On Nov. 10, 2022, just before 2 a.m. Pacific time, an Atlas V 401 rocket carrying NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System-2 (JPSS-2), the third in a series of five advanced polar-orbiting satellites, launched from California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base.
The rocket’s secondary payload was NASA’s Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator, or LOFTID, a demonstration of an experimental inflatable heat shield technology that could one day help land humans on Mars.
On Nov. 16, the JPSS-2 satellite was officially renamed NOAA-21. Working together with its sister satellites, Suomi NPP and NOAA-20, the satellites will each orbit the earth 14 times a day, providing a continuous stream of data used for weather forecasting and helping to track and monitor climate change.
Once NOAA-21 is fully commissioned and operational, it will fly roughly 50 minutes, or half an orbit, ahead of NOAA-20. Suomi NPP will orbit between the two, about 25 minutes away from each. NOAA-21 will become the primary satellite, NOAA-20 will become the backup satellite, and Suomi-NPP will become the third satellite in the JPSS constellation.