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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.)

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