WASHINGTON (AP) — Much of the U.S. East Coast is expected to get a view of a mid-Atlantic rocket launch Tuesday night, when the Air Force and NASA will try to put 29 tiny satellites into orbit, including a smartphone and a satellite built by students.
The launch of the privately built Minotaur rocket is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. EST from NASA's Wallops Island, Va., launch site. Weather permitting, it should be possible to see it from Jacksonville to Maine and Montreal and as far west as Detroit and Dayton.
People in the Washington-Norfolk area should start to see the rocket streak through the sky 30 seconds after the launch. The farthest places to view, a swath from Savannah to Columbus to Toronto, won't see the rocket until two to three minutes after launch.
The forecast was good, with less than a 5 percent chance of bad weather, said Barron Beneski, spokesman for Orbital Sciences Corp., which built and is launching the rocket.
The rocket is launching as an Air Force test program, carrying satellites that are smaller than many ordinary shipping boxes.
One of the satellites is the guts of an ordinary smartphone that NASA is using to control a four-inch cube satellite that it calls PhoneSat 2.4; it will be "the first use of a phone as control system for a satellite," said NASA small satellite program manager Andy Petro. NASA sent three smartphones to orbit in April and they functioned briefly before coming back to Earth, but this will control the way the satellite operates.
And this phone-run satellite will remain in a 250-mile orbit for two years, Petro said. Solar panels and extra batteries will keep it running. Because it won't actually make a phone call, NASA didn't have to buy any cumbersome two-year service plan, Petro joked.
The project, costing about $10,000 including the spare batteries and solar panel, is designed to see if NASA can get away with smaller, cheaper science satellites for its research work, he said.
One of the other notable satellites was a two-pound box built by students at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology at Alexandria, Va. That cube contains a voice synthesizer that converts text to voice and transmits it back to Earth via amateur radio.
Orbital Sciences Corp. launch page, including viewing tips: http://www.orbital.com/NewsInfo/MissionUpdates/MinotaurI_ORS-3/
NASA's PhoneSat program: http://www.nasa.gov/content/phonesat-24-ready-for-launch/#.UoTuvhZP_18
Seth Borenstein can be followed at http://twitter.com/borenbears