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Raumfahrt - Start von Atlas-V mit NOAAs GOES-T weather satellite

30.11.2021

Here’s what it takes to transport an NOAA satellite to from Colorado to Florida

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An Air Force C-5M Super Galaxy transport is seen at Kennedy Space Center's Launch and Landing Facility on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, with the NOAA's GOES-T spacecraft. Once on orbit, the satellite will help forecasters and scientists better understand weather and climate.

The unmistakable roar of four jet engines broke the dead-of-night silence at Kennedy Space Center earlier this month, marking the arrival of a massive Air Force transport at the landing facility once used for space shuttles.

But this red-eye flight from Buckley Space Force Base near Denver, Colorado, had more than just a few dozen passengers onboard. Deep in the belly of the C-5M Super Galaxy was a full-blown semitruck ready to roll out with a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather satellite in an attached container.

The 247-foot-long aircraft with a nearly identical wingspan is actually longer than the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket that will launch the satellite — named GOES-T — no earlier than March 1, 2022. Set to a powerful configuration with four add-on solid rocket boosters, Atlas V will reach about 191 feet in height at nearby Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

The sheer size of the California-based C-5 meant Lockheed Martin, builder of the satellite, could simply roll the satellite out of its factory near Denver, transport it to Buckley SFB, and back up the semitruck into the aircraft before doing the opposite after landing. As with most things space-related, however, it's not as simple as it sounds.

About two hours after the 4:15 a.m. touchdown at the Launch and Landing Facility, semitruck driver Corey Spears – mentioned as one of the best drivers Lockheed has on its payroll – began inching the truck out, a delicate task that seemed imperceptibly slow. At least a half dozen other Lockheed employees and Air Force personnel helped guide the satellite container out using a custom container and trailer that can lift and lower itself based on the incline of the Super Galaxy's payload bay ramp.

Just over three hours after landing, the semitruck and climate-controlled GOES-T container were entirely out of the aircraft and safely on the flight line, ready for the next leg of the trip to Astrotech Space Operations' processing facility in Titusville. NOAA partners with NASA for launches of its GOES weather satellites.

Several of the dozens of Lockheed employees who arrived on the C-5 will spend the coming months here on the Space Coast, prepping the spacecraft for its launch and subsequent 10-year mission 22,236 miles above Earth.

"This is one of a series of steps that have to happen to get the satellite in orbit and sending back weather data," Dan Lindsey, a researcher and spokesperson at NOAA. "NASA is very good at public spacecraft development, instrument development, launching assets to space, and getting them on orbit, so that's the role they play."

Once up and running, GOES-T will become GOES-18. It will replace GOES-17, which launched from the Cape in 2018 as GOES-S but suffered a cooling system issue. Though it still gets over 90% of the needed data, Lindsey said, GOES-T will move to replace it and the damaged spacecraft will be used as a spare.

GOES-17 currently covers the western half of the U.S.; GOES-16, launched in 2016, is responsible for the eastern side. Both have been responsible for an incredible boost in imagery and data, especially during hurricane season that runs from June to November.

Just like previous GOES satellites, this T variant will use several instruments to gather data on local and national weather, lightning, hurricanes, and more for general forecasting and research. Its findings will also help with understanding the impacts of climate change.

After a brief on-orbit test period, Lockheed will "hand over" the satellite to the NOAA for an expected 10-year lifespan. But before then, company employees that traveled with the satellite will help oversee testing, more transport, encapsulation in its payload fairing, and eventually launch day.

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