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Launch Information

Preparing For Launch

15 Days Before Launch

The assembled MER spacecraft is attached to the third stage of the Delta rocket. Both JPL and Boeing technicians work together for this activity.

This is when the technicians get their rubber hammers out and rhythmically hit the clampband (a metal ring which holds the spacecraft and the third stage together). It’s not only fun, but has a purpose. Namely, to distribute the clamping forces evenly around the ring.

10 Days Before Launch

After the MER spacecraft has been mated to the Boeing Delta rocket third stage, that assembly is put on a special transporter and a “handling canister” is built-up around the assembly. It is driven, very slowly, to the launch pad (Space Launch Complex 17, SLC-17). The Boeing technicians run this operation with support from JPL

HIGHLIGHT: “Armadillo Crossing”
This activity begins really early in the morning, right around 3-4 am. At 4 in the morning, the only potential traffic problems are armadillos, or the feral pigs which inhabit KSC/CCAFS. Traveling with the convoy, under the cover of a starry sky while most everyone else is sleeping, is unforgettable.

6 Days Before Launch

With the MER spacecraft and third stage safely and securely atop the Delta rocket, a combined team runs a mock launch. Boeing controls the flight simulation from the Operations Building on CCAFS, and the Mars Rover team configures the MER spacecraft remotely from a building at KSC. All participants talk on headsets over a network.

HIGHLIGHT: “Fast Forward”
Since we cannot run all the countdown and the entire flight of the rocket, we have to accelerate time and skip to the most critical moments. There are times when the entire team isn’t always available, so one person must take on multiple roles during the countdown and ascent.

4 Days Before Launch

The two halves of the Delta II’s fairing are attached around the MER spacecraft. Boeing technicians hoist and attach the two fairing halves while the MER mechanical techs ensure the spacecraft doesn’t get bumped.

HIGHLIGHT: “Next Stop: Mars”
This operation brings tears and joy. For all who have worked to create this spacecraft, it is the last time we get to see it. The happiness comes from knowing that launch is just a few days away and very soon we should be on our way to Mars.

2 Days Before Launch

Liquid propellants are loaded into the Delta II second stage tanks. Boeing is able to pump the liquid fuel and oxidizer into their respective tanks.

HIGHLIGHT: “Breaking the Grip of Gravity”
It isn’t easy to fight the pull of Earth’s gravity. The Boeing Delta II has nine strap-on graphite-epoxy solid rocket motors, or GEMs, that surround the first stage of the launch vehicle. Each GEM has an average thrust of 446,000 newtons (99,904 pounds). Six of the nine GEMs ignite at lift-off. The remaining three ignite after the initial six GEMs burn out. This means that, at the time of lift-off, there is the combined thrust of the main engine (890,000 newtons or 199,360 pounds), plus the six GEMs (6 x 446,000 newtons = 2,676,000 newtons or 599,424 pounds) for a whopping total thrust at the launch pad of 3,566,000 newtons (798,784 pounds)!

Content courtesy of Jonathan Stabb/JPL

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