BY SPACEFLIGHT NOW
Follow the countdown and launch of the Boeing Delta 4 rocket with the GOES-N weather observatory. Reload this page for the very latest on the mission.
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The launch time conditions are expected to include some scattered low and high level clouds, thunderstorms to the west, good visibility, southeasterly winds from 120 degrees at 8 gusting to 12 knots, a temperature of 86-88 degrees F and relative humidity of 70-75 percent.
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The pressurization system concern that led to yesterday's scrub was reviewed by engineers last night and deemed not a problem for flight.
With liftoff less than 8 hours away, the launch team has started re-activating the rocket's avionics. At pad 37B, final securing work is continuing before crews clear the hazard area around the complex in the next hour or so.
Boeing says there are no problems being worked this morning.
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"The launch team has closed out the issue," a spokesman said.
A fresh countdown will begin in the morning. Liftoff is targeted for 6:32 p.m. EDT.
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"The launch team is meeting tonight to determine if another attempt can be made tomorrow. If so, tomorrow's launch window is 6:32 p.m. to 7:05 p.m. EDT."
MONDAY, AUGUST 15, 2005
The rocket's first and second stage fuel systems rely on this pressurization during launch, making it critical to a successful flight.
During today's otherwise smooth countdown, the launch team noted "abnormal readings" from the pressure system. A decision to scrub the launch attempt was made 46 minutes before blastoff time. Officials said there wasn't enough time to resolve the issue and still fly within the day's launch window.
The system uses helium, which is stored in pressure vessels on the second stage. Ironically, concerns about internal buckling of the vessels' metallic liner delayed the GOES-N launch earlier this year.
If engineers are able to quickly resolve the latest issue, another countdown will be started in the morning. Tuesday's launch window extends from 6:32 to 7:06 p.m. EDT (2232-2306 GMT).
"The launch team is performing an extensive evaluation this evening to determine the possibility of another launch attempt tomorrow," Boeing said in a post-scrub statement.
GOES-N is the first in a new series of U.S. weather satellites with sharper vision and extended life. The craft will be placed into a geosynchronous transfer orbit by the Delta rocket, then maneuver itself into a circular geostationary orbit 22,300 miles above the equator 11 days after launch. It will be thoroughly tested before entering an on-orbit storage mode to replace an aging U.S. weather satellite in the coming years.
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The Range is working to resolve a problem with a tracking radar. Otherwise, there are no technical constraints being assessed on the Delta 4 rocket or GOES-N spacecraft. Weather conditions remain favorable.
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Fueling of the vehicle is basically complete. However, all four cryogenic propellant tanks on the Delta 4 will need to be replenished as the countdown continues to replace the fuels that boil off given their supercold nature.
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Complex 37 has two giant sphere-shaped fuel tanks to store the cryogenic liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. The LOX tank holds 250,000 gallons and LH2 sphere about 850,000 gallons. The tanks' large supplies should allow for at least three consecutive launch attempts before having to be replenished.
The cryogenics flow from the storage tanks, through pipes to the base of the pad. For the first stage, the propellants are routed up to the launch table upon which the rocket sits. Tail service masts, the large box-like structures at the base of the vehicle, feed the oxygen and hydrogen to the stage in separate umbilicals. The second stage receives its cryos from the middle swing arm that extends from the Fixed Umbilical Tower to the front-side of the rocket.
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The liquid oxygen chilldown for the rocket's second stage is now beginning in advance of filling that tank.
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Chilled to Minus-423 degrees Fahrenheit, the liquid hydrogen will be consumed by the RS-68 main engine along with liquid oxygen during the first four minutes, 27 seconds of the launch.
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Meanwhile, pressurization of the helium storage bottles on the rocket is underway.
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The launch pad has been verified evacuated of all personnel in advance of fueling the rocket's two stages this afternoon.
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At about 7:50 a.m. EDT, the wheeled structure began moving along its rail tracks to its launch position about the length of a football field from the rocket's mount.
The 9-million pound tower shields the Delta 4 from the weather, provides workers 360-degree access to the various areas on the vehicle and is needed to hoist the payload atop the upper stage during the launch campaign. The tower is 90-feet wide and 40-feet deep.
Crews will spend the next couple of hours securing the complex for launch before leaving the danger area around the pad. All workers must be clear of the area in preparation for the start of hazardous operations, including fueling the vehicle later this afternoon.
Liftoff remains scheduled for 6:32 p.m. EDT, the opening of a 34-minute window that extends to 7:06 p.m. EDT (2232-2306 GMT).
This fifth flight of Delta 4 has been delayed multiple times, pushing back its early May launch date to today because due to a series of rocket and payload issues. But officials say all of the problems have been resolved.
"We will launch no satellite before it's time. GOES-N is ready for launch," Steve Kirkner, GOES program manager at NOAA, told reporters at the pre-launch news conference this morning.
