NASA is all set to launch its next Earth-observing satellite on Thursday which could prove to be game-changing environmental satellite, allowing an efficient monitoring of droughts around the world. The space agency will be launching its Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite (SMAP) at 9:20 a.m. EST (1420 GMT) on Jan. 29 from California’s Vandenberg Air Force base atop a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket. There is an 80 percent chance that good weather would prevail during the 3 minute launch window, according to the officials.
NASA has stated that the measurement of the moisture of Earth’s dirt by the SMAP satellite would be more accurate than ever. The probe will take only three days to make a global map of the planet’s soil moisture levels. NASA officials opine that this measurement would help in the creation of better weather models and in more accurate predictions of drought and floods.
Dara Entekhabi, SMAP science team leader said “What the soil measurements will do is improve our weather forecasts, improve our assessments of water availability and also address some issues dealing with long-term climate variability and assessments of the impact of human intervention in the global environment.” Entekhabi further added “All of these come together and it’s the metabolism, how it responds, just like a human body.”
There is a huge mesh antenna on the SMAP probe which is expected to get deployed after the launch. According to the officials, the antenna is the largest of its kind ever flown in space by NASA. Mounted over a long arm on the satellite’s body, the antenna has been designed to spin at about 14.6 revolutions per minute. The moisture in the top 2 inches of the soil will be measured by the satellite, which will orbit at a distance of 426 miles from the surface of Earth. It is built to complete one orbit in 98.5 minutes.
NASA SMAP program executive Christine Bonniksen commented “Soil moisture is a key part of the three cycles that support life on this planet: the water cycle, the energy cycle and the carbon cycle. These things affect human interest: flood, drought, disease control, weather.” During the launch, four small cubesats will also be delivered, by the rocket carrying SMAP, into the Earth’s orbit as a part of NASA’s Educational Launch of Satellites program. One of them, named as ExoCube, will be monitoring the upper atmosphere from orbit. The radiation environment around Earth will be investigated by two Firebird satellites. The $916 million mission has been planned for 3 years or more.