BY JUSTIN RAY
March 25, 2000 -- Read the latest on the countdown and launch of NASA's IMAGE space observatory aboard a Boeing Delta 2 rocket. Reload this page for the very latest on the mission.
SATURDAY, MARCH 25, 2000
2130 GMT (4:30 p.m. EST)
Ground controllers expect to establish contact with IMAGE for the first time in about 15 minutes through a NASA tracking station in Madrid, Spain.
Check back here later today for a full report on the launch and IMAGE satellite, plus movies and pictures of the launch.
2128 GMT (4:28 p.m. EST)
2124 GMT (4:24 p.m. EST)
Our updates are now coming from our hotel back in Lompoc, California, east of Vandenberg Air Force Base.
2051 GMT (3:51 p.m. EST)
2046 GMT (3:46 p.m. EST)
2039 GMT (3:39 p.m. EST)
2036 GMT (3:36 p.m. EST)
2034:43 GMT (3:34:43 p.m. EST)
2030:43 GMT (3:30:43 p.m. EST)
2020:43 GMT (3:20:43 p.m. EST)
Today will mark the first launch of a Delta rocket Vandenberg in almost a year. The last mission was also for NASA, launching the Landsat 7 Earth-imaging satellite on April 15. During the down-period, caused by a lack of payloads to launch, the Boeing's Vandenberg team here at has performed extensive refurbishment and upgrade work to the launch pad and ground equipment. Nearly all the piping and tubes in the tower were replaced, a new backup power system was installed and the air conditioning system used by the rocket's cargo was updated.
In addition, a good portion of the launch team was dispatched to Cape Canaveral to assist in the record-setting string of missions for Globalstar last summer.
A pair of rehearsals have been performed recently to keep the launch team's skills sharp for today's mission.
2014 GMT (3:14 p.m. EST)
The Range Safety command destruct receivers that would be used to destroy the Delta rocket should a problem arise during the launch are now being checked. Also, in the next minute the first stage RP-1 fuel tank will be pressurized for launch. The tank is situated atop the liquid oxygen tank aboard the Delta 2 rocket. The RP-1 fuel is pumped into the RS-27A main engine through a feed line which runs through the LOX tank.
1944 GMT (2:44 p.m. EST)
Countdown activities are reported to be on schedule for liftoff at 2034:43 GMT (3:34:43 p.m. EST) at the opening of an 8-minute launch window. The launch team loaded the rocket's first stage with super-cold liquid oxygen a short time ago. LOX was pumped into the vehicle from a 28,000-gallon storage tank at Space Launch Complex-2 West. The three-stage rocket is now fully fueled for today's launch. Also, the steering checks of the first and second stage engine nozzles have been completed.
The countdown clock has entered the planned 20-minute built-in hold at T-minus 20 minutes. One further hold is scheduled at T-minus 4 minutes and will last 10 minutes.
Weather here is absolutely beautiful with bright blue skies, great visibility, a few high clouds, a light breeze and cool temperatures in the mid-50s F. There had been real concern about weather coming into this launch attempt. But so far, clouds are not really looking like a threat and Air Force meteorologists say there is only a 20 percent of weather stopping the launch today. High-altitude winds are also reported acceptable.
Our updates will be a bit more sparse today than the usual coverage we provide of launches given the press site setup here at Vandenberg. We will do the best we can. However, after launch we will provide a full report on the countdown and flight, including movies and images.
1734:43 GMT (12:34:43 p.m. EST)
Earlier this morning workers loaded about 10,000 gallons of RP-1 fuel into the rocket's second stage from a 15,000-gallon storage tank at the pad. Later, the 177-foot tall mobile service tower was retracted from around the rocket.
With the countdown underway, the activities planned over the next hour include clearing the hazard danger area, pressurizing the first and second stage helium and nitrogen systems and second stage fuel tanks and checking the C-band tracking beacon on the rocket.
Launch remains scheduled for 2034:43 GMT (3:34:43 p.m. EST).
1630 GMT (11:30 a.m. EST)
Air Force weather forecasters say there is a 60 percent chance layered clouds will scrub today's launch attempt just over 4 hours from now.
