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Atlas 5 Rocket Set to Launch Pluto Probe 80

tmerrill writes "An unprecedented mission to the outer edges of our solar system is set to launch in 4 days, despite a launch delay. From the article: 'NASA's first spacecraft to visit the planet Pluto is set to launch no earlier than Jan. 17 atop an Atlas 5 rocket on a decade-long trip to the fringe of the Solar System ... In order to reach Pluto by 2015, the $650 million New Horizons mission must lift off this month in order to swing by Jupiter for a gravity boost. The probe's 35-day launch window, however, stretches until Feb. 14. The launch window opens on Jan. 11. Inspections of the probe's Atlas 5 booster prompted mission managers to push their launch target to no earlier than Jan. 17, NASA officials said.'" The New York Times has details as well.
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Atlas 5 Rocket Set to Launch Pluto Probe

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  • More Links to Click (Score:5, Informative)

    by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Saturday January 14, 2006 @03:56PM (#14472434) Journal
    I should start by saying that there's a wealth of information out online about Lockheed Martin's Atlas V [lockheedmartin.com].

    The article gave a link to www.space.com but if you want the source of this information, you should go to Spaceflight Now [spaceflightnow.com] for their informative diagrams. You can get an idea of how the vehicle actually breaks apart to deliver its payload. You can read about how they plan to retrieve the boosters from the ocean [spaceflightnow.com], the simulated views of onboard cameras [spaceflightnow.com], or previous Atlas launches [spaceflightnow.com]. This site contains for more information than the one listed in the article.

    If you're interested in payload sizes, check out Wikipedia's entries on this topic [wikipedia.org] or the International Launch Service's documentation of preparation for Atlas V launches [wikipedia.org].
    • by spineboy ( 22918 ) on Saturday January 14, 2006 @04:54PM (#14472637) Journal
      Atlas V generates a peak 4 meganewton thrust. The old Saturn V(apollo booster) generated up to 35MN, and could deliver up to 120,000 pounds into low Earth orbit.

      Sigh... were the Moon landings a technological feat, never to be duplicated?
      • Atlas V generates a peak 4 meganewton thrust. The old Saturn V(apollo booster) generated up to 35MN, and could deliver up to 120,000 pounds into low Earth orbit. Sigh... were the Moon landings a technological feat, never to be duplicated?

        The moon landings were primarily a result of a Cold War need to upstage the Soviets, and not some great fascination with technology and engineering on the part of the White House. Now that the USSR is history, there's no longer that same justification for moon shots or s

        • by LurkerXXX ( 667952 ) on Saturday January 14, 2006 @07:30PM (#14473274)
          And who cares how big the rocket is?

          With a SaturnV you coud send a rover big enough that it wouldn't get hung up in 6" of sand like one of the Mars Rovers did. You could send a lot more instrumentation up to examine more aspects of whatever you are looking at.

          There are other uses for big rockets than just sending humans into space.

          • Mod parent up

            It is to be regretted that 40 years ago we had a rocket more powerful than any of the ones we got now. Actually I've been quite surprised to hear that we had nothing as powerful as a Saturn V, it's like, going technologically backwards, although if you look at the problem from close, we were lucky not to have any problem with Saturn V's and the context was much different (and allowed such gigantic rockets to be invested in).

            And yeah as you said, big rockets like Saturn V ain't all about man

            • A Saturn V launched Skylab in one piece.

              What's the biggest launcher out of Russia? Doesn't Energia have something close to the capability of an S-V?
              • Yup. "[Energia] had the capacity to place around 100 metric tons in Low Earth orbit (LEO), although it could have been (but never was) upgraded for heavier payloads comparable to (or even greater than) the LEO capacity of the Saturn V". Saturn V could place up to 118 metric tons in LEO.

                Comparatively, Atlas V at the maximum only could place up to 25 metric tons to LEO

            • Yes. The shuttle-derived HLV will be able to put more in orbit than the Sat-V. It will be able to take 125 Metric tons to LEO.
        • But I think sending people back to the moon for a photo op is vastly less interesting than strapping a tiny rover atop of a small booster and sending it to look for life on Mars.
          Maybe, but what if we launched the rover from the moon, like the Chinese will be doing by the time the New Horizons spacecraft reaches Pluto? It would be interesting to see how big a payload an Atlas launched from the lunar surface could carry.
        • Life on Mars? Damn, we sure do pour money into that fantasy. Meanwhile, we neglect all sorts of interesting things that could be explored.

