A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication

GLAST launch: live blogging

06/11/08

Live blogging the GLAST launch (due from 11:45 a.m. EDT)

Photo of GLAST launch (right) courtesy of NASA TV.

There isn't a lot more for us to talk about right now so we'll leave you to explore GLAST science more. Here is a starting point.

1:40 p.m. Steve Ritz is talking on NASA TV now. Both solar arrays are out and operational. Now there will be two weeks of checking out the spacecraft, then the instruments turn on and get checked out and calibrated. Preliminary observations take place and then about 60 days from now, the first science observations begin.

GLAST is safely in orbit and the scientists' main work begins! We'll keep you updated in symmetry about what is happening throughout this process and let you know as soon as we can about science results and observations.

1:30 p.m. The first solar array has deployed and is receiving electrical current. Great news! The second array is deploying now.

1:28 p.m George Diller is commenting that the launch happened only just before weather conditions prevented the launch. The NASA commentators are now talking about the next NASA mission but those of us interested in GLAST just want to know what is going on with the solar panels!

1:23 p.m. In the NASA launch control room, people are looking a lot more relaxed, mingling and talking. Solar array deployment will start in a few minutes time to provide power for GLAST. At this point, the GLAST scientists are watching anxiously because getting the satellite up into orbit is just the first challenge!

1:22 p.m. The spacecraft is pulling away from the second stage.

1:20 p.m. NASA announces the separation indicator has come on. The deployment sequence continues.

1:20 p.m. The separation nuts are released and separation imminent.

1:15 p.m. Burn is successfully complete. In the wonderfully understated jargon, the burn was "nominal." Now the deploy sequence is the next major event in five minutes.

1:14 p.m. Ignition of second stage burn. A little over a one minute burn. Everything is going smoothly.

1:10 p.m. We are ten minutes away from spacecraft separation. There will be a two minute burn to get into the orbit prior to separation. After the burn, there will be a five minute coast period before GLAST separates from the Delta II rocket.

12:45 p.m. We'll take a break from live blogging for a few minutes as we wait for the next stage--the shift of GLAST from its parking orbit to its operation orbit and then deployment.

12:32 p.m. KIPAC people brought in a few bottles of soft drink for a toast (no alcohol allowed on site) and Jonathan Dorfan toasted the LAT team, mentioning Eliott Bloom in particular who was one of the people responsible for initiating GLAST about 16 years ago. (It's also Eliott's birthday today so this seems a great birthday present for him!)

12:20 p.m.  With the NASA broadcast over, people are getting up to leave.  SLAC Director Persis Drell, who has been sitting in the front row, stands up and says, "Before everyone disperses, I just want to congratulate the GLAST team. This is a tremendous achievement. The instrument is on its way into orbit, there are 10 years of science ahead of us--great job!" Persis has a special interest in this launch; not only is this one of the lab's major initiatives, but before she became director she had hoped to participate in the science.

She talked about GLAST in a recent interview with symmetry. You can see the article here and a transcript of the interview here.

You  know, my greatest frustration with this job I have is that GLAST is going to launch soon, and there’s a big piece of me invested in that instrument, and I’m not going to get to have fun with the first data. And whereas I’m not ever going to be a world-class gamma-ray astrophysicist – I wouldn’t even dream of doing that – I also know that when you put up a detector that’s orders of magnitude better than anybody has ever put up before, even the novice can have fun..... I have been assured that on a dark night we will be able to see GLAST with the naked eye.  That’s a milestone for me, to see GLAST in the night sky.

12:17 p.m. In response to a question from former SLAC director Jonathan Dorfan, Rob Cameron says the Large Area Telescope won't be turned on until 13 days into the mission, but we will be able to monitor the instrument's temperature via telemetry.  In the next couple of hours, after the last stage of the rocket burns, the spacecraft has to deploy its solar panels; for now it's running on batteries that only have enough charge for a few hours. We should be getting status updates on the overall health and safety of GLAST in two or three hours, he says.

12:15 p.m.  We're not the only ones blogging the launch; NASA has its own blog here.

12:12 p.m.  The rocket is burning its second stage now and has accelerated to 14272 mph.   We now have a video feed from collaborators at UC Santa Cruz.

12:09 p.m.  Three minutes into the flight, velocity 9874 mph, and the rocket has disappeared from sight.  "Everything holding rock-solid," the controller says.

12:05 p.m.   Liftoff!  Hearty applause and cheers,  then silence.   The solid fuel ignites;  "Nice!" someone says.

12:04 p.m. Absolute silence here.

12:02 p.m.   The hold has ended and we're back on track.  T- two minutes 30 seconds.

12:00 p.m. Someone reports that there has been a red alarm -- something to do with momentarily exceeding tank pressure -- the resolution plan is to monitor the line pressure.  the tank pressure alarm has been disabled, there is small probability that we could .....   at this point the narration goes dead!  Nervous laughter all around.

11:55 a.m. Kyle Watters, one of Roger Romani's grad students, who is sitting behind me,  fills me in on the live feeds we're seeing from various collaborators around the world.  The darkened SLAC auditorium is in the upper left corner;  top middle is from Pisa; bottom middle is from Paris; top right is Silvia Raino from INFN-BARI in Italy; bottom right is Tomi Ylinen in Stockholm.

11:54 a.m. We've just been told the launch is rescheduled for 12:05 p.m.  The acceptable weather window for launch is expected to end in about 15 minutes, so things are tight.

11:47 a.m.  The tracking station is back up!

11:46 a.m.  We just learned the reason for the extension:  The downrange tracking station at Antigua Island is down, and  at this time they don't know when it will be back online.

11:41 a.m.   The hold has been extended.  We're waiting to find out the reason.  This is not at all unusual for a NASA launch.

11:39 a.m.  We're looking at the control room where the button will be pushed -- only in this case it's a mouse click -- to launch the Delta II.  There is about a minute remaining in this hold.

11:32 a.m.  Glennda Chui here, filling in for David.  The countdown is on hold at T-4 minutes; this is built into the launch sequence so controllers can run through their final checks.  Until now it was hard to hear the NASA chatter over the excited buzz from the darkened auditorium, which is nearly full now.  But now, so close, there is a sudden hush.   People are talking quietly and some are watching the preparations not only on the big screen but on their laptops.

11:05 a.m.: Launch control have announce T-30 minutes and everything is looking fine to proceed.

10:58 a.m.: The GLAST launch is due in about 45 minutes from now and many of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center scientists are gathering in the Kavli auditorium to watch the live broadcast of the launch from NASA. SLAC is responsible for the primary instrument on GLAST, the Large Area Telescope, or LAT. We'll be updating you with events from the SLAC site throughout the launch process.

Even though there are only about 25 people arrived in this room so far, there is a very festive happy atmosphere. It is obvious that most of these people have been anticipating the launch for a long time.

NASA is showing a mix of live footage and recorded video of preparatory events through the night including the rollback of the tower at 3:00 a.m.

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