Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Exploring the Carina Nebula by Touch

The Hubble Space Telescope's dramatic glimpse of the Carina Nebula, a gigantic cloud of dust and gas bustling with star-making activity, is a glorious feast for the eyes. Energetic young stars are sculpting a fantasy landscape of bubbles, valleys, mountains, and pillars. Now this celestial fantasyland has been brought into view for people who cannot explore the image by sight.

Max Mutchler, a research and instrument scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and Noreen Grice, president of You Can Do Astronomy LLC and author of several tactile astronomy books, have created a touchable image of the Carina Nebula that is engaging for everyone, regardless of their visual ability.

The 17-by-11-inch color image is embossed with lines, slashes, and other markings that correspond to objects in the giant cloud, allowing visually impaired people to feel what they cannot see and form a picture of the nebula in their minds. The image's design is also useful and intriguing for sighted people who have different learning styles.

"The Hubble image of the Carina Nebula is so beautiful, and it illustrates the entire life cycle of stars," says Mutchler, who, along with Grice, unveiled the tactile Carina image in January 2010, at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington, D.C. "I thought that people who are visually impaired should be able to explore it and learn from it, too."

Located 7,500 light-years from Earth, the nebula is a 3-million-year-old gigantic cloud where thousands of stars are cycling through the stages of stellar life and death. The nebula is 300 light-years wide, but Hubble captured a 50-light-year-wide view of its central region.

A Hubble education and public outreach grant allowed Mutchler to produce the special image. The grant is part of his Hubble archival research project to create complete mosaics of a huge collection of individual Carina Nebula images taken by Hubble (http://archive.stsci.edu/prepds/carina/). Mutchler made 300 copies of the tactile image and will distribute them to organizations that serve the visually impaired, including state schools and libraries for the blind and the National Federation of the Blind in Baltimore, Md.

When Mutchler decided to make a tactile Carina Nebula image last year, he immediately called his friend Grice, who is a pioneer in designing tactile astronomy images for the blind.

But Grice says the nebula image is so visually rich, it posed a challenge to design a textured image that conveys its beauty and complexity.

"When I first looked at the image, I didn't know what to focus on," she recalls. "In order to translate the image into a tactile image, I had to make certain that I understood the individual features that make up the image. There was so much to see."

She spent a couple of hours on the telephone with Mutchler, who gave her a guided tour of the nebula. Then she parsed astronomy books, looking for other views of the nebula. One feature, in particular, gave her some trouble. It was the Keyhole Nebula. Grice couldn't see how the shape in the image resembled a keyhole. Finally, she came across a 1950s image of Carina, and suddenly, she got it. The name referred to the shape of an old-fashioned "skeleton" key. Some visually impaired children who have touched the image say the feature actually resembles a foot, Grice says.

Choosing which features to show on the textured image also posed a challenge. Grice says she relied on a lesson she learned from her first NASA tactile astronomy book of Hubble images called "Touch the Universe": less is more.

"Convey just enough to get the idea," she says. "Then provide some Braille text that explains the science and describes the scene. A picture that is jammed with too many tactile details is very overwhelming for the mind's eye."

Grice used the Keyhole Nebula as the focal point and added other important features suggested by Mutchler to tell the story of stellar life and death, such as pillars of gas and dust that harbor infant stars, a cluster of young stars called Trumpler 14, and a massive, unstable star, Eta Carinae, that is near the end of its life.

The pair then developed a tactile code identifying the raised features and wrote a short guided tour that provides more information on the highlighted on the features. The guide and an audio tour of the nebula are on a special Web page called "The Tactile Carina Nebula" (http://amazing-space.stsci.edu/tactile-carina/), on Amazing Space, the Space Telescope Science Institute's education Web site.

A stable of seasoned tactile astronomy evaluators, including Vivian Hoette, the education outreach coordinator of the University of Chicago's Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wis., and Ben Wentworth, a retired teacher from the Colorado School for the Blind in Colorado Springs, Colo., helped test several prototypes of the image. One such evaluation place was the Youth Slam, held in the summer of 2009 in College Park, Md. The National Federation of the Blind coordinated the event to promote careers in math, engineering, and science.

