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After a long string of delays, Boeing’s Delta 4 rocket made a spaceflight comeback Wednesday during the launch of the GOES-N weather satellite, the first in a series of advanced Earth observation satellites.

Wednesday’s launch marked the first Delta 4 flight in 18 months for Boeing. Boeing’s first Delta 4-Heavy had a problem in flight which led to the loss of two small satellites and a mock payload during the demonstration flight.

GOES-N – short for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-N – will initially serve as a spare. Instruments in the $481 mission include a GOES Imager that can slice and dice sections of the atmosphere, a Solar X-Ray Imager to monitor the sun, a 19-channel discrete-filter radiometer to provide atmospheric temperature, moisture and ozone distribution, and a Space Environment Monitor to monitor “space weather”.

The imager is the source of the pictures and loops often seen in television weather broadcasts. The atmospheric sounder studies temperatures, moisture content, and ozone distribution at different levels of the atmosphere.

GOES-N (GOES-13 in orbit) is the first of three upgraded Boeing-built weather satellites. GOES-O is currently in ground storage and could be launched in September 2007, if needed. GOES-P is undergoing thermal vacuum testing and is scheduled for launch in October 2009. The next-generation of geosynchronous weather satellites, the GOES-R series, begins about 2012.

A new series of Polar orbit weather satellites is also planned. The National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (right), is jointly managed by the Pentagon and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), because it will provide weather data to both the military and civilians. NASA has a role too.

The NPOESS satellites, which are jointly funded by the Air Force and NOAA as the replacement for their two separate fleets, are now expected to begin launching two years late. In March of 2005, the baseline budget for NPOESS was $6.8 billion. Today, costs to complete the program have risen to an estimated $13.8 billion.

NPOESS carries 13 different sensors to track every conceivable environmental indicator. However, designers made a decision to bolt the diverse sensors to a common “bus” and integrate information on the ground rather than in space.

MODIS (or Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) is a key instrument aboard the Terra (EOS AM) and Aqua (EOS PM) satellites. Terra’s orbit around the Earth is timed so that it passes from north to south across the equator in the morning, while Aqua passes south to north over the equator in the afternoon. Terra MODIS and Aqua MODIS are viewing the entire Earth’s surface every 1 to 2 days, acquiring data in 36 spectral bands.

The people running America’s military space program haven’t exactly distinguished themselves in recent years, says Lexington Institute, a conservative think tank.

The Transformational Communications Satellite (T-SAT) was planned to supply imagery to war fighters on the ground from UAVs and satellites. It would be the optical spaceborne element of the military’s Global Information Grid (GIG).

After hundreds of millions in cost overruns and delays, it has been reorganized to emphasize an evolution of capabilities rather than a giant leap. That program will probably be folded into the pre-existing Advanced EHF satellite system, using RF.

The controversial Space Radar system (above) for tracking and imaging ground targets will also follow an incremental “block” enhancement schedule.

Related DailyWireless articles include; Rocket Welfare, Canning NASA, Space Radar Launch, Space Balls, An Inconvenient Truth, and Earth Day.

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