The first of a new generation of advanced weather satellites has finished the initial stage of its journey to space — a 1,600-mile road trip to Vandenberg Air Force Base.
“It was a good trip, no incidents,” said Scott Tennant of Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo.
“The guys commented on lots of trucks and some one-lane construction zones that are kind of an adventure when you’ve got a wide payload,” he added.
After a sendoff with a tailgate party, the $1.5 billion NPP satellite left the Ball Aerospace plant Sunday evening.
The 4,700-pound craft traveled in a convoy of five company vehicles — a pilot car, the semi carrying the satellite, a rear escort car and two vans carrying support personnel.
Another vehicle with NASA personnel also traveled along, making a total of 16 people traveling with the satellite.
The convoy took breaks every four hours for fuel and rest, but essentially it was a non-stop, 40-hour journey from Colorado, said Tennant, the company’s NPP program manager.
They pulled into Vandenberg on Tuesday morning, which was a big milestone for the mission.
Astrotech Space Operations held a barbecue to greet the arrival, and Tennant described the team’s mood as being “very upbeat” after hitting this overdue benchmark toward launch.
“We can’t believe we’re here,” he said.
The spacecraft now will be prepared inside the Astrotech Space Operations facility at Vandenberg for installation atop a rocket for an Oct. 25 launch. The team’s chores in the coming weeks include removing protective covers, testing and fueling.
NPP is the first of a new generation of polar-orbiting weather satellites that also will collect a variety of environmental data around the globe. The spacecraft has five key instruments to collect its scientific information.
Called NPP — an acronym left over from the abandoned National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project, or NPOESS Preparatory Project — the satellite will collect a host of environmental data, but it is primarily designed to gather weather information.
Liftoff aboard a Delta 2 rocket is on track for Oct. 25 from Space Launch Complex-2 at Vandenberg.
“We have nine days of margin in our schedule between the time we finish with all of our operations prior to getting installed onto the launch vehicle, so it looks pretty solid,” said Scott Compton, NPP integration and test manager.
The launch window runs from 2:48 to 2:57 a.m. so that the satellite can be placed in orbit where it’s needed, some 512 miles high.
Upon arriving in space,
the satellite will undergo a 90-day checkout period prior to being put into service. Those first steps include deploying solar arrays, which are crucial for keeping spacecraft’s batteries fully charged.
This satellite initially was supposed to be a test vehicle for a new fleet of spacecraft that would combine military and civilian meteorological satellite systems, but after rising costs and technical troubles that program was jettisoned.
NASA said the NPP craft serves as a bridge between NASA’s Earth Observing System of satellites and the forthcoming Joint Polar Satellite System, or JPSS. JPSS satellites will be developed by NASA for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.