The Launch of MER-B "Opportunity"
MER-B was launched on
the Delta II Heavy, a vehicle with slightly larger
booster rockets than its cousin, the Delta II, which
launched MER-A. It was a long wait for the Heavy's
maiden flight. After two weeks of delays with the
weather and launch vehicle problems, Opportunity finally
lifted off at 11:18 p.m. EDT, July 7, 2003, on Pad 17-B.
It sailed out to space with the hopes and dreams of the
engineers who built the spacecraft, the scientists who
want to learn about the universe, and the entire world's
spirit in discovery and exploration. Getting to
Mars is not easy. Launching a spacecraft is a well-choreographed
dance that requires precision, accuracy, smarts and
dedication. Many have been waiting for years for
this moment, and we congratulate the launch team for a
job well done. Each and every launch is exciting,
and this one was no different. Go Opportunity!
payload fairing is secured around the spacecraft.
It protects the payload as the rocket ascends
through the thick atmosphere. This is the
last time we see the spacecraft on Earth.
|28/6/03 A view
of the complete rocket stack. There are 9
solid rocket motors, seen attached to the first
stage, that help propel the MER rover into space.
Six are ignited at liftoff and the last three are
ignited when ground-lit ones burn out.
string of problems with the launch vehicle delays
the launch of Opportunity. But at this
point, everything looks like a go, and the launch
teams prepare for an ontime liftoff.
Terminal Countdown is initiated at T minus 150
seconds. The Launch Manager and Boeing
Mission Director polls their launch team and they
are all go for launch. They begin tanking
minutes: Weather appears
to be a go.
minutes: Main engine
gimbal checks are being made to see if the first
stage can steer itself.
minutes: We have a go
for countdown resume.
minutes: Fuel tanks are
minutes: Spacecraft goes
to internal power.
minutes: Final poll.
We are go for launch.
seconds: Countdown has
been halted due to trouble with a liquid oxygen (LOX)
fill and drain valve.
minutes and holding: Launch
is recycled for 2nd launch attempt.
Troubleshooting of the fill and drain valve
underway. If checks are successful,
countdown will resume at T-4 minutes.
minutes: Checks are
successful and countdown resumes.
minute: Delta II is on
seconds: 10... 9... 8...
7... 6... 5... 4... 3...
T-2 seconds: "Main
And liftoff of the Delta rocket with Opportunity.
A chance to explore and unlock the secrets of our
|At liftoff, the
first stage and booster rockets combine to
produce about a million pounds of thrust,
accelerating from 0 to 4000 kilometres per hour
in about a minute.
|If watching the
launch live in person, the light of the rocket
reaches you before the sound does.
Particularly at night, the entire sky glows a
bright orange, and suddenly, there is this giant
rumble that hits. There is nothing you can
do but to follow the rocket's trail in awe and
|The vehicle has
cleared the tower.
seconds: Mach 1, the
speed of sound, is reached.
seconds: The six ground-lit
boosters burn for 75 seconds before they are
jettisoned in threes, one second apart.
Prior to jettison, the air-lit solid motors are
For about 1 1/2 minutes
the booster stack continues to burn until they too are
jettisoned. In another 2 minutes, we have Main
Engine Cutoff (MECO), where the first stage shuts down,
separates, and the second stage is ignited. As the
Delta II leaves Earth's atmosphere, there is no need to
protect the tiny spacecraft inside, so the fairing is
jettisoned. Within 9 minutes of flight, we have
SECO-1 (1st Second Stage Cutoff). At this time,
Opportunity coasts around Earth for 60 minutes,
unpowered, getting into the right orbital position for
its final boost to Mars. For most of this coast,
MER-B is in a communications blackout until it is picked
up by a tracking station in the Pacific. Now over
the Pacific Ocean, the second stage reignites for a short
burn until SECO-2. Since the third stage does not
have the equipment to stabilize itself during flight, it
instead has spin rockets to spin the spacecraft like a
spinning top so that as it's firing, it maintains a
straight course. After spin-up, the second stage
separates and the third stage with the spacecraft fires
off to Mars! Yo-Yo despin weights are deployed to
slow down the spacecraft's spin, and then we have
spacecraft separation from the third stage. About
80 minutes after launch, Opportunity is on its 6-month
cruise to the Red Planet.
four Marsbound spacecraft, on their trajectories, as of
August 3, GMT.
Photo Credit: All
images courtesy of NASA, except for the booster
separation picture, which is credit Dan
Maas (Maas Digital),
Ecliptic Enterprises Corp., Boeing, and NASA; and the
Solar System Simulator animation, which is credit NASA/JPL.
References: JPL-MER homepage, Boeing MER-B Media Kit,
Spaceflight Now, KSC MER-B Virtual Launch Control Center.
- 4 August 2003
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