Status Report

NASA Gravity Probe B Mission Status Report 28 May 2004

By SpaceRef Editor
May 28, 2004
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NASA Gravity Probe B Mission Status Report 28 May 2004

At five weeks past launch, the Gravity Probe B mission is now about half way
through the Initialization and Orbit Checkout (IOC) phase of the mission.
Thus far, the team has successfully transmitted over 5,000 commands to the
spacecraft, which remains healthy on orbit. All spacecraft subsystems are
continuing to perform well. The spacecraft’s orbit is stable, meeting our
requirements for next month’s transition into the science phase of the
mission. All four gyros are now digitally suspended, and the team is in the
process of locking the on-board telescope onto the guide star, IM Pegasi.

This past week, the team began spinning up the gyros. During this complex
and delicate process, which spans the entire second half of IOC, each of the
four gyros undergoes a series of spin-up and testing sequences, the first of
which gets the gyros spinning-but at a very slow speed. Because the correct
performance of the gyros is critical to the success of the experiment, the
team is proceeding through the spin-up process slowly, painstakingly
monitoring and checking the performance of the gyros throughout the process.

In preparation for spin-up, the digital suspension system for each gyro was
first tested. This was accomplished by suspending each gyro in the center of
its housing, electrically “nudging” it slightly off center in one of eight
directions (the corners of a cube), and monitoring its automatic
re-centering. This checkout was first performed under low voltage conditions
(fine control) and then under high voltage conditions (secure hold).

To begin the actual spin-up process, ultra-pure helium gas was flowed over
gyros #1 and #4 for 15 seconds, which started them spinning at approximately
0.125 Hz (7.5 rpm). While these gyros were slowly spinning, the suspension
test was repeated under high voltage conditions on gyros #2 and #3. During
this high voltage suspension test on gyro #3, the team discovered an error
in its command template, which turned off the high voltage amplifier to gyro
#1 and caused it to lose suspension. There was no damage to gyro#1.

More than 1,000 commands have now been sent to the Gyro Suspension System
(GSS), and this was the first error found. Discovering an error in these
numerous, intricate command templates was exactly the kind of situation that
the painstaking gyro spin-up process was designed to identify; it enabled
the team to correct the command template for gyro #2 without serious
consequences. Also, as a further precaution, the team has thoroughly
reviewed the command templates for the remaining three gyros. Gyros #2 and
#3 have now been spun-up to 0.26 Hz (15 rpm) and 0.125 Hz (7.5 rpm)
respectively without incident, and gyro #1 is currently being spun-up, as

Over the past week, much progress has been made towards the goal of locking
the spacecraft’s on-board telescope onto the guide star. The pointing error
of the spacecraft has been reduced to within 385 arc-seconds (0.11 degrees).
This allows the on-board telescope to see the guide star over a portion of a
spacecraft roll cycle. The team is in the process of fine-tuning the
spacecraft’s attitude by adjusting the navigational gyroscope in the
Attitude and Translation Control (ATC) system, so that the telescope will be
able to see the guide star throughout the entire spacecraft roll cycle, and
the team hopes to lock onto the guide star by the beginning of next week.

NASA’s Gravity Probe B mission, also known as GP-B, will use four
ultra-precise gyroscopes to test Einstein’s theory that space and time are
distorted by the presence of massive objects. To accomplish this, the
mission will measure two factors — how space and time are warped by the
presence of the Earth, and how the Earth’s rotation drags space-time around
with it.

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Gravity
Probe B program for NASA’s Office of Space Science. Stanford University in
Stanford, Calif., developed and built the science experiment hardware and
operates the science mission for NASA. Lockheed Martin of Palo Alto,
Calif., developed and built the GP-B spacecraft.

SpaceRef staff editor.