The advanced JPSS system improves the accuracy and timeliness of numerical weather prediction models to enhance forecasting. JPSS-2 will provide global observations that serve as the backbone of both short- and long-term weather forecasting and climate record-keeping.
The system currently includes two satellites, the NOAA-NASA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP), and NOAA-20 (originally known as JPSS-1). Both were launched by ULA on Delta II rockets.
LOFTID will demonstrate an inflatable aeroshell, or heat shield, as a way to deliver heavy payloads safely through the atmosphere to the surface of Earth or other planets. ULA is exploring the incorporation of such technology in reusability plans for our new Vulcan Centaur rocket.
Vulcan's use of the Sensible Modular Autonomous Return Technology (SMART) design focuses on reusing the most value part of the rocket -- its main engines. SMART will recover both engines in an economical method that reduces launch costs while not penalizing payloads by reserving first stage performance to propulsively land the stage.
The JPSS-2 launch will be the 301st and final Atlas mission from Vandenberg dating back to 1959. Like the recent launch of the last Delta IV Heavy from the West Coast, these final flights are part of ULA's transition to Vulcan.
Vulcan combines the best of today's Atlas V and Delta IV rocket lines with the latest technology advancements to produce a single launch system that provides higher performance and greater affordability.
SLC-3 will undergo modifications following the JPSS-2 launch to ready the site to provide the accommodations needed to support the larger Vulcan rocket at Vandenberg.
Photo and caption: ULA
Atlas V - general
This is Atlas V, the workhorse of United Launch Alliance's fleet.
The rocket is a mix of Russian and American technology and uses the Russian RD-180 as the first stage engine.
It is one of the most versatile rockets in the world with 20 possible configurations -- though only half have flown.
Developed in the mid- to late-1990s, it is the fifth and last major version of the Atlas rocket which began flying in 1957.
Lockheed Martin designed and built Atlas V as part of the U.S. government's 1994 plan to create an Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program for national security missions.
The two companies with EELV rockets, Lockheed Martin with Atlas V and Boeing with Delta IV, merged in 2006 to form United Launch Alliance (ULA).
Pricing of the Atlas V has varied greatly over the years, with a basic Atlas V 401 (no boosters and a single-engine second stage) costing anywhere from the high-$90 million range to $163 million USD in the 2000s and early 2010s.
Sweeping price reductions have occurred once SpaceX began directly competing against ULA in the mid-2010s.
Atlas V's safety and success records are unparalleled, with a 100% mission success rating from a customer point of view.
Atlas V 401
This mission will use the Atlas V 401 variant - with a four-meter payload fairing (4), zero side-mounted solid rocket boosters (0), and a single-engine Centaur upper stage (1).
Photo credit: NASA/Tony Gray and Sandra Joseph
Space Launch Complex 3 (SLC-3) is a launch site at Vandenberg Space Force Base that consisted of two separate launch pads until SLC-3W was demolished.
Launches from Vandenberg fly southward. This allows payloads to be placed in high-inclination orbits such as polar or Sun-synchronous, which allow full global coverage on a regular basis.
While it is possible to achieve these orbits from Florida launch centers, these orbits are difficult to reach where launches must bend around Florida, taking an inefficient route, to avoid major population centers like Miami.
SLC-3E was the launch site of the Mars lander InSight in May 2018 aboard a ULA Atlas V 401.
Image: SLC-3E Vandenberg Space Force Base Photo Credit: United Launch Alliance