Spaceflight Now: Breaking News

NASA slips launch of IMAGE

Posted: Feb. 29, 2000

The IMAGE spacecraft. Photo: Lockheed Martin
NASA has put the launch of its IMAGE satellite on hold while engineers determine if suspect parts are installed aboard the space weather observatory.

The $153 million Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration mission was slated for launch on March 15 atop a Boeing Delta 2 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

But concerns with DC-to-DC power converters have forced officials to halt pre-launch preparations, which are managed by the Expendable Launch Vehicle program at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

"The IMAGE project requested KSC to stand down launch operations until more is known about suspected DC-to-DC power converters," NASA spokesman George Diller said on Monday.

There are two known failures of these converters -- one last summer with another NASA satellite still under construction and one recently on a non-NASA mission.

"Two failures recently means we want to know more and understand the potential impact to IMAGE in which we know they are installed," Diller said.

Thousands of the converters have been produced and successfully operated in space. Analysis conducted over the weekend and Monday was aimed at determining whether the components aboard IMAGE might be faulty.

"We are trying to figure out if we should be worried or not," Diller said. "We don't know if we have a problem, we are just being prudent and trying to understand."

Senior space agency officials are expected to decide Tuesday if IMAGE can be cleared for launch or if the Lockheed Martin-built satellite must undergo a lengthy replacement of the converters.

If the concern is cleared and pre-flight work is allowed to resume, the IMAGE spacecraft could launch no sooner than March 18.

However, if workers have to open up the satellite to replace the converters, IMAGE could be grounded until summer.

IMAGE logo
Mission logo for IMAGE. Photo: NASA
It was not clear on Monday if the U.S. Air Force-controlled Western Range at Vandenberg would be available for launch on March 18. The Range is a vast network of tracking, communications and safety support systems needed for each rocket launch.

A Pentagon ballistic missile launch was scheduled for March 20 from a Vandenberg silo, but an Air Force spokeswoman said Monday the first Orbital Suborbital Program Target Launch Vehicle mission likely would be delayed until March 30.

Such a delay in the OSPTLV launch would clear the way for Boeing to reserve the Range's services for IMAGE. The Range needs between 48 and 72 hours to reconfigure its systems to support different launch vehicles.

The IMAGE satellite was mated to the Boeing Delta 2 rocket's solid-propellant third stage in a Vandenberg processing facility last Thursday. The craft was originally slated for transport to Space Launch Complex-2 West on Monday for attachment to the first two stages of the Delta rocket. That trip likely won't happen before Thursday.

IMAGE is already running a month late because of additional NASA reviews of the satellite and its mission. The risk assessments were prompted after the space agency's two failed Mars missions and other recent setbacks.

Once launched, IMAGE will be placed into a highly elliptical orbit around Earth's poles ranging from a low-point of 621 miles and high-point of 28,503 miles. It will take IMAGE about 14 1/2 hours to complete one orbit of Earth.

The half-ton craft will study the global response of Earth's magnetosphere to changes in the solar wind during its two-year mission. IMAGE's sophisticated instruments will help researchers understand and predict solar storms, which can affect satellites and Earth-based power grids and communications.

Flight data file
Vehicle: Delta 2 (7326-9.5)
Payload: IMAGE
Launch date: NET March 18, 2000
Launch window: Approx. 2114-2122 GMT (1:14-1:22 p.m. EST)
Launch site: SLC-2W, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

Explore the Net
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.

Delta 2 - Official Web site of Boeing's Delta 2 expendable launch vehicle program.

Vandenberg Air Force Base - West Coast launch site for Delta in California.

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