NASA SMAP Observatory Ready for Launch

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January 16, 2015
NASA SMAP Observatory Ready for Launch

The launch of NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive mission (SMAP) at Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) in California is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 29.  Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 2 aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket is targeted for 6:20:42 a.m. PST (9:20:42 a.m. EST) at the opening of a three-minute launch window. If needed, a backup launch opportunity is available on the Western Range on Jan. 30 with the same launch window.

SMAP is the first U.S. Earth-observing satellite designed to collect global observations of surface soil moisture and its freeze/thaw state.  High resolution space-based measurements of soil moisture and whether the soil is frozen or thawed will give scientists a new capability to better predict natural hazards of extreme weather, climate change, floods and droughts, and will help reduce uncertainties in our understanding of Earth’s water, energy and carbon cycles.

The mission will provide the most accurate and highest-resolution maps of soil moisture ever obtained, mapping the globe every two to three days from space for a least three years.  The spacecraft’s final circular polar orbit will be 426 miles (685 kilometers) at an inclination of 98.1 degrees. The spacecraft will orbit the Earth once every 98.5 minutes and repeats the same ground track every eight days.


News media desiring accreditation for the prelaunch and launch activities for SMAP should contact:

Tech Sgt Tyrona Lawson
30th Space Wing Public Affairs Office
Vandenberg Air Force Base, California 93437
Telephone: 805-606-3595
Fax: 805-606-4571

Information required for U.S. media is full legal name, date of birth and media affiliation.  A legal photo identification will be required upon arrival at Vandenberg. The deadline for U.S. news media to apply for accreditation is Jan. 26.        



Tuesday, Jan 27:  The prelaunch news conference will be held at 1 p.m. PST (4 p.m. EST) in the second floor conference room of the NASA Vandenberg Resident Office, Building 840, at Vandenberg Air Force Base.  The briefing will be carried live on NASA Television and streamed on with question-and-answer capability available from other NASA field centers. Media also can post questions during the briefings via Twitter by using the hashtag #askNASA.

Media desiring to cover the event should meet at the south gate of VAFB on California State Road 246 at 12:30 p.m. to be escorted by 30th Space Wing Public Affairs to the news conference.

Participants in the prelaunch news conference will be:

Christine Bonniksen, SMAP Program Executive
NASA Headquarters

Tim Dunn, NASA Launch Manager
Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Vernon Thorp, Program Manager, NASA Missions
United Launch Alliance, Centennial, Colorado

Kent Kellogg, SMAP Project Manager
Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, California

Dara Entekhabi, SMAP Science Team Leader
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts

1st Lt. John Martin, Launch Weather Officer, 30th Operations Support Squadron
Vandenberg Air Force Base, California


An ELaNa CubeSat briefing will be held immediately following the prelaunch news conference.  NASA will launch three small research satellites for two universities and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. More than 100 university students have been involved in the design, development and construction of the CubeSats that are being flown as auxiliary payloads on the SMAP mission. Presenting the mission science objectives for the ELaNa CubeSats will be:

Scott Higginbotham, NASA ELaNa-X Mission Manager
Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Dave Klumpar, Firebird-II Principal Investigator
Director, Space Science and Engineering Laboratory
Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana

Jordi Puig-Sauri, EXOCUBE Principal Investigator
California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, California

David Rider, GRIFEX Principal Investigator
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California


A SMAP mission/applied science briefing will be part of a Social Media event on Wednesday, Jan. 28, at 9:30 a.m. News media are invited to attend. Media wishing to participate should be at the south Vandenberg gate at 8:45 a.m. on California State Road be taken to the briefing.


News media also are invited to join in all the NASA Social events on Jan. 28:  a televised conversation about the science and engineering of SMAP, and a behind-the-scenes tour of Vandenberg Air Force Base.  The SMAP NASA Social brings together mission scientists and engineers with an audience of 70 students, educators, social media managers, bloggers, photographers and videographers who were selected from a pool of 325 applicants from 45 countries.  Social media participants pay their own expenses.  They get to meet the mission team, take photos, ask questions and share their experience online.  The 9:30 a.m. speaker program will be followed immediately at 11:30 a.m. by a bus tour of the base, with stops at the Western Range Operational Control Center (WROCC), SMAP’s launch control area; the Vandenberg Heritage Center and the SLC-2 launch pad with SMAP aboard its Delta II rocket.  An RSVP is required.  Contact Veronica McGregor at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at 818-354- 9452.



