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04-Aug-07 | Delta flight 325 – Phoenix

NASA’s latest Mars lander, Phoenix, is on its way to the Red Planet.

Favorable weather conditions and a smooth countdown with no technical issues allowed the three-stage Delta 7925 to lift off on the first opportunity. The pre-dawn launch from Cape Canaveral’s SLC-17A took place near the middle of a one-second-long launch window, at 05:26:34.596 EDT.

After the first stage and initial second stage burns, the vehicle entered a circular parking orbit of about 90 nautical miles altitude, and began the longest coast phase in Delta history—nearly 64.5 minutes long. Another burn by the AJ10 second stage raised the apogee to over 3,000 n.m., and the Star 48B third stage sent the spacecraft into a hyperbolic escape orbit.

Problems with the tracking network prevented several events from being seen in real time. The Air Force’s “Big Crow” aircraft, circling over the Pacific Ocean, provided no live telemetry during the second stage relight; Hawaii saw SECO-2 and third stage spin-up, ignition, and burnout, but lost the signal (as expected) prior to spacecraft separation. Finally, the tracking station at Vandenberg also was unable to provide real-time confirmation of separation, and a lengthy and nervous pause occurred until antennas at Goldstone, California, could acquire Phoenix’s signal.

Ultimately, the Phoenix mission team announced that the resulting trajectory is “well within expected limits for a successful journey” to Mars. This launch marks the 74th consecutive success for the Delta II launch vehicle, a record that now has gone for more than ten years without failure.

Following a ten-month, 420-million-mile cruise, Phoenix will gently set down near the Martian north pole, where it will use a robotic digging tool and a complex suite of instruments to analyze the subsurface soil for water ice and organic compounds. Scientists hope to prove that Mars was once capable of supporting life, and will use the analysis to determine the availability of water for future human missions.


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