These custom road signs at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility are, well, out of this world with awesomeness. They refer to the recent launch of the LADEE spacecraft to the Moon and the upcoming launch this week of the Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket, with its Cygnus cargo spacecraft heading to the International Space Station for a demonstration cargo resupply mission. Launch is currently scheduled for Wednesday, September 18 during a window of 10:50-11:05 am EDT (14:50-15:05 UTC).
LADEE Minotaur V Launch – Maximum Elevation Map
The LADEE nighttime launch will be visible to millions of spectators across a wide area of the Eastern US -weather permitting. This map shows the maximum elevation (degrees above the horizon) that the Minotaur V rocket will reach during the Sep. 6, 2013 launch depending on your location along the US east coast. Credit: Orbital Sciences [/caption]
A spectacular nighttime blastoff blazing a historic trail to the Moon is set to soar in two weeks time when NASA’s LADEE spacecraft lifts off from the Eastern Shore of Virginia at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island – from America’s newest spaceport.
NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) Observatory will thunder to space at 11:27 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6, from the commercial Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) launch complex 0B at NASA’s Wallops Island facility atop the maiden flight of the new, solid fueled Minotaur V rocket developed by Orbital Sciences Corp.
LADEE’s late night launch will be absolutely spectacular and visible to tens of millions of spectators up and down the US East coast and interior areas stretching into the Midwest- weather permitting.
“I love this mission,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA Associate Administrator for Science at NASA Headquarters, at a media briefing today, Aug. 22.
“With NASA’s prior LRO and GRAIL spacecraft we studied the Moon’s surface and interior. Now with LADEE we study the atmosphere and dust,” said John Grunsfeld.
The purpose of LADEE is to collect data that will inform scientists in unprecedented detail about the ultra thin lunar atmosphere, environmental influences on lunar dust and conditions near the surface. In turn this will lead to a better understanding of other planetary bodies in our solar system and beyond.
The small car sized LADEE lunar orbiter mission will be historic in many ways. It’s the first probe of any kind ever launched to beyond Earth orbit from NASA Wallops, as well as being the first planetary science mission from Wallops.
It also marks the first launch of a five stage rocket and the first launch of a decommissioned Peacekeeper missile from Wallops.
The first three stages of the Minotaur V are based on the nuclear armed Peacekeeper ICBM intercontinental ballistic missile built during the Cold War – now retired and refurbished by Orbital for peaceful uses. Its literally beating sword into ploughshares.
The 5th stage is a new addition and what makes this Minotaur a new rocket class. The added thrust is precisely what enables shooting for the Moon.
Recently, I had an exclusive tour and photoshoot up close and personal with the upper stages of LADEE’s Minotaur V rocket at Wallops prior to integration at the commercial launch pad – 0B – and will be reporting on that here and in upcoming stories.
“LADEE is equipped with three science instruments to study the atmosphere and dust and a lunar laser technology demonstration,” said Joan Salute, LADEE program executive, NASA Headquarters.
These include an ultraviolet and visible light spectrometer that will gather detailed information about the composition of the tenuous lunar atmosphere; a neutral mass spectrometer to measure variations in the lunar atmosphere over time; a laser dust experiment that will collect and analyze dust particle samples; and a laser communications experiment that will test the use of lasers in place of radio waves for high speed dad communications with Earth.
“The lunar atmosphere is so thin that the molecules never collide,’ said Sarah Noble, LADEE program scientist, NASA Headquarters.
“It’s a ‘Surface Boundary Exosphere’ which is actually the most common type of atmosphere in our Solar System.”
Scientists also hope to solve a mystery dating back nearly five decades to the Apollo moon landing era, by determining if electrically charged lunar dust is responsible for the pre-sunrise horizon glow seen by the Apollo astronauts and also by the unmanned Surveyor 7 lander, according to Noble.
“This is the first NASA mission with a dedicated laser communications experiment,” said Don Cornwell, mission manager for the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
I asked when we could see laser communications implemented on future NASA spacecraft?
“A new laser communications system could possibly be used on the 2020 Mars rover from the surface of Mars,” Grunsfeld told Universe Today.
