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STORY WRITTEN FOR & USED WITH PERMISSIONPosted: August 3, 2004A Boeing Delta 2 rocket roared to life early Tuesday and climbed into space, launching NASA's ambitious MESSENGER probe on a round-about six-and-a-half-year voyage to Mercury, a $427 million quest to fill in one of the most glaring blanks in planetary exploration. The Boeing Delta 2 rocket launches at 2:16 a.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral's pad 17B to deploy NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft for a five-billion mile journey to the planet Mercury. Photo: Carleton Bailie/BoeingLighting up the night sky with a rush of fire, the slender Delta 2 climbed away from its launch stand at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 2:15:56 a.m. EDT (0615:56 GMT), kicking off the first mission to Mercury since Mariner 10 flew past the scorched world three times in 1974 and 1975.MESSENGER, too, will fly past its target three times in 2008 and 2009, collecting a wealth of data, photographing the entire planet and using its gravity to set up a fourth and final encounter in March 2011. But unlike Mariner 10, humanity's second robotic emissary to Mercury will not end its mission with yet another flyby. Instead, the craft will brake into orbit for a full Earth year of close-up investigation.Among the questions scientists hope to answer:How did Mercury, believed to be 60 percent iron, end up with an oversize core, a thin shell of a crust and the highest density in the solar system? Was its crust blasted away in the distant past by a cataclysmic impact? Was it boiled away in the extreme heat of the young, nearby sun? Or were metals for some reason concentrated in the inner region of the solar nebula that coalesced to form the sun and planets?What is the nature of Mercury's crust? What elements are present and in what concentrations?Is Mercury's magnetic field, the only one in the inner solar system similar to Earth's, the result of a dynamo in the planet's still-molten outer core or is the core solid and the field "frozen" in place? If the field is active, is it driven by a fluid outer core like Earth's? Or is the core solid and the field the result of some other process?How does Mercury's magnetosphere interact with the solar wind and the tenuous, ultra-thin "atmosphere" of the planet? What is the nature of that atmosphere, more properly known as an exosphere, and what are its constituents?Does water ice, the result of comet impacts, exist today in the basins of permanently shadowed craters near the planet's poles as radar data suggests?Figuring out how Mercury ended up so different from the other three terrestrial planets - Venus, Earth and Mars - will provide valuable insights into how the solar system formed 4.5 billion years ago. It also will help astronomers establish benchmarks for use when studying other solar systems.MESSENGER "is a highly ambitious, highly capable mission that if successful, will orbit Mercury for the first time to help us understand the forces that shaped the planet," said Orlando Figueroa, director of the solar system exploration division at NASA headquarters."It will collect images of the entire planet and gather highly detailed information on its geology, the nature of its atmosphere, the magnetosphere, the make up of its core and the character of its pole materials. MESSENGER will enable a new era of comparative planetology providing a new context that links Mars, Earth, Venus and the moon."To Robert Strom, a member of the Mariner 10 team and a co-investigator with the MESSENGER project, today's fiery launching marked the end of a frustrating three-decade wait."Mariner 10 was a mission that designed as a reconnaissance of Mercury in order to characterize it to plan a Mercury orbiter," he said Saturday. "That orbiter was supposed to be planned and launched by about 1980. Well, it's been 30 years and until now, nothing has happened."So now we've got not only a mission to Mercury, an orbiter to Mercury, but we have a world-class orbiter of Mercury. This is a super mission, never in my wildest imagination did I think that we would get a spacecraft like this for a Mercury orbiter. It has the instruments on board to answer the questions that were raised by Mariner 10 and its going to do that in spades."But it won't be easy. Unlike recent robotic missions to Mars, the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the ongoing Cassini exploration of Saturn, MESSENGER is going the other way, plunging deep into the inferno of the inner solar system. Once in orbit around Mercury, the side of the spacecraft facing the sun will be hotter than a pizza oven."Cassini and the other orbiters of, say, Mars and Jupiter and Saturn, they're kind of orbiting paradise compared to (MESSENGER), which is going to orbit hell," Strom said. "But it's a very interesting hell."Running a day late because of heavy cloud cover, Tuesday's launching went smoothly and MESSENGER was released from its spent third stage 57 minutes after liftoff as the craft sailed 690 miles above the northern coast of Australia. A few minutes later, at 3:29 a.m. EDT (0729 GMT), the probe's two mirrored solar arrays unfurled as planned to begin recharging the craft's batteries. Engineers plan to spend the next several days checking out the health of MESSENGER's instruments and other on-board systems.This was the 60th successful Delta rocket launch in a row dating back to 1997 and the 113th success out of 115 flights since 1989.Using a Delta 2 rocket, NASA could not launch a spacecraft with enough fuel to fly directly to Mercury, deep in the sun's gravity well, and brake into orbit. While such a three-and-a-half-month flight is possible in theory, it would require an expensive heavy-lift booster and a spacecraft that was 85 percent fuel.Instead, NASA opted for a less-expensive approach using the gravity of Earth, Venus and Mercury itself to provide the braking needed to slow the craft's plunge into the inner solar system. MESSENGER will fly past Earth on Aug. 1, 2005, twice past Venus in 2006 and 2007 and three times past Mercury in 2008 and 2009.If all goes well, MESSENGER's main engine will fire for 15 minutes on March 18, 2011, putting the spacecraft into an elliptical orbit tilted 60 degrees to the planet's equator with a low point of about 125 miles above the northern hemisphere and a high point of 9,420 miles.Equipped with seven miniaturized instruments, including two cameras, four spectrometers, a magnetometer and a laser altimeter, MESSENGER will photograph the entire planet in color and stereo, map its magnetic field, the mineralogy of its crust and probe the nature of its hidden core.A large sunshade covers the side of the spacecraft facing the sun and insulation blankets protect the side facing Mercury from heat radiated from the planet, keeping the instruments and the craft's electronic systems at room temperature.Scientists can't wait to fill in the blanks in solar system evolution that Mercury will provide."The family of the four inner planets - Mars, Venus, Earth and little Mercury - shared a common origin," said Principal Investigator Sean Solomon of the Carnegie Institution in Washington. "They all formed in the disk of gas and dust, the solar nebula, that surrounded our young sun. They formed by the same processes, they formed at the same time, their outcomes were extremely different. And Mercury is the most extreme of those four planets. Besides being closest to the sun, it's the most dense, the highest variation of temperature over its surface, it's of course the smallest of the four."What we know about Mercury mostly came from Mariner 10, which flew by Mercury three times in 1974 and 1975. Mariner 10 imaged less than half the surface and so there's an entire hemisphere we've never seen. Mariner 10 discovered that little Mercury had a magnetic field and made a number of other discoveries that raised profound questions that we're trying to address."One of those questions is how Mercury ended up so dense, so massive for its size," Solomon continued. "On the basis of that density, Mercury must be at least two thirds iron metal and that's a much higher fraction of any of the other inner planets. Why did Mercury end up that way?One possibility is that the solar nebula had a chemical gradient for some reason and that at Mercury's distance from the sun, more metals were present than in regions farther out."But competing ideas say Mercury started out more like the Earth, with a larger volume of rocky materials surrounding that metal core, but that silicate shell was largely removed, either because it was vaporized by the extremely hot temperatures in the inner solar nebula or it was blasted away by the impact of an object almost Mercury's size," Solomon said.All three theories make predictions that MESSENGER will test."If Mercury formed out of a solar nebula that had a chemical gradient only in the ratio of iron metal to silicates, then the composition of the silicate material at Mercury's surface should have the major elements in approximately solar proportions," Solomon said."If Mercury was once more earth-like in composition but lost most of its silicates as a result of high temperatures because it was bathed in the solar nebula that was very, very hot, the consequences of that would have been vaporization of the upper part of the planet. But different elements vaporize at different temperatures. One would expect under that kind of scenario to see primarily a deficiency of the elements that would tend to vaporize easily and a concentration of what are known as the more refractory elements that tend to stay behind the longest. Those consequences are very different