"The vehicle is ready to perform this mission," Delta 4 launch director Rick Navarro added.
Watch this page for live updates throughout the final hours of the countdown and tonight's flight.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 14, 2005
The lingering issues with the spacecraft were put to rest and no significant problems are remaining with the rocket. The weather outlook calls for a 70 percent chance of acceptable conditions during the launch window of 6:32 to 7:06 p.m. EDT (2232-2306 GMT).
FRIDAY, AUGUST 12, 2005
FRIDAY, AUGUST 12, 2005
The flight was delayed an additional day from Saturday to give this morning's Atlas 5 launch one more chance to begin Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's journey.
The Delta 4 rocket, with a pair of strap-on solid rocket boosters to give an extra boost to orbit, has 34 minutes to get off the ground Sunday evening beginning at 6:31 p.m. EDT (2231 GMT).
Due to a power issue with the GOES-N payload, if the launch does not occur by Tuesday the satellite must wait until around October 8 for its next shot at space. GOES-N cannot launch in this timeframe because it is an eclipse period, meaning the craft's electricity-producing solar panels would not have enough sunlight to sufficiently charge its batteries during critical orbit-raising maneuvers and post-launch checkout.
Launch weather officer Joel Tumbiolo's forecast continues to show just a 30 percent chance of violating weather rules during launch opportunities Sunday and Monday. Overhanging anvils associated with distant thunderstorms that could trigger lightning during launch will be closely watched, along with puffy cumulus clouds and winds at launch complex 37's 54-foot level.
TUESDAY, AUGUST 9, 2005
NASA says the launch must occur by Sunday or else face waiting until October due to orbital lighting issues that would impact the satellite's early life in space.
Saturday's weather forecast calls for a 60 percent chance of acceptable conditions. Clouds and winds will be the chief concerns.
A backup launch opportunity is available Sunday evening. Better weather conditions are expected with a 70 percent chance of meeting the launch rules.
MONDAY, AUGUST 8, 2005
The Delta 4 booster is slated to launch Friday at 6:29 p.m. EDT (2229 GMT) at the opening of a 35-minute window that closes at 7:04 p.m. EDT. It will take over four hours before the GOES-N weather observatory separates from the Delta 4 upper stage to begin its mission.
The rocket and satellite have been stuck on the launch pad for a couple of extra months as teams have battled problems with flight termination system batteries that would be used by Air Force safety officials to destroy the vehicle if something went awry during launch.
Once that issue was resolved, the planned July 29 liftoff was postponed to allow spacecraft engineers time to trace last-minute concerns with the payload.
"Boeing is working with NASA and NOAA to complete testing and analysis of several communications subsystem components to more thoroughly characterize their expected on-orbit performance," Boeing said in a statement.
GOES-N is the newest member of America's storied civil weather observation fleet in geostationary orbit, and its name will become GOES-13 after delivery in orbit.
The Air Force weather squadron has issued its forecast for Friday's countdown and launch attempt. It shows a 60 percent chance that conditions will prohibit a liftoff not only on Friday, but also over the weekend should Friday's attempt be called off.
"Vehicle exposure limits will be the main concern during the countdown," the outlook said. "Launch window concerns will be for thunderstorms and associated clouds within 10 nautical miles, and also for 54-foot level winds over 14 knots."
Predictions indicate skies will be littered with clouds with a level of scattered cumulus at 3,000 to 12,000 feet. A deck of broken altocumulus clouds will stretch from 12,000 to 18,000 feet, topped by an overcast layer of cirrus in the 25,000-28,000 foot range.
The temperature is forecast to be between 84 and 86 degrees, and winds will be out of the southeast at 10 to 15 knots.
Spaceflight Now will continue to provide updates as events warrant.
THURSDAY, JULY 28, 2005
A new launch date is pending.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 27, 2005
The 4-hour, 21-minute trip to orbit begins at 6:23 p.m. EDT (2223 GMT) with a liftoff from Cape Canaveral's pad 37B situated on the Atlantic coast. The available launch window extends for another 38 minutes.
The Delta 4 Medium+ vehicle with a four-meter payload fairing and a pair of solid rocket boosters will propel its payload to a deployment orbit with an apogee, or high point, of about 18,994 nautical miles, a perigee, or low point, of 3,576 nautical miles, and an inclination of 12 degrees. See the complete ascent timeline of the marathon flight here.
However, launch weather officer Joel Tumbiolo's initial forecast, issued Wednesday morning, indicates storms and clouds have a 60 percent chance of interfering with those plans due to violations of the anvil and thick cloud rules. The forecast for Saturday is very similar.
"A frontal boundary will move into the southeastern United States Thursday morning. This will push the surface ridge axis to the south resulting in weak southwesterly flow," the outlook read.
"This usually results in sea breeze induced thunderstorms forming to our west, then slowly moving back towards the east during the afternoon and evening hours. Concerns will be for thunderstorms in the area throughout the countdown and launch window."
