ULA Launch Of NASA’s SMAP Mission Delayed Until January 31

NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory awaits launch on top of its Delta II rocket at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The mobile tower used to service the rocket has been rolled back in preparation for launch, Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory awaits launch on top of its Delta II rocket at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The mobile tower used to service the rocket has been rolled back in preparation for launch, Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

January 29, 2015 – NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission launch on a United Launch Alliance Delta II has been delayed to a targeted launch date of January 31 pending completion of minor repairs to the vehicle prior to launch.

During inspections following the January 29 launch attempt, minor debonds to the booster insulation were identified. These insulation debonds are associated with cryogenic conditions experienced during tanking operations and a standard repair will be implemented. The launch time for January 31 is 7:20 a.m. MST.

SMAP will provide the most accurate, highest-resolution global measurements of soil moisture ever obtained from space and will detect whether the ground is frozen or thawed. The data will be used to enhance scientists’ understanding of the processes that link Earth’s water, energy and carbon cycles.

SMAP will mark the 52nd Delta II mission for NASA. It will be the second of 13 planned ULA missions in 2015. The launch of the United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket was scrubbed Thursday due to a violation of upper-level wind constraints.

Below is a list of milestones expected to occur during the mission’s launch phase, if all goes as planned:

  • Prior to liftoff, and 0.2 seconds after the launch sequence has commenced, three solid motors ignite. They burn for 1 minute and 5 seconds, but are not jettisoned until 1 minute and 39 seconds into flight.

  • Main Engine Cutoff (MECO) occurs approximately 4 minutes and 22 seconds into flight, followed 6 seconds later by Stage I-II separation.

  • After the second stage ignites, 4 minutes and 55 seconds after liftoff, the launch vehicle nose cone splits open like a clamshell and falls away as planned.

  • Second-Stage Engine Cutoff (SECO-1) occurs about 10 minutes and 44 seconds after liftoff, and the spacecraft coasts in an intermediate orbit.

  • The second stage restarts 51 minutes and 38 seconds after liftoff, then cuts off again as planned.

  • At 56 minutes and 51 seconds after liftoff, SMAP separates from the rocket, beginning its own journey around Earth. Subsequent maneuvers over several weeks will place the observatory in its final target orbit of 426 miles above Earth (685 kilometers). The separation event will be monitored with a video camera attached to the second stage.

  • The second stage of the rocket, now separated from SMAP, moves to a lower orbit for deployment of three CubeSat missions: Firebird-II (consisting of two CubeSats), EXOCUBE and GRIFEX. A final burn will send the second stage into a safe reentry over the southern Pacific Ocean.

  • About a minute after separation, the SMAP spacecraft begins to deploy its three-panel solar array. It then looks for, and turns the array toward, the sun and starts a slow “rotisserie” roll to begin recharging its batteries and maintain proper system temperatures.

  • SMAP communicates with Earth, relaying its signal through NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellites and ground stations. This is expected to happen within minutes after the spacecraft separates from its rocket.

  • Once ground controllers have determined SMAP is healthy and stable, SMAP begins its commissioning phase, in which all systems and instruments are checked out and calibrated. These activities are planned to last no longer than 90 days after launch, after which science operations begin.

  • On launch day, NASA TV launch commentary coverage of the countdown begins at 5 a.m. MST. View online coverage at: http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv