The Ocean Surface Topography Mission aboard the Jason-2 spacecraft began June 20, 2008, with a dazzling liftoff into the California sky above Vandenberg Air Force Base. A Delta II with the satellite tucked inside its nose thundered off the launch pad at 3:46 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 2. The spacecraft is to use sophisticated radar to measure the height of the world's oceans as it circles more than 830 miles overhead. Read the blog to see how the countdown progressed toward the liftoff.
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Video highlights from the OSTM/Jason-2 countdown are selected from televised coverage provided by NASA TV.
Note: All times are given in Eastern (EDT) unless otherwise noted.
4:55 a.m. - The Ocean Surface Topography Mission has begun for the Jason-2 spacecraft after it reached orbit this morning aboard the thundering power of a Delta II rocket. NASA Launch Director Omar Baez said the spacecraft is in its proper orbit and in good shape. The satellite will spend at least three years measuring the ocean's height and conducting other experiments from more than 800 miles above the planet. This concludes the coverage of the Launch Services Program's launch of the OSTM/Jason-2 mission.
4:45 a.m. - A pair of solar panels has opened to begin powering the OSTM/Jason-2 spacecraft as it orbits Earth.
4:41 a.m. - The second stage of the Delta II rocket has separated from the OSTM/Jason-2 spacecraft in the last major step of today's liftoff.
4:36 a.m. - The second stage engine of the Delta II rocket shut down as planned.
4:35 a.m. - The second stage has reignited to circularize the orbit of the OSTM/Jason-2 spacecraft.
4:31 a.m. - The tracking station at Hartebeesthoek, South Africa, has acquired the signal of the OSTM/Jason-2 spacecraft on schedule. The second stage engine of the Delta II rocket will reignite shortly.
4:05 a.m. - With its payload fairing jettisoned and still perched atop the second stage of the Delta II rocket, the OSTM/Jason-2 spacecraft is in good shape after the first phase of its launch. Launch controllers expect to pick up signals from the spacecraft again as it nears a tracking station called Hartebeesthoek in South Africa in about 25 minutes.
3:56 a.m. - The OSTM/Jason-2 spacecraft is in a planned oblong orbit of Earth following the end of the second-stage engine burn. The single engine of the second stage will reignite later to put the spacecraft in a roughly circular orbit of about 716 miles. The spacecraft will operate at an altitude of 830 miles.
3:52 a.m. - The second stage of a Delta II rocket carrying the OSTM/Jason-2 spacecraft has ignited for the first of two burns to place the satellite in Earth orbit.
3:51 a.m. - MECO -- Four minutes after launch, the first engine of the Delta II rocket is nearing the end of its mission. It will shut down in 37 seconds and fall away from the second stage and the OSTM/Jason-2 spacecraft.
3:48 a.m. - The three solid-fueled boosters have burned out and jettisoned. All going well for the OSTM climb into space.
3:46 a.m. - LIFTOFF!
3:45 a.m. - T-1 minute and counting.
3:44 a.m. - T-2 minutes and counting to launch.
3:40 a.m. - Launch controllers have given their "go" for launch of the OSTM/Jason-2 mission. That clears the way to resume the countdown at 3:42 a.m. for an on-time launch at 3:46 a.m.
3:32 a.m. - The countdown has entered the last planned hold. This pause will last 10 minutes. There are no technical or weather concerns and all preparations remain on schedule for a 3:46 a.m. launch.
3:31 a.m. - Fifteen minutes to the launch of the OSTM/Jason-2 mission aboard a Delta II rocket. The rocket, spacecraft and weather remain "go" for an on-time liftoff at 3:46 a.m. The tracking equipment needed to watch the Delta II as it climbs into space are also ready to support the mission.
3:21 a.m. - The countdown has resumed toward a liftoff at 3:46 a.m. The weather forecast remains "go" and launch controllers do not report any problems.
