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Archive for July, 2004

23-Jul-04 | MESSENGER update

Preparations for launch of NASA’s Mercury orbiter, MESSENGER, are continuing apace. The first stage was hoisted onto the launch mount of Pad 17B on 30 June as scheduled. Nine high-powered GEM-46 booster motors were installed by 6 July, and the second stage was lifted into place two days later. At the Astrotech Space Operations facility, the spacecraft was attached to its third stage motor on 12 July, and then packed inside its protective transportation canister for the trip to the launch site in the early morning of 21 July. All is progressing smoothly toward a first launch attempt on 2 August. MESSENGER has just 13 chances to get into space, as shown in the table below. After 14 August the orbital positions of Earth and Mercury will make the trip nearly impossible; as it is, it will take more than six-and-a-half years to reach the sun’s first planet using multiple gravity assists. Each day’s window is only 12 seconds long, which affords little wiggle room and makes each attempt effectively instantaneous — that is, any unplanned hold in the countdown will likely result in a 24-hour scrub. All times are UTC.

Date Window opens
02 August 06:16:11
03 August 06:15:56
04 August 06:15:22
05 August 06:15:12
06 August 06:14:58
07 August 06:14:47
08 August 06:14:22
09 August 06:14:07
10 August 06:13:54
11 August 06:13:49
12 August 06:13:42
13 August 06:13:29
14 August 06:13:41

23-Jul-04 | Delta flight 306 – Aura

After numerous delays and a countdown marked by a couple of minor vehicle issues, NASA’s Aura spacecraft was launched by Delta flight 306 from SLC-2W at Vandenberg Air Force Base. The official liftoff time in the pre-dawn hours of Thursday, 15 July 2004 was 1001:59.344 GMT. The satellite was delivered into a perfect orbit some 64 minutes later. Aura joins its siblings in the Earth Observing System, Terra (launched by an Atlas IIAS) and Aqua (Delta 291, 04-May-02), and carries a suite of instruments which will provide comprehensive data on atmospheric composition, chemistry and dynamics. This was the 59th consecutive success for Delta II.

10-Jul-04 | Aura delay

Aura has been delayed by a few days due to two unrelated hardware issues. First, an “industry-wide alert” forced a paperwork trace on some transistors installed in the spacecraft. The launch was pushed to Sunday morning, 11 July, when the transistors were given a clean bill of health. Then an connector on the Delta payload fairing, part of the separation ordnance system that divides and jettisons the fairing during flight, was found to be mis-aligned. The launch from Vandenberg AFB on the central California coast is now set for no earlier than 13 July.



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