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IMAGE Blasts Off

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see captionMarch 27, 2000 -- NASA’s newest space weather probe lifted off March 25 from the Western Range at Vandenberg AFB, CA at 12:34 p.m. PST. The "Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration" (IMAGE) spacecraft separated from the Delta II third stage about 56 minutes after launch and is now in an elliptical orbit, ranging from 1,000 kilometers to 45,871 kilometers above Earth.

"The skies cleared, then our hearts lifted with the IMAGE spacecraft; on time, on budget, on the start of a new era in space physics at the Earth," said onlooker Dennis Gallagher, a plasma physicist from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, who attended the launch along with other members of the IMAGE science team.

Right: Dennis Gallagher (NASA/MSFC) snapped this picture of IMAGE soaring into space aboard a Delta rocket on March 25, 2000.

"The spacecraft appears to be healthy with all systems performing nominally," said IMAGE project manager Frank Volpe at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "We are looking forward to a great science mission."

Instruments onboard the IMAGE spacecraft will provide scientists with never-before-seen global images of the Earth’s magnetosphere -- an area of space around our planet that is controlled by Earth’s magnetic field. Scientists expect the mission to revolutionize their understanding of the magnetosphere and to greatly improve space weather forecasting.

"[Now that it's in orbit] there will be a 40 day period while the antennas for the radio plasma imager are deployed," explained Gallagher. "They're 500 meters tip to tip. As we reel them out, we have to continuously respin the spacecraft because it's spin-stabilized."

After the 40 day setup period, IMAGE will begin using its trio of neutral atom imagers, a far-ultraviolet imaging system, an extreme ultraviolet imager and a radio plasma imager to make movies of the magnetosphere. This unique approach will allow scientists to view, for the first time, the ‘big picture’ rather than capturing limited, local measurements at far-flung points in space.

see captionStay tuned to Science@NASA for science updates from the IMAGE mission. Please see our earlier articles "Space Weather Mission Nears Launch." and "The RADAR Cop in Space." to learn more.

Right: An artist's concept of IMAGE in orbit. Click for IMAGE animations, courtesy of Goddard Space Flight Center.

IMAGE is NASA’s first Medium-class Explorer (MIDEX) mission under the Agency’s Explorer Program. The principal institution for IMAGE is the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, which has overall responsibility for IMAGE science, instrumentation, spacecraft operations and data analysis during its two-year science mission. SwRI's Jim Burch is the IMAGE Principle Investigator. Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space Division in Sunnyvale, Calif. built and tested the 1,089-pound (494-kilogram) spacecraft under a contract with SwRI.

Web Links

IMAGE home page - from NASA/GSFC.

IMAGE home page - from the Southwest Research Institute.