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NASA: 90-057

NASA: 90-057

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Published by: NASAdocuments on Jan 10, 2008
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 Michael Braukus April 20, 1990Headquarters, Washington, D.C.(Phone: 202/453-1549)Joyce B. MillinerWallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va.(Phone: 804/824-1579 )RELEASE: 90-57NASA SCIENTIFIC INSTRUMENTS TO OBSERVE COMET AUSTINTwo NASA sounding rockets are scheduled to be launched fromthe White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, carrying scientificinstruments above the Earth's atmosphere to observe the recentlydiscovered Comet Austin (1989c1).Both rockets are two-stage, sub-orbital Black Brant IXs. Oneis tentatively scheduled to be launched no earlier than April 21,during the evening, and the other no earlier than April 28, justbefore dawn. The first rocketborne payload will carry Johns HopkinsUniversity's faint object telescope (FOT) and a spectrograph toobserve the comet in the far ultraviolet spectral range. Using aspecial Westinghouse camera, the image is sent to the groundstation so that real-time maneuvers of the payload can be madefor precise pointing in the sky.The launch window for this experiment extends from April 21through April 30, 1990. Favorable observing conditions requirethat the sun must be at least 23.5 degrees below the horizon andthe moon must be at least 25 degrees away from Comet Austin whichmust be above the horizon.The second experiment will carry a far ultravioletspectrometer for the University of Colorado (CU). Scheduled tobe launched on the morning of April 28, the payload will studythe spectral emissions from Comet Austin.-more-
-2-According to CU's Dr. James Green, "Since comet Austin issuspected to be a "first time" comet, i.e., this is believed tobe the comet's first trip into the inner solar system, the studyof the concentration of its noble gases is a powerful probe ofthe conditions in the Oort cloud, (the region of the solar systemfrom where comets come). For the same reason, the chemicalcomposition of Comet Austin also is a strong indicator of theinitial conditions in our solar system."Both payloads are programmed to descend from parachutes andbe recovered from the desert. The experiments then will berefurbished to make future galactic astronomy studies.Comet Austin was discovered by an amateur comet hunter fromNew Zealand, Rodney R. D. Austin, on the evening of Dec. 6, 1989,when it was still far from the sun. At the time of the firstrockets' observation, Comet Austin will be approximately 27degrees from the Sun as viewed from the Earth.The most widely accepted theory of comet composition is the"dirty snowball" model, suggested by Fred Whipple in the 1950's.As a comet approaches the sun, the water molecules at the surfaceof this "dirty snowball" begin to sublimate (change from a solidto a gaseous state). These rocketborne studies should providevaluable information for scientists to better understand theformation and composition of comets.The Black Brant IX solid propellant rocket vehicle is 46 feetlong and 18 inches in diameter. These scientific missions arepart of the overall NASA Sounding Rocket Program managed at theGoddard Space Flight Center's Wallops Flight Facility inVirginia. This program consists of approximately 35 soundingrockets launched each year from various worldwide locations,under the sponsorship of NASA's Office of Space Science andApplications.Dr. Paul Feldman of Johns Hopkins University is the principalinvestigator for the first launch; co-investigators are Drs.David Sahnow, Mel Martinez and Stephen McCandliss. For thesecond mission, Dr. Webster Cash is the principal investigatorfrom the University of Colorado and Dr. Jim Green and TimothyCook are the project scientists. Wallops Flight Facility projectmanagers are Anel Flores and John van Overeem, respectively, forthe two missions.-end-

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