Friday, February 21, 2014

Twenty-fifth Delta IV launches Block IIF GPS satellite

A Delta IV rocket lifts-off from Cape Canaveral on February 20. (ULA)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Updated) -- A new Global Positing System satellite was placed into orbit on Thursday evening to expand location services for both the Air Force and commercial users.

Concerns over solar radiation trends at the opening of the 19 minute launch window forced the launch team to extend the countdown's hold until the final minutes of the window.

Loaded with a platform of new technologies, GPS-IIF-5 satellite will replace an aging GPS spacecraft launched in 1997 and includes the recently upgraded L5 signal for commercial and civil aircraft.

America's GPS operates with twenty-four satellites in six different regions of the globe, with four each plotting exact locations. The new block IIF satellites use the newer L5 civil signal in the Aeronautical Radio Navigation Services frequency of 1176.45 MHz.

The United Launch Alliance's Delta IV-Medium lifted-off at 8:59:00 p.m. EST, at the close of the launch window, beginning the Delta IV program's 25th flight.

The Delta's core booster engine ignited a few seconds prior to T-zero, followed by the ignition of it's twin solid rocket boosters at the moment of lift-off.

"I am pleased with the outcome of today's launch," stated the director of the Space and Missile Systems Center's Global Positioning Systems Directorate Col. Bill Cooley. "The new capabilities provided by the IIF satellites will improve operations, sustainment and overall GPS service for the warfighter, international, commercial and civil communities."

Darkness briefly turned to day as the 206-foot rocket arose from it's seaside launch pad a top 1.25 million pounds of thrust and into the night skies over Cape Canaveral.

Nearly 100 seconds into it's silver flight, the Delta IV twin SRB's had exhausted it's fuel and cleanly separated.

It's cryo fueled first stage's core engine then shut down minutes later and separated as the rocket soared southeasterly toward the central Atlantic Ocean.

The GPS-IIF-5 satellite will also offer the U.S. military's M-code service during it's planned 12 year life.

"The modernized capabilities that are coming on board with the successful launch of GPS IIF-5 will support the worldwide GPS community for years to come," Cooley added following the satellite's deployment.

Spacecraft separation from the Delta's upper stage occurred at 12:32:05 a.m. on Friday, as it arrived in a planned operational altitude of 12,712.6 miles over the Sea of Japan.
The spacecraft will undergo several weeks of testing prior to becoming operational, the Air Force stated.

The Air Force will continue to add replacement GPS satellites as IIF-6 is scheduled to lift-off in May, followed by IIF-7 this summer.

(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science and technology. Follow his updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Georgia's Museum of Aviation showcases history of flight

A USAF Thunderbird stands poised in a hanger at Museum of Aviation. (Atkeison)

WARNER ROBINS, Ga -- A massive museum of aviation featuring aircraft and artifacts from the early days of flight through today are on display on the grounds of Robins, AFB in central Georgia.

History echoes through the museum's halls featuring aircraft flown during World War II, Korea and the Vietnam War, and includes related historic artifacts and exhibits located in four aircraft hanger buildings and on static display outdoors.

"It's Fantastic!" states Museum of Aviation guest Gene Milton, who along with his family, visited last week on their way home to Tampa. "There is so much here to see... we've been here for nearly three hours."

The U.S. Air Force museum is home to popular static displays of military aircraft including the Thunderbirds F-16A "Fighting Falcon", and artifacts representing Georgia's active role in aviation spanning nine decades.

The museum is also home to the NASA Regional Educator Resource Center in which teachers work in a classroom session to discover new areas of STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) education. The NASA office is also a gateway to briefing materials for Georgia teachers.

Several static displays located upon the 51 acre aviation museum feature the P-40N Warhawk and an SR-71 Blackbird on the museum's list of stunning aircraft.

Several departments offer visitors an insiders glance of American soldiers in mock-ups of select operations during World War II.

"There's an eerie feeling as you watch and listen to the paratroopers as they prepare to take part in the D-Day invasion," Milton added. "My son and I enjoyed the historic enactment aboard the plane."

Only one aircraft from a country other than the United States sits inside one hanger of the museum.

A 1950's built MiG-17 which soared for the Bulgarian Air Force has called Georgia home for two decades. As the Vietnam War raged, American fighter pilots downed sixty-one MiG-17's between 1965 to 1968.

The museum is also home to the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame.

On display in the museum's Century of Flight Hanger, the Hall of Fame was created in 1989 "to promote and encourage the growth and public support of aviation within the state of Georgia by honoring aviation leaders," the GAHoF states.

The Tuskegee Airman exhibit located in the Scott Exhibit Hanger recently expanded to allow one to take a trip back to 1942 to witness America's first black pilots squadron train for combat missions.

The Tuskegee pilots trained at Morton Field in Alabama during World War II, and eventually saw combat in the air as their planes arrived in the European theater.

As they fought discrimination in the barracks, these Red Tail pilots eventually rose to the occasion to shoot down over 100 axis aircraft before the war's conclusion.

The museum also features an aviation themed cafe high above in the observation deck and a gift shop souvenirs .

