Status Report

NASA Gravity Probe B Launch Status 16 Oct 2003

By SpaceRef Editor
October 16, 2003
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MISSION:Gravity Probe B (GP-B)


LAUNCH PAD:  SLC-2, Vandenberg Air Force Base

LAUNCH DATE: December 6, 2003

LAUNCH TIME:5:52:02 p.m. PST 

Gravity Probe B is in NASA spacecraft processing facility 1610 on North Vandenberg Air Force Base.  Testing of the Super Quantum Interference Device (SQUID) readouts are under way this week.  The SQUID are ultra-sensitive magnetometers that can detect a change in the tilt of a spinning gyroscope to an angle of 0.1 milliarc-seconds, equivalent to viewing the width of a human hair at 100 miles.  A test to verify the reliability of the SQUID is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 17.  The electrical system testing that was under way last week has been completed successfully. Ordnance installation is scheduled for Oct. 20-24, and solar array installation is scheduled to begin Oct. 27.

  With the Delta II fully erected on the launch pad, integrated testing of the vehicle began earlier this week on Tuesday, Oct. 14.  A qualification test in a helium environment is scheduled on Oct. 22 for the Redundant Inertial Flight Control Assembly (RIFCA).  This is the navigation and guidance control unit for the launch vehicle.  Since the Gravity Probe B spacecraft will be venting helium inside the fairing during the countdown and in flight, engineers want to know what effect, if any, this environment could have on the RIFCA.

 This will be followed on Oct. 29 by routine integrated guidance and control system checkout of the vehicle.  An exercise that involves loading of liquid oxygen aboard the first stage and a limited “minus count” will be conducted on Nov. 4.  A Simulated Flight test, a “plus count” that tests the launch vehicle systems as if the vehicle were in powered flight, will be performed on the following day, Nov. 5. 

In final launch preparation activities, Gravity Probe B will be transported from the spacecraft processing facility to Space Launch Complex 2 on Nov. 18 and hoisted atop the second stage.  Then the final major test before launch, the Flight Program Verification, will be conducted on Nov. 20.  This is an integrated test conducted after the Gravity Probe B spacecraft is mated atop the second stage of the launch vehicle.  The Delta II fairing will be installed around the spacecraft on Nov. 25 as part of final preparations for launch.

The Gravity Probe B mission is a relativity experiment developed by NASA’sMarshallSpaceFlightCenter,StanfordUniversityand Lockheed Martin.  The spacecraft will test two extraordinary predictions of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity that he advanced in 1916: the geodetic effect (how space and time are warped by the presence of the Earth) and frame dragging (how Earth’s rotation drags space and time around with it).  Gravity Probe B consists of four sophisticated gyroscopes that will provide an almost perfect space-time reference system.  The mission will look in a precision manner for tiny changes in the direction of spin.

Gravity Probe B will be launched into a 400-mile-high polar orbit for an 18-month mission.

Government oversight of launch preparations and the countdown management on launch day is the responsibility of NASA’sJohnF.KennedySpaceCenter.  The launch service is provided to NASA by Boeing Expendable Launch Systems. 

SpaceRef staff editor.