January 18, 2020

Atlas 5 rocket cleared for rollout to launch pad


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CAPE CANAVERAL — Mission leaders Tuesday gave approval for rollout of the United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket on Wednesday morning, leading to liftoff Thursday night of the Magnetospheric Multiscale science project for NASA.

“We have built four, large, identical, very sensitive, spinning spacecraft that we will fly in formation,” said Craig Tooley, the MMS project manager.

The Launch Readiness Review handed formal consensus to proceed with the remaining flight preparations based on the progress of work schedules and the lack of any technical issues.

“This morning, we successfully held the NASA Launch Readiness Review,” said Omar Baez, the NASA launch director.

At 10 a.m. EDT on Wednesday morning at Cape Canaveral’s Complex 41, the Atlas 5 rocket aboard its mobile launch platform will be rolled from the assembly building to the nearby pad. The move, which covers 1,800 feet of rail track, should take about 40 minutes to complete.

On Wednesday afternoon, crews will load RP-1 kerosene fuel into the first stage of the rocket. The vehicle will be secured for the night and morning hours, with the countdown starting at midday on Thursday.

The launch is timed for 10:44 p.m. EDT Thursday to deploy four identical, formation-flying satellites into a highly elliptical Earth orbit to probe in three dimensions the questions of how and why magnetic field lines explosively disconnect and realign, a process known as magnetic reconnection.

“Magnetic reconnection is one of the most important drivers of space weather events,” said Jeff Newmark, interim director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

“Eruptive solar flares, coronal mass ejections and geomagnetic storms all involve the release, through reconnection, of energy stored in magnetic fields. Space weather events can affect modern technological systems such as communications networks, GPS navigation and electrical power grids.”

See our earlier MMS coverage.

And see our Atlas archive for further information.

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