Launches

Phoenix Negotiates Breathtaking Entry And Descent, Lands Safely On Mars In Frigid Northern Realm

Spacecraft Has Just Months To Examine Water Ice, Key To Human Habitation On Mars; Search For Possible Life On Mars To Involve Shovels, Laboratories

It worked.

The Phoenix spacecraft, streaking at 12,500 miles an hour, blazed brightly through the orange sky above Mars, then deployed a high-strength parachute system, and finally used rocket thrusters to gently touch down in a frozen, forbidding landscape near the Martian North Pole.The NASA Phoenix spaceship, dangling from its parachute system, swoops toward a perilous but successful landing in the frigid polar plains of Mars, a moment in time and space caught by the telescopic High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on another NASA spacecraft, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, flying far overhead. Photo: NASA

The Phoenix finale to an interplanetary voyage that began with a liftoff from Planet Earth last August, involving many months and millions of miles, had NASA staffers on Earth sweating for about 15 minutes, unsure whether the spacecraft might have crashed into the Martian soil, much as another lander did years ago.

It was a brilliant performance by the plucky craft, captured for all to see by a telescopic camera far overhead in the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which showed Phoenix dangling from its parachute as it headed toward the frozen landing point. (Please see NASA photo.) It was one of the most spectacular pieces of photography yet captured at the nearest planet to Earth.

Hopefully, the long journey will lead to fruitful discoveries by Phoenix, which will scoop up loose soil and underlying hard terrain containing water ice, to be examined in miniature laboratories on Phoenix.

There is no time to lose here, since the bitter cold and darkness of the long polar night will, in just a few months, close in and kill Phoenix.

Before that death sentence is carried out, however, the spacecraft may accomplish much in its short life:

  • One goal already reached is to show that a heavier spacecraft such as Phoenix can manage the neat trick of entering the atmosphere at high speed, using the friction of the atmosphere to slow it until it can jettison a heat shield and deploy a parachute, and then use rocket thrusters to achieve a gentle landing. That is just how manned missions to Mars will land, and with astronauts aboard, there can be no error.
  • Phoenix also will search for signs of, or materials indicative of, or conditions amenable to, life on Mars, whether current or in some distant former era.
  • And perhaps the most important task for Phoenix will be to examine water ice buried underneath loose soil. Water is the critical material here, key to any human presence on Mars. Water, H2O, has two molecules of hydrogen to each molecule of oxygen. And that is vital. Oxygen is needed for humans to breathe, while it also can help to grow food for them to eat. And hydrogen can be a fuel to burn in the presence of oxygen, to provide heat and power for visitors to Mars.

There is a large amount of water ice buried beneath the loose topsoil in the northern latitudes of Mars, but NASA experts are hoping there may be a larger cache of ice buried beneath the surface nearer the Martian equator, a much warmer and more hospitable clime for humans.

It is near the equator that the Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, have continued roaming the red planet, making discoveries. They have had amazing endurance, lasting multiple times longer than their design lives.

Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT] built Phoenix, and the rovers. Mission management and navigation were handled by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL-NASA), and spacecraft operations were performed by Lockheed. The joint team stayed in daily contact with the spacecraft through the Deep Space Network since its launch on Aug. 4.

Everyone working on the project knew the Phoenix landing would be hairy.

Afterward, one official put it this way:

"We've passed the hardest part and we're breathing again," said Barry Goldstein, Phoenix project manager at JPL. "Seeing the images that Phoenix sent back after a successful landing reaffirmed the thorough work over the past five years by a great team."

The University of Arizona leads this first Mars Scout mission for NASA from its Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson. Most of the scientific study for the mission will be performed out of the university's Science Operations Center. The NASA mission, valued at $420 million, includes the spacecraft development, science instruments, the Delta II launch vehicle, mission operations and science operations.

"I'm truly pleased that we are back at Mars. The journey feels much longer than 422 million miles. We have gone through challenges and trying times, and now we're going through jubilation," said Peter Smith, of the University of Arizona, principal investigator for the Phoenix mission.

"I'm very grateful [to] NASA, JPL and Lockheed Martin for making this mission a reality and for allowing us to advance the scientific study of our neighboring planet."

Two NASA orbiters, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and 2001 Mars Odyssey, played major roles in getting Phoenix safely to the ground. Odyssey provided the communications data link between Phoenix and Earth throughout the entire entry, descent and landing phase. MRO's powerful HiRISE camera took unprecedented high-resolution images of multiple landing site options. The images gave analysts a preview of the potential landing sites, allowing them to determine which area was the least risky.

