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When a polar satellite designed to improve weather forecasting was launched early Thursday, an experimental heat shield was put in place. Humans could land on Mars.
The two separate missions were launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Space Force Base in Lombok, California.
Both missions were originally scheduled for November 1, but a defective battery in the rocket’s upper stage caused a delay. Engineers swapped and retested the battery to pave the way for a new launch date.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA have been launching weather satellites since 1960. The Joint Polar Satellite-2 system, or JPSS-2, will be the third in a fleet of NOAA’s newest generation of Polar-orbiting environmental satellites.
The probe will collect data that can help scientists predict and prepare for extreme weather events such as hurricanes, snowstorms and floods.
The satellite will be able to monitor forest fires and volcanoes, measure the oceans and atmosphere, and detect dust and smoke in the air. It will also monitor the ozone layer and atmospheric temperature, providing further insight into the climate crisis.
Once in orbit and circling the planet from the North Pole to the South Pole, the satellite will be renamed NOAA-21. The satellite will monitor every spot on Earth at least twice a day, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). And when you check the weather on your phone, it will be fed with data captured by the satellite.
JPSS-2 will join two other satellites, the Suomi National Polar-Orbating Partnership and NOAA-20, that make up the Joint Polar Satellite System.
“JPSS provides more than twice daily observations over the Atlantic and Pacific, helping meteorologists monitor weather systems where we don’t take advantage of weather balloons, and only limited buoys, compared to the dense network of weather stations above ground,” Jordan Gerth said. , a meteorologist and satellite scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Weather Service prior to launch.
The secondary payload that cuts the ride on the rocket is NASA’s Low Earth Orbital Flight Test Demonstration of Inflatable Speed Deceleration Technology, or LOFTID.
The mission is designed to test the inflatable heat shield technology needed to land manned missions on Mars and larger robotic missions on Venus or Titan on Saturn’s moon. Something like LOFTID can also be used when returning huge payloads to the ground.
Sending robotic or human explorers to other worlds that have atmospheres can be difficult because the current arcchel, or heat shields, used depends on the size of the missile’s shroud.
But the inflatable antenna can circumnavigate that dependency – and unlock heavier missions to different planets.
When a spacecraft enters a planet’s atmosphere, it collides with aerodynamic forces, which help slow its speed.
On Mars, where the density of the atmosphere is only 1% that of Earth’s, additional help is needed to create the drag necessary to safely slow the spacecraft’s descent.
That’s why NASA engineers believe that a large, deployable antenna like LOFTID, which is inflated and protected by a flexible heat shield, could apply pressure to the brakes while traveling through Mars’ atmosphere.
The aeroshell is designed to create more clouds in the upper atmosphere to help the spacecraft slow down sooner, which also prevents some of the superheating. LOFTID is approximately 20 feet (6 meters) wide.
About 90 minutes after JPSS-2 and LOFITD blast off into space, the technology demonstration will move away from the polar satellite once it reaches orbit and the extremely short LOFTID mission will begin.
After inflating, the LOFTID will be redirected through the rocket’s upper stage.
Then, the atmosphere will separate from the upper stage and attempt to reenter the atmosphere from low Earth orbit to see if the heat shield is effective in slowing it down and surviving.
Sensors on board LOFTID will record the heat shield experience during its horrific descent. Six cameras will capture 360-degree video of the LOFTID experiment, said Joe Del Corso, LOFTID project manager at NASA’s Langley Research Center.
Upon re-entry, the LOFTID will encounter temperatures as high as 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit and reach speeds of nearly 18,000 miles per hour. The final test will be the materials used to build the inflatable structure, which includes a woven ceramic fabric called silicon carbide.
It is expected to fall 500 miles off the coast of Hawaii, where it will recapture the Heroshell team.
Currently, NASA can land a metric ton (2,205 pounds) on Mars, like The Perseverance rover is the size of a car. Something like LOFTID could land 20 to 40 metric tons (44,092 to 88,184 pounds) on Mars, del Corso said.
Thursday’s demo results could define the entry, descent and landing technology that will one day transport human crews to the surface of Mars.