Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mars rover rocket fueled for practice countdown

Launch teams today are fueling an Atlas V rocket in a dress rehearsal for next month's planned launch of one of NASA's highest-profile science missions, the next Mars rover.

The United Launch Alliance rocket on Wednesday was rolled from its vertical hangar to the pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 41, and its first stage filled with 25,540 gallons of highly refined kerosene.

Today, oxidizer will be added to the first stage (25,540 gallons) and Centaur upper stage (4,150 gallons) along with liquid hydrogen in the Centaur (12,680 gallons).

With no spacecraft and payload fairing yet attached, the topless rocket measures about 148 feet tall.

The so-called "wet dress rehearsal" was set to begin around 7:15 a.m. today and culminate in a simulated "T-0" around 1 p.m.

Once the test is complete, the cryogenic propellants will be offloaded. The rocket will roll back to its processing tower Friday.

Separately, crews at Kennedy Space Center continue to process the compact car-sized rover named Curiosity for a targeted Nov. 25 launch. The spacecraft is expected to be moved to the pad around Nov. 2.

IMAGE: On Sept. 21 at the Vertical Integration Facility at Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the Centaur upper stage for a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket was placed in position for attachment to the booster stage. Credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann

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