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Archive for 2006

01-Apr-06 | LRO outgrows Delta

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, heading for the Moon in 2008, will do so on an EELV (either Atlas V or Delta IV) rather than a three-stage Delta II 7925 as originally planned. Associate Administrator Scott Horowitz was quoted as saying the change was made “to avoid stability problems with [Delta II’s] spinning second stage, growing out of the heavy fuel load needed to get to the Moon.” Note that it is in fact Delta’s solid-fuelled third stage that requires spin stabilization. In any case, the increased payload capacity of an EELV means LRO may receive an upgraded sensor package, or perhaps even an impactor probe. (Lunar Enterprise Daily, 13-Jan-06)

28-Mar-06 | Dawn gets a reprieve

In a surprising reversal, NASA has reinstated the Dawn asteroid mission, saying that “Our review determined the project team has made substantive progress on many of this mission’s technical issues, and, in the end, we have confidence the mission will succeed.”  Significant testing remains to be completed, but it is now hoped that Dawn will launch in the summer of 2007. (27-Mar-06 NASA Press Release)

03-Mar-06 | FUSE operational

The Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (FUSE) has returned to operational status after ten months offline, thanks to tenacious programmers and ingenious use of on-board equipment.  After the third of four reaction control wheels failed in December 2004, FUSE was left with insufficient attitude control.  Mission controllers found a way to use its magnetic torquer bars to provide control in two axes, while the remaining reaction control wheel stabilizes the third axis.  “It’s like we had three strong muscles originally, and could point FUSE wherever we wanted to,” said William Blair, FUSE’s chief of observatory operations. “Now we have to control the pointing with one strong muscle and two weak muscles. The revised control software is like a good physical therapist, teaching the satellite to compensate.”  Observations resumed on 1 November 2005.  FUSE launched aboard Delta 271 in June 1999. (Spaceflight Now, 25-Feb-06)

03-Mar-06 | Dawn mission cancelled

NASA has cancelled Dawn, a mission to visit two of the solar system’s biggest asteroids, Vesta and Ceres. The program was put on hold in October 2005 for an independent review, some time after project scientists had asked for an additional $40 million. Clearly the review board’s findings were not favourable; it is not known to this reporter how much of the project’s initial $371 million budget has already been spent on a spacecraft that will never fly. Dawn, part of the Discovery series* that includes such grand successes as Mars Pathfinder and last year’s Deep Impact (as well as the failed CONTOUR in 2002), was intended to launch later this year on a three-stage Delta II-Heavy. (, 02-Mar-06)

08-Feb-06 | Strike resolved

The strike of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers that interrupted work for over three months at both Delta launch sites as well as manufacturing centers in Huntington Beach, Calif., and Decatur, Ala., came to an end late last week as the union voted to accept a new three-year contract. Some concessions were made on both sides to close the deal, and Boeing is hoping to put any residual animosity aside and get the Delta program back on track.  After such a lengthy hiatus it will take a while to get organized and back up to speed, and no one involved intends to rush anything. Therefore, it will take until mid-February to determine a new launch schedule, and the next flight date is not expected until April at the earliest. (Spaceflight Now, 5-Feb-06)

15-Jan-06 | Strike continues

Delta launches continue to be delayed by a negotiation impasse between Boeing and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. The strike, now into its third month, seems likely to cause a ripple effect throughout the 2006 schedule.

15-Jan-06 | Stardust success

The Stardust mission has come to a successful conclusion, as its sample return canister parachuted to a gentle landing in the Utah desert at 10:10 UTC on Sunday, 15 January 2006. Launched nearly seven years ago aboard Delta 266, Stardust has brought home samples from comet Wild-2, tiny particles which scientists believe may be as old as the solar system itself. The capsule is on its way to Johnson Space Center in Houston, where it will be opened. Meanwhile, NASA has put out an open call for volunteers to help spot the tiny motes embedded in Stardust’s aerogel collectors. Unlike distributed computing projects that harness unused computer cycles, Stardust@home will rely on the sharp eyes of its human participants.

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