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  Ares I-X Development Test: Flight Day Journal

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Author Topic:   Ares I-X Development Test: Flight Day Journal
Robert Pearlman
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posted 10-27-2009 02:15 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Ares I-X Development Test: Flight Day Journal
The countdown begins

NASA's first flight test for the agency's next-generation spacecraft and launch vehicle system, Ares I-X will bring NASA one step closer to its exploration goals. The flight test will provide NASA with an early opportunity to test and prove flight characteristics, hardware, facilities and ground operations associated with the Ares I.

The launch team's "call to stations" came at 12:30 a.m. EDT, and the seven-hour countdown picked up a half hour later. About 30 team members are operating today from the newly renovated Young-Crippen Firing Room at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Control Center.

With no technical issues being worked toward the targeted 8:00 a.m. liftoff, weather remains the only concern. There only is a 40 percent chance of favorable conditions during the window, which extends until noon.

Previous Ares I-X update topics:


Credit: collectSPACE

Do you have comments and/or questions about the Ares I-X test flight? Post to our mission viewing and commentary thread.

Robert Pearlman
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Countdown highlights

T-7 hours

  • First weather balloon is launched to collect atmospheric thermal properties
T-4 hours, 30 minutes
  • Technicians remove the external environmental control systems that provide cool airflow to the vehicle
  • Onboard navigation unit begins system alignment
  • Additional subsystems complete testing and remain powered on
  • First stage avionics module access platform is retracted
T-3 hours, 30 minutes
  • Six additional weather balloons begin to launch to evaluate if the conditions are suitable for flight
T-3 hours
  • Fault tolerant inertial navigation unit completes alignment and begins navigation testing
T-2 hours, 30 minutes
  • C-band beacon transponder is powered up and tested with the range
  • Range safety system verification walk down is completed
  • Auxiliary power unit is verified for system health
T-2 hours
  • Vehicle stabilization system is retracted and secured
  • Ground control station system begins monitoring for commands from the Launch Control Center
  • Sound suppression water control is transferred to the ground control station
  • Video, operational flight instrumentation and developmental flight instrumentation are checked
T-1 hour, 45 minutes
  • Safety personnel begin the process of securing launch pad
T-1 hour, 15 minutes
  • Ground command, control and communication initiates launch commit criteria monitoring
  • Developmental flight instrumentation covers are removed
  • Fault tolerant inertial navigation unit executes final alignment after the vehicle stabilization system is retracted
T-1 hour
  • All personnel depart Launch Pad 39B for the safe haven
  • Range verifies all "go/no-go" interfaces
    T-43 minutes
  • Flight termination system is activated and set to safe
T-30 minutes
  • Developmental flight instrumentation, with the exception of cameras, are powered on and recording
    T-4 minutes, built-in hold
  • Enter 20-minute built-in hold (Vehicle can remain in this hold status for up to four hours.)
  • Six video cameras and low-power transmitters are powered up
  • Telemetry is verified, and readiness for launch is established
  • Range safety issues cleared for launch
  • Countdown clock initiates automated count
T-3 minutes, 55 seconds
  • Sound suppression system is verified for pressure, water tank level and power
  • Flight termination system and solid rocket motor ignition are set to arm
  • Power to avionics cooling fans is terminated
  • Onboard data recorder begins taking data
T-1 minute, 40 seconds
  • Flight control system is enabled and prepared for flight
  • Inertial measurement subsystem executes final alignment
T-1 minute, 20 seconds
  • Flight control system receives the start count
  • Signal is sent to the operational flight instrumentation and developmental flight instrumentation data streams to synchronize
T-35 seconds
  • Flight control system transfers from alignment to navigation mode
  • Inertial and navigation data are verified for accuracy
  • Auxiliary power unit start sequence is initiated
T-21 seconds
  • Reusable solid rocket motor thrust vector control gimbal test performed by rocking and tilting each axis approximately 1.5 degrees
T-16 seconds
  • Ground control station issues commands for sound suppression, opening the valves to flood the mobile launch platform with water (At its peak, water will flow at a rate of 900,000 gallons per minute.)
T-0, liftoff
  • Reusable solid rocket motors ignite, and hold-down bolts fire

Robert Pearlman
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Countdown running about 30 minutes behind

The countdown is running about a half an hour behind, though with a four hour launch window, the team still has time to work through the prelaunch preparations at Pad 39B.

