Successful launch of Falcon 9 with DSCOVR!

by Viacheslav Pronskyi

Official mission patch for the DSCOVR launch

On February 11, 2015, SpaceX conducted successful launch of Falcon 9 v.1.1 launch vehicle with Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) spacecraft from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Being delivered and deployed in parking position on a low Earth orbit, in 110 days the satellite will reach its final destination at the Sun-Earth L1 Lagrangian point, about 1.5 million kilometers from the Earth in the direction of the sun, which is more than four times farther than the Moon.

Lift-off of Falcon 9 v.1.1 carrying DSCOVR spacecraft. Credit: SpaceX

What could be more interesting than DSCOVR launch itself is another SpaceX attempt to softly land Falcon 9 first stage on an unanchored ocean platform in the Atlantic Ocean. Previous one was performed during CRS-5 mission on January 10, when the stage did landed on the platform, but landed hard, breaking up and damaging some of the equipment on the platform. Later it was informed that the cause of that was leakage of hydraulic fluid that actuated four special grid fins placed on-top of the stage.

Unsuccessful SpaceX’s attempt to softly land the Falcon 9 first stage on an ocean platform

Despite the fact that this time the rocket was filled with 50% more of actuating hydraulic fluid, unfortunately, rough waves in the Atlantic prevented an attempt to recover the first stage of the Falcon 9:

The drone ship was designed to operate in all but the most extreme weather. We are experiencing just such weather in the Atlantic with waves reaching up to three stories in height crashing over the decks. Also, only three of the drone ship’s four engines are functioning, making station-keeping in the face of such wave action extremely difficult. The rocket will still attempt a soft landing in the water through the storm (producing valuable landing data), but survival is highly unlikely.

Later Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, commented in his Twitter the outcomes of the Falcon 9 first stage splashdown in a stormy ocean:

DSCOVR is a joint project of NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the US Air Force, that will observe and provide advanced warning of extreme emissions from the sun, which can affect power grids, communications systems, and satellites close to Earth. Spacecraft weighs approximately 570 kg and is equipped with two deployable solar arrays, a propulsion module, boom, and high-gain antenna.

DSCOVR spacecraft in front of Falcon 9's payload fairing. Credit: NASA

The mission succeeds NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) in supporting solar observations and providing 15- to 60-minute warning time to improve predictions of geomagnetic storm impact locations. The overall cost of the mission is about $340 million, including $97 million launch services contract US Air Force awarded SpaceX in 2012.

DSCOVR mission dates back to 1998, when then-Vice President of the USA Al Gore announced plans for a spacecraft called Triana that would provide constant imagery of the full disk of the Earth for scientific and educational purposes. The administration of President George Bush elected not to continue Triana, and placed the completed spacecraft in storage in November 2001. NASA, NOAA and the US Air Force resurrected the spacecraft as DSCOVR in 2009 with a new focus on solar observations.

DSCOVR launch delayed due to Air Force radar malfunction. May launch later this week. After 17 years, that’s nothing

— Al Gore, reacting in his Twitter to the news about scrubbed first DSCOVR launch attempt on February 8, 2015

Al Gore at DSCOVR pre-launch press-conference. Credit: NASA

As you see from Al Gore’s tweet, the first DSCOVR launch attempt on Febryary 8 was scrubbed due to a pair of technical problems, one with the launch vehicle and the other with the range. Later, on February 10, the launch was scrubbed last minutes before T-0 because of unacceptable level of upper atmospheric winds, and could be performed only during the third attempt on February 11. This fact continued SpaceX’s informal tradition not to conduct launch exactly on the date it was initially scheduled.

For those who interested in DSCOVR mission and want to know about it a little bit more, Yahoo! News gathered some interesting facts about it. Thus, for example, mission concept came to Al Gore in a dream, or internally, NASA called it ‘GoreSat’.☺

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