Quick Facts: Spartan Halley

Spartan Halley spacecraft

The Spartan-Halley spacecraft was designed to observe Comet Halley near perihelion. (Courtesy NASA)

Mission Introduction

Spartan (Shuttle Pointed Autonomous Research Tool for Astronomy) or HCED (Halley’s Comet Experiment Deployable) was an astronomical experiment to observe Halley’s Comet.

The Spartan series consists of low-cost, Shuttle-launched, short-duration, sounding-rocket-type payloads. The payloads are retrievable and reusable with a turnaround time of approximately 6 to 9 months. Spartan has relatively few operational interfaces with STS. It operates as an autonomous sub-satellite, and the data are stored on an internal tape recorder. Pointing and stabilization are achieved by an attitude control system capable of three-axis stabilized pointing to any target within +/- 3 arc-minutes. The main objective of this spacecraft was to obtain UV spectra of the coma and tail of Comet Halley in January 1986 shortly before its perihelion. This spacecraft failed when Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launch.

LASP Roles

LASP provided:

  • The Ultraviolet Spectrometer

LASP Instruments

The objective of the UV spectrometer was to obtain UV spectra of the coma and tail of Comet Halley shortly before its perihelion, in order to determine the rates of production of O+ and OH-, and to relate the production of these species to the photodissociation of water. In addition, a search was to be made for various nitrogen-, carbon-, and sulfur-containing molecules and radicals. The instrument consisted of two identical Ebert-Fastie spectrometers, one covering the wavelength range 1250 to 1660 A and the other covering 1600 to 3200 A. The wavelength resolution was approximately 2 A. The instrument was similar to ones flown on the Mariner 6, 7, and 9 spacecraft. Two space-qualified Nikon F-3 cameras were to used to reconstruct the precise history of the pointing direction during the data-gathering periods and to provide a record of the large-scale activity of the comet during the mission, including nuclear outbursts, comal asymmetries, and the angle of separation of the dust tail from the ion tail.

Quick Facts

Launch date: January 27, 1986
Launch location: Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida
Launch vehicle: Space Shuttle Challenger
Mission target: Earth orbit
Mission duration: The mission was lost when Challenger exploded shortly after launch.
Other organizations involved:

  • NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC)