WASHINGTON — A weather satellite is in good shape after it had trouble spreading its solar system right after it was launched on November 10.
NASA launched the Joint Satellite System (JPSS) 2 spacecraft on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket early November 10 from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, deploying the satellite into its planned polar orbit. While the agency initially stated that the spacecraft expanded its single solar system shortly after reaching orbit, the agency said about three hours after liftoff later that telemetry was unable to confirm deployment.
In two subsequent updates later in the day, NASA said the controllers were still working on deploying the array, but provided few details about the specific problem. The spacecraft was “positive,” meaning it was generating power from a portion of the non-diffusing array exposed to the sun, but the agency did not provide additional details about why the array was not expanding.
In an update released about 14 hours after reaching orbit, NASA said the JPSS-2 solar array has finally deployed. “The operations team will continue to evaluate a previous solar array deployment issue, but at this time the satellite is healthy and operating as expected,” NASA stated.
Shortly after the update, both NASA and Northrop Grumman, the main contractor for JPSS-2, issued press releases celebrating the successful launch, without additional information about the solar array problem.
The spacecraft, which will be renamed NOAA-21 when it enters service with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will join JPSS’ first satellite, NOAA-20, as well as Suomi NPP in providing weather data from polar orbit. JPSS-2 is the first of three such satellites that Northrop Grumman is contracting to produce for launch within the next decade.
JPSS-2 is the second spacecraft built by Northrop to have problems deploying a solar array this week. The company’s NG-18 Cygnus spacecraft, which launched on November 7, failed to deploy one of its two solar arrays after reaching orbit. The company later said debris from an insulating blanket on an Antares rocket had lodged in the solar array’s deployment mechanism, but the spacecraft still had enough power from the deployed array to operate, until it arrived at the International Space Station on November 9.
However, the two spacecraft have completely different solar systems. Cygnus uses UltraFlex arrays that unfold in a circular shape, like a fan. JPSS-2 uses the most traditional rectangular arrays. The NASA statement said the array has four panels, while the Northrop Grumman fact sheet said the array has five panels that collectively produce at least four kilowatts of power.
NASA’s post-launch statement also confirmed the success of the technology demonstration payload launched with the JPSS-2 on the Atlas rocket. A low Earth orbit flight test of the Centaur upper stage inflatable deceleration payload (LOFTID) was deployed 75 minutes after liftoff. An inflatable heat shield, six meters wide, protected the spacecraft as it re-entered over the Pacific Ocean, landing about 800 kilometers east of Hawaii. The boat recovered both LOFTID and a data logger that had been ejected from the vehicle as it landed.
“We are excited to be working with our colleagues at ULA, NASA, and NOAA to perform this technology demonstration in conjunction with the launch of JPSS-2,” Jim Reuter, NASA associate administrator for space technology, said in the statement. NASA said it will share more details about the outcome of the LOFTID flight experiment after the project team reviews the data from it.
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