NASA's Space Technology 5 successfully launched today at 9:04 a.m. EST, from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., on a Pegasus XL rocket.
ST5 is testing new micro-spacecraft technologies and operations' techniques. The three spacecraft will conduct science validation using measurements of the Earth's magnetic field collected by the miniature boom-mounted magnetometers on each.
Initial contact with ST5 was made at 9:27 a.m. EST, as the spacecraft passed over the McMurdo Ground Station in Antarctica.
Art Azarbarzin, ST5 project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., described next week's planned activities for the spacecraft. "During the first day, we ensure the three craft are correctly operating. During the next few days, we deploy and test the magnetometer booms. Finally we prepare them for the science demonstration and make any necessary orientation adjustments," Azarbarzin said.
Miniaturized components and technologies are integrated into each of the ST5 micro-satellites. Each micro-satellite weighs approximately 25 kilograms (55 pounds) when fully fueled and is about the size of a 13 inch television.
Jim Slavin, ST5 project scientist at Goddard said, "The lessons learned from the development and flight of ST5's three full-service micro-spacecraft constitute a major step toward the use of constellations or swarms of small spacecraft to accomplish science that cannot be done with a single spacecraft, no matter how capable."
Although small compared to their counterparts, each of the spacecraft is considered full service. They contain power, propulsion, communications, guidance, navigation and control functions found in larger spacecraft.
The spacecrafts' orbit is a "string of pearls," in a near-Earth polar elliptical that will take them from approximately 300 kilometers (190 miles) to 4,500 kilometers (2,800 miles) from the planet.
They start out only a few meters apart. Within approximately 20 days, they are placed into a formation 40 to 200 km (approximately 25 to 125 miles) apart from each other to perform coordinated multi-point measurements of the Earth's magnetic field. This type of measurement is useful for future missions that will study the effect of solar activity on the Earth's magnetosphere; the magnetic bubble that surrounds Earth and helps to protect it from harmful space radiation.
The ST5 project was built and tested at Goddard for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. It is an instrumental part of the New Millennium Program, which develops and tests critical and revolutionary technologies needed to enable future endeavors in space. For information about the ST5 project and mission on the Web, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/st5
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