Upcoming major milestones include retraction of the rotating service structure and the arms providing access to the upper stage and first stage avionics module.

The team is still targeting a liftoff at 8:00 a.m. EDT, although recent weather balloon data indicates the upper-level winds are close to the flight margin.


Credit: NASA TV

Robert Pearlman
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Access arm, RSS, VSS retraction

NASA is configuring Pad 39B to support the Ares I-X launch, targeted for just about one hour from now.

Retraction of the upper stage access arm is complete and the rotating service structure (RSS) has been moved away.

The vehicle stabilization system (VSS), the clamp-like arms that steadied the 327-foot rocket from swaying in the wind at the pad, is also being retracted, leaving just four hold-down posts connecting Ares I-X to the mobile launcher platform.

With the VSS disconnected, the booster's fault tolerant inertial navigation unit is beginning its final alignment. Known as the FTINU, it's located in the upper stage and will guide the rocket during flight using information from the redundant rate gyroscopes at either end of the vehicle. The system was developed from Atlas V avionics.

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Weather update

Launch Weather Officer Kathy Winters reports a 10 percent chance of precipitation, increasing to 20 percent during the launch window. Winds currently are "green," or favorable, and are expected to remain around 13 knots, possibly as high as 18 knots.

We are currently "red" however, for "triboelectrification," the potential for the rocket to build-up a static charge while flying through high altitude clouds leading to communications interference between Ares I-X and the ground.

Astronauts Steve Lindsey and Chris Ferguson will each pilot a NASA T-38 training jet to support weather evaluations during the countdown.


Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Robert Pearlman
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Countdown Enters Planned Hold

The countdown clock has paused at T-4 minutes for a built-in hold, the only planned hold for Ares I-X.

During the hold, cameras and data recorders will be turned on and launch officials will conduct their final pre-launch polls.

No issues are being discussed other than the weather.

Planned to last 20 minutes, this hold will likely be extended.

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New launch time targeted

The launch team has reset their targeted liftoff time for 8:29 a.m. EDT.

Robert Pearlman
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Launch time re-targeted (again)

Today's liftoff of the Ares I-X rocket is now scheduled for 9:24 a.m. EDT. The T-4 minute hold will remain in effect until 9:20 a.m.

Weather currently is "green," but as clouds move in and out of the area, the range could go "red" from time to time.

At Pad 39B, the area is being cleared of all non-essential personnel for testing of the firing chain and range safety system. Offshore, the danger area will be cleared of all boats.

The launch team is still considering when to pull the five-hole probe cover off of the instrumentation installed at the tip of the rocket.

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Rain showers head towards the pad

Weather officer Kathy Winters reported recently that she is watching a rain shower about 30 nautical miles south of Kennedy Space Center. The shower is moving north and will be over Pad 39B at about 9:50 a.m. EDT. If Ares I-X has not launched when the shower arrives, that will cause further concern for the launch team.

Meanwhile, launch director Ed Mango has advised the launch team to continue targeting 9:24 a.m. The flight dynamics team is assessing vehicle loads based on the latest upper-level wind data. The five-hole probe cover at the very top of the vehicle may be removed in the next 10 to 15 minutes.

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Five-hole probe cover pulled free

The five-hole probe cover was pulled away from the instrumentation at the top of Ares I-X, but the velcro-attached sock initially failed to fall away. Instead, it got caught at the top of the rocket.

It finally came free with a final tug on its lanyard. Cheers were audible over the launch team's communication channels as the cover and its cord came free and fell away.

With the weather and range currently "green", the launch director has reset the liftoff time for 9:44 a.m. EDT.


Credit: NASA TV

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"Go" for launch despite stray ship

A cargo ship spotted inside the launch warning area initially resulted in a 90-minute "no go" call for the range, but quickly contacted, it is moving out the way.

Weather conditions now "green", liftoff is set for 9:49 a.m. EDT.

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Count reset due to weather

The clock was stopped at T-2 minutes and 39 seconds when weather officer Kathy Winters determined the triboelectrification rule would be violated by the time of the targeted liftoff.

Test director Jeff Spaulding and Winters are discussing upcoming weather conditions, but initial estimates are that it may be 50 minutes before weather is favorable again.

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New target time

With weather (namely, ground winds and triboelectrification) as the only remaining concern, a new targeted launch time has been set for 10:54 a.m. EDT.

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Range "red" due to winds

The range has gone "red," or "no-go," due to wind at the launch pad exceeding the 20-knot limit.

