Jason-3 Launch Delayed Due To Thruster Contamination

Jason-3 Launch Delayed Due To Thruster Contamination

Launch of the U.S.-European Jason-3 ocean altimetry satellite has been postponed because contamination was found in one of the spacecraft’s four thrusters. Launch was scheduled for July 22.  A new launch date was not  announced.

Jason-3 is the first operational ocean altimetry mission and will be used to track global sea level rise.  NOAA and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) are the lead agencies, with NASA and its French counterpart, CNES, as partners. 

NASA and CNES built and launched three predecessors: Topex/Poseidon, launched in 1992; Jason-1 (2001); and Jason-2 (2008), which is still operating.   NOAA and EUMETSAT were partners with NASA and CNES on Jason-2 and took over as the leads for Jason-3 as this type of observation transitioned from research to operations.

Jason-3’s problem thruster has been replaced and is undergoing testing, NOAA says.  Meanwhile, the investigation into how it became contaminated continues.

Thales Alenia Space was chosen by CNES as the spacecraft contractor in 2010.  At the time, launch was anticipated in July 2013.  They also are providing the spacecraft’s primary instrument, the Poseidon-3B altimeter.   The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) built Jason-3’s microwave
radiometer, GPS and laser ranging reflector and procured the launch, which will be from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA.   JPL selected SpaceX to launch Jason-3.

Although NOAA was the lead U.S. agency for Jason-3, the Obama Administration is proposing in the FY2016 budget request that any follow-on ocean altimetry missions revert to NASA.  The Administration wants NASA to assume responsibility for all civil earth observing missions other than weather and space weather, which would remain within NOAA’s budget.  

Other NOAA satellite activities were transferred to NASA last year.  Consequently the budget request for NASA’s earth science program is rising.  NASA is requesting $184.8 million more for earth science in FY2016 than it received in FY2015.  NASA said earlier this year that approximately $54 million of that increase is due to programs being transferred from NOAA.   NASA’s authorizing and appropriations committees are recommending significant cuts to NASA’s earth science budget instead. The Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill (H.R. 2578), which funds NASA and NOAA, is set for floor debate in the House beginning today. It would cut NASA’s earth science request by $250 million.

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