Meanwhile, the Boeing launch team is preparing to start the Terminal Countdown for the 277th Delta rocket. Clocks are scheduled to begin ticking at 1734:43 GMT (12:34:43 p.m. EST).
1500 GMT (10 a.m. EST)
Workers rolled the 177-foot tall mobile service structure away from the Delta rocket at about 1230 GMT (7:30 a.m. EST) today. The tower encloses the rocket on the launch to protect it from weather and provide access.
Weather is still being watched closely here at Vandenberg today. Overall, the U.S. Air Force says there is a 40 percent chance of acceptable weather for launch.
FRIDAY, MARCH 24, 2000
Technicians said Friday morning they had discovered a thumb nail-sized chip on a radiator panel on one side of the eight-sided craft. Using special space-worthy tape, the minor damage was fixed on Friday afternoon at Space Launch Complex-2 West. Officials said they did not know how the chip occurred, but noted the damage was located in an area were workers have access to the satellite at the launch pad. The incident is believed to have happened after the rocket's nose cone, or payload fairing, was installed around the satellite last week.
With no technical problems of concern worrying the launch team, the weather forecast remains the only hurdle threatening Saturday's liftoff attempt. U.S. Air Force meteorologists say there is a 60 percent chance layered clouds will scrub the launch. The odds have improved slightly from Thursday when there was a 70 percent of unacceptable conditions.
The bad weather is associated with a system approaching Vandenberg from the Pacific Ocean. Clouds were expected to begin rolling in later tonight and into Saturday. No rain is predicated during the countdown, which is a change from earlier predictions.
Launch day activities will get underway 0900 GMT (4 a.m. EST) on Saturday when senior managers receive an updated weather forecast. The loading of RP-1 fuel, a highly refined kerosene, into the Delta 2 rocket's first stage will commence at about 1000 GMT (5 a.m. EST). The fuel adds extra weight to the rocket, which sits unbolted to its oceanside launch pad. The protective mobile service tower will be rolled away from the Delta and into the launch position a short time later once fueling is finished.
The Terminal Countdown should start at 1734:43 GMT (12:34:43 p.m. EST) at T-minus 150 minutes. A pair of built-in holds are scheduled into the countdown, accounting for the three-hour process to liftoff. The first hold is scheduled to last 20 minutes at T-minus 20 minutes; the other for 10 minutes at T-minus 4 minutes.
We will have live reports throughout the countdown and launch of the Delta 2 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Check back to this page for complete coverage.
THURSDAY, MARCH 23, 2000
U.S. Air Force Launch Weather Officer Capt. Joe Kurtz provides this forecast issued on Thursday:
"The forecast continues to depend largely on where an upper-level trough tracks over the next two days. Forecast models are still in slight disagreement where the system will move as it approaches California this weekend. Our expectation is that the low will move to the west of Vandenberg on Friday and then through the area on Saturday after the launch attempt. The area will see increasing clouds on Friday as the system approaches. Expect layered low-, mid- and high clouds during the countdown and isolated rain in the area starting Saturday midday. By Sunday morning, the low will move to the east and we will have decreasing clouds, but the possibility for isolated rainshowers will remain through the morning hours. Surface winds for Saturday will be from the NW at 15 to 20 knots, increasing to 22 to 28 knots on Sunday."
The forecast for launch time calls for stratus clouds broken at 2,000 feet, altostratus clouds broken at 10,000 feet and broken cirrus clouds at 20,000 feet, visibility of 7 miles, northwest winds between 12 and 18 knots, a temperature of 52 to 56 degrees F and rain in the area.
If the launch is delayed to Sunday, the forecast improves only slightly with a 40 percent of acceptable conditions. The concerns will be cumulus clouds, rain and launch drift winds.
At the launch pad on Thursday technicians were completing final prelaunch work on the rocket. The engineers also took a few minutes out their day to pose for a team photo at the launch pad.
The Launch Readiness Review by senior managers will held on Friday morning at Vandenberg. The U.S. Air Force will conduct their own meeting later in the afternoon.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 22, 2000
Workers spent Wednesday pumping storable propellants aboard the rocket's second stage. Managers gave approval to continue pre-flight work during a flight readiness review on Tuesday.
