United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully launched NASA’s Solar Parker Probe on their Delta IV Heavy rocket. Today was the second attempt to liftoff proceeded smoothly for an on-time lifted off at 3:31 am EDT.
The first attempt yesterday was delayed twice before a scrub was called when a new issue occurred at T-1:55m and counting with no time left in the window to try again.
Due to the extremely high energy required for this mission, the Delta IV Heavy’s capability was augmented by a powerful third stage provided by Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems. This allowed the vehicle to get up to 45,000 mph by the time the Solar Parker Probe separated.
Confirmation of the 3rd stage events was delayed due to a signal dropout issue, however, the information was received at one of the ground stations and was relayed manually.
NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will be the first-ever mission to “touch” the Sun. The spacecraft, about the size of a small car, will travel directly into the Sun’s atmosphere about 4 million miles from our star’s surface.
Following a smooth countdown the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavies three main engine’s came to life today to lift the Orion capsule to orbit. 18 minutes later the upper stage completed its first firing and left the Orion capsule in the desired orbit.
Over the next two orbits Orion will follow the flight profile outlined to the right before splashing down in the pacific ocean later today. The upper stage will fire once again after the first orbit to allow Orion to move further away from Earth than any crew rate vehicle has been since the last Apollo mission.
Below are images captured from NASA TV of the launch, our next update will be later today following the completion of the test flight.
The first orbital flight of the Orion spacecraft will allow NASA and it’s contractor Lockheed Martin to verify the design of the vehicle in space itself, for this flight there will be no crew members however there will be a vast amount of instrumentation and sensors on board to provide as much data as possible during the mission.
While Orion is designed to fly on the Space Launch System (SLS) in the long term because the rocket isn’t ready to fly yet this mission will be flown using a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket.
This is the first flight into space for Orion but it isn’t the first flight, a number of drop tests have already been performed to allow the parachutes and other systems used during landing to be validated, in addition a number of tests have been performed in a large pool to verify that the vehicle can right itself should it land in the wrong orientation. Like the Apollo module used for the moon missions Orion will land on water, a number of tests have been performed to verify that the recovery ships can retrieve the module once it has landed.
The four and a half hour flight will take the Orion spacecraft on two orbits of Earth. Peak altitude will be approximately 3,600 miles. The high altitude will allow the the spacecraft to reach reentry speeds of up to 20,000 mph, which will expose the heat shield to temperatures up to around 4,000 °F, or 80% of the temperature that would be experienced upon reentry from a moon mission.
Next update tomorrow we will look at the future for Orion and SLS.