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Archive for 2003


08-Jul-03 | Delta flight 299 – Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity

MER-B Opportunity is on its way!

A quiet terminal count — punctuated only by curious readings from the replacement destruct system battery and an error message from the spacecraft, both of which amounted to no big deal — turned into a nail-biter as a hold was called with just seven seconds left. A valve in the liquid oxygen fill-and-drain system had closed sluggishly, prompting the master controller computer to raise a red flag. Propulsion engineers cycled the valve several times and found that it was working properly, so a manual mode of LOX topping and pressurization was called for, a procedure that is not unprecedented in Delta launches. The launch team smoothly ran through its turnaround routine to reset for the second instantaneous launch window, some 43 minutes after the first.

At 23:18:15.170 EDT, the first Delta II Heavy leapt from SLC-17B and quickly cleared the tower. A new noise-suppression water deluge system made for an impressive display of steam that obscured the vehicle, but only for a brief moment as the oversized GEM-46 boosters rapidly accelerated the rocket into the sky. All three stages performed perfectly, including a lengthy second stage coast phase, as Boeing’s Ted Jones dodged among the crowd in the telemetry lab to give the play-by-play. A forward-facing videoroc on the second stage showed, amid occasional drop-outs, spin-up and separation of the third stage and spacecraft, and a few moments later, perhaps not coincidentally, the transmission got really ratty just at the time the third stage began to fire. About 85 minutes after liftoff, a cheer rose up from the MER-B mission team as the spacecraft came over the hill and let them know it was healthy and on course. Opportunity is expected to reach Mars on 25 January, 2004.


06-Jul-03 | MER-B postponed

“The launch of the MER-B Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket has been postponed an additional 24 hours. The delay is due to the failure of a battery cell associated with a component of the launch vehicle’s flight termination system. The battery must be removed and replaced.” (KSC Press Release, 05-Jul-03)

Launch is now set for Monday evening (the early morning of 8 July UTC). Including that night, only 8 opportunities remain until the launch period closes on 15 July.


03-Jul-03 | MER-B update

Launch of MER-B Opportunity has moved to Sunday evening. A liquid oxygen loading test, which will chill down the first stage tank and test the adhesion of the cork insulation, is set for Saturday. If the insulation does not come unstuck, the follow-up Launch Readiness Review should give the go for Sunday.


30-Jun-03 | Opportunity delayed again

To quote Marvin the Martian, “Delays, delays, delays.” MER-B Opportunity launch has been set for Saturday evening in order to provide more time to repair and inspect the first stage cork insulation. A news conference to explain the situation is expected on Tuesday.


29-Jun-03 | Opportunity delay

Update: MER-B Opportunity has been delayed until at least Wednesday evening, as concern with the Delta first stage’s cork insulation has reared its ugly head again.


28-Jun-03 | Opportunity scrubbed

Scrub! The first launch attempt for MER-B Opportunity has been called off. Rain and clouds that threatened all evening cleared up enough for both instantaneous launch windows, but other environmental factors led to a 24-hour turnaround. The first launch window was missed when the ground level wind direction forced the Range to call a “no go” due to the potential for toxic fumes to blow into populated areas in the event of a mishap at the pad. (A wayward boat in the hazard zone didn’t help.) The second launch window was lost when a weather balloon detected an excessive wind shear at altitude. Weather for the next two evenings is improving, with a 30% chance of constraint violation each night.


25-Jun-03 | LEGO models Mars rover and Delta rocket!

Ask and ye shall receive… Some months ago (December 2002 to be exact), this author expressed his hope that LEGO, in conjunction with their sponsorship of the MER naming contest, would release a scale model LEGO Mars Exploration Rover. Not only have they done so (with kit #7471), they have also put out Mission To Mars #7469, with a smaller Rover, a model of 2001 Mars Odyssey, and — a Delta II rocket complete with launch tower! Expect to see a review of these kits on this site in the near future.


25-Jun-03 | FAQ page updated

An important update to the Frequently Asked Questions page is now available, with a definitive answer to the question of the stars on the Delta insignia. Thanks to Tim Johnson for his cogent explanation.


25-Jun-03 | MER-B launch date confirmed

Saturday night, 28/29 June, is confirmed as the first launch attempt for MER-B Opportunity. The latest weather report expects a 40% chance of violating launch constraints each night through Monday, with the typical problem being residual clouds left over from afternoon thunderstorms.


22-Jun-03 | MER-B delay

Following the Flight Readiness Review on Saturday, a decision has been made to postpone the launch of MER-B Opportunity until no earlier than late Saturday evening, 28 June. “Based on routine post-test inspections, the launch team has elected to remove and replace a band of protective cork insulation on the Delta first stage. The location is below the forward attach points of the strap-on solid rocket boosters. Inspections of a second band located higher on the first stage are being performed.” (KSC Press Release, 21-Jun-03) A firm date will be set on Monday. MER-B’s launch period extends until 15 July.


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