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Archive for April, 2005

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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