July 2, 2020

DSCOVR resumes operations after eight-month outage


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Artist’s concept of the Deep Space Climate Observatory. Credit: NOAA

The Deep Space Climate Observatory has resumed regular observations after NOAA and NASA engineers uplinked a software patch to the spacecraft a million miles from Earth, restoring data on space weather and a daily series views of the sunlit side of our home planet.

The NOAA-led mission launched from Cape Canaveral in February 2015 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with instrument contributions from NASA and a rocket funded by U.S. Air Force.

DSCOVR was designed for a two-year mission, but carried enough fuel for at least five years of operations. NOAA officials hope the mission can continue for several more years because DSCOVR gathers critical data to forecast geomagnetic storms that could disrupt communications, air travel, electrical grids, satellite operations and human spaceflight.

The DSCOVR spacecraft is located around the L1 Lagrange point, a gravitationally-stable location around a million miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth in the direction of the sun.

According to NOAA, the DSCOVR spacecraft — about the size of a small car — entered a “safe hold” mode June 27, 2019, due to issues with its attitude control system. The problem halted the flow of all science data from DSCOVR, which carries sensors to measure the solar wind, take images of Earth, and monitor how much of the sun’s energy is absorbed and reflected from Earth.

NOAA and NASA engineers developed a flight software patch to restore DSCOVR to regular service, and NOAA said Monday that the spacecraft is again fully operational.

This view from the DSCOVR spacecraft’s EPIC camera was captured over the Americas on March 2. Credit: NASA

“Bringing DSCOVR operational again shows the unique skills and adaptability of our NOAA and NASA engineers and the care we are taking to get the maximum life from an aging asset,” said Steve Volz, assistant NOAA administrator for its satellite and information service.

NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer backs up DSCOVR in orbit around the L1 libration point. ACE provided data for NOAA to continue space weather forecasts during DSCOVR’s outage, but ACE launched in 1997 and is operating well beyond its design lifetime.

While DSCOVR and ACE constantly monitor the stream of particles flowing from the sun, the joint ESA-NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory — which is also beyond its design lifetime — images the solar corona to collect additional data for incorporation into space weather forecasts.

NOAA is developing the Space Weather Follow-On L1 mission for launch in 2024 to provide a long-term replacement for ACE and DSCOVR. The DSCOVR mission was launched as a stopgap measure to reduce the risk of a loss of space weather data in the case of a failure on the ACE satellite.

A compact coronagraph will fly on the GOES-U weather satellite, also scheduled for launch in 2024, to ensure the continuity of solar corona imagery provided by SOHO.

The resumption of DSCOVR operations also allowed imagery from the spacecraft’s NASA-provided Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera, or EPIC, instrument to begin streaming back to the ground.

Like the DSCOVR spacecraft, the camera is a holdover from the Triana mission. Former Vice President Al Gore proposed a space mission in 1998 that would beam back live views of the Earth from deep space, providing images similar to the famous “blue marble” photos taken by the Apollo astronauts.

The EPIC instrument has uninterrupted views of the sunlit hemisphere of Earth as the planet rotates through day-night cycles. The camera takes imagery in 10 spectral channels from the ultraviolet to the near-infrared part of the spectrum.

NASA canceled the Triana mission in 2005, but NOAA paid to take the spacecraft out of storage in 2008 to assess its usefulness for the space weather mission.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.


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