The long awaited Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR science satellite is slated to blast off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 on Sunday, Feb. 8, from Cape Canaveral, Florida on a mission to monitor the solar wind and aid very important forecasts of space weather at Earth.
Update Feb 8: Hold, Hold, Hold !!! 6:10 PM 2/8/15 Terminal Count aborted at T Minus 2 min 26 sec due to a tracking issue. NO launch of Falcon 9 today. rocket being safed now. next launch opportunity is Monday. Still TBD.
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The rocket is provided by the USAF. SpaceX will try to recover the first stage via a guided descent to a floating barge in the Atlantic Ocean.
The weather outlook is currently very promising with a greater than 90 percent chance of favorable weather at launch time shortly after sunset on Sunday which could make for a spectacular viewing opportunity for spectators surrounding the Florida Space coast.
Liftoff atop the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is targeted for at 6:10:12 p.m. EST on Feb. 8, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 40.
There is an instantaneous launch window, meaning that any launch delay due to weather, technical or other factors will force a scrub to Monday.
The launch will be broadcast live on NASA TV: http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv
NASA’s DSCOVR launch blog coverage of countdown and liftoff will begin at 3:30 p.m. Sunday.
“DSCOVR is NOAA’s first operational space weather mission to deep space,” said Stephen Volz, assistant administrator of the NOAA Satellite and Information Service in Silver Spring, Maryland, at the pre-launch briefing today (Feb. 7) at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The mission of DSCOVR is vital because its solar wind observations are crucial to maintaining accurate space weather forecasts to protect US infrastructure from disruption by approaching solar storms.
“DSCOVR will maintain the nation’s solar wind observations, which are critical to the accuracy and lead time of NOAA’s space weather alerts, forecasts, and warnings,” according to a NASA description.
“Space weather events like geomagnetic storms caused by changes in solar wind can affect public infrastructure systems, including power grids, telecommunications systems, and aircraft avionics.”
DSCOVR will replace NASA’s aging Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) satellite which is nearly 20 years old and far beyond its original design lifetime.
The couch sized probe is being targeted to the L1 Lagrange Point, a neutral gravity point that lies on the direct line between Earth and the sun located 1.5 million kilometers (932,000 miles) sunward from Earth. At L1 the gravity between the sun and Earth is perfectly balanced and the satellite will orbit about that spot just like a planet.
L1 is a perfect place for the science because it lies outside Earth’s magnetic environment. The probe will measure the constant stream of solar wind particles from the sun as they pass by.
This will enable forecasters to give a 15 to 60 minute warning of approaching geomagnetic storms that could damage valuable infrastructure.
DSCOVR is equipped with a suite of four continuously operating solar science and Earth science instruments from NASA and NOAA.
It will make simultaneous scientific observations of the solar wind and the entire sunlit side of Earth.
The 750-kilogram DSCOVR probe measures 54 inches by 72 inches.
I saw the DSCOVR spacecraft up close at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland last fall during processing in the clean room.
A secondary objective of the rocket launch for SpaceX is to conduct their second attempt to recover the Falcon 9 first stage booster on an ocean going barge. Read my articles about the first attempt in January 2015, starting here.
It was originally named ‘Triana’ (aka Goresat) and was conceived by then US Vice President Al Gore as a low cost satellite to take near continuous views of the Earth’s entire globe to feed to the internet as a means of motivating students to study math and science. It was eventually built as a much more capable Earth science satellite as well as to conduct the space weather observations.
But Triana was shelved for purely partisan political reasons and the satellite was placed into storage and the science was lost until now.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.