Atlas V Fire and Fury Get Gorgeous GOES-R to Geostationary Orbit; Photo/Video Gallery

Blastoff of revolutionary NASA/NOAA GOES-R weather satellite on ULA Atlas V on Nov. 19, 2016 - as seen from remote camera at Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.  GOES-R will deliver a quantum leap in America’s weather forecasting capabilities. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Blastoff of revolutionary NASA/NOAA GOES-R weather satellite on ULA Atlas V on Nov. 19, 2016 – as seen from remote camera at Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. GOES-R will deliver a quantum leap in America’s weather forecasting capabilities. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The fire and fury of the mighty ULA Atlas V got the gorgeous NASA/NOAA GOES-R weather observatory to geostationary orbit just days ago – as a ‘Thanksgiving’ present to all the people of Earth through the combined efforts of the government/industry/university science and engineering teams of hard working folks who made it possible.

Check out this dazzling photo and video gallery from myself and several space journalist colleagues showing how GOES got going – from prelaunch to launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 6:42 p.m. EST in the evening on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016.

Three and a half hours after liftoff, the bus sized spacecraft successfully separated from the Atlas Centaur upper stage and deployed its life giving solar arrays.

ULA Atlas V rocket and GOES-R weather observatory streak to orbit from launch pad 41 at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit:  Julian Leek
ULA Atlas V rocket and GOES-R weather observatory streak to orbit from launch pad 41 at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Julian Leek

GOES-R is the most advanced and powerful weather observatory ever built and will bring about a ‘quantum leap’ in weather forecasting.

It’s dramatic new imagery will show the weather in real time enabling critical life and property forecasting, help pinpoint evacuation zones and also save people’s lives in impacted areas of severe weather including hurricanes and tornadoes.

Here’s a pair of beautiful launch videos from space colleague Jeff Seibert and myself:

Video Caption: 5 views from the launch of the NOAA/NASA GOES-R weather satellite on 11/19/2016 from Pad 41 CCAFS on a ULA Atlas. Credit: Jeff Seibert

Video Caption: Launch of the NOAA/NASA GOES-R weather observatory satellite on Nov. 19, 2016 from pad 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on a ULA Atlas V rocket – as seen in this remote video taken at the pad. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

GOES-R is the first in a new series of revolutionary NASA/NOAA geostationary weather satellites that will soon lead to more accurate and timely forecasts, watches and warnings for the Earth’s Western Hemisphere when it becomes fully operational in about a year.

Ignition of  ULA Atlas V rocket and GOES-R weather observatory at launch pad 41 at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit:  Julian Leek
Ignition of ULA Atlas V rocket and GOES-R weather observatory at launch pad 41 at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Julian Leek

GOES-R, which stands for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series – is a new and advanced transformational weather satellite that will vastly enhance the quality, speed and accuracy of weather forecasting available to forecasters for Earth’s Western Hemisphere.

The 11,000 pound satellite was built by prime contractor Lockheed Martin and is the first of a quartet of four identical satellites – comprising GOES-R, S, T, and U – at an overall cost of about $11 Billion. This will keep the GOES satellite system operational through 2036.

Blastoff of revolutionary NASA/NOAA GOES-R weather satellite on ULA Atlas V on Nov. 19, 2016 - as seen from remote camera at Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Blastoff of revolutionary NASA/NOAA GOES-R weather satellite on ULA Atlas V on Nov. 19, 2016 – as seen from remote camera at Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The science suite includes the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) built by Harris Corporation, the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) built by Lockheed Martin, Solar Ultraviolet Imager (SUVI), Extreme Ultraviolet and X-Ray Irradiance Sensors (EXIS), Space Environment In-Situ Suite (SEISS), and the Magnetometer (MAG).

ABI is the primary instrument and will collect 3 times more spectral data with 4 times greater resolution and scans 5 times faster than ever before – via the primary Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) instrument – compared to the current GOES satellites.

Atlas V and GOES-R aloft after Nov. 19, 2016 liftoff of the powerful NASA/NOAA weather observatory on ULA Atlas V from pad 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida - as seen from the VAB roof.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Atlas V and GOES-R aloft after Nov. 19, 2016 liftoff of the powerful NASA/NOAA weather observatory on ULA Atlas V from pad 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida – as seen from the VAB roof. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

GOES-R launched on the massively powerful Atlas V 541 configuration vehicle, augmented by four solid rocket boosters on the first stage.

The payload fairing is 5 meters (16.4 feet) in diameter. The first stage is powered by the Russian built duel nozzle RD AMROSS RD-180 engine. And the Centaur upper stage is powered by a single-engine Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C engine.

This was only the fourth Atlas V launch employing the 541 configuration.

ULA Atlas V rocket and GOES-R weather observatory at launch pad 41 at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit:  Dawn Leek Taylor
ULA Atlas V rocket and GOES-R weather observatory at launch pad 41 at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Dawn Leek Taylor

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Track mobile used to push ULS Atlas V and NASA/NOAA GOES-R to pad 41 from VIF processing facility. Credit: Lane Hermann
Track mobile used to push ULS Atlas V and NASA/NOAA GOES-R to pad 41 from VIF processing facility. Credit: Lane Hermann
Launch of NASA/NOAA GOES-R weather observatory on ULA Atlas V on Nov. 19, 2016 from pad 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, as seen from Playalinda beach. Credit: Jillian Laudick
Launch of NASA/NOAA GOES-R weather observatory on ULA Atlas V on Nov. 19, 2016 from pad 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, as seen from Playalinda beach. Credit: Jillian Laudick
Atlas V/GOES-R launch as seen rising over neighbor houses in Titusville, Florida  on Nov. 19, 2016. Credit: Melissa Bayles
Atlas V/GOES-R launch as seen rising over neighbor houses in Titusville, Florida on Nov. 19, 2016. Credit: Melissa Bayles
Atlas V rocket and GOES-R nighttime launch soars over the swimming pool at the Quality Inn Kennedy Space Center in Titusville, Florida  on Nov. 19, 2016. Credit: Wesley Baskin
Atlas V rocket and GOES-R nighttime launch soars over the swimming pool at the Quality Inn Kennedy Space Center in Titusville, Florida on Nov. 19, 2016. Credit: Wesley Baskin
The NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite - R Series) being processed at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL, in advance of launch on a ULA Atlas V on Nov. 19, 2016.  GOES-R will be America’s most advanced weather satellite. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series) being processed at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL, in advance of launch on a ULA Atlas V on Nov. 19, 2016. GOES-R will be America’s most advanced weather satellite. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

In the Cleanroom with Game Changing GOES-R Next Gen Weather Satellite – Launching Nov. 19

The NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite - R Series) being processed at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL, in advance of planned launch on a ULA Atlas V slated for Nov. 19, 2016.  GOES-R will be America’s most advanced weather satellite. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series) being processed at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL, in advance of planned launch on a ULA Atlas V slated for Nov. 19, 2016. GOES-R will be America’s most advanced weather satellite. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – After an ironic detour due to Hurricane Matthew, liftoff of the game changing NASA/NOAA next generation GOES-R geostationary weather observation satellite offering a “dramatic leap in capability” is finally on track for this weekend on Nov. 19 from the Florida Space Coast.

And Universe Today recently got an up close look and briefing about the massive probe inside the cleanroom processing facility at Astrotech Space Operations in Titusville, Fl.

“We are bringing the nation a new capability .. that’s a dramatic leap .. to scan the entire hemisphere in about 5 minutes,” said Greg Mandt, NOAA GOES-R program manager during a briefing in the Astrotech cleanroom.

“GOES-R has both weather and space weather detection capabilities!” Tim Gasparrini, GOES-R program manager for Lockheed Martin, told Universe Today during a cleanroom interview.

Astrotech is located just a few miles down the road from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and the KSC Visitor Complex housing the finest exhibits of numerous spaceships, hardware items and space artifacts.

The NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite - R Series) being processed at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL, in advance of planned launch on a ULA Atlas V slated for Nov. 19, 2016.  GOES-R will be America’s most advanced weather satellite. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series) being processed at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL, in advance of planned launch on a ULA Atlas V slated for Nov. 19, 2016. GOES-R will be America’s most advanced weather satellite. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

GOES-R, which stands for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series – is a new and advanced transformational weather satellite that will vastly enhance the quality, speed and accuracy of weather forecasting available to forecasters for Earth’s Western Hemisphere.

The impact of deadly Cat 4 Hurricane Matthew on the Florida Space Coast on October 7, forced the closure of the vital Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) and the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) launch and processing vital facilities that ultimately resulted in a two week launch delay due to storm related effects and facilities damage.

Liftoff of the NASA/NOAA GOES-R weather satellite atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket is now scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 19 at 5:42 p.m. from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, shortly after sunset.

The launch window extends for an hour from 5:42-6:42 p.m. EST.

GOES-R is the first in a new series of American’s most powerful and most advanced next generation weather observation satellites. It is designed to last for a 15 year orbital lifetime.

Once in orbit it will be known as GOES-16. TV viewers are presently accustomed to seeing daily streams of imagery from the GOES-East and GOES-West weather observation satellites currently in orbit.