One of the biggest surprises from their testing was the image size. Grice and Mutchler originally thought that a large (almost 6-foot-wide) or medium-sized (3-foot-wide) tactile image would be appropriate for students. The children who sampled the image, however, preferred the much smaller 11-by-17-inch image.

"Many students felt lost with the larger prototype versions because certain objects were separated by empty spaces," Grice says. "However, the smaller version allowed hands to easily track from one object to another."

Adds Hoette, one of the evaluators: "The smaller size gives them enough details so they can get the big picture, and then they can read the science behind it in Braille text, or they can listen to the audio tour on 'The Tactile Carina' Web page while they are touching the image."

The Grice-Mutchler partnership has worked so well that the duo hopes to produce more tactile Hubble images. "It would be great to build up a catalogue of these images for the visually impaired," Mutchler says.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute conducts Hubble science operations. The institute is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. in Washington, D.C.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Operation IceBridge Off to a Winning Start in Greenland

Hello and a warm welcome to all blog readers from the IceBridge team here at Thule Air Base in northern Greenland. After taking off on Sunday night from NASA Dryden's Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif., the NASA DC-8 arrived at Thule Airbase on Monday afternoon. Both the aircraft and science teams have done an incredible job in setting up operations in record time here in Thule.

The moon and sunrise are visible over the Arctic Ocean during the flight from Palmdale, Calif., to Thule, Greenland. Credit: Michael Studinger

We were able to take off for an eight-hour science flight on Tuesday morning to survey the sea ice in the Arctic Ocean north of Ellesmere Island. Wednesday's science flight was targeted at several glaciers north of Thule. Some of the glaciers have been surveyed for the first time last year and we are back this year to monitor the changes that have occurred since last spring. We begin the day with flying over a small glacier called Heilprin Glacier. We are very early in the season and the sun is just above the horizon in the morning hours, illuminating the coast of Greenland with its frozen fjords, icebergs and glaciers in a beautiful light.

The sun is very low and only barely above the horizon at the beginning of the third science flight, creating beautiful illumination of the cost of Greenland with its frozen fjords, icebergs and glaciers. Credit: Michael Studinger

After an hour of flying we begin to fly a grid pattern in the catchment area of Petermann Glacier to measure the thickness of the ice with a radar system from the University of Kansas. These data will be used as input for computer models that will allow us to better predict how the Greenland ice sheet will respond to environmental changes in the Arctic.

We continue our flight by repeating two survey lines along Petermann Glacier that have been surveyed several years before. The scenery with the steep sidewalls is spectacular. We can see huge meltwater channels on the surface that will be filled with water running down the glacier when the Arctic melt season starts in a few months.

The IceBridge crew fly down Petermann Glacier in northern Greenland with NASA's DC-8 aircraft. Credit: Michael Studinger

After completing the flight lines over the Petermann Glacier we turn back towards Thule Airbase and measure the ice surface elevation with a laser altimeter along a track that has been measured many times by NASA's ICESat satellite. We are heading back to Thule Airbase to land before the tower and airfield close for the day.

At the end of a day of glacier flying, Saunders Island -- a small table mountain just outside Thule -- can be seen during the approach to Thule Air Base. Credit: Michael Studinger

We have had an incredibly successful start of the 2010 Arctic campaign. We have been able to collect LVIS laser data along the transit from California to Greenland and have been flying 3 days in a row collecting huge amounts of data. A storm system here in Thule has forced us today to stay on the ground and everyone is catching up with sleep and data processing. With a little bit of luck we hope to fly the DC-8 again on Friday. Thanks to all the aircraft and science teams, the staff at Thule Air Base, and many people back home who have made such an incredible start of the IceBridge 2010 campaign possible!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

It’s spring time on Mars

A Burst of Spring

Spring has sprung on Mars, bringing with it the disappearance of carbon dioxide ice (dry ice) that covers the north polar sand dunes. In spring, the sublimation of the ice (going directly from ice to gas) causes a host of uniquely Martian phenomena.

