NASA reaches critical test milestone for NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System-2

Artist’s impression of the JPSS-2 satellite, which will be renamed NOAA-21 once in orbit. Credit: NOAA

The Joint Polar Satellite System-2, or JPSS-2, which will improve weather forecasting and increase our understanding of extreme weather and climate change, has reached a critical testing milestone, bringing it closer to launch.

Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s polar-orbiting satellite emerged from the chamber after completing its thermal vacuum tests. This test is intended to show that the spacecraft and all of its instruments will operate successfully when exposed to the harsh environments of space.

“I can absolutely say with 100% certainty that the observatory is working very well,” JPSS flight project manager Andre Dress told Reuters. " data-gt-translate-attributes="[{" attribute="">Nasa‘s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “All the instruments are working very well, and we will meet all our requirements – and even more.”

JPSS-2, the third satellite in the Joint Polar Satellite System series, will provide data that will improve weather forecasting and advance our understanding of extreme weather and climate change. It is scheduled to launch on November 1, 2022 from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California and will be renamed NOAA-21 after reaching orbit. NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is managing the launch.

The thermal vacuum test simulates the vacuum of space and the extreme temperatures the satellite will experience while in Earth orbit.

JPSS-2 satellite thermal vacuum test

The JPSS-2 satellite enters the chamber for its thermal vacuum test at the Northrop Grumman facility in Gilbert, Arizona. 1 credit

“The satellite needs to keep warm enough in a cold and cool state when in a hot state, and still deliver science performance as it goes through temperature transitions,” said Chris Brann, deputy project manager for the JPSS flight project in Godard. “If it works at both extremes of hot and cold, it will work in between.”

During testing, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, or VIIRS, instrument encountered a test equipment anomaly. Engineers determined that the anomaly was the result of slight movement between the test equipment and the instrument, caused by thermal distortion. Changes were quickly made to the test configuration and the system was retested, this time with expected performance.

The thermal vacuum test is the most important test the satellite will undergo, before launch, Dress said. “There is no other test like this in the entire duration of a mission,” he said. “This one is the biggie.”

JPSS-2 satellite thermal vacuum test

JPSS-2 enters the chamber for its thermal vacuum test at the Northrop Grumman facility in Gilbert, Arizona.
Credits: Northrop Grumman

It is also the one that requires the most resources. Hundreds of people from the team supported this test alone.

The spacecraft emerged from thermal vacuum testing on June 4 – three months after entering the chamber. The investigation and equipment fixes delayed the completion of the test by about a month. This also caused a delay in the launch date, which was originally scheduled for September 30, 2022.

This summer, the satellite’s solar panel will be installed and the satellite will be moved into a temperature and humidity controlled shipping container. It will then be shipped to the California launch site, where it will undergo a final round of testing before being installed on the rocket, Brann said.

So many things need to come together when planning the launch, said Lou Parkinson, JPSS Flight Mission Systems Engineer. “Not only do we build the satellite, test the satellite, and launch the satellite, but then we have to be able to hand over a successfully functioning satellite to NOAA to make sure they can continue their operations.”

Together, NASA and NOAA oversee the development, launch, testing, and operation of all satellites in the JPSS program. NOAA funds and manages the program, operations, and data products. On behalf of NOAA, NASA develops and builds the instruments, spacecraft and ground system, and launches the satellites, which NOAA operates.

JPSS-2 will scan the globe as it orbits from the North Pole to the South Pole, crossing the equator 14 times a day. 512 miles above Earth, it will observe atmospheric conditions such as temperature and humidity, as well as extreme weather conditions, such as hurricanes, floods, wildfires and drought. Once in orbit, it will continue the work of its NOAA-20 predecessors and the NOAA-NASA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi-NPP).

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