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Science-LiveI am NASA Launch Director Tim Dunn, and we're launching the CYGNSS spacecraft into space from the underbelly of an airplane on Dec 12th. AMA!

Dec 7th 2016 by NASAKennedy • 10 Questions • 144 Points

My short bio: Hi Reddit! I'm NASA Launch Director Tim Dunn, and we're launching the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) spacecraft into Space on December 12th at 8:24am EST.

CYGNSS will use a constellation of eight small satellites to vastly improve extreme weather prediction, particularly in hurricanes. The launch itself begins with the drop of the Pegasus rocket carrying the CYGNSS spacecraft –that’s where I come in! But this rocket won't launch vertically like a normal rocket...It will launch horizontally from underneath the belly of an L-1011 aircraft out over the Atlantic Ocean!

Here are a few photos of the aircraft and rocket carrying the spacecraft:

http://go.nasa.gov/2gO6VfE

http://go.nasa.gov/2gOdlLI

http://go.nasa.gov/2gO7S7I

http://go.nasa.gov/2gO72rC

I'll be live here to answer your questions beginning at 2:00pm EST today. AMA!

My Proof: https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/thumbnails/image/15303922_10211521712784426_1973408230_ov2.png

That's all the AMA we have time for today! Great [email protected] session, everyone. I got some really good questions! Remember to watch the launch of the Pegasus rocket carrying the CYGNSS Spacecraft on December 12th at 8:24am EST live on NASA TV @ www.nasa.gov/ntv, and lookout for more AMA's from Kennedy Space Center in the future!

THANKS, REDDIT!

Q:

What are the benefits from launching this way? Fuel savings? The ability to potentially launch from anywhere?

What are the drawbacks?

Have you ever played Kerbal Space Program?

A:

The Pegasus vehicle is very flexible in launching small spacecraft to a variety of orbits. We chose it because of the perfect match with spacecraft size and weight. Only Pegasus limitation is that it can't launch spacecraft heavier than about 500 kg. Never played KSP. Gotta try it!


Q:

Did you have to make a decision on choosing to launch in December vs earlier in the year (since hurricane season is mostly over for the states and I imagine all that data this year would have been interesting) or was the launch timing more based on when CYGNSS was ready? How long do you hope CYGNSS will be functioning in orbit?

A:

Hurricane Matthew pushed the launch date from mid-November to mid-December. But we can launch the mission on any day of the year. Getting the eight CYGNSS microsatellites on-orbit and operational prior to next year's hurricane season beginning June 1st is very important to our science team. So a December 12th launch date works great. The plan is for CYGNSS to operate for 2 years on orbit, then we hope to have an option (funding $) to extend the mission.


Q:

Hey Tim! Thanks for doing the AMA.

What determined CYGNSS using eight micro-satellites as opposed to...fewer or more than eight?

How long will it take to deploy CYGNSS once the Pegasus rocket drops from the carrier plane?

One major influence that led you to your current field?

Thanks a bunch and best wishes on the launch. My birthday is the 12th so I'll consider the CYGNSS launch my birthday candle. Cheers!

A:

Happy early Birthday! NASA Launch Services Program and Orbital ATK hope to light your biggest candle on 12 December! CYGNSS can operate effectively using only 6 satellites. So 8 was chosen to give both better coverage and a bit of margin should we experience a problem with one or two of the microsatellites.The last pair of satellites will deploy from Pegasus at 14 minutes 34 seconds after drop from the L-1011 aircraft. Major influence: Captain Kirk - a was a real Star Trek nerd growing up.


Q:

Star Trek or Star Wars?

A:

Star Trek!


Q:

What are the big differences from your job's perspective between launching a Pegasus vs a rocket on a pad?

A:

For a launch from a fixed pad, the countdown clock is very important. However, due to the dynamic nature of aircraft, we manage the launch countdown primarily by the position of the plane, L-1011, relative to the "drop box" where we need to release the Pegasus so it begins it's climb to orbit from the right starting point. It is a very different and exciting countdown experience!


Q:

This topic seems extremely interesting to me. I spent 4 years as a missileer in the Air Force and am startinbg a program to attain a pilots license in April.

What are some of the benefits/drawbacks to using this method of launch?

Between a manned mission to Mars and commercial space flights, which do you predict will occur first?

A:

Thank you for your service to our nation! Best of luck in your pilot training. The benefits of Pegasus are the low-cost and launch flexibility. We can effectively launch anytime and almost anywhere worldwide due to the L-1011 service as the mobile "1st Stage" of the launch system. Commercial space flights will occur first -- should begin within the next couple of years.


Q:

Who is 'Matthew' (as written on the rocket)?

A:

Our NASA LSP Mission Manager for CYGNSS, Aly Mendoza-Hill, named this rocket Matthew in honor of Hurricane Matthew which just passed Florida this Fall. It's a great tie-in with the hurricane winds mission of CYGNSS.


Q:

How will the CYGNSS array work together with, or complement, the new GOES-R (GOES 16) satellite or European satellites like the Sentinels?

A:

The science data from CYGNSS will be available to weather researchers and will certainly be used in conjunction with weather data available from other space-based platforms such as GOES, Jason-3, NPP, etc.


Q:

What is the coolest part of your job?

A:

The people I work with are terrific! The job we get to do of launching rockets is indescribable! Definitely launch day is the coolest; sometimes stressful as we are working technicalities during the countdown but always rewarding to see ignition and the start of another amazing science mission for our nation!


Q:

Are there specially trained pilots for this sort of thing that NASA has employed or can just any pilot do?

A:

Specially trained pilots from Orbital ATK.