xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Star Points: From the beach to the moon

From the dawn of the space age in the 1950s, when rockets first carried artificial satellites into Earth orbit, and throughout the 1960s and early 1970s during the international race to the moon, and even up until the present time, nearly all space missions to the moon - both manned and unmanned - have been launched from the Cape Canaveral launch facilities in Florida.
The one exception is the 1994 Clementine mission launched from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base.
However, history is being made this month as NASA launches its first moon mission from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport located on Virginia's seashore.
MARS is situated on NASA's historic Wallops Island Flight Facility south of Ocean City near Chincoteague. The facility was established in 1945 and became a test site for suborbital rocket launches. During NASA's manned Mercury program, Wallops Island was the site for unmanned suborbital test flights of the Mercury capsule using the "Little Joe" rocket.
Wallops has continued over the years to serve as a launch site for unmanned sounding rockets carrying scientific payloads that gather scientific data or perform gas releases high above the surface of the Earth, forming clouds to be observed using ground-based instruments.
Although orbital launches were rare until recent years, Wallops launched its first Earth satellite, Explorer 9, in 1961. With the development of Orbital Science Corporation's Minotaur rocket, Wallops has been launching artificial Earth satellites more routinely since 2006.
Also later this month, OSC is scheduled to initiate resupply service missions to the International Space Station. OSC's newly developed Cygnus space vehicle will ascend into orbit aboard OSC's new Antares rocket and rendezvous with the ISS in Earth orbit.
This month's lunar mission is called the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer. LADEE will be launched on the first flight of the newly developed Minotaur V rocket. It is expected to enter low lunar orbit 30 days after launch. Then LADEE spends the next 100 days trying to detect dust or whatever else it may find in the very tenuous lunar atmosphere.
Launch is scheduled for 11:27 p.m. Friday. Backup launch windows occur nightly through Sept. 10 with small variations in the scheduled launch time.
It will be a nighttime launch and should therefore be easily visible from suitable sites near Westminster, weather permitting. From locations with a clear southeastern horizon, without obstructing trees, buildings and hills, the ascending rocket's plume will first be visible rising about one minute after launch and could reach an altitude of up to 10 degrees. As a reminder, 10 degrees is the width of your fist at arm's length.
Online sites such as http://www.nasa.gov and http://www.spaceflightnow.com will carry live webcasts of launch. Be aware of possible transmission delays in the broadcast feed. I recommend having an alternative source of time signals such as a shortwave radio tuned to WWV, if possible. Also, the Wallops information line at 757-824-2050 is a good source of up-to-the-minute information.
In other news, Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) - mentioned here in January - crawled out of the morning twilight in mid-August. However, its relative faintness at magnitude 14 surprised observers. According to comet expert John Bortle, as quoted on Sky & Telescope magazine's website, "That the comet continues to appear as faint as it does implies that its intrinsic brightness (absolute magnitude) is low and that the nucleus is probably small and relatively inactive."
This may not bode well that this "sungrazer" will live up to the earlier "comet of the century" hype. Of course the century is still young, so hang on.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement