After hanging out in storage for over a decade, the Deep Space Climate Observatory is finally being launched to monitor solar storms. The satellite is getting into space on the back of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which means we're also counting down to another historic barge landing attempt!
Updates: Sunday scrubbed by radar tracking problems, Monday canceled by forbidding weather, Tuesday scrubbed by upper-level winds. The satellite successfully launched Wednesday 6:03pm, but rough seas prevented a barge landing attempt.
Top image: SpaceX's autonomous drone barge has been repaired since the crash on the first attempt, and been decorated with a spiffy new name. Credit: SpaceX
The launch is scheduled for 6:10:12 p.m. EST out of Cape Canaveral Complex 40 launch pad in Florida. The weather is looking great with 90% chances of being acceptable during the launch window, with a bit of side-eye being directed at a cold-front and approaching clouds in the distance. Watch it live here:
Assuming the launch goes off on schedule, stage one separation will be less than three minutes later. While the rest of the spacecraft continues on its merry way, the Falcon 9 rocket booster will undergo a controlled reentry and attempt to land on the recently-named and repaired "Just Read The Instructions" drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. Because this is a deep space mission, reentry will be tougher on the rocket booster. It will be trying to shed nearly four times as much heat as it battles its way back through the atmosphere. The landing attempt will not be live-broadcast, although we can cross our fingers for photos and videos along with the updates on the SpaceX webcast.
The Deep Space Climate Observatory under examination before getting packaged up as a SpaceX payload. Image credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky
The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), was originally part of the Triana mission, built in the 1990s to track climate change and raise awareness for the issue. After the mission was cancelled, it has been loitering in storage awaiting a revised purpose. Now it has been repurposed to focus on tracking incoming cosmic storms, giving us a bit more warning before things go decidedly and unpleasantly pear-shaped.
DSCOVR's future home at the L1 Lagrange point. Image credit: NOAA
The satellite will be stationed at the L1 Earth-Sun Lagrange point, 1.5 million kilometers from home. From this location, the satellite will be in position to give us between 15 and 60 minutes warning of coronal mass ejection (CME), high-energy particles that can wreck havoc on delicate electronic fields. While we currently know when the storms are incoming, this satellite will improve our ability to predict where the storms will have the greatest impact. Along with monitoring solar storms, the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera will be used to look back at Earth, giving us a new satellite source for full-planet photography. That the camera's acronym is EPIC says it all: I'm looking forward to seeing the assumably-epic views it sends home!
DSCOVR marks the first time SpaceX is responsible for a deep space launch, sending the refrigerator-sized probe more than four times farther away than the moon.
Falcon 9 rocket booster upright and on the pad awaiting the launch countdown. Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
DSCOVR will be in its escape trajectory by about 35 minutes after launch, but then it will take approximately 110 to 115 days for it to slip into position at its new home. It will hopefully be fully operational by mid-summer. At Left: Mission patch for the DSCOVR launch on the Falcon 9 rocket. Image credit: NASA
Having trouble with the feed? Try an alternate video livefeed, the mobile feed, an audio-only feed, or check out the SpaceX Webcast. I'll update as we figure out if we're whining about a scrubbed launch, celebrating victory, or mourning failure while trying to find lessons learned that could help SpaceX with their next landing attempt in a few weeks' time.
The last barge-landing attempt failed when the rocket ran out of hydraulic fluid, losing its ability to manoeuvre. This time the booster has substantially more fluid on board, so at least if things go wrong, it should go wrong in a freshly catastrophic manner.
Update 2/8: @#$m*!! Air Force radar tracking hit a glitch and went down, so the launch has been delayed until roughly the same time tomorrow (6:07pm). The weather is only at 40% chances of acceptable for a launch, so if that doesn't work, the next window is the same time the next day, then again the day after that. While frustrating, this does mean that SpaceX has a chance to replace a buggy video transmitter on their first stage, a non-essential bit of gear that's nice to have to give us the very best possible view and might even give us a rocket's eye view of landing on a barge.
A launch that can't be tracked is no launch at all. Image credit: NASA
While a letdown, a scrubbed launch is always, always, always better than a rapid unscheduled disassembly or other nasty catastrophe. We'll see you again tomorrow afternoon as we try again!
Update 2/9: The nasty weather forecast bore out — Monday's launch attempt is scrubbed in favour of Tuesday evening.
Update 2/10: Despite high winds we are currently on for a launch attempt at 6:05pm.
A wind evaluation is scheduled for 5:50pm EST. The winds in the upper atmosphere are so strong they're exceeding structural load limits for the Falcon 9 to be able to safely launch the satellite.
The next launch opportunity is Wednesday at 6:03 pm EST, which is also the final launch opportunity until February 20th due to the moon's position. The weather forecast is currently 90% in favor of a Wednesday evening launch with clear skies and weakening winds.