On Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the GOES-N spacecraft is lowered toward the second stage of the Boeing Delta IV rocket for mating.
Credit: NASA/Charisse Nahser.
The first of an advanced batch of Earth-watching satellites is poised to rocket spaceward Wednesday after a year of delays that have plagued its weather forecasting mission.
A Boeing Delta 4 rocket is set to launch the GOES-N satellite - one of a three new spacecraft aimed at monitoring changes in Earth's weather and environment - from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 6:11 p.m. EDT (2011 GMT). Technical problems - including a last-minute launch scrub - and Boeing's worker strike last year have delayed the mission from its initial May 2005 target.
"It's been a long, challenging effort," said Andre Dress, NASA's GOES deputy program manager at Goddard Space Flight Center, Tuesday during a prelaunch briefing. "This satellite does represent the latest in satellite technology and promises to improve performance over its predecessor."
The $481-million GOES-N - short for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-N - spacecraft will carry extremely precise imaging and sounding instruments capable of resolving storm features down to 1.2 miles (two kilometers) from its geosynchronous perch 22,000 miles (35,405 kilometers) above Earth.
Weather satellites are a key asset for forecasters, especially as the 2006 Atlantic Basin hurricane season - which begins June 1 - approaches, said Steve Letro, the meteorologist-in-charge for the National Weather Service's forecast office in Jacksonville, Florida.
"There is very little in our arsenal which allows us to gather data from the entire ocean basin around a storm," Letro said, adding that only satellites can provide those necessary weather pattern observations on an hourly basis or faster.
In addition to its Earth-watching instruments, GOES-N carries a Solar X-ray Imager and Space Environment Monitor to track space weather and Sun activity. The satellite can also serve as an emergency relay by using a search and rescue transponder to bounce distress signals from their origin to recovery crews, mission managers said.
GOES-N's mission will add a second spare satellite to aid the weather forecasting efforts of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA is working with NASA on the planned spaceflight, which has a 60 percent chance of launching during its one-hour window on Wednesday, mission weather officials said.
NOAA currently operates GOES-10 and GOES 11 to track daily weather and severe storms, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, with another satellite - GOES-12 - in a storage orbit. Mission managers plan to rename GOES-N as the observation system's 13th satellite once final post-launch checks are complete, then place it into a storage orbit until GOES-10 is retired.
"We have been storing satellites on orbit since 1997," NOAA's GOES program manager Steve Kirkner told reporters during the briefing, adding that orbital storage can save more than $3 million in ground storage costs.
NOAA plans to launch two followers - GOES-O and GOES-P - to fly in GOES-N's wake. Kirkner said GOES-O is currently targeted for an April 2008 launch to be followed in October 2009 by GOES-P.
NASA will broadcast the GOES-N launch live on NASA TV beginning at 6:00 p.m. EDT (2000 GMT) on Wednesday. You are invited to follow along with the planned space shot using SPACE.com's NASA TV feed by clicking here.
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