Liftoff of the United Launch Alliance rocket is planned for 1:47 a.m. Tuesday from Space Launch Complex-2, noticeable as the blue tower beyond the base airfield. The mission has a 66-second window, or essentially one chance each day, to get off the ground so the satellite can be placed in its proper place in space.
On Sunday, mission managers declared the rocket and satellite ready, with weather unlikely to pose a concern.
But before he dove into the detailed forecast, Capt. Ross Malugani, a launch weather officer at Vandenberg, couldn’t resist noting the role of this mission.
“I’d like to take a quick second to say, as a meteorologist, I am extremely excited to see this bird in the air,” he said.
Malugani added that conditions should provide an unrestricted view for spectators hoping to see the early-morning departure. Officials are keeping an eye on ground winds, however, with a 30 percent likelihood they could interfere with the launch.
This Delta II, carrying the approximately 5,000-pound Joint Polar Satellite System, or JPSS-1, employs nine solid-rocket motors affixed to the rocket with six set to ignite upon liftoff.
“That’s probably the coolest configuration around for a first-stage (motor),” said Omar Baez, NASA launch manager.
Those six solid-rocket motors will be jettisoned in flight, and will appear as red lights falling away as the booster continues to climb upward.
This is one of just two remaining Delta II rocket missions as the space booster will be retired due to a lack of medium-sized-satellite customers and a changing marketplace for craft looking to get rides into space.
Delta II rockets have carried some key NASA missions, including rovers that landed on Mars.
“It’s got a lineage that’s just unreal,” Baez said. “It’s one of the coolest programs that I have worked on. It’s been an awesome workhorse for us.”
Next year, the final Delta II rocket will carry the second Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite, or ICESAT-2, from Vandenberg.
Since its debut on Feb. 14, 1989, Delta II rockets have conducted 50 missions for NASA through the years, launched from both Vandenberg and Florida.
“For the past 28, 28½ years or so, the Delta II has been a dependable workhorse for the industry and has truly earned its place in history,” said Scott Messer, ULA program manager.
JPSS-1 is the first of a new generation of civilian weather satellites and carries five instruments to collect assorted types of environmental data with the spacecraft frame built by Ball Aerospace.
One of those instruments, Raytheon’s Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), has its roots in Santa Barbara County.
Other instruments are the Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS) and the Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES), built by Northrop Grumman; the Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS), built by Harris; and the Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite-Nadir (OMPS-N), built by Ball.
NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration collaborated for this mission, estimated at $1.6 million including launch and satellite costs.
“United Launch Alliance is proud to deliver the JPSS-1 satellite to orbit so that it can provide continuity of critical observations, including forecasting weather in advance and assessing environmental hazards,” Messer said.
In addition to the primary payload, five CubeSats to test assorted technologies in space also will hitch a ride on this mission, officials said.