          We did Viking 1 and Viking 2 ages ago. Then, we go back with something modern, and we try out a neat new landing system. Cool. We crash a polar lander.

          Then what? Do we try the polar lander again? No. We wimp out. We send two more rovers (been there, done that...) and plan to send many more. Arrrgh!!!! Elsewhere in our Solar system...

          • All we have from the surface of V
          • are you suggesting a lander on venus or mercury? It likely is way beyond our technological means to make machinery that could operate under such conditions.
            • Uhhh, what? There was a lander on Venus thirty years ago, and Mercury isn't nearly as hot as Venus.
              • kind of depends of the place where you land, Mercury's surface temperature vary between 90K (-183C) and 700K (+426C). Venus' surface is much hotter (surface temperature never drops under 700K), but has much less variations.
              • I meant a lander/rover type vehicle for exploration, the Russian probes lasted from minutes to almost 2 hours before they fried (the best that could be hoped/designed for).
                • Well yeah, that would be hard ;) I think the pressure on Venus's surface is more significant than the temperature - 60 bars!(60x Earth atmosphere at sea level) I think that with careful study drawing on submarine technology, we could engineer a lander that would last longer on the surface of Venus - the trouble is the thing would be so frikkin' heavy I don't think we have a launcher that could get it there.
                  • It's 91 atmospheres of pressure, hot as a furnace, and there appears to be some sulpheric acid. :-)

                    Well, the USSR made something work. Just cloning that with a better radio and better imager would be wonderful. Landing in some other places, like the high areas that are highly radar reflective, would be very useful.

                    For long-term survival, might I suggest a nuclear-powered air conditioner?

                    Having an astronaut walk around should even be doable, using phase-change materials to keep him cool for trips away from t
            • There have been a number of landers on Venus

              http://www.mentallandscape.com/V_Venus.htm [mentallandscape.com]
      • Sigh... were the Moon landings a technological feat, never to be duplicated?

        There was no great technological achievement. The saturn V is a demonstration that if you throw enough money at it, you can usually do what you want. Price/performance the atlas has it beat by probably an order of magnitude.

        • From what I understand, you are correct. The Atlas is very lightwieght for the amount of payload it sends up. This is because the design is based on the fact that a pressurized pop can can support far more weight than an unpressurized pop can. The fuel & oxidizer tanks of the Atlas are pressurized, allowing the booster to be very light weight but still be able to support a substantial payload. Saturn V didn't use this design.
          • This is because the design is based on the fact that a pressurized pop can can support far more weight than an unpressurized pop can.

            The balloon tanks were cool, but they're not used on the Atlas V [wikipedia.org]:

            The newest version of Atlas, the Atlas V, is an Atlas in name alone as it contains little Atlas technology. It no longer uses balloon tanks nor 1.5 staging, but incorporates a rigid framework for its first stage booster much like the Titan family of vehicles.

      • ... were the Moon landings a technological feat, never to be duplicated?

        Yeah, 'cause we all know that in order for something to be more technically advanced, it has to be bigger. That's how come modern computers are so much more primitive than the ENIAC.

      • ...deliver up to 120,000 pounds into low Earth orbit

        I'm a SI units guy, but isn't a pound about 0.5kg?

        According to the Wikipedia entry [wikipedia.org], it could lift more like 120 tons (metric) to orbit, i.e. the double amount(!)
  • My name is on some medium again (DVD ?).
    I hope they get this one right, because last time my name was on a CD, they messed up Metres/Miles.
  • Have a good one!
  • The mission (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bad D.N.A. ( 753582 ) <baddna.gmail@com> on Saturday January 14, 2006 @04:28PM (#14472502)
    Info on the mission can be found at:
    The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
    http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/ [jhuapl.edu]
  • by PoconoPCDoctor ( 912001 ) <jpclyons@gmail.com> on Saturday January 14, 2006 @05:02PM (#14472658) Homepage Journal

    While an impressive vehicle, it's size is dwarfed by the Saturn V. [apollosaturn.com]

    I called in sick to my job and flew down to Cape Kennedy to see the last launch of this monster. The last launch was used to put Skylab in orbit.