What’s the big deal about GOES-R?

Audiences will notice big changes from GOES-R once it becomes operational because it will provide images of weather patterns and severe storms as regularly as every five minutes or as frequently as every 30 seconds.

“These images can be used to aid in weather forecasts, severe weather outlooks, watches and warnings, lightning conditions, maritime forecasts and aviation forecasts.

“It also will assist in longer term forecasting, such as in seasonal predictions and drought outlooks. In addition, space weather conditions will be monitored constantly, including the effects of solar flares to provide advance notice of potential communication and navigation disruptions. It also will assist researchers in understanding the interactions between land, oceans, the atmosphere and climate.”

GOES-R was built by prime contractor Lockheed Martin and is the first of a four satellite series – comprising GOES-R, S, T, and U that will be keep the GOES satellite system operational through 2036.

All four of the revolutionary 11,000 pound satellites are identical. The overall cost is about $11 Billion.

“This is a very exciting time,” explained Greg Mandt, the NOAA GOES-R program manager during the Astrotech cleanroom briefing.

“This is the culmination of about 15 years of intense work for the great team of NOAA and NASA and our contractors Lockheed Martin and Harris.”

“We are bringing the nation a new capability. The GOES program has been around for about 40 years and most every American sees it every night on the weather broadcasts when they see go to the satellite imagery. And what’s really exciting is that for the first time in that 40 years we are really end to end replacing the entire GOES system. The weather community is really excited about what we are bringing.”

“It’s a dramatic leap in capability – like moving from black and white TV to HDTV.”

“We will be able to scan the entire hemisphere in about 5 minutes and do things so much faster with double the resolution.”

The NASA/NOAA/Lockheed Martin/Harris GOES-R team gives a big thumbs up for the dramatic leap in capability this next gen weather observation satellite will provide - during media briefing at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL. Launch is set for Nov. 19, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The NASA/NOAA/Lockheed Martin/Harris GOES-R team gives a big thumbs up for the dramatic leap in capability this next gen weather observation satellite will provide – during media briefing at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL. Launch is set for Nov. 19, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

It was built in facilities in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and Denver, Colorado. It arrived at Astrotech in August for final processing and checkouts of the spacecraft and instruments.

The gigantic school bus sized satellite is equipped with a suite of six instruments or sensors that are the most advanced of their kind. They will be used for three types of observations: Earth sensing, solar imaging, and space environment measuring. They will point to the Earth, the Sun and the in-situ environment of the spacecraft.

The suite includes the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI), Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM), Solar Ultraviolet Imager (SUVI), Extreme Ultraviolet and X-Ray Irradiance Sensors (EXIS), Space Environment In-Situ Suite (SEISS), and the Magnetometer (MAG).

The two Earth-pointing instruments are on the top of the spacecraft – namely ABI and GLM.

“ABI is the premier instrument on the spacecraft. When you turn on the news and see a severe storm picture, that’s the one it comes from. It takes pictures in the visible as well as the infrared (IR), near infrared (IR),” Tim Gasparrini, GOES-R program manager for Lockheed Martin, told Universe Today during a cleanroom interview.

“It is looking for things like moisture, vegetation, aerosols and fire. So it looks across a broad spectrum to determine the environmental conditions on Earth.”

ABI offers 3 times more spectral channels with 4 times greater resolution and scans 5 times faster than ever before, compared to the current GOES satellites.

The GOES-R ABI will view the Earth with 16 different spectral bands (compared to five on current GOES), including two visible channels, four near-infrared channels, and ten infrared channels, according to the mission fact sheet.

It will also carry the first operational lightning mapper ever flown in space – GLM – built by Lockheed Martin. It has a single-channel, near-infrared optical transient detector.

“This is the first lightning mapper in space and at geostationary orbit.”

“GLM takes a picture of a scene on the Earth 500 times per second. And it compares those images for a change in the scene that can detect lightning, using an algorithm,” Gasparrini told me.

“The importance of that is lightning is a precursor to severe weather. So they are hoping that GLM will up to double the tornado warning time. So instead of 10 minutes warning you get 20 minutes warning, for example.”

GLM will measure total lightning (in-cloud, cloud-to-cloud and cloud-to-ground) activity continuously over the Americas and adjacent ocean regions with near-uniform spatial resolution of approximately 10 km.

Side view of NASA/NOAA GOES-R next gen weather observation satellite shoewing asolar [anels and instruments inside Astrotech Space Operations cleanroom, in Titusville, FL. Launch is set for Nov. 19, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Side view of NASA/NOAA GOES-R next gen weather observation satellite showing solar panels and instruments inside Astrotech Space Operations cleanroom, in Titusville, FL. Launch is set for Nov. 19, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“The two solar pointing instruments are located on a platform that constantly points them at the sun – SUVI (built by Lockheed Martin and EXIS. SUVI looks at the sun in the ultraviolet and EXIS looks at the x-ray wavelengths.”

The instruments work in concert.

“SUVI detects a solar flare on he sun and EXIS measures the intensity of the flare. As it comes towards the Earth, NOAA then uses the DSCOVR satellite [launched last year] as sort of a warning buoy about 30 minutes before the Earth. This gives a warning that a geomagnetic storm is heading toward the Earth.”

“When the storm reaches the Earth, the magnetometer instrument (MAG) on GOES-R then measures the influence of the magnetic storm on the magnetic field of the Earth.”

“Then the SEISS instrument, a charged particle detector, measures the charged particle effect of the storm on the Earth at geostationary orbit.”

“So GOES-R has both weather and space weather detection capabilities!” Gasparini elaborated.

The huge bus sized satellite measures 6.1 m x 5.6 m x 3.9 m (20.0 ft x 18.4 ft x 12.8 ft) with a three-axis stabilized spacecraft bus.

It has a dry mass of 2,857 kg (6,299 lbs) and a fueled mass of 5,192 kg (11,446 lbs) at launch.

The instruments are very sensitive to contamination and the team is taking great care to limit particulate and molecular contaminants in the cleanroom. Some of the instruments have contamination budget limits of less than 10 angstroms – smaller than the diameter of a typical molecule. So there can’t even be a single layer of molecules on the instruments surface after 15 years on orbit.

GOES-R weather observation satellite instrument suite. Credit: NASA/NOAA
GOES-R weather observation satellite instrument suite. Credit: NASA/NOAA

GOES-R can also multitask according to a NASA/NOAA factsheet.

“It can scan the Western Hemisphere every 15 minutes, the Continental U.S. every 5 minutes and areas of severe weather every 30-60 seconds. All at the same time!”

GOES-R will blastoff on a ULA Atlas V in the very powerful 541 configuration, augmented by four solid rocket boosters on the first stage. The payload fairing is 5 meters (16.4 feet) in diameter and the upper stage is powered by a single-engine Centaur.

It will be launched to a Geostationary orbit some 22,300 miles above Earth.

The Atlas V booster has been assembled inside the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) at SLC-41 and will be rolled out to the launch pad Friday morning, Nov. 18 with the GOES-R weather satellite encapsulated inside the nose cone.

The weather forecast shows a 80 percent chance of favorable weather conditions for Saturday’s sunset blastoff.

GOES-R logo
GOES-R logo. Credit: NASA/NOAA

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about GOES-R weather satellite, Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, OSIRIS-REx, InSight Mars lander, ULA, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions, Juno at Jupiter, SpaceX AMOS-6 & CRS-9 rocket launch, ISS, ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, Orbital ATK Cygnus, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Nov 17-20: “GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions to the ISS, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

GOES-R infographic
GOES-R infographic
Tim Gasparinni, GOES-R program manager for Lockheed Martin, and Ken Kremer/University Today pose with GOES-R revolutionary weather satellite inside Astrotech Space Operations cleanroom, in Titusville, FL, and built by NASA/NOAA/Lockheed Martin/Harris. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Tim Gasparinni, GOES-R program manager for Lockheed Martin, and Ken Kremer/University Today pose with GOES-R revolutionary weather satellite inside Astrotech Space Operations cleanroom, in Titusville, FL, and built by NASA/NOAA/Lockheed Martin/Harris. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Launch of GOES-R Transformational Weather Satellite Likely Delayed by Hurricane Matthew

The NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite - R Series) being processed at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL, in advance of the planned launch on a ULS Atlas V on Nov 4, 2016.  GOES-R will be America’s most advanced weather satellite. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series) being processed at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL, in advance of the planned launch on a ULA Atlas V likely delayed from Nov 4, 2016 by Hurricane Matthew. GOES-R will be America’s most advanced weather satellite. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Next month’s launch of GOES-R – a new and advanced transformational weather satellite that will vastly enhance the quality, speed and accuracy of weather forecasting – will likely be delayed a few days due to lingering storm related effects of deadly Hurricane Matthew on launch preparations at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Universe Today confirmed with launch provider United Launch Alliance (ULA).

“The GOES-R launch will likely be delayed due to Hurricane Matthew,” ULA spokeswoman Lyn Chassagne told Universe Today.

Liftoff of the NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series) weather satellite atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket had been scheduled for Nov. 4 at 5:40 p.m. from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

GOES-R is the first in a new series of American’s most powerful and most advanced next generation weather observation satellites.

