After overcoming some hurdles in recent weeks, NASA’s satellite Aura – that will study Earth’s atmosphere, is on track for a July 10 departure from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The Northrop Grumman Aura spacecraft and its Boeing-built Delta 2 rocket successfully passed a critical pre-flight test Monday, paving the way for crews to attach the two-piece nosecone at the end of the week.
Inside the mobile service tower at Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Space Launch Complex 2, the Aura spacecraft inside the canister is maneuvered into position over the second stage of the Boeing Delta 2 rocket. That test assessed the integration of the satellite and rocket, taking crews through some pre-launch and post-launch milestones.
“That’s a very important test,” said George Diller, spokesman for NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. “The fact that it went well is good. That will keep things on track.”
A leaky valve on the Delta 2 rocket prompted some on-pad repairs and caused a delay from mid-June. Officials blamed a two-day delay on needing more time to check possibly suspect computer chips that had caused problems on a different satellite to ensure they were not from the same lot aboard Aura.
Aura was delivered to Vandenberg in April and has been fueled for launch. Last week, crews took Aura on a road trip from its processing facility to the launch pad. Thursday, crews will begin to install the payload fairing, or nosecone, which protects the satellite during the rocket’s flight. A flight readiness review remains set for July 6.
During its $785 million mission, Aura and its four instruments will monitor Earth’s ozone, air quality and climate, taking comprehensive measurements of the composition and chemistry of the atmosphere.
Aura is the third in a series of major Earth observing platforms aimed at giving the planet a comprehensive check-up. Vandenberg previously launched Terra to study Earth’s lands and Aqua, which is examining the planet’s water.