Friday, January 15, 2016

SpaceX Falcon to launch international ocean monitoring spacecraft Sunday

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- An advanced ocean monitoring spacecraft designed to gather information on the rise and fall of the planet's oceans including the development of powerful cyclones is scheduled to lift-off on Sunday from central California.

A Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) Falcon 9 rocket is poised to place the Jason 3 into a polar orbit on January 17 at the opening of a 30-second window at 10:42:18 a.m. PST, from Vandenberg, AFB. The special orbit will allow the spacecraft to scan nearly 90 percent of the world's water surfaces for nearly five years.

Rain showers associated with the weather phenomena El Nino delayed work by engineers to prepare the Falcon for flight last week. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk noted the commercial company conducted a successful static test firing of the Falcon's main engines on Monday evening passing that final hurdle before launch.

Jason 3 will also investigate and understand the effects of El Nino and La Nina on the Earth's oceans in order to better forecast environmental conditions early. NOAA officials note the January rise of Hurricane Alex in the northern Atlantic is prime example of why Jason is being placed in space.

"Data from Jason satellites have been invaluable to the study of El Nino and its impacts for the past two decades," said NASA's Jason project scientist Josh Willis on Wednesday. "With the launch of Jason 3, our efforts to better monitor and understand the widespread effects of El Nino around the world will continue for years to come."

The spacecraft was flown from France to its launch site last June in preparation for the start of the international satellite mission on August 8. Partnership of the delayed mission includes NASA, the French Space Agency and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites.

"Jason 3 will continue the ability to monitor and precisely measure global sea surface heights, monitor the intensification of tropical cyclones and support seasonal and coastal forecasts," NOAA spokesperson John Leslie said on Wednesday. "(Its) data also will benefit fisheries management, marine industries and research into human impacts on the world’s oceans."

The spacecraft's measurements will be feed to both civilian, scientific and government channels. Real time information will improve surface wave forecasts given to commercial shipping and emergency response vessels.

"Every decade, the planet's climate evolves and our influence on it grows. So every decade we're actually measuring a new world," Willis noted. "That's why we need to continue these observations."

Sunday's lift-off may see the second successful landing of a Falcon 9 rocket nearly ten minutes following launch. Musk plans to land this Falcon first stage vertical on a landing platform several miles from the launch site.

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