It’s ironic that awful weather is impacting the launch of this critical weather satellite.

It’s not known how long any postponement would be – perhaps only a few days since preliminary indications are that the base suffered only minor damage and there are no reports of major damage.

“Our teams are still doing a damage assessment. So we don’t have a status about all of our infrastructure yet,” Chassagne told me.

“A preliminary assessment shows that we have some minor damage to a few of our facilities. We had no rockets on the pads. So there is no damage to hardware.”

Damage assessment teams are evaluating the launch pad and launch facilities in detail right now.

“Since we still have emergency response teams in assessing, we don’t know how long the delay will be until we get those assessments.”

The NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite - R Series) being processed at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL, in advance of the planned launch on a ULA Atlas V likely delayed from Nov 4, 2016 by Hurricane Matthew.  GOES-R will be America’s most advanced weather satellite. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series) being processed at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL, in advance of the planned launch on a ULA Atlas V likely delayed from Nov 4, 2016 by Hurricane Matthew. GOES-R will be America’s most advanced weather satellite. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The looming threat of a direct hit on Cape Canaveral and KSC from the Category 4 storm Hurricane Matthew on Friday, Oct. 7, forced the closure of both facilities before the storm hit. They remained closed this weekend except to emergency personal.

“Got in today to assess. Light to moderate damage to our facilities. No damage to any flight assets,” tweeted ULA CEO Tory Bruno.

The base closures therefore also forced a halt to launch preparations at the Cape and pad 41.

The storm grazed by the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) and the major population centers along the Florida Space Coast with wind gusts up to 107 mph – rather than making a direct impact as feared.

“Hurricane Matthew passed Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center …. with sustained winds of 90 mph with gusts to 107 mph,” on Friday, NASA officials reported.

The storm passed “the space center about 26 miles off the tip of Cape Canaveral.”

Cat 4 Hurricane Matthew track during the late evening of 6 Oct 2016.  Credit: NASA/NOAA
Cat 4 Hurricane Matthew track during the late evening of 6 Oct 2016. Credit: NASA/NOAA

The launch ULA facilities are now being thoroughly inspected before any launch preparation can proceed.

The satellite is in the final stages of preparation at the Astrotech Space Operations Facility in Titusville, FL as I recently observed during an up close visit in the High Bay cleanroom.

Check out this amazing rooftop video showing the high winds pummeling Titusville during Hurricane Matthew just a few miles away from Astrotech and the GOES-R satellite – from my space colleague Jeff Seibert.

Video caption: Before we bailed out on Thursday afternoon, I clamped one of my launch pad remote cameras to the power service post on our roof. Wind is blocked a lot by trees but none fell on the house. The highest recorded wind speed was 51mph at 7:30AM on Oct. 7, 2016. The minimum barometric pressure was 28.79″ from 8:20 – 9 AM. We got 5.9″ of rain. The ridge line faces due east. We never lost power. Credit: Jeff Seibert

Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for GOES-R.

United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid, retrieve at least two ounces of surface material and return it to Earth for study.  Liftoff was at 7:05 p.m. EDT on September 8, 2016 in this remote camera view taken from inside the launch pad perimeter.  Note the newly install crew access arm and white room for astronaut flights atop Atlas starting in early 2018.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid on September 8, 2016. GOES-R launch on an Atlas V planned for Nov. 4 is likely delayed due to Hurricane Matthew. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Whenever it does launch, GOES-R will blast off on a ULA Atlas V in the very powerful 541 configuration, augmented by four solid rocket booster on the first stage.

It will be launched to a Geostationary orbit some 22,300 miles above Earth.

But ULA has not yet begun assembling the Atlas V booster inside the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) at SLC-41 due to the storm.

Because of Hurricane Matthew, the first stage arrival had to be postponed. The second stage is already in port at the Delta operations center and being integrated.

“The first stage booster is not yet at the Cape,” Chassagne confirmed.

However, conditions at the Cape have improved sufficiently for the US Air Force to clear its shipment into port, as of this evening.

“We just cleared CCAFS to be able to accept a booster for the GOES-R launch–how appropriate that GOES is a weather satellite!” wrote Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, commander of the Air Force’s 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, in a Facebook update late today, Oct. 9.

“We are returning to full mission capability and our status as the World’s Premier Gateway to Space.”

Artists concept for  NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite - R Series) advanced weather satellite in Earth orbit. Credit: NASA/NOAA
Artists concept for NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series) advanced weather satellite in Earth orbit. Credit: NASA/NOAA

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

GOES-R logo.  Credit: NASA/NOAA
GOES-R logo. Credit: NASA/NOAA

NASA’s InSight Lander Approved for 2018 Mars Launch

This artist's concept depicts the InSight lander on Mars after the lander's robotic arm has deployed a seismometer and a heat probe directly onto the ground. InSight is the first mission dedicated to investigating the deep interior of Mars. The findings will advance understanding of how all rocky planets, including Earth, formed and evolved. NASA approved a new launch date in May 2018.  Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech
This artist’s concept depicts the InSight lander on Mars after the lander’s robotic arm has deployed a seismometer and a heat probe directly onto the ground. InSight is the first mission dedicated to investigating the deep interior of Mars. The findings will advance understanding of how all rocky planets, including Earth, formed and evolved. NASA approved a new launch date in May 2018. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Top NASA managers have formally approved the launch of the agency’s InSight Lander to the Red Planet in the spring of 2018 following a postponement from this spring due to the discovery of a vacuum leak in a prime science instrument supplied by France.

The InSight missions goal is to accomplish an unprecedented study of the deep interior of the most Earth-like planet in our solar system.

NASA is now targeting a new launch window that begins May 5, 2018, for the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight). mission aimed at studying the deep interior of Mars. The Mars landing is now scheduled for Nov. 26, 2018.

InSight had originally been slated for blastoff on March 4, 2016 atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

But the finding of a vacuum leak in its prime science instrument, the French-built Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), in December 2015 forced an unavoidable two year launch postponement. Because of the immutable laws of orbital mechanics, launch opportunities to the Red Planet only occur approximately every 26 months.

InSight’s purpose is to help us understand how rocky planets – including Earth – formed and evolved. The science goal is totally unique – to “listen to the heart of Mars to find the beat of rocky planet formation.”

The revised launch date was approved by the agency’s Science Mission Directorate.

“Our robotic scientific explorers such as InSight are paving the way toward an ambitious journey to send humans to the Red Planet,” said Geoff Yoder, acting associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, in Washington, in a statement.

“It’s gratifying that we are moving forward with this important mission to help us better understand the origins of Mars and all the rocky planets, including Earth.”

NASA's InSight Mars lander spacecraft in a Lockheed Martin clean room near Denver. As part of a series of deployment tests, the spacecraft was commanded to deploy its solar arrays in the clean room to test and verify the exact process that it will use on the surface of Mars.
NASA’s InSight Mars lander spacecraft in a Lockheed Martin clean room near Denver. As part of a series of deployment tests, the spacecraft was commanded to deploy its solar arrays in the clean room to test and verify the exact process that it will use on the surface of Mars.

Since InSight would not have been able to carry out and fulfill its intended research objectives because of the vacuum leak in its defective SEIS seismometer instrument, NASA managers had no choice but to scrub this year’s launch. For a time its outlook for a future revival seemed potentially uncertain in light of today’s constrained budget environment.

The leak, if left uncorrected, would have rendered the flawed probe useless to carry out the unprecedented scientific research foreseen to measure the planets seismic activity and sense for “Marsquakes” to determine the nature of the Red Planet’s deep interior.

“The SEIS instrument — designed to measure ground movements as small as half the radius of a hydrogen atom — requires a perfect vacuum seal around its three main sensors in order to withstand harsh conditions on the Red Planet,” according to NASA.

The SEIS seismometer instrument was provided by the Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) – the French national space agency equivalent to NASA. SEIS is one of the two primary science instruments aboard InSight. The other instrument measuring heat flow from the Martian interior is provided by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and is named Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3). The HP3 instrument checked out perfectly.

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) was assigned lead responsibility for the “replanned” mission and insuring that the SEIS instrument operates properly with no leaks.

JPL is “redesigning, developing and qualifying the instrument’s evacuated container and the electrical feedthroughs that failed previously. France’s space agency, the Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES), will focus on developing and delivering the key sensors for SEIS, integration of the sensors into the container, and the final integration of the instrument onto the spacecraft.”

“We’ve concluded that a replanned InSight mission for launch in 2018 is the best approach to fulfill these long-sought, high-priority science objectives,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division.

The cost of the two-year delay and instrument redesign amounts to $153.8 million, on top of the original budget for InSight of $675 million.

NASA says this cost will not force a delay or cancellation to any current missions. However, “there may be fewer opportunities for new missions in future years, from fiscal years 2017-2020.”

