NASA Podcasts

Launching the NPP
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Jim Gleason,
Project Scientist, NPP
The purpose of the NPP is, it's basically the prototype of the next generation Earth-observing satellite. It's the nation's first attempt to really combine weather monitoring and climate observing in the same platform.

The nations' newest weather monitoring and climate observation satellite is getting ready to take its place in space so that we may know what is going on here on Earth.

The spacecraft is known as NPP, for NPOES Preparatory Project, and it is a technological trailblazer in the effort to find out more about the weather and condition of our world.

NPP is a continuation of the earth orbiting satellite systems. For weather forecasting and for climate predictions, you need to have continuous observations. So what NPP does is continue the data record started by the NASA EOS satellites and improves on the instruments that are used for numerical weather forecasting from the current series of NOAA satellites.

Tim Dunn,
Launch Director, NPP

The current satellites we have on orbit have been very successful for us, but NPP is taking all the advances we've had in technology over the past five, 10 years, putting them on this test bed spacecraft, being able to use them, prove them out for the future constellation.

NPP data will be used by virtually all of the national weather services for all the nations of the world. And then there are the scientific users who are trying to understand the individual phenomena both at home and abroad.

While some spacecraft are built to collect a specific set of information using only one instrument, the NPP will observe the Earth in a variety of forms using five instruments. The information it will gather will be extensive, but working with a large set of instruments makes the preparation equally exhaustive.

Bruce Reid,
Mission Manager, NPP
Well, every mission has its own set of challenges, you know, what's challenging about NPP is the fact we have five instruments. Some spacecraft have one instrument. And every mission has to go through environmental testing, so now you have to go through environmental testing with five different instruments, which all carry their own set of requirements and restrictions.

These are NASA satellites, these are one-of-a-kind satellites. You know, something like a GPS constellation, which would launch 20 of the same type of satellites, you can get into a rhythm with how you process those. But it's not the case with NASA missions, which is one of the reasons it's an interesting job because every spacecraft brings its own set of challenges and uniqueness and it keeps the job interesting.

Although NASA routinely dispatches spacecraft to other worlds to push the bounds of exploration, the agency does not lose focus on examinations of our home planet. Previous missions, some still in operation, have compiled decades of data about interactions of the Earth's myriad environmental systems. NPP aims to continue those observations with new levels of precision.

It has two specific goals. One is to get the data for the weather forecasts, environmental observations and take a whole suite of observations that continue our satellite data records which span from measuring aerosols, you know, dust particles in the atmosphere, how have they changed over the past decade? Is the vegetation index? Is the ground greener or browner over time? Has the sea surface temperature changed? Has the ozone changed? These are all data sets that we have that we have multi-decades sets of data sets and we just want to keep adding to that so we can answer the question, Is the climate changing?

The NPP will lift off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, so it can be positioned in a specific orbit for its important mission.

The NPP satellite will launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, specifically Space Launch Complex 2 for the reason that it needs to go into a polar orbit. Polar orbit meaning that as the Earth rotates the satellite will be crossing the poles. And because this is an earth-observing satellite, you are able to see every bit of the Earth.

The NPP satellite is going into space courtesy of a Delta II rocket, the workhorse of America's fleet of uncrewed missions. First launched in 1989, the Delta II has been used to successfully orbit several Earth-observing satellites. It dispatched spacecraft to Mars including the Spirit and Opportunity rovers in 2003, both of which continue to operate on Martian soil. NASA's record is perfect for missions launch on a Delta II.

The NPP mission on Delta II is currently the last manifested Delta II to launch on either coast. That has historical significance to our team, however, we're treating this as we have treated all the rest of the Delta II launches.

Recent years have seen new rockets emerge on the Launch Services Program roster. They use new methods of construction, compared with that employed for the Delta II.

Delta has more of a historic launch processing flow of building the entire rocket up on the pad.

Work to prepare the Delta II to launch the NPP satellite began during the summer.

We began build-up of the vehicle in July of this year, erecting first stage, the nine solid rocket motors, the second stage, putting the payload fairing into the mobile service tower. We will then bring out the satellite in a transportation can, erect it, mate it, then bring the payload fairing around the satellite. We take great pride in the success we've had on Delta II.

By the time you get there on launch day, it's kind of like you've planned a trip and you've packed for the trip and all you have left to do is gas and go. So that's what we do on launch day, we load the rocket with fuel and liquid oxygen and then we do our final avionics and electrical checks and we push the button and we sit on the edge of our seats.

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