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Aura Webcast: Kennedy Welcome, Weather Forecast and Launch Manager Overview
 
Host Tiffany Nail: But first, a very special and important guest. Captain Paul Lucyk is the weather officer for the Aura launch. Thanks for joining us, Captain.

Lucyk:Thank you, it's a pleasure to be here.

Nail:Can you please tell us how the weather is looking and explain what role it plays before the thumbs up is given for the Aura launch.

Lucyk:I'd be happy to. Well, forecasting weather here at Vandenberg is never an easy task. It's especially difficult during rocket launches. However, our favorite time of year to launch rockets is the summertime, because that presents the most favorable conditions for launch.

Now, the weather at Vandenberg is not what you might expect for Southern California weather. We have a forecast anomaly we call the "marine layer," which is essentially a fog bank that is formed by warm air moving over the cold ocean currents just off of our shore. Now, the fog bank tends to move in during the overnight hours and then burn back off towards the coast in the daylight hours.

While not the best weather for viewing launches at night, it is a great weather phenomenon for us for launching rockets because it indicates a very stable atmosphere and that is good for launches.

Now, my weather team and I will be monitoring several weather constraints during the launch, some of which are in place to protect against natural and triggered lightning, as well as some vehicle-specific constraints, one of which is for winds to keep the vehicle from drifting into the tower during launch, as well as some constraints for precipitation and solar weather. Those are in place to protect the vehicle after launch from flying into any harmful moisture or high-energy charged particles.

Looking at our satellite image, we have a reddish-brown area just to our southwest, and that area is indicated by very, very dry air. That dry air we expect to be overhead; again, that's a very good condition.

Our weather forecast is calling for very favorable conditions; again, the marine layer should be in place, because we are planning on launching just after 3 a.m. local. We will have those low clouds; it might not be a great day to come watch it from outside but if you're watching on television or closed-circuit television, it should be a nice launch to watch.

We're also expecting winds from the northwest at five to ten knots, visibility of three to five miles due to some fog in the area, and we're expecting the upper-level winds to be from the southwest, in advance to a trough moving through. Now, should we have to slip a day and look at weather for a Monday morning launch or later on into the week, Monday looks the same as Sunday. The only difference is the trough that is just to our west we're expecting to be a little closer, so our surface winds are expected to be a little bit higher.

Our probability of violation for Sunday and Monday is ten percent and that is due to that wind constraint to keep that vehicle from blowing into the tower. If we're looking further on into the week, the weather does look a little bit better, we might have a better chance at viewing the launch in the overnight hours after the trough passes through; however, the winds tend to pick up a little bit just after the trough passes.

In summary, the best opportunity for the launch is going to be Sunday night and Monday. Tiffany?

Nail: Thank you so much, Captain. Good luck with the launch.

Lucyk: OK, thank you.

Nail: As we mentioned, Aura will launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 3:02 a.m. Pacific Time on July 11. But dozens of engineers and staff at Kennedy Space Center in Florida have played a huge part in preparing Aura for launch. Here is KSC's Deputy Director, Dr. Woodrow Whitlow.

Whitlow: Hi, I'm Dr. Woodrow Whitlow, deputy director of the NASA John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida. KSC is proud to serve as the launch services center for the Aura spacecraft. I know the entire NASA team is excited to participate in this groundbreaking mission. Aura will lift off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket specially configured for this mission.

Reaching an altitude of more than 400 miles, Aura will join the A-train, a group of Earth-observing satellites flying in formation. They will work together to observe our Earth to better understand our changing climate.

We have a great launch primed and ready, and we're looking forward to receiving quality science data from this amazing spacecraft. Enjoy today's show, and be sure to log on to our Web site for live coverage of the Aura launch. Thanks for joining NASA's latest chapter in space flight history.

Nail: Now, we have Chuck Dovale, NASA's Launch Manager for the Aura mission. Thanks for being here, Chuck.

Dovale: It's great to be here. Thanks, Tiffany.

Nail: Launching a rocket is a very complex process. Would you please explain to us what's involved in the Aura launch?

Dovale: OK. As you can imagine, it takes hundreds of hard-working people across many different agencies to do this. That includes Boeing, NASA and the Air Force, and I've actually brought some footage of the Aura booster processing that I'd like to roll as I'm talking.

This is the first stage of the Delta II; it's also referred to as the booster. It's about 207,000 pounds of thrust at launch. Here it is at Space Launch Complex 2 on the California central coast. Those are Boeing representatives as you see raising it up; it's going to be lowered down onto a launch mount, and that Mobile Service Tower is then brought around it. That engine wrapped in a red blanket is made by Rocketdyne. This is what Boeing considers the 79/20 configuration; it's a standard Delta II with nine solid motors strapped to the base of the booster. This is the inner stage, also known as the beer can; it is the interface between the first stage and second stage. The second stage will actually be mated inside of that, as you see it being mated to the first stage. That's the interface right there.

Now you see the fairings coming out. For Aura, these are extended length fairings; they're three feet longer than the standard fairing, and that's to accommodate the large Aura spacecraft. They're being hoisted into the tower about a week ahead of when they're needed, and they're stored in a cleanroom environment. You can see them wrapped in bags to protect them from contamination. There's a typical morning at the central coast there, awful foggy.

That's the second stage going up, it's made by Aerojet. It's about 8,000 pounds of thrust, it's now within the tower; it's being lowered down into the inner stage. It'll rest on the top section of the inner stage. And there it is in its place.

This is one of nine solid rocket motors made by Alliant that will be mated to the aft end or the bottom end of the booster. Each solid produces about 100,000 pounds of thrust. The total vehicle will weigh about 500,000 pounds at liftoff, and the total thrust will be about a million pounds. Again, you'll see nine of these strapped to the bottom; six are lit at liftoff, and the other three are lit in the air at about 60 seconds.

Here's the Aura spacecraft in its canister being brought out on June 22. Aura is a relatively large spacecraft. It weighs about 6,500 pounds. It will be brought into the Mobile Service Tower and hoisted on top of the second stage. You can get a feel for just how many people it takes to do this operation properly, from technicians to engineers.

This is the fairing going on, it's two halves; it's a protective shroud as the vehicle goes through the atmosphere to protect the spacecraft. As I mentioned, it's the extended length fairing. They're bolting it down and they'll remove the strongbacks. So that was a basic summary of the processing.

I can go into a little about what's happened since. We have held several reviews since the booster has been put on the launch pad. We do have two remaining, and we're going to conduct them tomorrow. One final one is a NASA launch readiness review; that is to assess the team's readiness to enter into the countdown on Saturday night.

We also have an Air Force launch readiness review, where we get confirmation from the Air Force that we are able to launch from the Vandenberg Air Force Base. Those are the two reviews still remaining to go. We're not tracking any problems; in fact, we closed out our last issue today. Our plan is to enter into the countdown on Saturday night. About 5:30 we'll move the Mobile Service Tower, and the crews will finish securing and do the last bit of pressurization and get ready for the terminal count.

Management will come on station about 11 p.m., that's about four hours out from launch. We'll check the guidance system, we'll load the first stage with fuel and liquid oxygen. We'll do one final command check with the range and get their permission to launch. If all goes well, we'll lift off at 3:01:57 Pacific Time and we look forward to a good launch.

I would just like to thank NASA and Kennedy Space Center for this privilege of being involved in Aura and its research will be resplendent.

Nail: Thanks for joining us today at NASA Direct, Chuck. Lots of luck on launch day.

Dovale: Thanks, Tiffany. I appreciate it.