Tuesday, October 23 , 2018, 4:07 pm | Fair 73º


Delta II Rocket, NASA Satellite Set for Blastoff Thursday from Vandenberg AFB

Spacecraft’s two instruments to collect vital data about Earth's soil moisture

A Delta II rocket and its cargo, a NASA satellite to study soil moisture, stand ready for launch early Thursday morning from Vandenberg Air Force Base as the first blastoff from the Central Coast for 2015.

Liftoff of the United Launch Alliance rocket is planned from Space Launch Complex-2 during a three-minute window extending from 6:20 to 6:23 a.m. 

The nearly 13-story-tall rocket, with three solid rocket motors, will carry NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) spacecraft for a mission with a $916 million price tag, including design, development, launch and operations.

Mission managers met Tuesday to review the readiness of the rocket, satellite and support systems, and gave the “go” for the team to complete the final chores needed before starting the countdown.

“In summary, the Delta 2 rocket and SMAP spacecraft are ready, and the launch team is prepared and excited to be here at Vandenberg Air Force Base to launch this important mission for our nation,” said Tim Dunn, NASA launch manager. 

Wednesday evening, the team will load the first-stage fuel and roll the mobile service tower away from its place sheltering the rocket.

Weather shouldn’t pose a  problem for the departure, with launch weather officer 1st Lt. John Martin calling for only a 20-percent likelihood conditions will prevent liftoff.

The container carrying the Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite is lifted for placement atop a Delta II rocket at Space Launch Complex-2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base earlier this month. (NASA photo)

Thick clouds at upper levels are the key concern.

If the launch is delayed 24 hours, conditions should improve to just a 10-percent chance of a postponement due to surface winds.

ULA crews began erecting the rocket at SLC-2 last summer. The launch will be the first NASA mission and the first for ULA at Vandenberg in 2015. It’s also the first blastoff for the base this year.

Upon liftoff, SMAP will join more than dozen other Earth-observing satellites that, along with air and ground sensors, monitor the planet’s vital signs. 

“SMAP, or as we call it the Soil Moisture Active Passive project, will be monitoring the water that lives and moves through the soil,” said Christine Bonniksen, SMAP program executive at NASA Headquarters

“Soil moisture is a key part of the three cycles that support life on this planet — the water cycle, the energy cycle and the carbon cycles,” she added. “These things affect human interests — floods, drought, disease control, weather.”

The satellite will use two instruments — a radar to provide high-resolution data plus a radiometer to deliver high-accuracy information. 

In addition to SMAP, some student-built satellites will hitch a ride aboard the rocket under NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellite (ELaNa).

Three Poly Picosatellite Orbital Deployers carrying four CubeSats are mounted on the rocket’s second-stage and will be deployed after SMAP is released.

The PPODs were designed and built at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Additionally Cal Poly is responsible for the ExoCube space weather mission.

Other nanosatellites are FIREBIRD-II, which has two CubeSats, plus the GRIFEX mission.

This will be the 370th Delta rocket to launch since May 1960. SLC-2 has hosted 82 of those launches. 

SMAP represents the 153rd Delta 2 mission and the 52nd for NASA..

“The SMAP project is absolutely thrilled to be catching a ride to space on the Delta 2 vehicle, a vehicle with a very long and well-proven history,” said Kent Kellogg, SMAP project manager with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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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