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NASA successfully launches Earth observing satellite

Apart from predicting weather conditions, the satellite's observations will give scientists an insight into long-term climate change and its impact.

NASA successfully launched, in almost perfect weather conditions on Friday, an Earth-observing satellite aimed at improving weather forecasts and monitoring climate change.

The National Polar-orbiting Operational Satellite System Preparatory Project, called NPP, lifted into space early Friday from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, aboard a Delta 2 rocket.

The satellite took around an hour to separate from the rocket before traveling into orbit some 500 miles over Earth.

At a post-launch news conference, Mary Glackin of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) stated, “It was a thrill to watch the bird go up this morning in the beautiful clear night sky with the stars out there.”

“NPP's observations will produce long-term datasets which will help scientists make better models, which then lead to better predictions, which hopefully can be used to make better decisions.” -- Jim Gleason, NPP project scientist

Aim of NPP
Though NASA has a fleet of older satellites in orbit, many are outdated and need replacement.

NASA’s newest satellite, about the size of a small school bus is more advanced and equipped with five hi-tech instruments, including four new ones designed to collect accurate environmental data.

The main job of NPP is to supply information pertaining to weather systems. Its scientific instruments will measure atmospheric ozone and dust particles, record land and sea surface temperatures, atmospheric pressure, solar radiation, and also monitor ice movement, clouds, changes in vegetation among other things.

The information will help meteorologists better anticipate natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, floods, volcanic eruptions and other extreme weather.

Apart from predicting weather conditions, the satellite's observations will give scientists an insight into long-term climate change and its impact.

Jim Gleason, the NPP project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center said, “NPP's observations will produce long-term datasets which will help scientists make better models, which then lead to better predictions, which hopefully can be used to make better decisions.

“These decisions can be as simple as 'do I need to bring an umbrella?', or as complex as 'how do we respond to a changing climate?'.”

Launched after 5 years
Built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo., the $1.5 billion NASA mission was originally scheduled to fly in 2006, but was delayed due to technical problems.

NPP is expected to orbit the Earth from pole to pole about a dozen times a day for the next five years. NASA will control the mission for the first three months and then subsequently turn it over to NOAA.