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Emily LakdawallaAugust 18, 2011

GRAIL twins together on their rocket

It's the first time I've ever seen anything like this -- two identical spacecraft, side by side on one launch adapter ring:

Twin GRAIL spacecraft preparing for launch

NASA / Jim Grossmann

Twin GRAIL spacecraft preparing for launch
The twin Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) lunar spacecraft are attached to the spacecraft adapter ring in their launch configuration in Astrotech Space Operation's payload processing facility in Titusville, Florida, on August 10, 2011.

This morning the spacecraft pair, wrapped in plastic, were lifted to the top of their Delta II rocket:

The GRAIL twins meet their rocket

NASA / Kim Shiflett

The GRAIL twins meet their rocket
The twin Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft are lifted to the top of their launch pad at Space Launch Complex 17B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on August 18, 2011.

GRAIL's launch period opens Thursday, September 8, and extends through October 19. For a September 8 liftoff, there are two possible launch times, at 12:37 and 13:16 UTC (5:37 and 6:16 a.m. PDT). That'd give me just enough time to get my daughter delivered to her first day of kindergarten! This will be a brief mission: after a three- to four- month cruise, they will operate in lunar orbit for 90 days.

Just a brief post today -- I'm working on a doozy of a post for tomorrow.EDIT: It's been pointed out to me by approximately a bazillion people that GRAIL is launching on a Delta II, not the long-retired Titan II, which is what the NASA press release said. Also, that the NASA press release erroneously states that the window is open for 40 minutes, when in fact there are two instantaneous launch windows separated by 40 minutes.

Read more: GRAIL, mission status, rockets

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Emily Lakdawalla

Solar System Specialist for The Planetary Society
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