Text Size

LSP Celebrates 50 Launches
Sometimes launches just happen too close together. Not that anyone's complaining.

That was the case for the Launch Services Program, or LSP, which had a series of missions so close together that by the time the program got a chance to celebrate its 50th launch, 51 successes were already on the books.

Delta II rocket lifts off the launch pad. Image right: A Delta II rocket lofts the Phoenix spacecraft toward Mars in one of the latest success stories by the Launch Services Program. NASA's LSP recorded more than 50 launches since its inception. Photo: NASA
+ View Large Image

400 LSP and support staffers filled the IMAX theater auditorium at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to mark the occasion and watch a special film highlighting the program's accomplishments and importance in NASA's mission. Simultaneously, the public benefited by viewing the same historic film on NASA television.

As noted by the title of the film, the LSP offers "Earth's Bridge to Space" in the form of a team that brings a NASA payload together with the right rocket and launches the mission.

"We take a mission from its inception and we know what the science is, what the technologies are and we put it all together and integrate it into a launch vehicle to put it out to go do its science," Launch Manager Omar Baez said.

The program is based at Kennedy and was formed as a way to unify similar operations spread across three NASA field centers.

But although Kennedy is the home for the LSP, its operations stretch well beyond the launch pads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The LSP team routinely oversees launches from NASA's Vandenberg Air Force Base facilities in California, and has launched missions from Kodiak Island in Alaska and Wallops Island, Va.

The team also uses several different boosters for its missions, including Delta and Atlas rockets from United Launch Alliance and Pegasus and Taurus rockets from Orbital Sciences. The LSP history also includes missions aboard rockets that have since retired, such as the Lockheed Martin Titan IV.

The Deep Space-1 mission of 1998, which tested ion propulsion to visit an asteroid, was the first to be overseen by the LSP. The launch also incorporated the Sedsat mission.

The 50th mission began when an Orbital Sciences Pegasus rocket lofted the AIM satellite into orbit to study high cloud formations in April.

In between, LSP launches dispatched several orbiters and landers to Mars, launched numerous advanced satellites to study Earth from orbit and sent the New Horizons probe toward the farthest reaches of the solar system.

No matter where the mission is slated to begin, LSP officials said the payloads and rockets always get careful attention, though some missions require more than others.

Launch Manager Chuck Dovale points to the Calipso/CloudSat mission of April 2006 as the most challenging of the program. The launch occurred on the fourth try, showcasing the team's determination to get the launch just right.

"There was a huge sigh of relief when that lifted off and was successful," Dovale said.

The challenges add to the thrill of a completed launch, officials agreed.

"You can't help but sit back and look at that whole team perform and not have a part that says it is fun," said Steve Francois, director of the Launch Services Program.

Francois offered awards to the team that produced and oversaw the film and a hearty congratulations to the whole LSP team for making 50 launches a reality.

Steven Siceloff
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center