A $340 million sun-observing spacecraft that was initially dreamed up by former US vice president Al Gore is finally poised to launch within a few hours after being kept in storage by NASA for years.
The unmanned Deep Space Climate Observatory is scheduled to blast off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
DSCOVR’s goal is to help space weather forecasters by collecting data on solar wind and geomagnetic storms that can cause damage to electrical systems on Earth.
After the launch, SpaceX will make another attempt to guide the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket back to a controlled landing on an ocean platform, as part of the California-based company’s goal of making rockets one day as reusable as airplanes.
In January, the rocket attempted a controlled maneuver to land on a powered-barge in the Atlantic, but collided with it instead and broke into pieces.
Still, SpaceX executives say they do not view the test as a failure, and that many more practice runs lay ahead as they refine their technology with the goal of pioneering the world’s first recyclable rockets and ending the current practice of allowing millions of dollars in equipment to fall to pieces in the ocean after each launch.
“We fixed the problems. We hope it will go well this time,” said Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of mission assurance at SpaceX.
The DSCOVR mission, a joint collaboration of the US Air Force, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is headed to a point about one million miles from Earth, a destination known as Lagrangian point, or L1.