by Staff Writers
Cape Canaveral FL (SPX) Sep 12, 2011
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta II rocket carrying the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft for NASA lifted off from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-17B here at 9:08 a.m. EDT Saturday.
This launch marks the 9th flight for ULA in 2011, the 49th Delta II mission for NASA and the last currently-planned flight from this launch complex.
"With the final launch from SLC-17, we reflect on the tremendous historical significance of this complex and the impact of the military and scientific payloads that began their missions from this site," said Michael Gass, ULA president and CEO.
"From the Global Positioning System satellites launched for the U.S. Air Force, to NASA's Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, in total this complex has been the origin for 259 critical Delta missions to protect our country and explore our universe."
The GRAIL mission was launched aboard a Delta II Heavy 7920H-10 configuration vehicle featuring a ULA first stage booster powered by a Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne RS-27A main engine and nine Alliant Techsystems (ATK) strap-on solid rocket motors.
An Aerojet AJ10-118K engine powered the second stage. The payload was encased by a 10-foot-diameter composite payload fairing.
"ULA is extremely proud to be a part of NASA's team for the GRAIL mission and we sincerely congratulate all of our mission partners," said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Mission Operations.
"This successful launch is the third NASA mission ULA has launched in just three months with two more to come in October and November.
"The timing and precision of this campaign along with a one-launch-at-a-time focus are testaments to our commitment to providing reliable and cost-effective space launch services to our customers."
The GRAIL mission will use the twin robotic spacecraft to map the gravitational field of the moon in unprecedented detail. This data will be used to determine the structure of the lunar interior from crust to core and advance our understanding of the thermal evolution of the moon.
The first of the two nearly-identical spacecraft separated from the Delta II upper stage 1 hour and 21 minutes after launch at 10:28 a.m. ET and the second spacecraft separated eight minutes later.
Communication signals from both spacecraft were obtained quickly by the Mission Operations team at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company's facility near Denver. Six minutes after each separated, the spacecraft deployed their two solar arrays and started producing power.
"At first look, both of the GRAIL spacecraft are in great shape and are operating as predicted," said John Henk, GRAIL spacecraft program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company.
"Since the beginning of this mission, it's been a pleasure to work with the mission's Principal Investigator Dr. Maria Zuber and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. We're proud to be on the team that will bring a better understanding of Earth's nearest neighbor."
Even though the spacecraft duo were launched on the same day, they will arrive at the moon one day apart. The first orbiter, GRAIL-A arrives on Dec. 31, 2011 and GRAIL-B arrives 25 hours later on Jan. 1, 2012.
At the start of the science phase, the spacecraft will be in a polar, nearly-circular orbit 34 miles (55 km) above the surface. The science phase of collecting gravity data will last 82-days.
"This morning's launch was very exciting and the ULA Delta II put us on a perfect trajectory," said Jim Crocker, vice president and general manager of Sensing and Exploration Systems at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company.
"Our team is now focused on performing a detailed series of checkouts and calibrations to characterize the performance of both spacecraft."
The mission launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket with a Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne RS-27A engine. Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne is a United Technologies Corp. company.
"The RS-27A performed with the reliability for which it earned its reputation," said Elizabeth Jones, RS-27A program manager, Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne.
"We're proud of the role the RS-27A engine is playing in helping scientists better understand Earth and other planets in the solar system, and we look forward to working with NASA on future missions."
The RS-27A, a liquid-oxygen/kerosene engine system that has flown without failure 236 times since its first flight in 1974, continues Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne's legacy of building numerous, reliable liquid-oxygen/kerosene propulsion systems, including the Saturn program's F-1 and H-1 engines; the Atlas MA-3, MA-5 and MA-5A engines; and the predecessor to the RS-27, the Thor MB-3 engine.
Under contract to United Launch Alliance, Aerojet's AJ10 hypergolic engine provided 10,000 lbs. of thrust during the launch of NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission.
The mission will fly twin spacecraft in tandem orbits around the moon to learn more about its geologic composition and also provide a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system were formed.
Aerojet's AJ10 engines have been used on all 150 Delta II missions to date and have achieved a 100 percent success rate.
The engines have supported numerous launches of critical NASA and military missions including the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, as well as the United States Air Force Global Positioning System (GPS) Block IIR fleet.
Aerojet also provided propulsion components to GRAIL. Each of the two GRAIL spacecraft carries a monopropellant hydrazine gas generator that feeds its attitude control system and a larger thruster for major maneuvers including lunar orbit insertion.
"The AJ10 engine and our thrusters are flight-critical components of this exciting lunar investigation," said Vice President of Space and Launch Systems, Julie Van Kleeck.
"We are proud that our products are trusted to be a part of this exploration initiative and look forward to seeing the great science that will come from this mission."
United Launch Alliance
GRAIL at NASA
GRAIL mission site
GRAIL at Lockheed Martin
Mars News and Information at MarsDaily.com
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NASA launches twin spacecraft to study Moon's core
Washington DC (AFP) Sep 10, 2011
NASA on Saturday launched a pair of unmanned spacecraft on a journey to study the core of the Moon and hopefully reveal how it formed some 4.5 billion years ago. The twin GRAIL satellites, short for Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory, blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida aboard a Delta II heavy rocket at 9:08 am (1308 GMT). "Liftoff of the Delta II with ... read more
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