from the chemical gradient scenario."And if Mercury suffered a catastrophic impact with a body nearly its own size, the crust that remained would have lower silicate concentrations."We expect to be able to easily distinguish whether any of these competing ideas are correct," Solomon said. "We may have to discard them all and start over. But it is a nice scientific experiment in this case where we have multiple hypotheses which make different predictions of what we will see."Closely related to the question of how Mercury ended up with such an oversize core is the issue of its magnetic field."It is the most Earth-like of the magnetospheres in our solar system," Solomon said. "The mystery is, why tiny Mercury has retained a magnetic field when larger planets in the inner solar system - Mars and Venus - do not have a global magnetic field today. Is Mercury's field the result of an Earth-like dynamo mechanism in a fluid outer core? Or is the magnetic field that Mariner 10 measured a fossil?"MESSENGER will answer that question by mapping subtle changes in the planet's rotation rate as the world swings through its highly elliptical orbit and experiences strong solar tides. The magnitude of that variation is dependent on the nature of the core and by measuring slight changes in a point of longitude on the surface, MESSENGER should be able to answer the question."If only the silicate shell is solid you get one answer," Solomon said. "If the entire planet is solid, you get a different answer."By the end of the mission, he said, "we will be able to know how big the core is, we'll be able to know ... whether there's a fluid outer core or not and of course, that's very closely tied to the question of how we account for the magnetic field today."Another major mystery is the thermal state of the planet. At the equator, sun-side temperatures exceed 800 degrees Fahrenheit while on the darkside, they plunge to more than 300 degrees below zero. That 1,100-degree variation is the most extreme in the solar system.But in permanently shadowed craters near Mercury's poles, scientists have discovered deposits of radar-reflective materials that could be ice that, if confirmed, would give new meaning to the phrase "a snowball's chance in hell.""It has been 30 years since we visited Mercury last when Mariner 10 flew by three times, providing a glimpse of this planet of extremes," said Figueroa. "I'd say we are long overdue for another visit with some permanence to help us unveil the secrets of this planet, the innermost and least understood of the terrestrial planets. Needless to say, we're incredibly excited."Additional coverage for subscribers:VIDEO:DELTA 2 ROCKET BLASTS OFF WITH MESSENGER VIDEO:CLOSE-UP VIEW OF MAIN ENGINE IGNITION VIDEO:UMBILICAL TOWER CAMERA VIDEO OF LIFTOFF VIDEO:FIERY BLASTOFF AS CAPTURED BY PAD CAMERA VIDEO:LIFTOFF AS SEEN FROM PLAYALINDA BEACH VIDEO:LAUNCH AS SEEN FROM CAPE'S PRESS SITE 1 VIDEO:COCOA BEACH TRACKING CAMERA LAUNCH VIDEO VIDEO:VIEW FROM ALTERNATE PRESS VIEWING LOCATION VIDEO:POWERFUL TRACKING CAMERA OFFERS THIS ANGLE VIDEO:CLOSE-UP VIEW OF BOOSTER NOZZLES DURING ASCENT VIDEO:POST-FLIGHT INTERVIEW WITH NASA LAUNCH MANAGER VIDEO:SERVICE TOWER ROLLED BACK FOR SECOND COUNTDOWN VIDEO:BAD WEATHER SCRUBS MONDAY'S LAUNCH ATTEMPT VIDEO:WEATHER OFFICER GIVES FORECAST FOR TUESDAY VIDEO:MESSENGER'S LAUNCH CAMPAIGN SHOWN WITH NARRATION VIDEO:DELTA 2 ROCKET IS ASSEMBLED ON THE LAUNCH PAD VIDEO:MOBILE SERVICE TOWER IS ROLLED BACK SUNDAY EVENING VIDEO:SATURDAY'S PRE-LAUNCH NEWS CONFERENCE VIDEO:MESSENGER PRE-LAUNCH SCIENCE BRIEFING VIDEO:WATCH THE MESSENGER OVERVIEW NEWS CONFERENCE Soviet SpaceFor the first time ever available in the West. Rocket & Space Corporation Energia: a complete pictorial history of the Soviet/Russian Space Program from 1946 to the present day all in full color. Available from our store.Choose your store: - - - Viking patchThis embroidered mission patch celebrates NASA's Viking Project which reached the Red Planet in 1976.Choose your store: - - - Apollo 7 DVDFor 11 days the crew of Apollo 7 fought colds while they put the Apollo spacecraft through a workout, establishing confidence in the machine what would lead directly to the bold decision to send Apollo 8 to the moon just 2 months later. Choose your store: - - - Gemini 12Gemini 12: The NASA Mission Reports covers the voyage of James Lovell and Buzz Aldrin that capped the Gemini program's efforts to prove the technologies and techniques that would be needed for the Apollo Moon landings. Includes CD-ROM.Choose your store: - - - STS-134 PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The final planned flight of space shuttle Endeavour is symbolized in the official embroidered crew patch for STS-134. Available in our store!Final Shuttle Mission PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The crew emblem for the final space shuttle mission is now available in our store. Get this piece of history!Apollo CollageThis beautiful one piece set features the Apollo program emblem surrounded by the individual mission logos.STS-133 PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The final planned flight of space shuttle Discovery is symbolized in the official embroidered crew patch for STS-133. Available in our store!Anniversary Shuttle PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!This embroidered patch commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Program. The design features the space shuttle Columbia's historic maiden flight of April 12, 1981.Mercury anniversaryFree shipping to U.S. addresses!Celebrate the 50th anniversary of Alan Shephard's historic Mercury mission with this collectors' item, the official commemorative embroidered patch.Gemini 12Gemini 12: The NASA Mission Reports covers the voyage of James Lovell and Buzz Aldrin that capped the Gemini program's efforts to prove the technologies and techniques that would be needed for the Apollo Moon landings. Includes CD-ROM.Choose your store: - - - Apollo 12 tribute DVD setNew!Featuring the jovial crew of Pete Conrad, Dick Gordon and Alan Bean, the Apollo 12 mission was struck by lightning shortly after liftoff but proceeded on the second successful exploration voyage to the lunar surface. This three-disc DVD brings the mission to life with extraordinary detail.Choose your store: - - - Fallen Heroes special patchThis special 12-inch embroidered patch commemorates the U.S. astronauts who made the ultimate sacrifice, honoring the crews of Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia.Choose your store: - - - Women in SpaceWomen of Space: Cool Careers on the Final Frontier is for girls, young women, and anyone else interested in learning about exciting careers in space exploration. Includes CD-ROM.Choose your store: - - - Mars rover posterThis new poster features some of the best pictures from NASA's amazing Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity.Choose your store: | | | | 2014 Spaceflight Now Inc.Return of the workhorse BY SPACEFLIGHT NOWPosted: June 28, 2014 VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE -- A quarter-century since its first launch, preparations are underway to end a hiatus and return next Tuesday to the business of launching Delta 2 rockets, if only for a little while longer. The first Delta 2 rocket launched 25 years ago this week. Credit: Air ForceThe United Launch Alliance vehicle debuted on Valentine's Day 1989, and since then has flown 150 more times over the past 25 years. It has performed successfully a remarkable 149 times, including the last 96 straight launches.But there's been a gap for the past two years with no flights.The matching of ready payloads with the rocket meant no launches until this summer when the start of the final sendoff to the Delta 2 begins.There's pieces and parts to build just five more Delta 2 rockets and four of them have been sold to NASA.First up is OCO 2, the replacement Orbiting Carbon Observatory to launch Tuesday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, exactly 32 months since the most recent Delta 2.A soil monitoring satellite follows in November, then a weather spacecraft in November 2016 and an ice observing craft in late 2017, all launching from California.Attention is turning to this summer's mission, the hardware is stacked on the launch pad and clocks are counting down the final days before liftoff.For a time, it appeared the Delta 2 would fade into history after carrying a climate and weather observatory into orbit for NASA in October 2011.After the U.S. Air Force transitioned its launches of new Global Positioning System satellites to the Delta 4 and Atlas 5 rockets, the Delta 2 lost its anchor customer.But NASA breathed new life into the rocket two summers ago, purchasing four future flights from an inventory of five remaining Delta 2s.NASA has used the Delta 2 rocket on 50 launches to date, most notably to send the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, the Odyssey orbiter and Phoenix lander to Mars, plus the Stardust and Genesis sample-return spacecraft, MESSENGER to orbit Mercury and the Spitzer infrared space telescope. A Delta 2 rocket at Vandenberg. Credit: Justin Ray/Spaceflight NowThe three solid rocket boosters for the OCO 2 mission arrived before the holidays, the second stage shipped in mid-February and the first stage arrived in mid-March."Delta 2 production restart efforts have gone amazingly well and we're very pleased with that," said Tim Dunn, the NASA launch director for OCO 2.Erection of the first stage at the Space Launch Complex 2-West pad occurred on March 28, followed by the solids and then the second stage on April 15.A countdown dress rehearsal was held on May 21. The team then completed a first stage