NASA Atlas V Rocket Successfully Launches SDO Spacecraft <


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NASA Atlas V Rocket Successfully Launches SDO Spacecraft

By Mike Mitchell

February 12, 2010 - NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, the most technologically advanced of NASA's Heliophysics spacecraft, lifted off Thursday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 41 on a first-of-a-kind mission to reveal the sun's inner workings in unprecedented detail. The launch aboard an Atlas V rocket occurred at 10:23 a.m. EST. 

SDO will take images of the sun every 0.75 seconds and daily send back about 1.5 terabytes of data to Earth -- the equivalent of streaming 380 full-length movies. "This is going to be sensational," said Richard R. Fisher, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "SDO is going to make a huge step forward in our understanding of the sun and its effects on life and society."


The sun's dynamic processes affect everyone and everything on Earth. SDO will explore activity on the sun that can disable satellites, cause power grid failures, and disrupt GPS communications. SDO also will provide a better understanding of the role the sun plays in Earth's atmospheric chemistry and climate. SDO is the crown jewel in a fleet of NASA missions to study our sun. The mission is the cornerstone of a NASA science program called Living With A Star. This program will provide new understanding and information concerning the sun and solar system that directly affect Earth, its inhabitants and technology. 

The SDO project is managed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. NASA's Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center managed the payload integration and launch. The main concern for takeoff was weather. Winds were close to the 20-knot limit, but were lower than Wednesday's launch attempt, when winds exceeded limits throughout the countdown and ultimately scrubbed the liftoff. The forecast for liftoff was better, with 45th Weather Squadron forecasters predicting a 60 percent chance of weather favorable for launch. Launch Weather Officer Clay Flinn provided a detailed weather briefing just before liftoff.

Shortly after separation, the team confirmed the spacecraft's solar arrays deployed correctly and generating power. All the crucial post-separation events "happened like clockwork," said NASA Launch Director Omar Baez. At 12:12:43 PM EST spacecraft separation, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory is on its own in Earth orbit after a perfect liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 10:23 a.m. The spacecraft separated from the Centaur upper stage right on time. 


The second main engine cutoff, one hour and 46 minutes into the flight of the Solar Dynamics Observatory, the Centaur's main engine had completed its second and final burn. The vehicle moved to spacecraft separation attitude. At 12:06:08 PM EST second main engine up and burning, the Centaur's RL10 main engine reignited on time at 12:05 p.m. for a three-minute burn. At 12:03:11 PM EST Centaur Positioning for Second Burn. The Centaur has stopped its slow thermal-control roll in advance of its second main engine burn. 

At 11:50:05 AM EST Centaur's Second Burn Coming Up, at the time of the Centaur main engine's second burn, known as MES2, the vehicle and spacecraft will be high above the Pacific Ocean northeast of Australia. The burn is expected one hour and 42 minutes into the flight. Data picked up by the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System indicates a healthy SDO spacecraft and a healthy Centaur. 

At 11:30:34 AM EST Centaur, SDO Still in Coast Phase , after a spectacular on-time liftoff at 10:23 a.m. and a flawless ride into space, the Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft remains attached to the Centaur upper stage in a parking orbit. The Centaur's main engine will burn once more to position the spacecraft for separation.  

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