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Archive for 2005

20-Sep-05 | GPS delay

On again, off again: NAVSTAR IIR-M-1 made the schedule for Wednesday evening, 21/22 September, but on Monday it was announced that the flight would be delayed once more. No reason has been revealed to the public. It is now scheduled for no earlier than Sunday night, 25/26 September.

24-Aug-05 | Aqua tells the future

NASA and NOAA have announced a “major advancement” in weather forecasting thanks to experimental data provided by the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument aboard Aqua (Delta 291). “They found incorporating AIRS data into numerical weather prediction models improves the accuracy range of experimental six-day Northern Hemisphere weather forecasts by up to six hours, a four percent increase.” While this may not sound like much, the director of the Joint Center for Satellite Data Assimilation (JCSDA) in Camp Springs, Maryland, where the research was conducted, claims this level of improvement “normally takes several years to achieve.” (24-Aug-05 NASA Press Release)

19-Aug-05 | News round-up

All is quiet on the launch front these days, as the first NAVSTAR IIR-M has been delayed indefinitely yet again. This marks the seventh time that this flight has been rescheduled; at least one of these has been due to possible manufacturing errors in the spacecraft.

Meanwhile, NASA missions launched aboard Delta rockets continue to bring in excellent results. The Spitzer Space Telescope (Delta 300) and Swift (Delta 309) have both been observing black holes. Spitzer found twenty-one quasars (super-massive black holes) in a small patch of sky, hidden behind thick clouds of dust; extrapolating outward means that the quasar population is much closer to predictions than the number previously observed in X-ray and visible light. Swift has spotted “newborn black holes, just seconds old, in a confused state of existence.” Rather than a single burst followed by a gradually-receding afterglow as scientists surmised, black hole formation is marked by multiple, powerful “hiccups.” (03-Aug-05 NASA Press Release) (18-Aug-05 NASA Press Release)

Nearly one year after its launch aboard Delta 307, MESSENGER performed a successful Earth swingby on 02 August, passing 1,267 nautical miles above central Mongolia at 19:13 UTC. The world’s first Mercury orbiter will swoop past Venus (twice) and Mercury (thrice) before reaching its final orbital destination in March 2011. (02-Aug-05 NASA Press Release)

12-Jul-05 | Deep Impact nails it

In the early morning hours of 04 July 2005, Deep Impact completed its mission by sending its impactor probe on a successful collision course with comet Tempel 1. The spacecraft recorded the spectacular plume generated by the high-speed encounter, and scientists have only begun to analyze the data.

The event apparently also generated intense public interest, as the Deep Impact web site logged 80 million hits in one 24-hour period, a new record for NASA (the previous record-holder was the landing of Mars Rover Spirit with 30 million hits).

20-May-05 | Delta flight 312 – NOAA-N

NOAA-N was successfully launched during the early morning hours of Friday, 20 May 2005, aboard a two-stage Delta 7320 rocket.

A perfectly routine countdown and adequate weather conditions at Vandenberg’s SLC-2W led to an on-time liftoff at the beginning of the window, with an official range time of 03:22:01.566 PDT. The Delta II Med-Lite vehicle quickly entered a low-hanging deck of clouds, and further tracking could only be provided by infrared camera and the announcements of the telemetry manager. SECO-1 occurred at T+11 minutes, 24 seconds, and the vehicle entered a long coast phase as it climbed to the apogee of a 100-by-468 nautical mile parking orbit.

At T+59 minutes, 26 seconds, the second stage restarted for a mere 13.3-second burn that circularised the orbit. At T+65 minutes, 44 seconds, the spacecraft was released into its operational orbit of 463.2 by 466.7 nautical miles at a 98.73-degree inclination. The Delta second stage then performed its evasive manoeuvre and depletion burn.

NOAA-N, to be known as NOAA-18 when operational, is a sun-synchronous polar-orbiting element of the POES (Polar Operational Environmental Satellites) constellation. In conjunction with the geostationary GOES system, which enables continuous but low-resolution sensing, POES provides highly detailed weather data as it travels in its relatively low orbit. A pair of POES satellites (NOAA-18 will operate in concert with NOAA-17, already in orbit) transmit images of the entire Earth’s surface every 12 hours.