    I got no closer than about Titusville, (I think this was about 10 miles from the launch pad) but when that sucker was lifting off, I felt a sonic impact that felt like someone slammed my chest!

  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Saturday January 14, 2006 @05:14PM (#14472706) Journal
    This probe was cancelled and reinstated multiple times. One congress committe would cancel it and the next one would reinstate it. One reason it finally went thru is that Pluto's atmosphere will soon freeze into nitrogen snow when it gets further from the sun because of Pluto's lopsided orbit. There will not be an opportunity to see the snow turn (melt) back into an atmosphere for something like 250 years from now. Thus, it is now or never. Other planets and moons can wait, but Pluto's atmosphere cannot.
  • Why Pluto? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jcaldwel ( 935913 ) on Saturday January 14, 2006 @06:02PM (#14472933)
    Shouldn't we be spending our limited budget on something more interesting, like Europa, Ganymede or Titan? They should be easier to get to, from their distance.
    • Because a planet we've never seen up close is more interesting than some random moon, that's why. Besides, if they are going to send a probe to Pluto, the time is now. Pluto will be too far away if we wait too long. We can send a probe to those moons anytime we want.
    • Re:Why Pluto? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by SB5 ( 165464 ) <freebirdpat@hFREEBSDotmail.com minus bsd> on Saturday January 14, 2006 @07:19PM (#14473239)
      Those moons would be nice, but Pluto is at an ideal distance. That and the fact that in space distance matters squat, if you travel 100 million miles at 20,000 miles per hour, according to what I know of basic physics without ever taking a physics class is that the probe 100 million miles later will still be travelling 20,000 miles per hour. Europa, Ganymede and Titan, we can get to probably in a shorter time but missions for those are probably on the drawing board with the problems we have learned from visiting Mars.

      But I am not a rocket scientist, and I don't think you are either. All the planets in the solar system are pretty damn interesting if you look at each one individually.
    • How do you know it's not interesting unless you look?
    • Shouldn't we be spending our limited budget on something more interesting, like Europa, Ganymede or Titan? They should be easier to get to, from their distance.

      Those moons have been visited by a handful of probes already (The two Pioneers, the two Voyagers, Galileo (to Jupiter's moons), and Cassini. The Huygens probe even landed on Titan. That's not to say there's not a lot more to learn about those moons, but no spacecraft has ever flown by Pluto.

    • Re:Why Pluto? (Score:2, Informative)

      by Tablizer ( 95088 )
      Shouldn't we be spending our limited budget on something more interesting, like Europa, Ganymede or Titan? They should be easier to get to, from their distance.

      1. Pluto's atmosphere is going to freeze into ground snow pretty soon due to its odd orbit and we won't get another chance for 200 or so years to study the atmosphere. Europa won't be different any time soon.

      2. We've never had a probe explore pluto before, unlike the moons you mentioned.

      3. The probe is planned to explore other Kuiper-belt objects a
  • Can anyone provide what the costs of other probes have been? (Even know the cost of putting up a weather satellite would help.) The New Horizon probe is costing $634,146 a pound which seems to me a tad expensive.
    • Can anyone provide what the costs of other probes have been?

      Examples:

      Cassini/Hyugens - About 3 billion USD, some of it by Europe.

      MER Mars rovers - $850 million total

      Viking landers - 2 billion total, probably 4 billion adjusted for inflation.