RP-1 fueling and leak test in early June."I have been amazed at the retention of the appropriate skills and personnel ULA has kept. They have done a wonderful job with personnel to keep Delta 2 viable," Dunn said.OCO shipped out of its Orbital Sciences factory in Arizona a5t the end of April and went to the Astrotech processing facility at Vandenberg for a month of final processing. It then moved to the launch pad to join the Delta 2 on June 13.The integrated test between the payload and rocket follows on June 17, leading into the fairing installation on June 21.Launch is scheduled for July 1 at 2:56:44 a.m. PDT at the opening of a 30-second window."It's exciting, as you can imagine. The entire team is very energized to get back into Delta 2 work," Dunn said. "The ULA team, everyone has been coming forward, raising hands, from the Denver design center to Decatur production to the launch site, 'I really want to work that hardware.' There's just an electricity among the greater Delta 2 team to get back into launching this vehicle."The SLC 2-West pad was placed in quasi-caretaker status for a while before going back into normal cycles of maintenance a year before launch. Dunn said all systems are go.The Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 becomes NASA's environmental satellite dedicated to mapping atmospheric carbon dioxide and man's impact on Earth.The Delta will insert the observatory into a 438-mile polar orbit to collect about 8 million measurements every 16 days to create maps showing global distribution of carbon dioxide. A Delta 2 launches from Vandenberg. Credit: Justin Ray/Spaceflight NowNext will be SMAP, the Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite, set to launch on Nov. 5 at 6:16 a.m. PST. Outfitted with a radiometer and synthetic aperture radar, the craft will orbit 423 miles above to Earth make global measurements of soil moisture to improve flood predictions and drought monitoring.Then comes JPSS 1, the first civilian weather observatory in the Joint Polar Satellite System launching in November 2016. The craft will be operated by NOAA in a 512-mile-high orbit to take the planet's pulse daily for global forecasting, providing the ingredients needed for long-term weather outlooks.And the last currently-scheduled Delta 2 carries ICESat 2 in 2017 to continue work begun by the program's original spacecraft, which has since been retired after a seven-year mission that monitored the melting Arctic polar ice cap. A Delta 2 launched ICESat 1 in 2003.The Delta 2 will put ICESat 2 into a 373-mile polar orbit where the craft's multi-beam micropulse laser altimeter will provide precise global ice topography measurements of polar ice sheets and glaciers, study ice thickness and examine sea surface and vegetation heights.There is one final Delta 2 still up for grabs.Final Shuttle Mission PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The crew emblem for the final space shuttle mission is now available in our store. Get this piece of history!STS-134 PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The final planned flight of space shuttle Endeavour is symbolized in the official embroidered crew patch for STS-134. Available in our store!Ares 1-X PatchThe official embroidered patch for the Ares 1-X rocket test flight, is available for purchase.Apollo CollageThis beautiful one piece set features the Apollo program emblem surrounded by the individual mission logos.Project OrionThe Orion crew exploration vehicle is NASA's first new human spacecraft developed since the space shuttle a quarter-century earlier. The capsule is one of the key elements of returning astronauts to the Moon.Fallen Heroes Patch CollectionThe official patches from Apollo 1, the shuttle Challenger and Columbia crews are available in the store. | | | | 2014 Spaceflight Now Inc.Mission Briefing - Our story looking at this Delta rocket launch of the GPS 2R-11 satellite. - Chart with times and descriptions of events to occur during the launch. - The latest forecast for launch day conditions. - See the trajectory the rocket will follow during its flight. - Description of the U.S. Air Force's space-based navigation network. - Overview of the Delta 2 7925-model rocket used to launch GPS satellites. - Illustration of the rocket checkout and assembly at Cape facilities. - The launch complex where Delta rockets fly from Cape Canaveral. - See our coverage of previous Delta rocket flights.Rocket trouble stalls launch of Deep Impact mission SPACEFLIGHT NOWPosted: December 14, 2004A manufacturing error discovered in a part of the Boeing Delta 2 rocket to launch NASA's Deep Impact comet striker will force on-pad repairs, further delaying liftoff that must occur during an unflexible one-month window. An artist's concept shows the Deep Impact mothership watching the impactor smash into Comet Tempel 1. Credit: Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.The mission was supposed to blast off December 30 from pad 17B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. But concerns with the spacecraft's software postponed the launch to January 8.The latest problem, announced Tuesday, slips the target launch date to January 12 so workers can replace part of the Delta vehicle that will send Deep Impact on its six-month trek to Comet Tempel 1.The probe must launch by January 28 in order to reach this comet, setting up a rendezvous July 4 when the mothership watches a small impactor collide with Tempel 1's icy heart at 23,000 mph. Scientists want to observe inside the stadium-sized crater formed by the impact to study the pristine materials buried in comets.If Deep Impact misses its launch window -- for whatever reason -- the spacecraft would be grounded while the mission is re-planned and a new comet is selected, possibly Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3. But that comet has a smaller nucleus and dustier environment, making it a much less desirable target compared to Tempel 1, Deep Impact principal investigator Michael A'Hearn said."If we fail to make it off by the 28th, then we have to look at other possible targets. We've done some preliminary work," A'Hearn said. "There are other targets we can go to, we've looked at half a dozen different comets. Each of them is not as good as Tempel 1 in one way or another, which is why we do not want to delay the launch (past January).""I have every confidence that we are going to make it by the 28th. We are well positioned now," said Rick Grammier, NASA's Deep Impact project manager. "So I honestly cannot see that we wouldn't be ready to launch during the launch window that we still have remaining."The first delay was ordered after concerns were raised during pre-flight software checks."We were looking through what we call our our parameter reviews, which is where we sit down with the engineers and go through all of the software parameters that we have to make sure they are all set appropriately. And during that review, which is why we do the review, we discovered there were a couple of parameters that were not set the way we expected them to be," Grammier explained. The spacecraft is being tested at the Astrotech facility near the Cape. Credit: NASA-KSC"So as an extra precaution, I asked for a delay in the launch in order to give us time to go back and re-run some tests that we had already completed. We wanted to go back and make sure the interaction of turning those parameters on did not affect our fault responses that we had already tested and validated. So we needed the extra time to not only run a couple of additional tests but also to review the data from those tests."Recently, we had another delay due to some launch vehicle issues with an inter-ring. Again, in one of the extra checks that was being done, which is called the review of the engineering paperwork, the Boeing folks discovered that the interstage ring had not had an appropriate heat treatment on a portion of it. Thus, they called an engineering review board and determined that the best thing to do would be to change that piece of the launch vehicle out and replace it with one that had, in fact, done a full check and passed all of its paperwork."NASA said a Boeing engineer reviewing an "as-built" drawing of the vehicle discovered the interstage had not been heat treated to a revised higher specification. The barrel-shaped interstage is seated atop the first stage and encloses the much of the second stage during the initial minutes of ascent.Boeing has located a replacement piece and started preparing to perform the switch at pad 17B where the rocket is already assembled for launch. To accomplish the replacement, the rocket's second stage must be detached and removed from the launch pad on Wednesday. That gives access to the interstage for the adapter's removal Thursday. The new hardware should be installed Friday, followed by the return of the second stage on Saturday.Despite the last-minute glitches that have postponed the launch, Grammier said he was pleased the problems were caught. An artist's concept shows the Deep Impact mothership watching the impactor smash into Comet Tempel 1. Credit: Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp."I'm very positive on it because it shows that the checks we have implemented and put in place, actually that's why they are there. They are there to take one last look at things, make sure things are tip-top shape, and they did catch a couple of errors and that makes me feel confident that our system is working."Deep Impact is undergoing its final testing and preps at the Astrotech facility near the Cape. It will be fueled next week. Delivery to the pad for mating atop the Delta 2 rocket is scheduled for January 3.There will be two instants in