At 2:48 am (PDT) this morning, NASA successfully launched the NPP space craft into orbit. ‘NPP’ stands for ‘NPOESS Preparatory Project’* and the mission is the first in a series of “next generation”, polar-orbiting, research satellites poised to replaced a group of active, but aging, earth observing satellites, collectively known as the Earth Observing System (EOS), which were launched over the past decade.
The NPP craft — a collaboration between NASA and NOAA — is the first of its kind to be used for both meteorological and climate research. According to the NASA/GSFC site, “NPP is NASA’s next Earth-observing research satellite. It is the first of a new generation of satellites that will observe many facets of our changing Earth.”
The new satellite is fairly large — weighing in at 4,600 pounds (2,100 kilograms) — and is the size of a “small school bus”. The craft will orbit the Earth 14 times in 24 hours, crossing the equator at about 1:30 pm local time each day. In the process, NPP will observe/track virtually the entire surface of the planet.
NPP is crucial for maintaining continuity in climate data (currently being collected by the EOS) which informs climate change science.
On board are five specially designed instruments: the Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS), the Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS), the Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite (OMPS), the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), and Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES). [visit the NASA website to learn more about what these instruments do, or, check out the Youtube video explaining the five instruments
Watch the NPP ‘mission overview’ video featuring James Gleason, NPP lead scientist, courtesy of NASA/NOAA:
Watch this morning’s NPP mission, Delta II rocket launch (article continues):
Apart from providing data for more accurate, climate simulations and weather forecasting, the data will also be used by emergency responders throughout the world to help monitor, prepare and respond effectively to natural disasters (of which there were some 69 in the U.S. alone in 2011.
The fact that the NPP data will be used for both climate science and weather forecasting, may aid popular confusion over the two (weather vs. climate).
In the famous words of sci-fi author Robert A. Heinlein: “Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get.”
Climate is the long-term pattern of atmospheric changes, weather is the day to changes we get due to these patterns.
* National Polar-orbiting Operational Satellite System; To learn more about this project, download the NPP .pdf.
Some material for this post came from the Universe Today article ‘Next Generation Climate and Weather Satellite Ready for Friday Launch‘ by Nancy Atkinson.
top photo: NASA/GSFC
video: NASA/Kennedy Space Flight Center