Wednesday, Jan 28:  Media desiring to establish sound-activated remote cameras at the launch pad should meet at the pass and identification building located at the Vandenberg main gate on California State Road 1 at 12:30 p.m. to be escorted to Space Launch Complex 2.


Wednesday, Jan. 28: There will be an opportunity for news media and social media to photograph the Delta II with SMAP during rollback of the mobile service tower at the launch pad. News media should be at the pass and identification building at the Vandenberg main gate on California State Road 1 at 6:15 p.m. in preparation for going to Space Launch Complex 2.  At 7 p.m., prior to the rollback, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden will be on hand at the pad to make remarks and answer questions.

Those wishing to attend should confirm their participation with Tech. Sgt. Tyrona Lawson in the 30th Space Wing Public Affairs office at 805-606-3595.



Thursday, Jan. 29:  Media covering the SMAP launch aboard the Delta II rocket should meet at 5 a.m. at the Vandenberg main gate located on California State Road 1 to be escorted to the press viewing site. Press credentials and identification from a bona fide news organization will be required for access. A driver's license alone will not be sufficient.

For photographers, the launch azimuth after liftoff will be 196 degrees.

After launch, media will be escorted back to the main gate. Media interested in participating in the SMAP post-launch news conference should meet at south Vandenberg gate on California State Road 246 at 8:30 a.m. and will be escorted to NASA Building 840. Observatory and mission officials will provide the spacecraft status and discuss its state of health, as well as the status of the three ELaNa CubeSats. The event will begin at 9 a.m. PST (noon EST) and will be carried live on NASA Television.


NASA Television will carry the prelaunch news conference starting at 1 p.m. PST (4 p.m. EST) on Tuesday, Jan. 27. The prelaunch news conference also will be webcast at:  

On launch day, Jan. 29, NASA TV launch commentary coverage of the countdown will begin at 4 a.m. PST (7 a.m. EST).  Launch is targeted for 6:20:42 a.m. PST (9:20:42 a.m. EST).  The launch window is three minutes in duration. Spacecraft separation from the rocket occurs 56 minutes, 52 seconds after launch.

The post-launch news conference also will be covered on NASA Television starting at 9 a.m. PST (noon EST).

For information on receiving NASA TV, go to:


Audio only of the press conference and the launch coverage will be carried on the NASA “V” circuits, which may be accessed by dialing 321-867-1220, -1240,   -1260 or -7135. On launch day, "mission audio," the launch conductor’s countdown activities without NASA TV launch commentary, will be carried on 321-867-7135 starting at 3 a.m. PST (6 a.m. EST). Coverage of the ELaNa CubeSat spacecraft separation events also will be carried on 867-7135, which occurs beginning 48 minutes after SMAP separates from the Delta II.

NASA Web Prelaunch and Launch Coverage

For extensive prelaunch, countdown and launch day coverage of the liftoff of SMAP aboard the Delta II rocket, go to:

A prelaunch webcast for the SMAP mission will be streamed on NASA’s website at noon PST (3 p.m. EST) on Wednesday, Jan. 28. To view the webcast and the countdown blog or to learn more about the SMAP mission, visit:

Social Media

Join the conversation online and follow the SMAP mission on Twitter at:

Throughout the launch countdown, the NASA Launch Services Program and NASA JPL Twitter and Facebook accounts will be continuously updated at:

Live countdown coverage on NASA’s launch blog begins at 4 a.m. PST

(7 a.m. EST).  Coverage features real-time updates of countdown milestones, as well as streaming video clips highlighting launch preparations and liftoff. For questions about countdown coverage, contact Nancy Bray at 321-867-9112.


The SMAP and Delta II News Center at the NASA Vandenberg Resident Office will open Monday, Jan. 26. To speak with a NASA communications specialist, call 805-605-3051 beginning at that time.  A recorded launch status report also will be available by dialing 805-734-2693.

JPL is responsible for SMAP project management and mission operations. JPL also built the observatory and its radar instrument. The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland is responsible for the SMAP radiometer instrument and associated science. NASA’s Launch Services Program at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida provides launch management. United Launch Alliance of Centennial, Colorado, is NASA’s launch service provider of the Delta II rocket.


Steve Cole/Joshua Buck
Headquarters, Washington

George H. Diller
Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

Alan Buis
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

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