time to launch January 12, separated by 40 minutes if weather or technical snags spoil the first shot. Liftoff will be possible at precisely 1:08:20 p.m. EST (1808:20 GMT) and 1:48:04 p.m. EST (1848:04 GMT)."From central Florida to the surface of a comet in six months is almost instant gratification from a deep space mission viewpoint," Grammier said. "It is going to be an exciting mission, and we can all witness its culmination together as Deep Impact provides the planet with its first man-made celestial fireworks on our nation's birthday, July 4th.""We will be capturing the whole thing on the most powerful camera to fly in deep space," A'Hearn added. "We know so little about the structure of cometary nuclei that we need exceptional equipment to ensure that we capture the event, whatever the details of the impact turn out to be.""In the world of science, this is the astronomical equivalent of a 767 airliner running into a mosquito," said Don Yeomans, a Deep Impact mission scientist. "It simply will not appreciably modify the comet's orbital path. Comet Tempel 1 poses no threat to the Earth now or in the foreseeable future."Additional coverage for subscribers:VIDEO:OVERVIEW OF NASA'S DEEP IMPACT MISSION VIDEO:LEAD RESEARCHER PREVIEWS DEEP IMPACT SCIENCE VIDEO:WATCH DEEP IMPACT PRE-FLIGHT NEWS BRIEFING Ares 1-X PatchThe official embroidered patch for the Ares 1-X rocket test flight, is available for purchase.Apollo CollageThis beautiful one piece set features the Apollo program emblem surrounded by the individual mission logos.Expedition 21The official embroidered patch for the International Space Station Expedition 21 crew is now available from our stores.Hubble PatchThe official embroidered patch for mission STS-125, the space shuttle's last planned service call to the Hubble Space Telescope, is available for purchase. | | | | 2014 Spaceflight Now Inc.Rockets leap into the 21st century with GPS upgrade SPACEFLIGHT NOWPosted: May 18, 2014 Signaling a new chapter in the long-sought modernization of the U.S. Air Force's launch ranges, Friday night's flight of a Delta 4 rocket was tracked via satellite instead of by radar in a move officials say is a money-saving upgrade to the military's aging range infrastructure. A long-range tracking camera near Cape Canaveral recorded spectacular footage of the Delta 4 rocket's ascent into space Friday. Photo credit: ULAA special avionics system mounted on the 20-story launcher transmitted its location to controllers on the ground using Global Positioning System navigation data. The Delta 4 rocket Friday happened to be boosting a fresh GPS spacecraft into orbit to replenish the Air Force-run satellite fleet circling Earth more than 12,000 miles up.Walter Lauderdale, the mission director for Friday's launch, said United Launch Alliance's Atlas and Delta rockets are transitioning to GPS metric tracking for range safety functions, which protect the public and property should a launch vehicle veer off course.All U.S. rockets carry a flight termination system to destroy the booster if a serious problem occurs. The pyrotechnic destruct charge is commanded from the ground by an Air Force official who monitors the rocket's flight path."For GPS metric tracking, there is an avionics box that's on the vehicle that sends down position information about where the rocket is back to the range for them to track for public safety," Lauderdale told reporters before Friday's launch.Most rockets launching from Cape Canaveral, Fla., and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., have for decades been tracked by a C-band radar. Each rocket is fitted with a C-band transponder which helps the radar lock on to the launcher on its flight into space."It provides the same position information as if you used a C-band tracking radar, where you're actually following and interrogating the rocket ... The GPS signal goes down to the rocket, in this case for metric track, [and] it tells the range safety folks where the rocket is, so they can track that the rocket is following its appropriate flight profile," Lauderdale said.The GPS avionics unit completed a series of demonstration flights on previous rocket launches before being permitted to take over as a primary tracking method.According to Lauderdale, test launches of unarmed Minuteman missiles have used GPS metric tracking before, but space launchers are just getting into it.With the Delta 4 now GPS-capable, two more Atlas 5s will carry C-band tracking beacons before it switches over to GPS metric tracking, Lauderdale said.An Atlas 5 launch "at the end of July will be the last Atlas 5 to use the C-band radar; it flies out the last of the C-band tracking beacons. For Atlas 5 launches after the one at the end of July, we'll also be using only GPS metric tracking and will not require the C-band tracking radar as a mandatory [range asset]," Lauderdale said.Officials say GPS metric tracking adds to the accuracy of the position and velocity data received by range safety officer during a launch. It is also cheaper because it means the C-band tracking radars at Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg Air Force Base are no longer needed.GPS metric tracking is a cornerstone of the Air Force's effort to create a more "responsive" launch range. Finicky ground systems, many of which are based on 1950s or 1960s technology, occasionally cause launch delays even when weather, the rocket and the payload are "go" for liftoff.Budget cuts have also stretched the Air Force launch ranges, forcing managers to decommission backup systems.The perils of relying on antiquated technology in an era of lean funding was exhibited in late March, when a fire damaged an Air Force-owned tracking radar at the Kennedy Space Center. An Atlas 5 rocket is seen in a view from a tracking camera. Photo credit: ULAThe fire kept two rocket launches, one carrying a U.S. national security satellite and another ferrying supplies to the International Space Station, on the ground for more than two weeks as the Air Force rushed a backup radar into service.SpaceX officials have said the company is working on a GPS metric tracking capability for the Falcon 9 rocket, but a company spokesperson did not respond to an inquiry on the status of its development.According to a technical document posted on ULA's website, the company's GPS metric tracking system is one of three independent range tracking sources to help the Air Force range safety officer follow the flight path of a rocket. Alongside the GPS data, the range safety officer uses telemetered inertial guidance data and tracking information from a launch head skin track radar.The GPS metric tracking system on the Delta 4 and Atlas 5 rockets receives satellite signals from two L-band antennas mounted 180 degrees apart on the second stage, processes the data to formulate its position and velocity, then transmits the information to the ground through an S-band radio link for comparison to the launch vehicle's predicted location.Before GPS metric tracking, engineers installed transmitters on rockets to allow them to send telemetry to control centers through NASA's constellation of Tracking and Data Relay Satellites, reducing reliance on a network of ground station scattered around the globe.The next improvement under study by the Air Force is the introduction of autonomous on-board flight safety systems, which would replace today's man-in-the-loop range safety paradigm. Instead of requiring an engineer to send a manual destruct command to an errant rocket from the ground, a computer on-board the launcher would do the job by itself.An autonomous flight termination system flew on an Air Force Minotaur rocket launch from Virginia in November in the first of what officials then said would be several test flights needed to certify the technology.Ultimately, simplified space-based ranges could eliminate the need for ground infrastructure, allowing launch ranges to exist virtually anywhere in the world, officials said."The idea behind space-based range is you literally take all that range infrastructure, which is time-consuming and costly, try to streamline it and put it on the rocket," a former Air Force space official said.Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: .STS-134 PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The final planned flight of space shuttle Endeavour is symbolized in the official embroidered crew patch for STS-134. Available in our store!Final Shuttle Mission PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The crew emblem for the final space shuttle mission is now available in our store. Get this piece of history!Apollo CollageThis beautiful one piece set features the Apollo program emblem surrounded by the individual mission logos.STS-133 PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The final planned flight of space shuttle Discovery is symbolized in the official embroidered crew patch for STS-133. Available in our store!Anniversary Shuttle PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!This embroidered patch commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Program. The design features the space shuttle Columbia's historic maiden flight of April 12, 1981.Mercury anniversaryFree shipping to U.S. addresses!Celebrate the 50th anniversary of Alan Shephard's historic Mercury mission with this collectors' item, the official commemorative embroidered patch. | | | | 2014 Spaceflight Now Inc.Satellite flown into space to monitor Earth's oceans BY STEPHEN CLARKSPACEFLIGHT NOWPosted: June 20, 2008NASA partnered with European scientists to launch an ocean research satellite from California early Friday, giving forecasters a new tool to make more accurate predictions of weather