August 24, 2012
NASA Radiation Belt Mission Launch Scrubbed
Lee Rannals and April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
The launch of new spacecraft slated to study the radiation belts around Earth was scrubbed at the last moment early Friday morning.
NASA's Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) were originally scheduled to launch Thursday morning, but that appointment to send RBSP outside Earth's atmosphere was delayed due to "an anomalous engine condition," NASA said.
"An anomalous engine condition was identified during testing of another Atlas vehicle at the Factory in Decatur, Ala., and the delay will allow additional time for engineers to complete their assessments and verify that a similar condition does not exist on the RBSP launch vehicle engine," the space agency said in a statement following the initial delay.
The mission was re-scheduled to launch Friday at 4:07 a.m. eastern time from Space Launch Complex-41, however there was a slight delay at the last minute. The countdown was held at the T-4 minute mark because of an issue with the Air Force's Eastern Range beacon indications. The delay was not because of any technical issues with the spacecraft or the Atlas V rocket.
There was only a 20-minute window to make this launch, making the go/no go decision very tense. The launch managers set the secondary launch time for 4:25 a.m., but were unable to make the window because the issue with the Eastern Range beacon indicators could not be resolved.
"The Radiation Belt Storm Probes will give us a better understanding of how the radiation belts actually work, and allow us to do a better job of predicting and protecting against the radiation that's up there in the future," said Mission Systems Engineer Jim Stratton, also of APL.
The two RBSP will have orbits that cover the entire radiation belt region, lapping each other several times during the course of the mission.
Once the probes are placed into their orbits, they will undergo a two-month "commissioning period," the time in which NASA engineers spend ensuring everything on the spacecraft are functioning properly.
"After you launch, after you get through the environments of launch and when you're up there in the space environment, you want to make sure everything's working perfectly," Mission Systems Engineer Jim Stratton said in a press release. "So that takes about 60 days after launch, and then we'll start our prime mission as soon as that commissioning period is done."
RBSP will help scientists improve the current models of how the radiation belts form and change, not only allowing NASA to help protect its spacecraft better, but its astronauts in orbit around Earth as well.
The next launch attempt is scheduled for tomorrow, Aug. 25, at 4:07 a.m. EDT. Like today, the launch window will extend for 20 minutes.