Perfect Countdown and Liftoff for JPSS-1

Perfect Countdown and Liftoff for JPSS-1

NOAA’s new Joint Polar Satellite System-1 (JPSS-1) spacecraft is finally in orbit.  This morning’s countdown and launch on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta II rocket went perfectly, proving once more that the third time is the charm.  

The first attempt to launch JPSS-1 on Tuesday morning was scrubbed because of a launch vehicle problem and a “red range” — red as in STOP because something (usually a boat or aircraft) has entered the restricted area that extends along the rocket’s path to orbit (trajectory). It is a keep-out zone during launch for safety reasons.  Or there could a problem with range instrumentation. The issue in this case was not specified.

Artist’s illustration of JPSS-1. Credit: NASA

The second attempt to launch on Wednesday morning was scrubbed because of high upper level winds and a red range.

Today, the rocket, the weather, and the range were all green and launch was on time at 4:47:36 am Eastern Standard Time (1:47:36 local time) from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA.

JPSS-1 is the first of a planned four-satellite set of advanced polar-orbiting weather satellites that circle the Earth’s poles, providing data on the entire globe.  NOAA also operates a set of geostationary weather satellites that orbit around the equator, keeping a fixed position relative to a point on Earth.  They are especially useful for tracking hurricanes in the tropical regions.  The first of a new series of those satellites, GOES-R, was launched last year.  These satellites receive new designations once they are in orbit.  GOES-R became GOES-16.  JPSS-1 will become NOAA-20.

NOAA-19 was launched in 2009.  JPSS-1 has significantly advanced capabilities in comparison.  However, NOAA’s primary polar-orbiting weather satellite right now is a NASA satellite, Suomi-NPP.  Suomi-NPP was built to test new technologies that would be used on JPSS and hence has an almost identical suite of sensors.  It was launched in 2011.

JPSS-2 is planned for launch in late 2021 (the first quarter of FY2022).  The satellites have a 7-year design lifetime.  The next two satellites, JPSS-3 and -4, are currently expected to be launched in FY2026 and FY2031, although the Trump Administration’s FY2018 budget request included less than NOAA wanted for those two satellites.  Congress is still considering how much to appropriate.  JPSS-3 and -4 are in a separate budget line item from the first two.  They are called the Polar Follow On (PFO) program.  If they are launched when NOAA plans, the JPSS system will provide data through 2038. (See’s fact sheet on NOAA’s FY2018 budget request for more information on the PFO debate.)

This is the next to last launch of ULA’s venerable Delta II rocket, which has been in use since 1989.  The final Delta II will be used to launch NASA’s ICESat 2 satellite in September 2018.

Five cubesats were attached to the Delta II second stage and were also successfully deployed. Four are sponsored by NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) program:

  • MiRaTA (Microwave Radiometer Technology Acceleration), MIT (Cambridge, Massachusetts), a tiny weather satellite
  • MakerSat-0, Northwest Nazarene University (Nampa, Idaho), to test 3-D printing in space
  • RadFxSat, AMSAT, The Amateur Radio Satellite Corporation (Silver Spring, Maryland) and Vanderbilt University (Nashville, Tennessee), to study radiation effects on electronic components
  • EagleSat-1, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University (Prescott, Arizona), to study orbital decay

More information is on NASA’s ELaNa website.

The fifth is Buccaneer, built by the Australian Defence Science and Technology Group, which will perform radar calibration experiments.


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