patterns and climate change. The Delta 2 rocket blasts away from Vandenberg carrying the Jason 2 spacecraft. Credit: Chris Miller/Spaceflight NowSEE MORE IMAGES The $432 million Jason 2 satellite blasted off aboard a Delta 2 rocket at 12:46 a.m. PDT (3:46 a.m. EDT; 0746 GMT) from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.The 125-foot-tall rocket, boosted by three solid-fueled motors, ignited with a brilliant flash of light and arced south from the launch pad into a moonlit night sky. The rocket dropped the three solid boosters into a safe zone in the Pacific Ocean, then used the main engine to steer around offshore oil rigs and reach the proper trajectory.The first stage engine shut down a few moments earlier than planned, but the rocket's second stage compensated for the shortfall by burning a few seconds longer, said Omar Baez, NASA launch director for the mission.The Delta 2 completed its pinpoint space delivery mission 55 minutes after liftoff by releasing the 1,113-pound spacecraft in an orbit approximately 823 miles high with an inclination of about 66 degrees to the equator. The orbit will take Jason 2 over 95 percent of the world's ice-free oceans.A camera mounted on the rocket's upper stage showed live footage of the satellite flying away from the Delta 2."All indications are that Jason 2 is operating," Baez said after the launch.Engineers in France will spend the next few weeks verifying the spacecraft's science instruments are in good shape.Jason 2 carries a suite of instruments built by U.S. and French scientists to measure the distance between the orbiting spacecraft and the ocean surface. Scientists expect a precision of between one and two inches."Measuring sea level from 830 miles in space with errors of a few inches is not just cool science, it's a really critical application for everybody on the planet," said Eric Lindstrom, Jason 2 program scientist at NASA Headquarters.Lindstrom likened the feat to measuring the thickness of paper lying on the ground from the top of a skyscraper.The satellite, also called the Ocean Surface Topography Mission by NASA, is expected to last at least three years. Thales Alenia Space of France was the spacecraft's prime industrial contractor.Other partners in the mission include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the French space agency, and EUMETSAT, the operator of Europe's weather satellites.U.S. government agencies provided $176 million of the mission's cost, or about 40 percent of the total funding, said Steve Neek, program executive at NASA's Science Mission Directorate.European partners spent $256 million on Jason 2, Neek said.The world's oceans vary in height by up to six-and-a-half feet, and the sea-surface terrain can be used to chart currents, water temperatures, tides, and ocean eddies, according to Neek."The ocean really behaves like a natural thermostat regulating our climate," said Lee-Leung Fu, Jason 2 project scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.Sea water helps cool the atmosphere, but sea levels rise when ocean temperatures warm or ice melts, Fu said.Researchers will incorporate real-time data from Jason 2 into their computer models to improve weather and ocean forecasts on scales ranging from a few days to more than a year. The improvements will also be important for predicting the development of hurricanes, said Laury Miller, chief scientist at the NOAA Lab for Satellite Altimetry.Jason 2 will not only supply up-to-date ocean information to sailors and weather forecasters, but also keep tabs on the global mean sea level to track the melting of the polar ice caps.The average sea level has risen at a rate of about one-tenth of an inch per year, according to data from Jason 2's predecessors."That sounds like a very small number to you, but this is in fact twice the rate of sea level change estimated from sparsely located tidal gauges over the preceding 100 years," Fu said.The satellite's Poseidon 3 instrument is the mission's primary experiment. Developed by CNES, the French space agency, Poseidon 3 will bounce radar beams off the ocean surface and measure the distance by determining the time it takes for the reflected radio waves to be received by a sensor on the spacecraft, said Parag Vaze, Jason 2 project manager at JPL.Poseidon 3 can also gauge ocean currents, wave characteristics and wind speed, scientists said.The third-generation instrument is based on other payloads flown on two previous U.S.-French satellites, beginning with the experimental TOPEX/Poseidon mission launched in 1992.TOPEX/Poseidon revolutionized the field of oceanography, which had before relied on scattered reports from ships and weather buoys."The availability of these measurements has meant a breakthrough in physical oceanography," said Mikael Rattenborg, EUMETSAT director of operations.The observation of oceans from space gave scientists the first clear insight into El Nino and La Nina climate patterns characterized by the warming and cooling of waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean.The partnership continued with a subsequent operational satellite called Jason 1, which was sent into space in 2001. Jason 1 is still providing researchers a daily dose of data on the world's oceans, and the precursor satellite will be part of a tandem mission with Jason 2.Scientists will closely monitor the two satellites' instruments over the next six months, making sure they operate identically to provide uniform data. After the calibration phase is completed, Jason 1 will move to an orbit parallel to Jason 2, effectively doubling the mission's global coverage, Fu said.Although Jason 1 is beyond its projected life span, scientists expect it to continue working despite the loss of several key backup systems.Fu said engineers project there is an 80 percent chance Jason 1 will work for at least two more years, giving scientists an opportunity to conduct dual operations with Jason 2.Jason 2's charter is to extend the 15-year legacy of TOPEX/Poseidon and Jason 1 into the next decade.The legacy's continuation is crucial to answering some of the key questions scientists are facing about global warming, according to Fu."We really don't know the answer. That's why we need continuing satellite measurements like Jason 2 to extend the data record into the future," Fu said.Jason 2's science instruments include several improvements to allow the radar system to analyze sea levels near coasts and in icy regions, Vaze said."We anticipate much improved observations in the coastal zones, which are home to more than half of the world's population," Fu said.A network of 60 radio beacons positioned around the world will track the spacecraft as it flies overhead, determining its exact position in space to make sure the data gathered by the Poseidon 3 instrument is accurate.Vaze said ground controllers will also use navigation data provided by a laser ranging system and receivers linking the spacecraft with the Air Force's GPS satellites.A microwave instrument assembled by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory will measure water vapor in the atmosphere. Water can interfere with radar signals transmitted by Poseidon 3, causing errors of up to 20 inches in humid conditions.NOAA and EUMETSAT are already planning a follow-on satellite for launch in the next decade. The spacecraft, called Jason 3, would likely continue the string of constant sea level monitoring through 2020, forecasters said.Additional coverage for subscribers:VIDEO:OUR LAUNCH PAD CAMERA VIDEO:LAUNCH AS SEEN FROM THE PRESS SITE VIDEO:PAD GANTRY RETRACTED FROM ROCKET FOR LAUNCH VIDEO:TIME-LAPSE MOVIE OF TOWER ROLLBACK VIDEO:JASON 2 SEPARATES FROM DELTA 2 VIDEO:JASON 2 LAUNCHES ABOARD DELTA 2 VIDEO:LAUNCH PAD TOWER ROLLBACK VIDEO:DELTA 2 ROCKET LAUNCH CAMPAIGN VIDEO:JASON 2 LAUNCH CAMPAIGN VIDEO:PRE-LAUNCH NEWS CONFERENCE VIDEO:JASON 2 MISSION SCIENCE BRIEFING MORE: Ares 1-X PatchThe official embroidered patch for the Ares 1-X rocket test flight, is available for purchase.Apollo CollageThis beautiful one piece set features the Apollo program emblem surrounded by the individual mission logos.Expedition 21The official embroidered patch for the International Space Station Expedition 21 crew is now available from our stores.Hubble PatchThe official embroidered patch for mission STS-125, the space shuttle's last planned service call to the Hubble Space Telescope, is available for purchase. | | | | 2014 Spaceflight Now Inc.WGS 5 launched to expand coverage over the Americas SPACEFLIGHT NOWPosted: May 24, 2013 With one more satellite needed in its new military communications system to extend blanket coverage over virtually the entire planet, the spacecraft to make the network's reach global was sent thundering into orbit Friday to join the Air Force's broadening constellation serving troops, ships, drones and civilian leaders. Credit: Pat Corkery/United Launch AllianceLoaded atop a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket, the $342 million Wideband Global SATCOM 5 satellite headed skyward from Cape Canaveral at 8:27 p.m. EDT en route to a supersynchronous transfer orbit.Forty-one minutes later, the powerful booster successfully released the 13,200-pound payload into an orbit looping as high as 36,125 nautical miles, as low as 237 miles and tilted 24 degrees to the equator.Controllers at Boeing's facilities in El Segundo, Calif., will maneuver the satellite into a circular geosynchronous orbit by early summer, allowing the craft to match Earth's rotation and appear fixed above the globe.An extensive checkout and commission process that will stretch into next year to ready the satellite for operations from 52.5 degrees West longitude for its mission to provide