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NPP: the pre-launch press conference

October 27th, 2011

DSC03364The NPP team previewed the launch and the mission to the media yesterday. Not quite all of the 30 or so seats were filled, but the room where NPP’s prelaunch press conference would take place in five minutes felt packed.

In front of the stage a few reporters chatted with the speakers until the producer called the thirty second warning. Then the six speakers straightened up, everyone settled in, and it was 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, go.

Andy Carson, NPP’s Program Executive, started off with an overview of NPP’s mission as the next Earth-observing satellite that will provide data for both research and weather forecasting. But the bulk of the press conference was both a retrospective and a preview of the main event taking place in the wee hours of the morning on Friday, October 28th — launch.

Tim Dunn, NASA Launch Director from Kennedy Space Center, talked about what NASA folks call the launch vehicle, the Delta II 7920. While he spoke a video showed the Kennedy team assembling the pieces on the pad. Watching this giant cylinder coming off an 18-wheeler marked Caution: Wide and Long Load brought home that the Delta II isn’t just a vehicle, it’s a big rocket. And that was just the lower half!

DSC03330Once assembled the Delta II has four main parts. Around the base are nine solid rocket motors, which are essentially canisters filled with fuel to give the rocket extra thrust to break free of Earth’s gravity. Six of them will be ignited on the ground with the main rocket, and the remaining three will fire once the Delta II is in the air to maintain its speed. They look pretty small, but in real life they stretch two stories high.

The NPP satellite sits in the white top section, called the fairing. The fairing is high enough that when the team hoisted NPP up into the tower that supports the rocket, said Dunn, the team had to wait a day for the winds to die down before loading it into the fairing so the satellite and the people working at the top of the rocket wouldn’t be jostled about.

The rocket itself has two stages that were explained by Vernon Thorp, Project Manager of NASA Missions for the United Launch Alliance. The lower two-thirds is called the first stage and it does the heavy lifting — literally.

DSC03321All told, the rocket, its fuel, and NPP will weigh 500,000 pounds and the thrust provided by the boosters will be 650,000 pounds. The fuel will be burned up four minutes and twenty seconds into the flight, and then the first stage will be released and the second stage engine will take over to get NPP the rest of the way into its orbit.

A little less than an hour after liftoff, the second stage will separate and NPP, free of the fairing by this point, will automatically deploy its solar wing and fly free. According to Ken Schwer, NPP’s Project Manager, the first thing NPP will do after the solar array is say hello with its communications array to the controllers on the ground.

Excited is the word of the day. “NPP has touched so many lives already, and my team is so excited for NPP to touch the rest of the world,” said Schwer.

In the science briefing that followed, NPP’s Project Scientist Jim Gleason said the most exciting part for him was, “wandering around just looking at the launch vehicle and the rocket, knowing it’s really going to happen.”

But the question secretly in the back of everyone’s mind was, will we on the ground actually get to see this launch happen? Vandenberg Air Force Base is located right on the California coast. It’s great because solid rocket motors will fall into the ocean instead of someone’s house, but it also means an almost daily coastal fog rolls in.

The last speaker, Lt. Lisa Cochran of the 30th Operations Support Squadron at Vandenberg, gave the answer in a strange weather report: 0 percent chance of weather. Translation: NPP’s going to have a gorgeous night with clear skies. — Ellen Gray, NPP Media Team

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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

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