Tag Archives: NOAA

The Penultimate Delta II: Launch of JPSS 1

The Delta II rocket was the main workhorse for NASA launches for a long time; now, after this launch, there is just one of them left on Earth.  (That last one left will fly next year, carrying ICESat-2.)  It has been a phenomenally successful rocket, with the highest launch-to-success rate of any launch vehicle ever flown, except Saturn V (which only flew a handful of times in any case).  This was the 155th Delta II, and the 99th consecutive successful flight; Delta II holds that record by a considerable margin, and if all goes well with the last mission next year, it will end its storied career with 100 consecutive successful missions.

JPSS-1, meanwhile, is the first of the Joint Polar Satellite System spacecraft.  Intended to replace the POES constellation, JPSS was born out of the NPOESS (National Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellite System) program that would have shared polar-orbiting weather data responsibilities with the Department of Defense.  With that program dissolved, NASA/NOAA agreed to cover the afternoon orbit with JPSS, while the DoD would cover the morning orbit first with the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (their current and severely aging constellation) and then with the Defense Weather Satellite System.  DWSS was subsequently cancelled, and there remains no replacement for the aging DMSP; so NOAA has signed a deal with Eumetsat, where Eumetsat will cover the morning orbit.

JPSS-1 is flying into a critical role, as we have become intensely dependent upon accurate forecasting, and the massively successful Delta II was a perfect vehicle to place it into orbit.


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Space news catchup! Vega, Blue Origin, GOES-16’s lightning mapper, and more!

It’s been really busy lately, so I haven’t has as much time to post as I’d like.  So today I will make up for it with a bunch of space news updates!

First off, a rocket launch is always fun.  Arianespace’s Vega launcher placed the Sentinel 2B environmental monitoring satellite into orbit from Kourou, French Guiana:

Meanwhile, GOES-16 continues its commissioning phase.  As part of that, it has returned its first view of lightning from 22,000 miles away, a demonstration of its incredible capacity at this range.  The green lines represent the coast of Texas.  The lightning is all in real time, and is overlaid over an image taken at the same time by GOES-16’s revolutionary Advanced Baseline Imager.

This full-disk image was created from data from the same instrument, and shows total lightning energy recorded over a one-hour period (an hour which included the image above; that really bright spot in this image is the same storm system over Texas):

And then let’s go back to rockets!  Blue Origin unveiled their New Glenn rocket today with an animation depicting its flight profile.  It is definitely similar to the strategy SpaceX is using, but one difference is that the engine, BE-4, will also by flying on another rocket, ULA’s Vulcan.  Another difference is the strakes.  It looks quite lovely, and I hope we’ll get to see it fly soon.  They do already have a customer for it: the first flight customer will be Eutelsat.

And then, how about some good news on the political front?  Cutting NASA has long been a bipartisan pasttime, but the tides seem to be changing.  A strong bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives voted to pass the NASA Authorization Bill, the first time they’ve managed to do so despite annual attempts in the past six years.  (NASA has been operating under continuing resolutions instead.)  This bill budgets $19.5 billion for NASA in 2017.  Of course, now we have to see what actually gets appropriated; that’s a separate battle, and will start with the White House federal budget request.  So cross your fingers, space geeks!

Leave a comment

Filed under Space

NOAA satellite program will take a big budget cut

As NASA works towards launch the JPSS satellite on behalf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration next September (delayed from this March), initiating the next generation of polar-orbiting weather satellites to replace the aging DMSP constellation, some bad news has come out of the White House: as the administration prepares its first budget request, NOAA is getting a 17% overall budget cut.

It hits some parts of NOAA harder than others.  The lion’s share comes from a 22% cut to the highly successful satellite program, which could make it impossible to complete the JPSS constellation (although NOAA has obviously made no decisions at this point).  Oceanic and Atmospheric Research will lose 26% of its budget.  Research programs looking into coastal management and estuary reserves will be shuttered entirely, as will the Sea Grant program which sponsored university oceanic and coastal research.  Only the fisheries department and the National Weather Service emerge relatively unscathed, with just a 5% cut each.

These numbers are not final, and should not be considered such until the budget is actually submitted.  Even then, it’s really only a request; Congress will make their own modifications before approving it.  But it is concerning.  JPSS is coming much later than it should have, thanks to the collapse of the NPOESS program that was meant to succeed the POES constellation, but which died and was replaced by JPSS and DWSS.  NPOESS was a NASA/NOAA-USAF collaboration; the successors were split, with the USAF taking DWSS.  DWSS has now also been cancelled, so JPSS is now our only hope of retaining any decent low-altitude weather satellite coverage without relying entirely on foreign powers.  The White House is urging NOAA (and others in the Commerce Department) to leverage commercial satellites, but the reality is that there are no commercial satellites that can do this mission to the level we have all come to expect, nor are there likely to be in the near future.

These cuts would come along with massive layoffs and closure of entire NOAA offices; therefore, it is quite possible that Congress will tweak the plan so it impacts their constituencies less, but we shall have to see.  The bottom line, though, is that weather and climate are important, and having as much up-to-date data as possible is vital to our economic and physical well-being, so that we can respond to changing weather conditions before they become catastrophes.  No matter how you feel about science or spaceflight, knowing when there’s a hurricane bearing down on you is a big deal.  We need these satellites.