In this image streaks of dark basaltic sand have been carried from below the ice layer to form fan-shaped deposits on top of the seasonal ice. The similarity in the directions of the fans suggests that they formed at the same time, when the wind direction and speed was the same. They often form along the boundary between the dune and the surface below.

NASA’s Mars Rover Getting Smarter

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, now in its seventh year on Mars, has a new capability to make its own choices about whether to make additional observations of rocks that it spots on arrival at a new location.

Software uploaded this winter is the latest example of NASA taking advantage of the twin Mars rovers' unanticipated longevity for real Martian test drives of advances made in robotic autonomy for future missions.

Now, Opportunity's computer can examine images that the rover takes with its wide-angle navigation camera after a drive, and recognize rocks that meet specified criteria, such as rounded shape or light color. It can then center its narrower-angle panoramic camera on the chosen target and take multiple images through color filters.

"It's a way to get some bonus science," said Tara Estlin of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. She is a rover driver, a senior member of JPL's Artificial Intelligence Group and leader of development for this new software system.

The new system is called Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science, or AEGIS. Without it, follow-up observations depend on first transmitting the post-drive navigation camera images to Earth for ground operators to check for targets of interest to examine on a later day. Because of time and data-volume constraints, the rover team may opt to drive the rover again before potential targets are identified or before examining targets that aren't highest priority.

The first images taken by a Mars rover choosing its own target show a rock about the size of a football, tan in color and layered in texture. It appears to be one of the rocks tossed outward onto the surface when an impact dug a nearby crater. Opportunity pointed its panoramic camera at this unnamed rock after analyzing a wider-angle photo taken by the rover's navigation camera at the end of a drive on March 4. Opportunity decided that this particular rock, out of more than 50 in the navigation camera photo, best met the criteria that researchers had set for a target of interest: large and dark.

"It found exactly the target we would want it to find," Estlin said. "This checkout went just as we had planned, thanks to many people's work, but it's still amazing to see Opportunity performing a new autonomous activity after more than six years on Mars."

Opportunity can use the new software at stopping points along a single day's drive or at the end of the day's drive. This enables it to identify and examine targets of interest that might otherwise be missed.

"We spent years developing this capability on research rovers in the Mars Yard here at JPL," said Estlin. "Six years ago, we never expected that we would get a chance to use it on Opportunity."

The developers anticipate that the software will be useful for narrower field-of-view instruments on future rovers.

Other upgrades to software on Opportunity and its twin, Spirit, since the rovers' first year on Mars have improved other capabilities. These include choosing a route around obstacles and calculating how far to reach out a rover's arm to touch a rock. In 2007, both rovers gained the know-how to examine sets of sky images to determine which ones show clouds or dust devils, and then to transmit only the selected images. The newest software upload takes that a step further, enabling Opportunity to make decisions about acquiring new observations.

The AEGIS software lets scientists change the criteria it used for choosing potential targets. In some environments, rocks that are dark and angular could be higher-priority targets than rocks that are light and rounded, for example.

This new software system has been developed with assistance from NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Project and with funding from the New Millennium Program, the Mars Technology Program, the JPL Interplanetary Network Development Program, and the Intelligent Systems Program. The New Millennium Program tests advanced technology in space flight. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Exploration Rover Project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

See Big Red Glowing Spot on Jupiter

New thermal images from powerful ground-based telescopes show swirls of warmer air and cooler regions never seen before within Jupiter's Great Red Spot, enabling scientists to make the first detailed interior weather map of the giant storm system.

The observations reveal that the reddest color of the Great Red Spot corresponds to a warm core within the otherwise cold storm system, and images show dark lanes at the edge of the storm where gases are descending into the deeper regions of the planet. These types of data, detailed in a paper appearing in the journal Icarus, give scientists a sense of the circulation patterns within the solar system's best-known storm system.

"This is our first detailed look inside the biggest storm of the solar system," said Glenn Orton, a senior research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., who was one of the authors of the paper. "We once thought the Great Red Spot was a plain old oval without much structure, but these new results show that it is, in fact, extremely complicated."

