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Archive for 2006

15-Dec-06 | Delta flight 322 – NRO L-21

A two-stage Delta II launched from Vandenberg AFB on 14 December 2006, carrying a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office. This was the first Delta launch for NRO since 2001’s GeoLITE, and Jonathan McDowell sums up the public’s knowledge of L-21 thusly: “In contrast to most secret launches, analysts appear to have little clue as to what this payload may be.” (JSR 575) This marked the first launch to be managed by the new United Launch Alliance, a joint effort of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Spaceflight Now filed a mission status report.

18-Nov-06 | Delta flight 321 – NAVSTAR IIR-16 (M3)

The third “modernized” replenishment satellite for the Global Positioning System was successfully launched on Friday, 17 November 2006, the second NAVSTAR in as many months. When it reaches operational status it will replace to replace NAVSTAR IIA-22, launched in August 1993 aboard Delta flight 222. Spaceflight Now has a mission status report of the launch.

10-Nov-06 | On the tenth anniversary of its launch, the Mars Global Surveyor is missing in action.

Starting on 2 November, an issue with a solar array motor combined with a loss of the high gain antenna signal to make communications with Mars Global Surveyor spotty at best. The situation continued to degrade, and since 5 November no signals at all have been received on Earth. Mission managers are still trying to determine what might have gone wrong, including the possibility of a micrometeoroid strike. If no response comes by early next week, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (which passes within 100 kilometers of MGS several times a week) may be called upon to image the missing bird, which could show whether its solar panels and high gain antenna are oriented properly.

Now in its fourth extended mission, MGS is the venerable “old guard” of Mars observation, having sent back more than 240,000 images since it reached orbit in September 1997. It launched aboard Delta 239 on 7 November 1996. (New Scientist, 09-Nov-06)

10-Nov-06 | Delta flight 319 – STEREO

Delta flight 319 placed STEREO, NASA’s Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory, into orbit on the night of 25/26 October. While the vehicle’s only minor issue (an overly-cold nitrogen bottle on the first stage) was resolved before the launch window opened, the launch was delayed by about 14 minutes, due to Range Safety concerns over the wind direction having the potential (in the event of a launch failure) to blow toxic fumes into populated areas. The Range managed to evacuate part of the Port Canaveral area in time for launch to occur one minute before the close of its available window. At an offical liftoff time of 20:52:00.339 EDT on 25-Oct-06, the three-stage Delta II left the pad at SLC-17B to begin a swift, 25-minute flight. Stacked inside the rocket’s extended-length, ten-foot-diameter composite fairing were a nearly-identical pair of solar observatories. These were deployed into a highly-elliptical orbit that will take them close to the Moon. In December, one spacecraft will take a lunar graviational assist to enter a heliocentric orbit “ahead” of Earth’s orbit, while the other spacecraft will, after another month, swing by the Moon again to enter an orbit “behind” that of Earth. From these diverging vantage points, the STEREO spacecraft will be able to image the Sun’s eruptions and prominences in three dimensions, a view never before seen by scientists. With flight 319, the Delta II’s count of consecutive successes now stands at 69. (For a complete play-by-play, see Justin Ray’s as-ever excellent coverage on Spaceflight Now.)

04-Oct-06 | Delta launch paves the way for a Nobel Prize.

The 2006 Nobel Prize for Physics has been awarded to John C. Mather (NASA-Goddard) and George Smoot (Lawrence Berkeley) “for their discovery of the blackbody form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation” — put simply, work that adds substantially to the body of knowledge supporting the Big Bang theory. Mather and Smoot utilised measurements performed by NASA’s Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite, which was launched on 18 November 1989 aboard Delta 189.

The COBE mission has proven hugely successful, and this Nobel Prize, the first for a NASA civil servant, is only the latest if most prominent laurel for the wealth of data it provided.

Of interest to Delta fans is the fact that Delta 189 was unique as the only instance of a 5000-series vehicle: caught in a transitional period at the dawn of the Delta II era, it combined one of the last Extended Long Tank Thor first stages with an RS-27 main engine and nine then-new Castor IVA strap-on booster motors.

(Nobel Foundation Press Release, NASA Press Release, 3-Oct-06)

25-Sep-06 | Delta flight 318 – NAVSTAR IIR-15 (M2)

One year to the day since the last addition to the constellation of Global Positioning System satellites, today saw the successful placement into transfer orbit of NAVSTAR IIR-M2 thanks to the on-time launch of Delta flight 318. The three-stage Delta II 7925 left the pad at Space Launch Complex 17A at 14:50:00.024 EDT, soaring into a partly-cloudy blue sky at the end of a routine and uninterrupted terminal countdown.

After a flawless first and second stage operation, a 51-minute coast phase, and a follow-up second stage burn, a significant scare occurred toward the end of flight, when no telemetry was received during the burn of the Star 48B third stage or subsequent spacecraft deployment. Once communications had been established with the satellite, and playback of recorded telemetry from the Guam Tracking Station confirmed good third stage performance, Boeing announced a successful flight some twenty-five minutes later than expected.

The second “modernized” Block IIR satellite, also known as IIR-15, differs from the older IIR spacecraft with an added 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. The satellite was delivered into an expected 104 by 10,998 nautical mile orbit, from which it will fire its onboard AKM within the next few days to enter a circular orbit in Plane A, Slot 2. IIR-M2 will replace NAVSTAR IIA-12, launched in February 1992 aboard Delta 207, which has far exceeded its design lifespan and is showing signs of system failures in its internal clock.

21-Aug-06 | STEREO delay, again

STEREO has been delayed again, this time until the opening of its next group of launch windows, no earlier than 18 September. Follow-up analysis of a similar second stage tank revealed that it “was marginally thin in an area of the oxidizer tank. Engineers are assessing several options for the STEREO launch vehicle… to determine the thickness of the tank in this same area.” Another round of de-stacking may be needed. The STEREO spacecraft have been stacked atop the Delta third stage and sealed inside a transportation canister, but will remain in the Astrotech payload processing facility until this issue can be resolved. (NASA ELV Status Report, 21-Aug-06)

18-Aug-06 | STEREO delay

STEREO continues to be delayed, but remains at the top of the launch schedule — currently no sooner than from now. This mission has had a total of seven delays since April for a series of minor glitches, including a small hydrazine leak on the Observatory A spacecraft and a faulty launch pad crane that prevented booster motor stacking. Most recently, a leak in a second-stage oxidizer tank at Boeing’s Decatur facility (intended for launching THEMIS later this year) means that all identical tanks must be checked. Unfortunately this means the second stage of the vehicle currently on the pad at SLC-17B must be de-stacked and taken to the High Pressure Test Facility, pushing the launch back by more than a week. Stacking of the spacecraft, previously planned for last week, has been put on hold while the second stage is in testing.

08-Aug-06 | STEREO booster checks out okay

Following de-stacking and pressure testing, the Delta II second stage has been given a clean bill of health and was remounted to the launch vehicle on Saturday, 5 August. Meanwhile, the STEREO spacecraft will be stacked on 9 August, put through spin testing during the following week, and mated to the Delta third stage motor on 16 August. (NASA ELV Status Report, 4-Aug-06)

02-Aug-06 | CALIPSO first photo

NASA has announced the first public image release from CALIPSO, showing the volcanic plume that resulted from a major lava dome collapse at the Soufrière Hills Volcano on Montserrat in May.  (24-Jul-06 NASA Press Release)

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