Michael Braukus Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

(Phone: 202/453-1549)

April 20, 1990

Joyce B. Milliner Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va. (Phone: 804/824-1579 ) RELEASE: 90-57 NASA SCIENTIFIC INSTRUMENTS TO OBSERVE COMET AUSTIN

Two NASA sounding rockets are scheduled to be launched from the White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, carrying scientific instruments above the Earth's atmosphere to observe the recently discovered Comet Austin (1989c1). Both rockets are two-stage, sub-orbital Black Brant IXs. One is tentatively scheduled to be launched no earlier than April 21, during the evening, and the other no earlier than April 28, just before dawn. The first rocketborne payload will carry Johns Hopkins University's faint object telescope (FOT) and a spectrograph to observe the comet in the far ultraviolet spectral range. Using a special Westinghouse camera, the image is sent to the ground station so that real-time maneuvers of the payload can be made for precise pointing in the sky. The launch window for this experiment extends from April 21 through April 30, 1990. Favorable observing conditions require that the sun must be at least 23.5 degrees below the horizon and

the moon must be at least 25 degrees away from Comet Austin which must be above the horizon. The second experiment will carry a far ultraviolet spectrometer for the University of Colorado (CU). Scheduled to be launched on the morning of April 28, the payload will study the spectral emissions from Comet Austin. -more-

-2According to CU's Dr. James Green, "Since comet Austin is suspected to be a "first time" comet, i.e., this is believed to be the comet's first trip into the inner solar system, the study of the concentration of its noble gases is a powerful probe of the conditions in the Oort cloud, (the region of the solar system from where comets come). For the same reason, the chemical composition of Comet Austin also is a strong indicator of the initial conditions in our solar system." Both payloads are programmed to descend from parachutes and be recovered from the desert. The experiments then will be refurbished to make future galactic astronomy studies. Comet Austin was discovered by an amateur comet hunter from New 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 first rockets' observation, Comet Austin will be approximately 27 degrees 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 surface of this "dirty snowball" begin to sublimate (change from a solid to a gaseous state). These rocketborne studies should provide valuable information for scientists to better understand the formation and composition of comets.

The Black Brant IX solid propellant rocket vehicle is 46 feet long and 18 inches in diameter. These scientific missions are part of the overall NASA Sounding Rocket Program managed at the Goddard Space Flight Center's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. This program consists of approximately 35 sounding rockets launched each year from various worldwide locations, under the sponsorship of NASA's Office of Space Science and Applications. Dr. Paul Feldman of Johns Hopkins University is the principal investigator for the first launch; co-investigators are Drs. David Sahnow, Mel Martinez and Stephen McCandliss. For the second mission, Dr. Webster Cash is the principal investigator from the University of Colorado and Dr. Jim Green and Timothy Cook are the project scientists. Wallops Flight Facility project managers are Anel Flores and John van Overeem, respectively, for the two missions. -end-

TO: MDS/PRA Group 1615 L Street, N.W. - Suite 100 Washington, D.C. 20036 DATE & TIME: April 20, 1990 3:15pm ORDERED BY: Edward Campion NASA Headquarters/LMD 400 Maryland Avenue, SW Washington, DC 20546 PHONE: 202/453-8400 PROJECT TITLE: Release No: 90-57 PRINT ORDER: 2244 PRINTING: Camera Ready, lst pg on NASA logo, other pages plain ENCLOSE & MAIL: Release of 2 pages

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