The couch sized 844 pound (383 kg) robotic explorer was assembled at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., and is a cooperative project with NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center in Maryland.
The spacecraft is a first of its kind vehicle built from a NASA Ames-developed Modular Common Spacecraft Bus architecture that can be applied to other missions. The mission cost is approximately $280 million.
The Minotaur V will boost LADEE into a highly elliptical orbit. Then over the next 23 days, as LADEE orbits Earth 3.5 times, the Moon’s gravitational field will increase the perigee of its orbit. The spacecraft will fire its on-board braking thrusters to achieve lunar orbit.
NASA Ames LADEE Mission – Lunar Orbital Insertion Animation
Video caption: This animation is a representation of lunar orbital insertion for LADEE, which is the path the spacecraft follows when it is captured by the Moon’s gravity and enters lunar orbit. Credit: NASA Ames/Dana Berry. Note: Animation is silent with no audio/music track included.
The mission will fly in a very low science orbit of about 50 kilometers altitude above the moon. The science mission duration is approximately 100 days.
“It’s limited by the amount of onboard fuel required to maintain orbit,” Doug Voss, launch manager, Wallops, told Universe Today.
“I’m excited about the night launch because people up and down the Atlantic seacoast will be able to see it,” Jim Green, Planetary Science Division Director at NASA HQ, told me.
And don’t forget that NASA has a 2nd really big launch from Wallops slated for Sep. 17 – with blastoff of the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo carrier on their historic 1st mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
I’ll be on site at Wallops for both historic launches on Sep. 6 and 17 – reporting for Universe Today.
We’ll see you in Virginia!
Learn more about LADEE, Cygnus, Antares, MAVEN, Orion, Mars rovers and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations
July 4 Morning Fireworks from NASA!
A NASA Black Brant V Sounding Rocket launches in support of the Daytime Dynamo Mission on July 4, 2013 from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA. Credit: NASA/J. Eggers[/caption]
WALLOPS ISLAND, VA – Today, July 4, NASA celebrated America’s Independence Day with a spectacular fireworks display of a dynamic duo of sounding rockets – blasting off barely 15 seconds apart this morning from the agencies NASA Wallops Island facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia on a science experiment to study the ionosphere.
The Dynamo electrical current sweeps through the ionosphere, a layer of charged particles that extends from about 30 to 600 miles above Earth.
Disruptions in the ionosphere can scramble radio wave signals for critical communications and navigations transmissions that can impact our every day lives.
The launches suffered multiple delays over the past 2 weeks due to weather, winds, errant boats and unacceptable science conditions in the upper atmosphere.
At last, the Fourth of July was the irresistible charm.
The liftoff times were 10:31:25 a.m. for the Black Brant V and 10:31:40 a.m. (EDT) for the Terrier-Improved Orion.
The experiment involved launching two suborbital rockets and also dispatching a NASA King Air airplane to collect a stream of airborne science measurements.
Daytime Dynamo is a joint project between NASA and the Japanese Space Agency, or Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, said Robert Pfaff to Universe Today in an exclusive interview inside Mission Control at Wallops. Pfaff is the principle investigator for the Dynamo sounding rocket at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
“The dynamo changes during the day and varies with the season,” Pfaff told me.
But they only have one chance to launch. So the science team has to pick the best time to meet the science objectives.
“We would launch every month if we could and had the funding, in order to even more fully characterize the Dynamo.”
The 35 foot tall single-stage Black Brant V launched first. It carried a 600 pound payload to collect the baseline data to characterize the neutral and charged ionospheric particles as it blasted skyward.
The 33 foot tall two-stage Terrier-Improved Orion took off just 15 seconds later in the wake of the exhaust of the Black Brant V.
The Terrier-Improved Orion successfully deployed a lengthy trail of lithium gas from a pressurized canister that created a chemical tracer to track how the upper atmospheric winds vary with altitude. These winds are believed to be the drivers of the dynamo currents.
Both rockets fly for about five minutes to an altitude of some 100 miles up in the ionosphere. They both splashed down in the ocean after about 15 minutes.
