SpaceX launch delayed by Air Force radar glitch, weather

The launch of a solar-wind-monitoring satellite aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was scrubbed Sunday after a last-minute malfunction with an Air Force radar. The launch is now scheduled for Tuesday.

Regular images of Earth from deep space, such as this shot taken by NASA's Galileo spacecraft in 1996 as it departed for Jupiter, are expected from the Deep Space Climate Observatory.

Sen—Launch of a Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Falcon 9 rocket was delayed Sunday after a last-minute problem with an Air Force radar system needed to track the booster in flight.

SpaceX's 15th Falcon 9 rocket was due to blast off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Sunday at 6:10 p.m. EST/2310 UTC. Launch was initially reset for Monday but due to a poor weather forecast has now been rescheduled for Tuesday at 6:05 p.m. EST/2305 UTC. 

The rocket carries the U.S. government's 1,256-pound (570 kg) Deep Space Climate Observatory, nicknamed DSCOVR, which is intended to provide early warnings of potentially dangerous space weather.

The satellite has five science instruments to measure the solar wind, as well as study the sun-facing side of Earth.

“Impacts from space weather are very wide-ranging with potentially severe consequences,” Tom Berger, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)  Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado, said at a prelaunch press conference.

From its vantage point 930,000 miles (1.5 million km) from Earth and orbiting in the first gravitationally stable Sun-Earth Lagrange point known as L1, DSCOVR will be able to provide about an hour’s advance notice of solar particle tsunamis and geomagnetic storms that can disrupt electric power grids, radio communications and signals from GPS and other satellites.

It also will continuously measure the total amount of energy radiating from the Sun-lit side of Earth and take pictures that will help scientists study atmospheric aerosols, ozone and clouds. The images will be posted on the Internet, providing regular views of what the planet looks like from nearly 1 million miles in space.

“I think it will be an inspiration for people to see the sunlit disk … something that was taken from a unique vantage point just 24 hours before,” said Steven Clarke, director of NASA’s Joint Agency Satellite Division for science missions.

Viewing Earth was the original purpose of DSCOVR, which was developed in the 1990s as the Triana satellite. The program was canceled and the spacecraft went into storage in 2001.

With financial backing from NOAA, NASA took the spacecraft out of storage in 2008 for assessments and refurbishments. The primary mission shifted from Earth-monitoring to space weather, but the instruments remained the same.

The satellite was jointly developed and will be operated by NASA and NOAA, while the the U.S. Air Force purchased and oversees the launch. The mission is serving as a pathfinder as the Air Force works to certify SpaceX to launch high-value national security payloads, breaking the monopoly held by United Launch Alliance.

Including launch and satellite development, storage, refurbishment and 2.5 years of operations, the mission costs about $340 million, split almost equally between NASA, NOAA and the Air Force.

This story was updated after Sunday's launch scrub.

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