Leave a comment

Filed under Space

GOES-16 catches the Moon

I have a particular fondness for pictures of the Earth and Moon together.  NOAA’s latest weather satellite, the ground-breaking GOES-16, produced this particularly stunning example.  It’s currently in its commissioning phase, so it isn’t yet contributing to weather forecasting.  But it will, and when it does, it will be spectacular.  This image was taken from geosynchronous orbit — 22,000 miles away.  Earth and Moon are natural color, and this is not a composite — this is the image it actually took.  It can be surprising to see the Moon look so dark; we’re used to seeing it so bright in our night sky.  But it’s really because the Earth is so much brighter.  The Moon is of course not a usual target for a GOES satellite; but it still will take pictures of the Moon every now and again for calibration purposes, since unlike the Earth, the Moon looks very much the same from one orbit to the next.  For now, though, this image exists mostly to be beautiful.  Enjoy it!


Leave a comment

Filed under Space

100th EELV launches successfully, with a new generation for weather forecasting

An Atlas 541 (the second-heaviest configuration Atlas V in active use) blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Station today, ferrying the massive GOES-R weather satellite into its geosynchronous transfer orbit.  This was the one hundred launch of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Program, created by the USAF in the 1990s and ultimately producing the Atlas V (by General Dynamics, then Lockheed Martin) and the Delta IV (by Boeing).  It is not likely to ever reach its 200th flight; both vehicles are due to be replaced by a newer rocket, the Vulcan, in a few years.  But the program has enjoyed a remarkable success rate — 98 flawless flights, 2 ending in suboptimal orbits.  That is an exceptionally rare success rate in rocketry.

The spacecraft, operated by NASA on behalf of  the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is the first of a fleet of four next-generation geosynchronous weather satellites; total cost of the program, including development and operation, is $11 billion.  But it’s an enormously valuable investment, because these satellites will be equipped like no other weather satellites.  They will be able to complete

Once it reaches its perch, GOES-R will become GOES-16.  (They do not receive their numbers until they successfully arrive in orbit.)  It will then spend a year sitting at 89.5 degrees west, undergoing testing for its commissioning phase.  It will eventually be moved to the primary GOES perches, as either GOES-East or GOES-West.  Those two positions are currently held by GOES-13 and GOES-15.  GOES-14 is also still in orbit, currently biding its time as an on-orbit spare.  Given the enormous amounts of money involved, and the absolutely critical nature of the data these spacecraft deliver, NASA and NOAA both want them up well in advance of them going into service, just in case.

GOES-R is much more advanced than its predecessors.  It carries advanced space weather sensors, in recognition of the fact that space weather forecasting has become enormously important both to our sensitive power grid and the many spacecraft we depend upon, the first-ever lightning imager designed to operate from geostationary orbit, a camera that can complete a full-disk image in just five minutes (fast enough to create detailed animations useful in local weather forecasting), and much more.  It’s so packed with revolutionary new instruments that scientists are excited just to find out what they can do with the gargantuan flood of data these spacecraft will produce.  It’s going to be fun to see what they come up with!

Leave a comment

Filed under Space

DMSP & Hitomi are having bad days

Spaceflight is tough, and as the push continues to build cheaper spacecraft, we need to remember why spacecraft are usually so expensive.  It’s all about reliability, because there is often an incredibly narrow margin in which these vehicles operate, and sometimes it can take very little to end their missions.

DMSP-19 stopped communicating last February, and yesterday the USAF announced they were discontinuing efforts to contact it.  Less than half way through its primary mission, DMSP-19 is dead.  The problem is believed to be something in its power system, but there are very few clues to go on.  The spacecraft is still intact and tracked by radar, but it is derelict now.  What’s really frustrating is knowing how thin this leaves our margins for adequate weather forecasting.  DMSP and its civilian cousin POES was supposed to be followed by the NPOESS constellation, but that has been cancelled.  Just one element, the gapfiller NPP Suomi, was launched.  Today, NOAA and NASA are pressing forward with their part of NPOESS, now called JPSS, but the military side, DWSS, was cancelled and so they will be partnering with the Europeans instead to get adequate coverage.  The USAF still has one more DMSP spacecraft as a ground spare, but after that they will no new weather satellites of their own in the pipeline, and there is still no plan to change that state of affairs.

Meanwhile, in Japan, controllers are attempting to learn the fate of their latest x-ray space observatory, Hitomi.  It, too, stopped communicating.  It was still in its commissioning phase when communications stopped, and now the USAF has reported tracking at least five objects around it.  Satellite spotters report seeing its brightness vary in a very predictable way, which means it’s tumbling out of control.  This would account for the difficulty in communicating; Japanese controllers have been able to downlink a few snippets of telemetry, but they were very brief as it cannot maintain a lock on the ground with its dish antenna.  JAXA doesn’t give up easily, but this one is almost certainly a goner.  With debris around it, it’s probably suffered an explosion of some kind.  Not quite enough to kill it, but enough to adjust its orbit slightly and set it spinning.  Likely suspects include the propulsion system and the batteries.  The only thing ruled out at present is a collision with a tracked object; the USAF recorded no objects with a trajectory that could have intersected it.  It’s very sad, and I hope they got insurance.

On a more positive note, Progress M-29M, the last of its series, has departed the ISS (and will deorbit in a few weeks, after being used for a number of experiments involving spinning it to create artificial gravity), and its replacement, Progress MS-02, has launched towards the ISS.  It is the second of the latest generation of Progress spacecraft, the 63rd to fly to the ISS, and carries production number 432.  It launched today aboard a Soyuz-2-1a from Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Leave a comment

Filed under Space

DSCOVR launch: called off for today, try again Tuesday

The radar issue is resolved, but now the weather has turned unfavorable.  They could press ahead, but if things didn’t clear up in time, they’d run into crew rest requirements for the USAF range support team which would preclude trying again Tuesday or Wednesday, which is their last opportunity before they must stand down until Feb 20 (when the launch window will reopen).  So they’re going to try again if the weather forecast is better tomorrow (Tuesday).

Leave a comment

Filed under Space