WASHINGTON — The launch of a polar-orbiting weather satellite and demonstration of re-entry technology will be delayed by more than a week due to a battery problem in their rocket’s upper stage, NASA announced Oct. 29.
The agency said the Atlas 5 launch of the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) 2 satellite, which was scheduled for the early morning hours of Nov. 1 from Vandenberg Space Base in California, will be delayed “due to the need to replace a battery on the Centaur stage of the launch vehicle’. This work will delay the launch until at least November 9th.
In a pre-launch briefing on October 28, NASA and United Launch Alliance officials said there were no problems with the launch vehicle or other problems that would delay the launch, other than the unsettled weather forecast for the launch. launch.
“The team is experiencing no problems and we are on track for a launch into the Pacific here at 2:25 a.m.,” Gary Wentz, vice president of government and commercial programs at ULA, said during the briefing, which took place after a launch readiness review. earlier in the day.
The main payload for launch on JPSS-2, the second satellite in a series of polar-orbiting satellites operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for weather forecasting. It will join JPSS-1, which became operational in May 2018 six months after its launch.
A third polar-orbiting satellite, Suomi NPP, also provides weather data. The spacecraft was originally built as a prototype for the National Operational Environmental Polar Orbiting Satellite System (NPOESS), but was converted to an operational satellite when NPOESS was canceled. The Suomi NPP is nearing the end of its life as it runs out of propellant to maintain its orbit.
While JPSS-2 is the second satellite in the program, it is the first of three satellites built by Northrop Grumman under a contract awarded in 2015. Ball Aerospace won the contract for the first JPSS satellite.
In an Oct. 24 interview, Steve Krein, Northrop Grumman’s vice president of civil and commercial space, said there were no problems processing the satellite for launch. The company is “well” into production of JPSS-3 and -4, he said.
The satellites use the latest version of Northrop’s LEOStar-3 bus. “We have a new suite of avionics, we have a new set of sensors, wheels, tracker stars, etc., that we also used for Landsat  mission and the JPSS mission,” he said. “It’s a constant upgrade in components and operating standards.”
Also on board Atlas 5 is NASA’s Low Orbit Flight Test with Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID), a technology demonstration payload that will deploy a six-meter-wide inflatable heat shield. The LOFTID will separate from the Centaur upper stage after the stage performs a belly burn. The inflatable shield will slow the LOFTID from Mach 25 to Mach 0.7, then deploy a parachute and launch east of Hawaii for recovery.
LOFTID is the latest in a series of tests of inflatable decelerators that NASA envisions could be used to support future missions to Mars too large to land using existing systems. ULA is also interested in the technology as a means of recovering Vulcan first stage BE-4 engines for potential reuse.
The launch, the 100th in NASA’s Launch Services Program, will be the last Atlas 5 mission for the program and the last Atlas 5 launched from Vandenberg. Wentz said that, after the launch, ULA will begin work on converting the Atlas surface at Vandenberg, Space Launch Complex 3, for use by the Vulcan rocket.