The weather forecast remains unchanged for the planned Tuesday, Dec. 21, launch of SpaceX’s 24th commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station for NASA.
Weather officials with Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s 45th Weather Squadron predict a 30% chance of favorable weather conditions for Tuesday’s targeted liftoff of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and the company’s Dragon spacecraft from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Less than favorable conditions are expected for the primary launch window early Tuesday morning, with the main concerns associated with this weather being the cumulus cloud rule, thick cloud layer rule, and surface electric field rule.
NASA commercial cargo provider SpaceX is targeting tomorrow at 5:06 a.m. EST, to launch its resupply services mission to the space station. The backup date for launch is Wednesday, Dec. 22, at 4:43 a.m. EST.
Stay connected with the mission on social media and let people know you’re following the mission on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram by using the hashtags #Dragon and #NASASocial. Follow and tag these accounts:
Launching aboard SpaceX’s 24th Commercial Resupply Services mission to the International Space Station, NASA’s 38th Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) mission strengthens the initiative’s aim of providing opportunities for small satellite payloads built by universities, high schools, NASA Centers, and non-profit organizations. Liftoff from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 21, at 5:06 a.m. EST.
The four small satellites, or CubeSats, that comprise the 38th ELaNa mission include designs from Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, California; Utah State University in Logan, Utah; Georgia Tech Research Corporation in Atlanta, Georgia; and NASA’s Kennedy.
CubeSats are a class of research spacecraft called nanosatellites, built to standard dimensions – Units or “U” – of 4 inches cubed. Often included as secondary payloads, CubeSats can be 1U, 2U, 3U, or 6U in size, typically weighing less than 3 pounds per U and designed to carry out unique tasks once deployed into low-Earth orbit.
The Daily Atmospheric and Ionospheric Limb Imager (DAILI), built by Aerospace Corporation, is a linear 6U CubeSat that images the edge of Earth’s atmosphere to determine daytime density of atmospheric oxygen. The region of atmosphere it will study – roughly an altitude of 87 to 180 miles – is difficult to measure and produces uncertain atmospheric models. This investigation could help improve models informing our understanding of dynamics in the upper atmosphere, which can affect satellites and space debris in low-Earth orbit, while improved understanding of how Earth’s atmosphere works could contribute to better forecasting of weather and other atmospheric events.
The Aerospace Corporation – a national nonprofit corporation that operates a federally funded research and development center – designed and developed DAILI based on the company’s Remote Atmospheric and Ionospheric Detection System experiment, which was operational on the space station from 2009 to 2010, enabled DAILI to be designed. The DAILI CubeSat project is led by principal investigator Dr. James Hecht.
An undergraduate team at Utah State University developed the Get Away Special Passive Attitude Control Satellite (GASPACS), a 1U CubeSat with a primary mission to deploy a meter-long inflatable boom in low-Earth orbit and transmit a clear photograph of the deployed boom to Earth. Inflatable structures are compact and lightweight and therefore could serve many useful purposes in space. On this mission, the inflatable boom also will passively stabilize the rotation of the satellite due to aerodynamic drag in orbit.
The GASPACS CubeSat was developed by the university’s Get Away Special Team – an undergraduate, extracurricular research team within the physics department that gives students the opportunity to learn real-world engineering skills by effectively contributing to aerospace research. The team’s principal investigator is Dr. Jan Sojka, head of the university’s physics department.
The Passive Thermal Coating Observatory Operating in Low-Earth Orbit (PATCOOL) satellite is a 3U CubeSat sponsored by NASA and developed by students at the University of Florida to investigate the feasibility of using a cryogenic selective surface coating as a more efficient way to passively cool components in space. The team hopes in-orbit testing will validate what ground tests have demonstrated – that this coating should provide a much higher reflectance of the Sun’s irradiant power than any existing coating while still providing far-infrared power emission.
The ADvanced Autonomous MUltiple Spacecraft (ADAMUS) Laboratory at the University of Florida (UF), with funding from NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP), developed the PATCOOL CubeSat, along with principal investigator, Brandon Marsell, branch chief for LSP’s Environments and Launch Approval, based at Kennedy.
The Tethering and Ranging mission of the Georgia Institute of Technology (TARGIT) is a 3U CubeSat that seeks to develop and test in orbit an imaging LiDAR system capable of fine detailed topographic mapping while also providing university students with hands-on education in space systems and applications. Additionally, the mission will demonstrate a series of experimental spacecraft technologies, including active tether and inflation systems, 3D-printed components, horizon sensors using low-resolution thermal imagers, and nanocarbon-based solar cells.
Students from Georgia Tech’s School of Aerospace Engineering designed and developed the TARGIT CubeSat, under the tutelage of their professor and principal investigator, Dr. Brian C. Gunter.
The ELaNa 38 mission CubeSats were selected by NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) and assigned to the mission by LSP, based at Kennedy. CSLI provides launch opportunities for small satellite payloads built by universities, high schools, NASA Centers, and non-profit organizations.
