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Images: Twin ships to monitor sun's activity

Two observatories set to orbit the sun will give scientists a more complete view of the sun than ever before.
By Bill Detwiler, Contributor
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STEREO observatory

STEREO (Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory) mission designers determined that the most efficient and cost-effective way to get the twin observatories into space was to launch them aboard a single rocket and use lunar swingbys to place them into their respective orbits. This is the first time lunar swingbys have been used to manipulate orbits of more than one spacecraft. Mission designers will use the moon's gravity to redirect the observatories to their appropriate orbits--something the launch vehicle alone can't do.

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Electromagnetic interference equipment

STEREO technicians at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), in Laurel, Md., secure special electromagnetic interference equipment on the STEREO "B" observatory being built at APL. These devices, installed on both STEREO observatories, help protect a spacecraft's electrical equipment from any electromagnetic disturbances that might degrade performance.

STEREO "B" is the observatory that will be placed behind Earth in its orbit around the sun.

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STEREO technicians

STEREO technicians prepare one of the twin STEREO spacecraft for transport to NASA Goddard Space Flight Center for additional pre-launch tests.

APL designed, built and will operate the twin observatories for NASA after their launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida aboard a Delta II launch vehicle in spring 2006.

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Thermal blankets

STEREO technicians install thermal blankets onto Observatory "B" (the one that will be placed "behind" Earth in its orbit around the sun).

Solar blankets are one of the last items placed on a spacecraft prior to launch. They help protect a spacecraft and its sensitive electronics and scientific instruments from the harsh environment of space.

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Clean tent

How do you provide an even cleaner environment inside an already super tidy clean room? Engineers use a clean tent, which is positioned, in this picture, over a portion of one of the twin STEREO observatories during a lens-cover deployment test for one of the SECCHI instruments.

The SECCHI (Sun Earth Connection Coronal and Heliospheric Investigation) instrument suite will obtain the first direct imaging observations of coronal mass ejections in interplanetary space. SECCHI's principal investigator is Russell Howard of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C.

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Spin-balance tests

Once the spacecraft arrived at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, preparations began for a series of prelaunch checks, including spin-balance tests to check the balance and alignment of the twin observatories.

Each time the observatories change locations between the test chambers and clean rooms at NASA GSFC, all the cables used to power up and test the observatories must be moved with them. Technicians must individually test each cable before they're reconnected to the spacecraft.

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