A Delta II rocket rumbled over the Central Coast early Saturday morning carrying an advanced weather satellite, as well as four smaller shoebox-sized satellites, or CubeSats, that NASA hopes will change the industry.
The rocket, provided by United Launch Alliance, took off from Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Space Launch Complex-2 as scheduled at 1:47 a.m. The early morning blast, which had been delayed three times over the past two weeks, provided an audible roar throughout the region, as well as a bright orb of light that was visible from miles away as it traveled through the mostly clear night sky.
The primary mission for the launch was the deployment of the Joint Polar Satellite System-1 (JPSS-1), a collaborative effort between NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The satellite was the first of a series of four that are scheduled for orbit and “represents significant technological and scientific advancements in observations used for severe weather prediction and environmental monitoring,” according to NASA, which reported that the JPSS system is expected to help increase weather forecast accuracy from three to seven days.
Scott Messer, a ULA program manager, said after the launch that “the countdown was very smooth today.” He said that the issues that had led to the earlier delays, including two in the final stages of the prelaunch process over the past week, were nonexistent Saturday.
"3rd time was a charm!" read a portion of a tweet posted shortly after the launch from the NOAA Satellites account.
For the secondary mission, the rocket also carried four small CubeSats that will be used by government agencies to forecast models that help people prepare for approaching storms and identify areas that should be evacuated, among other uses.
While previous weather satellites have typically taken several years to build and have been as large as small school buses, NASA officials said ahead of Saturday’s launch that they were hopeful that would all change with the launch of these most recent CubeSats. One of the CubeSats, called Microwave Radiometer Technology Acceleration, or MiRaTA, will be used to study temperature, water vapor and cloud ice.
“MiRaTA is designed to demonstrate that a small satellite can carry instrument technology that’s capable of reducing the cost and size of future weather satellites and has the potential to routinely collect reliable weather data,” read a portion of a statement from NASA.
Saturday’s launch occurred eight days later than previously planned. The liftoff had been scheduled for Nov. 10, but was delayed due to what officials said was a faulty battery. It was then postponed again Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, due to booster and weather issues.
The launch marked the 154th liftoff of a Delta II in the last 28 years. The Delta II has carried more than 50 satellites for NASA.
Messer said Saturday’s was the penultimate Delta II launch. The final one, he said, is planned for September 2018.