Once the WIRE instrument was delivered toGSFC in Greenbelt, MD, it was integrated onto athree-axis-stabilized spacecraft designed and built bythe GSFC Small Explorer (SMEX) Project Team.The spacecraft makes use of state-of-the-art struc-tural composites and modular solar array technolo-gies to minimize mass, as well as an elaborateAttitude Control System (ACS) to permit verystable, repeatable astronomical observations to bemade over extended periods of time.The WIRE structure, built by Composite OpticsIncorporated in San Diego, CA, is composed of flatpieces of graphite epoxy material bonded intoreaction wheels spin continually throughout themission. To point the instrument toward a newtarget, the spacecraft changes the speed of thewheels, which causes an equal and opposite reactionin the spacecraft body. The spacecraft again changesthe speed of the wheels to stop at the next target. Tocounteract small external disturbances that wouldeventually cause the spacecraft to tumble, such asatmospheric drag, the ACS uses electromagnets thatpush against the Earth’s magnetic field. The actua-tors are controlled by software running on a radia-tion-tolerant 80386 processor with 387 mathcoprocessor. All electronics that fly in space must beable to handle occasional impacts of high-energyprotons as well as the gradual accumulation of hitsfrom lower energy particles.To communicate with the ground, the spacecraftuses a radio that operates in the microwave fre-quency band. The two communication antennas,which are located on the ends of the solar arrays,provide coverage no matter where the spacecraft ispointed. Ground stations in Poker Flat, AK; WallopsIsland, VA; and McMurdo, Antarctica, relay databetween the spacecraft and the control center atGSFC. The spacecraft is in view of any groundstation for only about 10 minutes, but the two polarground stations provide two contacts for almostevery one of the 90-minute orbits. After the initialcheckout of the spacecraft, which takes a couple of weeks, only two contacts per day are necessary toretrieve all of the data collected during the day. Thespacecraft stores data in its 240 Mbyte recorder untilit has contact with a ground station.The solar arrays generate all of the electricalpower the spacecraft needs directly from the sun-light. A 28-volt, nickel-cadmium, rechargeablebattery, which weighs 26 lbs, provides power duringinitial acquisition after launch and during any eclipseperiods, when solar power is unavailable.
After the WIRE spacecraft is integrated with thePegasus XL launch vehicle and loaded with solidhydrogen at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA, WIREwill be carried under the belly of a Lockheed L-1011aircraft to an altitude of approximately 39,000 feet.From this altitude, the Pegasus rocket will belaunched and subsequently place the WIRE space-craft into a nearly polar, circular orbit 540 kilome-ters (335 miles) above the Earth.strong, light-weight, ribbed components. The elec-tronics boxes are bolted to the inside face of theequipment panels, which are around the outside of the spacecraft. Special high-thermal-conductivitycomposite spreads the heat on each equipment panel,controlling the temperature of the attached electron-ics box. The solar panel structure is also compositewith individual modules bonded to an overall com-posite frame. The structure supports all of thespacecraft components, including the 188-lb instru-ment on top, and it must be strong enough to supportlaunch loads, which increase the weight of allcomponents by more than a factor of 10. The entirespacecraft weighs 563 lbs, but the structure weighsonly 57 lbs, thanks to composite materials.The ACS uses a star tracker and gyros for finemeasurement of the spacecraft pointing. Ultra-smooth-spinning reaction wheels control the attitudewith a stability of 0.0017 degrees, creating verysharp images of the starburst galaxies. The four
The WIRE observatory.