Sky gazers have been observing the Great Red Spot in one form or another for hundreds of years, with continuous observations of its current shape dating back to the 19th century. The spot, which is a cold region averaging about 110 Kelvin (minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit) is so wide about three Earths could fit inside its boundaries.

The thermal images obtained by giant 8-meter (26-foot) telescopes used for this study -- the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile, the Gemini Observatory telescope in Chile and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan's Subaru telescope in Hawaii -- have provided an unprecedented level of resolution and extended the coverage provided by NASA's Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s. Together with observations of the deep cloud structure by the 3-meter (10-foot) NASA Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii, the level of thermal detail observed from these giant observatories is comparable to visible-light images from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope for the first time.

One of the most intriguing findings shows the most intense orange-red central part of the spot is about 3 to 4 Kelvin (5 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the environment around it, said Leigh Fletcher, the lead author of the paper, who completed much of the research as a postdoctoral fellow at JPL and is currently a fellow at the University of Oxford in England. This temperature differential might not seem like a lot, but it is enough to allow the storm circulation, usually counter-clockwise, to shift to a weak clockwise circulation in the very middle of the storm. Not only that, but on other parts of Jupiter, the temperature change is enough to alter wind velocities and affect cloud patterns in the belts and zones.

"This is the first time we can say that there's an intimate link between environmental conditions -- temperature, winds, pressure and composition - and the actual color of the Great Red Spot," Fletcher said. "Although we can speculate, we still don't know for sure which chemicals or processes are causing that deep red color, but we do know now that it is related to changes in the environmental conditions right in the heart of the storm."

Unlocking the secrets of Jupiter's giant storm systems will be one of the targets for infrared spacecraft observations from future missions including NASA's Juno mission.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Crew Members get ready for Return to Earth from Space Station

Soaring high over the Earth in the International Space Station, the astronauts and cosmonauts of the Expedition 22 crew began a new week Monday, the final week in space for two of their number.

Commander Jeff Williams and Flight Engineer Maxim Suraev will depart the station Thursday aboard the Soyuz TMA-16 spacecraft. They will undock from the orbiting complex and take a three-and-a-half-hour ride that will culminate in a parachute-assisted landing on the steppe of Kazakhstan early that morning.

Williams and Suraev began their final week in orbit by testing the Soyuz spacecraft’s motion control system and recharging the satellite telephone they will carry with them in the unlikely event that they land off course in the barren landing region and need to contact search and recovery forces. They also spent three hours going over procedures for their homeward flight with specialists on the ground.

As members of the Expedition 21 and 22 crews, Williams and Suraev will have spent 169 days in space. Including his time on the Expedition 13 and STS-101 crews, this will give Williams a total of 362 days in space, placing him fourth on the all-time U.S. list of space travelers behind Peggy Whitson with 377 days, Mike Foale with 374 and Mike Fincke with 366. Williams will be 26th on the all-time endurance list for all space travelers.

Expedition 22 Flight Engineers Soichi Noguchi, T.J. Creamer and Oleg Kotov will continue their stay on the station becoming the new Expedition 23 crew. Kotov will become the new station commander when the departing Williams enters the Soyuz vehicle and closes the hatch.

On April 4, Expedition 23 will expand to a six-member crew. Arriving in the Soyuz TMA-18 spacecraft will be new station crew members Alexander Skvortsov, Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Mikhail Kornienko.

On April 7, space shuttle Discovery is scheduled to arrive for a thirteen day mission to supply the station with new science racks and ammonia tanks. STS-131 will feature three spacewalks and the delivery of the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module.

In preparation for the joint spacewalks to be performed during STS-131, Creamer and Noguchi packed up equipment for Discovery to return to Earth and Noguchi performed maintenance on the cooling loops in the U.S. spacesuits housed in the station’s Quest airlock.

Controllers on the ground operated Canadarm2, the station’s robotic arm, to remove the Special Purpose Dextrous Manipulator, known as Dextre, from the Mobile Base System (MBS) on the complex’s truss structure. Tuesday they will move it to the outside of the Destiny laboratory in order to make the MBS available for use during STS-131.

