Third time's the charm for space weather observatory launch, but stormy weather scrubs SpaceX rocket landing
Wednesday, February 11, 2015, 3:33 PM - SpaceX's third attempt to deliver the DSCOVR satellite into space succeeded today, with a picture-perfect launch at just after 6pm Eastern Time. However, their attempt to land the rocket's first stage on a barge at sea had to be scrubbed due to extreme weather impacting the Atlantic coast.
NOAA's new DSCOVR satellite is in space now, launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at precisely 6:03 pm ET, Wednesday, February 11, from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The first two attempts having been scrubbed due to technical issues and weather, this third try was, as they say, the charm. Surface weather conditions were ideal leading up to the launch, and even upper-level winds - the reason for the launch scrub on Tuesday - were favourable and actually diminished just before liftoff.
According to NASA, if this attempt had also ended in a scrub, SpaceX would have needed to wait until at least February 20 to try again.
Why so long?
DSCOVR's path into deep space takes it past the orbit of the Moon, and today's launch window is the last one before a 'Moon Blackout' shuts down any attempt for the next 7 days. Basically, since the Moon is currently swinging around between the Earth and the Sun in its orbit, over the next week it will be close enough to DSCOVR's trajectory that its gravity would throw the spacecraft off course. This would require the rocket to expend fuel for course corrections, and bleeding its tanks dry before it was able to deliver DSCOVR to its destination. Waiting until February 20 will clear the way for a smooth flight.
'No Go' for reusable rocket landing
Although DSCOVR made it into space today, unfortunately no attempt was made by SpaceX to land the Falcon 9 1st stage on a barge at sea.
Apparently, there are some odds that even this daring private spaceflight company just can't overcome, which includes 30-foot waves crashing down over the deck of the drone barge.
In a press release issued today, SpaceX reported that the barge was experiencing extreme weather conditions in the Atlantic, which is understandable, given the Nor'easter storm currently developing along the coast. So, while the launch would go forward if it can, there will be no attempt to recover the Falcon 9 first stage. Instead, the rocket went through the same procedures it did just prior to the barge being put into service - making a soft water landing in the midst of the storm, to provide controllers with more data for future attempts.
Shortly after the launch, Elon Musk took to Twitter to report on the 'landing', and the results certainly bode well for the future (as he's said before).
Rocket soft landed in the ocean within 10m of target & nicely vertical! High probability of good droneship landing in non-stormy weather.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 11, 2015
DSCOVR will safeguard our tech and monitor our climate
The satellite launched on this deep space mission is DSCOVR - NOAA's Deep Space Climate Observatory - which will orbit around a point in deep space known as Lagrange Point 1. This stable point, always located directly between the Earth and the Sun, where the gravity of both objects perfectly balance each other, is the perfect place for DSCOVR to pursue its mission.
From a vantage point roughly 1.5 million kilometres closer to the Sun than Earth, the spacecraft will monitor the solar wind, giving scientists here on Earth advanced warning of space weather events, while aiming an advanced camera back at us that will take the first whole-Earth images any satellite has delivered. The steady stream of images transmitted back by DSCOVR will track clouds, dust, ash, aerosols and ozone, in an effort to provide climate scientists with up-to-date information about the changing state of our world.