Thursday, June 18, 2009

Watching the NRO launch

527 pm: watching the final countdown get ready. After a few weather delays, weather went green around 5:15 and they're currently finalizing for a 5:32 launch, the third of 3 launch windows.

529: off of 4 minutes and holding and into the countdown sequence. The images aren't too interesting- just the rocket sitting on the pad and venting steam ( or something else; condensation on the supercold propellant tanks), and inside images of flight control.

531: computers are now controlling the countdown. Almost there.

532: T-45 seconds....

533: Liftoff and everything looks good. Through the clouds, Mach 1, and Max Q.

536: Engine shutdown and clean separation. Well above the atmosphere.

538: Currently in 9-minute Centaur (upper stage) burn.

540: 12000 mph, 116 miles altitude, 7800 miles downrange.

542: 13740mph, 1300 downrange, 124 altitude. Jupiter (FL) tracking ends, Antigua station covering.

543: 14700 mph, 116 up, 1600 downrange.

545: 2 minutes to MECO (Main engine cutoff).

546: 108 up, 2092 out, 16250mph. Somewhere over libya. Antigua out.

547: MECO. Altitude 100 nautical mile (115 miles)

549: Still impressed that the animation on my screen is from the live transmitted data. In the coast period of 2:49.

551: Begining to ramp RCS motors for reorientation.

That's when I had to go to work. I was incredibly impressed by a number of things. First how NASA could make such a complex operation - launching a 2-ton orbiter to the moon - work absolutely perfectly. Second, I was impressed with the quality of what I was seeing. This was, streaming, live, a video feed that switched between several views of the rocket and launch control, then between the on-board cameras and ground cameras after liftoff. Once the groound on-board cameras lost tracking, It seamlessly switched to an animated version of the orbiter, showing its physical orientation, location on a digital globe, firing of thrusters, and continuously updated orbital data.
Third, I was simply amazed how all this is possible. Here I am, sitting my my living room, watching data transmitted from space to NASA, which is then put on the internet for anyone to watch, essentiall free to them. That's my tax dollars at work, and I'm proud.

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