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Launch to Send Weather Satellite Rocketing Off from Vandenberg Air Force Base

Blastoff set for Joint Polar Satellite System spacecraft carrying new generation of weather forecasting technology

The Joint Polar Satellite System is the nation’s advanced series of polar-orbiting weather satellites. The first satellite will be carried into space aboard a Delta II rocket to be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base. Click to view larger
The Joint Polar Satellite System is the nation’s advanced series of polar-orbiting weather satellites. The first satellite will be carried into space aboard a Delta II rocket to be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Ball Aerospace photo)

With an eye to improving weather forecasts, the first of a new generation of polar-orbiting weather satellites will ride to space aboard a Delta II rocket to be launched this month from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The 12-story-tall booster built by United Launch Alliance was poised for blast off at 1:47 a.m. Friday from Space Launch Complex-2, but a faulty battery has delayed the departure until Nov. 14 at the earliest, officials announced Monday afternoon.

The launch of the $1.6 billion mission marks the debut for the nation’s newest weather satellite series to gather data while crossing over the equator 14 times a day.

The satellite, a collaborative effort between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA, was built by Ball Aerospace of Boulder, Colo.

“JPSS, which stands for Joint Polar Satellite System, will bring the latest and best technology NOAA has ever flown to capture more precise and timely observations of the Earth’s atmosphere, land and waters that helped improve NOAA lifesaving weather forecast out to seven days,” said Ajay Mehta, acting deputy director for systems, NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service.

Louis Uccellini, director of the National Weather Service, said satellites like JPSS-1 provide emergency managers with extended forecasts so they can make critical decisions about evacuations or deploying crews before hurricanes or other weather crises.

“The JPSS program is a much-needed step forward in our effort to build a weather-ready nation over the next 20 years,” he said. “By advancing our polar observing capabilities to the next level, we will enable decision makers, emergency managers and the public to prepare and preposition resources that are necessary steps to save lives and to protect property.”

Precise seven-day forecasts require robust, high-quality global measurements of the atmosphere for the weather prediction system, Uccellini added.

A United Launch Alliance Delta II second stage is hoisted into the gantry at Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base earlier this year. A Delta II rocket is scheduled to be launched from the site this month. Click to view larger
A United Launch Alliance Delta II second stage is hoisted into the gantry at Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base earlier this year. A Delta II rocket is scheduled to be launched from the site this month. (Randy Beaudoin / NASA file photo)

“Polar satellites are the only way to obtain global temperature and moisture measurements, and they are the backbone of the global observing system that we use to make these predictions of extreme events,” he said.

In all, NOAA plans four JPSS satellites that will collect critical weather and environmental data expected to be used through 2038, said Greg Mandt, director of the Joint Polar Satellite System.

To provide the observations, JPSS carries five highly sophisticated instruments, he added.

This mission follows the 2011 launch of the satellite known as Suomi NPP, a precursor to the new series of spacecraft. Designed as a research mission to test new technology, that satellite actually has been pressed into service to provide key weather data after another satellite failed.

“We are ready for the JPSS and are excited about what this satellite will mean for improving our weather prediction, especially for extreme events,” Uccellini said.

After it reaches orbit 512 miles above the Earth, JPSS-1 will be renamed NOAA-20.

Future satellites planned for the JPSS constellation include JPSS-2, scheduled for launch in 2021, JPSS-3 in 2026 and JPSS-4 in 2031.

For decades, the 22-square-mile Vandenberg Air Force Base has been the launch site of other polar-orbiting satellites for collecting weather and environmental data.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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