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Thursday, March 23, 2023

US weather satellite, test payload launched into space

A satellite intended to improve weather forecasting and an experimental inflatable heat shield to protect spacecraft entering atmospheres were launched into space from California on Thursday.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying NASA’s Joint Polar Satellite System-2 satellite and test payload blasted off at 1:49 a.m. from Vandenberg Space Force Base, northwest of Los Angeles.

Developed for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, JPSS-2 was placed in an orbit that circles the Earth from pole to pole, joining previously launched satellites in a system designed to improve weather forecasting and climate monitoring.

NASA said there was no immediate data confirming the deployment of the satellite’s electricity-producing solar array, but by the end of the day the space agency announced that it was fully extended.

“The operations team will continue to assess a previous solar panel deployment issue, but at this time, the satellite is healthy and performing as expected. The team has resumed normal activities for the JPSS-2 mission,” a NASA statement said.

The array has five panels that collapsed into an accordion fold for launch. The fully deployed array extends 30 feet (9.1 meters).

Mission officials say the satellite represents the latest technology and will increase the accuracy of observations of the atmosphere, oceans and land.

After releasing the satellite, the rocket’s upper stage was re-ignited to position the test payload to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and descend into the Pacific Ocean.

Called LOFTID, short for Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator, the device is an “aeroshell” that could be used to slow down and protect heavy spacecraft descending into the atmospheres, such as those from Mars or Venus, or payloads that they return to Earth. .

According to NASA, effectively slowing heavy spacecraft will require greater atmospheric drag than can be created by traditional rigid heat shields that fit inside the shrouds surrounding payloads aboard rockets.

The LOFTID Shield inflates to about 20 feet (6 meters) in diameter.

In the thin atmosphere of Mars, for example, having such a large shield would start to slow the rover at higher altitudes and reduce the intensity of heating, according to the space agency.

The video showed the inflated heat shield separating from the rocket and descending toward Earth. A camera aboard a recovery ship. a few hundred miles east of Hawaii showed him diving under a parachute.

NASA said the shield was picked up by the boat, which then headed to retrieve a backup data module that was ejected during descent.

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