communications support to the Americas."WGS 5 will provide three new capabilities that expand the constellation -- increase in capacity to the U.S. and six international partners, expanded coverage leading us to near-worldwide coverage at this point and, with operational acceptance of WGS 5, we will be able to achieve full operational capability of the system," said Luke Schaub, chief of the Wideband SATCOM division of the MILSATCOM Systems directorate at the Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles.Known as WGS 5, this satellite is the fifth in a major program to upgrade to the military's main communications infrastructure, replacing the aging Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS) spacecraft. Each WGS has 10 times the capacity of a DSCS satellite, allowing users to process and receive data quicker than ever before."WGS is the DOD's highest capacity communications satellite system. These satellites provide tremendous operational flexibility to deliver the needed capacity, coverage and connectivity in support of demanding operational scenarios for DOD and allied forces worldwide," said Boeing WGS Program Director Mark Spiwak."We have four in operation today. Those four are pretty much located on the other side of the globe from the United States. They're really located strategically between the eastern Atlantic and the western Pacific. Today, we do not have any WGS capability over the continental United States," Schaub said."This satellite is being launched into an orbit at 52.5 West, which is off the east coast of the United States, with the intention of closing that gap and providing, with its transfer into operations, near-worldwide coverage." was launched in October 2007 to cover the vast U.S. Pacific Command that stretches from the U.S. western coast all the way to Southeast Asia. satellite followed with an April 2009 launch to serve U.S. Central Command and the forces in Afghanistan, Iraq and other parts of Southwest Asia. went up in December 2009 to cover U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command, plus lend additional support over the Middle East. inaugurated the upgraded Block 2 series for improved communications with unmanned aerial drones when it was launched in January 2012 to cover the Middle East and Southeast Asia for use by U.S. Central Command and U.S. Pacific Command.The inclusion of WGS 5 will extend the Wideband Global SATCOM constellation to the Americas for a host of users."It gives us the CONUS coverage we don't have today," Schaub said."Think of it as this whole region, so NORTHCOM, SOUTHCOM, TRANSCOM, STRATCOM, MDA, a whole lot of U.S. and western hemisphere-based users will be using this satellite," Schaub added, referring to U.S. Northern Command, Southern Command, Transportation Command, Strategic Command and the Missile Defense Agency.The craft's communications package provides shaped, steerable spotbeams of bandwidth wherever requested across its field-of-view for X- and Ka-band frequencies, plus the onboard capability to switch signals from one band to the other."WGS is the only military communications system that can support simultaneous X- and Ka-band communications with cross-banding that makes communications across terminal types transparent to the warfighters," Schaub said.The X-band communications through DSCS and WGS allow data, photos and video to be relayed to troops on the battlefield. But WGS also brings Ka-band to the table for high-volume broadcasting to user terminals across the reception area."Virtually anything you can imagine doing (with communications) is what we support, primarily focused on areas that are hard to access with our landline systems," Schaub said."It runs the gamut from soldiers in the field to large operations and ships, video teleconferencing, voice, a lot of data transfers, the RF bypass that we're adding is really intended to allow for rapid transfer of data."Three earlier satellites were built by Boeing as the Block 1 series and WGS 5 becomes the second of the upgraded Block 2 generation."The WGS Block 2 satellites provide higher total throughput than Block 1 satellites with the addition of a radio frequency bypass capability," Schaub said.The bypass feature allows unmanned aerial drone communications to skip the crossbanding path and use two uplink and two downlink channels for three times the bandwidth as the normal channels, opening up a much bigger pipeline for data to flow."Like the existing on-orbit satellites, WGS 5 will provide protected, wideband communications to users anywhere in its field-of-view. WGS 5 also provides a switchable radio frequency bypass capability that supports the transmission of AISR (airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) mission data at data rates that are approximately three times greater than currently available," Spiwak said.Boeing has completed the WGS 6 satellite, which was shipped to the Cape last week for its launch in early August aboard the next Delta 4 rocket. The craft was built with funding from Australia as part of an international partnership on the communications system.Satellites 7 through 10 are under construction at Boeing's factory in El Segundo for launches in the coming years."It's about adding additional capacity," Schaub said of putting five more satellites to the constellation. "We know there's an insatiable appetite for (satellite communications)."WGS 9 is being built on a multi-lateral agreement with Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, The Netherlands and New Zealand, bringing those nations into the network as well."The amount of capacity that is provided to each of the international partners is a stair step that increases with the launch of each satellite. So both Australia and the multi-lat will get additional capacity with the launch of this WGS 5 satellite," Schaub added.Friday's launch was the first for the Delta 4 rocket since it experienced an upper stage engine leak and lower-than-expected thrust while successfully deploying a GPS satellite seven months ago. Although that investigation remains ongoing, officials cleared the Delta 4 for flight after ordering extra inspections on the powerplant for the WGS 5 mission, instituted in-flight helium purges and changed how the engine was thermally conditioned prior to ignition during the launch."The team has worked tremendously hard and exceptionally well to complete a robust investigation and get us to a successful launch today," said Jim Sponnick, United Launch Alliance vice president of mission operations.There were no reports of any troubles during the flight, which marked the 22nd for a Delta 4 rocket since 2002 and the third to carry a WGS satellite.It was ULA's 71st mission in 77 months, the fifth this year and the second in just 9 days. Next up will be another Atlas 5 on July 19 carrying the Navy's second MUOS mobile communications craft.Delta 4 plans to perform the WGS 6 deployment from the Cape in early August and a classified Heavy launch for the National Reconnaissance Office from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., in late August.One further Delta 4 launch is planned this year, the program's 25th overall, in mid-October from the Cape with the GPS 2F-5 navigation satellite.STS-134 PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The final planned flight of space shuttle Endeavour is symbolized in the official embroidered crew patch for STS-134. Available in our store!Final Shuttle Mission PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The crew emblem for the final space shuttle mission is now available in our store. Get this piece of history!Apollo CollageThis beautiful one piece set features the Apollo program emblem surrounded by the individual mission logos.STS-133 PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The final planned flight of space shuttle Discovery is symbolized in the official embroidered crew patch for STS-133. Available in our store!Anniversary Shuttle PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!This embroidered patch commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Program. The design features the space shuttle Columbia's historic maiden flight of April 12, 1981.Mercury anniversaryFree shipping to U.S. addresses!Celebrate the 50th anniversary of Alan Shephard's historic Mercury mission with this collectors' item, the official commemorative embroidered patch. | | | | 2014 Spaceflight Now Inc.Satellite launched to give truer view of the world SPACEFLIGHT NOWPosted: October 8, 2009 A company that scans the world with its high-resolution imaging satellites launched another spacecraft Thursday, one that promises to reveal Earth's true colors for commercial mapping and monitoring. Credit: Gene Blevins/LA Daily News The WorldView 2 satellite was blasted into orbit atop a two-stage Delta 2 rocket built by United Launch Alliance and marketed by Boeing, leaving its coastal pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 11:51 a.m. local (2:51 p.m. EDT; 1851 GMT).Flying south toward a sun-synchronous orbit circling the planet from pole to pole, the ever-trustworthy rocket successfully deployed the satellite after a 62-minute ascent.The spacecraft becomes the third Earth imager operated by DigitalGlobe of Longmont, Colorado, joining the and satellites launched aboard Delta 2 rockets in 2001 and 2007, respectively, and still snapping digital pictures for their worldwide clientele.At the moment of today's launch, QuickBird was orbiting 245 nautical miles over western Russia and WorldView 1 was flying 267 nautical miles above the Pacific Ocean having just crossed the western U.S."With the addition of WorldView 2, an impressive third component of our constellation, DigitalGlobe