Launch of GOES-R Transformational Weather Satellite Likely Delayed by Hurricane Matthew

Next month’s launch of GOES-R – a new and advanced transformational weather satellite that will vastly enhance the quality, speed of accuracy of weather forecasting – will likely be delayed a few days due to lingering storm related effects of deadly Hurricane Matthew on launch preparations at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the Kennedy […]

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Hurricane Matthew Grazes Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral

Aerial view of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on Oct. 8, 2016 by damage assessment and recovery team surveying the damage at KSC the day after Hurricane Matthew passed by Cape Canaveral on Oct. 7, 2016 packing sustained winds of 90 mph with gusts to 107 mph.  Credit: NASA/Cory Huston

The Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Cape Canaveral Air Force Center (CCAFS) and the major population centers along the Florida Space Coast were spared from major damage to infrastructure, homes and business after the deadly Cat 4 Hurricane Matthew grazed the region with 107 mph winds rather than making a direct impact as feared.

KSC’s iconic 525 foot tall Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), the Complex 39 launch pads and the active launch pads at CCAFS are all standing and intact – as damage evaluations are currently underway by damage assessment and recovery teams from NASA and the US Air Force.

As Hurricane Matthew approached from the south Friday morning Oct. 7 along Florida’s Atlantic coastline, it wobbled east and west, until it finally veered ever so slightly some 5 miles to the East – thus saving much of the Space Coast launch facilities and hundreds of thousands of home and businesses from catastrophic damage from the expected winds and storm surges.

“Hurricane Matthew passed Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center …. with sustained winds of 90 mph with gusts to 107 mph,” on Friday, NASA officials reported.

The storm passed “the space center about 26 miles off the tip of Cape Canaveral.”

KSC and CCAFS did suffer some damage to buildings, downed power lines and some flooding and remains closed.

The Damage Assessment and Recovery Teams have entered the facilities today, Oct. 8, and are surveying the areas right now to learn the extent of the damage and report on when they can reopen for normal operations.

“After the initial inspection flight Saturday morning, it was determined that the center received some isolated roof damage, damaged support buildings, a few downed power lines, and limited water intrusion,” NASA reported late today.

Inspection teams are methodically going from building to building this weekend to assess Matthew’s impact.

“Since safety is our utmost concern, teams of inspectors are going from building-to-building assessing damage.”

It will take time to determine when the center can resume operations.

“Due to the complexity of this effort, teams need time to thoroughly inspect all buildings and roads prior to opening the Kennedy Space Center for regular business operations.”

Not until after a full inspection of the center will a list of damaged buildings and equipment be available. The next update will be available no earlier than Sunday afternoon.

A “ride-out team” of 116 remained at KSC and at work inside the emergency operations center in the Launch Control Center located adjacent to the VAB during the entire Hurricane period.

It took until Friday afternoon for winds to drop below 40 knots start preliminary damage assessments.

“KSC is now in a “Weather Safe” condition as of 2 p.m. Friday. While there is damage to numerous facilities at KSC, it consists largely roof damage, window damage, water intrusion, damage to modular buildings and to building siding.”

Teams are also assessing the CCAFS launch pads.

Of particular importance is Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) where the next scheduled liftoff is slated for Nov. 4.

The launch involves America’s newest and most advanced weather satellite on Nov 4. It’s named GOES-R and was slated for blastoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station pad 41 atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket.

The launch facilities will have to be thoroughly inspected before the launch can proceed.

The satellite is in the final stages of preparation at the Astrotech Space Operations Facility in Titusville, FL as I recently observed during an up close visit in the High Bay cleanroom.

The major Space Coast cities in Brevard county suffered much less damage then feared, although some 500,000 residents lost power.

Local government officials allowed most causeway bridges to the barrier islands to be reopened by Friday evening, several local colleagues told me.

Here’s some images of damage to the coastal piers, town and a destroyed house from the Melbourne Beach and Satellite Beach areas from my space colleague Julian Leek.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

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Grab Your Smartphone And Become A Citizen Scientist For NASA

NASA's new app, the Globe Observer, will allow users to collect observations of clouds, and engage in a little citizen science. Image: NASA GLOBE Observer

It’s long been humanity’s dream to do something useful with our smartphones. Sure, we can take selfies, and post pictures of our meals, but true smartphone greatness has eluded us. Until now, that is.