The fear was that Phoenix might perform flawlessly throughout its long journey and descent, only to find disaster in the final seconds of touchdown by striking a boulder that would knock the spacecraft on its side.

MRO also received Phoenix data during its journey to the surface, but the orbiter recorded the data and sent it back to Earth at a later time. Both MRO and Odyssey spacecraft were built by Lockheed Martin and both are operated for JPL by the company.

Space Shuttle Discovery To Launch At 5:02 P.M. ET Saturday On STS-124 Mission To International Space Station

Space Shuttle Discovery will launch at 5:02 p.m. ET Saturday from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center on its STS-124 Mission to the International Space Station.

Discovery will carry a huge segment of the Japanese Kibo (Hope) laboratory module for attachment to the space station.

This mission, once it is completed, will mark the halfway point -- 10 missions accomplished, 10 yet to blast off -- between the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy in February 2003 and the final mission before the space shuttle fleet is retired by October 2010.

Mark Kelly will command the seven-member crew, which includes Pilot Ken Ham, Mission Specialists Karen Nyberg, Ron Garan, Mike Fossum, Greg Chamitoff and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Akihiko Hoshide.

Chamitoff will replace Expedition 16/17 Flight Engineer Garrett Reisman and remain aboard the station as a member of the Expedition 17 crew.

NASA has decided that Chamitoff probably can remain aboard the space station for half a year, even though the emergency life raft for the station, the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, has a problem that hasn't been resolved yet.

In the last two consecutive Soyuz reentries, the vehicles plunged downward in a ballistic dive, landing miles off course and so roughly that two crew members on the last Soyuz mission suffered back injuries.

Galaxy 18 Satellite Launched, Space Systems/Loral Announces

The Galaxy 18 satellite built for Intelsat was launched by a Zenit-3SLB rocket from the Sea Launch Odyssey equatorial launch platform, Space Systems/Loral (SS/L) announced.

SS/L, a unit of Loral Space & Communications [LORL], reported that the satellite achieved solar array deployment several hours after separation, to be followed by firing of its main thruster to slip into geosynchronous orbit.

"Galaxy 18 is the 42nd Space Systems/Loral satellite to join our fleet,"said Thierry Guillemin, Intelsat senior vice president & chief technical officer.

Space Systems/Loral has been providing satellites to Intelsat since the early 1980s and has provided more spacecraft for the Intelsat fleet than any other manufacturer. The Galaxy 18 was completed in just 22 months, which was three months ahead of schedule; however launch was delayed as a result of launch vehicle availability.

The satellite will be used for Fixed Satellite Services (FSS) providing advanced cable television, data and telecommunications services to customers throughout North America, Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico and Puerto Rico.

Weighing approximately 4,650 kilograms (10 250 pounds) at launch, Galaxy 18 has a hybrid communications payload with a total of 48 operating transponders, 24 high-power Ku-band and 24 C-band.

Space Systems/Loral will begin maneuvering the spacecraft into its operational slot by managing main satellite thruster firings from its Mission Control Center in Palo Alto, Calif.

Within the next few weeks, following its final placement into geostationary orbit at 123 degrees West longitude and routine in-orbit testing, SS/L will hand control of the satellite over to Intelsat.

The satellite has a planned mission life of 15 years, and is designed based on the SS/L 1300 platform, which provides the flexibility to support a broad range of applications and technology advances.

Space Systems/Loral Launches Satellite For Intelsat

Space Systems/Loral (SS/L) launched a Galaxy 18 satellite for Intelsat on a Zenit-3SLB rocket from the Sea Launch Odyssey platform, SS/L announced.

That furthers the comeback of the Odyssey platform, which supports rocket launches at the Equator in the Pacific, after a Zenit exploded on the launch platform in January last year.

SS/L is a unit of Loral Space & Communications [LORL].

The satellite achieved solar array deployment several hours after separation, and headed for a geosynchronous orbit.

"Galaxy 18 is the 42nd Space Systems/Loral satellite to join our fleet," said Thierry Guillemin, Intelsat senior vice president and chief technical officer.

Space Systems/Loral has been providing satellites to Intelsat since the early 1980s and has provided more spacecraft for the Intelsat fleet than any other manufacturer, according to SS/L.

The Galaxy 18 spacecraft was completed in just 22 months, which was three months ahead of schedule; however launch was delayed as a result of launch vehicle availability, the company explained.

