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Pegasus/AIM preview

An air-launched Pegasus rocket will loft NASA's AIM satellite into orbit to study mysterious clouds at the edge of space. On the eve of launch, officials held these briefings from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

 Mission | Science

The Sun in 3-D

NASA's twin STEREO spacecraft have made the first three-dimensional images of the Sun. Scientists unveil the images in this news conference held April 23.


Hubble turns 17

The Hubble Space Telescope was launched in April 1990, opening a new window on the universe that has revolutionized our understanding of the cosmos.

 Full report

Flight of Gemini 3

The first manned flight of Project Gemini launched on March 23, 1965 with pioneering astronauts Gus Grissom and John Young. Take a look back!


Apollo 9: Spider flies

Apollo 9 put the lunar landing module Spider through the stresses of spaceflight while orbiting Earth. This documentary looks back with astronauts Jim McDivitt, Dave Scott, and Rusty Schweickart.


Expedition 15 coverage
The Russian Soyuz spacecraft with Expedition 15 cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Oleg Kotov, along with tourist Charles Simonyi, fly to the space station.

 Full coverage

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Pre-launch ops keep crews busy at the Cape
Posted: April 25, 2007

The 45th Launch Group is busily processing flight hardware and gearing up for a number of launches through the rest of the year. 

"Although there aren't any launches in April and May, there is a lot of work being done at the Launch Group," said Col. Scott Henderson, 45th LCG commander. "All three of our squadrons are very busy." 

The 45th Launch Support Squadron is de-encapsulating the last remaining Defense Support Program satellite and transferring the spacecraft to the processing cell in the Large Payload Facility (LPF). DSP satellites help protect the nation and its allies by detecting missile launches, space launches and nuclear detonations. 

The satellite will launch atop the first operational Delta IV Heavy. That vehicle, however, had to be removed from a pad at Space Launch Complex 37 after cracks were found in the concrete launch table. The launch is on hold pending repair of the launch table. Officials hope to reschedule the launch late this summer. 

"Over the next three weeks, we'll be putting the DSP back into the Integration Cell," said LCSS Operations Officer Lt. Col. John Wagner. "Moving flight hardware is never a trivial task, and it will require a focused effort from our facilities and spacecraft teams--contractors, military, and civilians. However, this is essential to ensuring we have a spacecraft ready for orbit when SLC-37 and the booster team is ready for launch." 

Four blue-suiters are working DSP operations around the clock, said Master Sgt. Tom Shank, Spacecraft Flight chief. "We're very busy in preparing all the different spacecraft processing before launch." 

Spacecraft processing for other upcoming missions includes the first launch of the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) satellite replacing the venerable Defense Satellite Communica-tions System (DSCS). 

"WGS is a substantial leap forward in Satellite Communications (SATCOM) for joint forces worldwide," said Colonel Wagner. 

WGS are digitally channelized, transponded satellites that provide a quantum leap in communications capacity, connectivity and flexibility for U.S. military forces, while maintaining interoperability with existing and programmed terminals. They are designed to provide essential communications services for combatant commanders to command and control their tactical forces. Tactical forces will rely on WGS to provide high-capacity connectivity into the terrestrial portion of the Defense Information Systems Network. 

"A single WGS spacecraft has as much bandwidth as the entire existing DSCS constellation," said Colonel Wagner. 

"The spacecraft may arrive at the Cape by late May, said Maj. Tom McIntyre, Spacecraft Flight commander. "They'll do their initial testing at the Cape and verify they have good connectivity with the Air Force Satellite Control Network. We're looking at a late summer launch." 

In addition to those missions, the Launch Group is processing two GPS spacecraft - IIR-17 and IIR-18, coupled with facility air conditioning upgrades and a Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) pathfinder before the flight vehicle arrives in 2008. 

The 45th LCSS is also working with the 1st and 5th Space Launch Squadrons, processing booster payload fairings in several of the LCSS spacecraft clean-room facilities for upcoming missions 

The 1st Space Launch Squadron is planning to launch three missions, said Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Myron Fortson. 

"Dawn is a NASA mission to explore the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter," said Colonel Fortson. "One asteroid to be explored has the physical characteristics of the inner planets. The other asteroid has qualities of the icy moon-type planets further out in the solar system. By comparing the two, it should help determine the origin of our planets." 

A Delta II Heavy launch is scheduled to loft Dawn in late June. 

"The Heavy uses bigger solid rocket than those used for a typical GPS mission," said Colonel Fortson. "It has 46-inch graphite epoxy motors, which provide more thrust than the normal 40-inch motors." 

Phoenix, the latest Mars Lander mission, is scheduled to launch in August, he said. 

"This mission has a limited science window and must launch between Aug. 3 and 24," he said. "If it doesn't it may be years, if ever, so this time frame is critical. The GPS is right behind that; currently we are planning for late August." 

"Normally if we only had one mission, it would take about two months after rocket arrival to get ready," said Maj. Dave Laird, 1st SLS director of mission assurance. "But we have six missions before the end of the year so it takes lot more lead time; we're working on two to three vehicles at a time." 

The 1st SLS is working on hardware for GPS IIR-17 and on the solid motors for Dawn. 

The Dawn first stage is scheduled for offload Sunday, and test activities will start next week. 

"When stages come in, we're almost an extension of the factory," said Major Laird. "They're built at the factory, but we test the actuators, every moving part and every electronic part so they are thoroughly tested multiple times." 

Once on the pad, the booster is hooked up, and tests are conducted on fuel loading and all hydraulic and pneumatic systems. 

"It's not uncommon to find a problem, so we have time built in to fix and replace parts," said Major Laird "That's the reason we take a couple months on each rocket; if it's not ready to go, we need to test it all out." 

The 5th Space Launch Squadron is processing for four launches, including the Atlas V which will carry the National Reconnaissance Office Launch-30 satellite. 

"We're on track for a mid-June launch of the Atlas V, followed up by the WGS launch in early to mid-August," said Lt. Col. Kent Nickle, 5th SLS director of operations. 

The 5th SLS is also repairing the SLC 37 launch table, damaged Feb. 28 during a Wet Dress Rehearsal fueling test. 

"The launch table repairs have started and are progressing," said Colonel Nickle. "While we're making reairs, we're also doing an analysis of the failure to see why the damage occurred."