gamut of terrestrial climes, as it passed over McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, Malindi, Kenya, and Thule, Greenland, during its ascent. During a long second-stage coast phase, Aqua’s sensitive instruments required the vehicle to enter a passive thermal control, or “barbeque” roll, to equalize the sun’s heating effects. Finally, spacecraft deployment was performed using an uncommon method to avoid imparting tip-off rates to the payload. Rather than the typical spring-loaded release from the attach fitting, after the retaining clamp and secondary latches were released the Delta second stage used its helium thrusters to slowly back away from the spacecraft.

Aqua, formerly known as EOS-PM, is a NASA orbiter carrying six state-of-the-art instruments to comprehensively study Earth’s water cycle, including “atmospheric temperature and humidity profiles, clouds, precipitation and radiative balance; terrestrial snow and sea ice; sea surface temperature and ocean productivity; [and] soil moisture.” It was originally planned to launch in late 2000, but myriad problems related mainly to spacecraft readiness resulted in cumulative delays of about a year and a half. Over the next four months the satellite will be tested, calibrated, and boosted into a 438 nautical mile operational orbit, before beginning its 6-year science mission.


30-Apr-02 | Coming Soon!

To Reach the High Frontier: A History of U.S. Launch Vehicles, edited by NASA Chief Historian Roger D. Launius and Dennis R. Jenkins, will be published by the University Press of Kentucky in August 2002. It includes chapters on all the major families of American launch vehicles, from the Navaho project of the 1950s, to the expendable Atlas, Titan, and Delta rockets, to the Space Shuttle and discussions of other reusable vehicle concepts. “Delta: The Ultimate Thor” is an extensive overview of Delta history and development written by yours truly (but in case you think this is a totally shameless plug, I won’t be getting any royalties from the book). To order, click here.


25-Apr-02 | CONTOUR arrives at KSC

CONTOUR arrived today at Kennedy Space Center, where it was placed into SAEF-2 for pre-launch processing. It had been shipped via ground in an air-ride, climate-controlled shipping container from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., which designed and built the spacecraft. CONTOUR (Comet Nucleus Tour) is expected to launch in July aboard a Delta Med-Lite rocket and will fly near at least two comets during its four-year mission.


18-Apr-02 | Stardust aphelion

Today is aphelion day for Stardust (Delta 266). At 2.72 AU from the Sun, it has set a record for the greatest distance ever reached by a solar-powered spacecraft. Despite its low power input, the craft is in good shape and remains on course to intercept comet Wild-2 in 2004.


17-Apr-02 | SIRTF in testing

The Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF) is now in testing at Lockheed Martin Space System’s Sunnyvale, California, campus following integration of its cryogenic telescope assembly. SIRTF is the last of NASA’s Great Observatories, a group that includes the Hubble Space Telescope, the late Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. SIRTF will launch into a heliocentric orbit aboard an upgraded Delta II rocket in early 2003. (Spaceflight Now, 15-Apr-02)


14-Mar-02 | Mars Odyssey’s MARIE online

Yesterday, controllers for 2001 Mars Odyssey announced that they successfully regained communications with MARIE, the Martian Radiation Environment instrument, and have begun collecting data with it. MARIE had been off line since August, when communications were first lost; mission managers chose to leave the instrument turned off and to postpone diagnosis until they had completed the tricky phases of orbit insertion and aerobraking.


06-Mar-02 | FUSE back in action

FUSE, the Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (Delta 271) has returned to active duty. Controllers have implemented an innovative method of guidance control that uses three magnetic torquer coils and their interaction with Earth’s magnetic field to accurately point the spacecraft and provide full three-axis stabilization. This system compensates for the loss of the second of FUSE’s four reaction wheels, which shut down on 10 December 2001. Since then, the spacecraft had been all but given up for dead, but this week’s miraculous engineering feat will allow FUSE to complete its primary one-year mission plus a possible two-year extension. (NASA Press Release, 06-Mar-02)


14-Feb-02 | Delta flight 290 – Iridium-12

After three scrubbed attempts, Delta flight 290 successfully launched five replacement satellites for the Iridium constellation on Monday, 11 February. The official liftoff time was 1743:44.382 GMT.

On Friday, 8 February, the count was stopped at T minus 55 seconds due to a strong gust of wind at the launch pad that violated launch constraints. The next day, the launch was scrubbed due to mechanical problems with a P-3 ARIA aircraft used as a downrange telemetry relay during the portion of the flight leading up to SECO 1. Then on Sunday, a faulty first stage fuel sensor was reading “wet” when tanking operations had not yet begun, resulting in replacement of all three sensors in that tank.

Finally, on Monday the weather was clear but breezy, and the count proceeded without a hitch, though a range issue did arise that this author had not previously seen. Range safety officers were concerned about covers over the nozzles of the three air-lit solid booster motors that are used to protect the interior of the motors from buffeting and exhaust impingement during the first minute of flight. Computer models of the wind conditions at launch time predicted that the covers, which pop off the air-lit motors when they are ignited, had a chance of falling near Vandenberg’s Titan launch pads. Fortunately, prior to relase of the last built-in hold at T minus 4 minutes, the range resolved that issue and gave the “Go” to proceed.

With that, the launch went smoothly and all five satellites were accurately deployed from their dispenser. This was the twelfth Delta/Iridium launch, bringing the number of satellites launched to 60 (93 total, including Russian Proton and Chinese Long March vehicles), and the first since Iridium’s bankruptcy and reorganisation in March 2000.


31-Jan-02 | EO-1 mission extension

Earth Observing-1 (Delta 282) completed its primary mission in November 2001, but thanks to an agreement with the U.S. Geological Survey, it will remain active through at least February 2002. By selling EO-1’s image data to the research and applications community, USGS will cover operational, data processing, and customer interface costs. After February, the program will be extended on a month-by-month basis, depending on user demand for the data. The spacecraft retains about three years worth of stationkeeping propellant, and barring any hardware failures could survive into 2005.


31-Jan-02 | Farewell, EUVE

NASA and space enthusiasts today bade farewell to EUVE, the Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer. The 7,000-pound spacecraft performed an uncontrolled reentry at about 0415 UTC on 31 January 2002, disintegrating over central Egypt. Though some of its larger steel and titanium components were expected to survive atmospheric heating, no ground impacts have been reported as yet. (NASA Press Release, 31-Jan-01)

EUVE was launched in 1992 aboard Delta flight 210, the first member of NASA’s Explorer program to travel aboard a Delta II. During its initial operational phase, it mapped the entire sky in the previously-unseen extreme ultraviolet (70 -760 Å) spectrum. EUVE then spent eight years as a platform for guest observations, surviving well beyond its design lifetime and yielding a vast wealth of information. Scientific publications based on EUVE data now number in the hundreds, with many more to come. The program was terminated in December 2000 due to NASA concerns about budget and diminishing science returns, and on 2 February 2001, EUVE was switched off.


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