That satellite will be used for Fixed Satellite Services (FSS) providing advanced cable television, data, and telecommunications services to customers throughout North America, Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. Weighing approximately 4,650 kilograms (10,250 pounds) at launch, Galaxy 18 has a hybrid communications payload with a total of 48 operating transponders, divided equally between 24 high-power Ku-band and 24 C-band.

Space Systems/Loral will begin maneuvering the spacecraft into its operational slot by managing main satellite thruster firings from its Mission Control Center in Palo Alto, Calif. Within the next few weeks, following its final placement into geostationary orbit at 123 degrees West longitude and routine in-orbit testing, SS/L will hand control of the satellite over to Intelsat.

The spacecraft has a planned mission life of 15 years, and is designed based on SS/L's 1300 platform, which provides the flexibility to support a broad range of applications and technology advances.

Two Trident II D5 Missiles Launched, Making 122 Successful Tests

The Navy launched two Trident II D5 Fleet Ballistic Missiles in the Pacific Ocean, making a total of 122 consecutive successful tests of the weapon in 19 years, Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT] announced.

Those missiles were launched from the submerged USS Nebraska (SSBN 739).

That string of 122 launches is unmatched by any other large ballistic missile or space launch vehicle, according to Lockheed.

The Navy launched the missiles as part of a Follow-on Commander Evaluation Test, in a continuing series of operational system evaluation tests to assure the safety, reliability, readiness and performance of the ballistic missiles.

This is required by the Department of Defense National Command Authority. Tests are conducted under Joint Chiefs of Staff guidelines.

For the tests, operational missiles are converted into inert configurations using test missile kits produced by Lockheed Martin that contain range safety devices and flight telemetry instrumentation.

First deployed in 1990, the D5 missile currently is embarked aboard Trident II Ohio-class submarines and British Trident II Vanguard-class submarines. The three-stage, solid- propellant, inertial-guided ballistic missile can travel a nominal range of 4,000 nautical miles and carries multiple independently targeted reentry vehicles, or MIRVs. Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. in Sunnyvale, Calif., is the prime contractor and program manager for the Trident missile. Lockheed has been the prime strategic Navy missile contractor since inception of the program more than 50 years ago.

The test also involved the Lockheed Martin-integrated navigation subsystem that provides navigation data to support Trident performance requirements. Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems & Sensors Undersea Systems at Mitchel Field, N.Y., has been the prime contractor for the navigation subsystem aboard fleet ballistic missile submarines since 1955.

Ariane 5 Ready To Launch Satellites From South America Friday

An Ariane 5 rocket is poised to launch two satellites, Turksat 3A and Skynet 5C, on Friday from the European spaceport in French Guiana in South America.

This will be the third Ariane 5 launch this year, according to Arianespace.

Integration of the satellites was completed in the upper level of the Final Assembly Building, where Turksat 3A was installed atop the launcher's core cryogenic stage, followed by the integration of Skynet 5C.

The Ariane 5 payload "stack" places Turksat 3A in the lower passenger position, with the satellite being released in the final phase of a multi-step mission trajectory.

Riding as the upper passenger is Skynet 5C, which was installed atop the SYLDA 5 dispenser system, and then encapsulated in the Ariane 5 ECA's payload fairing. This upper element was lowered into position over the Turksat 3A satellite, completing the payload stack.

Turksat 3A was built by Thales Alenia Space, and will be utilized by Ankara-based Turksat for telecommunication services and direct TV broadcasting over Turkey, Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia.

The 3,110 kilogram (6,856 pounds) satellite is based on Thales Alenia Space's Spacebus 4000B2 spacecraft design, and carries 24 Ku-band transponders.

Skynet 5C is a secure military telecommunications satellite that will deliver resilient, survivable and secure communications to military and government users.

Built by European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. unit Astrium, it will be operated by the U.K.-based operator, Paradigm. The Skynet 5C platform carries hardened Ultra High and Super High Frequency (UHF/SHF) payloads that use multiple, steerable spot beams.

Arianespace plans to launch seven Ariane 5 missions in 2008 -- the busiest year of operations since the launcher's 1999 commercial introduction.

Its two flights already performed this year were the launch of an Ariane 5 ES version on March 9 with Europe's Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) for the International Space Station; and the April 18 dual-payload Ariane 5 ECA mission with Star One C2 and VINASAT-1.

As final preparations are being completed in the Spaceport's Final Assembly Building for the launch Friday, , another Ariane 5 ECA is taking shape in the nearby Launcher Integration Building for the year's fourth mission. This vehicle also will carry a dual-satellite payload.

