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April 24, 1996
For Immediate Release

Midcourse Space Experiment Successfully Launched

Artist's Concept of the MSX Spacecraft


The Midcourse Space Experiment (MSX), a Ballistic Missile Defense Organization mission to gather vital data for the future design of space-based and ground-based missile defense systems, was launched today on a Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Official launch time was 5:27:40 a.m. PDT. Mission altitude for the $325 million, observatory-class satellite is 561 miles (903.5 kilometers), in a high-inclination, circular, near sun-synchronous Earth orbit. All spacecraft systems are reported stable and performing nominally.

Built and operated for BMDO by The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL), MSX is the first system demonstration in space of technology to characterize ballistic missile signatures during the "midcourse" flight phase between booster burnout and missile reentry, and to collect data on the backgrounds against which targets are seen.

During its four-year design lifetime, MSX will detect, track, and discriminate realistic targets against terrestrial, Earth limb, and celestial backgrounds. The satellite's advanced imaging capabilities will also support a wide variety of "dual-use" research involving global atmospheric change, astronomy, and space contamination and debris.

Mission objectives include collecting a database on backgrounds and targets to improve the accuracy of computer models; demonstrating on-board signal and data processing; measuring on-orbit contamination of optical instruments; assessing the population of small space debris; and conducting observations in very-long infrared and ultraviolet astronomy.

MSX's advanced sensor suite offers the scientific opportunity for environmental monitoring of atmospheric gases such as ozone, chlorofluorocarbons, carbon dioxide, and methane. In the period before NASA launches its EOS (Earth Observing System) satellites, MSX will provide new data on global climate change and ozone depletion.

MSX is capable of observations at a wide range of wavelengths, from the very-long infrared to the far-ultraviolet, representing a pioneering use in space of hyperspectral imaging technology. The spacecraft incorporates five primary instruments with a total of 11 optical sensors, precisely aligned so that activity of the various targets can be viewed simultaneously with multiple sensors. Those instruments are:

  • SPIRIT III (Spatial Infrared Imaging Telescope) is an infrared sensor built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory of Utah State University. SPIRIT III consists of a scanning radiometer, interferometer/spectrometer, and 14-inch telescope, all cooled to near-absolute zero temperatures (10íK) with solid hydrogen. The cryogen supply will limit SPIRIT III to approximately 15 months of operation.

  • UVISI (Ultraviolet Visible Imagers and Spectrographic Imagers), built by JHU/APL, includes five spectrographic imagers and four ultraviolet and visible imagers. UVISI affords spectral/imaging capabilities from far ultraviolet through visible wavelengths.

  • SBV (Space-Based Visible) Instrument is a visible-band telescope with a six-inch aperture and image processing electronics. It was built by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory.

  • OSDP (On-Board Signal and Data Processor), built by Hughes Aircraft Co., is an advanced, radiation-hardened signal processor demonstration.

  • CE (Contamination Experiment), another JHU/APL-built instrument, is designed to monitor and measure contamination around the orbiting spacecraft. The sensors include a mass spectrometer, quartz crystal microbalances, a total pressure sensor, and xenon and krypton flashlamps.

MSX management for BMDO includes Lt. Col. Bruce D. Guilmain (BMDO), Program Manager; Maj. Ralph D. McClain (BMDO), Deputy Program Manager; Dr. John D. Mill (Environment Research Institute of Michigan), Project Scientist; Dr. A.T. Stair, Jr. (Visidyne, Inc.), Chief Scientist; and John Dassoulas (JHU/APL), System Engineer.

MSX management for JHU/APL includes Max R. Peterson, Program Manager; C. Thompson Pardoe, Deputy Program Manager; and Richard K. Huebschman, System Engineer and Mission Operations Technical Manager. SPIRIT III Program Manager (Utah State University Space Dynamics Laboratory) is Harry O. Ames. Dr. Grant Stokes (MIT/Lincoln Laboratory) is Program Manager for the SBV instrument. The Delta II launch vehicle is produced and managed by McDonnell Douglas Aerospace.

Principal investigators for the MSX mission are assigned according to major program experiment areas: Early Midcourse, Cooperative Targets, Space Surveillance, Shortwave Terrestrial Backgrounds, Contamination, Data Certification and Technology Transfer, Celestial Backgrounds, and Earthlimb/Auroral Backgrounds. The MSX program is supported by approximately 100 top scientists from 30 institutions.


For more information about MSX or to schedule interviews, please contact the BMDO Public Affairs Office at (703) 695-8743 or Kristi Marren of the JHU/APL Office of Communications and Public Affairs at 240-228-6268. Color photographs and illustrations of the MSX spacecraft are available upon request, as is a six-minute video animation of the mission. MSX sites on the World Wide Web include:

BMDO -- http://www.acq.osd.mil/bmdo/bmdolink/html
JHU/APL MSX -- http://sd-www/MSX/MSX_Overview.html
Naval Research Laboratory MSX -- http://msx.nrl.navy.mil/