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Archive for 2003

21-Sep-03 | NOAA-N’ damaged

On 6 September, the NOAA-N Prime spacecraft, under construction for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at Lockheed Martin’s facility in Sunnyvale, California, dropped from a support fixture. An investigation into the cause of the incident and extent of the damage is underway. NOAA-N Prime, a critical part of the U.S. weather and climate monitoring capability, was tentatively scheduled to launch aboard a Delta Med-Lite in 2008. (NASA Press Release, 09-Sep-03)

12-Sep-03 | GP-B delay

Gravity Probe B has been delayed once again, this time for the same reason that last postponed SIRTF: “delaminations within the layers of material that comprise the solid rocket booster nozzle exit-cone liners.” Three of the ATK Thiokol-built GEM 40 booster motors will be replaced as a precautionary measure. Nevertheless, stacking of the two-stage Delta 7920 at Space Launch Complex 2-West remains slated to begin next Monday, 15 September, with stacking of the second stage now set to precede attachment of the GEM 40 motors. (NASA ELV Status Report, 10-Sep-03)

03-Sep-03 | First SIRTF image released

Though the start of its science mission is still several weeks away, SIRTF has returned its first “aliveness test” image, available here. The image is fuzzy because the optics are not yet properly chilled down. Meanwhile, it appears that the upper stage of Delta 300, which propelled SIRTF into space, has become the first Delta second stage to enter heliocentric orbit — previous solar orbit flights have all used a third stage solid motor. (JSR 508, 2-Sep-03)

25-Aug-03 | Next launches

Three flights remain on the Delta manifest for 2003. Two will be Air Force launches to maintain the Global Positioning System constellation, set to fly from Canaveral in October and December. Out at Vandenberg AFB, preparations continue on NASA’s Gravity Probe B, scheduled for launch in November.

25-Aug-03 | Delta flight 300 – SIRTF

A new era for astronomy has begun!

In the early morning hours of 25 August, NASA’s Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF) was successfully placed into orbit by a two-stage Delta 7920H. Delta flight 300 — the 109th for Delta II and the second in a row for the new Delta II-Heavy configuration — leapt off Pad 17B at an official range time of 05:35:39.231 UTC. The 50-minute ride into space was quite uneventful, with the exception of telemetry issues that led to a nail-biting conclusion. Data reception dropped out prior to spacecraft separation, and the Canberra tracking station in Australia was unable to lock on to SIRTF’s signal at the expected time. For several minutes, the deployment could only be inferred from the Delta second stage’s evasive burn, which used the proper amount of fuel to make the correct movement away from the spacecraft, meaning that the 865-kilogram telescope was no longer attached. Mission controllers soon breathed a collective sigh of relief as SIRTF announced itself to be in an excellent state of health and in its proper orbit and orientation. Delta II thus continues an astounding streak of successes that now stands at 54 flights in a row.

SIRTF is the last of the Great Observatories, a highly successful group that includes the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, and the venerable Hubble Space Telescope. It will map the sky in the infrared spectrum with resolution and sensitivity far surpassing its predecessors, IRAS (Delta 166) and COBE (Delta 189). SIRTF was first announced over two decades ago and suffered delays too numerous to mention during its development, leading many to joke that its acronym stood for “Someday It’s Ready To Fly.” The $1.2 billion telescope — perhaps the most expensive payload ever to fly on Delta — uses an innovative approach to cooling its instruments that substantially reduced the system’s overall weight and allowed it to be launched aboard the relatively economical medium-class vehicle. Over the next three months, the instruments will be cooled to a few degrees above absolute zero and calibrated. The first images are expected to be released around December, at which time NASA will announce the winner of the SIRTF Naming Contest.

19-Aug-03 | Stages to Saturn returns to print

Not exactly Delta-related news — unless you delve deep into the heritage of the RS-27 main engine — but this author wanted to mention that the University Press of Florida will soon re-issue one of the greatest technological histories ever to become a NASA Special Publication. Stages to Saturn: A Technological History of the Apollo/Saturn Launch Vehicles, by Roger E. Bilstein, chronicles the huge leaps in engineering, metallurgy, computers, and myriad other fields that were necessary to build and fly the Saturn V rocket that took man to the moon. The reprint contains the complete text, photos, and illustrations of the wildly informative original, and is available for pre-order at 30% off from I highly recommend it.

05-Aug-03 | Future flight updates

Gunter Krebs has pointed out that the WISE website states that mission will launch aboard a Taurus 2210, the first MIDEX mission not to use a Delta. (WISE was named as MIDEX-6 in March, though it will be the fifth MIDEX mission to fly thanks to the cancellation of MIDEX-4, FAME.) Also, Gunter noted a posting that says that the GOES missions “have silently moved to the Delta IVM+ launch vehicle, reducing the chances that Delta III will ever return to flight.” Thanks go out to Gunter for this info.

04-Aug-03 | First Mars Scout mission announced

NASA has announced that Phoenix, “an innovative and relatively low cost mission to study the red planet,” will be the first Mars Scout mission. The lander is planned to be launched aboard a Delta II Heavy in August, 2007. (NASA Press Release, 04-Aug-03)

22-Jul-03 | GP-B arrives at Vandenberg

Speaking of gyroscopes, Gravity Probe B arrived at Vandenberg AFB on Thursday, 10 July, following ground transport from the Lockheed Martin plant in Sunnyvale, California. It is presently being processed in NASA spacecraft processing hangar 1610 in preparation for an expected launch in November. Its two-stage Delta II will begin erection at Space Launch Complex 2 on September 15. (NASA ELV Status Report, 11-Jul-03) GP-B will use four highly-accurate gyroscopes to test two predictions of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity that he advanced in 1916: one, that the mass of the Earth distorts the fabric of spacetime around it; and two, that the rotation of the Earth drags spacetime around with it as it spins. Evidence of this so-called “frame dragging” effect was previously evinced by LAGEOS-1 (Delta 123) way back in 1998.

22-Jul-03 | FUSE upgraded

NASA’s Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (FUSE) has received what controllers are calling a “triple brain transplant” — new flight software that will allow the spacecraft to continue to function regardless of how many of its gyroscopes fail. FUSE (Delta 271, launched 24-Jun-99) lost one gyro in May 2001, and has five gyroscopes remaining; it also survived the loss of two of its four reaction wheels in late 2001. (NASA Press Release, 21-Jul-03)

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