Weather officer Kathy Winters has also become less confident about the expected gap in the clouds, and whether there will be enough time to come out of the hold and launch the vehicle before the clouds close in.

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New new target time

A new targeted launch time has been set for 11:04 a.m. 11:19 a.m. 11:14 a.m. 11:19 a.m. 11:24 a.m. EDT, with the count resuming at the top of the hour 11:15 a.m. 11:10 a.m. 11:15 a.m. 11:20 a.m.

The target has changed as the team has tried to match the launch time with predicted acceptable weather conditions.

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Weather scrubs first launch attempt

High winds at Pad 39B and the risk of triboelectrification -- the chance of a static charge building up around the vehicle as it passes through high altitude clouds -- has forced NASA to scrub today's Ares I-X launch attempt after trying multiple times to find a hole in the weather over the course of the four-hour window.

The team is expected to try again tomorrow though that decision is still pending.

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Launch reset for Wednesday

With a slightly-improved weather forecast, NASA will try again to launch Ares I-X on Wednesday during the same four-hour window as today, 8:00 a.m. to noon EDT.
"You gave it a great shot," Ares I-X launch director Ed Mango told his team. "We had some opportunities and just couldn't get there, weather didn't cooperate. But good work today."
There is a 40 percent chance of weather violating launch criteria on Wednesday.

Credit: NASA TV

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Ares I-X Development Test: Launch Attempt Two
Countdown underway

The countdown to launch Ares I-X picked up at T-7 hours beginning at 1:00 a.m. EDT on Wednesday.

Liftoff of NASA's first Constellation Program development test flight is targeted for 8:00 a.m.

The weather, which ultimately resulted in NASA scrubbing yesterday's attempt, is expected to be slightly better today. There is predicted to be a 60 percent chance of weather conditions being favorable during the launch window, which extends until noon.

Today's countdown will proceed much along the same schedule as yesterday's attempt, with the exception of the removal of the five hole sensor cover. The velcro-attached protective sock was removed from the 327-foot rocket's nose instrumentation on Tuesday and was not designed to be reinstalled between attempts.


Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Do you have comments and/or questions about the Ares I-X test flight? Post to our mission viewing and commentary thread.

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Weather forecast worsens

The most recent weather forecast for today's Ares I-X launch is now equal to yesterday's pre-scrub outlook, with a 60 percent chance that the conditions will violate launch criteria during the four-hour window opening at 8:00 a.m. EDT.

There were four lightning strikes recorded overnight in the vicinity of the launch pad, the closest about half a mile from the vehicle, which will require teams to retest instrumentation on the rocket. That work is expected to progress in parallel with the other tasks scheduled during the countdown.

Earlier forecasts had called for a weather front to be pulled farther north, providing hope for a slightly improved set of conditions today.

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Lightning strikes delay launch time

Last night's lightning strikes within a half mile of Pad 39B will result in additional testing of the Ares I-X rocket's systems today, which in turn will slightly delay NASA's targeted liftoff time by 15 to 30 minutes.

Ares I-X is now expected to take to the skies between 8:15 and 8:30 a.m. EDT, weather permitting.

To support that schedule, the upper stage access arm is expected to be retracted at 5:45 a.m. and the rotating service structure will begin being retracted at 6:00 a.m. EDT.

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Upper stage access arm retracted

The upper stage access arm on Pad 39B has been retracted, leaving only a purge line reaching over to the Ares I-X upper stage to provide cooling airflow through the remainder of the countdown.

With post-lightning strike tests and the countdown proceeding, the launch is now targeted for between 8:45 and 9:00 a.m. EDT.

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First stage flight door

Technicians working to install an access door over the booster's first stage avionics module have resolved a torque problem with the bolts that hold that hatch in place.

NASA, United Space Alliance and ATK engineers worked the problem while pad personnel secured the door.

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Service structure, stabilization system retracted

The rotating service structure (RSS), which protected and permitted access to the Ares I-X rocket, has been rolled away from the mobile launcher platform into its "park" position for liftoff.

The vertical stabilization system (VSS) has also been opened, freeing the clamps that held Ares I-X steady. Only four hold-down posts now restrain the rocket on the platform's surface.

All of the development flight instrumentation -- including the sensitive five-hole probe at the rocket's tip -- have been retested following last night's nearby lightning strikes and all are in good shape.

Launch is currently targeted between 9:00 and 9:15 a.m. EDT.

