Rocket Arrives in California for NASA Launch of Polar-Orbiting Satellite

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V booster is offloaded from its water transport at Vandenberg Space Force Base (VSFB) in California on July 11, 2022, for NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Joint Polar Satellite System-2 (JPSS-2) satellite mission. (Credit: NASA/Randy Beaudoin)

VANDENBERG SPACE FORCE BASE, Calif. (NOAA PR) — Flight hardware for the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 401 rocket slated to launch the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Joint Polar Satellite System-2 (JPSS-2) has arrived in California. The rocket’s boattail and interstage adapter arrived at Vandenberg Space Force Base July 28 for processing ahead of launch. The payload fairings arrived Aug. 8.

JPSS-2 is the third satellite in the Joint Polar Satellite System series and is designed to scan the Earth as it orbits from the North to the South Pole, crossing the equator 14 times a day to provide full global coverage twice a day. Operating from about 512 miles above Earth, JPSS-2 is expected to capture data to improve weather forecasts, helping scientists predict and prepare for extreme weather events and climate change. Liftoff is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 1, from Space Launch Complex-3E on Vandenberg.

A crew offloaded the ULA Atlas V payload fairing from its transport container in building B7525 at Vandenberg on Aug. 8, 2022, for NASA and NOAA’s JPSS-2 satellite mission. (Credit: NASA/Randy Beaudoin)

The interstage adapter is the connecting piece of hardware between the Atlas V booster and the rocket’s Centaur upper stage, while the boattail connects the Centaur to the payload fairing that will house the JPSS-2 satellite. The payload fairings are a protective covering that will encapsulate the spacecraft and keep it safe as the rocket ascends rapidly through the atmosphere. The payload fairings are a critical piece of hardware built specifically to accommodate the satellite, and are a key feature of the launch vehicle.

As processing continues at Vandenberg, teams at the Northrop Grumman facility in Gilbert, Arizona, are preparing the spacecraft for its mission, having recently installed the solar array that will power the spacecraft. After installing the solar array, the team packed the satellite for shipment, installed a protective cover, and enclosed the satellite in its shipping container. Ground support equipment for the satellite has already started arriving at Vandenberg to be ready to support spacecraft arrival.

The interstage adapter for the ULA Atlas V rocket that will launch NASA and NOAA’s JPSS-2 mission arrives at the Horizontal Integration Facility at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on July 28, 2022. (Credit: NASA/Randy Beaudoin)

Together, NOAA and NASA partner in the development, launch, testing, and operation of all satellites in the JPSS series. NASA develops and builds the instruments, spacecraft, and ground system, in addition to launching the satellites on behalf of NOAA, which operates the satellites.

Riding as a secondary payload aboard the Atlas V is NASA’s Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID) – a demonstration of a cross-cutting inflatable aeroshell, or heat shield, for atmospheric re-entry. The mission is dedicated to the memory of Bernard Kutter, a manager of advanced programs at ULA who championed lower-cost access to space and technologies to make that a reality. The technology demonstrated by LOFTID could be used for crewed and large robotic missions to Mars.

Once JPSS-2 reaches orbit, LOFTID will be put on a re-entry trajectory from low-Earth orbit to demonstrate the heat shield’s ability to slow down and survive re-entry. The project is sponsored by the Technology Demonstration Missions program within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in partnership with ULA.

LOFTID is managed by the agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, with contributions from various NASA centers: Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California; Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama; and Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California.

NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for managing the launch service.