Cape Canaveral, Fla., (Feb. 11, 2010) – United Launch Alliance successfully launched NASA’s latest scientific exploration mission, the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), aboard an Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at 10:23 a.m. EST today. This was ULA’s first launch of 2010 and marked the 100th use of the commercial Atlas Centaur launch vehicle since its first launch on July 29, 1990. The first commercial launch was NASA’s Combined Release and Radiation Effects Satellite (CRRES) spacecraft.
“ULA is extremely proud to be a part of the SDO mission, NASA’s first satellite launch of its ‘Living with a Star’ program,” said Mark Wilkins, ULA Vice President, Atlas Product Line. “This launch culminates years of hard work by our NASA customer and our ULA launch team. It’s appropriate that our 100th use of a commercial Atlas Centaur was for a NASA mission since Centaur was originally developed for NASA’s lunar program.”
The Centaur upper stage began launching as a NASA vehicle on top of Atlas in 1962 to land surveyor spacecraft on the Moon in preparation for manned landings by Apollo. As the original government-managed Atlas Centaur program was nearing its end, it was resurrected as a commercial vehicle in the late 1980s by General Dynamics. Upgraded versions of Atlas Centaur have been flying missions since 1990, with the SDO launch marking its 100th flight. Centaur is probably most famous for its role in NASA’s recent Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LRO/LCROSS) mission where it crashed into the Moon in October 2009 to help NASA confirm the presence of water at the Moon’s South Pole.
“Our Atlas launches of the past two decades would not be the success they were without the Centaur upper stage conducting its mission flawlessly,” Wilkins said. “We look forward to the next 100 Centaur missions.”
The SDO mission was launched aboard an Atlas V 401 configuration and it used a single common core booster powered by the RD-180 engine.
ULA’s next launch is the NASA/NOAA Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite P (GOES P) mission, which will be launched aboard a Delta IV rocket on behalf of Boeing Launch Services. The launch is scheduled for Mar. 1, 6:19 p.m. EST, from Space Launch Complex-37 here.
About NASA's Solar Dynamic Observatory
The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) will provide a new eye on the sun that will deliver solar images with 10 times better resolution than high-definition television. This mission will zoom in on the cause of severe space weather—solar activity such as sunspots, solar flares, and coronal mass ejections. Space weather can pose a threat to astronauts as well as to aircraft crews flying over Earth’s northern and southern polar regions—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Satellite communications, navigation systems, and electrical power to our homes can all be disrupted by magnetic storms triggered by solar activity.
The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) is the first mission to be launched for NASA’s Living With a
Star (LWS) program. The goal of the LWS program is to develop the scientific understanding necessary to effectively address those aspects of the sun and solar system that directly affect life and society. This mission was developed and will be managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
SDO is a 5-year mission that will determine how the sun’s magnetic field is generated, structured, and converted into violent solar events like turbulent solar wind, solar flares, and Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs). The solar wind is a continuous stream of electrically charged particles that flow from the sun and fill the solar system with charged particles and magnetic fields. Solar flares are explosions in the sun’s atmosphere, with the largest equal to billions of one-megaton nuclear bombs. CMEs are eruptions from the solar atmosphere that release billions of tons of solar material into interplanetary space at millions of miles per hour. All these phenomena are collectively called space weather. By improving our understanding of the solar activity that powers severe space weather, SDO will enable us to improve predictions of solar storms and provide information necessary to protect our technological systems.
SDO will observe the sun, from its deep interior to the outermost layers of solar atmosphere, at the highest ever time cadence. SDO will snap a full disk image in 8 wavelengths every 10 seconds. This
rapid cadence led to placing the satellite into an inclined geosynchronous orbit. This allows for a continuous, high-data-rate contact with a dedicated ground station at the White Sands Complex in southern New Mexico. SDO will send down about 1.5 terabytes of data per day, equivalent to downloading half a million songs each day.
SDO’s spatial resolution gives it a tremendous advantage over earlier missions. All solar images will be 4096 pixels x 4096 pixels—almost IMAX quality—providing details of the sun and its features that have rarely been seen before.