The weather forecast calls for broken clouds at 24,000 to 27,000 feet, which could be an obstacle to the launch due to the risk it presents for "triboelectrification" -- the potential for a static charge to surround the rocket interfering with communications. Other weather constraints are all "green," or favorable. A weather reconnaissance aircraft will take off at about 7:30 a.m. to deliver firsthand data.

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T-4 minutes and holding

The countdown clock has paused for the Ares I-X countdown's only built-in hold at T-4 minutes.

The count is expected to pick up at 9:11 a.m. EDT with a liftoff time of 9:15 a.m., but the best chance at favorable weather may not come until 10:30 a.m. or later. Triboelectrification continues to be the main concern, and the launch team is hoping for a gap in the clouds.

Update: Waiting out the weather, the launch has been re-targeted for 10:30 a.m. EDT.

Update II: The launch has been reset for 11:00 a.m. EDT in hopes of coinciding with better weather conditions.

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"Go," then "no go" for launch

After polling their teams, launch director Ed Mango and test director Jeff Spalding gave their "go" to proceed with launching Ares I-X at 11:08 a.m. EDT. The countdown clock, held at T-4 minutes, was set to begin ticking again at 11:04 a.m.

A recent forecast called for an 80% chance of acceptable weather at launch, however at current, we are "red" for triboelectrification and therefore the range is "no go" at this time. Weather officer Kathy Winters said the situation is dynamic and an edge to the cloud cover may provide an opening.

Update: Waiting on the weather (again), the launch has been reset to 11:20 a.m. 11:30 a.m. EDT.

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"Green" and "go" for launch

A hole in the upper level clouds passing over Pad 39B has given NASA a ten-minute, triboelectrification-free window through which to launch Ares I-X.

The countdown, held at T-4 minutes since 7:36 a.m. EDT, will resume at 11:26 a.m. for a liftoff at 11:30 a.m. EDT.

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Ares I-X launches!

For the first time since April 12, 1981, a new rocket rose from Launch Complex 39 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NASA's Ares I-X development test rocket lifted off at 11:30 a.m. EDT for a two-minute powered, six-minute suborbital flight, soaring from the newly-modified Pad 39B to a first stage splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean nearly 150 miles down range.


Credit: NASA TV

"That was just unbelievable, it was spectacular," Kennedy Space Center director and former astronaut Bob Cabana told the launch team after liftoff. "I got tears in my eyes. You know all the naysayers, that was just one of the most beautiful rocket launches I have ever seen."

The 327-foot tall Ares I-X produced 2.6 million pounds of thrust to accelerate the rocket to just shy of hypersonic speed. It capped its easterly flight at an altitude of 150,000 feet after separating its first and second stages, the earlier a four-segment solid rocket booster with a simulated fifth segment.

Borrowed from the shuttle program, the booster will be recovered for later inspection. The upper stage with its mockup Orion crew module and launch abort system was left to impact the water and sink.

The Ares I-X flight offered an early opportunity for NASA to test and prove hardware, facilities and ground operations, data the agency can use for its Constellation program's Ares I rockets and future space vehicles. During the flight, a range of performance data was relayed to the ground and also stored in the onboard flight data recorder.

Seven hundred sensors mounted on the vehicle will provide flight test engineering data to correlate with computer models and analysis.


Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett


Credit: NASA/Scott Andrews, Canon

With more than 12 times the thrust produced by a Boeing 747 jet aircraft, the Ares I-X test rocket roars off Pad 39B. At left is space shuttle Atlantis, poised on Pad 39A for liftoff, targeted for Nov. 16.

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Ares I-X first stage, post-splashdown


Credit: United Space Alliance

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First stage dented during impact

Photos taken during the ocean recovery operations for the Ares I-X first stage reveal that one of the solid rocket booster's lower segments was damaged, apparently upon splashdown.

Not yet clear is whether the sizable dent was the result of the angle at which the test flight's booster hit the water or, as some internal reports suggest, one or more of Ares I-X's three recovery parachutes did not deploy as designed.

The first stage secured, it is now being towed back to the shore and is expected to arrive at Port Canaveral Thursday evening.


Credit: United Space Alliance

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No stage re-contact, but two parachutes failed

NASA's Ares I-X mission manager Bob Ess briefed the media on Friday, providing more details about the performance of the test flight.

