High Winds Force NASA To Cancel Satellite Launch


Scientists had been eagerly awaiting NASA’s newest Earth-observing satellite today, but that wait will continue for at least another day.

NASA officials deemed the winds at Vandenberg Air Force base in California too strong for a launch today and called off the launch mere minutes before the opening of the 3-minute launch window. Today was to see the launch of the agency’s Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite (SMAP) designed to measure groundwater content and frozen/thawed state globally every three days in order for scientist’s to more accurately study and monitor drought conditions.

Yesterday, NASA suggested that the satellite had an 80% of being launched as payload on a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket. Officials have upgraded the likelihood 90 percent for a Friday launch (January 30).

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NASA’s soil-tracking satellite: Countdown but no launch

“We had a beautiful countdown,” Tim Dunn, NASA launch manager, said during a webcast following the cancellation of Thursday’s launch. “Everything on the Delta II rocket was rock solid. The spacecraft had absolutely no issues … The one thing that was kind of dogging us through the countdown was those upper-level winds … Unfortunately today, both from a loading on the rocket and a controllability of the rocket, we were in a condition with upper level winds that we just did not have the capability to fly the Delta II safely through the maximum dynamic pressure region of flight.”

The delay comes just one day after NASA’s annual Day of Remembrance and 29 year anniversary of the Challenger disaster that killed seven just after it exploded following its launch. According to Narendra Das, project leader at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is running the SMAP mission, farmers will be helped in determining when to plant and harvest based on SMAP data.

Farmers look forward to readings

“This information will be a great tool for agriculture,” rice farmer Charley Mathews Jr. told the Sacramento Bee.

“For rice growing, it may help in preparing our rice fields,” he said of SMAP. “There are time periods when we prepare the soil or when we have rainfall events, and that is when we want to get our timing right.”

In addition to aiding farmers, SMAP could also aid in weather forecasting and help researchers understand the interconnection of water, energy and carbon cycles according to the space agency.

“SMAP is in a unique position because its measurements impact two distinct domains,” Dara Entekhabi, SMAP science team leader, said on Tuesday in anticipation of the launch. “One, of course, as a science mission it impacts how we fundamentally understand how the environment works and peer into the metabolism of the environment. And second, it impacts some of the applications that touch our everyday lives.”

The three-year mission is budgeted at $916 million and will see SMAP in a polar orbit about 425 miles above the Earth’s surface.