JPSS-2 weather satellite, Mars heat shield tech launch on West Coast’s latest Atlas V
Update for 8pm EST on Nov. 10: The JPSS-2 satellite initially struggled to deploy its solar power
The work on the west coast of the Atlas V rocket is done.
The workhorse of United Launch Alliance (ULA) rocket ship today (November 10) lifted off from California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base at 4:49 a.m. EST (0949 GMT; 1:49 a.m. local California time), carrying two payloads toward orbit.
The Atlas V rocket took off with a 24 minute delay due to refueling issues, forcing the ground control team to pause the countdown. After launch, the Joint Polar Satellite System-2 (JPSS-2), immaculately separated from the rocket’s Centaur upper stage, approximately 28 minutes into the flight.
Shortly after launch, NASA began work on a possible telemetry error, as they had not confirmed whether the satellite’s solar panel would deploy as expected. “Mission managers for NOAA’s JPSS-2 confirm that the satellite has received a signal and is receiving commands and responding. The satellite is currently power positive and in a safe and stable configuration as teams assess the status of the solar panel. , “NASA wrote (opens in new tab)after launch.
JPSS-2, owned by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will collect a variety of weather and climate data once it is in use. The second spacecraft, a demonstration of inflatable heat shield technology called AIR TIMEcould help NASA land superheavy payloads Mars at the end of the road.
Related: Powerful new Earth monitoring satellite JPSS-2 to study weather ‘butterfly effect’
The Atlas V flew today in the most stripped-down rocket configuration, with no solid rocket boosters. The JPSS-2 and LOFTID were also housed in a 4m wide payload fairing, the smallest available for an Atlas V.
The RD-180 engine of the rocket’s first stage burned for about 4 minutes before the main engine shut down and the first stage separated, followed by a series of burns from the Atlas V’s top stage to keep the two payloads aloft. . JPSS-2 was deployed to a polar orbit 440 miles (710 kilometers) above Earth about 28 minutes after launch. LOFTID is slated to deploy into highly elliptical orbit at T+75 minutes, then back down for a fiery return trial in the earth’s atmosphere.
That this was the last Atlas V launch from the west coast symbolizes a shift forward for ULA’s launch facilities in California. Following today’s mission, Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex 3-East will begin upgrades to help launch the new Vulcan Centaur Missilewhich is expected to debut sometime in the first quarter of 2023.
Launch of a weather powerhouse
Today’s mission also represents a forward shift for the respective technologies of both payloads. JPSS-2 — a joint effort of NASA and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) — is essentially a weather satellite, but its rather banal nomenclature doesn’t do justice to the spacecraft’s capabilities. JPSS-2 joins two other weather satellites in polar orbit and becomes a powerhouse for Earth monitoring.
The first satellite in the JPSS program, the Suomi-NPP spacecraftlaunched in 2011. The second, NOAA-20, followed in 2017. (NOAA-20 was known as JPSS-1 until it reached its final orbit.) JPSS-2 joins them to help scientists collect and better understand of, huge amounts of meteorological data that will improve global weather models, among other things.
“NOAA 20, Suomi-NPP and soon JPSS-2 are helping our meteorologists fulfill the National Weather Service mission for all Americans,” said Jordan Gerth, a meteorologist and satellite scientist for NOAA’s National Weather Service, during a prelaunch press briefing on Tuesday evening (November 8). “First, JPSS data is an important input for U.S. and international global numerical modeling systems for weather forecasting.”
Gerth used a tropical storm as a hypothetical example to explain what kind of data the JPSS-2’s scientific instruments will collect.
“The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, or VIIRS instrument, provides images with spatial resolution of 375 meters, or about a quarter of a mile, and enables the detection of thunderstorms, such as overshooting peaks,” Gerth said. Overshooting peaks, he explained, can help determine a storm’s severity. VIIRS can also detect mesospheric gravitational waves emanating from the center of tropical systems.
JPSS-2 is also equipped with the Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS), which can see through cloud canopies to detect the internal structures of Hurricane eye walls. The Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS) onboard the spacecraft will work with ATMS to convert temperature and humidity data at different altitudes into 3D views for atmospheric models.
In its polar orbit, JPSS-2 will orbit the Earth 14 times in 24 hours and completely cover the entire planet twice a day. In addition to its weather work, the satellite, which will be operated by NOAA, is designed to track sea ice, ocean color, temperature and biodiversity shifts, as well as wildfires, floods and even economic recovery efforts in areas hit by natural disasters.
Related: Climate change: causes and consequences
Testing heavy Mars landing technology
JPSS-2 is designed to collect data from orbit for at least seven years. The other payload that went up on the Atlas V today, LOFTID (short for “Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator”), didn’t last nearly as long.
LOFTID is based on hypersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator (HIAD) technology. It tested the capabilities and performance of an expandable heat shield during reentry through a planetary atmosphere. Expandable heat shields have major potential benefits for the future of spaceflight, NASA officials say, potentially allowing much heavier payloads to land safely on the surface of Mars than is currently possible. The agency needs such heavy-duty landing technology to build a research outpost on the Red Planet, which it hopes to do in the late 2030s or early 2040s.
LOFTID is packed with sensors, which will help mission team members characterize the vehicle’s fiery return to Earth. LOFTID likely reached a maximum speed of nearly 18,000 mph (30,000 kph) on that descent, which ended with a parachute-assisted crash a few hundred miles off the coast of Hawaii about 110 minutes after launch today as scheduled.
“On entry,” said Joe Del Corso, LOFTID project manager at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia, during Tuesday’s briefing, “LOFTID will also take a number of measurements on a range of instruments, including temperatures across the aeroshell, pressure and heat flux. on the nose cap, as well as 360-degree video on six video cameras and IR data from 12 infrared cameras. will be on the nose of the vehicle.”
LOFTID is also designed to eject an extra data core during its fall to Earth.
While no more Atlas V vehicles will be launched from Vandenberg, the rocket is not yet ready to retire. There are still many Atlas V missions left in ULA’s books, but they will all fly from Florida’s Space Coast.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 3:00 PM EST with new details on the power status of the JPSS-2, then at 8:00 PM EST to note that LOFTID returned safely to Earth as scheduled.
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