"Everything went really, really well. In fact, everything flew just right down the middle of the pipe," commented Ess. "Everyone's still pretty ecstatic. It just showed we got our models right in all areas, the ascent part of it, the (guidance and control) part of it, the flexible body interaction, all the really hard stuff."

Ess however did acknowledge a problem with two of the three main parachutes used to recover the first stage. Divers, working to salvage the booster from the ocean, discovered a large dent along the side of one of its lower segments.

"There was an indication that we had a parachute problem," said Ess, explaining that only one of the three 150-foot parachutes inflated fully. Of the other two, one failed to deploy and the other only partially inflated.

The result was a harder than expected splashdown, but the damage to the booster was not of concern to Ess' team.

"We don't plan on reusing [the stage]. We got the data and a good test of the parachutes," he said, noting that the "parachute guys were 'ecstatic'" about the flight.

Ess said they expect to know the cause of the two failed parachutes by next week.

"If it was something to do with the separation event and there was scorching, that gives you some indications," he said. "We don't think that's the case."

Speaking of stage separation, Ess said that his comment after the launch that they had seen something "different" than what their computer models had predicted was wrong.

"Two days ago at the press conference I used the phrase... 'a little different', recalled Ess. "We went back and looked at all the 5,000 disperse cases that we ran and we found thousands of them that matched what we saw. So my comments were incorrect when I said 'a little different.'"

"In fact, we have animations that were done a couple of months ago showing almost exactly what you would see in the video," he added.

The two stages tumbling had led some to believe that the first stage may have struck the upper stage upon separation.

"We looked at the video and multiple video views and we did not see any re-contact between the upper stage and the first stage," said Ess.

Instead, given the dispersion of weight on the vehicle, Ess said that the tumble should have and was expected.

"There's about 130,000 pounds of ballast total; 100,000 of it is at the very back-end of the upper stage that simulates where the liquid oxygen would be for Ares I. There's about 30,000 pounds further forward in the upper stage to simulate where the the liquid hydrogen would be."

"So the center of gravity is very far aft in this thing once it's by itself and the center of pressure is more towards the middle... so it's inherently unstable," he said. "So with about 90 or so pounds per square foot of dynamic pressure and an unstable vehicle, it's no wonder the simulations showed just what we saw, that once you separate, there's nothing to control it."

"As a reminder, for Ares I, there's an attitude control system on it. So as soon as you separate, there are attitude control motors that will keep the upper stage where it needs to be and then the J-2 engine will kick off as well and we'll have active control. So that is something that's very, very different between I-X and Ares I is the upper stage," Ess said.

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Video: Ares I-X returns to Cape Canaveral after launch

Towed by the solid rocket booster retrieval ship Freedom Star, NASA's Ares I-X first stage booster arrived at the Port Canaveral locks before dawn on October 30.

The ship with the booster then proceeded up the Banana River to NASA's Hangar AF Booster Disassembly and Refurbishment Facility on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to be prepared for removal from the water so that inspections could begin.


Credit: NASA TV

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Video: Aerial View of Ares I-X Flight Test

An aerial video crew observed the Ares I-X test flight from a Cessna Skymaster aircraft positioned approximately 10 nautical miles away from the vehicle at an altitude of 12,000 feet.

The video was shot using a gyro-stabilized high-definition camera system mounted to the outside of the aircraft. The footage provides engineering data and imagery of the recovery sequence in detail.


Credit: NASA TV

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Video: Ares I-X On-board High Speed Main Parachute Footage

The view from an internal first stage high speed camera showing the three Ares I-X main recovery parachutes as they deployed and lowered the solid rocket booster to an ocean splashdown on October 28, 2009.

During the flight test, the first stage booster splashed down on less than three full open main parachutes.

The nose cap separation, pilot and drogue parachute deployment, forward skirt extension separation, and main parachute deployment events were all nominal.

One of the main parachutes experienced a failure in one of its suspension line load paths upon reaching the first reef stage inflation. This event created an overload condition in the adjacent suspension lines causing the canopy to deflate and become a streamer.

The remaining two main parachutes remained intact through the remainder of the first reef stage and through the second reef stage. A second main parachute was damaged and partially deflated upon reaching its full open reef position.

The booster was recovered but impacted the water at a higher velocity than predicted due to this loss of main parachute drag area. The recovered parachutes have been defouled and are being reconstructed to aid the investigation teams.

Additional information will be forthcoming as it is made available by the investigation teams.


Credit: NASA

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