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Archive for June, 2007

21-Jun-07 | The beginning of the end?

The Wall Street Journal has published an article with troubling (but not wholly unexpected) speculation about the future of Delta II. Five GPS satellites and two Air Force experiments are slated to be launched before the end of 2008—but this will complete the USAF’s use of Delta II. Future military launches are expected to occur on larger vehicles, such as Delta IV and Atlas V, and NASA does not appear to have the budget to maintain three launch pads (two at Cape Canaveral and one at Vandenberg) and sustain Delta II launches on its own. In addition, the smaller capacity of Delta II hinders its ability to compete in the commercial market, where large telecommunications satellites and dual-payload launches are becoming the norm.

While even the smallest Delta IV has substantially more capacity than a Delta II-Heavy, the current cost of a launch is more than double. If Delta II is retired, the result would be a severe reduction in the number of small- and medium-sized unmanned missions that NASA will be able to fly. (NASA is at work on an internal study to determine its future use of Delta II; the results are expected by the end of 2007.) As happened in the early 1980s with the Space Shuttle, it appears the U.S. launch industry is working to put all its eggs into one basket again—to the detriment of science as well as access to space. (“Delta II’s Fate Worries Nonmilitary Users”, Wall Street Journal, 29-May-07)

14-Jun-07 | Venus fly-by images released

The first shots from MESSENGER‘s second fly-by of Venus last week have been released. The craft snapped hundreds of high-resolution pictures during the approximately 25-hour encounter. One only hopes a “motion” sequence is in work.

08-Jun-07 | Next launch

The next launch will be NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, due to launch from Cape Canaveral on 7 July. The launch was postponed from 30 June due to an issue with the crane at SLC-17B that delayed assembly of the vehicle as the first three of nine booster motors were being hoisted into place. Dawn is an eight-year mission to fly by and investigate two of the largest known asteroids, Ceres and Vesta. (NASA ELV Status Report, 06-Jun-07)

08-Jun-07 | Delta flight 324 – COSMO-SkyMed 1

On Thursday evening, 7 June 2007, Delta flight 324 successfully placed the first spacecraft of Italy’s COSMO-SkyMed system into its operational orbit. An unspecified technical issue at Vandenberg’s SLC-2W pushed the launch back to the last moment of the 13-minute launch window, so the resulting official time of liftoff was 02:34:00.561 UTC.

Fifty-eight minutes later, the two-stage Delta II 7420 vehicle released COSMO 1 into a nearly circular polar orbit, about 340 nautical miles in altitude. This marked the 73rd consecutive success by Delta II, which is now 126 out of 128 launches in its 18-year career.

COSMO-SkyMed is an Earth-imaging system consisting of four satellites; each spacecraft carries a Synthetic Aperture Radar “for environmental monitoring, resource management and territorial surveillance. ” It is a joint project of the Italian Space Agency and the Italian Ministry of Defence, so its imagery will be used in both civilian and military applications.

COSMO 2, also slated to launch aboard a Delta II from Vandenberg, is expected to fly some time later this year or early 2008.

06-Jun-07 | MESSENGER Venus-2 success

MESSENGER made its second flyby of Venus on Tuesday evening, 05 June 2007, passing just 200 nautical miles above its cloud tops at 23:08 UTC. The manoeuvre altered the spacecraft’s velocity by some 15,000 miles per hour, the most substantial change of its mission. All systems performed flawlessly, and MESSENGER is now on course to make its first pass of Mercury—and the first flyby of that planet by a man-made object in 33 years—on 14 January 2008.



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