Spaceflight Now

The Mission

Rocket: Pegasus XL
Payload: Space Tech 5
Date: March 22, 2006
Time: 1357-1519 GMT (8:57-10:19 a.m. EST)
Site: Vandenberg Air Force Base, California
Satellite feed: AMC 6, Transponder 17, C-band, Digital

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Pegasus abort
During the final seconds prior to the planned launch of the Space Technology 5 mission on March 15, a retention pin that holds the starboard-side fin aerosurface on the Pegasus rocket first stage did not retract. That forced the launch team to call an abort. This movie shows the scrub as it happened.

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Shuttle launch delay
Space Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale announces his decision to replace suspect fuel-level sensors inside the liquid hydrogen portion of Discovery's external tank. The three-week job means Discovery will miss its May launch window, delaying the second post-Columbia test flight to the next daylight period opening July 1. Hale made the announcement during a news conference from Johnson Space Center on March 14.

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Stardust science
NASA's Stardust spacecraft returned to Earth in January with the first samples ever retrieved from a comet. This briefing with mission scientists held March 13 from the Johnson Space Center offers an update on the initial research into the comet bits.

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MRO's orbit insertion explained
The make-or-break engine firing by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to enter orbit around Mars and the subsequent aerobraking to reach the low-altitude perch for science observations are explained by project manager Jim Graf in this narrated animation package.

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MRO overview briefing
Fuk Li, Mars program manager at JPL, Jim Graf, MRO project manager, Rich Zurek, MRO project scientist, and Dan McCleese, the principal investigator for the Mars Climate Sounder instrument, provide an overview on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on March 8, about 48 hours before arrival at Mars.

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STS-9: Spacelab opens
Spacelab was an orbiting laboratory tucked in the payload bay of the space shuttle for scientists to conduct a range of experiments. The joint European/NASA program flew multiple times aboard shuttle missions starting with STS-9 in November 1983. In this post-flight film presentation, the astronauts from that Columbia mission narrate the highlights from Spacelab-1.

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Follow the countdown and launch of the Orbital Sciences Pegasus rocket with NASA's Space Technology 5 micro-sat demonstration. Reload this page for the very latest on the mission.

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Three trail-blazing satellites were fired into Earth orbit this morning to prove if TV-sized probes can serve as formation-flying buoys for monitoring the weather of space and the enormous storms spawned by the sun. Read our full story.

1625 GMT (11:25 a.m. EST)

"Spacecraft health appears to be excellent. Communications, temperatures, spin period, everything that we get in our standard house-keeping (data) all looks excellent," Jim Slavin, the ST5 project scientist, said in an interview a short time ago.

"We're even getting good data from the magnetometer and it's not deployed yet. The lightweight magnetometer booms with the miniature sensor heads get deployed tomorrow morning."

Contact with first two micro-sats was established through the McMurdo tracking station in Antarctica. The Deep Space Network site in Madrid, Spain picked up the signals from the third craft a half-hour later, Slavin said.

The spacecraft were successfully launched this morning by the three-stage Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL rocket over the Pacific Ocean. The rocket was released from a modified L-1011 aircraft west of Monterey.

"It was as uneventful of a launch sequence as you can imagine. There was not a single anomaly worked all night long," Slavin said.

The 55-pound satellites were ejected individually from a holding rack attached to the rocket's third stage after reaching orbit.

"We saw all three micro-satellite separations. We had positive indications from the telemetry data on the upper stage showing the recoil, if you will, from each of the three micro-satellites coming off the carrier."

1603 GMT (11:03 a.m. EST)

Controllers have now heard from all three micro-sats. Signals from the third craft has been acquired.

1458 GMT (9:58 a.m. EST)

The drop time was about 1403:45 GMT, NASA reports.

1453 GMT (9:53 a.m. EST)

Communications have been received from the second ST5 micro-sat. A NASA spokesperson says the craft is flying where it supposed to be and has good power levels.

1451 GMT (9:51 a.m. EST)

The spacelift commander at Vandenberg Air Force Base this morning was Col. Frank Wolf, the 30th Space Wing vice commander. He served as the final "go-for-launch" authority on the Western Range.