will have increased capacity, which is expected to improve the speed with which we deliver our imagery products to our customers and provide more frequent refresh of our ImageLibrary to support a range of monitoring, analysis and decision-making services," said Jill Smith, chairman and chief executive officer of DigitalGlobe. What's special about WorldView 2 is the capability to image in eight different color bands, which is double the number on earlier satellites. The result will be the next step in the commercial Earth-imagery business, by taking the sharp clarity and painting the pictures in the truest natural colors."At this time, there isn't another satellite which combines high-resolution with eight bands and the level of agility that we get from the WorldView-class satellite," a DigitalGlobe spokesperson told Spaceflight Now.The added colors promise to heighten the amount of information and insights that can be extracted for uses such as diagnosing the health of crops, determining the impact of natural disasters and identifying features for national security."Not only will these bands help with vegetation but it will also allow for improved classification of man-made structures such as buildings, roads and infrastructure," DigitalGlobe says."With the increased level of detail, there any many uses such as helping to improve the understanding of global warming on sustainable land and resources, tracking the impact of pollution, improving natural resource management and exploration, and protecting and monitoring agricultural development and sustainability."Commercial imaging satellites have a range of customers, including the U.S. government for intelligence-gathering, as well as urban planners, real estate developers, oil and gas firms, environmental interests and supplying pictures to online sites like Google Earth.DigitalGlobe's main rival in the U.S. is the GeoEye company, which its latest satellite atop a Delta 2 rocket a year ago. An artist's concept of WorldView 2 shows the satellite high above Earth. Credit: Ball AerospaceOrbiting the Earth every 100 minutes at an altitude of 415 nautical miles, WorldView 2 must first undergo post-launch calibration and accuracy tests to verify its performance before entering service for a life designed to last more than 7 years. The first commercial imagery should be available in about 90 days."It will give us nearly twice our current collection capacity, it will allow us to collect nearly three times the Earth's land mass," the company says."Large-scale infusion of fresh, up-to-date imagery broadens the appeal for satellite imagery in emerging commercial applications as well as creating increased value for the sophisticated, professional users who will take advantage of the higher detail and definition from eight-band multispectral capabilities."The three-ton spacecraft, built by Ball Aerospace, has an optical telescope to see objects as small as 18 inches across in its black and white imagery and 72 inches for color imagery. The satellite uses gyroscopes for its advanced control system and is equipped with a vibration-dampening system to reduce jitter. The craft is 14 feet tall and has a wing span of 23 feet with its power-generating solar arrays unfurled."The successful launch of WorldView 2 marks a new milestone for the collection of imagery by these highly sophisticated satellites," said David Taylor, president and CEO of Ball Aerospace.Additional coverage for subscribers:VIDEO:DELTA ROCKET LAUNCHES WORLDVIEW 2 VIDEO:LAUNCH PAD GANTRY ROLLED BACK FROM ROCKET VIDEO:NARRATED PREVIEW OF WORLDVIEW 2'S LAUNCH John Glenn Mission PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The historic first orbital flight by an American is marked by this commemorative patch for John Glenn and Friendship 7.Final Shuttle Mission PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The crew emblem for the final space shuttle mission is available in our store. Get this piece of history!Celebrate the shuttle programFree shipping to U.S. addresses!This special commemorative patch marks the retirement of NASA's Space Shuttle Program. Available in our store!Anniversary Shuttle PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!This embroidered patch commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Program. The design features the space shuttle Columbia's historic maiden flight of April 12, 1981.Mercury anniversaryFree shipping to U.S. addresses!Celebrate the 50th anniversary of Alan Shephard's historic Mercury mission with this collectors' item, the official commemorative embroidered patch.Fallen Heroes Patch CollectionThe official patches from Apollo 1, the shuttle Challenger and Columbia crews are available in the store. | | | | 2014 Spaceflight Now Inc.Satellite sets sail to survey saltiness of Earth's oceans SPACEFLIGHT NOWPosted: June 10, 2011 Seeking a missing ingredient to understanding Earth's environmental changes, a new satellite conceived through unique international collaborations was launched today to map the planet's salty seas from space.An artist's concept of the SAC-D satellite with the Aquarius instrument. Credit: NASAThe Satelite de Aplicaciones Cientificas-D spacecraft blasted off aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rocket at 7:20 a.m. local (10:20 a.m. EDT; 1420 GMT) from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.The 12-story rocket escaped the ground-hugging marine layer blanketing the Central Coast, thundering southward to eventually reach a 408-mile-high sun-synchronous orbit and successfully living up to its reputation of dependability.Built by Argentina, the SAC-D satellite is equipped with multiple scientific instruments from several countries including NASA's Aquarius sensor package designed to make exceptionally precise global measurements of salt content at the ocean surface."Measuring ocean surface salinity from space is NASA's latest technology achievement and it's really going to be a great leap forward for the science of oceanography," said Eric Lindstrom, Aquarius program scientist at NASA Headquarters."For many of you, salinity is a rather obscure quantity, but I must tell you it's of critical importance in the ocean circulation, in the climate system and in diagnosing the flow of fresh water through our Earth system."Standing 16.4 feet tall and 9 feet wide within the Delta rocket's protective nose cone, the SAC-D spacecraft weighed 2,977 pounds at launch. The two-stage launcher reached a preliminary parking orbit about 11 minutes after liftoff, then coasted around the South Pole and soared towards Africa when the booster performed a final maneuver to inject the satellite into the desired orbit. Deployment of the payload occurred as expected 56-and-a-half minutes into flight.NASA has spent $287 million on the Aquarius project, which includes paying for the satellite's launch. A Delta 2 rocket has never faltered in its 48 missions for the space agency over the past two decades.The large oval antenna reflector and three microwave radiometers at the heart of Aquarius will work like highly sensitive radio receivers to detect variations in the electrical conductivity of seawater, enabling scientists to deduce the ocean salinity levels."Salinity is the glue that bonds two major components of Earth's complex climate system: ocean circulation and the global water cycle," said Aquarius principal investigator Gary Lagerloef of Earth & Space Research in Seattle. "Aquarius will map global variations in salinity in unprecedented detail, leading to new discoveries that will improve our ability to predict future climate." The satellite will orbit the planet every 98 minutes, covering a swath 242 miles wide for Aquarius to accumulate entire global maps of the planet each week. "Salinity is the amount of salt dissolved in seawater and you might be surprised to know it varies through the ocean," Lindstrom said. "It's measured in grams of salt in kilograms of seawater. It's typical range is from 32 parts per thousand to 38 parts per thousand. These are small numbers, small differences, but they make enormous difference in the circulation and climate."Scientists have collected a few million measurements of ocean salinity over the last hundred years, but vast stretches of the planet have never been sampled. Gaining a complete picture every seven days should revolutionize scientists' knowledge of the oceans by unveiling for the first time how salinity changes across the entire globe month-to-month, season-to-season and year-to-year."We stand to discover a lot from the Aquarius measurements by having year-round measurements of salinity," said Lindstrom."The temperature in the winter in the Southern Ocean or in the Greenland Sea is horrible, you don't want to go do that, you'd be much better to get that from space. So I'm all in favor of this. I don't want to spend any more days out in 50-foot waves!"What's more, the accuracy promised by Aquarius is two parts in 10,000, the equivalent of a 1/8th teaspoon of salt into a gallon of water. Aquarius will be able to detect that tiny amount of salinity change.Aquarius and SAC-D join a constellation of other environmental research satellites and ocean observers that study sea temperatures, levels, colors and surface winds."The addition of Aquarius to this suite of instruments helps create a more complete picture of our oceans and the impact on Earth's climate," said Eric Ianson, Aquarius program executive from NASA Headquarters."This important Earth science mission is NASA's first attempt to measure ocean surface salinity from space. Obtaining global measures of salinity is key to our better understanding of ocean circulation, climate and the Earth's water cycle.""A key