Thursday, October 27, 2011

Insomniac's delight

In case you are awake at 2:48 AM (or want to set your alarm clock), the viewing conditions from the Los Angeles region should be just about perfect. From Spaceflight Now's NPP mission status page:
The Launch Readiness Review occurred today to verify the NPP spacecraft and Delta 2 rocket are standing in perfect shape for blastoff at precisely 2:48:01 a.m. local (5:48:01 a.m. EDT; 0948:01 GMT) from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Friday's launch opportunity extends 9 minutes and 10 seconds to ensure NPP reaches the desired orbit. The window closes at 2:57:11 a.m. local (5:57:11 a.m. EDT; 0957:11 GMT)
NPP is a meteorological satellite that will fly a sun-synchronous polar orbit in the 13:30 (early afternoon) local time plane. It will be launched southward from Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) slightly less than 12 hours from the desired local time plane so that it will go northbound across the equator at the named local time (aka local time of right ascension).

Sun-synchronous satellites fly over each region twice a day, once at the named local time plane, and again ~12 hours offset--one dayside, one nightside. Relative to the sun, they orbit in a stationary plane (other than circling about the sun along w/ the earth) and the earth rotates under them, through the orbit plane. If this is unclear, catch me at the next school or soccer event and ask; I can demonstrate with a piece of fruit.

Anyway, NPP is fairly large as met satellites go, so it will need to go up on a relatively large Delta 2 rocket. That, coupled with the night-time launch and 0% predicted cloud cover, mean that the rocket should be visible for a long distance. It should be easily viewable from the beaches south of VAFB. (VAFB is slightly north of Santa Barbara.)

Read A really big firecracker for a smaller Minotaur rocket launch. It was very bright and visible when viewed from the Redondo Beach harbor area. This one will be even more so.

Sign up for Spaceflight Now's twitter feed. Head down to the beach or the hills--anywhere you have a good view over the ocean--and watch the show. A very bright moving object, the rocket, will appear over Malibu about a minute after launch from VAFB. You can watch it move southbound across the sky for a couple of minutes.

Rouse your kids from bed to watch from the beach. They can sleep later in school. ;-)

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