LOMPOC, Calif., Feb. 2 (UPI) -- NASA successfully launched it's latest satellite on Saturday, the newest member of the agency's fleet of satellites that observe Earth and its many geologic and climatic features.
The satellite's successful Saturday launch -- the third try, after the first two attempts were cancelled -- is the fifth earth science mission NASA has executed in the past 11 months. The Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite will have a very specific task. As its name implies, SMP will be used to map water levels in Earth's soil.
"The next few years will be especially exciting for Earth science thanks to measurements from SMAP and our other new missions," Michael Freilich, director of the Earth Science Division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, explained in a press release.
"Each mission measures key variables that affect Earth's environment. SMAP will provide new insights into the global water, energy, and carbon cycles," Freilich added. "Combining data from all our orbiting missions will give us a much better understanding of how the Earth system works."
SMAP's instrumentation will use radio waves bounced off of Earth's surface to measure moisture levels in only the very shallowest depths of the Earth's surface layers. Engineers will soon ensure that all of the satellites data-collecting tools are functioning properly, but the instruments won't be turned on for the next 10 days.
Currently, project managers are ensuring SMAP is communicating properly with its ground-based tracking and relay stations. Officials at NASA say comprehensive and substantiated scientific data will be delivered within 15 months.
"All subsystems are being powered on and checked out as planned," Kent Kellogg, the SMAP project manager, announced in a blog update. "Communications, guidance and control, computers and power are all operating nominally."
NASA expects the soil moisture readings to help Earth scientists to better understand water, energy, and carbon cycles, as well as recognize trends in energy and water fluctuation among the planet's land surfaces. The data will have applications in the study of agricultural productivity, and will help weather scientists better predict and understand floods, droughts and phenomena like land- and mudslides.
"SMAP will improve the daily lives of people around the world," said Simon Yueh, scientist and researcher on the SMAP project, which will be managed out of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "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."