The third attempt was the charm. SpaceX successfully launched DSCOVR, a space weather satellite, from Cape Canaveral yesterday afternoon. Previous attempts were hampered by upper level winds and a U.S. Air Force radar glitch.
Most of the hype around the launch was for SpaceX’s second attempt at landing its Falcon 9 rocket. Bad weather and high seas prevented the drone ship from being deployed. Elon Musk did say the rocket splashed down in the ocean within 10 meters of its target. Musk also says there is a really good chance the Falcon 9 rocket can successfully land on the drone ship in good weather conditions.
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
Let’s take a closer look at the DSCOVR satellite. Here’s five facts you need to know about space’s newest member.
DSCOVR Could Fit In Your Kitchen
Before it’s solar panels are deployed, DSCOVR is about the size of a refrigerator. It measures about 5.4 feet by 6 feet and weighs 1,256 pounds. Five instruments are packed inside, three from NOAA and two from NASA.
It’s the First Deep Space Mission for SpaceX
Yesterday’s launch was SpaceX’s first to getting a spacecraft to deep space. DSCOVR is now on a 110 day journey to reach its destination. After that, it will get to work observing the Earth and the sun.
DSCOVR Is Heading for Lagrange Point 1
The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) is heading to a spot 1 million miles away from Earth known as Lagrange point 1 (or L1). Gravitational forces from the satellite, the Sun and Earth create a position where DSCOVR can view Earth and the Sun at the same time at the same position. The L1 animation at this ESA page shows exactly how it looks.
DSCOVR Will Act As An “Early Warning” Against Geomagnetic Storms
The key feature of DSCOVR is its ability to measure solar wind plasma velocity, density and temperature. In particular, DSCOVR will allow NOAA to issue accurate warnings for geomagnetic storms. Most of the time, geomagnetic storms are harmless and give us breathtaking aurora borealis displays. But, in extreme cases – they can affect power grids, telecommunications and GPS.
DSCOVR will give us a 15-60 minute heads up before any geomagnetic storm hits Earth.
DSCOVR Will Also Observe Earth
Thanks to its orbit at Lagrange point 1, DSCOVR will also be watching Earth. One of its instruments, the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), will image our entire planet in one picture. Something that has never before been done from a satellite.
“Unlike personal cameras, EPIC will take images in 10 very narrow wavelength ranges,” said Adam Szabo, DSCOVR project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland. “Combining these different wavelength images allows the determination of physical quantities like ozone, aerosols, dust and volcanic ash, cloud height, or vegetation cover. These results will be distributed as different publicly available data products allowing their combination with results from other missions.”
Scientists in the fields of climate science, ecology, biogeochemistry and hydrology are especially interested in the images taken by EPIC.
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