The final flight of an Atlas 5 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California will see the launch of an advanced weather satellite, in addition to the heat shield experiment.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Joint Polar Satellite System-2 (JPSS-2) mission and NASA’s Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID) will launch aboard United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket on Thursday, November 10 at 4:25 a.m. ET from Space Launch Complex 3 at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, according to NASA. Should you be awake at that ungodly hour, you can catch the action at NASA TV or at the live feed provided below.
JPSS-2 will join a fleet of satellites in a Sun-synchronous orbit from where it will gather data for global weather models by monitoring wildfires, measuring sea surface temperatures, and noting harmful algal blooms in the ocean. Scientists will use this data to generate weather forecasts across the globe and track extreme weather events.
As JPSS-2 separates from the rocket to reach its orbit, its payload companion will begin its journey back down to Earth. The LOFTID heat shield will separate from the rocket’s upper stage following a deorbit burn. LOFTID will then inflate and reenter Earth’s atmosphere to demonstrate its capabilities. The experiment is designed to slow down spacecraft, thereby protecting their payloads from the scorching-hot temperatures caused by atmospheric reentries—and not just Earth’s atmosphere, but those of other planets as well.
“The technology could be further developed to support crewed and large robotic missions to destinations such as Mars, Venus, and Titan, as well as returning heavier payloads to Earth,” according to NASA.
The launch of the Atlas 5 rocket was originally scheduled for November 1, but it was delayed due to a faulty battery. On October 29, NASA announced that the Centaur’s upper stage battery needed to be replaced and the rocket was cleared for launch five days later.
This will be NASA’s 23rd launch on an Atlas 5 rocket, but the last time the space agency will use ULA’s Atlas 5 for its Launch Services Program (commercial launches of uncrewed missions). In its place, ULA is hoping to debut its upcoming Vulcan Centaur rocket by early next year.