The launch team will have an eight-minute window to get the Delta 2 rocket airborne on Saturday starting at 2034:43 GMT (3:34:43 p.m. EST) from Space Launch Complex-2 West. The flight will last about 56 minutes from liftoff to deployment of IMAGE.
The early weather forecast, however, is less than optimistic. A weather system is expected to sweep through the Vandenberg area this weekend, bringing layered clouds, rain and gusty winds to the launch site. U.S. Air Force Launch Weather Officer Capt. Joe Kurtz provides this forecast issued on Wednesday afternoon:
"The forecast for launch depends largely on where an upper-level trough out over the Pacific tracks. Forecast models are in disagreement where the system will move as it approaches California this weekend. Most computer models have the system moving west of Vandenberg, then through the area on Saturday just after the launch attempt. The pessimistic solution is the most logical at this time. Expect layered low-, mid- and high clouds and isolated rain in the area starting on Saturday morning. By Sunday morning, the low will move to the east and we will have decreasing clouds, but the possibility for isolated rainshowers will remain through the morning hours. Surface winds for Saturday will be from the northwest at 15 to 20 knots, increasing to 25 knots on Sunday.
The launch time forecast calls for stratus clouds broken at 2,000 feet, altostratus clouds scattered at 10,000 feet and broken cirrus clouds at 20,000 feet, visibility of 5 miles, northwest winds between 12 and 18 knots, a temperature of 52 to 56 degrees F and light rain.
The overall chance of weather stopping the launch is 60 percent. The main concerns are layered clouds and rain.
The forecast improves for Sunday with only a 30 percent of bad weather.
NASA's Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration (IMAGE) spacecraft will operate in a highly elliptical orbit around the Earth's poles. During its two-year research mission, the satellite will take images of the planet's magnetosphere -- a shell that protects Earth's upper atmosphere from the high-speed stream of charged particles from the sun called the solar wind. The images will allow scientists a chance to study the interaction of the solar wind with the magnetosphere and the magnetosphere's response during a magnetic storm. These storms can cause disruptions in communications and power systems on Earth and harm satellites and astronauts in space.
The Southwest Research Institute of San Antonio, Texas, is leading the IMAGE science mission for NASA. Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space built the satellite.
NASA's total cost for the IMAGE mission, including the satellite, Delta 2 rocket and two years of operations is about $154 million.
"IMAGE is the first scientific mission of the century for Delta rockets," said Darryl Van Dorn, Boeing's director of commercial and NASA Delta programs. "The IMAGE mission is a continuation of a 39-year partnership with NASA."
Delta rockets have carried 82 scientific and technology development payloads into Earth orbit and deep space.
Spaceflight Now will be providing extensive coverage of this launch live from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Stay tuned for full reports over the next few days.
Flight Data File
Vehicle: Delta 2 (7326)
Payload: NASA's IMAGE
Launch date: March 25, 2000
Launch window: 2034:43-2042:43 GMT (3:34-3:42 p.m. EST)
Launch site: SLC-2W, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
The Boeing Delta 2 rocket lifts off with NASA's IMAGE satellite from Vandenberg.
PLAY (215k, 25sec QuickTime file)
Animation shows NASA's IMAGE satellite orbiting the Earth for its space weather science mission.
PLAY (179k, 12sec QuickTime file)
Download QuickTime 4 software to view this file.
Launch - Pictures from the countdown and liftoff.
Launch timeline - Chart with times and descriptions of events to occur during the launch.
Orbit trace - Maps showing the ground track the rocket will follow during flight.
Delta 2 rocket - Overview of the Delta 2 7326-model rocket used to launch IMAGE.
IMAGE - Description of the IMAGE satellite and its science mission.
Explore the Net
Delta 2 - Official Web site of Boeing's Delta 2 expendable launch vehicle program.
IMAGE - NASA site gives overview of Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration mission.
SwRI - The official IMAGE mission home page at Southwest Research Institute.
LMMS - Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space built IMAGE.
Explorers Program - NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center site devoted to Explorer missions.
Vandenberg Air Force Base - West Coast launch site for Delta in California.
History of Delta - A private Web site devoted to past Delta launches with valuable facts and figures.
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