To date, NASA has selected 220 CubeSat missions, 124 of which have been launched into space, with 37 more missions scheduled for launch within the next 12 months. The selected CubeSats represent participants from 42 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and 102 unique organizations.
Stay connected with these CubeSat missions on social media by following NASA’s Launch Services Program on Facebook and Twitter.
United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V 551 rocket successfully launched from Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Dec. 7, at 5:19 a.m. EST for the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Space Test Program 3 (STP-3) mission. Two satellites were on board, including the Space Test Program Satellite-6 (STPSat-6) spacecraft, which carried two NASA payloads that have been successfully deployed:
The Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD), will be NASA’s first end-to-end laser relay system, sending and receiving data over invisible infrared lasers at a rate of approximately 1.2 gigabits per second from geosynchronous orbit to Earth. With data rates 10 to 100 times higher than traditional radio frequency systems, laser communications systems will provide future missions with extraordinary data capabilities.
The mission will operate for at least two years. Engineers will beam data between LCRD and optical ground stations located in Table Mountain, California, and Haleakalā, Hawaii, once LCRD is positioned more than 22,000 miles above Earth. Experiments will refine the transmission process, study different operational scenarios, and perfect tracking systems. The information and data are essential to readying a laser communications system for an operational mission because engineers cannot replicate the same conditions with ground tests.
UVSC Pathfinder — short for Ultraviolet Spectro-Coronagraph Pathfinder — begins its mission to peer at the lowest regions of the Sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona, where solar energetic particles, the Sun’s most dangerous form of radiation, are thought to originate. A joint NASA-U.S. Naval Research Laboratory experiment, UVSC Pathfinder becomes the latest addition to NASA’s fleet of heliophysics observatories, which study a vast, interconnected system from the Sun to the space surrounding Earth and other planets, and to the farthest limits of the Sun’s constantly flowing stream of solar wind.
NASA’s payloads aboard STP-3, the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) and UVSC Pathfinder, have successfully deployed. The Centaur second stage released the U.S. Department of Defense’s Space Test Program Satellite-6 (STPSat-6) spacecraft, which hosts the payloads, into geosynchronous orbit. After coasting for another 40 minutes, Centaur will release the Space Force’s additional satellite, completing the longest Atlas mission in its more than 60-year history.
UVSC Pathfinder — short for Ultraviolet Spectro-Coronagraph Pathfinder — will peer at the lowest regions of the Sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona. The mission is a joint NASA-U.S. Naval Research Laboratory experiment that studies the origins of solar energetic particles, the Sun’s most dangerous form of radiation.
Meteorologists with the U.S. Space Force 45th Weather Squadron predict a 90% chance of favorable weather Sunday, Dec. 5, for launch of the Department of Defense (DOD) Space Test Program 3 (STP-3) mission on United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 551 rocket. The two-hour launch window opens at 4:04 a.m. EST.
LCRD is about the size of a king-sized mattress and seeks to make operational laser communications a reality. As space missions generate and collect more data, higher bandwidth communications technologies are needed to bring data home, and laser communications systems offer higher bandwidth in a smaller package that uses less power. LCRD will send and receive data over infrared lasers at approximately 1.2 gigabits per second from geosynchronous orbit to Earth.
UVSC Pathfinder is a joint NASA-U.S. Naval Research Laboratory experiment that studies the origins of solar energetic particles, the Sun’s most dangerous form of radiation.
Forecast Details High pressure will build at the surface over central Florida through Saturday. This will keep the launch area dry all day Friday with light winds and near average temperatures. The surface high retreats into the Atlantic Ocean slightly Sunday into Monday, bringing light winds Sunday coming from the south on Monday, and a slight chance for isolated low topped showers near the coast, especially on Monday. Therefore, the primary concern for launch day is the cumulus cloud rule.
NASA invites the public to register to virtually attend the launch and receive mission updates and activities via email. NASA’s virtual guest program for LCRD includes curated launch resources, notifications about related opportunities, and a virtual guest passport stamp.
Teachers and students can explore the LCRD STEM Tool Kit. The kit includes five activity sheets, each designed for a target grade-level range, a model of STPSat-6 that students and teachers can 3D print, an overview of LCRD, and several other printable items. Many of the toolkit resources are also available in Spanish.
United Launch Alliance (ULA) is now targeting Dec. 4 to launch the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DoD) Space Test Program Satellite-6 (STPSat-6) spacecraft, which hosts NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD). The two-hour launch window runs 4:04 – 6:04 a.m. EST. STPSat-6 is part of the Space Test Program 3, or STP-3, mission which will launch on a ULA Atlas V 551 rocket from Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
The LCRD technology demonstration is testing an enhanced communication capability called laser communications, which will enable space missions to generate and collect more data. The payload is the size of a king size mattress and will send and receive data via infrared lasers at approximately 1.2 gigabits per second from geosynchronous orbit to Earth. Laser communications systems offer higher bandwidth in a smaller package that uses less power.
GOES-T will launch from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket. The two-hour launch window will open at 4:40 p.m. EST. This launch is managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program based at Kennedy Space Center.
