Saturday, January 31, 2015

NASA SMAP lifts off to study Earth's soil moisture

A ULA Delta II lifts off with SMAP predawn on January 31. photo: ULA
 CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A NASA spacecraft designed to study and map the moisture locked within the Earth's soil over the next three years lifted off in the predawn hour on Saturday from the California coastline.

The Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite will begin a mission to create global maps of the water embedded in the top two inches of the soil regions across the globe. As SMAP moves around Earth in a polar orbit, it will study only the moisture and not regions covered in ice, and become a new source to locate new drought regions.

Soaring 426 miles above Earth in a near polar orbit, SMAP will sweep its rotating golden radar antenna across a 620-mile wide region. The new data will assist farmers and scientists in climate and weather forecasts and track water movement across the globe.

The United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket launched at 6:22 a.m. PST (9:22 a.m. EST), on Jan. 31 following a two minute delay due to upper level winds, from historic Vandenberg AFB near Los Angeles. "And lift-off of the Delta 2 rocket with SMAP, making global observations of soil moisture for climate forecasting," NASA Launch Commentator George H. Diller exclaimed as flames and exhaust ignited from the rocket.

The Delta's core main engine and three rocket boosters pushed the white and blue rocket higher as it soared toward the south and out over the Pacific waters. Viewers near the launch sight trailed with their eyes the 400-foot golden flame over the black night sky.

Fifty-seven minutes after Delta II left Earth's soil, SMAP separated from the rockets upper stage and quickly began to move away. A television camera on the upper stage captured the 2,332-pound spacecraft separate 424 miles over an area northeast of Madagascar.

“I just can’t say enough about the team that we have," NASA Delta II Launch Manager Tim Dunn said following the successful lift-off. "We had zero launch vehicle problems on Delta II. We had zero spacecraft problems."

“We’re in contact with SMAP and everything looks good right now,” Dunn exclaimed after separation. “Deployment of the solar arrays is underway. We just couldn’t be happier.” Over the next few days, mission engineers and controllers will deploy SMAP radar boom and unfurl the massive circular radar dish. The release of the first SMAP soil moisture data is expected in nine months.

The Delta's third stage then maneuvered to a lower orbit forty minutes later and began to deploy four CubeSats -- satellites designed and built by universities which act like experiments to learn more about Earth and the space around us. The third stage will eventually be maneuvered so that it reenters earths atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Small moon discovered orbiting a near Earth asteroid

NASA astronomers studying a speeding asteroid which passed close to our planet on Monday learned it carries an orbiting moon of its own around the icy rock as it moves across our solar system.

In newly released radar images from the space agency, asteroid 2004 BL86 can be seen spinning while its unnamed moon moves closer frame by frame. The space duo flew past Earth on Monday morning (EST) from a distance of 745,000 miles or three times the distance from the Earth to our moon.

"(The) flyby was the closest approach the asteroid will make to Earth for at least the next two centuries," DC Agle, spokesperson at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said on Monday. "It is also the closest a known asteroid this size will come to Earth until asteroid 1999 AN10 flies past our planet in 2027."

NASA Near Earth Objects program cooperates with universities and the private sector in studying and discovering asteroids using high gain radar antennas across the globe. "Radar is a powerful technique for studying an asteroid's size, shape, rotation state, surface features and surface roughness, and for improving the calculation of asteroid orbits. Radar measurements of asteroid distances and velocities often enable computation of asteroid orbits much further into the future than if radar observations weren't available."

"In the near-Earth population, about 16 percent of asteroids that are about 655 feet or larger are a binary or even triple systems," Agle added. The 1100-foot near-Earth asteroid was discovered in January 2004 by astronomers at White Sands, N.M.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

U.S. Navy MUOS3 spacecraft successfully launches from Cape Canaveral

A massive U.S. Navy military satellite designed to improve communications and data between troops in remote regions lifted-off on Tuesday from America's Space Coast on a planned decade long mission in geostationary orbit.

The Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) spacecraft is the third in a fleet of five planned satellites designed to replace aging military communications satellites. The MUOS-3 system is expected to expand the military network by ten times the number of users than that of the existing SATCOM system, including voice, video and data.

"Five are planned, four operational and one on-orbit spare," stated Naval Commander Pete Sheehy minutes after launch. CDR Sheehy added MUOS 4 will launch this August, and the fleet of four satellites will be operational tested late this year. He likened MUOS as moving multiple cellular towers on the ground and placing them in geostationary orbit.

As the countdown entered a planned hold at 4 minutes, high upper levels winds and "command interference" with the Atlas V rocket delayed lift-off by 21 minutes. The interference left the range with the inability to send necessary destruct commands to the vehicle if an emergency occurred.

As the two issues cleared and the clock neared zero, the Atlas' RD-180 main engine ignited seconds before its five boosters.

The bronze and white Atlas V rocket launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Tuesday at 7:49 p.m. EST, with its heaviest payload to date. The Atlas V 551, powered by a core main engine and five strap on solid fuel boosters, leapt from the launch pad with 2.6 million pounds of thrust to carry its 7.4 ton payload.

As the rocket rose up and began to dart out over the Atlantic waters, night briefly turned to daylight as Atlas rode a 400-foot golden flame. Nearly two minutes later, the empty boosters were jettisoned two at a time while the lone main engine continued to burn.

Tuesday's launch occurred during President Obama's State of the Union address in which he promoted the use of military operations to stop terrorism foes in the Middle East.

MUOS 3 successfully deployed from the Centuar upper stage on time at 10:57 p.m., and into its planned orbit over an area northwest of Australia. The spacecraft will undergo several months of thruster firings to place MUOS in its proper orbit, and on orbit check outs.
copyright 1998 - 2010 Charles Atkeison, All rights reserved.