SAN FRANCISCO — Preparations are under way at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to mount an advanced climate and weather observation satellite, known as NPP, to its Delta 2 rocket in preparation for an Oct. 27 launch, government officials said Oct. 12.

The planned Oct. 13 mating of the satellite to its launch vehicle is “a monumental milestone” for the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) Preparatory Project (NPP), Andrew Carson, NPP program executive at NASA headquarters said.

NASA and Air Force officials also plan to conduct a full dress rehearsal of the NPP launch Oct. 21 and a launch readiness review Oct. 25. During the dress rehearsal for the $1.5 billion mission, the satellite and launch vehicle teams will be forced to respond to simulated anomalies while performing launch countdown procedures, Carson said during an Oct. 12 press briefing.

Those exercises are designed to ensure the satellite can be launched successfully Oct. 27. After a tumultuous start, the NPP program is running smoothly, Carson said. Since a series of technical troubles and ballooning costs led to the cancellation in 2010 of the NPOESS program, an effort to meet military and civil requirements with a single mission, NPP, which was once billed as an effort to reduce risk by testing new sensors, has become a critical piece of the U.S. government’s Earth observing campaign. Officials at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) consider NPP critical to preserving long-term climate records and improving day-to-day weather forecasting.

Many of the space-based sensors NASA and NOAA officials currently rely on to gather data on Earth and its atmosphere are well beyond their anticipated lifespan, leading to worries that the sensors will stop functioning before their replacements aboard NPP are fully operational, NASA and NOAA officials said. After NPP’s launch, government officials plan to spend approximately 18 months calibrating the spacecraft’s five instruments and validating the data they produce, Carson said in a Sept. 29 phone interview. As various data products become available, they will be fed into global climate models and made available to the public through NASA and NOAA websites, Carson added.

Some data sets important to weather forecasting may be available in six months, said Louis Uccellini, director of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Prediction in Camp Springs, Md.



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Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...