SpaceX poised to launch resurrected space weather satellite

By: | Updated: February 8, 2015 1:40 PM

A USD 340 million sun-observing spacecraft that was initially dreamed up by former US vice president Al Gore...

 SpaceX,  SpaceX satellite, NASA, NASA satellite,  SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, Space weather SatteliteThe unmanned Deep Space Climate Observatory is scheduled to blast off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 6:10 pm (2310 GMT) from Cape Canaveral, Florida. (Reuters)

A USD 340 million sun-observing spacecraft that was initially dreamed up by former US vice president Al Gore is finally poised to launch todayafter being kept in storage by NASA for years.

The unmanned Deep Space Climate Observatory is scheduled to blast off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 6:10 pm (2310 GMT) from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

DSCOVR’s goal is to help space weather forecasters by collecting data on solar wind and geomagnetic storms that can cause damage to electrical systems on Earth.

After the launch, SpaceX will make another attempt to guide the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket back to a controlled landing on an ocean platform, as part of the California-based company’s goal of making rockets one day as reusable as airplanes.

In January, the rocket attempted a controlled maneuver to land on a powered-barge in the Atlantic, but collided with it instead and broke into pieces.

Still, SpaceX executives say they do not view the test as a failure, and that many more practice runs lay ahead as they refine their technology with the goal of pioneering the world’s first recyclable rockets and ending the current practice of allowing millions of dollars in equipment to fall to pieces in the ocean after each launch.

“We fixed the problems. We hope it will go well this time,” said Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of mission assurance at SpaceX, in a briefing with reporters yesterday.

Engineers added more hydraulic fluid so they could control the rocket’s first stage and its fins better.

After launching the satellite and separating at a height of 80 miles (130 kilometers), the first stage of the rocket will attempt just two burns, and will come in for a landing about twice as fast as last time, which makes success even less certain, said Koenigsmann.

However, he stressed that the primary mission of the rocket launch is sending the satellite to deep space.

The DSCOVR mission, a joint collaboration of the US Air Force, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is headed to a point about one million miles from Earth, a destination known as Lagrangian point, or L1.

The journey will take 110 days, followed by 40 days of instrument tests.

DSCOVR will replace an aging satellite, known as ACE, that is many years past its expiration date, and should provide the same lead time and accuracy as its predecessor, officials said.

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