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Archive for March, 2004


25-Mar-04 | MESSENGER rescheduled

NASA has rescheduled the launch of MESSENGER from May to no earlier than 30 July.  Additional testing of the spacecraft’s fault-protection system software was cited as one of several factors.  “A more comfortable spacecraft processing schedule” was another, though this comes at the cost of cutting it close on the launch window, which only extends through 13 August. MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging; the coolest [if most contrived] acronym ever), if it launches in time, will be the first attempt to orbit the closest planet to the sun. (NASA ELV Status Report, 24-Mar-04)


21-Mar-04 | Delta flight 303 – NAVSTAR IIR-11

Flight number 303, the first Delta launch of 2004, took place yesterday at Cape Canaveral’s SLC-17B. The three-stage Delta II 7925 carried NAVSTAR IIR-11, a replenishment satellite for the USAF‘s Global Positioning System space segment.

A quiet countdown was interrupted with less than a minute remaining by a pressure alarm in the first stage nitrogen system. The launch team had a chance to show off their quick T-minus 4-minute turnaround skills and was able to launch at an official time of 12:53:00.409 EST, a minute ahead of the close of the 15-minute window.

Spacecraft separation came 68 minutes, 14 seconds later, into an 11,000-mile (apogee) transfer orbit. NAVSTAR IIR-11 will replace IIA-19, which has been on orbit for eleven years; a plaque mounted on IIR-11 celebrates the late Dr. Ivan A. Getting, a space pioneer who is “credited as the visionary behind GPS.”

Boeing announced this flight as “the 50th [GPS] satellite launched,” a number which includes the Block I experimental constellation as well as two launch failures (an Atlas E in 1981, and Delta 241 on 17 January 1997). Successful launches into the operational constellation now number 38. (Spaceflight Now, 20-Mar-04; Boeing Press Release, 20-Mar-04)


18-Mar-04 | Spitzer finds Oort cloud object

NASA has announced the discovery of the furthest object known in the solar system, now named Sedna after the Inuit goddess of the ocean. With the help of the Spitzer Space Telescope, scientists determined it must be no more than about 1,000 miles in diameter. Larger than an asteroid and smaller than Pluto, the “planetoid” defies easy classification and may be the first known member of the long-hypothesized Oort Cloud. (NASA Press Release, 15-Mar-04)


04-Mar-04 | Opportunity suggests water on Mars

If you were betting on Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity in the office pool, it’s time to collect. On Tuesday, 2 March, Opportunity‘s principal investigator announced that the rover has returned “strong evidence” that the Meridiani Planum region of Mars once held flowing, liquid water. Both Opportunity and its sister rover, Spirit, are in good shape, have spent a combined total of 99 Martian days on the surface, and are likely to continue to collect important data for some time to come. (NASA Press Release, 02-Mar-04)


     

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