Army Tests PAC-3 Missile Enhancement Interceptor

The Army launched a Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile segment enhancement (MSE) interceptor at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.

That test demonstrated hardware, Canister (1-Pack), and PAC-3 MSE missile functionality, interfaces, integration with the Patriot System and missile fly-out functions, according to the Army.

Test objectives included:

  • Demonstrating Patriot system integration
  • Demonstrating missile flight functions
  • Collecting data to evaluate missile aerodynamic, structural, and thermal responses to natural and induced environments

The PAC-3 completed operational testing and began fielding in 2002. It was first used in combat in Iraq in 2003.

That PAC-3 MSE interceptor is the newest addition to the PAC-3 family of missiles. PAC-3 provides a highly agile, hit-to-kill missile. The MSE missile provides increased capability against advanced tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and other air-breathing threats.

The program is managed by the Army Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space and executed by the Lower Tier Air and Missile Defense Project Office in Huntsville, Ala. Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT] unit Missiles and Fire Control in Dallas is the prime contractor for the PAC-3 Missile Segment. Raytheon Co. [RTN] unit Raytheon Systems, the Patriot system prime contractor, is the system integrator for the PAC-3 missile segment.

NASA Sets New Space Shuttle Launch Dates

Shuttle Atlantis To Fly Two Extra Missions Instead Of Facing Retirement This Year

NASA as expected adjusted the target launch dates for two space shuttle missions.

Space Shuttle Atlantis will lift off on its STS-125 Mission to repair and service the Hubble Space Telescope on Oct. 8, instead of in August as previously planned.

Also, Space Shuttle Endeavour will launch on the STS-126 Mission to the International Space Station on Nov. 10, instead of on Oct. 16.

The final servicing mission to Hubble was moved from Aug. 28 due to a delay in deliveries of components, including the external fuel tanks, and the need to prepare Endeavour for a possible rescue mission approximately two weeks after STS-125 launches.

That's because when a space shuttle goes to the International Space Station, it can act as a temporary refuge if there is a problem with the shuttle, such as damage caused by foam insulation from the external fuel tank hitting the orbiter vehicle.

But on the Atlantis trip to Hubble, there will be no safe haven there if trouble arises. Hence the need to have Discovery back at Kennedy Space Center, poised for launch to go to the rescue, if need be.

Flights beyond STS-126 will be assessed and coordinated with NASA's international partners at a later date, according to NASA. Both shuttle and station program officials will continue to consider options for the remainder of the shuttle flights, with those target launch dates being subject to change.

The Shuttle Program also has decided that Atlantis will be assigned two additional flights after the Hubble mission in order to more efficiently fly the remaining shuttle flights using the three orbiters in sequence.

NASA's Shuttle and Rocket Missions

A variety of vehicles, launch sites on both U.S. coasts, shifting dates and times... the NASA Launch Schedule is easy to decipher by checking out the NASA Launch Schedule on www.nasa.gov that explains how it all works.

Updated -- May 23, 2008 - 11:30 a.m. EDT

Legend: + Targeted For | *No Earlier Than (Tentative) | **To Be Determined

2008 Launches

Date: May 31

Mission: STS-124

Launch Vehicle: Space Shuttle Discovery

Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center - Launch Pad 39A

Launch Time: 5:02 p.m. EDT

Description: Space shuttle Discovery on mission STS-124 will transport the Kibo Japanese Experiment Module - Pressurized Module (JEM-PM) and the Japanese Remote Manipulator System (JEM-RMS) to the International Space Station.

Date: June 3 *

Mission: GLAST

Launch Vehicle: United Launch Alliance Delta II

Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station - Launch Complex 17 - Pad 17-B

Launch Window: 11:45 a.m - 1:40 p.m. EDT

Description: An heir to its successful predecessor -- the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory -- the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope will have the ability to detect gamma rays in a range of energies from thousands to hundreds of billions of times more energetic than the light visible to the human eye. Radiation of such magnitude can only be generated under the most extreme conditions, thus GLAST will focus on studying the most energetic objects and phenomena in the universe.

Date: June 15

Mission: OSTM

Launch Vehicle: United Launch Alliance Delta II

Launch Site: Vandenberg Air Force Base - Launch Pad SLC-2

Launch Window: 1:47 - 1:56 a.m. PDT/4:47 - 4:56 a.m. EDT

Description: The Ocean Surface Topography Mission on the Jason-2 satellite will be a follow-on to the Jason mission.

