A Centaur problem delays the launch of JPSS-2

WASHINGTON — The launch of a polar-orbiting weather satellite and demonstration of re-entry technology will be delayed for more than a week due to a battery issue with their rocket’s upper stage, NASA announced on October 29.

The agency said the Atlas 5 launch of the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) 2 satellite, which was scheduled for the early morning hours of Nov. 1 from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, would be postponed “due to the need to replace a battery on board the Centaur upper stage of the launch vehicle. This work will delay the launch to at least November 9.

During a pre-launch briefing on October 28, NASA and United Launch Alliance officials did not report any issues with the launch vehicle or any other issues that could delay the launch, beyond the unstable weather conditions expected for the start.

“The team is not working through any issues and we are on track for a 2:25 a.m. Pacific launch here,” said Gary Wentz, vice president of government and commercial programs at ULA, during the briefing, which took place after a launch readiness exam. early in the day.

The primary payload for launch into JPSS-2, the second in a series of polar-orbiting satellites operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for weather forecasting. It will join JPSS-1, which entered service in May 2018 six months after its launch.

A third polar-orbiting satellite, Suomi NPP, also provides meteorological data. The spacecraft was originally built as a prototype for the National Polar Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), but was upgraded to an operational satellite when the NPOESS was canceled. The Suomi Nuclear Power Plant is nearing the end of its life as it lacks the propellant to maintain its orbit.

While JPSS-2 is the second satellite in the program, it is the first of three built by Northrop Grumman under a contract awarded in 2015. Ball Aerospace won the contract for the first JPSS satellite.

In an Oct. 24 interview, Steve Krein, vice president of civil and commercial space at Northrop Grumman, said there were no issues with processing the satellite for launch. The company is “well advanced” in producing JPSS-3 and -4, he said.

The satellites use the latest version of Northrop’s LEOStar-3 bus. “We’ve got a new avionics suite, we’ve got a new set of sensors, wheels, star trackers, etc., that we’ve put to work for the Landsat [9] mission and the JPSS mission,” he said. “It’s a continuous upgrade of components and operating paradigms.”

Also on the Atlas 5 is NASA’s Low Earth Orbit Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID) flight test, a technology demonstration payload that will deploy an inflatable heat shield six meters in diameter. LOFTID will separate from the Centaur upper stage after the stage performs a deorbit. The inflatable shield will slow LOFTID from Mach 25 to Mach 0.7, then deploy a parachute and dive east of Hawaii to retrieve it.

LOFTID is the latest in a series of tests of inflatable decelerators that NASA plans to use to support future missions to Mars too large to land using existing systems. ULA is also interested in the technology as a way to salvage BE-4 engines from the Vulcan first stage for possible reuse.

The launch, the 100th in NASA’s Launch Services program, will be the program’s last Atlas 5 mission and the last Atlas 5 to launch from Vandenberg. Wentz said after launch, ULA will begin work to convert the Atlas pad at Vandenberg, Space Launch Complex 3, for use by the Vulcan rocket.

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