NASA’s newest Sun-Earth Connection spacecraft lifted off March 25 from the Western Range at Vandenberg AFB, Calif. The Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration or IMAGE, spacecraft separated from the Delta II third stage about 56 minutes after launch and is now in an elliptical orbit, ranging from 621 miles (1,000 kilometers) to 28,503 miles (45,871 kilometers) above Earth.
"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.
About 40 days into the mission, 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.
"The IMAGE spacecraft will provide us with a revolutionary new view of the Earth's magnetosphere," said SwRI principal investigator Jim Burch. "By allowing us to view large areas of the magnetosphere simultaneously, IMAGE will greatly enhance our understanding of how this region responds to solar storms."
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. Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space Division in Sunnyvale, Calif. built and tested the 1,089-pound (494-kilogram) spacecraft under a contract with SwRI.
Additional status reports will be issued as key mission milestones occur. Check the following web sites for more information during this mission: http://pluto.space.swri.edu/IMAGE/ or http://image.gsfc.nasa.gov/
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