Endeavour Brings Tranquility

Backdropped by the blackness of space, space shuttle Endeavour was photographed by the Expedition 22 crew as the shuttle approached the International Space Station during STS-130 rendezvous and docking operations on Feb. 9, 2010. The Tranquility node can be seen in the shuttle's payload bay.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Alternative Renewable Energy Crops in Space

What if space held the key to producing alternative energy crops on Earth? That's what researchers are hoping to find in a new experiment on the International Space Station.

The experiment, National Lab Pathfinder-Cells 3, is aimed at learning whether microgravity can help jatropha curcas plant cells grow faster to produce biofuel, or renewable fuel derived from biological matter. Jatropha is known to produce high quality oil that can be converted into an alternative energy fuel, or biofuel.

By studying the effects of microgravity on jatropha cells, researchers hope to accelerate the cultivation of the plant for commercial use by improving characteristics such as cell structure, growth and development. This is the first study to assess the effects of microgravity on cells of a biofuel plant.

"As the search for alternate energy sources has become a top priority, the results from this study could add value for commercialization of a new product,” said Wagner Vendrame, principal investigator for the experiment at the University of Florida in Homestead. "Our goal is to verify if microgravity will induce any significant changes in the cells that could affect plant growth and development back on Earth."

Launched on space shuttle Endeavour’s STS-130 mission in February, cell cultures of jatropha were sent to the space station in special flasks containing nutrients and vitamins. The cells will be exposed to microgravity until they return to Earth aboard space shuttle Discovery's STS-131 mission targeted for April.

For comparison studies of how fast the cultures grow, a replicated set of samples are being maintained at the University of Florida's Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead.

"Watching the space shuttle go up carrying a little piece of my work is an indescribable experience," said Vendrame. "Knowing that my experiment could contribute to creating a sustainable means for biofuel production on Earth, and therefore making this a better world adds special value to the work."

Thursday, March 04, 2010

NASA’s International Space Station Program Wins 2009 Collier Trophy

The International Space Station Program has won the 2009 Collier Trophy, which is considered the top award in aviation. The National Aeronautic Association bestows the award annually to recognize the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America.

“We are honored to receive this prestigious award,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate. “We're proud of our past achievements to build and operate the space station, and we're excited about the future- there's a new era ahead of potential groundbreaking scientific research aboard the station."

The International Space Station is a joint project of five space agencies and 15 countries that is nearing completion and will mark the 10th anniversary of a continuous human presence in orbit later this year. The largest and most complicated spacecraft ever built, the space station is an international, technological and political achievement that represents the latest step in humankind’s quest to explore and live in space.

Designated as a national laboratory by Congress in the 2005 NASA Authorization Act, the space station provides a research platform that takes advantage of the microgravity conditions 220 miles above the Earth’s surface across a wide variety of fields, including human life sciences, biological science, human physiology, physical and materials science, and Earth and space science.

Upon completion of assembly later this year, the station’s crew and its U.S., European, Japanese and Russian laboratory facilities will expand the pace of space-based research to unprecedented levels. Nearly 150 experiments are currently under way on the station, and more than 400 experiments have been conducted since research began nine years ago. These experiments already are leading to advances in the fight against food poisoning, new methods for delivering medicine to cancer cells and the development of more capable engines and materials for use on Earth and in space.

The international partner agencies – NASA, the Canadian Space Agency, the European Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the Russian Federal Space Agency – provide control centers and support teams that train and launch crews to the station, provide support for systems operations and coordinate the on-orbit research 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

Now supporting a multicultural crew of six, the station has a mass of almost 800,000 pounds and a habitable volume of more than 12,000 cubic feet – approximately the size of a five-bedroom home, and uses state-of-the-art systems to generate solar electricity, recycle nearly 85 percent of its water and generate much of its own oxygen supply. Nearly 190 humans have visited the space station, which is now supporting its 22nd resident crew.

