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Everything on track for potentially historic launch at VAFB
'Looking forward to launch'

Everything on track for potentially historic launch at VAFB

With SpaceX planning to attempt launch history today from Vandenberg Air Force Base, a representative of the company expressed optimism Friday that everything was on track and ready to go.

Hans Koenigsmann, the vice president of mission assurance for SpaceX for the international Jason-3 mission, said Friday that he spent some time that morning at the launch site, where he “kicked the tires” on the Falcon 9 rocket that is slated to carry an ocean-monitoring satellite into orbit.

“I can say this is a great looking vehicle and everything is in working order and I’m looking forward to launch,” Koenigsmann said at Friday’s final press briefing.

Much of the rest of the space community also will be looking forward to the launch, as well as what could be a first-of-its-kind landing.

The rocket is slated to blast off from VAFB’s Space Launch Complex-4 18 seconds after 10:42 a.m. today during a 30-second launch window. Just minutes after takeoff, the rocket’s main booster will fall back to earth, where SpaceX will attempt to land it on a drone barge located roughly 200 miles off the coast in the Pacific Ocean.

Koenigsmann confirmed Friday that plans were still in place for the landing, which, if successful, would be the first of its kind. The company has twice failed to land a rocket booster on a floating target off the East Coast but succeeded just last month in landing one on land at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Although he is involved in the construction of the satellite and not the rocket, Josh Willis, a Jason-3 project scientist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said Friday that he was looking forward to the potentially historic attempt.

“We’re excited to get a ride to space, and we hope SpaceX breaks a leg,” he said.

“But not literally a leg,” he added with a laugh. “Just in a figurative sense.”

The Jason-3 mission is being led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in partnership with NASA, the French space agency CNES and the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites.

The $160 million mission, which is planned to last five years, will allow scientists to better monitor and measure global sea surface heights and support seasonal and coastal forecasts, among other applications.

Most critically it will provide insight into the warming of the oceans, according to Laury Miller, the Jason-3 program scientist with the NOAA, and be able to predict El Nino-type events many months in advance.

It also will be able to forecast hurricane intensity, oil spills, wave warnings and aid in search-and-rescue missions.

“Jason information is incredibly useful, especially to NOAA, because it allows us to not only track the sea-level change that is impacting our coastal features right now but also allows us to track extreme weather,” Miller said Friday. “So let’s get on with it. Let’s light that rocket and launch Jason-3.”

Koenigsmann said Friday that the reason SpaceX is attempting the ocean landing rather than another land-based landing is because the company didn’t get environmental approval to return to land at this range. He indicated that could change, however.

“That’s something we will do in the future,” he said. “In future missions, we will see land landings, hopefully.”

The weather for today’s launch is predicted to be ideal.

Lt. Joseph Round, a launch weather officer with the 30th Operations Support Squadron at VAFB, presented Friday that there was a 0-percent probability of violation. Likewise, Koenigsmann said the wave forecasts in the Pacific are not expected to present a problem for the landing attempt.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said his company wants to retrieve rockets in an effort to refurbish and relaunch them, which could potentially lead to significant savings in launch costs.

Like every other presenter at Friday’s briefing, NASA Launch Manager Tim Dunn said he was ready to roll.

“The Falcon 9 rocket and the Jason-3 spacecraft are ready,” he said. “The launch team is prepared and excited to be here at Vandenberg, and we’re poised to launch this important mission for our nation.”

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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Willis Jacobson covers news and other issues, primarily those that affect the Lompoc Valley and Vandenberg Air Force Base for the Lompoc Record. He is a graduate of The University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications.

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