"I'm extremely proud of what this team has accomplished," Wolf said. "This is not just a 30th Space Wing success, it takes the whole team, including NASA and Orbital Sciences, to make an event of this magnitude happen."

1445 GMT (9:45 a.m. EST)

The next Pegasus rocket launch is scheduled for September 29 off the California coast. The day's launch window extends from 2022 to 2028 GMT (4:22-4:28 p.m. EDT; 1:22-1:28 p.m. PDT). The air-launched rocket will carry NASA's Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) satellite into orbit to observe clouds at the edge of space.

1440 GMT (9:40 a.m. EST)

The early portion of this morning's countdown went so well and free of any problems that the launch team had a lot of extra time on its hands, Dovale said.

"You know the Pegasus doesn't have any built-in holds (in the countdown), so it does allow for a lot of time to work problems. The fact that we didn't have any, we were well ahead of the time. So we just sat on the runway and waited for the proper takeoff time to approach. The captive-carry is always kind of nerve-wracking because you are starting a 58-minute clock and things have got to go per the script with a moving target, especially a lot of times when we lose communications with the L-1011. But none of that happened today, and we were able to drop right on the mark and it looks like a very successful mission so far."

1438 GMT (9:38 a.m. EST)

Ground controllers have received signals from the first ST5 spacecraft via the McMurdo tracking station located in Antarctica.

1429 GMT (9:29 a.m. EST)

"It looks like we're three for three. We saw three deployments of the ST5 spacecraft come off kind of like a Frisbee-fashion, which was kind of neat to see. And it followed a smoothest count as I can remember on the Pegasus program. I think we were rewarded tonight for the trouble the other night (last week's scrub). But it was an excellent count, and all things look like they are going very well," NASA Launch Manager Chuck Dovale says.

1425 GMT (9:25 a.m. EST)

NASA Launch Manager Chuck Dovale confirms today's flight has been a success.

1420 GMT (9:20 a.m. EST)

T+plus 16 minutes, 10 seconds. SPACECRAFT SEPARATION! The third Space Technology 5 micro-satellite has been deployed from the Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL rocket, completing today's launch.

1418 GMT (9:18 a.m. EST)

T+plus 15 minutes. The 55-pound ST5 spacecraft are released from the support carrier rack mounted to the Pegasus rocket's third stage in a spinning Frisbee-like motion.

1417 GMT (9:17 a.m. EST)

T+plus 14 minutes. The preliminary orbit data indicates the Pegasus has performed very well today. The orbit is 187 by 2,838 miles, inclined 105.616 degrees to the equator.

1416 GMT (9:16 a.m. EST)

T+plus 13 minutes. The middle spacecraft has been deployed from the Pegasus rocket.

1414 GMT (9:14 a.m. EST)

T+plus 10 minutes, 15 seconds. The third stage motor is performing a planned thermal-conditioning roll maneuver before releasing the second micro-sat.

1413 GMT (9:13 a.m. EST)

T+plus 9 minutes, 53 seconds. Spacecraft separation. The forward-most craft has been deployed from the special rack that supported it during the ride to space.

1412 GMT (9:12 a.m. EST)

T+plus 8 minutes, 20 seconds. The Pegasus rocket power system remains normal. Standing by for deployment of the first ST5 spacecraft.

1410 GMT (9:10 a.m. EST)

T+plus 6 minutes, 30 seconds. The third stage has burned out. Orbit has been achieved.

1409 GMT (9:09 a.m. EST)

T+plus 6 minutes. The burn continues. No problems reported in today's flight.

1409 GMT (9:09 a.m. EST)

T+plus 5 minutes, 20 seconds. The spent second stage has separated. And the solid-fueled third stage motor has ignited, accelerating the ST5 spacecraft to orbit.

1408 GMT (9:08 a.m. EST)

T+plus 5 minutes. The rocket remains in a normal attitude. The power systems remain in good shape.

1407 GMT (9:07 a.m. EST)

T+plus 4 minutes, 45 seconds. The vehicle is now reorienting in preparation for stage separation and third stage burn.

1407 GMT (9:07 a.m. EST)

T+plus 4 minutes. Third stage ignition is now calculated to occur at approximately T+plus 5 minutes, 17 seconds. The start time based upon the performance of the vehicle's first two stages.

