Running a day late because of stormy weather, a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket boosted a new GOES weather satellite into space Saturday to serve as an orbital spare for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fleet of hurricane-tracking weather sentinels.
The Delta 4, equipped with two strap-on solid-fuel boosters, ignited with a rush of flame and smoke at 6:51 p.m. EDT and quickly climbed away from launch complex 37 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, arcing to the east and accelerating toward orbit.
"Three, two, one, and liftoff of the Delta 4 rocket with GOES-O, enhancing quality and reliability of the weather satellite for the forecaster," said NASA launch commentator George Diller.
It was the 10th flight of a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket since 2002 and the second of three launches planned for this year.
A launch attempt Friday was called off because of thunderstorms and electrical activity near the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. More of the same was on tap Saturday and forecasters initially predicted a 70 percent chance of a launch delay.
Thunderstorms rolled over the launch pad during fueling, but conditions improved as the afternoon wore on and after a 37-minute delay to allow a storm cell to move past to the south, United Launch Alliance proceeded with the countdown.
The Delta 4's first stage performed normally, boosting the vehicle to an altitude of about 90 miles before falling away four-and-a-half minutes after liftoff.
The rocket's second stage then lofted the spacecraft into an initial parking orbit before two additional firings needed to place the 7,000-pound GOES-O satellite into an elliptical transfer orbit with a high point of about 21,800 miles and a low point of 4,100 miles.
The satellite separated from the Delta's second stage on time at 11:12 p.m. Onboard thrusters will be used to put the spacecraft in its final circular orbit 22,300 miles above the equator. That milestone is expected July 8 and if all goes well, Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems will turn the satellite over to the government on July 18.
The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite system provides the hemispheric views familiar from television weathercasts. Observations of the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the East Coast are provided by the GOES-12 satellite--critical for hurricane tracking--with GOES-11 providing similar coverage of the the West Coast and the central Pacific Ocean past Hawaii.
GOES-O will be known as GOES-14 once at the station, joining the GOES-13 satellite, which was launched three years ago, as an orbital spare.
"GOES-O will provide another important operational asset to NOAA and will become part of the nation's infrastructure for both weather and environmental forecasting," said Steve Kirkner, GOES project manager at NASA.… Read more