After a nominal first stage flight, the upper stage of the rocket shut down early and failed to deliver the TROPICS CubeSats to orbit.
NASA’s Launch Services Program, who managed the launch service for the mission, continues to work with emerging launch providers to deliver low-cost science missions into orbit through contracts that align with commercial practices, using less NASA oversight to achieve lower launch costs.
Small satellites and Class D payloads tolerate relatively high risk and serve as an ideal platform for technical and architecture innovation, contributing to NASA’s science research and technology development. The program offers opportunity for industry developing new launch capabilities.
Two TROPICS CubeSats have lifted off atop an Astra Rocket 3 from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida today, June 12, 2022. Launch occurred at approximately 1:43 p.m. EDT.
Astra has completed final liquid oxygen conditioning and resumed countdown for the launch of its Rocket 3, carrying two of NASA’s TROPICS CubeSats. Liftoff currently is scheduled for today at 1:43 p.m. EDT.
Astra has paused the countdown of the launch of its Rocket 3, carrying two of NASA’s TROPICS CubeSats, to complete final liquid oxygen conditioning on the vehicle. Upon completion, the team will set a new launch time for TROPICS-1.
Each TROPICS satellite is identical – a 3U CubeSat about the size of a loaf of bread and weighing about 12 lbs.
The TROPICS CubeSat payload is a spinning microwave radiometer with highly integrated, compact microwave receiver electronics.
TROPICS satellite measures microwave frequencies ranging from about 90 to 205 gigahertz, which can monitor the atmospheric emissions made by water vapor, oxygen, and clouds in the atmosphere.
TROPICS target altitude is 550 kilometers, and pairs of CubeSats will have three slightly different low-Earth orbits, all at an angle about 30 degrees above the equator.
The TROPICS Pathfinder satellite, a proof-of-concept CubeSat that launched in June of 2021, has captured images of several tropical cyclones, such as Hurricane Ida over the United States, Cyclone Batsirai over Madagascar, and Super Typhoon Mindulle over eastern Japan. The pathfinder satellite has also provided the TROPICS research team an opportunity to fine tune the satellites’ software and operational procedures before the constellation launches. In addition, the pathfinder has already been calibrated and will be able to serve as a calibration reference for the rest of the TROPICS constellation satellites. The TROPICS pathfinder helps the TROPICS CubeSats start producing useful data quickly.
Astra’s Rocket 3 is an expendable, vertically-launched two stage rocket that uses liquid oxygen and kerosene as propellants. It has an overall length of 43 feet and is 52 inches in diameter. Astra designed it to fit inside a standard shipping container. Rocket 3 has five engines on its first stage, and one engine on its second stage.
TROPICS is an Earth venture instrument mission – science-driven, competitively selected, low-cost missions that provide opportunity for investment in innovative Earth science to enhance our capability to better understand the current state of the Earth system and to enable continual improvement in the prediction of future changes.
The TROPICS team is led by Principal Investigator Dr. William Blackwell at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington and includes researchers from NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and several universities and commercial partners.
NASA’s Launch Services Program at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida manages the launch service.
NASA’s TROPICS CubeSats mission is scheduled to launch today, June 12, on an Astra Rocket 3 from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. A two-hour window opens at noon EDT.
Here’s a look at some of today’s upcoming milestones. All times are approximate:
Weather officials with Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s 45th Weather Squadron predict a 40% chance of favorable weather conditions at noon, the start of today’s launch window, with the forecast dropping to 10 percent favorable later in the afternoon.
The primary weather concern at the start of the launch window is a Cumulus Cloud Rule violation. Later in the launch window, concerns include Surface Electric Fields and Lightning rules.
TROPICS mission aims to improve observations of tropical cyclones. Six TROPICS satellites will work in concert to provide microwave observations of a storm’s precipitation, temperature, and humidity as often as every 50 minutes.
Launch day has arrived for NASA’s commercial partner Astra. A pair of small satellites wait atop Astra’s Rocket 3 for liftoff from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. This mission will send two-shoebox sized CubeSats to low-Earth orbit. A two-hour launch window opens at noon EDT.
This is the first of three planned launches for NASA’s Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats (TROPICS) mission. Together the three launches will attempt to place six satellites in three different orbital planes to study the formation and development of tropical cyclones, making observations more often than what is possible with current weather satellites. The six TROPICS satellites will join the TROPICS Pathfinder satellite, which is already in orbit.
The six TROPICS satellites will maximize their time over the part of the Earth where tropical cyclones form and will work in concert to improve observations of tropical cyclones. The spread of the satellites means that a satellite should pass over any spot in an area stretching from the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States to the southern coast of Australia about once an hour. TROPICS will provide data on temperature, precipitation, water vapor, and cloud ice by measuring microwave frequencies, providing insight into storm formation and intensification. This new data, coupled with information collected from other weather satellites, will increase understanding of tropical cyclones and improve forecasting models.
Follow launch updates on this blog and stay connected with the mission on social media.
Twitter: @NASA_LSP, @NASAEarth, @NASAKennedy, @NASA, @Astra
The small satellites were selected through NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative, which provides low-cost access to space for U.S. educational institutions, NASA centers, and others to develop and demonstrate novel technologies in space and to inspire and grow the next generation of scientists, engineers, and technologists.
The CubeSats were developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; The Weiss School in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida; NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California; Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida; and the University of South Alabama in Mobile. The CubeSats will be deployed from the space station.
NASA has selected over 200 CubeSat missions from more than 100 unique organizations representing 42 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico through the CubeSat Launch Initiative since 2010. To date, 134 CubeSat missions have launched into space through ELaNa rideshare opportunities.
NASA has selected eight small research satellites from seven states to fly as either auxiliary payloads or deployments from the International Space Station (ISS). These missions are currently planned to launch in the 2023-2026 timeframe. The selected CubeSats were proposed by educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, and NASA centers in response to NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) call for proposals issued on August 9, 2021.
The organizations and the CubeSats chosen during this selection round are:
Arizona State University – Star-Planet Activity Research CubeSat (SPARCS)
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – Virtual Super-Resolution Optics with Reconfigurable Swarms (VISORS)
NASA Langley Research Center – ARCSTONE
California Polytechnic State University – Additively Manufactured Deployable Radiator with Oscillating Heat Pipes (AMDROHPSat)
Olin College – Space Weather Atmospheric Reconfigurable Multiscale Experiment (SWARM-EX)
University of New Hampshire – 3U3-A
Utah State University – Active Cooling for Multispectral Earth Sensors (ACMES)
Arizona State University – Deployable Optical Receiver Aperture (DORA)