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Archive for June, 2003

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.

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).

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