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Archive for July, 2003

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)

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.



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