Thanks to NASA, we can now do some citizen science with our ubiquitous devices.

For over 20 years, and in schools in over 110 countries, NASA’s Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) program has helped students understand their local environment in a global context. Now NASA has released the GLOBE Observer app, which allows users to capture images of clouds in their local environment, and share them with scientists studying the Earth’s climate.

“With the launch of GLOBE Observer, the GLOBE program is expanding beyond the classroom to invite everyone to become a citizen Earth scientist,” said Holli Riebeek Kohl, NASA lead of GLOBE Observer. The app will initially be used to capture cloud observations and images because they’re such an important part of the global climate system. But eventually, GLOBE Observer will also be used to observe land cover, and to identify types of mosquito larvae.


GLOBE has two purposes. One is to collect solid scientific data, the other is to increase users’ awareness of their own environments. “Once you collect environmental observations with the app, they are sent to the GLOBE data and information system for use by scientists and students studying the Earth,” said Kohl. “You can also use these observations for your own investigations and interact with a vibrant community of individuals from around the world who care about Earth system science and our global environment.”

Clouds are a dynamic part of the Earth’s climate system. Depending on their type, their altitude, and even the size of their water droplets, they either trap heat in the atmosphere, or reflect sunlight back into space. We have satellites to observe and study clouds, but they have their limitations. An army of citizen scientists observing their local cloud population will add a lot to the efforts of the satellites.

“Clouds are one of the most important factors in understanding how climate is changing now and how it’s going to change in the future,” Kohl said. “NASA studies clouds from satellites that provide either a top view or a vertical slice of the clouds. The ground-up view from citizen scientists is valuable in validating and understanding the satellite observations. It also provides a more complete picture of clouds around the world.”

The GLOBE team has issued a challenge to any interested citizen scientists who want to use the app. Over the next two weeks, the team is hoping that users will make ground observations of clouds at the same time as a cloud-observing satellite passes overhead. “We really encourage all citizen scientists to look up in the sky and take observations while the satellites are passing over through Sept. 14,” said Kohl.

The app makes this easy to do. It informs users when a satellite will be passing overhead, so we can do a quick observation at that time. We can also use Facebook or Twitter to view daily maps of the satellite’s path.

“Ground measurements are critical to validate measurements taken from space through remote sensing,” said Erika Podest, an Earth scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who is working with GLOBE data. “There are some places in the world where we have no ground data, so citizen scientists can greatly contribute to advancing our knowledge this important part of the Earth system.”

The app itself seems pretty straightforward. I checked for upcoming satellite flyovers and was notified of 6 flyovers that day. It’s pretty quick and easy to step outside and take an observation at one of those times.

I did a quick observation from the street in front of my house and it took about 2 minutes. To identify cloud types, you just match what you see with in-app photos of the different types of clouds. Then you estimate the percentage of cloud cover, or specify if the sky is obscured by blowing snow, or fog, or something else. You can also add pictures, and the app guides you in aiming the camera properly.

The GLOBE Observer app is easy to use, and kind of fun. It’s simple enough to fit a quick cloud observation in between selfies and meal pictures.

Download it and try it out.

You can download the IOS version from the App Store, and the Android version from Google Play.

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Did Cirrus Clouds Help Keep Early Mars Warm & Wet?

Cirrus clouds in the Martian atmosphere may have helped keep Mars warm enough for liquid water to sculpt the Martian surface. Image: Mars Exploration Rover Mission, Cornell, JPL, NASA

Many features on the surface of Mars hint at the presence of liquid water in the past. These range from the Valles Marineris, a 4,000 km long and 7 km deep system of canyons, to the tiny hematite spherules called “blueberries“. These features suggest that liquid water played a vital role in shaping Mars.