Date: Sept. 13 *

Mission: IBEX

Launch Vehicle: Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL Rocket

Launch Site: Reagan Test Site, Kwajalein Atoll

Description: IBEX's science objective is to discover the global interaction between the solar wind and the interstellar medium and will achieve this objective by taking a set of global energetic neutral atom images that will answer four fundamental science questions.

Date: Sept. 14 +

Mission: TacSat-3

Launch Vehicle: Orbital Sciences Minotaur Rocket

Launch Site: Wallops Flight Facility - Goddard Space Flight Center

Description: NASA will support the Air Force launch of the TacSat-3 satellite, managed by the Air Force Research Laboratory's Space Vehicles Directorate. TacSat-3 will demonstrate the capability to furnish real-time data to the combatant commander. NASA Ames will fly a microsat and NASA Wallops will fly the CubeSats on this flight in addition to providing the launch range.

Date: Oct. 8 +

Mission: STS-125

Launch Vehicle: Space Shuttle Atlantis

Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center - Launch Pad 39A

Description: Space Shuttle Atlantis will fly seven astronauts into space for the fifth and final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. During the 11-day flight, the crew will repair and improve the observatory's capabilities through 2013.

Date: Nov. 10 +

Mission: STS-126

Launch Vehicle: Space Shuttle Endeavour

Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center - Launch Pad 39A

Description: Space Shuttle Endeavour launching on assembly flight ULF2, will deliver a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module to the International Space Station.

Date: Nov. 13

Mission: STSS Demonstrators Program - Missile Defense Agency

Launch Vehicle: United Launch Alliance Delta II

Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station - Launch Complex 17, Pad A

Description: STSS Demonstrators Program is a midcourse tracking technology demonstrator and is part of an evolving ballistic missile defense system. STSS is capable of tracking objects after boost phase and provides trajectory information to other sensors and interceptors. To be launched by NASA for the Missile Defense Agency.

Date: Nov. 24 *

Mission: LRO/LCROSS

Launch Vehicle: United Launch Alliance Atlas V

Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station - Launch Complex 41

Description: The mission objectives of the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite are to advance the Vision for Space Exploration by confirming the presence or absence of water ice in a permanently shadowed crater at either the Moon's North or South Pole.

Date: Dec. 1 *

Mission: SDO

Launch Vehicle: United Launch Alliance Atlas V

Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station - Launch Complex 41

Description: The first Space Weather Research Network mission in the Living With a Star (LWS) Program of NASA.

Date: Dec. 4 +

Mission: STS-119

Launch Vehicle: Space Shuttle Discovery

Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center - Launch Pad 39A

Description: Space Shuttle Discovery launching on assembly flight 15A, will deliver the fourth starboard truss segment to the International Space Station.

Date: Dec. 12 *

Mission: GOES-O

Launch Vehicle: United Launch Alliance Delta IV

Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station - Launch Complex 37

Description: NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are actively engaged in a cooperative program, the multimission Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite series N-P. This series will be a vital contributor to weather, solar and space operations, and science.

Date: Dec. 15 *

Mission: OCO

Launch Vehicle: Orbital Sciences Taurus Rocket

Launch Site: Vandenberg Air Force Base - Launch Pad SLC 576-E

Description: The Orbiting Carbon Observatory is a new Earth orbiting mission sponsored by NASA's Earth System Science Pathfinder Program.

2009 Launches

Date: Feb. 1

Mission: NOAA-N Prime

Launch Vehicle: United Launch Alliance Delta II

Launch Site: Vandenberg Air Force Base - Launch Pad SLC-2

Description: NOAA-N Prime is the latest polar-orbiting satellite developed by NASA/Goddard Spaceflight Center for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA uses two satellites, a morning and afternoon satellite, to ensure every part of the Earth is observed at least twice every 12 hours. NOAA-N will collect information about Earth's atmosphere and environment to improve weather prediction and climate research across the globe.

Date: Feb. 16

Mission: Kepler

Launch Vehicle: United Launch Alliance Delta II

Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station - Launch Complex 17 - Pad 17-B

Description: The Kepler Mission, a NASA Discovery mission, is specifically designed to survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy to detect and characterize hundreds of Earth-size and smaller planets in or near the habitable zone.

Date: March 1

Mission: Glory

Launch Vehicle: Orbital Sciences Taurus Rocket

Launch Site: Vandenberg Air Force Base - Launch Pad SLC 576-E

Description: The Glory Mission will help increase our understanding of the Earth's energy balance by collecting data on the properties of aerosols and black carbon in the Earth's atmosphere and how the Sun's irradiance affects the Earth's climate.





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