Up, Up and Away…
Following more delays than I’d like to think about, let alone write about, NOAA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) lifted off yesterday, Feb 11, onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, at 6:03 pm EST, on its way to an orbit one million miles from Earth. (Image Credit: NASA)
DSCOVR, a partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA and the U.S. Air Force, will provide NOAA space weather forecasters more reliable measurements of solar wind conditions, improving their ability to monitor extreme emissions from the sun which can affect power grids, communications systems, and satellites close to Earth.
Once reaching its destination in about 110 days, and following successful activation of the satellite, NASA will hand over operations of DSCOVR to NOAA. DSCOVR will be the U.S.’s first operational satellite in deep space, orbiting between Earth and the Sun at a point called the Lagrange point, or L1, and will act as America’s primary warning system for solar magnetic storms headed towards Earth.
L1, located some 932,000 miles away from Earth, is the spot where the gravity between the Sun and Earth is perfectly balanced. A satellite can orbit this spot just as they can orbit a planet, and as L1 also lies outside Earth’s magnetic environment it’s a perfect place to measure the constant stream of particles from the sun (aka solar wind) as they pass by. (Image Credit: NASA/WMAP Science Team)
DSCOVR’s orbit at L1 also makes it ideal as an Earth observer. In addition to DSCOVR’s primary space weather-monitoring instruments, the satellite also carries two instruments to support Earth science; the National Institute of Standards and Technology Advanced Radiometer (NISTAR), and the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC).
NISTAR will measure the reflected and emitted energy from the entire sunlit face of Earth which will help improve climate scientist’s understanding of the effects of changes in Earth’s radiation budget caused by human activities as well as natural phenomena.
EPIC will provide images of the entire sunlit face of Earth, with ten filter settings in the ultraviolet and visible spectral ranges. Its observations will be used to measure ozone and aerosol amounts, cloud height, vegetation properties and ultraviolet reflectivity of Earth. Data from EPIC will also be used to create publicly available true-color images of the full sun-facing side of Earth. Imaging the Earth in one picture is something which has never been done before from a satellite. (Since most Earth-observing satellites circle the planet within 22,300 miles to get an entire Earth view scientists have to piece together images.) At least six images will be produced each day and posted to the NASA website. The first images are expected to be posted in approximately six months.
SpaceX Scenes From DSCOVR’s Launch:
In a beautiful, and flawless, sunset launch Falcon 9 lifts off from SpaceX’s Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida carrying the DSCOVR satellite. This marks SpaceX’s first deep space mission.
SpaceX delivered DSCOVR to a parking orbit just under 200km. Ultimately the satellite will reach its final orbit in 110 days when it will be positioned at the Sun-Earth L1 Lagrangian point, 930,000 miles from Earth. This is more than four times farther than the Moon.
Still no cigar for Musk. Due to weather conditions SpaceX was prevented from attempting to recover the first stage, however data shows the first stage successfully soft landed in the Atlantic Ocean within 10 meters of its target. According to SpaceX the vehicle was nicely vertical and the data captured during this test suggests a high probability of being able to land the stage on the drone ship in better weather.
Launch Scene Image Credit: SpaceX