While NASA, through its army of satellites, is often in the news for observations and discoveries on other worlds in the solar system, the agency and its scientists also dedicate considerable resources to studying our planet.
This week, we highlight one such resource, a new NASA satellite that will look down from space and examine the topmost layer of our planet’s soil. Its aim is to measure the hidden waters that influence the Earth’s weather and climate.
Watch NASA Video about the SMAP mission below:
Dubbed the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission, the satellite is undergoing final preparations for a launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California around dawn on Jan. 29.
The satellite will ride to its 426 mile high orbit atop a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket. From there the SMAP satellite will spend its 3-year mission in a near-polar orbit that repeats exactly every eight days.
According to NASA, SMAP “will measure how freshwater cycles over Earth’s land surfaces in the form of soil moisture. The mission will produce the most accurate, highest-resolution global maps ever obtained from space of the moisture present in the top 2 inches (5 centimeters) of Earth’s soils. It also will detect and map whether the ground is frozen or thawed. This data will be used to enhance scientists’ understanding of the processes that link Earth’s water, energy and carbon cycles.”
“With data from SMAP, scientists and decision makers around the world will be better equipped to understand how Earth works as a system and how soil moisture impacts a myriad of human activities, from floods and drought to weather and crop yield forecasts,” said Christine Bonniksen, SMAP program executive with the Science Mission Directorate’s Earth Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “SMAP’s global soil moisture measurements will provide a new capability to improve our understanding of Earth’s climate.”
More complete information about SMAP and its mission can be found online at NASA.gov.