Saturday, December 08, 2007

Holiday parades as predictors of rocket launches

Tonight after watching the Reedley High School marching band at the Orange Cove electric parade we turned around and saw a Delta II launch of Italian COSMO SkyMed-2 satellites. You can see more than you ever wanted to know, down to the second, about the launch by downloading the mission booklet but I really like the real-time blogs from Spaceflight Now (which also includes the previous failed two launches). From the real-time blogs you get a feel for what is really going on and the decisions that are made. The blog for this launch even mentions the famous "BBQ roll", and that the strap-on solid boosters are left in place for a few seconds after burn-out so they won't fall on oil rigs :)

Polar launches from Vandenberg sometimes do a "dog leg" turn to avoid overflying land. In general, launches from Florida are not polar, in fact even "high inclination" orbits can be a problem. You can read about this super-secret-payload Space Shuttle launch that was given a waiver for overflying parts of the eastern US, here's a good quote:
So what are the records for inclination limits for the shuttle?

(i'm glad you asked).

The highest inclination mission was 62 degrees on the STS-36 classified DoD mission. According to industry reports Atlantis had to be stripped to the bare bones for this mission - even the EVA handrails were removed. Sources afterwards have verified that the mission was deemed to be of 'national importance' so a waiver was granted to permit the very low launch azimuth needed to achieve that orbit.

The shuttle had to travel closer to land than on any other mission - and actually overflew Cape Hatteras North Carolina and Cape Cod Massachutsets. The range safety folks made the decision that if the instantaneous impact point was over land (e.g. the place the shuttle will hit if propulsion is stopped) then they would not send the destruct command, and the shuttle would choose where it would fall. Military officials in those areas were notified and on alert, but the civilian population was not notified because it was a secret mission. There were plenty of delays though, and many news stories about the unusual flight path.

Some of you old timers (i.e., back in the 1980s) remember that "slick six" at Vandenberg was being remodeled for polar launches of the Space Shuttle.