Astra is counting down to the launch today at Cape Canaveral

Astra is counting down to the first of three launches this summer to deploy a fleet of six small NASA satellites for hurricane research. The small Astra launch vehicle is expected to take off from Cape Canaveral in two hours with the first TROPICS nanosatellites opening at 12:00 EDT (1600 GMT), weather permitting.

The official forecast for the launch of the U.S. Space Force’s 45th weather squadron predicts a 60% chance that adverse conditions will ease when the two-hour window opens Sunday. At the end of the window, the probability of bad weather increases to 90%.

Astra will launch the mission from Space Launch Complex 46, a commercial launch facility operated by Space Florida near the east side of Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

The Sunday-flying rocket, called the Rocket 3.3 or LV0010, is the smallest orbital-class launch pad currently in use worldwide. It is about 13.1 meters high and weighs almost as much as a small business jet when filled up.

Each of the two TROPICS satellites is about the size of a loaf of bread or a shoebox. It has to do with the miniature sensor technology she once needed to fly on a satellite larger than a refrigerator.

Microwave radiometers on each of the TROPICS satellites collect image, temperature, and humidity data on tropical cyclones. With a fleet of satellites, the TROPICS mission will be able to monitor rapid changes in hurricanes at a rate of at least once an hour.

“These are important variables because they can be related to the intensity of the storm, and even the potential for it to intensify in the future,” said William Blackwell, chief investigator for the Tropics mission at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. So we try to run these measurements with a relatively high revisit. This really is the most important new feature offered by the TROPICS constellation, Storms Revisited.

“We will have six satellites in orbit, one satellite will take a nice picture of the storm, and then the next satellite will orbit about an hour after it,” Blackwill said. “So we get a new picture of the storm about every hour, and it’s about five to eight times better than what we get today. With these new measurements from quickly updated pictures, we hope this will help us understand the storm. better and ultimately lead to better predictions of the hurricane’s path and intensity.

TROPICS stands for time-resolved observations of precipitation structure and storm intensity with a series of small satellites. The total cost of the mission is about $ 32 million, according to NASA.

Each TROPICS satellite, assembled by Blue Canyon Technologies in Colorado, weighs approximately 11.8 pounds (5.3 kg).

Astra will launch two TROPICS satellites in orbit about 357 miles (550 kilometers) above the Earth, with an inclination of 29.75 degrees from the equator. The Low Slope Orbiter will focus orbital observations on hotspots for the development of tropical cyclones.

Astra Rocket 3.3 at Space Launch Complex 46 prior to the launch of the TROPICS-1 mission. Credit: Astra / Brady Keniston

Astra was founded in 2016 and aims to launch any daily missions to launch small satellites into orbit for a number of customers, including the US military, commercial companies and NASA. The company managed to orbit the Earth in two of its six attempts.

Astra’s most recent flight in March marked for the first time that the company had put working satellites into orbit after taking off from Kodiak Island, Alaska. The previous launch in February of Astra, which left Cape Canaveral, failed to launch a NASA-sponsored CubeSats into orbit.

NASA officials are aware of the danger of satellites flying on a new, relatively untested launcher. TROPICS is part of NASA’s Earth Venture Program, a series of cost-effective missions designed for earth science research. NASA is taking more risks for the Venture missions, and the agency says only four of the six TROPICS satellites or two of the three launched Astra satellites will be operational.

Astra’s first launch with two TROPICS satellites will begin by igniting the five Rocket 3.3 petroleum engines on platform 46. The Delphin engines will push the launcher away from the platform at a pressure of 32,500 pounds, extending the rocket’s range to the northeastern Cape. Canaveral is lowered.

Engine stoppage in the first stage is expected three minutes after take-off, followed by separation of the rocket payload cover, which covers the upper stage and the TROPICS payloads as it climbs through the atmosphere. Next, the rocket’s boost stage will explode into the Atlantic Ocean, allowing the upper phase to ignite its small 740-pound pressure in a five-minute combustion to accelerate to orbital velocity.

The launch of the TROPICS satellites is scheduled for T + plus 8 minutes and 40 seconds, according to the mission plan published by Astra.

Satellites will launch solar panels to generate electricity, and ground crews will test and monitor the Tropix spacecraft.

Artistic illustration of two TROPICS satellites collecting hurricane data. credit: NASA

Tropics’ second and third satellite launches – currently scheduled for late June and mid-July – aim to place the next four satellites in precise orbital planes, giving the constellation the correct distance to allow regular cyclone flights.

If the three TROPICS launches to Earth continue as planned, the satellites should be assembled in August, just in time for hurricane season in the Atlantic, according to Will McCarty, a NASA program scientist for the mission. The mission is designed for at least one year of scientific observations.

Several CubeSats shoot into space during rideshare launches, allowing operators to take advantage of reduced costs by pooling their payload on one large rocket. But the TROPICS satellites need special launches to reach their precise orbital destinations.

“We want to get as much space away from the spacecraft as possible, and we want to keep it over the tropical cyclone belt,” Blackwill said. “This general configuration allows us to do that, but it requires three separate custom launchers.”

According to NASA, Astra outperformed the bids on SpaceX, Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit and Momentus, largely thanks to their low-cost proposals. NASA is paying Astra nearly $ 8 million for as many as three launch campaigns.

Spaceship: Rocket Astra 3.3 (LV0010)

Payload: TROPICS-1 (two satellites)

homepage: SLC-46, Cape Canaveral Space Station, Florida

breakfast date: June 12, 2022

start window: 12:00 – 14:00 EST (1600-1800 GMT)

Forecast: 50% to 80% chance of violating weather restrictions

Reinforcement recovery: none

AZIMUTH LAUNCH: East and Northeast

goal job: 357 miles (550 kilometers), 29.75 degrees miles

Start timeline:

  • T + 00: 00: take off
  • T + 00: 06: Start show
  • T + 01: 10: maximum air pressure (Max-Q)
  • T + 03: 00: 1st stage shutdown of the main motor (MECO)
  • T + 03: 05: Removal of payload
  • T + 03: 10: Phase separation
  • T + 03: 15: Engine ignition in second phase
  • T + 08: 30: Second stage engine stop (SECO)
  • T + 08: 40: Publish TROPICS

Job statistics:

  • Astra .s seventh orbital launch attempt
  • Fifth launch of Astra’s Rocket 3.3 formation
  • Astra’s second launch from Florida
  • Fifth orbital launch attempt from platform 46
  • Third launch of Astra in 2022
  • The 24th orbital launch from Cape Canaveral in 2022

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