Battery problem delays JPSS-1 launch

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WASHINGTON — The launch of the first of a new series of polar-orbiting weather satellites, on the next-to-last flight of a venerable rocket, has been delayed several days in order to replace a battery in the rocket.

United Launch Alliance announced late Nov. 6 that the launch of the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) 1 satellite on a Delta 2 would be postponed by at least four days after technicians discovered a faulty battery on the rocket. The launch, previously scheduled for the early morning hours of Nov. 10 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, is now scheduled for no earlier than Nov. 14.

JPSS-1 is the first in a new series of polar-orbiting weather satellites. The spacecraft carries a suite of five instruments to collect a wide range of data on atmospheric, ocean and land conditions to support weather forecasting.

Development of those instruments, in particular a microwave sounder, significantly delayed the launch of JPSS-1. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said issues with that instrument, as well as with the ground system supporting the spacecraft, pushed back the launch from January to March, and then again until late this year.

Those delays raised concerns among scientists about the possibility of a data gap for that sounder instrument, as a similar instrument on the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership spacecraft has suffered unrelated problems. That instrument remains operational, however.

The launch will be the penultimate mission for the Delta 2, a vehicle whose first launch was in 1989 but whose heritage dates back to the Thor-Delta rocket flown in the early years of the Space Age. The Delta 2 has been gradually phased out as U.S. Air Force shifted missions like GPS satellites to the larger Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets and commercial users moved to other vehicles.

One more Delta 2 mission after the JPSS-1 launch is planned. That launch, of NASA’s Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite-2, is currently scheduled for no earlier than September 2018, also from Vandenberg.