missing piece that is really in demand by the ocean science community is salinity. Together with surface temperature, salinity determines the density of the surface water of the ocean. Density variations and wind drive the ocean circulation. So this is why we want to get this missing piece. Particularly, the deep waters of the ocean get their properties at the sea surface in winter, so their temperature and salinity are set for their lifetime, they get dense and sink to the bottom of the ocean and fill up the ocean basins," Lindstrom explained.Never before has the U.S. entrusted such a key instrument to fly aboard an Argentinian satellite. But the cooperation between the nations' space agencies -- NASA and CONAE -- has seen American rockets launch the earlier SAC-A on the shuttle Endeavour in 1998, SAC-B on a Pegasus in 1996 and SAC-C on a Delta 2 in 2000.The SAC-D spacecraft, which also carries instruments contributed by Canada, France and Italy, was assembled in Argentina, then shipped to Brazil for pre-flight testing before finally traveling to Vandenberg Air Force Base for launch. The mission is expected to run at least several years to answer fundamental questions about the climate."Another grand problem in Earth science is to understand the water cycle -- evaporation from the ocean, clouds, rain, formation of ice, runoff from the land back into the sea -- and the ocean salinity really turns out to be a pretty useful diagnostic of the big-picture in the water cycle," said Lindstrom.A 50-year trend of the limited sampling shows that salty places are getting saltier and the freshwater places are getting fresher."Is this an indication we're having an acceleration of the planet's water cycle? The salty places in the subtropical (areas) are having more evaporation, the rain belts are having more precipitation and the ocean is giving us this signal," said Lindstrom."This is an indicator but there could be other explanations for this. It could be the ocean circulation is changing, it could be ocean mixing is changing. What we really need to do as oceanographers is dig into this more deeply and Aquarius will help us illuminiate these processes. It's a diagnostic for the water cycle but it can also help us tell about ocean circulation and mixing."Once Aquarius is commissioned and ready for service in about three months, scientists plan a field campaign with ships, buoys, floats and gliders to compare data with the satellite instrument as the mission commences in earnest.STS-134 PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The final planned flight of space shuttle Endeavour is symbolized in the official embroidered crew patch for STS-134. Available in our store!Final Shuttle Mission PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The crew emblem for the final space shuttle mission is now available in our store. Get this piece of history!Apollo CollageThis beautiful one piece set features the Apollo program emblem surrounded by the individual mission logos.STS-133 PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The final planned flight of space shuttle Discovery is symbolized in the official embroidered crew patch for STS-133. Available in our store!Anniversary Shuttle PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!This embroidered patch commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Program. The design features the space shuttle Columbia's historic maiden flight of April 12, 1981.Mercury anniversaryFree shipping to U.S. addresses!Celebrate the 50th anniversary of Alan Shephard's historic Mercury mission with this collectors' item, the official commemorative embroidered patch. | | | | 2014 Spaceflight Now Inc.Scientists counting on NPP amid programmatic turmoil SPACEFLIGHT NOWPosted: October 26, 2011 Originally conceived as a testbed satellite to prove the advanced designs for future U.S. government spacecraft, the NPP mission blasting off Friday has been thrust to an entirely new level of importance for meteorologists now facing a gap in data from space. The NPP mission logo. Credit: NASAIts NPP name once stood for the NPOESS Preparatory Project, a fitting description as the trailblazer for the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) that aimed to combine the civilian and U.S. military weather spacecraft into a single program.The Clinton Administration started the NPOESS effort in 1994 to merge the polar weather satellite projects by NOAA and the Defense Department into one program using shared spacecraft outfitted with advanced instruments.But NPOESS was besieged by an ineffective management structure, money woes and long delays, ultimately leading to the outright cancellation last year. The civil and military weather programs were instructed to go their separate ways in developing the next fleets of satellites, which won't be ready to fly for several years."Back in February 2010, the administration decided to restructure the NPOESS program and break the program up into two -- one with the Air Force handling the early-morning orbit and NOAA handling the afternoon orbit," said Andrew Carson, the NPP program executive.Those orbit times are indicative of when a satellite passes over the equator, enabling the two constellations to capture different observations for meteorologists to feed into forecast predictions.The Pentagon still has a couple of its heritage spacecraft sitting in the hangar awaiting launch to replenish the orbiting network as needed. But NOAA and the civilian system put up its final current-generation bird two-and-a-half years ago, meaning the NPP satellite, sitting on the launch pad, is no longer viewed as just an experimental platform.Now, it must supply meteorologists with the observations needed for weather forecasting over the next several years until the revamped civilian satellite program can take root.After NPOESS was dissolved last year, NOAA and NASA began working together to create the Joint Polar Satellite System, or JPSS, that would be ready to launch by 2016 when NPP reaches the expected end of its useful life, and Ball Aerospace started building a clone of NPP as the first JPSS spacecraft.But JPSS has received less funding in the federal budget than the White House requested, already slowing the development schedule and delaying the JPSS 1 launch to 2017 or 2018."Polar-orbiting satellites have about a five-year lifespan, and we launched our last one -- -- in early 2009. As a result of the funding shortfall and the fact that NOAA 19 is well into its operational mission, there will be a near-certain gap in coverage from the crucial afternoon orbit once NPP finishes its operational life and the operational readiness of the first JPSS satellite, which is currently scheduled for launch in the first quarter of Fiscal Year '17," said Mary Kicza, NOAA assistant administrator for satellite and information services. NPP sits atop the Delta 2 rocket awaiting blastoff. Credit: NASA/VAFBSince it is expected to take 18 months to check out and calibrate NPP's modernized measurements, the agencies want to get NPP launched now so that its original intent -- testing the upgraded instruments -- can be performed to uncover problems that would need fixed before the sensors are used on JPSS 1."It is important to note that NPP will test how these instruments perform before we commit them to flight on the JPSS satellites," Kicza said."It was always envisioned that it would take approximately 18 months to go through the calibration/validation of these instruments, and that would give NOAA time to update the data product algorithms for use on the ground so that we can improve the data products before the operational system would be launched," said Ken Schwer, NPP project manager from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.There is no guarantee that NPP can last until JPSS 1 launches into space, no matter when it gets up there. In fact, officials caution that the NPP mission lifespan is suspect even before reaching orbit."It's always hard to predict how long a satellite is going to live. I can tell you the instruments were designed under the NPOESS regime for a 7-year lifetime. However, during manufacturing, testing and calibration of these instruments, significant anomalies arose that give us concern that there's residual risk with these instruments that could actually affect the on-orbit lifetime," Schwer said."The instruments are performing well, but we are concerned about the on-orbit lifetime with some of these instruments. Keep in mind, NPP was always a pathfinder mission and the lessons learned from NPP were going to go back into the design and manufacturing of these instruments for the follow-on operational program."Despite the uncertainty about how long the data will flow, users of the NPP information are eager to see what the advanced instruments can produce."NPP brings the promise of superior short-term and long-term weather and climate forecasts, which inform daily activities of everyone -- from decision makers who protect the nation's safety and economic security to industries that power the nation's economic engine," Jack Hayes, director of the National Weather Service."While NOAA forecasters do a great job alerting the nation to these major weather threats, we'll do an even better job with improved global data from NPP instruments updating our models."John Glenn Mission PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The historic first orbital flight by an American is marked by this commemorative patch for John Glenn and Friendship 7.Final Shuttle Mission PatchFree shipping to U.S. addresses!The crew emblem for the final space shuttle mission is available in our store. 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