NASA Launches NOAA Weather Satellite Aboard United Launch Alliance Rocket to Improve Forecasts

At Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Space Launch Complex 2, the Delta II rocket engines roar to life. The 1:47 a.m. PST (4:47 a.m. EST), liftoff begins the Joint Polar Satellite System-1, or JPSS-1, mission. JPSS is the first in a series four next-generation environmental satellites in a collaborative program between NOAA and NASA. Image Credit: NASA

November 20, 2017 – A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta II rocket carrying the Joint Polar Satellite System-1 (JPSS-1) for NASA and National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) lifted off from Space Launch Complex-2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, on November 18 at 2:47 a.m. MST. The JPSS program provides the nation’s next generation polar-orbiting operational environmental satellite system, delivering key observations for the nation’s essential projects and services, including forecasting weather in advance and assessing environmental hazards.

“The Delta II rocket has truly created a legacy throughout its history, and has proven to be an industry workhorse,” Laura Maginnis, ULA vice president of Government Satellite Launch. “After almost 3 years since our last Delta II mission, it was great to see it flying and delivering mission success for our customers once again.”

Approximately 63 minutes after launch the solar arrays on JPSS-1 deployed and the spacecraft was operating on its own power. JPSS-1 will be renamed NOAA-20 when it reaches its final orbit. Following a three-month checkout and validation of its five advanced instruments, the satellite will become operational.

The JPSS program is a partnership between NOAA and NASA through which they will oversee the development, launch, testing and operation all the satellites in the series. NOAA funds and manages the program, operations and data products. NASA develops and builds the instruments, spacecraft and ground system and launches the satellites for NOAA. JPSS-1 launch management was provided by NASA’s Launch Services Program based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Ball Aerospace designed and built the JPSS-1 satellite bus and Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite instrument, integrated all five of the spacecraft’s instruments and performed satellite-level testing and launch support. Raytheon Corporation built the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite and the Common Ground System. Harris Corporation built the Cross-track Infrared Sounder. Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems built the Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder and the Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System instrument. Ball will hand over control of the satellite to NOAA 90 days after launch for continued operations.

“JPSS-1 is one of the most advanced environmental systems ever created by government and industry partners – NOAA, NASA, Ball, Harris, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and United Launch Alliance,” said Rob Strain, president, Ball Aerospace. “The information collected from its next-generation suite of instruments will soon deliver advanced data to help protect lives, property and our planet.”

JPSS-1, or NOAA-20 as it will be known once it reaches its polar orbit, will join the Ball-built, Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP), which has served as NOAA’s primary operational satellite for global weather observations since May 2014. Together, the two satellites, each circling the Earth 14 times per day, will provide global observations for U.S. weather and environmental predictions. The data will improve weather forecasting, such as predicting a hurricane’s track, and will help agencies involved with post-storm recovery by visualizing storm damage and the geographic extent of power outages.

“Emergency managers increasingly rely on our forecasts to make critical decisions and take appropriate action before a storm hits,” said Louis W. Uccellini, director of NOAA’s National Weather Service. “Polar satellite observations not only help us monitor and collect information about current weather systems, but they provide data to feed into our weather forecast models.”

JPSS-1 has five instruments, each of which is significantly upgraded from the instruments on NOAA’s previous polar-orbiting satellites. The more-detailed observations from JPSS will allow forecasters to make more accurate predictions. JPSS-1 data will also improve recognition of climate patterns that influence the weather, such as El Nino and La Nina.

“Launching JPSS-1 underscores NOAA’s commitment to putting the best possible satellites into orbit, giving our forecasters — and the public — greater confidence in weather forecasts up to seven days in advance, including the potential for severe, or impactful weather,” said Stephen Volz, director of NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service.

In addition to JPSS-1, this mission included five CubeSats which launched from dispensers mounted to the Delta II second stage. The miniaturized satellites will conduct research in 3D-printed polymers for in-space manufacturing, weather data collection, bit flip memory testing, radar calibration and the effects of space radiation on electronic components.

Ball will build the OMPS instruments for NOAA’s Follow-On/JPSS-3 and JPSS-4 missions, under a sole source contract modification award from NASA.

ULA’s next launch is the NROL-47 for the National Reconnaissance Office. The launch is scheduled for December 13 from Space Launch Complex-6 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.