DSCOVR – Time To Put The Brakes On And Settle Into Orbit

On June 7, DSCOVR will reach its destination and enter its final orbit around the 1stLagrange point (link is external), some 1.5 million kilometers sunward of the Earth. Image Credit: Xander89 [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

On June 7, DSCOVR will reach its destination and enter its final orbit around the 1stLagrange point (link is external), some 1.5 million kilometers sunward of the Earth. Image Credit: Xander89 [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

June 4, 2015 – The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) is nearing its destination and will enter final orbit around the 1st Lagrange point, or L1, on June 7. DSCOVR will take its place at L1 alongside NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) research satellite, replacing the 17-year old ACE as America’s primary warning system for solar magnetic storms headed towards Earth.

A total burn of 4 hours and 19 minutes will be required for DSCOVR to achieve the correct orbit. This will take place in two separate segments. Burn 1 begins at 13:40 UTC (7:40 a.m. MDT) and lasts for 3 hours 56.5 minutes. Burn 2 begins at approximately 23:30 UTC (5:30 p.m. MDT) and lasts for 22.25 minutes. A total of 48.6 kilograms (107 lbs) of fuel will be used.

Once the refrigerator-sized satellite is in its final orbit, the DSCOVR team will complete an instrument checkout and make any final calibrations. These activities will take approximately 30 days to complete.

L1 is located 1.5 million kilometers (930,000 miles) sunward from Earth and is a neutral gravity point between Earth and the sun. The advantage of this orbit is that storms from the sun will reach DSCOVR about an hour before reaching Earth. DSCOVR data will then give forecasters at the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) in Boulder, Colorado, valuable lead time to issue warnings before the impact of a solar storm hits Earth. DSCOVR data will also be used to improve predictions of geomagnetic storm impact locations.

Geomagnetic storms occur when plasma and magnetic fields streaming from the sun impact Earth’s magnetic field. Without timely and accurate warnings, space weather events have the potential to cripple electrical grids, disrupt communication systems, throw off GPS navigation, affect satellite operations and endanger human spaceflight.

In addition to space weather-monitoring instruments, DSCOVR is carrying two NASA Earth-observing instruments that will gather a range of measurements from ozone and aerosol amounts to changes in Earth’s radiation.

Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. developed the advanced radiometer instrument – called Scripps NISTAR – working with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The instrument is designed to measure the Earth’s total reflected and emitted energy in the 0.2 to 100 micron range. This will help scientists better understand the energy exchange between the Earth and sun. Ball also provided DSCOVR with the CT633 star tracker.

Scripps-NIST Advanced Radiometer built by Ball Aerospace for the DSCOVR mission. Image Credit: Ball Aerospace

Scripps-NIST Advanced Radiometer built by Ball Aerospace for the DSCOVR mission. Image Credit: Ball Aerospace

Currently, NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE), launched in 1997, is the only spacecraft providing solar storm data to the SWPC. Ace is operating 10+ years beyond its design life, but will continue its important role in space weather research.

NOAA will operate DSCOVR from its NOAA Satellite Operations Facility in Suitland, Maryland and distribute data to its users and partner agencies. NOAA will process the space weather data, providing products and forecasts through the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado, and archive the data at the NOAA National Geophysical Data Center also in Boulder. NASA is responsible for processing the Earth sensor data.