1407 GMT (9:07 a.m. EST)

T+plus 3 minutes, 20 seconds. Altitude is currently 120 miles, traveling at 12,000 miles per hour.

1406 GMT (9:06 a.m. EST)

T+plus 2 minutes, 50 seconds. The solid-fueled second stage has burned out. The Pegasus rocket is now in a coast period for the next couple of minutes. During this time the rocket will compute the performance of the flight thus far and adjust the third stage ignition time if necessary.

1406 GMT (9:06 a.m. EST)

T+plus 2 minute, 10 seconds. The two halves of the payload fairing enclosing the ST5 micro-satellites on the end of the Pegasus rocket has been jettisoned. Second stage continues to burn.

1405 GMT (9:05 a.m. EST)

T+plus 1 minute, 35 seconds. The first stage is jettisoned. The Pegasus' second stage has ignited.

1405 GMT (9:05 a.m. EST)

T+plus 1 minute, 18 seconds. The solid-fueled first stage has burned out. The vehicle is now in a ballistic coast for a few seconds before the spent stage is jettisoned and the second stage ignites.

1404 GMT (9:04 a.m. EST)

T+plus 30 seconds. The Pegasus rocket is pitched up 35 degrees as it climbs into the sky on the power of its solid-fueled first stage motor at over 1,500 mph.

1403 GMT (9:03 a.m. EST)

IGNITION of the Pegasus rocket launching NASA's Space Technology 5 mission to blaze the trail for miniaturized satellites of the future.

1403 GMT (9:03 a.m. EST)

DROP. The Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL rocket has been released from the L-1011 aircraft off the California coastline.

1403 GMT (9:03 a.m. EST)

The fin locking pins have all retracted today.

1403 GMT (9:03 a.m. EST)

The batteries for the first stage flight control fins have been activated, allowing the fins to undergo a sweep test prior to launch. The fins are used to steer the rocket during its initial climb to space.

With the batteries activated there is just 90 seconds to launch today or else an abort will be called. That is due to the limited life of the batteries.

In the final moments prior to release of Pegasus, the L-1011 carrier aircraft crew will oversee the last seconds of the countdown and flip the switch that will drop the vehicle, with the ST5 spacecraft aboard, from the belly of the jet.

1401 GMT (9:01 a.m. EST)

The L-1011 is adjusting its course to the launch heading.

1400:50 GMT (9:00:50 a.m. EST)

T-minus 2 minutes.

1400 GMT (9:00 a.m. EST)

The rocket's SIGI guidance computer is being configured for flight.

1359 GMT (8:59 a.m. EST)

The launch team has been given a "go" to enter the final phase of the countdown.

1358 GMT (8:58 a.m. EST)

The drop time has shifted a minute to 1403 GMT based on the L-1011 flight time this morning.

1356 GMT (8:56 a.m. EST)

The Pegasus rocket's avionics have switched from power provided by the L-1011 to internal battery power.

1355 GMT (8:55 a.m. EST)

NASA Launch Manager Chuck Dovale has polled his team for the "go" to enter terminal count.

1353 GMT (8:53 a.m. EST)

Today marks the 37th flight of the air-launched Pegasus rocket and the 27th using the XL version.

1352 GMT (8:52 a.m. EST)

The drop zone is 40 miles long and 10 miles wide. The L-1011 speed at launch will be between 560 and 610 mph.

1348 GMT (8:48 a.m. EST)

The launch team members report they are ready to switch the rocket's flight termination system to internal power. The safety system would be used to destroy the Pegasus rocket in the event a problem during launch.

1347 GMT (8:47 a.m. EST)

T-minus 15 minutes. The drop mechanism that releases Pegasus from the belly of the L-1011 aircraft is being armed.

1342 GMT (8:42 a.m. EST)

T-minus 20 minutes and counting. Stargazer is flying at the launch altitude of 39,000 feet.

1339 GMT (8:39 a.m. EST)

The aircraft crew reports that the weather at the launch point is just fine. There are no clouds or turbulance.