GOES-T is the third satellite in the GOES-R Series, which will extend NOAA’s operational geostationary satellite observations through 2036. The GOES satellite network helps meteorologists observe and predict local weather events, including thunderstorms, tornadoes, fog, hurricanes, flash floods and other severe weather.
NOAA manages the GOES-R Series Program through an integrated NOAA-NASA office, administering the ground system contract, operating the satellites, and distributing their data to users worldwide. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center oversees the acquisition of the GOES-R spacecraft and instruments. Lockheed Martin designs, creates, and tests the GOES-R Series satellites. L3Harris Technologies provides the main instrument payload, the Advanced Baseline Imager, along with the ground system, which includes the antenna system for data reception.
Looking forward, NOAA is working with NASA on the next-generation geostationary satellite mission called Geostationary Extended Observations (GeoXO), which will bring new capabilities in support of U.S. weather, ocean, and climate operations in the 2030s. NASA will manage the development of the GeoXO satellites and launch them for NOAA.
After a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket successfully carried the Landsat 9 spacecraft into orbit from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on Sept. 27, the satellite now joins Landsat 8 in orbit and replaces Landsat 7, launched in 1999.
Landsat 9 and Landsat 8 will collect images from across the planet every eight days. This calibrated data will continue the Landsat program’s critical role in monitoring the health of Earth and helping people manage essential resources, including crops, irrigation water, and forests.
“Landsat provides one basic set of observations that feeds an entire range of Earth science applications and research,” said NASA Landsat 9 Project Scientist Jeff Masek.
Images from Landsat 9 will be added to nearly 50 years of free and publicly available data from the mission – the longest data record of Earth’s landscapes taken from space. Landsat’s medium-resolution imaging capability allows researchers to harmonize the images to detect the footprint of human activities and their impact on our home planet over the decades.
“We have over 2,000 peer-reviewed publications every year in the scientific literature that depend on the Landsat archive,” Masek said. “Landsat is our best source for understanding rates of tropical deforestation, as well as other forest dynamics like disturbances from hurricanes, wildfires, insect outbreaks, as well as the recovery of those disturbances over time.”
As Landsat 9 orbits Earth, it captures scenes across a swath 185 kilometers (115) miles wide. Each pixel in these images is 30 meters across, or about the size of a baseball infield, which allows resource managers to resolve most crop fields in the United States. Its instruments collect images of Earth’s landscapes in visible, near and shortwave (reflected) infrared, and thermal infrared wavelengths. Like its predecessors, Landsat 9 is a joint effort of NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey.
“The USGS collection data allow the science, government, civil, and international user communities to map wildfires, primary and secondary contributions to greenhouse gas emissions, ice cover persistence, melt, water clarity, water quality, floating algae biomass, landcover that’s changed, and also urban growth and the heat island effects on local and regional temperature,” said USGS Project Scientist Chris Crawford. “The USGS 5-year archive provides a highly reliable, highly stable, and high-quality terrestrial and aquatic imaging record that can enable the quantification of space and time effects of climate variability and change on both human and natural systems.”
Since the launch of the first Landsat satellite in 1972, the mission’s archive has grown to contain more than 8 million images. Landsat 9 data will add to this archive to better our understanding of Earth in innumerable ways – from tracking water use in crop fields in the western United States, to monitoring deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, to measuring the speed of Antarctic glaciers. Decision makers from across the globe use the freely available Landsat data to better understand environmental change, forecast global crop production, respond to natural disasters, and more. The usefulness of the data stems from the careful design and engineering of the satellite and the mission.
“Landsat allows us to track in near real time, and in a consistent way, changes to our planet and specifically to our agricultural lands,” said Inbal Becker-Reshef, program director of NASA Harvest, the agency’s food security and agriculture program. “One of the biggest stories of landcover change Landsat has been instrumental to reveal and to track has been the rapid deforestation in the Amazon in South America, in large part driven by agricultural expansion for pastures and croplands. Without Landsat’s historical data archive, we wouldn’t be able to track such massive land changes, which have critical implications for Earth’s ecosystems, biodiversity, and for climate.”
Landsat 9 is designed to last at least five years on orbit but has enough fuel to operate for at least 15 years, including de-orbit, though it could last for 20 or more years. Data from the satellite will become available to the public after completion of the satellite’s 100-day checkout period in January. The next Landsat mission is already in the works, with a series of planned enhancements, including higher spatial resolution, more spectral bands, and more frequent coverage, which are the highest priorities from the Landsat user communities.
The Landsat 9 satellite has separated from the Centaur second stage.
Once online, Landsat 9 will take its place as the most advanced satellite in the Landsat series and extend the data record of Earth’s land surface that began with the first Landsat satellite in 1972. Landsat’s high-quality scientific data makes multi-decadal time series studies possible, and its data are regularly used for land management efforts around the world.
The United Launch Alliance Centaur second stage achieved the desired near-polar, sun-synchronous orbit for Landsat 9 just over 16 minutes into flight. It is now coasting to the other side of the Earth to release the spacecraft just over an hour from now.