Daily Archives: February 17, 2024

17 February 1996, 20:43:27 UTC

NEAR/Delta II lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 17 at 3:30 a.m., EST, 17 February 1996. (NASA)
NEAR/Delta II D232 lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 17 at 3:43 a.m., EST, 17 February 1996. (NASA)

17 February 1996, 20:43:27 UTC: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory space probe NEAR—Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous—was launched aboard a three-stage McDonnell Douglas Delta II rocket from Launch Complex 17 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The purpose of the 5-year-long mission was to study several near-Earth asteroids, including 253 Mathilde and 433 Eros.

The space probe was renamed NEAR Shoemaker in honor of Eugene Merle (“Gene”) Shoemaker, Ph.D., a well-known planetary scientist who dies in a vehicle collision in Australia, 18 July 1997.

Near-Earth Asteroid 253 Mathilde photographed from a distance of 1,200 kilometers, 27 June 1997. (NASA)

NEAR Shoemaker made its closest approach to 253 Mathilde on 27 June 1997, passing the asteroid at a distance of approximately 1,200 kilometers (746 miles) at 35,748 kilometers per hour (22,213 miles per hour). More than 500 photographic images, along with sensor data, were transmitted to Earth. The space probe’s main engine was then ignited to send it on a new trajectory to 433 Eros.

NEAR Shoemaker was placed into an orbit around 433 Eros on 14 February 2000. NEAR Shoemaker photographed and studied the asteroid for nearly a year, and then on 12 February 2001, after completing 230 orbits, made a soft landing on its surface.

Near-Earth asteroid 433 Eros photographed by the NEAR-Shoemaker space probe. (NASA)

The McDonnell Douglas Delta II 7925-8 Orbital Launch Vehicle is a three-stage, liquid-fueled rocket. It is 125 feet, 4 inches (38.201 meters) long, 8 feet, 0 inches (2.438 meters) in diameter, and weighs approximately 480,000 pounds (217,724 kilograms). At the time, the Delta II was the smallest rocket used to launch a planetary mission.

The first stage is a Thor/Delta XLT-C (“long-tank Thor”), which is 85 feet, 5½ inches (26.048 meters) long, 8 feet, 0 inches (2.438 meters) in diameter, and weighs 224,600 pounds (101,877 kilograms) when fully fueled. The stage is powered by one liquid-fueled Rocketdyne RS-27A rocket engine, rated at 236,992 pounds of thrust (1,054.193 kilonewtons). Fueled with 10,000 gallons (37,854 liters) of RP-1/LOX propellant and oxidizer, the engine has 4 minutes, 25 second burn time.

Surrounding the Thor are nine Alliant Techsytems (ATK) GEM-40 (Graphite-Epoxy Motor) solid fuel boosters. They are 42 feet, 6 inches (12.957 meters) long, and 3 feet, 4 inches (1.018 meters) in diameter, and weigh 28,671 pounds ( kilograms). Each booster produces 110,800 pounds of thrust (492.863 kilonewtons), and have 1 minute, 4 second burn time. Six of the nine GEM-40s are ignited at launch, and the remaining three ignite after the first six burn out.

The second stage is a McDonnell Douglas Delta K, which is 19 feet, 3 inches (5.867 meters) long, 8 feet, 0 inches (2.438 meters) in diameter, and weighs 15,331 pounds ( kilograms). The Delta K is powered by one Aerojet AJ10-118K liquid-fueled rocket engine which produces 9,800 pounds of thrust (43.593 kilonewtons). It has a 7 minute, 11 second burn time.

The third stage is a McDonnell Douglas PAM-D (Payload Assist Module), powered by a Thiokol Propulsion Star 48B solid rocket motor, which produces 15,000 pounds of thrust (66.723 kilonewtons), and has a burn time of 1 minute, 27 second burn time.

NEAR space probe inside a protective cover. A man at the lower left of the image provides scale. (NASA)
NEAR space probe inside a protective payload fairing. A man at the lower left of the image provides scale. (NASA)

The NEAR space probe was designed and built by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. The probe was equipped with an X-ray/gamma ray spectrometer, near-infrared imaging spectrometer and a multi-spectral CCD imaging camera, laser rangefinder and magnetometer. NEAR was 9 feet, ¼-inch (2.749 meters) long and weighed 1,803 pounds (817.8 kilograms). Power was supplied by four solar panels, capable of generating 400 watts.The main engine produced 450 Newtons (101 pounds) of thrust using hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide. A system of 11 hydrazine thrusters and 4 reaction wheels  were used attitude control.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

17 February 1956

Lockheed YF-104A, 55-2955. (AFFTC History Office)

17 February 1956: Test pilot Herman Richard (“Fish”) Salmon made the first flight of the Lockheed YF-104A service test prototype, Air Force serial number 55-2955 (Lockheed serial number 183-1001). This airplane, the first of seventeen pre-production YF-104As, incorporated many improvements over the XF-104 prototype, the most visible being a longer fuselage.

