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November 1, 2011 / Dave Gorham

Most Advanced Weather Satellite in History Reaching Orbit Today

Just a few hours ago (0948 UTC), 13 stories worth of Delta II rocket lifted [video] the newest weather research satellite into polar orbit on a mission to provide the beginnings of the next generation of Earth observing and monitoring from space.

Artists' conception of NPP orbiting 512 miles above Earth. Image: NASA

This new NPP (NPOESS Preparatory Project) satellite combines weather monitoring and climate observing in the same platform. It’s also a crucial step in building the next generation weather system. From its monitoring station 512 miles above Earth, the new satellite will be able to observe everything from the ozone layer to land cover, from atmospheric temperatures to ice cover and even vegetative productivity. All told, there will be more than 30 variables observed and measured. The five instruments aboard the satellite are the Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS), the Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS), the Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES), the Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) and the Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite (OMPS). NPOESS will have the ability to send 800 DVDs’ worth (about 4 terabytes) of data home each day. It’s service life is expected to continue through 2016 though as we’ve seen with many previous Earth science satellites, it may very well continue beyond that time frame.

Almost flight ready: The NPP in January of this year. Click to enlarge. Photo: NASA

James Gleason, NPP project scientist said, “NPP is a continuation of existing Earth Orbiting Satellites. For monitoring purposes, you need to have continuous observations. NPP continues the data record started by NASA satellites and improves on the instruments that are used for numerical weather forecasting.”

Delivering even more bang for the buck, today’s launch included six CubeSats — tiny satellites measuring just 4 or so inches (10 centimeters) across. The CubeSats were designed by students from several different universities and flew as part of NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites program.

Delta Dawn: This morning's early launch in total darkness made for some spectacular video, but this daytime shot of a Delta II lifting off the launch pad with the Dawn spacecraft* payload at Cape Canaveral, FL shows the D-II at its finest. Click to enlarge. Photo: NASA

Despite being nearly scrubbed in favor of the Space Shuttle program, the Delta II rocket persevered and has been instrumental in its 20+ year history. Now, with the end of the Shuttle program, the Delta II rocket has become the rising star in NASA’s space program for the near future. The first Delta II launched in 1989; to date there have been 146 launches and they’re considered the world’s most reliable launch vehicles currently in service. This morning’s ride on the Delta II of the first of the next generation of weather satellites was preceded by the Mars Lander in 2007, the Mars Rovers in 2003, and the Mars Climate Orbiter in 1998 among many others.

It was 54 years ago this month (October 4, 1954) when Russia launched the first artificial satellite into Earth orbit.

* Dawn spacecraft (as mentioned in Delta II photo above).

[Originally published on October 28, 2011]


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