NASA’s King Air aircraft was essential to the mission. I toured the airplane on the Wallops runway for an up-close look inside. It is outfitted with a bank of precisely aimed analytical instruments peering through the aircraft windows to capture the critical science data – see my photos herein.
“The King Air launches about an hour before the scheduled liftoff time,” Pfaff told me.
“It uses special cameras and filters to collect visible and infrared spectroscopic data from the lithium tracer to characterize the daytime dynamo.”
The science instruments are newly developed technology to make the daytime measurements of the lithium tracer and were jointly created by NASA, JAXA and scientists at Clemson University.
“Everything worked as planned,” Pfaff announced from Wallops Mission Control soon after the magnificent Fourth of July fireworks show this morning.
1st fully integrated Antares rocket – decaled with huge American flag – stands firmly erect at seaside Launch Pad 0-A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on 6 April 2013 following night time rollout. Maiden Antares test launch is scheduled for 17 April 2013. Later operational flights are critical to resupply the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com).
See Antares rollout and erection photo gallery below[/caption]
For the first time ever, the new and fully integrated commercial Antares rocket built by Orbital Sciences was rolled out to its oceanside launch pad on a rather chilly Saturday morning (April 6) and erected at the very edge of the Eastern Virginia shoreline in anticipation of its maiden launch slated for April 17.
The inaugural liftoff of the privately developed two stage rocket is set for 5 p.m. from the newly constructed launch pad 0-A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
And Universe Today was there! See my photo gallery herein.
Antares is the most powerful rocket ever to ascend near major American East Coast population centers, unlike anything before. The launch is open to the public and is generating buzz.
And this is one very cool looking rocket.
The maiden April 17 launch is actually a test flight dubbed the A-One Test Launch Mission.
The goal of the A-One mission is to validate that Antares is ready to launch Orbital‘s Cygnus capsule on a crucial docking demonstration and resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) as soon as this summer.
The 1 mile horizontal rollout trek of the gleaming white rocket from the NASA integration hanger to the pad on a specially designed trailer began in the dead of a frosty, windy night at 4:30 a.m. – and beneath a picturesque moon.
“We are all very happy and proud to get Antares to the pad today for the test flight,” Orbital ground operations manager Mike Brainard told Universe Today in an interview at Launch Complex 0-A.
The rocket was beautifully decaled with a huge American flag as well as the Antares, Cygnus and Orbital logos.
Antares was transported aboard the Transporter/Erector/Launcher (TEL), a multifunctional, specialized vehicle that also slowly raised the rocket to a vertical position on the launch pad a few hours later, starting at about 1 p.m. under clear blue skies.
This first ever Antares erection took about 30 minutes. The lift was postponed for several hours after arriving at the pad as Orbital personal monitored the continually gusting winds approaching the 29 knot limit and checked all pad and rocket systems to insure safety.
The TEL vehicle also serves as a support interface between the 133-foot Antares and the range of launch complex systems.
Now that Antares stands vertical, “We are on a clear path to a launch date of April 17, provided there are no significant weather disruptions or major vehicle check-out delays between now and then,” said Mr. Michael Pinkston, Orbitals Antares Program Manager.
For this test flight Antares will boost a simulated version of the Cygnus carrier – known as a mass simulator – into a target orbit of 250 x 300 kilometers and inclined 51.6 degrees.
The Antares first stage is powered by dual liquid fueled AJ26 first stage rocket engines that generate a combined total thrust of some 680,000 lbs. The upper stage features a Castor 30 solid rocket motor with thrust vectoring. Antares can loft payloads weighing over 5000 kg to LEO.
The Antares/Cygnus system was developed by Orbital Sciences Corp under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program to replace the ISS cargo resupply capability previously tasked to NASA’s now retired Space Shuttle fleet.
Orbital’s Antares/Cygnus system is similar in scope to the SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon system. Both firms won lucrative NASA contracts to deliver approximately 20,000 kilograms of supplies and equipment to the ISS.
The goal of NASA’s COTS initiative is to achieve safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the ISS and low-Earth orbit (LEO).
