Thursday, February 11, 2010

NASA solar observatory successfully reaches orbit

An $850 million NASA mission to study the sun has safely reached orbit after blasting off this morning atop an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The rocket lifted off at 10:23 a.m., rumbling east over the Atlantic Ocean into mostly blue sky, sending ripples through some wispy white clouds.

The Atlas booster separated about four minutes into flight. After two engine burns by the Centaur upper stage, the Solar Dynamics Observatory satellite separated as planned and its solar arrays deployed.

The spacecraft will study the sun and space weather it generates with a constant wind of charged particles and powerful bursts of material and radiation, such as solar flares and "coronal mass ejections."

Scientists hope a better understanding of the processes behind the sun's shifting magnetic fields will help forecast solar events that can threaten high-tech systems like satellites and power grids.

SDO's three science instruments will take pictures and record measurements of sound waves and radiation much more frequently and in higher resolution than any previous spacecraft, generating a huge stream of data that will be beamed back to a New Mexico ground station.

The mission had been delayed more than a year, first because of spacecraft issues and then waiting in line for the ride on United Launch Alliance's Atlas V.

SDO is budgeted to operate for the next five years, but could last another five.

The mission is the first in NASA's Living With a Star program, established in 2001. The program plans to grow to a fleet of four spacecraft by 2018, with the next targeted for launch from the Cape in 2012.

The launch was the 20th by an Atlas V, and the first launch this year from Cape Canaveral. The next is planned in less than three weeks, with ULA and NASA pairing up again to launch a weather satellite atop a Delta IV at 6:19 p.m. March 1.

IMAGE NOTE: Above, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V with NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory launches from its Launch Complex-41 launch pad at 10:23 a.m. EST here today. SDO is the first satellite of NASA's Living with a Star program. Its purpose is to examine the sun, the source of all space weather. Photo by Pat Corkery, United Launch Alliance. Below, launch shot by Mike Brown, Florida Today.


Anonymous said...

Wow, Obama didn't cancel this to fund welfare for Democrats.

Anonymous said...

welll i think he did

Anonymous said...

Taxpayers decide what they want. There is not one person that can do what the taxpayers do not want. Support the Space program it is needed for our safety and future generations safety and what we need is fiscal responsibility and serious oversight of taxpayers fund with serious consequences to those who break the rules! There are places with room and board and free health care for those who misuse the taxpayers' funds.
Great to see Space workpeople busy at their jobs! Let's keep it that way. VOTE!
Thanks Florida Today for the articles!