Back shell of NASA's InSight spacecraft is being lowered onto the mission's lander, which is folded into its stowed configuration.  The back shell and a heat shield form the aeroshell, which will protect the lander as the spacecraft plunges into the upper atmosphere of Mars.  Launch now rescheduled to May 2018 to fix French-built seismometer.  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin
Back shell of NASA’s InSight spacecraft is being lowered onto the mission’s lander, which is folded into its stowed configuration. The back shell and a heat shield form the aeroshell, which will protect the lander as the spacecraft plunges into the upper atmosphere of Mars. Launch now rescheduled to May 2018 to fix French-built seismometer. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for InSight and placed the spacecraft in storage while SEIS is fixed.

InSight is funded by NASA’s Discovery Program of low cost, focused science missions along with the science instrument funding contributions from France and Germany.

Mars has the same basic internal structure as the Earth and other terrestrial (rocky) planets. It is large enough to have pressures equivalent to those throughout the Earth's upper mantle, and it has a core with a similar fraction of it's mass. In contrast, the pressure even near the center of the Moon barely reach that just below the Earth's crust and it has a tiny, almost negligible core. The size of Mars indicates that it must have undergone many of the same separation and crystallization processes that formed the Earth's crust and core during early planetary formation.  Credit: JPL/NASA
Mars has the same basic internal structure as the Earth and other terrestrial (rocky) planets. It is large enough to have pressures equivalent to those throughout the Earth’s upper mantle, and it has a core with a similar fraction of it’s mass. In contrast, the pressure even near the center of the Moon barely reach that just below the Earth’s crust and it has a tiny, almost negligible core. The size of Mars indicates that it must have undergone many of the same separation and crystallization processes that formed the Earth’s crust and core during early planetary formation. Credit: JPL/NASA

Meanwhile, NASA is preparing to launch its big planetary mission of 2018 on Thursday of this week ! – the OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return probe blasts off on an Atlas V on Sept 8.

Watch for Ken’s continuing OSIRIS-REx mission and launch reporting from on site at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

………….

Learn more about OSIRIS-REx, InSight Mars lander, SpaceX missions, Juno at Jupiter, SpaceX CRS-9 rocket launch, ISS, ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, Orbital ATK Cygnus, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Sep 6-8: “OSIRIS-REx lainch, SpaceX missions/launches to ISS on CRS-9, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sampling Probe Assembled at Florida Launch Base for Sep. 8 Blastoff — Cleanroom Photos

NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility high bay at NASA's Kennedy Space Center  is being processed for Sep. 8, 2016 launch to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral, FL.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft, return capsule and payload fairings inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is being processed for Sep. 8, 2016 launch to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – OSIRIS-Rex, the first American sponsored probe aimed at retrieving “pristine materials” from the surface of an asteroid and returning them to Earth has been fully assembled at its Florida launch base and is ready to blastoff ten days from today on Sep. 8. It’s a groundbreaking mission that could inform us about astrobiology and the ‘Origin of Life.’

“We are interested in that material because it is a time capsule from the earliest stages of solar system formation,” said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, Tucson, in an interview with Universe Today beside the completed spacecraft inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility, or PHSF, clean room processing facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

With virtually all prelaunch processing complete, leading members of the science, engineering and launch team including Lauretta met with several members of the media, including Universe Today, inside the clean room for a last and exclusive up-close look and briefing with the one-of-its-kind $800 million Asteroid sampling probe last week.

NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security – Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft will launch from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on September 8 at 7:05 p.m. EDT.

OSIRIS-REx goal is to fly on a roundtrip seven-year journey to the near-Earth asteroid target named Bennu and back. 101955 Bennu is a near Earth asteroid and was selected specifically because it is a carbon-rich asteroid.

While orbiting Bennu it will move in close and snatch pristine soil samples containing organic materials from the surface using the TAGSAM collection dish, and bring them back to Earth for study by researchers using all of the most sophisticated science instruments available to humankind.

“The primary objective of the OSIRIS-Rex mission is to bring back pristine material from the surface of the carbonaceous asteroid Bennu, OSIRIS-Rex Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta told Universe Today in the PHSF, as the probe was undergoing final preparation for shipment to the launch pad.

“It records the very first material that formed from the earliest stages of solar system formation. And we are really interested in the evolution of carbon during that phase. Particularly the key prebiotic molecules like amino acids, nucleic acids, phosphates and sugars that build up. These are basically the biomolecules for all of life.”

Overhead view of NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft with small white colored sample return canister atop,  inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility high bay at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Launch is slated for Sep. 8, 2016 to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.   Credit:  Julian Leek
Overhead view of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft with small white colored sample return canister atop, inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Launch is slated for Sep. 8, 2016 to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Julian Leek

OSIRIS-REx will gather rocks and soil and bring at least a 60-gram (2.1-ounce) sample back to Earth in 2023. It has the capacity to scoop up to about 1 kg or more.

The mission will help scientists investigate how planets formed and how life began. It will also improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth by measuring the Yarkovsky effect.

I asked Lauretta to explain in more detail why was Bennu selected as the target to answer fundamental questions related to the origin of life?

“We selected asteroid Bennu as the target for this mission because we feel it has the best chance of containing those pristine organic compounds from the early stage of solar system formation,” Lauretta told me.

“And that information is based on our ground based spectral characterization using telescopes here on Earth. Also, space based assets like the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope.”

What is known about the presence of nitrogen containing compounds like amino acids and other elements on Bennu that are the building blocks of life?

“When we look at the compounds that make up these organic materials in these primitive asteroidal materials, we see a lot of carbon,” Lauretta explained.

“But we also see nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, sulfur and phosphorous. We call those the CHONPS. Those are the six elements we really focus on when we look at astrobiology and prebiotic chemistry and how those got into the origin of life.”

View of science instrument suite and TAGSAM robotic sample return arm on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.  Probe is slated for Sep. 8, 2016 launch to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
View of science instrument suite and TAGSAM robotic sample return arm on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Probe is slated for Sep. 8, 2016 launch to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft was built for NASA by prime contractor Lockheed Martin at their facility near Denver, Colorado and flown to the Kennedy Space Center on May 20.

For the past three months it has undergone final integration, processing and testing inside the PHSF under extremely strict contamination control protocols to prevent contamination by particle, aerosols and most importantly organic residues like amino acids that could confuse researchers seeking to discover those very materials in the regolith samples gathered for return to Earth.

The PHFS clean room was most recently used to process the Orbital ATK Cygnus space station resupply vehicles. It has also processed NASA interplanetary probes such as the Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory and MAVEN Mars orbiter missions.

Side view of NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft showing the High Gain Antenna at left and solar panel, inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility high bay at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.  Probe is being processed for Sep. 8, 2016 launch to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Side view of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft showing the High Gain Antenna at left and solar panel, inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Probe is being processed for Sep. 8, 2016 launch to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The spacecraft will reach Bennu in 2018. Once within three miles (5 km) of the asteroid, the spacecraft will begin at least six months of comprehensive surface mapping of the carbonaceous asteroid, according to Heather Enos, deputy principal investigator, in an interview with Universe Today.

“We will then move the spacecraft to within about a half kilometer or so to collect further data,” Enos elaborated.

It will map the chemistry and mineralogy of the primitive carbonaceous asteroid. The team will initially select about 10 target areas for further scrutiny as the sampling target. This will be whittled down to two, a primary and backup, Enos told me.

After analyzing the data returned, the science team then will select a site where the spacecraft’s robotic sampling arm will grab a sample of regolith and rocks. The regolith may record the earliest history of our solar system.

Engineers will command the spacecraft to gradually move on closer to the chosen sample site, and then extend the arm to snatch the pristine samples the TAGSAM sample return arm.

PI Lauretta will make the final decision on when and which site to grab the sample from.

“As the Principal Investigator for the mission I have responsibility for all of the key decisions during our operations,” Lauretta replied. “So we will be deciding on where we want to target our high resolution investigations for sample site evaluation. And ultimately what is the one location we want to send the spacecraft down to the surface of the asteroid to and collect that sample.”

“And then we have to decide like if we collected enough sample and are we ready to stow it in the sample return capsule. Or are we going to use one of our 2 contingency bottles of gas to go for a second attempt.”

“The primary objective is one successful sampling event. So when we collect 60 grams or 2 ounces of sample then we are done!”

“In the event that we decide to collect more, it will be intermixed with anything we collected on the first attempt.”

The priceless sample will then be stowed in the on board sample return capsule for the long journey back to Earth.

NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility high bay at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Launch is slated for Sep. 8, 2016 to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.   Credit: Lane Hermann
NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Launch is slated for Sep. 8, 2016 to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Lane Hermann

Bennu is an unchanged remnant from the collapse of the solar nebula and birth of our solar system some 4.5 billion years ago, little altered over time.

Bennu is a near-Earth asteroid and was selected for the sample return mission because it could hold clues to the origin of the solar system and host organic molecules that may have seeded life on Earth.

Artist’s conception of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft at Bennu.  Credits: NASA/GSFC
Artist’s conception of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft at Bennu. Credits: NASA/GSFC

OSIRIS-REx will return the largest sample from space since the American and Soviet Union’s moon landing missions of the 1970s.