Boeing is the prime contractor, responsible for design, development, construction and integration of the ISS.
The award will be formally presented to the International Space Station Program team on May 13. The award is named for Robert J. Collier, a publisher who commissioned it in 1910 with the intent to encourage the U.S. aviation community to strive for excellence and achievement in aeronautic development. Past winners include the B-52 Program, the Surveyor Moon Landing Program, the Boeing 747 and the F-22. Other past honorees include the crews of Apollo 11 and Apollo 8, the Mercury 7.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The Crab Nebula - result of a supernova

The Crab Nebula, the result of a supernova noted by Earth-bound chroniclers in 1054 A.D., is filled with mysterious filaments that are are not only tremendously complex, but appear to have less mass than expelled in the original supernova and a higher speed than expected from a free explosion. The Crab Nebula spans about 10 light-years. In the nebula's very center lies a pulsar: a neutron star as massive as the Sun but with only the size of a small town. The Crab Pulsar rotates about 30 times each second.

Monday, March 01, 2010

NASA And NOAA Ready GOES-P Satellite for March 3 Launch

NASA's GOES-P meteorological satellite is lifted into the mobile service tower at Launch Complex 37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. NASA's GOES-P meteorological satellite is lifted into the mobile service tower at Launch Complex 37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Workers install NASA's GOES-P meteorological satellite onto the Delta IV stages already in place in the mobile service tower at Launch Complex 37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Workers install NASA's GOES-P meteorological satellite onto the Delta IV stages already in place in the mobile service tower at Launch Complex 37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Photo Credit: NASA/Jack Pfaller
› Larger Image GREENBELT, Md. -- NASA is preparing to launch the NOAA Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-P (GOES-P) from Space Launch Complex 37 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. The launch is targeted for March 2, during a launch window from 6:19 to 7:19 p.m. EST.

"GOES are the backbone of NOAA's severe weather forecasts, monitoring fast-changing conditions in the atmosphere that spawn hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and other hazards," said Steve Kirkner, GOES program manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

GOES-P is the third and final spacecraft to be launched in the GOES N Series of geostationary environmental weather satellites. The GOES satellites continuously provide observations of more than 50 percent of the Earth, including the continental United States, providing weather monitoring and forecast operations and a continuous and reliable stream of environmental information and severe weather warnings.

In addition to weather forecasting on Earth, a key instrument onboard GOES-P, the Solar X-Ray Imager (SXI), will help NOAA continue monitoring solar conditions.

"The SXI is improving our forecasts and warnings for solar disturbances, protecting billions of dollars worth of commercial and government assets in space and on the ground, and lessening the brunt of power surges for the satellite-based electronics and communications industry," said Tom Bodgan, director of NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) in Boulder, Colo.

GOES-P joins a system of weather satellites that provide timely environmental information to meteorologists and the public. The GOES system provides data used to graphically display the intensity, path and size of storms. Early warning of impending severe weather enhances the public's ability to take shelter and protect property.

GOES-P will be launched on board a United Launch Alliance Delta IV (4, 2) launch vehicle under a FAA commercial license. The satellite will be turned over to NASA after the successful checkout is completed by Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems, El Segundo Calif.

Currently, NOAA operates GOES-12, (GOES East) and GOES-11 (GOES-West.) In late April, NOAA will activate GOES-13 to replace GOES-12 and will drift eastward from 105 degrees West longitude to 75 degrees West longitude. NOAA plans to move GOES-12 to 60 degrees West longitude to provide coverage for South America as part of the Global Earth Observing System of Systems (GEOSS). NASA handed over GOES-14, launched last June, to NOAA on December 14, 2009. It will remain in normal mode at the 105W storage longitude to provide operational X-ray Sensor coverage to NOAA's SWPC.

Once in orbit GOES-P will be designated GOES-15, checked out and then stored on-orbit and ready for activation should one of the operational GOES satellites degrade or exhaust their fuel.

NOAA manages the GOES program, establishes requirements, provides all funding and distributes environmental satellite data for the United States. NASA Goddard procures and manages the design, development and launch of the satellites for NOAA on a cost reimbursable basis. Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems built GOES-P.