      It is generally on the low-end of probe costs. However, NASA has cut back of late and most planetary missions are between about $400 million to $800 million these days. The reasoning given is that technology and experience has allowed for less expensive probes.
  • by sgladfelter ( 889576 ) on Saturday January 14, 2006 @06:54PM (#14473132)
    what is the deal with you Atlas V fanatics? I've been sitting here at my freelance gig in front of an Atlas V for about 20 minutes now while it attempts to lift a 17k lb. payload off the ground and into low earth orbit. 20 minutes. At home, on my Saturn V, which by all standards should be a lot slower than this rocket, the same operation would take about 2 minutes. If that. In addition, during this launch, the flight control system will not work. And everything else has ground to a halt. Even BBEdit Lite is straining to keep up as I type this. I won't bore you with the laundry list of other problems that I've encountered while working on various atlas rockets, but suffice it to say there have been many, not the least of which is I've never seen a Lockheed Martin ICBM that has run faster than its Marshall Center counterpart, despite the atlas' faster propellant system architecture. My 4.44 caliber potato gun with 8 kPa of pressure runs faster than this rocket at times. From a productivity standpoint, I don't get how people can claim that the Atlas V is a superior machine. Atlas addicts, flame me if you'd like, but I'd rather hear some intelligent reasons why anyone would choose to use an atlas over other faster, cheaper, more stable systems.
    • Well, it's a matter of usability. Studies have show that the dual-engined concept of the Atlas is easier to use for the first-time rocket scientist. The five-engine (five!) of the Saturn F1 is intrinsically confusing in those "which engine did tech support say to shut down?" moments in the control centre. Contrary to propaganda, there's native support for strapping on additional boosters if the experienced user absolutely insists, although I would argue that this still detracts from the basic usability.

      Han

  • Solar power ain't too strong when you get out to Pluto, so New Horizons carries a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) which contains 24 pounds of plutonium dioxide. No, it's not going to "blow-up" like a Nuke, but super-duper poisonous stuff. This requires White House approval which was recently granted [rockymountainnews.com] ... although one wonders if how much of a formality that was this late in the game.
    • The toxicity is propaganda. Plutonium has a half life in the order of 25000 years. It radiates about as much as mild steel made from normal, slightly radio-active anthracite. Some scientist actually swallowed some plutonium once just to prove the point. So, yeah, eating heavy metals is not recommended, but the toxicity and radiation danger is way overblown.
  • by lobotomir ( 882610 ) on Saturday January 14, 2006 @07:55PM (#14473363)
    Apart from being a part of the nuclear spring, is it possible that this particular New Horizons mission gets funding in order to gather information about the Pioneer anomaly [wikipedia.org]?
    • Apart from being a part of the nuclear spring, is it possible that this particular New Horizons mission gets funding in order to gather information about the Pioneer anomaly?

      My understanding is that the design of the craft has to be carefully tailored to detect the anomaly. The Pioneer crafts just happened to be that way. I doubt New Horizons is. For one, the Pioneers did not rely heavily on thrusters for instrument positioning while newer craft do, and thrusters muck up calculations.

      ESA is tentatively pl
  • I take it that this will only be a fly-by of Pluto, i.e. it won't enter an orbit. So I guess you have just one or two days for close-up observation tasks, and you can only watch/map a narrow strip of the surface as you pass over it. Why do they do this? Is the atmosphere unsuitable for aerobraking? Or are the observations of the outer solar system/Kuiper Belt that important, despite the fact that the are already a couple of probes there, with the possibility to send more if desired?
    • You are right that the prime mission will be pretty short. But the satellite will be taking some measurments along the way. Every year the instruments will be turned on to make sure everything still work when we get to Pluto. It takes lot of energy to get going fast enough to get to pluto in "only" nine years. To go into orbit, it would take a lot of energy to slow back down. If you had enough fuel to slow back down, it is still pretty complicated to put an object into orbit. Take a look at the expens
      • It takes lot of energy to get going fast enough to get to pluto in "only" nine years. To go into orbit, it would take a lot of energy to slow back down.

        Indeed. You have to use more fuel to *launch* the weight of the slow-down fuel. Most orbiters take a slow path so that they don't have to spend as much time or fuel to slow down. This probe will be one of the fastest ever. It may take something like 30 years instead of 9 if it was to be an orbiter.

        Pluto's atmosphere is not thick enough to be very useful fo
  • by Jafafa Hots ( 580169 ) on Sunday January 15, 2006 @12:00AM (#14474235) Homepage Journal
    Why, with all that money we could have afforded over a three-thousandth of an Iraq war!
  • Naah! Stick the probe into a space shuttle and send that, equiped with a cargo of food, water and oxygen. Get it to orbit Pluto and it will stay there as an emergency lifepod just in case future human spacepeople need it!

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