Lockheed test pilots Anthony W. (“Tony”) LeVier, on the left, and Herman R. (“Fish”) Salmon, circa 1957. An F-104 Starfighter is in the background. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

On 28 February 1956, YF-104A 55-2955 became the first aircraft to reach Mach 2 in level flight.

The YF-104A was later converted to the production standard and redesignated F-104A.

Lockheed XF-104. (Lockheed-Martin)
Lockheed YF-104A Starfighter 55-2955 (183-1001), right profile. Note the increased length of the fuselage and revised air intakes, compared to the XF-104, above. Also, the XF-104’s nose gear retracts backward, while the YF-104A’s gear swings forward. (U.S. Air Force)

The Lockheed F-104A Starfighter is a single-place, single-engine, Mach 2 interceptor. It was designed by a team lead by the legendary Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson. The F-104A is 54.77 feet (16.694 meters) long with a wingspan of 21.94 feet (6.687 meters) and overall height of 13.49 feet (4.112 meters). The total wing area is just 196.1 square feet (18.2 square meters). At 25% chord, the wings are swept aft 18° 6′. They have 0° angle of incidence and no twist. The airplane has a very pronounced -10° anhedral. An all-flying stabilator is placed at the top of the airplane’s vertical fin, creating a “T-tail” configuration.

The F-104A had an empty weight of 13,184 pounds (5,980.2 kilograms). The airplane’s gross weight varied from 19,600 pounds to 25,300 pounds, depending on the load of missiles and/or external fuel tanks.

Internal fuel capacity was 896 gallons (3,392 liters). With Sidewinder missiles, the F-104A could carry two external fuel tanks on underwing pylons, for an additional 400 gallons (1,514 liters). If no missiles were carried, two more tanks could be attached to the wing tips, adding another 330 gallons (1,249 liters) of fuel.

Lockheed F-104A Starfighter three-view illustration with dimensions. (Lockheed Martin)

The F-104A was powered by a single General Electric J79-GE-3B, -11A or -19 engine. The J79 is a single-spool, axial-flow, afterburning turbojet, which used a 17-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine. The J79GE-3B has a continuous power rating of 8,950 pounds of thrust (39.81 kilonewtons) at 7,460 r.p.m. Its Military Power rating is 9,600 pounds (42.70 kilonewtons) (30-minute limit), and 15,000 pounds (66.72 kilonewtons) with afterburner (5-minute limit). The engine is 17 feet, 3.2 inches (5.263 meters) long, 2 feet, 8.6 inches (0.828 meters) in diameter, and weighs 3,225 pounds (1,463 kilograms).

The F-104A had a maximum speed of  1,150 knots (1,323 miles per hour/2,130 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The Starfighter’s initial rate of climb was 60,395 feet per minute (306.8 meters per second) and its service ceiling was 59,600 feet (18,166 meters).

The Lockheed F-104 was armed with an electrically-powered General Electric T-171E-3 (later designated M61) Vulcan 6-barrel rotary cannon, or “Gatling Gun.” The technician has a belt of linked 20 mm cannon shells. (SDASM)

Armament was one General Electric M61 Vulcan six-barreled revolving cannon with 725 rounds of 20 mm ammunition, firing at a rate of 4,000 rounds per minute. An AIM-9B Sidewinder infrared-homing air-to-air missile could be carried on each wing tip.

Lockheed YF-104A 55-2955 with landing gear retracting. (Lockheed Martin via International F-104 Society)

Lockheed built 153 of the F-104A Starfighter initial production version. A total of 2,578 F-104s of all variants were produced by Lockheed and its licensees, Canadair, Fiat, Fokker, MBB, Messerschmitt,  Mitsubishi and SABCA. By 1969, the F-104A had been retired from service. The last Starfighter, an Aeritalia-built F-104S ASA/M of the  Aeronautica Militare Italiana, was retired in October 2004.

While conducting flame-out tests in 55-2955, 25 April 1957, Lockheed  engineering test pilot John A. (“Jack”) Simpson, Jr., made a hard landing  at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, about 22 miles (35 kilometers) southwest of Edwards Air Force Base. After a bounce, the landing gear collapsed, and the Starfighter skidded off the runway. 55-2955, nick-named Apple Knocker, was damaged beyond repair. “Suitcase” Simpson was not hurt.

Lockheed F-104A 55-2955 was damaged beyond repair, 25 April 1967. (U.S. Air Force photograph via International F-104 Society))

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes