If you’re wondering what the climate of space is like, DSCOVR will soon shed some light with its next mission. The massive rocket has been scheduled to launch just after 6:00 PM Eastern Time today, on February 11th (and, no, DSCOVR is not a typo, it is an acronym standing for Deep Space Climate Observatory).
Although space has no weather systems that resemble terrestrial ones, it does possess a dynamic and powerful “weather system” that stems mainly from the Sun. Thus, changes in the patterns and intensities of solar winds can cause serious magnetic changes on Earth, which can be damaging to infrastructure, mainly the electric grid.
In 1989, one such incidence denied people in the Northeastern United States and part of Canada power for almost nine hours. Known as coronal mass ejections, these bursts are massive waves of electrically charged particles that can hurdle towards Earth at up to 300 mi/s. They pose a very real danger to infrastructure, individual citizens, and even national security, as so much relies on the power distribution systems that are in place across the country and the globe.
Fortunately, DSCOVR, which is pinned in a gravitational homeostasis between the Sun and Earth (about 1,000,000 miles away), will be able to identify the bursts up to an hour before they reach us. DSCOVR is not the first observatory like this, as it will be relinquishing NASA’s own Advanced Composition Explorer of its duty, providing us with an even more advanced, quick and reliable way of detecting solar winds than was previously in place.
DSCOVR, as well as being quite important to us here on Earth, is also an important symbol of the unity of the world of space exploration. DSCOVR is a collaborative project, actually credited to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), but born out of a partnership between NASA, NOAA and the United States Air Force. NOAA and NASA worked together on the design of the spaceship, namely its preparation for launch, and the USAF provided the SpaceX Falcon 9, a two-stage rocket with plenty of power to get DSCOVR to its destination.
The eveningtime launch of this observatory has been rescheduled after a delay due to poor weather conditions, as it was originally set to blastoff on February 10th. Today marks the last chance for the rocket to be launched before a “moon blackout” begins. This means that, after today, the moon will be in a position where its gravity can negatively affect the trajectory of the craft. If the rocket is delayed again today, it will be delayed more than a week.