Washington, D.C. – NASA’s newest Earth-observing satellite soared into space early today aboard a Delta II rocket after liftoff at 5:48am EDT from Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
NASA’s National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project, or NPP, successfully separated from the Delta II 58 minutes after launch, and the first signal was acquired by the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System. NPP’s solar array deployed 67 minutes after launch to provide the satellite with electrical power. NPP is on course to reach its sun-synchronous polar orbit 512 miles (824 km) above Earth.
“NPP is critical to our understanding of Earth’s processes and changes,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver. “Its impact will be global and builds on 40 years of work to understand our complex planet from space. NPP is part of an extremely strong slate of current and future innovative NASA science missions that will help us win the future as we make new discoveries.”
NPP carries five science instruments, including four new state-of-the-art sensors, which will provide critical data to help scientists understand the dynamics of long-term climate patterns and help meteorologists improve short-term weather forecasts. The mission will extend more than 30 key long-term datasets NASA has been tracking, including measurements of the ozone layer, land cover, and ice cover.
NPP serves as a bridge mission between NASA’s Earth Observing System (EOS) of satellites and the next-generation Joint Polar Satellite System, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) program that will also collect weather and climate data.
Scientists will use NPP data to extend and improve upon EOS data records. These satellites have provided critical insights into the dynamics of the entire Earth system, including clouds, oceans, vegetation, ice, solid Earth and atmosphere. NPP will allow scientists to extend the continuous satellite record needed to detect and quantify global environmental changes.
Of the five instruments on board NPP, the largest and most complex is an imager called the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, or VIIRS. The instrument, a follow-on to an earlier imager that flies on both Terra and Aqua, called the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), will monitor broad swaths of the land, oceans, and air.
VIIRS will provide data in 22 key parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, or bands, that will be used by scientists in a variety of disciplines. Atmospheric scientists, for example, will use certain bands to monitor clouds as well as small airborne particles called aerosols. Oceanographers, meanwhile, will use VIIRS to monitor phytoplankton and other organisms in the sea. Biologists will use it to monitor vegetation and forest cover, while ice experts will use it to track changes in the distribution of sea ice at the poles.
The other instruments are smaller and more specialized. The Ozone Mapper Profiler Suite (OMPS) will measure the total amount of ozone in the stratosphere and provide information about the distribution of ozone in lower parts of the atmosphere as well. The Clouds and Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) sensor, a near clone of CERES instruments that currently fly on Terra and Aqua missions, will continue a record of the amount of energy entering and exiting the top of the atmosphere.
Finally, the Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS) and Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS) instruments will make detailed vertical profiles of atmospheric pressure, heat and moisture — useful pieces of information for weather forecasters and climate researchers.
Data from all the instruments will be beamed once per orbit to an Arctic ground station in Svalbard, Norway and then distributed via fiber optic cables to data processing centers where much of it will available to meteorologists and climatologists within 180 minutes.
Using the Data
“Linking EOS and NPP data into long-term datasets won’t always be simple,” cautioned Ralph Kahn, a climatologist based at NASA Goddard, referring to the complex calibration and data processing techniques that will be required when NPP begins to beam data back to Earth. “There’s more work to be done, but NPP represents the next step for earth and climate science.”
“The measurements from NPP will benefit science and society for many years to come,” said Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division. “NPP will help improve weather forecasts, enable unique scientific insights, and allow more accurate global environmental predictions. I’m confident that the strong partnerships forged in the NPP program between NASA and NOAA, industry, and the research and applications communities will ensure the success of the mission.”
The satellite will be operated from the NOAA Satellite Operations Facility in Suitland, Md. NASA will operate NPP for the first three months after launch while the satellite and instrument are checked out. NPP operations will then be turned over to NOAA and the JPSS program for the remainder of the mission.
NPP data will be transmitted once every orbit to a ground station in Svalbard, Norway, and to direct broadcast receivers around the world. The data will be sent back to the United States via fiber optic cable to the NOAA Suitland facility. NPP data is then processed into data records that NASA and NOAA will make available through various data archives.
The NPP mission is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., for the Earth Science Division of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The Joint Polar Satellite System program provides the NPP ground system. NOAA will provide operational support for the mission. Launch management is the responsibility of the NASA Launch Services Program at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
ELaNA nano satellites also launched
The Delta II launch vehicle that delivered NPP into orbit also deployed auxiliary payloads within 98 minutes after launch. The five small “CubeSat” research payloads are the third in a series of NASA Educational Launch of Nanosatellite missions, known as ELaNa missions.