Early in the Obama Administration, the space program, as we knew it at the time, took a hit. Instead of a continued emphasis on manned space travel, the focus was shifted to science, including climate. The Constellation program was terminated and NASA continued contracts with Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and Orbital Sciences Corporation to deliver cargo to the space station. SpaceX and other firms were also developing spaceships that could carry passengers to orbit and back.
NOAA’s satellite program was caught in the crosshairs of the resulting contentious budget cutting process. And then came Hurricane Sandy (2012) and NOAA’s funds for the GOES R – GOES U program were restored.
The result was that the once government-driven space program became even more of a government-private sector program. Tough to swallow at the time, locals in the greater Cape Canaveral area hung in there. Now, with President-elect Trump on center stage, the Space Coast may be rewarded for its patience.
Today, Nov. 19, 2016 is, “one small step” in the process. The first in a new series of advanced weather satellites should be launched into geosynchronous (earth-
based) orbit, around 5:42 p.m. E.S.T. If successful, the GOES-R satellite will go into a holding orbit initially; then, it will, through a series of maneuvers during the next few weeks, be placed in orbit some 22,000 miles above the Earth’s surface by early Dec. 2016. As the Earth spins once a day, the satellite will orbit once a day. This will keep a fixed Earth point beneath the satellite. The result will be a capability to view the Earth as though the Earth was not moving. Animated image sequences and an incredible array of data fields covering a fixed area will continue to be available online and on air. The satellite will also provide new and improved views of “space weather,” including sunspots, solar flares and the solar wind. Following testing and validation, the satellite should start providing fully operational data by next summer.
The other day, the NASA countdown clock (Fig. 1) showed how close we were to the GOES-R launch. Yesterday, several dozen TV meteorologists and NOAA and NASA officials watched as the Atlas-V rocket was rolled out to Launch Pad 41 (Fig. 2 and Fig. 3). The TV meteorologists filmed, blogged and posted about the rollout. The day became quite long as, after lunch, the TV broadcasters attended a more than six-hour GOES-R training program in which information was shared about new satellite capabilities.
But on the streets, people were abuzz about the launch. NASA is estimating that some 15,000 people will be watching from nearby vantage points. At least one hotel (Fig. 4) boldly pronounced how it felt about the launch.
As I put down my computer-based “pen,” just moments ago, the countdown clock read T minus six hours three minutes and 22 seconds and counting…
© 2016 H. Michael Mogil
Originally posted 11/19/16