Watch this USLaunchReport video shot during media visit inside the PHSF on Aug. 20, 2016:

Video caption: Our first introduction to the OSIRIS-REx asteroid bound mission in search of the origins of life, from inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Aug. 20, 2016. Credit: USLaunchReport

OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program, following New Horizons to Pluto and Juno to Jupiter, which also launched on Atlas V rockets.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is responsible for overall mission management.

OSIRIS-REx complements NASA’s Asteroid Initiative – including the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) which is a robotic spacecraft mission aimed at capturing a surface boulder from a different near-Earth asteroid and moving it into a stable lunar orbit for eventual up close sample collection by astronauts launched in NASA’s new Orion spacecraft. Orion will launch atop NASA’s new SLS heavy lift booster concurrently under development.

Watch for Ken’s continuing OSIRIS-REx mission and launch reporting from on site at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Ait Force Station, FL.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Dr Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, Tucson, and Dr. Ken Kremer, Universe Today point to NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center on Aug. 20, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Dr Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, Tucson, and Dr. Ken Kremer, Universe Today point to NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center on Aug. 20, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The University of Arizona’s camera suite, OCAMS, sits on a test bench that mimics its arrangement on the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. The three cameras that compose the instrument – MapCam (left), PolyCam and SamCam – are the eyes of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission. They will map the asteroid Bennu, help choose a sample site, and ensure that the sample is correctly stowed on the spacecraft.  Credits: University of Arizona/Symeon Platts
The University of Arizona’s camera suite, OCAMS, sits on a test bench that mimics its arrangement on the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. The three cameras that compose the instrument – MapCam (left), PolyCam and SamCam – are the eyes of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission. They will map the asteroid Bennu, help choose a sample site, and ensure that the sample is correctly stowed on the spacecraft. Credits: University of Arizona/Symeon Platts

Juno Transmits 1st Orbital Imagery after Swooping Arrival Over Jovian Cloud Tops and Powering Up

This color view from NASA's Juno spacecraft is made from some of the first images taken by JunoCam after the spacecraft entered orbit around Jupiter on July 4, 2016.  Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS
This color view from NASA’s Juno spacecraft is made from some of the first images taken by JunoCam after the spacecraft entered orbit around Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

NASA’s newly arrived Jovian orbiter Juno has transmitted its first imagery since reaching orbit last week on July 4 after swooping over Jupiter’s cloud tops and powering back up its package of state-of-the-art science instruments for unprecedented research into determining the origin of our solar systems biggest planet.

The breathtaking image clearly shows the well known banded cloud tops in Jupiter’s atmosphere as well as the famous Great Red Spot and three of the humongous planet’s four largest moons — Io, Europa and Ganymede.

The ‘Galilean’ moons are annotated from left to right in the lead image.

Juno’s visible-light camera named JunoCam was turned on six days after Juno fired its main engine to slow down and be captured into orbit around Jupiter – the ‘King of the Planets’ following a nearly five year long interplanetary voyage from Earth.

The image was taken when Juno was 2.7 million miles (4.3 million kilometers) distant from Jupiter on July 10, at 10:30 a.m. PDT (1:30 p.m. EDT, 5:30 UTC), and traveling on the outbound leg of its initial 53.5-day capture orbit.

Juno came within only about 3000 miles of the cloud tops and passed through Jupiter’s extremely intense and hazardous radiation belts during orbital arrival over the north pole.

Illustration of NASA's Juno spacecraft firing its main engine to slow down and go into orbit around Jupiter. Lockheed Martin built the Juno spacecraft for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  Credit: NASA/Lockheed Martin
Illustration of NASA’s Juno spacecraft firing its main engine to slow down and go into orbit around Jupiter. Lockheed Martin built the Juno spacecraft for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Credit: NASA/Lockheed Martin

The newly released JunoCam image is visible proof that Juno survived the do-or-die orbital fireworks on America’s Independence Day that placed the baskeball-court sized probe into orbit around Jupiter – and is in excellent health to carry out its groundbreaking mission to elucidate Jupiter’s ‘Genesis.’

“This scene from JunoCam indicates it survived its first pass through Jupiter’s extreme radiation environment without any degradation and is ready to take on Jupiter,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, in a statement.

“We can’t wait to see the first view of Jupiter’s poles.”

Within two days of the nerve wracking and fully automated 35-minute-long Jupiter Orbital Insertion (JOI) maneuver, the Juno engineering team begun powering up five of the probes science instruments on July 6.

Animation of Juno 14-day orbits starting in late 2016.  Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Animation of Juno 14-day orbits starting in late 2016. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

All nonessential instruments and systems had been powered down in the final days of Juno’s approach to Jupiter to ensure the maximum chances for success of the critical JOI engine firing.

“We had to turn all our beautiful instruments off to help ensure a successful Jupiter orbit insertion on July 4,” said Bolton.

“But next time around we will have our eyes and ears open. You can expect us to release some information about our findings around September 1.”

Juno resumed high data rate communications with Earth on July 5, the day after achieving orbit.

We can expect to see more JunoCam images taken during this first orbital path around the massive planet.

But the first high resolution images are still weeks away and will not be available until late August on the inbound leg when the spacecraft returns and swoops barely above the clouds.

“JunoCam will continue to take images as we go around in this first orbit,” said Candy Hansen, Juno co-investigator from the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona, in a statement.

“The first high-resolution images of the planet will be taken on August 27 when Juno makes its next close pass to Jupiter.”

All of JunoCams images will be released to the public.

During a 20 month long science mission – entailing 37 orbits lasting 14 days each – the probe will plunge to within about 2,600 miles (4,100 kilometers) of the turbulent cloud tops.

It will collect unparalleled new data that will unveil the hidden inner secrets of Jupiter’s origin and evolution as it peers “beneath the obscuring cloud cover of Jupiter and study its auroras to learn more about the planet’s origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.”

The solar powered Juno spacecraft approached Jupiter over its north pole, affording an unprecedented perspective on the Jovian system – “which looks like a mini solar system” – as it flew through the giant planets intense radiation belts in ‘autopilot’ mode.

Juno is the first solar powered probe to explore Jupiter or any outer planet.

In the final weeks of the approach JunoCam captured dramatic views of Jupiter and all four of the Galilean Moons moons — Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

At the post JOI briefing on July 5, these were combined into a spectacular JunoCam time-lapse movie released by Bolton and NASA.

Watch and be mesmerized -“for humanity, our first real glimpse of celestial harmonic motion” says Bolton.

Video caption: NASA’s Juno spacecraft captured a unique time-lapse movie of the Galilean satellites in motion about Jupiter. The movie begins on June 12th with Juno 10 million miles from Jupiter, and ends on June 29th, 3 million miles distant. The innermost moon is volcanic Io; next in line is the ice-crusted ocean world Europa, followed by massive Ganymede, and finally, heavily cratered Callisto. Galileo observed these moons to change position with respect to Jupiter over the course of a few nights. From this observation he realized that the moons were orbiting mighty Jupiter, a truth that forever changed humanity’s understanding of our place in the cosmos. Earth was not the center of the Universe. For the first time in history, we look upon these moons as they orbit Jupiter and share in Galileo’s revelation. This is the motion of nature’s harmony. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The $1.1 Billion Juno was launched on Aug. 5, 2011 from Cape Canaveral, Florida atop the most powerful version of the Atlas V rocket augmented by 5 solid rocket boosters and built by United Launch Alliance (ULA). That same Atlas V 551 version just launched MUOS-5 for the US Navy on June 24.

The Juno spacecraft was built by prime contractor Lockheed Martin in Denver.

The mission will end in February 2018 with an intentional death dive into the atmosphere to prevent any possibility of a collision with Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons that is a potential abode for life.

The last NASA spacecraft to orbit Jupiter was Galileo in 1995. It explored the Jovian system until 2003.

From Earth’s perspective, Jupiter was in conjunction with Earth’s Moon shortly after JOI during the first week in July.

Personally its thrilling to realize that an emissary from Earth is once again orbiting Jupiter after a 13 year long hiatus as seen in the authors image below – coincidentally taken the same day as JunoCam’s first image from orbit.

Juno, Jupiter and the Moon as seen from I-95 over Dunn, NC on July 10, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Juno, Jupiter and the Moon as seen from I-95 over Dunn, NC on July 10, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

………….

Learn more about Juno at Jupiter, SpaceX CRS-9 rocket launch, ISS, ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, Orbital ATK Cygnus, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

July 15-18: “SpaceX launches to ISS on CRS-9, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

NASA's Juno probe captured the image data for this composite picture during its Earth flyby on Oct. 9 over Argentina,  South America and the southern Atlantic Ocean. Raw imagery was reconstructed and aligned by Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo, and false-color blue has been added to the view taken by a near-infrared filter that is typically used to detect methane. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo
NASA’s Juno probe captured the image data for this composite picture during its Earth flyby on Oct. 9 over Argentina, South America and the southern Atlantic Ocean. Raw imagery was reconstructed and aligned by Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo, and false-color blue has been added to the view taken by a near-infrared filter that is typically used to detect methane. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

Juno Snaps Final View of Jovian System Ahead of ‘Independence Day’ Orbital Insertion Fireworks Tonight – Watch Live

This is the final view taken by the JunoCam instrument on NASA's Juno spacecraft before Juno's instruments were powered down in preparation for orbit insertion. Juno obtained this color view on June 29, 2016, at a distance of 3.3 million miles (5.3 million kilometers) from Jupiter.  Credit:  Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
This is the final view taken by the JunoCam instrument on NASA’s Juno spacecraft before Juno’s instruments were powered down in preparation for orbit insertion. Juno obtained this color view on June 29, 2016, at a distance of 3.3 million miles (5.3 million kilometers) from Jupiter. See timelapse movie below. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

After a nearly 5 year odyssey across the solar system, NASA’s solar powered Juno orbiter is all set to ignite its main engine late tonight and set off a powerful charge of do-or-die fireworks on America’s ‘Independence Day’ required to place the probe into orbit around Jupiter – the ‘King of the Planets.’

