With the launch of the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite mission in early 2015, the United States will extend its ability to give accurate warnings of solar activity that could potentially wreak havoc throughout society and the economy on Earth.
The refrigerator-sized satellite is scheduled to soar into orbit in early 2015 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle.
DSCOVR, a partnership between NOAA, NASA and the U.S. Air Force, will orbit the sun at the L1 libration point - a stable point in space, where gravitational forces of Earth and the sun are in equilibrium - approximately one million miles away from Earth toward the sun. From the L1 location, the satellite's sensors can detect solar storms before their impacts reach Earth. The satellite will also host NASA-funded secondary sensors for Earth and space science observations.
NOAA will manage the DSCOVR mission, giving advanced warning of approaching solar storms with the potential to cripple electrical grids, disrupt communication systems, throw off GPS navigation, reroute air travel, affect satellite operations and endanger human spaceflight. According to a National Research Council Report (See "Severe Space Weather Events--Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts: A Workshop Report" ), damages from the most extreme solar storms could range between $1 trillion-$2 trillion within the first year and four to 10 years for full recovery.
"We must always stay on top of developing solar storm activity and provide accurate, timely forecasts,"" said Mike Simpson, the DSCOVR program manager at NOAA. "DSCOVR will extend our capability to do that."
Currently, NASA's Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE), launched in 1997, is the only spacecraft providing solar storm data to the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) in Boulder, Colorado, for operational short-term warnings of solar storms. It is also stationed at the L1 point, giving forecasters data on approaching solar events. However, ACE is operating 10+ years beyond its design life. DSCOVR observations will typically enable SWPC to provide 15 to 60 minute warning lead times before the impact of a solar storm hits Earth, which is similar to what ACE currently provides.
"The instruments on DSCOVR will improve upon what we have with ACE, as they will continue to operate even during severe space weather storms. The DSCOVR data will also be used to drive the next generation of space weather models, allowing forecasters to specify where on Earth the storm conditions will be at their worst," said Doug Biesecker, DSCOVR program scientist at SWPC.
Formerly known as Triana, DSCOVR was initially planned in the late 1990s as a NASA Earth science mission that would image Earth in 10 spectral bands and measure how much energy was being reflected and emitted from Earth. Seven years later, NOAA and the Air Force worked with NASA to remove DSCOVR from storage so the spacecraft and instruments could be tested to verify their flight readiness. NOAA funded NASA to refurbish the DSCOVR satellite and instruments. The U.S. Air Force is funding and overseeing the launch of the spacecraft.
In the fall of 2013, after a period of testing and other technical inspections, NOAA and NASA confirmed DSCOVR could meet requirements within its planned life cycle cost and projected schedule. Then the DSCOVR program received full funding with the FY 2014 appropriations.
"That [full funding] allowed us to maintain our current schedule for launch," Simpson said. He added the last steps before launch include the completion of the spacecraft environmental testing, testing of the ground system, and delivery of the launch vehicle.
"After that's done, it's go for launch," Simpson said.
NOAA's Satellite Operations Facility in Suitland, Maryland, will manage DSCOVR operations, and the Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado, will process and distribute its data to users within the United States and around the world.
For more information and to follow DSCOVR News, visit the homepage at: http://www.nesdis.noaa.gov/DSCOVR