NOAA Space Weather Satellite Reaches Operational Orbit

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WASHINGTON The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s latest space-weather satellite has reached its operational orbit more than 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, the weather agency said.

The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) arrived at its intended orbit around 8 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on June 7, and all systems are functioning nominally, NOAA spokesman John Leslie wrote in a June 9 email.

It will take NOAA and NASA, which built the satellite, until around August to verify that DSCOVR’s science instruments are working as intended, Leslie said. Once the instrument check-out is complete, DSCOVR will start feeding data to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado — the hub of U.S. space-weather forecasting.

DSCOVR launch
DSCOVR was SpaceX’s first beyond-Earth launch. The U.S. Air Force paid for the Falcon 9 rocket that launched DSCOVR, shown here lifting off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida Feb. 11. Credit: SpaceX

DSCOVR will eventually replace NASA’s 18 year-old Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) as the primary U.S. space-weather satellite, NOAA said in its press release. ACE was launched in 1997 on what was supposed to be a five-year mission.

Some notable DSCOVR facts:

  • DSCOVR was the first satellite SpaceX ever launched beyond Earth orbit. After three false starts, the company’s Falcon 9 rocket blasted the spacecraft to escape velocity Feb. 11.
  • DSCOVR was not designed as a NOAA space-weather satellite. Proposed in 1998 by then Vice President Al Gore, DSCOVR began life as a NASA Earth-observation satellite called Triana. Launch was pencilled in for 2003 aboard the ill-fated Space Shuttle Columbia.  DSCOVR’s launch was put on hold in 2001 and the spacecraft spent more than 10 years in a NASA hangar before finally launching. Some people still jokingly call the satellite  “Goresat.”