Delta II Launches Five CubeSats and JPSS-1

Image Courtesy: NASA
An artistic rendering of JPSS-1 in orbit. JPSS-1 is a weather satellite that is part of the Joint Polar Satellite System, operated by NOAA.

Michael Weinhoffer/Staff Reporter

On Nov. 18, a clear and cold night, the legendary Delta II rocket blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California, carrying the JPSS-1 satellite for NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and five CubeSats. This was the second-to-last flight of the Delta II, which has been launching payloads with a very high success rate since 1989 and is a true workhorse of a launch vehicle.

After two launch scrubs due to range violations and high winds, the Delta II launched at 4:47 EST on Nov. 18. The rocket performed four-second stage burns to correct its orbit, launch JPSS-1, launch the five CubeSats, and de-orbit. As of Nov. 22, all six satellites are operational.

Launched by ULA, the aquamarine Delta II is the oldest member of ULA’s rocket family, along with the Delta IV and Atlas V. Because of its reliability, NASA has entrusted it with many Earth observation satellites and several interplanetary probes. Its top payloads included the Spitzer Space Telescope, Dawn, GRAIL, the Spirit and Opportunity Mars Rovers and six Mars spacecraft.

Its final flight is scheduled for late next year, where it will be entrusted to deliver the IceSat-2 satellite into orbit, which will provide critical data on the Antarctic ice sheet. During its lifespan, there has been one launch failure and numerous successes. All space enthusiasts will sorely miss the Delta II’s aquamarine paint job and unprecedented reliability.

The primary payload for this mission was the JPSS-1 weather satellite, which will orbit over the north and south poles and complement the geostationary satellites of NOAA. JPSS-1 is the first of four new, though long delayed, satellites that take weather-forecasting for the U.S. to the next level.

These satellites will help improve the accuracy of weather predictions and provide more time for the public to prepare for a big storm. Each satellite is expected to operate for at least seven years, and they carry a suite of instruments to get the job done. Among these are visible and infrared light imagers, an Earth-emitted radiation detector, atmospheric sensors and an ozone layer analyzer.

JPSS-1 is equipped with the latest meteorological technologies and will serve as an essential partner to the geostationary satellites of NOAA.

Five cube-shaped satellites, commonly referred to as CubeSats, also hitched a ride to space on-board the second stage of the Delta II. Four of the five satellites made up the fourteenth mission of NASA’s Educational Launch of Nano-satellites program (ELaNa), which has provided numerous opportunities for universities to launch their experiments into outer space and conduct meaningful research. The CubeSats launched on the JPSS-1 mission are studying the effects of radiation, how 3D printing polymers are affected by space and experimental GPS technology. The final satellite is a technology demonstration for Australia’s space research program.

It is worth noting that one of the CubeSats, EagleSat, was designed by students at the Prescott campus of Embry-Riddle! The students are researching the effects of radiation on solid-state storage drives, and also will be tracking the orbital decay of the spacecraft with a GPS receiver. EagleSat is the first satellite launched into space by Embry-Riddle, and it is a massive accomplishment for the university, as we have finally entered the ever-expanding CubeSat market. Even better, more CubeSats are on the way! The Prescott campus is already developing EagleSat-2. And at the Daytona campus, the Spacecraft Development Club is developing RADSat, which will serve as a bus for a miniaturized radiation monitor delivered by the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. Testing of the spacecraft’s components will begin next semester, and launch is not far away.

Fortunately, this was not the last Delta II launch – more excitement is on the way next year. The Delta II, while old, has proven to be a real workhorse and has been trusted to deliver the most expensive payloads.

Two of next year’s high-profile NASA missions (InSight and the Parker Solar Probe) will be launched by ULA vehicles. It is clear that what NASA craves is vehicle reliability for its flagship missions, and ULA and the Delta II has provided over and over again.

The JPSS-1 satellite and the hitchhiking CubeSats took a ride on one of the best rockets around, and yet another successful mission is under the Delta II’s belt.