Spacecraft Contamination Postpones SpaceX Launch of Jason-3 Ocean Satellite
WASHINGTON — SpaceX’s July 22 launch of the U.S. French Jason-3 ocean altimetry satellite has been postponed because of an issue with the spacecraft, the company’s customer, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said June 2.
“During spacecraft testing, engineers located contamination in one of the four thrusters on the spacecraft,” NOAA spokesman John Leslie wrote in a June 2 email. “The problem thruster has been replaced. An investigation into the contamination will continue during the next two weeks, as the new thruster is tested.”
Leslie added that “a new launch date will be announced based on the outcome of the thruster review.”
Jason-3 will lift off from Vandenberg Air Force base in California. The spacecraft, the fourth in a series of U.S.-European ocean altimetry satellites, is bound for a 1,380 kilometer by 1,328 kilometer orbit inclined at 66.05 degrees. The satellite has a 9.9-day revisit time, meaning it passes over the same spot on Earth’s surface roughly every 10 days.
It was not clear June 2 whether NASA, which books launches for NOAA satellites, has fully certified SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket to launch Jason-3.
NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz said May 27 that certification was all but finished.
“On May 12, NASA certified the SpaceX Falcon 9 as Category 2, medium risk certified with an exception, pending some work that still needs to be completed prior to the Jason-3 launch,” Schierholz wrote in an email.
Schierholz did not reply to queries about the nature of the outstanding work, nor did she immediately reply to a June 2 email seeking an update on SpaceX’s progress. SpaceX is launching Jason-3 under an $82 million NASA contract it got in 2012.
The U.S. Air Force, meanwhile, announced May 26 that Falcon 9 has been certified for military launches.