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Mars Global Surveyor Successfully Launched



Written by Ron Baalke
November 7, 1996

The Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft was successfully launched today and is on its way to Mars. The Delta 2 first stage rocket with its nine strap-on solid rockets all ignited at 9:00:49.99 PST and leaped off the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center. Just 33 seconds later, the launch vehicle had reached Mach 1 (the speed of sound). In the following 90 seconds, the strap-on solid rockets burned out and fell away, as planned, and the main engine on the Delta 2 first stage continued to burn for another 2 minutes until it too, burned out and was jettisoned. The spacecraft was now 115 km above the Earth. At 4 minutes 14 minutes after liftoff (+4:14), the second stage ignited and burned for 5 minutes, and then was cutoff, as planned. The spacecraft was now out of view of the long range cameras on the ground, but tracking stations around the world would continue to monitor the status of the flight through the upper stage rockets. The Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft was placed in a circular Earth parking orbit 185 km above the Earth, where it would coast for the next 31 minutes.

Various tracking stations and a NASA ARIA plane achieved telemetry lock with the second stage at this point. After coasting for 31 minutes, the second stage reignited and burned for 2 minutes, raising the apogee, or the high point, of the Earth parking orbit. Small rockets were then fired to spinup the spacecraft to 60 rpm. After jettisoning the second stage, the third and final stage was ignited. The third stage, a Star 48B solid rocket, would burn for 87 seconds to send Mars Global Surveyor out of Earth orbit towards Mars. About 4.5 minutes after the third stage burnout, the spacecraft was despun by the deployment of a yo-yo cable device. The yo-yo cable device consists of two weights on wires which were uncoiled to slow the spin in the same way ice skaters slow their spins by extending their arms. The third stage was then jettisoned, and the separation was confirmed by the tracking stations in contact with the third stage. Mars Global Surveyor was now its way to Mars.

About 2 minutes after separation from the third stage, the spacecraft automatically started to deploy its solar arrays, which would take about 5 minutes. After deploying its solar arrays, the spacecraft began configuring itself and finally turned on its X-band transmitter, and the X-band signal was acquired by the Deep Space Network station in Canberra, Australia. The spacecraft's health and status was then transmitted to Earth, and solar array deployment and spacecraft configuration was then confirmed. One slight anomaly was noted with one of the solar arrays. The solar arrays are fully deployed but one of the arrays was about 20 degrees off in the Y direction of where it was expected to be.

Mars Global Surveyor will go into orbit around Mars on September 12, 1997. It will then use aerobraking maneuvers in the upper atmosphere of Mars to reshape its orbit, and the spacecraft will then map the red planet for one full Martian year. Mars Global Surveyor's primary mission will end in January 2000.

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