Tomorrow an Atlas 5 will launch the Juno spaceship to Jupiter tomorrow. This will be the second launch of the biggest Atlas 5 in the 551 configuration with 5 large Solid Rocket Boosters surrounding the main core engine. The spaceship will be assisted into orbit by a second stage Centaur upper stage.
The rocket was rolled out to Launch Pad 41 early today in preparation for a liftoff between 11:34 and 12:43 EDT (15:34 to 16:43 GMT) on August 5th 2011. Currently everything is looking good for an on-time launch with a 70% chance of favourable weather conditions. The only concern is Tropical Storm Emily which is lurking off the eastern coast of Florida and doesn’t seem to want to make up its mind which way it will move.
Should the launch not occur tomorrow there are daily launch windows all the way out to August 26th so the spaceship will definitely be launched sometime this month. There was a concern about the weather not actually preventing a launch, but preventing a roll-back to the protection of the assembly building should a problem occur requiring the rocket to be returned for maintenance.
Continue to read on about the Atlas V and the Juno mission plus photo gallery:
The Juno project started about 10 years ago and has come to the point of launch. After launch there will be a period of five years before the Juno spaceship arrives at Jupiter in July 2016. On arrival Juno will perform 33 orbits of Jupiter lasting about a year before the mission completes with a de-orbit and crash into the planet.
There are 4 main objectives to the Juno mission:
1) Determine how much water is in the planet’s atmosphere, confirming the theories of Jupiter’s formation.
2) Evaluate Jupiter’s atmosphere measuring composition, cloud movement, temperature etc.
3) Map the planet’s magnetic and gravity fields.
4) Explore the magnetosphere at the poles particularly the auroras to help understand how the atmosphere is affected by Jupiter’s huge magnetic forces.
The Atlas 5 rocket has component parts that originate from all over the USA, and indeed the payload fairing is sourced from Switzerland. The main booster core and Centaur upper stage are constructed in Decatur, Alabama. The Solid Rocket Boosters come from Sacremento, California, and the Juno Spaceship was constructed Lockheed-Martin in Denver, Colorado. All of these components were transported to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station where they were assembled in the the Rocket standing on the launch pad at the moment.
The main booster core and the Centaur upper stage are transported, rather ironically, by an Russian Antonov AN-124 cargo plane, whilst the SRBs come overland by truck as does the Juno Spacecraft.
The Atlas 5 processing involves the marshalling assembly and testing of the rocket in a Vertical Integration Facility. The components are transported from the receiving station to the VIF where they are hoisted into position. First the main booster core arrives and is attached to a mobile launch platform. This is followed by the SRBs which are attached to the booster. Next is the Centaur upper stage which gets winched on top of the booster.
Whilst this stacking was happening the Juno Spacecraft was having some final touches applied at Astrotech 12 miles away in Titusville. This concluded with the payload fairing enshrouding the spacecraft and it’s delivery to the VIF where it was mated to the rocket.
This process culminated with the rollout of the mobile launch platform carrying the stacked rocket to Launch Pad 41 early this morning. Once the rocket was connected to the Launch Pad servicing facilities it was ready for final checkout. If things go to plan then the next important milestone is fuelling of the booster and Centaur which will start at around 6am EDT in preparation for a lift off at 11:34am EDT.
If you are going to Titusville to watch the launch then the best location is on Playalinda Beach. Once you park up you can walk about half a mile south down the beach to the NASA boundary fence. This is the closest that you can get. You will have a full view of the launch pad from about 5 miles away. The roar of the five Solid Rocket Boosters as the rocket soars into the sky will be impressive from that distance.