Final Great Observatory arrives at launch site
BY STEPHEN CLARK
Posted: March 9, 2003
The transport from its Lockheed Martin manufacturing facility in California to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida ended Thursday as the spacecraft was placed in its new processing facility at the Hangar AE clean room in the Cape Canaveral industrial area.
"We are very pleased to have completed integration and testing of NASA's latest space observatory," Lockheed Martin SIRTF program manager John Straetker said. "Environmental and other comprehensive tests done here in Sunnyvale have confirmed that SIRTF is a healthy observatory, ready for integration with the launch vehicle. We look forward with anticipation to the upcoming launch."
SIRTF will undergo a number of tests and checkout activities in the clean room, including inspections and final checks of the satellite's delicate infrared telescope and its scientific complement of three instruments and optical hardware.
Electronics and communications testing will be part of the final processing flow in addition to the other activities. An integrated test between NASA's Deep Space Network's three ground stations located around the world is also on the schedule before launch.
Once officials are confident SIRTF is ready for its journey into space, the satellite will be attached to its payload adapter and taken via a short drive to Space Launch Complex 17B, where the Delta 2 that will launch the craft is already waiting.
The SIRTF spacecraft will be mated to the Delta 2 in early April, and its protective payload fairing will be added a few days later. The final major spacecraft preparation activity is to fill it with 90 gallons of cryogenic liquid helium used to chill the infrared telescope instruments for maximum science return.
Launch is set for the pre-dawn hours of April 15 from Cape Canaveral, and the satellite will arrive on-station in heliocentric orbit shortly thereafter, essentially trailing Earth as it orbits the Sun.
From there, the cutting edge spacecraft will get to work in its potential five-year mission, gathering images and data in the infrared wavelength of objects and regions throughout the Universe.
The final cornerstone member of the revolutionary Great Observatories program will join the Hubble Space Telescope covering visual observations and the Chandra X-ray Observatory responsible for the X-ray wavelength. The Compton Gamma Ray Observatory was de-orbited in 2000 after its mission was complete.
All told, SIRTF is the end product of decades of research and planning that has led to a number of mission and design changes, one of which was to change the expected launch vehicle from the Space Shuttle to an expendable booster.
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