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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University May 8, 2006 | Vol. 35 No. 33
Twin APL-built spacecraft begin launch preparations in Florida

By Kristi Marren
Applied Physics Laboratory

NASA's nearly identical twin STEREO spacecraft, designed and built by the Applied Physics Laboratory, arrived in Florida last week for final prelaunch testing and preparations. Once in orbit, the observatories will capture the first-ever 3-D "stereo" views of the sun and solar wind.

APL also will operate the twin observatories for NASA during the mission.

The observatories arrived May 3 by truck at the Astrotech Spacecraft Processing Facility — just outside NASA's Kennedy Space Center — where they will be placed inside a clean room. They're scheduled for launch no earlier than July 22 aboard a single Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 17, Pad B.

STEREO, which stands for Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory, recently completed five months of space-environment tests at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Md., and at APL. These tests simulated conditions the observatories will undergo during launch and their two-year space-based operations. Throughout the next few months, the observatories will undergo final checks of their systems and instruments before being loaded onto the launch vehicle. Mission operations personnel and engineers will rehearse the launch countdown and participate in mission simulations of critical operations.

STEREO's two-week launch window opens at 3:11 p.m. on July 22 and extends through Aug. 6, with two opportunities a day for launch during that time frame. Mission operations personnel at APL will begin the final countdown 12 hours before launch.

During the two-year mission, the observatories will explore the origin, evolution and interplanetary consequences of coronal mass ejections. These powerful solar eruptions are a major source of the magnetic disruptions on Earth and a key component of space weather, which can greatly affect satellite operations, communications, power systems and the lives of humans in space.


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