Some studies show that these features have volcanic origins, but a new study from two researchers at the Carl Sagan Institute and the NASA Virtual Planet Laboratory put the focus back on liquid water. The model that the two came up with says that, if other conditions were met, cirrus clouds could have provided the necessary insulation for liquid water to flow. The two researchers, Ramses M. Ramirez and James F. Kasting, constructed a climate model to test their idea.

Cirrus clouds are thin, wispy clouds that appear regularly on Earth. They’ve also been seen on Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, possibly Neptune, and on Mars. Cirrus clouds themselves don’t produce rain. Whatever precipitation they produce, in the form of ice crystals, evaporates before reaching the surface. The researchers behind this study focussed on cirrus clouds’ because they tend to warm the air underneath them by 10 degrees Celsius.

If enough of Mars was covered by cirrus clouds, then the surface would be warm enough for liquid water to flow. On Earth, cirrus clouds cover up to 25% of the Earth and have a measurable heating effect. They allow sunlight in, but absorb outgoing infrared radiation. Kasting and Ramirez sought to show how the same thing might happen on Mars, and how much cirrus cloud cover would be necessary.

The cirrus clouds themselves wouldn’t have created all the warmth. Impacts from comets and asteroids would have created the heat, and extensive cirrus cloud cover would have trapped that heat in the Martian atmosphere.

The two researchers conducted a model, called a single-column radiative-convective climate model. They then tested different ice crystal sizes, the portion of the sky covered by cirrus clouds, and the thicknesses of those clouds, to simulate different conditions on Mars.

They found that under the right circumstances, the clouds in the early Martian atmosphere could last 4 to 5 times longer than on Earth. This favors the idea that cirrus clouds could have kept Mars warm enough for liquid water. However, they also found that 75% to 100% of the planet would have to be covered by cirrus. That amount of cloud cover seems unlikely according to the researchers, and they suggest that 50% would be more realistic. This figure is similar to Earth’s cloud cover, including all cloud types, not just cirrus.

As they adjusted the parameters of their model, they found that thicker clouds and smaller particle sizes reduced the heating effect of the cirrus cloud cover. This left a very thin set of parameters in which cirrus clouds could have kept Mars warm enough for liquid water. But their modelling also showed that there is one way that cirrus clouds could have done the job.

If the ancient Martian surface temperature was lower than 273 Kelvin, the value used in the model, then it would be possible for cirrus clouds to do their thing. And it would only have to be lower by 8 degrees Kelvin for that to happen. At times in Earth’s past, the surface temperature has been lower by 7 degrees Kelvin. The question is, might Mars have had a similarly lower temperature?

So, where does that leave us? We don’t have a definitive answer yet. It’s possible that cirrus clouds on Mars could have helped to keep the planet warm enough for liquid water. The modelling done by Ramirez and Kasting shows us what parameters were required for that to happen.

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Snowzilla’s East Coast Blast Captured as ‘Rare Thundersnow’ by Scott Kelly on Station and Moonlit from Suomi Satellite

Rare #thundersnow visible from @Space_Station in #blizzard2016!  Jan. 23, 2016. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly/@StationCDRKelly

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly captured a rare and spectacular display of ‘thundersnow’ from space as Snowzilla’s blast pummeled much of the US East Coast this weekend with two feet or more of paralyzing snow from the nations’ capital to New York City and beyond.

Meanwhile the NASA-NOAA Suomi NPP Earth orbiting satellite almost simultaneously snapped an eerie image of the East Coast bathed in Moonlight as the ‘Blizzard of 2016’ battered over 85 million residents in 20 states across the East Coast.

The Suomi NPP satellite image of the massive winter storm system pummeling the eastern United States was taken at 2:15 a.m. EST on Jan. 23 by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS).

Kelly captured the spectacular ‘thundersnow’ photo on Saturday, Jan. 23, from his perch aboard the International Space Station (ISS) that approached or set snowfall accumulation records in many major metropolitan areas from the mid Atlantic to the Northeast corridor.

“Rare #thundersnow visible from @Space_Station in #blizzard2016! #Snowzilla #snowmaggedon2016,” Kelly tweeted with a chance shot on Jan 23, 2016.