3:16 a.m. - Thirty minutes before the launch of the OSTM/Jason-2 spacecraft and the launch preparations continue to go smoothly. The countdown remains in a planned hold for another five minutes. Helium and nitrogen tanks on the Delta II will be topped-off soon after the clock restarts.
3:10 a.m. - The OSTM/Jason-2 flight carries a radar unit called an altimeter that measures the height of sea surfaces on Earth. The altimeter, which looks like a large satellite dish, is so precise it can measure wave heights within about 1 1/2 inches. The mission is the follow-up to two previous satellites that started measuring the oceans in 1992. Researchers say the extensive data collected by the three satellites will show how Earth's climate has changed over the years.
3:02 a.m. - The countdown has entered a planned 20-minute hold, but all remains on track for the 3:46 a.m. launch of the OSTM/Jason-2 spacecraft. The main engine and second stage engine of the Delta II rocket passed their steering tests and continue to show no problems heading toward launch. The OSTM/Jason-2 spacecraft will soar toward the southeast on a path that will take it over the Pacific Ocean then between the southern tip of South America and Antarctica.
2:46 a.m. - A quick look at the weather forecast in California continues to show no concerns for conditions that might delay the launch of OSTM/Jason-2.
2:36 a.m. - One hour and 10 minutes before the launch of the OSTM/Jason-2 spacecraft. With good weather at the Vandenberg Air Force Base launch site in California, and controllers reporting no issues, everything remains on schedule for a 3:46 a.m. liftoff.
The OSTM/Jason-2 mission is the second launch for NASA's Launch Services Program this year. It comes on the heels of the successful launch of a Delta II Heavy that lofted NASA's Gamma-ray Large-Area Space Telescope, GLAST, into space on June 11.
2:25 a.m. - A United Launch Alliance Delta II will blast the OSTM/Jason-2 spacecraft into orbit. The 1,115-pound satellite calls for a two-stage rocket with three solid-fueled boosters strapped to the side of the first stage. The first stage is powered by a single engine running on kerosene and liquid oxygen.
2:15 a.m. - The OSTM/Jason-2 flight is an international mission sponsored by several agencies including NASA. The spacecraft was built in France and Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., was in charge of the final processing and preparations for launch.
2:10 a.m. - Liquid oxygen is flowing into the first stage. Forecasters expect the temperature at Space Launch Complex 2 to be between 58 and 60 degrees at launch time.
2:05 a.m. - Launch controllers at Vandenberg Air Force Base are reporting no problems leading up to the launch of the OSTM/Jason-2 spacecraft. Liftoff remains set for 3:46 a.m. EDT.
1:55 a.m. - NASA and United Launch Alliance teams are "go" for loading liquid oxygen into the first stage tanks. The oxygen and kerosene power the first stage engine. It will take about 40 minutes to fill the oxygen tanks.
1:40 a.m. - An enclosure called a Mobile Service Tower protecting the Delta II rocket and OSTM/Jason-2 spacecraft on the launch pad was rolled away from the launch vehicle June 19. The rocket's powerful first stage has been loaded with about 10,000 gallons of kerosene fuel.
The weather forecast has been upgraded to a zero percent chance of conditions violating launch limits.
1:30 a.m. - Welcome to coverage of the launch of a Delta II rocket carrying the Ocean Surface Topography Mission/Jason-2 satellite. The countdown remains on schedule for a liftoff at 3:46 a.m. EDT and launch controllers are not working any issues.
The weather forecast remains favorable with a 20 percent chance of poor conditions at launch time. The OSTM/Jason-2 flight has a nine-minute launch window.
NASA's Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California is hosting the launch, so the satellite can go into a much steeper orbit around Earth. From an orbit more than 800 miles above the planet, the OSTM instruments can scan 95 percent of the world's ice-free oceans. Measurements taken by the spacecraft are expected to aid in weather forecasting and to study effects of climate change.
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