Earth Observation Mission News
New NASA space cowboy successfully deploys its 'lasso'
26 February 2015
Like a cowboy at a rodeo, NASA's newest Earth-observing satellite, the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP), has triumphantly raised its "arm" and unfurled a huge golden "lasso" (antenna) that it will soon spin up to rope the best soil moisture maps ever obtained from space.
Launched on 31 January from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base on a Delta II rocket, SMAP is now literally riding tall in the saddle as it continues to successfully wrangle the checkout procedures of its three-month-long commissioning phase. Analyses of onboard inertial measurement unit data and other telemetry confirm the antenna deployment, performed on 24 February, was completely successful.
SMAP's minimum three-year mission will expand our understanding of soil moisture, a key component of the Earth system that links the water, energy and carbon cycles driving our planet. SMAP's combined radar and radiometer instruments will peer into the top 2 inches (5 centimetres) of soil, through clouds and moderate vegetation cover, day and night, to produce the highest-resolution, most accurate soil moisture maps ever obtained from space. SMAP also will detect whether ground is frozen or thawed. Detecting variations in timing of spring thaw and changes in growing season length will help scientists more accurately account for how much carbon plants are removing from the atmosphere each year.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech - Artist's concept of SMAP