Because from one moment to the next the “rare thundersnow” vanished from sight – see comparison photos above and below.

“Massive #snowstorm blanketing #EastCoast clearly visible from @Space_Station! Stay safe! #blizzard2016,” Kelly tweeted with a photo earlier on Saturday from a similar vantage point.

Kelly has just passed Day 300 of his historic “1Year ISS Mission” aboard the outpost and is conducting hundreds of experiments aimed at paving the way for multi-year expeditions to the Red Planet.

The Suomi NPP satellite image “was composed through the use of the VIIRS “day-night band,” which detects faint light signals such as city lights, moonlight, airglow, and auroras. In the image, the clouds are lit from above by the nearly full Moon and from below by the lights of the heavily populated East Coast. The city lights are blurred in places by cloud cover.”

Record tides caused extensive flooding, beach erosion and property destruction along a wide section of the Jersey shore. Some areas suffered catastrophic destruction even worse than Hurricane Sandy.

Many airports were closed and are only slowly reopening, wreaking havoc on the air transport system. More than 13,000 flights have been canceled so far since Friday, Jan. 22.

The storm lasted into Sunday, Jan. 24, causing at least 45 deaths.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

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Monster Blizzard of 2016 Strikes US East Coast, Tracked by NASA and NOAA Satellites

NASA-NOAA's Suomi NPP satellite snapped this image of the approaching blizzard around 2:35 a.m. EST on Jan. 22, 2016 using the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument's Day-Night band.   Credit: NOAA/NASA

NEW JERSEY- The monstrous ‘Blizzard of 2016’ predicted by weather forecasters for days has struck a wide swath of the US East Coast from the Gulf coast to the Carolinas to New York and soon into New England, with full fury today, Friday, Jan. 22.

NASA and NOAA satellites are tracking the storm which is already inundating the biggest population centers, affecting some 85 million people up and down the Atlantic Coast, as it moves in a northeasterly direction.

This afternoon, NASA and NOAA released a series of eyepopping satellite images showing the massive extent of the storm, which may drop historic amounts of snow on Washington DC and other cities over the day 24 to 48 hours.

The two agencies released a particularly striking image, shown above, showing the storm swarming over virtually the entire continental US as it was closing in on the East coast cites.

It was taken Friday afternoon by the NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite showing the approaching blizzard around 2:35 a.m. EST on Jan. 22, 2016 using the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument’s Day-Night band.

States of Emergency have been declared by Governors of states from Virginia to New England, and the list is growing.

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NASA’s GPM Sat Records Deadly ‘1000 Year’ Rain Devastating South Carolina from Nor’easter and Joaquin

Video Caption: NASA/JAXA’s GPM satellite measured record rainfall that fell over the Carolinas from September 26 to October 5, 2015 from a plume of moisture from Hurricane Joaquin when it was located over the Bahamas and moved to Bermuda. The IMERG showed highest rainfall totals near 1,000 mm (39.3 inches) in a small area of […]

Why Was September’s Lunar Eclipse So Dark?

First off, a huge thank you to everyone who made and sent their Danjon scale estimate of the totally-eclipsed Moon’s brightness to Dr. Richard Keen, University of Colorado atmospheric scientist. Your data were crucial to his study of how aerosols in Earth’s atmosphere and other factors influence the Moon’s appearance. Grateful for your help, Keen received a […]

Eclipse By Fire! Smoky Haze Pervades Night Sky, Darkens Moon

Did you see the Moon last night? I walked outside at 10:30 p.m. and was stunned to see a dark, burnt-orange Full Moon as if September’s eclipse had arrived a month early. Why? Heavy smoke from forest fires in Washington, California and Montana has now spread to cover nearly half the country in a smoky pall, soaking […]

Catching Earth at Aphelion

Do you feel a little… distant today? The day after the 4th of July weekend brings with it the promise of barbecue leftovers and discount fireworks. It also sees our fair planet at aphelion, or its farthest point from the Sun. In 2015, aphelion (or apoapsis) occurs at 19:40 Universal Time (UT)/3:40 PM EDT today, […]