16-May-05 | Delayed again

Another delay for NOAA-N, as a vent hose broke loose during Friday’s detanking operations, possibly contaminating the spacecraft with hydrocarbons, namely RP1 vapours. Inspections took place over the weekend and the results were expected to be discussed today. If all is well, a Launch Readiness Review on Tuesday will formally set a new launch date, which will occur no earlier than Thursday due to the proper orbital mechanics needed for launch.

13-May-05 | “Modernized” GPS delayed

The launch of the first NAVSTAR IIR-M for the Air Force’s Global Positioning System has been delayed indefinitely for unspecified reasons. In all, eight IIRs will be converted into IIR-Ms, which add a second signal for civilian use and two new encrypted signals for military use. The “M-Code” signals, scheduled to be fully operational by 2010, will have increased power and reduced vulnerability to signal jamming.

13-May-05 | Launch scrub

After two days of delays from high winds at Vandenberg AFB, launch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s newest weather satellite was again scrubbed on 13 May when the ground equipment that supplies the launch pad with cooling and sound-suppressing water suffered an electrical glitch. A 24-hour turnaround is in effect and the new launch time for NOAA-N is set for Saturday morning.

28-Apr-05 | News round-up

With a nearly-four-month gap between launches, Delta operations have been fairly quiet lately, with two routine vehicle stackings (one in Florida, the other in California) being not
particularly newsworthy. However, this is not quite the case for Delta-launched NASA missions. Here’s a round-up of the last couple months’ news…

The Spitzer Space Telescope (Delta 300) has returned images that appear to show, for the first time, an asteroid belt surrounding a distant star much like our sun. Two previous sightings of asteroid belts have surrounded younger, more massive stars, but this marks the first time that we have seen a star system with planetary formation that may be very similar to our own. Further observations are planned in order to confirm the suspected sighting. (20-Apr-05 NASA Press Release)

Mars Rovers Spirit and Opportunity keep on trucking along, and NASA has approved up to 18 more months of operations for the hardy explorers. This marks the third extension to the missions that have already completed more than 14 months of scientific endeavour, far exceeding the rovers’ design lifetime of three months. (05-Apr-05 NASA Press Release)

Nearly fifty years after the first Explorers discovered the Van Allen radiation belts, researchers at GSFC have found clues as to why the nested, toroidal belts have a radiation-free “safe zone” between them. A new theory states that lightning, occurring in the atmosphere hundreds of miles below the belts, generates radio waves that “clear the safe zone by interacting with the radiation belt particles, removing a little of their energy and changing their direction.” Data to support this theory were obtained by the Imager for Magnetopause to Aurora Global Exploration (IMAGE) spacecraft, launched aboard Delta 277 on 25 March 2000, combined with archival data from the Dynamics Explorer mission, which ran for more than nine years following its launch aboard Delta 155 in August 1981. (08-Mar-05 NASA Press Release)

IMAGE (Delta 277) and the venerable Polar spacecraft (Delta 233, launched in 1996) are allowing scientists to study both the northern and southern lights simultaneously, with the not-too-surprising result that Earth’s aurorae are not mirror images of each other and are much more complex than previously thought. (05-Apr-05 NASA Press Release)

This month the MESSENGER team completed checkout and commissioning of three of the components in the spacecraft’s Energetic Particle and Plasma Spectrometer (EPPS) instrument: the Fast Imaging Plasma Spectrometer (FIPS), the Energetic Particle Spectrometer, and the X-Ray Spectrometer. All are functioning normally, and FIPS has already spent some time observing the solar wind. MESSENGER was launched by Delta 307 in August 2004. (18-Apr-05 Status Report)

At an distance of 39.7 million miles, Deep Impact (Delta 311) spotted its quarry, Comet Tempel 1, on the very first attempt. This impressively early target acquisition will be a major aid in approach navigation. The high-speed impact of the spacecraft’s impactor module with the comet remains slated for 4 July. (27-Apr-05 NASA Press Release)

28-Apr-05 | NOAA-N repaired

NOAA-N has had its faulty S-band transmitter replaced and fully retested. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s newest weather satellite was expected to be transferred to the pad at SLC-2W during the third week of April, and is on target for an 11 May launch.

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