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Archive for 2007


17-Apr-07 | Einstein was right (or, at least half-right, so far)

Stanford researchers have announced that NASA’s Gravity Probe B has confirmed the geodetic effect (how mass warps spacetime) to within a 1% margin of error. This effect is one of two that were first predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity in 1920. Final results of the frame-dragging prediction (how a spinning mass drags spacetime around with it) are expected to be complete by the end of 2007.

GP-B was launched aboard Delta 304 on 20 April 2004, and spent a two-year tour making precise measurements of the effect Earth’s rotating mass has on the orbit of the spacecraft. (Stanford Press Release, 14-Apr-07)


13-Apr-07 | MGS Review Board releases its prelimiary report

The review board studying the loss of Mars Global Surveyor in November 2006 has released its preliminary report. As expected, the orbiter “appears to have succumbed to battery failure caused by a complex sequence of events involving the onboard computer memory and ground commands.” Recommendations for improved mission procedures and management are forthcoming. (NASA Press Release, 13-Apr-07)


12-Apr-07 | NPP gets a climate sensor back

NASA and NOAA have decided to put an important sensor back on NPP, the NPOESS Preparatory Project. NPOESS is the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System, an operational follow-on intended to replace the successful experimental satellites Aqua (Delta 291), Aura (Delta 306), and Terra (launched on an Atlas IIAS). NPP, a risk reduction demonstrator, gets back its Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite (OMPS) Limb sensor, which will measure the vertical distribution of ozone in the atmosphere. The expected launch date is no sooner than 2009 on a two-stage Delta II, while the main NPOESS fleet will begin to fly around 2013. (NASA Press Release, 11-Apr-07)


10-Apr-07 | Dawn arrives in Florida

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft arrived today at the Astrotech Space Operations facility in Titusville, Florida, where it will undergo final preparations for launch. The launch period opens on 30 June. Its launch vehicle, a three-stage Delta II Heavy, will begin stacking at SLC-17B in late May. (NASA KSC Press Release, 10-Apr-07)

Dawn will investigate two of the largest denizens of the Asteroid Belt, Ceres and Vesta, during a mission lasting eight years. The project is back on track after having been cancelled—and then, in an unprecedented move, reinstated—in March 2006. Among Dawn’s JPL handlers is Dr. Marc Rayman, who previously led the project team for the highly successful Deep Space 1 (launched on Delta 261 on 24-Oct-98).


17-Feb-07 | Delta flight 323 – THEMIS

NASA’s THEMIS mission was successfully launched on a three-stage Delta II rocket on Saturday, 17 February 2007.

Thunderstorms delayed fuelling operations earlier in the week, and extreme wind shear between altitudes of 10,000 and 20,000 feet caused a scrub on Friday evening. For Saturday’s attempt, those upper-level winds continued to be a concern, but never exceeded parameters and the board remained green for weather all evening. An unspecified issue with the third stage was quickly resolved without affecting the countdown.

The Delta 7925 with a 10-foot composite fairing left SLC-17B at an official range liftoff time of 18:01:00.384 EST, the very opening of the window. First and second stage burns completed in 9 minutes 59 seconds, placing the spacecraft in a temporary, elliptical parking orbit of 100.0 nm perigee by 303.78 nm apogee, with an inclination of 28.5 degrees.

After a 53-minute coast phase, the Aerojet AJ10-118K second stage reignited for just under a minute, boosting the apogee to 825 nautical miles. It spun up the third stage and payload, then released the pair, having completed its task. With telemetry being received by a Big Crow tracking aircraft flying off the northeast coast of Australia, the third stage’s Thiokol Star 48B solid motor fired for 86.5 seconds to kick the apogee up to almost 50,000 nautical miles. About five minutes later, the custom carrier system deployed all five THEMIS spacecraft, successfully completing the launch about 73 minutes, 42 seconds after liftoff.

Over the next seven months, THEMIS will remain in an injection or “coast” phase while controllers check out the five satellites’ systems and assign them to their operational orbits. Transfer to those orbits will begin some time in September. All five probes have already been found to be in nominal orbits and in excellent health.

THEMIS, an acronym for Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms, will examine the Earth’s magnetosphere and its interaction with the solar wind from various points along the magnetotail. In particular, the mission hopes to shed light on “how Earth’s magnetosphere stores and releases energy from the sun.” It may help to explain why aurorae (the northern and southern lights) have such a wide variety of colours and appearances. The use of five smaller subsatellites will provide a broader understanding of the phenomena than would a single probe. (Spaceflight Now Mission Status Center, 17-Feb-07, NASA Press Release, 17-Feb-07)


16-Feb-07 | THEMIS scrubbed

THEMIS launch was scrubbed today. Upper level winds were found to be out of spec, and the hold was called moments before the terminal count was to resume at T-minus 4 minutes. A 24-hour turnaround is in work, with a Saturday launch slated between 23:01 and 23:19 UTC.


14-Feb-07 | THEMIS delayed by 24 hours

Launch of NASA’s THEMIS spacecraft has been pushed back by one day, to Friday 16 February. Thunderstorms at Cape Canaveral led to postponement of fuelling operations, preventing the second stage’s hypergolic propellants (Aerozine-50 and nitrogen tetroxide) from being loaded. The weather is expected to clear and forecasters are predicting an 80% chance of good conditions on Friday. (NASA ELV Status Report, 13-Feb-07, Spaceflight Now Mission Status Center, 13-Feb-07)


30-Jan-07 | STEREO completes lunar swing-by

NASA’s twin STEREO spacecraft have completed a delicate series of orbital manoeuvres, using the Moon’s gravity to send them into their operational orbits.  Both observatories passed the Moon on 15-Dec-06, which placed the “A” spacecraft into its orbit “ahead” of that of Earth.  The “B” spacecraft made a second lunar pass on 21-Jan-07 to enter its orbit “behind” Earth.  Controllers expect the craft to produce the first 3-D images of the Sun by April.  (JHU APL Press Release, 23-Jan-07)


25-Jan-07 | Mission schedule update

According to its mission website, NASA’s Widefield Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) will fly on a Delta II after all, reversing an announcement from three years ago. Planned as MIDEX-6, WISE will be the fifth MIDEX mission to fly if it launches as planned in November 2009.

Meanwhile, the Geospace Electrodynamic Connections (GEC) mission has been cancelled (or “moved outside the near-term [5-year] budget planning window”) due to budget constraints. It was intended to fly on a Delta II in September 2009.


21-Jan-07 | Next launch

The next launch will be NASA’s Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms (THEMIS) spacecraft, due to launch from Cape Canaveral in mid-February. Using five identical satellites launched in the same flight, THEMIS will examine the Earth’s magnetosphere and its interaction with the solar wind from various points along the magnetotail.


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