Orbital will launch at least eight Antares/Cygnus resupply missions to the ISS at a cost of $1.9 Billion
The maiden Antares launch has been postponed by about 2 years due to delays in laiunch pad construction and validating the rocket and engines for flight- similar in length to the start up delays experienced by SpaceX for Falcon 9 and Dragon.
Watch for my continuing reports through liftoff of the Antares A-One Test flight.
Learn more about Antares, SpaceX, Curiosity and NASA missions at Ken’s upcoming lecture presentations:
April 20/21 : “Curiosity and the Search for Life on Mars – (in 3-D)”. Plus Orion, SpaceX, Antares, the Space Shuttle and more! NEAF Astronomy Forum, Suffern, NY
April 28: “Curiosity and the Search for Life on Mars – (in 3-D)”. Plus the Space Shuttle, SpaceX, Antares, Orion and more. Washington Crossing State Park, Titusville, NJ, 130 PM
Image Caption: Antares Rocket At Wallops Flight Facility Launch Pad. Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares rocket at the launch pad at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. In a few months, Antares is scheduled to launch a cargo delivery demonstration mission to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. Credit: NASA
At long last, Orbital Sciences Corporation has rolled their new commercially developed Antares medium class rocket to the nation’s newest spaceport – the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at Wallops Island,Va – and commenced on pad operations as of Monday, Oct 1.
The long awaited rollout marks a key milestone on the path to the maiden test flight of the Antares, planned to blast off before year’s end if all goes well.
This is a highly noteworthy event because Antares is the launcher for Orbital’s unmanned commercial Cygnus cargo spacecraft that NASA’s hopes will reestablish resupply missions to the International Space Station (ISS) lost with the shuttle’s shutdown.
“MARS has completed construction and testing operations on its launch complex at Wallops Island, the first all-new large-scale liquid-fuel launch site to be built in the U.S. in decades,” said David W. Thompson, Orbital’s President and Chief Executive Officer.
“Accordingly, our pad operations are commencing immediately in preparation for an important series of ground and flight tests of our Antares medium-class launch vehicle over the next few months. In fact, earlier today (Oct. 1), an Antares first stage test article was transported to the pad from its final assembly building about a mile away, marking the beginning of full pad operations.”
Antares 1st stage rocket erected at Launch Pad 0-A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credit: NASA
In about 4 to 6 weeks, Orbital plans to conduct a 30 second long hot fire test of the first stage, generating a total thrust of 680,000 lbs. If successful, a full up test flight of the 131 foot tall Antares with a Cygnus mass simulator bolted on top is planned for roughly a month later.
An ISS docking demonstration mission to the ISS would then occur early in 2013 which would be nearly identical in scope to the SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon demonstration flight successfully launched and accomplished in May 2012.
The first commercial resupply mission to the ISS by SpaceX (CRS-1) is now set to lift off on Oct. 7 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The 700,000 lb thrust Antares first stage is powered by a pair of Soviet era NK-33 engines built during the 1960 and 1970’s as part of Russia’s ill-fated N-1 manned moon program. The engines have since been upgraded and requalified by Aerojet Corp. and integrated into the Ukrainian built first stage rocket as AJ-26 engines.
Image Caption: Antares first stage arrives on the pad at NASA_Wallops on Oct. 1. First stage approaching adapter ring on the right. Credit: NASA
NASA awarded contracts to Orbital Sciences Corp and SpaceX in 2008 to develop unmanned commercial resupply systems with the goal of recreating an American capability to deliver cargo to the ISS which completely evaporated following the forced retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle orbiters in 2011 with no follow on program ready to go.
“Today’s (Oct. 1) rollout of Orbital’s Antares test vehicle and the upcoming SpaceX mission are significant milestones in our effort to return space station resupply activities to the United States and insource the jobs associated with this important work,” said NASA Associate Administrator for Communications David Weaver. “NASA’s commercial space program is helping to ensure American companies launch our astronauts and their supplies from U.S. soil.”
The public will be invited to watch the Antares blastoff and there are a lot of locations for spectators to gather nearby for an up close and personal experience.
“Antares is the biggest rocket ever launched from Wallops,” NASA Wallops spokesman Keith Koehler told me. “The launches will definitely be publicized.”