Georgia's largest aviation museum is free to the public and open 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday thru Sunday and closed for major holidays. The center is located at GA Hwy 247 and Russell Parkway, in Warner Robins.

(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science and technology. Follow his updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)

Saturday, February 08, 2014

'Meteorite Men' Geoff Notkin discusses Perseids meteor shower

ATLANTA -- As the annual Perseid meteor shower reaches it's peek this week, a true meteorite hunter explains what the average backyard astronomer can expect from this celestial light show.

Geoffrey Notkin, host of the award-winning television series Meteorite Men and science author, discussed with this aerospace journalist on Saturday the incredible behind the scenes interest in the Perseids.

I asked Geoff, who recently published his latest book Meteorite Hunting, "Why the strong interest in this particular meteor shower?"

"When the skies are clear and the moon cooperates, the Perseid meteor shower is often the most delightful celestial event of the year," Notkin began in his hallmark British accent. "The Perseids are typically the most active meteor shower on the calendar and can provide a never-to-be-forgotten encounter with other travelers in our solar system."

Geoff adds that for this sky show, no telescope is needed, "Find a place away from electric lights, make yourself comfy and enjoy the amazing spectacle of cometary debris burning up in front of your eyes -- sometimes at more than 100,000 miles per hour!"

The meteorite specialist owns Aerolite Meteorites in Tucson, Arizona, a store which sells the special space rocks which he has recovered from around the globe.

NASA LADEE spacecraft lifts-off to study earth's moon

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A low cost NASA spacecraft designed to study the moon's thin atmosphere darted into a midnight sky over Virginia on Friday to begin a science gathering mission in lunar orbit.

NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft is a $280 million mission to help scientists learn more about the moon's atmosphere and the conditions near and on the lunar surface.

One question the space agency would like to know is if lunar dust is being kicked up into the very thin lunar exosphere.

The LADEE mission will be one of the first by the space agency to launch and operate a low cost exploration mission.

"(LADEE) is really designed to try to lower the cost and speed up the ability to put together a spacecraft," Dr. Pete Worden, Director of NASA Ames Research Facility, explained on Thursday. " We are very, very excited about (LADEE) and we're looking forward to a great mission."

Dr. Worden and Ames added they are serious about performing "a number of low cost, rapidly producible space missions" over the next decade.

Ames will manage the spacecraft's entire six month mission.

A brief flash of daylight heralded the maiden launch of Orbital Sciences Corp. Minotaur 5 rocket as it lept into the black sky late Friday from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at 11:27 p.m. EDT.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Europe's mighty Ariane rocket launches two satellites

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A European Ariane 5 thundered off it's seaside launch pad at the edge of the Amazon jungle on Thursday to deliver a direct-to-home broadcast satellite and a defense spacecraft to orbit.

The launcher soared into the rainy skies of Kourou, French Guiana following a one hour delay due to thunderstorms in the area.

Ariane's two satellites, one designed for Italy and France's homeland security and one which will expand the use of high definition broadcasts to homes across most of the eastern hemisphere, successfully separated from it's launcher thirty minutes after launch.

The Asia Broadcast Satellite or ABS-2, which rode to orbit at the top of the two satellite stack, separated first from the launcher to begin a planned 15 year life providing video and telecommunication for Asia, North Africa and Middle East.

Built by Space Systems Loral, ABS-2 will operate in geostationary orbit using a combined 89 Ka-Band, Ku-Band and C-Band transponders.

“ABS-2 is a very advanced satellite that has the capability to improve the human experience by providing services for 60 percent of the world’s population,” John Celli, president of SS/L stated recently.

Minutes later, the Athena-Fidus advanced relay platform was released, and over the next week will be positioned into a fixed geostationary orbit. Athena-Fidus will provide global coverage as a communications relay between the Homeland Securities of both Italy and France and their armed forces.

The development of the Access on THeaters for European allied forces NAtions -- French Italian Dual Use Satellite, or Athena-Fidus, is sponsored by both the French and Italian space agencies.

Rain showers, which fell upon the launch site in the hours leading up to lift-off, did not delay the rocket's super cold fuel loading as the launch team remained in a go condition.

The countdown reached zero at the start of a two hour launch window as the Ariane's core engine ignited followed seconds later by it's twin solid rocket boosters at 4:30:07 p.m. EST, pushing 10,200 kg of payload toward orbit.

Half a minute later, the massive rocket disappeared into a low cloud layer.

The 166-foot-tall Ariane arced out over the mid Atlantic Ocean and into sunset as it's rate of speed and altitude increased above the light rain and clouds.

Just over two minutes into the 72nd Ariane 5 mission, the twin solid rocket boosters separated on time as the main center engine continued to burn.

The launch contrail was captured in dramatic fashion by NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio, one of six crew members, working and living 260 miles above earth aboard the International Space Station.
Mastracchio had posted unique launch image on his Twitter feed even before the two satellites were released.

Ariane's upper stage engine then burned for several minutes pushing the two spacecraft into a higher orbit. ABS-2 was then released at 4:57 p.m. followed by Athena-Fidus five minutes later.

The next Ariane 5 launch, the second of fourteen planned in 2014, is currently planned for March 7 on a mission to deploy two communications satellites.

(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science and technology. Follow his updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)
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