To achieve orbit, Juno must will perform a suspenseful maneuver known as ‘Jupiter Orbit Insertion’ or JOI tonight, Monday, July 4, upon which the entire mission and its fundamental science hinges. There are no second chances!

You can be part of all the excitement and tension building up to and during that moment, which is just hours away – and experience the ‘Joy of JOI’ by tuning into NASA TV tonight!

Watch the live webcast on NASA TV featuring the top scientists and NASA officials starting at 10:30 p.m. EDT (7:30 p.m. PST, 0230 GMT) – direct from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory: https://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

Illustration of NASA's Juno spacecraft firing its main engine to slow down and go into orbit around Jupiter. Lockheed Martin built the Juno spacecraft for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Illustration of NASA’s Juno spacecraft firing its main engine to slow down and go into orbit around Jupiter. Lockheed Martin built the Juno spacecraft for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Credit: NASA/Lockheed Martin

And for a breathtaking warm-up act, Juno’s on board public outreach JunoCam camera snapped a final gorgeous view of the Jovian system showing Jupiter and its four largest moons, dancing around the largest planet in our solar system.

The newly released color image was taken on June 29, 2016, at a distance of 3.3 million miles (5.3 million kilometers) from Jupiter – just before the probe went into autopilot mode.

It shows a dramatic view of the clouds bands of Jupiter, dominating a spectacular scene that includes the giant planet’s four largest moons — Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

NASA also released this new time-lapse JunoCam movie today:

Video caption: Juno’s Approach to Jupiter: After nearly five years traveling through space to its destination, NASA’s Juno spacecraft will arrive in orbit around Jupiter on July 4, 2016. This video shows a peek of what the spacecraft saw as it closed in on its destination. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The spacecraft is approaching Jupiter over its north pole, affording an unprecedented perspective on the Jovian system – “which looks like a mini solar system,” said Juno Principal Investigator and chief scientist Scott Bolton, from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, Tx, at today’s media briefing at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.

“The deep interior of Jupiter is nearly unknown. That’s what we are trying to learn about.”

The 35-minute-long main engine burn is preprogrammed to start at 11:18 p.m. EDT (8:18 p.m. PST, 0318 GMT). It is scheduled to last until approximately 11:53 p.m. (8:53 p.m. PST, 0353 GMT).

Juno mission briefing July 4, 2016 at JPL by Jim Green, Scott Bolton, Rick Nybakken and Heidi Becker.  Credit: Roland Keller
Juno mission briefing July 4, 2016 at JPL by Jim Green, Scott Bolton, Rick Nybakken and Heidi Becker. Credit: Roland Keller/rkeusa.blogspot.com

All of the science instruments were turned off on June 30 to keep the focus on the nail-biting insertion maneuver and preserve battery power, said Bolton. Solar powered Juno is pointed away from the sun during the engine firing.

JOI is required to slow the spacecraft so it can be captured into the gas giant’s orbit as it closes in over the north pole.

Initially the spacecraft will enter a long, looping polar orbit lasting about 53 days. That highly elliptical orbit will quickly be trimmed to 14 days for the science orbits.

The orbits are designed to minimize contact with Jupiter’s extremely intense radiation belts. The science instruments are shielded inside a ½ thick vault built of Titanium to protect them from the utterly deadly radiation – of some 20,000,000 rads.

Artist's concept of NASA's Juno spacecraft crossing the orbits of Jupiter's four largest moons -- Callisto, Gaynmede, Europa and Io -- on its approach to Jupiter. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Artist’s concept of NASA’s Juno spacecraft crossing the orbits of Jupiter’s four largest moons — Callisto, Gaynmede, Europa and Io — on its approach to Jupiter.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Juno is the fastest spacecraft ever to arrive at Jupiter and is moving at over 165,000 mph relative to Earth and 130,000 mph relative to Jupiter.

After a five-year and 2.8 Billion kilometer (1.7 Billion mile) outbound trek to the Jovian system and the largest planet in our solar system and an intervening Earth flyby speed boost, the moment of truth for Juno is now inexorably at hand.

Signals traveling at the speed of light take 48 minutes to reach Earth, said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, at the media briefing.

So the main engine burn, which is fully automated, will already be over for some 13 minutes before the first indications of the outcome reach Earth via a series of Doppler shifts and tones. It is about 540 million miles (869 million kilometers) from Earth.

“By the time the burn is complete, we won’t even hear about it until 13 minutes later.”

“The engine burn will slow Juno by 542 meters/second (1,212 mph) and is fully automated as it approaches over Jupiter’s North Pole,” explained Nybakken.

“The long five year cruise enabled us to really learn about the spacecraft and how it operates.”

As it travels through space, the basketball court sized Juno is spinning like a windmill with its 3 giant solar arrays.

“Juno is also the farthest mission to rely on solar power. The solar panels are 60 square meters in size. And although they provide only 1/25th the power at Earth, they still provide over 500 watts of power at Jupiter.”

Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager at JPL illustrates how Juno will enter orbit around Jupiter during Juno mission briefing on July 4, 2016 at JPL. Credit: Roland Keller
Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager at JPL illustrates how Juno will enter orbit around Jupiter during Juno mission briefing on July 4, 2016 at JPL. Credit: Roland Keller/rkeusa.blogspot.com

The protective cover that shields Juno’s main engine from micrometeorites and interstellar dust was opened on June 20.

During a 20 month long science mission – entailing 37 orbits lasting 14 days each – the probe will plunge to within about 3000 miles of the turbulent cloud tops and collect unprecedented new data that will unveil the hidden inner secrets of Jupiter’s origin and evolution.

“Jupiter is the Rosetta Stone of our solar system,” says Bolton. “It is by far the oldest planet, contains more material than all the other planets, asteroids and comets combined and carries deep inside it the story of not only the solar system but of us. Juno is going there as our emissary — to interpret what Jupiter has to say.”

During the orbits, Juno will probe beneath the obscuring cloud cover of Jupiter and study its auroras to learn more about the planet’s origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.

The $1.1 Billion Juno was launched on Aug. 5, 2011 from Cape Canaveral, Florida atop the most powerful version of the Atlas V rocket augmented by 5 solid rocket boosters and built by United Launch Alliance (ULA). That same Atlas V 551 version just launched MUOS-5 for the US Navy on June 24.

The Juno spacecraft was built by prime contractor Lockheed Martin in Denver.

Juno soars skyward to Jupiter on Aug. 5, 2011 from launch pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 12:25 p.m. EDT. View from the VAB roof. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Juno soars skyward to Jupiter on Aug. 5, 2011 from launch pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 12:25 p.m. EDT. View from the VAB roof. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Along the way Juno made a return trip to Earth on Oct. 9, 2013 for a flyby gravity assist speed boost that enabled the trek to Jupiter.

The flyby provided 70% of the velocity compared to the Atlas V launch, said Nybakken.

During the Earth flyby (EFB), the science team observed Earth using most of Juno’s nine science instruments since the slingshot also serves as an important dress rehearsal and key test of the spacecraft’s instruments, systems and flight operations teams.

Juno also went into safe mode – something the team must avoid during JOI.

What lessons were learned from the safe mode event and applied to JOI, I asked?

“We had the battery at 50% state of charge during the EFB and didn’t accurately predict the sag on the battery when we went into eclipse. We now have a validated high fidelity power model which would have predicted that sag and we would have increased the battery voltage,” Nybakken told Universe Today

“It will not happen at JOI as we don’t go into eclipse and are at 100% SOC. Plus the instruments are off which increases our power margins.”

Junocam also took some striking images of Earth as it sped over Argentina, South America and the South Atlantic Ocean and came within 347 miles (560 kilometers) of the surface.

For example the dazzling portrait of our Home Planet high over the South American coastline and the Atlantic Ocean.

