LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A satellite controlled from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena was launched by NASA, and it will give scientists a look beneath the earth’s surface to monitor droughts and better predict flooding caused by severe rainfall or snowmelt.
NASA officials said the Soil Moisture Active Passive’s three-year mission will “figuratively scratch below the Earth’s surface” in an attempt to expand the understanding of a key component of the Earth’s system that links the water, energy and carbon cycles driving the Earth.
The satellite’s combined radar and radiometer instruments will peer into the top two inches of soil, through clouds and moderate vegetation cover — day and night — to produce high-resolution soil moisture maps from space.
In addition, SMAP data will allow nations to better forecast crop yields and assist in global famine early-warning systems.
“Scientists and policymakers will use SMAP data to track water movement around our planet and make more informed decisions in critical areas like agriculture and water resources,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.
The satellite lifted off at 6:22 a.m. from Vandenberg Air Force Base, 140 miles west of Los Angeles. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena manages SMAP for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
About 57 minutes after liftoff, NASA officials, said, SMAP separated from the rocket’s second stage into an initial 411-by-425-mile orbit. SMAP will orbit Earth from pole to pole every 98.5 minutes, repeating the same ground track every eight days.
“SMAP will improve the daily lives of people around the world,” said Simon Yueh, SMAP project at JPL. “Soil moisture data from SMAP has the potential to significantly improve the accuracy of short-term weather forecasts and reduce the uncertainty of long-term projections of how climate change will impact Earth’s water cycle.”
The first release of SMAP soil moisture data products is expected within nine months. Fully validated science data is expected to be released within 15 months.
“The next few years will be especially exciting for Earth Science thanks to measurements from SMAP and our other new missions,” said Michael Freilich, director of the Earth Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
“Each mission measures key variables that affect Earth’s environment. SMAP will provide new insights into the global water, energy and carbon cycles,” Freilich said. “Combining data from all our orbiting missions will give us a much better understanding of how the Earth systems works.”