NASA’s soil moisture tracking satellite (SMAP) has been launched from California on Saturday, carried by an unmanned Delta 2 rocket. The data obtained by the satellite will be used for weather-forecasting and for tracking global climate change. Scientists opine that this would help the forecasters and policy-makers to take effective steps during flood or drought in specific regions. Dara Entekhabi, lead scientist of NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory stated “It’s the metabolism of the system.”
The satellite was launched at 6:22 a.m. PST (1422 GMT) from Vandenberg Air Force Base, situated in California’s central coast, following a delay of two days owing to high winds and minor damage in rocket’s insulation. SMAP will be measuring the amount of water in the top 2 inches of soil for at least three years. Entekhabi, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, stated that soil moisture constitutes less that 1 percent of the total water reservoir of the planet. Oceans of the planet form 97 percent of water and the rest remains locked in ice.
Presently, the soil moisture is estimated with the help of computer models. SMAP will orbit at a distance of 426 miles from Earth and it will collect measurements of soil moisture with the help of two microwave instruments. The measurement will be updated in every two or three days. NASA deputy associate administrator Geoffery Yoder said, “This data will benefit not only scientists seeking better understanding our planet’s climate environment, but it’s also a boon for weather forecasters, agriculture and water resource managers, emergency planners and policy makers.” This $916 million mission of NASA aims to provide an expanding view and understanding of the planet to the world from space.