Satellite launch to provide information to Alaskans for several years

    United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the Joint Polar Satellite System civilian polar-orbiting weather satellite for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lifts off (Photo courtesy ULA)

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - Thursday was a launch of an environmental satellite aboard an Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

    At first glance, it may not seem like it holds value to Alaskans, but the California-launched rocket will bring information to Alaskans for the next seven years.

    Once the satellite is in full operation, it will bring data about the weather, sea ice, wildfires, and more to Alaskans.

    Data from the satellite and others come into the Geographic Information Network of Alaska (GINA) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute. GINA turns that data into products that monitor wildfire, sea ice and the weather.

    "For us, it just means we get to keep having this incredible data," GINA Director Jennifer Delamere said.

    The JPSS-2 satellite joins two other polar-orbiting satellites in the National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service.

    The satellite is part of the Joint Polar Satellite System, which is a collaboration of NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    In part of the Joint Polar Satellite System, the Suomi NPP satellite, launched in 2011, is the oldest.

    The other satellite is NOAA-20, which launched in late 2017.

    JPSS-2, which will be renamed NOAA-21, is expected to operate for seven years.

    Each satellite makes one polar orbit of Earth every 100 minutes.

    Alaska's high latitude means ground stations in the state can communicate with polar-orbiting satellites more often than stations at lower latitudes can. Each satellite passes over Alaska eight to 14 times a day, improving the timeliness of the products GINA produces.

    Additional satellite launches for the National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service are set for 2028 and 2032.

    The Alaska Satellite Facility played a crucial role in providing tracking of JPSS-2, not long after the Atlas V rocket was launched at 12:49 a.m. AKST.

    Tracking information helps NASA model the orbit.

    Devan Larson, one of the satellite facility's ground station engineers commented on the importance of tracking information.

    "When a satellite is launched, it takes some time for the orbit to get settled. The satellite will have to make additional maneuvers and adjustments. It is very important to have accurate tracking data early on to aid in moving the spacecraft to its final orbit."

    NASA reported on its blog early Thursday that JPSS-2 is receiving and responding to commands successfully.

    UAF Vice Chancellor for Research Nettie La Belle-Hamer noted the work of the two Geophysical Institute units.

    "This is a fantastic example of how ASF and GINA are working together for the betterment of not just the Geophysical Institute, but for UAF and all of Alaska."

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