For a hint of what’s to come, see our colorized Junocam mosaic of land, sea and swirling clouds, created by Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo

NASA's Juno probe captured the image data for this composite picture during its Earth flyby on Oct. 9 over Argentina,  South America and the southern Atlantic Ocean. Raw imagery was reconstructed and aligned by Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo, and false-color blue has been added to the view taken by a near-infrared filter that is typically used to detect methane. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo
NASA’s Juno probe captured the image data for this composite picture during its Earth flyby on Oct. 9 over Argentina, South America and the southern Atlantic Ocean. Raw imagery was reconstructed and aligned by Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo, and false-color blue has been added to the view taken by a near-infrared filter that is typically used to detect methane. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

The last NASA spacecraft to orbit Jupiter was Galileo in 1995. It explored the Jovian system until 2003.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Infographic about Juno’s Jupiter Orbit Insertion (JOI) maneuver on July 4, 2016.   Credit: NASA/Lockheed Martin
Infographic about Juno’s Jupiter Orbit Insertion (JOI) maneuver on July 4, 2016. Credit: NASA/Lockheed Martin

Spectacular Launch of Most Powerful Atlas Completes Constellation of Navy’s Advanced Tactical Comsats – Gallery

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the MUOS-5  mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41 at 10:30 a.m. EDT.  Credit:  United Launch Alliance
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the MUOS-5 mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41 at 10:30 a.m. EDT on June 24, 2016. Credit: United Launch Alliance

Today’s (June 24) spectacular launch of the most powerful version of the venerable Atlas V rocket from the sunshine state completes the orbital deployment of a constellation of advanced tactical communications satellites for the U.S. Navy.

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket successfully launched the massive MUOS-5 satellite into clear blue skies from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 10:30 a.m. EDT – on its way to a geosynchronous orbit location approximately 22,000 miles (37,586 km) above the Earth.

Note: Check back again for an expanding gallery of launch photos and videos

The Mobile User Objective System-5 (MUOS-5) satellite is the last in a five-satellite constellation that will provide military forces with significantly improved and assured communications worldwide. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for the MUOS system.

As launch time neared the weather odds improved to 100% GO and Atlas rumbled off the pad for on time launch that took place at the opening of a 44 minute window.

The launch was broadcast live on a ULA webcast.

The 206 foot tall Atlas rocket roared to space on an expanding plume of smoke and crackling fire from the first stage liquid and solid fueled engines generating over 2.5 million pounds of liftoff thrust.

Their contribution complete, all 5 solid rocket motors were jettisoned with seconds about 2 minutes after liftoff as the liquid fueled first stage continued firing.

The spent first stage separated about 5 minutes after liftoff, as the Centaur second stage fires up for the first of three times over almost three hours to deliver the hefty payload to orbit.

Blastoff of United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket on MUOS-5  mission from Space Launch Complex-41 on June 24, 2016.  Credit: Lane Hermann
Blastoff of United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket on MUOS-5 mission from Space Launch Complex-41 on June 24, 2016. Credit: Lane Hermann

“We are honored to deliver the final satellite in the MUOS constellation for the U.S. Navy,” said Laura Maginnis, ULA vice president, Custom Services, in a statement.

“Congratulations to our navy, air force and Lockheed Martin mission partners on yet another successful launch that provides our warfighters with enhanced communications capabilities to safely and effectively conduct their missions around the globe.”

This is the fifth satellite in the MUOS series and will provide military users up to 16 times more communications capability over existing systems, including simultaneous voice, video and data, leveraging 3G mobile communications technology.

Long plume from MUOS-5 Atlas V Launch by United Launch Alliance from Space Launch Complex-41 on June 24, 2016.  Credit: Michael Seeley
Long plume from MUOS-5 Atlas V Launch by United Launch Alliance from Space Launch Complex-41 on June 24, 2016. Credit: Michael Seeley

With MUOS-5 in orbit the system’s constellation is completed.

MUOS-5 will serve as an on orbit spare. It provides the MUOS network with near-global coverage. Communications coverage for military forces now extends further toward the North and South poles than ever before, according to Lockheed Martin officials.

“Like its predecessors, the MUOS-5 satellite has two payloads to support both new Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (WCDMA) waveform capabilities, as well as the legacy Ultra High Frequency (UHF) satellite system. On orbit, MUOS-5 will augment the constellation as a WCDMA spare, while actively supporting the legacy UHF system, currently used by many mobile forces today.”

The prior MUOS-4 satellite was launched on Sept. 2, 2015 – as I reported here.

The 20 story tall Atlas V launched in its most powerful 551 configuration and performed flawlessly.

United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying MUOS-5 military comsat streaks to orbit atop a vast exhaust plume after liftoff from Space Launch Complex-41 on June 24, 2016.  Credit: Jillian Laudick
United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying MUOS-5 military comsat streaks to orbit atop a vast exhaust plume after liftoff from Space Launch Complex-41 on June 24, 2016. Credit: Jillian Laudick

The vehicle includes a 5-meter diameter payload fairing and five solid rocket boosters that augment the first stage. The Atlas booster for this mission was powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine and the Centaur upper stage was powered by the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C-1 engine.

The RD-180 burns RP-1 (Rocket Propellant-1 or highly purified kerosene) and liquid oxygen and delivers 860,200 lb of thrust at sea level.

And the rocket needed all that thrust because the huge MUOS-5 was among the heftiest payloads ever lofted by an Atlas V booster, weighing in at some 15,000 pounds.
The Centaur upper stage was fired a total of three times.

For this mission the payload fairing was outfitted with an upgraded and advanced acoustic system to beet shield the satellite from the intense vibrations during the launch sequence.

This Atlas launch had been delayed several months to rectify a shortfall in the first stage thrust that occurred during the prior mission launching the Orbital ATK OA-6 cargo freighter in March 2016 on a contract mission for NASA to resupply the International Space Station (ISS).

The launch comes just two weeks after blastoff of the ULA Delta IV Heavy, the worlds most powerful rocket, on a mission to deliver a top secret spy satellite to orbit – as I witnessed and reported on here.

“I am so proud of the team for all their hard work and commitment to 100 percent mission success,” Maginnis added.

“It is amazing to deliver our second national security payload from the Cape in just two weeks. I know this success is due to our amazing people who make the remarkable look routine.”

The 15,000 pound MUOS payload is a next-generation narrowband tactical satellite communications system designed to significantly improve ground communications for U.S. forces on the move.

Here’s a detailed mission profile video describing the launch events:

Video caption: Atlas V MUOS-5 Mission Profile launched on June 24, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air force Station. Credit: ULA

The launch was supported by the 45th Space Wing.

“Today’s successful launch is the culmination of the 45th Space Wing, Space and Missile Systems Center, Navy and ULA’s close partnership and dedicated teamwork,” said Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, 45th Space Wing commander and mission Launch Decision Authority, in a statement.

“We continue our unwavering focus on mission success and guaranteeing assured access to space for our nation, while showcasing why the 45th Space Wing is the ‘World’s Premiere Gateway to Space.”

Watch this exciting launch highlights video reel from ULA – including deployment of MUOS-5!

The MUOS-5 launch marked the 63rd Atlas V mission since the vehicle’s inaugural launch in August 2002. To date seven flights have launched in the 551 configuration. These include all four prior MUOS missions as well as NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Juno mission to Jupiter.

Watch my up close remote launch video from the pad with hurling rocks:

Video caption: The sounds and fury of a ULA Atlas V 551 rocket blast off carrying Lockheed Martin built MUOS-5 tactical communications satellite to geosynchronous orbit for US Navy on June 24, 2016 at 10:30 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, as seen in this up close video from remote camera positioned at pad. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch this compilation of dramatic launch videos from Jeff Seibert.

Video Caption: MUOS-5 launch compilation on ULA Atlas 5 rocket on 6/24/2016 from Pad 41 of CCAFS. Credit: Jeff Seibert

The Navy's fifth Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) is encapsulated inside an Atlas V five-meter diameter payload fairing.  Credit: ULA
The Navy’s fifth Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) is encapsulated inside an Atlas V five-meter diameter payload fairing. Credit: ULA

The next Atlas V launch is slated for July 28 with the NROL-61 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).

Blastoff of MUOS-4 US Navy communications satellite on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Blastoff of MUOS-4 US Navy communications satellite on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 2, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket poised for launch on MUOS-5  mission from Space Launch Complex-41 on June 24, 2016.  Credit: Lane Hermann
United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket poised for launch on MUOS-5 mission from Space Launch Complex-41 on June 24, 2016. Credit: Lane Hermann
Artist’s concept of a MUOS satellite in orbit. Credit: Lockheed Martin
Artist’s concept of a MUOS satellite in orbit. Credit: Lockheed Martin
MUOS-5 mission logo. Credit: ULA
MUOS-5 mission logo. Credit: ULA
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the MUOS-5  mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41 at 10:30 a.m. EDT on June 24, 2016.  Credit:  United Launch Alliance
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the MUOS-5 mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41 at 10:30 a.m. EDT on June 24, 2016. Credit: United Launch Alliance

America’s First Asteroid Sampling Mission OSIRIS-REx Arrives at Florida Launch Base

Artist’s conception of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft at Bennu.  Credits: NASA/GSFC
Artist’s conception of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft at Bennu. Credits: NASA/GSFC

America’s first ever mission designed to retrieve samples from the surface of an asteroid and return them to Earth – OSIRIS-Rex – has arrived at its Florida launch base for processing to get ready for blastoff barely three and one half months from today.

NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security – Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft will launch from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on September 8.