"Vehicle exposure limits will be the main concern during the countdown. Launch window concerns will be for thunderstorms and associated anvil clouds within 10 nautical miles."
The forecast calls for scattered cumulus clouds at 3,000 to 12,000 feet, a level of broken altocumulus clouds from 12,000 to 18,000 feet, and another broken deck of cirrus in the upper levels at 25,000 to 28,000 feet.
Visibility is expected to be about seven miles, and ground winds are forecast to be acceptable out of the southeast at eight to twelve knots. Temperature should be around 84 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit.
Perched atop the Boeing Delta 4 some twenty stories high is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's newest addition to its weather observation fleet, dubbed GOES-N. The payload will be renamed GOES-13 after launch and operate from a geostationary orbit about 22,300 miles above the equator.
Also built by Boeing, the 6,908-pound craft will eventually settle into a circular orbit stationed at 90 degrees West longitude for testing.
Once in its checkout orbit about three weeks after launch, Boeing will hand control over to NASA and NOAA to put the craft's systems through a comprehensive suite of tests to ensure the proper health of the newly launched weather observatory. Those checks should be complete within six months, allowing NOAA to put GOES-13 into orbital storage while it awaits a call to replace an aging spacecraft.
The satellite will join NOAA's Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite system, which provides near-constant weather imagery of North America using spacecraft parked over the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Two satellites are currently capturing real-time images and data, while another is being stored as a spare.
GOES-N is the first of three new satellites being manufactured for launch over the next few years. GOES-O is currently in ground storage at its Boeing factory in California, and could be launched in November 2006. GOES-P will complete assembly in April 2007, with a planned liftoff in October 2008.
Plans for Friday's countdown call for the 330-foot mobile service tower to begin rolling away from the Delta 4 vehicle around sunrise in advance of the start of the terminal countdown. The gantry is used to gain access to the rocket during pre-launch preparation activities, in addition to use as a protective structure to shield the booster from adverse weather conditions during its stay at the pad.
Fueling operations for the Delta 4's common booster core first stage and cryogenic second stage with super-cold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants should get underway in the final five hours prior to the opening of the launch window. Under normal circumstances, the procedure to load all four tanks should take about two hours.
Topping of the propellants will continue through the final minutes of the countdown to replenish the liquids as they naturally boil away due to their frigid temperatures.
Testing of communications links between the rocket and Air Force Eastern Range will then occur. Steering checks of the first stage RS-68 engine and second stage RL10 powerplant are also on tap at this point in the count.
A 15-minute build-in hold is slated for T-5 minutes, during which time launch teams will go through final polling for launch clearance. The GOES-N spacecraft and Delta 4 booster will be transitioned to internal power sources as the count resumes, proceeding to RS-68 engine ignition at T-5.5 seconds and the subsequent liftoff.
Stay with Spaceflight Now for live play-by-play updates throughout the Delta 4's countdown and launch of America's newest weather satellite on Friday.
TUESDAY, JUNE 21, 2005
"Recent environmental testing of a different lot of batteries resulted in broken leads that connect the batteries' cell plates to the terminal," Boeing said in a statement announcing the delay.
The rocket carries two batteries, both mounted to its second stage, for the Range Safety's flight termination system. If the vehicle experiences a major problem during ascent or veers off course, that destruct system can be triggered to destroy the rocket.
A new launch date has not been set. Boeing says the mission will fly sometime in July.
The GOES-N satellite "remains healthy and ready for launch," the company statement said.
SUNDAY, JUNE 19, 2005
Liftoff had been targeted for Friday, June 24 from pad 37B at the Florida spaceport. But severe thunderstorms on Thursday, June 16 brought intense lightning over the Delta 4 launch site. Managers have ordered the precautionary checks of systems before the rocket and its payload can be cleared for flight.
The launch is tentatively rescheduled for Sunday, June 26 during a 45-minute liftoff opportunity extending from approximately 6:13 to 6:58 p.m. EDT (2213-2258 GMT).
The two-stage rocket will ferry into orbit the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-N, or GOES-N. The spacecraft is the latest in a long series of U.S. weather satellites that provide the imagery seen daily during news broadcasts. The combined launcher and payload are valued at $475 million.
This mission had been postponed from June 23 to June 24 to allow the replacement of a hydraulic turbopump inside the rocket's first stage main engine that is critical to operating internal valves and steering the vehicle during ascent.
"The pump uses bleed gas from the main engine to drive a turbine and hydraulic pump combination that provides pressure to control main engine valves and gimbaling of the engine's nozzle," company officials said in a statement.
It was decided to replace the pump after a "minor deviation" in speed performance was noted during a countdown dress rehearsal compared to data seen on past Delta 4 missions, Boeing said.
The pump swap is now complete, and Boeing says the subsequent testing of the new assembly was successful.
Watch this page for a complete GOES-N mission preview later this week.
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