1337 GMT (8:37 a.m. EST)

The carrier jet is passing through the launch zone west of Monterey. The aircraft is heading northward right now but will soon make a wide, sweeping U-turn for return to the rocket drop zone on a southerly heading.

1327 GMT (8:27 a.m. EST)

Now 35 minutes from the scheduled launch of Pegasus. The modified L-1011 is climbing to the launch altitude of nearly 40,000 feet.

1317 GMT (8:17 a.m. EST)

T-minus 45 minutes and counting. Everything continues to proceed smoothly this morning for launch of the Pegasus rocket and NASA's Space Technology 5 mission. The carrier aircraft is flying a 58-minute course to the launch point over the Pacific Ocean.

1310 GMT (8:10 a.m. EST)

Flying alongside the L-1011 is an F-18 from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Facility serving as the chase plane today. The jet will be providing live video of the launch.

1304 GMT (8:04 a.m. EST)

WHEELS UP. The "Stargazer" carrier aircraft with the Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL rocket has departed Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for today's launch for NASA's Space Tech 5.

1303 GMT (8:03 a.m. EST)

Stargazer has begun its takeoff roll down the runway.

1301 GMT (8:01 a.m. EST)

A poll of the ground launch team has been completed by the Orbital Sciences launch conductor. No concerns were voiced. Takeoff is set for 1304 GMT.

1259 GMT (7:59 a.m. EST)

The pre-takeoff checklist has been started.

1257 GMT (7:57 a.m. EST)

NASA Launch Manager Chuck Dovale has polled the space agency team to verify all is in readiness for takeoff of the L-1011 aircraft. There are no issues with the Pegasus rocket, ST5 spacecraft, weather or downrange tracking assets. "Team is go for takeoff," Dovale said.

1249 GMT (7:49 a.m. EST)

The aircraft has completed the taxi to the end of the runway.

1239 GMT (7:39 a.m. EST)

The Stargazer carrier jet is now on the move. It has started the taxi to the 10,000-foot long runway at Vandenberg Air Force Base for takeoff 25 minutes from now.

1233 GMT (7:33 a.m. EST)

No major technical problems have been worked since the countdown began about three hours ago, NASA says. And weather conditions at Vandenberg are favorable this morning as well.

1231 GMT (7:31 a.m. EST)

The L-1011 Stargazer carrier aircraft is preparing to taxi from the staging area at Vandenberg Air Force Base to the runway for this morning's 1304 GMT takeoff. NASA says the countdown is on schedule for launch of the Space Technology 5 mission aboard the Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL rocket.


Launch of NASA's micro-sat technology demonstration mission will be attempted again Wednesday, one week after a problem prevented a locking pin from retracting on one of the Pegasus rocket's first stage aerosurface control fin.

Engineers still aren't sure why the pin failed to retract on the starboard fin in the final minute of the countdown for the air-launch rocket. Troubleshooting has proven inconclusive during efforts to uncover the culprit.

"While the exact cause cannot be determined, the most likely is that the pin retractor system failed to operate possibly due to the formation of ice," said NASA spokesman George Diller.

"The pin mechanism was removed and replaced in the event there were other contributing causes. Steps have also been taken to mitigate potential water intrusion in this area of the Pegasus that could become ice during captive-carry of the rocket."

An L-1011 aircraft will ferry the rocket off the coast of California for a planned 1402 GMT (9:02 a.m. EST; 6:02 a.m. local) launch of the Space Technology 5 mission. Takeoff from the runway at Vandenberg Air Force Base will occur around 1304 GMT.

Weather forecasters are predicting a 90 percent chance of favorable conditions for the mission. Thick clouds and low visibility for the carrier aircraft's takeoff and landing are the only slight concerns for Wednesday.

"A high pressure ridge over the Central Coast dries out the mid and upper levels, leaving clear skies and cold overnight temperatures at Vandenberg," launch weather officer 2Lt. Shenna Storr reported today. "The ridge will build slightly as it shifts eastward, keeping the bulk of upper level moisture north of the drop box area. Stable conditions, low level moisture, and light surface winds favor the development of fog in the early morning hours. Westerly winds at 60 to 65 knots in the drop box are not favoring turbulence."

Read our earlier Mission Status Center coverage.

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