OSIRIS-REx was flown to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center from prime contractor Lockheed Martin’s facility near Denver, Colorado via Buckley Air Force Base. It arrived safely inside its shipping container on Friday, May 20 aboard an Air Force C-17 at the Shuttle Landing Facility.

It was soon offloaded and transported to Kennedy’s Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility, or PHSF. OSIRIS-REx came out of the shipping container today, Saturday, May 21.

Inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility high bay at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, engineers are removing “the birdcage” a soft, protective cover from over the Osiris-REx spacecraft.  Credit: NASA
Inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, engineers are removing “the birdcage” a soft, protective cover from over the Osiris-REx spacecraft. Credit: NASA

A busy first week of processing starts Monday.

NASA officials say it will go onto a rotation fixture on Monday, May 23, have a spin test May 24-25. It then will be hoisted onto a dolly May 26 for other upcoming activities. A partial solar array deployment test is scheduled on May 31.

The PHFS clean room was most recently used to process the Orbital ATK Cygnus space station resupply vehicles. It has also processed NASA interplanetary probes such as the Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory mission.

The spacecraft will reach Bennu in 2018. Once within three miles of the asteroid, the spacecraft will begin six months of comprehensive surface mapping of the carbonaceous asteroid.

After analyzing the data returned, the science team then will select a site where the spacecraft’s robotic sampling arm will grab a sample of regolith and rocks. The regolith may record the earliest history of our solar system.

Engineers will command the spacecraft to gradually move on closer to the chosen sample site, and then extend the arm to snatch the pristine samples.

OSIRIS-REx will gather rocks and soil and bring at least a 60-gram (2.1-ounce) sample back to Earth in 2023 for study by researchers here with all the most sophisticated science instruments available.

The mission will help scientists investigate how planets formed and how life began, as well as improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth.

Bennu is an unchanged remnant from the collapse of the solar nebula and birth of our solar system some 4.5 billion years ago, little altered over time.

Bennu is a near-Earth asteroid and was selected for the sample return mission because it “could hold clues to the origin of the solar system and host organic molecules that may have seeded life on Earth,” says NASA.

OSIRIS-Rex will return the largest sample from space since the American and Soviet Union’s moon landing missions of the 1970s.

Inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility high bay at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, engineers are removing “the birdcage” a soft, protective cover from over the Osiris-REx spacecraft.  Credit: NASA
Inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, engineers are removing “the birdcage” a soft, protective cover from over the Osiris-REx spacecraft. Credit: NASA

OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program, following New Horizons to Pluto and Juno to Jupiter, which also launched on Atlas V rockets.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is responsible for overall mission management.

Osiris-REx is off-loaded from an Air Force C-17 aircraft at the Shuttle Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center on May 20, 2016. Osiris-REx made its way from Lockheed Martin’s facility near Denver, Colorado to NASA's Kennedy Space Center to be processed before launching to the asteroid Bennu.  Credit: NASA
Osiris-REx is off-loaded from an Air Force C-17 aircraft at the Shuttle Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center on May 20, 2016. Osiris-REx made its way from Lockheed Martin’s facility near Denver, Colorado to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to be processed before launching to the asteroid Bennu. Credit: NASA

OSIRIS-REx complements NASA’s Asteroid Initiative – including the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) which is a robotic spacecraft mission aimed at capturing a surface boulder from a different near-Earth asteroid and moving it into a stable lunar orbit for eventual up close sample collection by astronauts launched in NASA’s new Orion spacecraft. Orion will launch atop NASA’s new SLS heavy lift booster concurrently under development.

United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the GPS IIF-12 mission lifted off at 8:38 a.m. EST on Feb. 5, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
OSIRIS-REx will launch on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket similar to this launch carrying the GPS IIF-12 mission which lifted off at 8:38 a.m. EST on Feb. 5, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

NASA’s Orion EM-1 Crew Module Passes Critical Pressure Tests

Lockheed Martin engineers and technicians prepare the Orion pressure vessel for a series of tests inside the proof pressure cell in the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
Lockheed Martin engineers and technicians prepare the Orion pressure vessel for a series of tests inside the proof pressure cell in the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The next Orion crew module in line to launch to space on NASA’s Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) has passed a critical series of proof pressure tests which confirm the effectiveness of the welds holding the spacecraft structure together.

Any leaks occurring in flight could threaten the astronauts lives.

Engineers and technicians conducted the pressure tests on the Orion EM-1 pressure vessel, which was welded together at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and then shipped to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida just 3 months ago.

The pressure vessel is the structural backbone for the vehicles that will launch American astronauts to deep space destinations.

“This is the first mission where the Orion spacecraft will be integrated with the large Space Launch System rocket. Orion is the vehicle that’s going to take astronauts to deep space,” NASA Orion program manager Scott Wilson told Universe Today.

“The tests confirmed that the weld points of the underlying structure will contain and protect astronauts during the launch, in-space, re-entry and landing phases on the Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), when the spacecraft performs its first uncrewed test flight atop the Space Launch System rocket,” according to a NASA statement.

After flying to KSC on Feb 1, 2016 inside NASA’s unique Super Guppy aircraft, this “new and improved” Orion EM-1 pressure vessel was moved to the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout (O&C) Building for final assembly by prime contractor Lockheed Martin into a flight worthy vehicle.

Orion crew module pressure vessel for NASA’s Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) is unveiled for the first time on Feb. 3, 2016 after arrival at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. It is secured for processing in a test stand called the birdcage in the high bay inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout (O&C) Building at KSC. Launch to the Moon is slated in 2018 atop the SLS rocket.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Orion crew module pressure vessel for NASA’s Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) is unveiled for the first time on Feb. 3, 2016 after arrival at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. It is secured for processing in a test stand called the birdcage in the high bay inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout (O&C) Building at KSC. Launch to the Moon is slated in 2018 atop the SLS rocket. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Since then, technicians have worked to meticulously attach hundreds of strain gauges to the interior and exterior surfaces of the vehicle to prepare for the pressure tests.

The strain gauges provide real time data to the analysts monitoring the changes during the pressurization.

Orion was moved to a test stand inside the proof pressure cell high bay and locked inside behind large doors.

Lockheed Martin engineers then incrementally increased the pressure in the proof testing cell in a series of steps over two days. They carefully monitored the results along the way and how the spacecraft reacted to the stresses induced by the pressure increases.

The maximum pressure reached was 1.25 times normal atmospheric pressure – which exceeds the maximum pressure it is expected to encounter on orbit.

“We are very pleased with the performance of the spacecraft during proof pressure testing,” said Scott Wilson, NASA manager of production operations for the Orion Program.

“The successful completion of this test represents another major step forward in our march toward completing the EM-1 spacecraft, and ultimately, our crewed missions to deep space.”

Orion crew module pressure vessel for NASA’s Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) is unveiled for the first time on Feb. 3, 2016 after arrival at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. It is secured for processing in a test stand called the birdcage in the high bay inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout (O&C) Building at KSC. Launch to the Moon is slated in 2018 atop the SLS rocket.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Orion crew module pressure vessel for NASA’s Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) is unveiled for the first time on Feb. 3, 2016 after arrival at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. It is secured for processing in a test stand called the birdcage in the high bay inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout (O&C) Building at KSC. Launch to the Moon is slated in 2018 atop the SLS rocket. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

With the pressure testing satisfactorily completed, technicians will move Orion back to birdcage assembly stand for the “intricate work of attaching hundreds of brackets to the vessel’s exterior to hold the tubing for the vehicle’s hydraulics and other systems.”

To prepare for launch in 2018, engineers and technicians from NASA and prime contractor Lockheed Martin will spend the next two years meticulously installing all the systems amounting to over 100,000 components and gear required for flight.

This particular ‘Lunar Orion’ crew module is intended for blastoff to the Moon in 2018 on NASA’s Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) atop the agency’s mammoth new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, simultaneously under development. The pressurized crew module serves as the living quarters for the astronauts comprising up to four crew members.

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) blasts off from launch pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in this artist rendering showing a view of the liftoff of the Block 1 70-metric-ton (77-ton) crew vehicle configuration.   Credit: NASA/MSFC
NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) blasts off from launch pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in this artist rendering showing a view of the liftoff of the Block 1 70-metric-ton (77-ton) crew vehicle configuration. Credit: NASA/MSFC

EM-1 itself is a ‘proving ground’ mission that will fly an unmanned Orion thousands of miles beyond the Moon, further than any human capable vehicle, and back to Earth, over the course of a three-week mission.

The 2018 launch of NASA’s Orion on the unpiloted EM-1 mission counts as the first joint flight of SLS and Orion, and the first flight of a human rated spacecraft to deep space since the Apollo Moon landing era ended more than 4 decades ago.

Orion is designed to send astronauts deeper into space than ever before, including missions to the Moon, asteroids and the Red Planet.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

NASA’s Orion EM-1 crew module pressure vessel arrived at the Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility tucked inside NASA’s Super Guppy aircraft on Feb 1, 2016. The Super Guppy opens its hinged nose to unload cargo.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA’s Orion EM-1 crew module pressure vessel arrived at the Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility tucked inside NASA’s Super Guppy aircraft on Feb 1, 2016. The Super Guppy opens its hinged nose to unload cargo. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com