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Archive for 2003


20-Jun-03 | Stardust completes DSM-3

Stardust successfully completed its third Deep Space Manoeuvre on Wednesday, 18 June, placing it on course to intercept comet Wild-2. NASA’s cometary debris collector, launched aboard Delta 266 in February, 1999, will return its samples to Earth in 2006. (JPL Press Release, 19-Jun-03)


20-Jun-03 | Opportunity update

MER-B Opportunity was transported to SLC-17B early Tuesday morning, 17 June, and was hoisted into place atop the first Delta 7925-Heavy. Installation of the payload fairing is now set for Saturday, 21 June, with the Flight Readiness Review to be held the same day. Hypergolic propellant loading of the second stage is expected on 23 June. With the slight delay in moving to the launch pad, MER-B has been pushed back by a day, and is now set for the late evening of 25 June at the Cape (26 June UTC) with two instantaneous launch windows.


10-Jun-03 | Delta flight 298 – Mars Exploration Rover Spirit

“The Delta did it again.”

With a smile, a shrug, and a bit of understatement, NASA ELV Flight Director Omar Baez summed up the flight of MER-A Spirit with what we have all come to know: if you want to get it there, send it on a Delta. Of course, it takes hundreds of people working at their peak performance to make a successful rocket launch, but the NASA/Delta team is like a paddling duck — on the surface, it all looks effortless.

The weather today was cooperative, and aside from some range communications issues that the Air Force scrambled to resolve, so was the hardware and software. The Delta 7925 left the pad a fraction of a second in advance of its instantaneous launch window, with an official liftoff time of 13:58:46.773 EDT, Tuesday, 10 June 2003.

The resulting flight was quite nominal. The first stage burn was a tad on the low and slow side (though well within 3-sigma), but the second stage compensated nicely on its first burn. An aft-facing videoroc showed the liftoff and booster jettison events with only the occasional signal loss, but since the camera was mounted on the interstage it stayed with the spent first stage as it slowly tumbled over the Atlantic Ocean. Once the ground-based tracking cameras and the videoroc had nothing to watch, the star of the show became Delta telemetry manager Marc Lavigne, as a camera followed him from console to console in what looked like a very crowded telemetry lab of Hangar AE. Lavigne was very reassuring in the face of ratty data from a shipborne USAF station called “OTTR” stationed off the west coast of Africa, making this his strongest “telemetry tap dance” to date.

The announcement of spacecraft separation came about 36 minutes, 40 seconds after liftoff, resulting in a typical round of applause in the Delta Operations Center or “soft blockhouse,” but that response could not compare to the loud and rousing cheers that went up at JPL when Spirit came over the hill to the Canberra tracking station and controllers saw that their baby is in an excellent state of health. MER-A Spirit is on course to intercept Mars on 4 January, 2004.

Meanwhile, Spirit‘s partner in adventure, Opportunity (MER-B), is in the KSC Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility where it has been fuelled and spin-balanced. It will be attached to its Star-48B third stage and placed in a transport container this week, with transportation to SLC-17B scheduled for Sunday, 15 June. The first launch opportunity for Opportunity opens on 25 June (late evening of 24 June at the Cape).


09-Jun-03 | Spirit scrubbed again

Another day, another scrub. On Monday, the line of thunderstorms approaching the Cape was even more obvious and severe than that of Sunday, and managers called off the attempt before the terminal count could begin with the release of the hold at T-minus 150 minutes. Weather conditions for Tuesday are improving (now down to 30% from 40% chance of violating launch constraints), and MER-A Spirit will try again then.


09-Jun-03 | Rover names announced

NASA has announced the names of the two rovers in the Mars Exploration Rover program. They are, in order of launch, Spirit and Opportunity. The winning names were submitted by Sofi Collis, a 9-year-old third grader from Scottsdale, Arizona, and selected from nearly 10,000 contest entries from grade school students.


08-Jun-03 | Spirit scrubbed

Scrub! The first launch attempt for MER-A Spirit has been called on account of rain. A line of severe thunderstorms approaching the Cape led NASA and Delta managers to decide to move the Mobile Service Tower back into place around the launch pad as quickly as possible in order to protect the vehicle and spacecraft from high winds and water. Fueling of the Delta first stage had been essentially completed before the scrub call, and the tank was quickly drained before MST movement. The weather report is the same for Monday and slightly better for Tuesday, with a strong chance of cumulus clouds, developing thunderstorms, and associated anvil clouds each afternoon.


07-Jun-03 | MER-A ready to go

MER-A is ready to go! Mission managers have closed out all of their reviews, and operations are progressing on schedule. Now the only issue is with the weather, which — as is typical of Florida this time of year — threatens developing afternoon thunderstorms. NASA will announce the names of the rovers, along with the grade school student who submitted the names, at a ceremony Sunday morning at 10:00 EDT, less than five hours before launch. All events will be carried live on NASA’s first-time online coverage of an expendable vehicle mission, called “NASA Direct!” — and if this mission has anywhere near the public response that Mars Pathfinder did, the real challenge tomorrow will be in keeping the web servers from being overwhelmed with visitors.


29-May-03 | MER-A delay

MER-A has been delayed for a few days in order to provide more schedule margin for mission managers to complete their pre-flight reviews. Launch is now targeted for no earlier than 8 June, but this could change by the time of the next official announcement on 2 June. The spacecraft arrived at SLC-17A on Tuesday, 27 May, and was hoisted into place atop its Delta II 7925 launch vehicle. Systems tests continue this week, and the payload fairing installation is set for Saturday, 31 May. MER-A’s launch period opens tomorrow (30 May) and extends through 19 June. (NASA ELV Status Report, 27-May-03)


16-May-03 | Send your name to a comet

NASA has invited the world to Send Your Name to a Comet! Submitted names will be stored on a compact disc to be installed on the impactor module of the Deep Impact spacecraft, a Discovery Program* mission set to launch aboard a Delta II at the end of 2004. Of course, given that the intent of the impactor is to create a crater on comet Tempel 1 as much as fourteen stories deep, should the mission succeed it will be impossible for some explorer in the distant future to retrieve the disc and play back the names. Still, the printable participation certificate is nice.


16-May-03 | Rover update

Work continues at Cape Canaveral for the flights of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers. The MER-2 rover in its entry vehicle has been mated to the MER-A cruise stage, and the complete spacecraft has been fuelled and spin balanced. It will be mated to the STAR-48B third stage on Friday, 23 May, and transported to SLC-17A the following Monday. At the pad, the first and second stages have been erected and the booster motors were installed this week. Launch remains set for 5 June. Meanwhile, full integration of the MER-1 entry vehicle is expected by 21 May, with attachment to cruise stage MER-B to follow. Stacking of the Delta 7925H launch vehicle at SLC-17B will continue over the next two weeks. MER-B’s launch period runs from 25 June through 15 July. (NASA ELV Status Report, 14-May-03)


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