NASA Prepares To Launch Five Scientific Campaigns In 2014
[ Watch the Video: NASA's Earth Sciences Missions For 2014 ]
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
NASA is planning to launch five scientific missions in 2014 – marking the first time the space agency has had this many launches over the course of a single year in over a decade.
The five launches will include two to the International Space Station (ISS), airborne missions to the poles and hurricanes, the expansion of advanced sensor technologies, and the use of both satellite data and analytical tools to advance natural hazard and climate change awareness.
“As NASA prepares for future missions to an asteroid and Mars, we’re focused on Earth right now,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “With five new missions set to launch in 2014, this really is shaping up to be the year of the Earth, and this focus on our home planet will make a significant difference in people’s lives around the world.”
Slated to launch on Feb. 27, NASA’s first Earth science mission of 2014 is the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory, a cooperative satellite project with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The launch of the observatory marks the start of an extraordinary international satellite constellation that will generate the first virtually global observations of rainfall and snowfall. This new information will help answer questions regarding Earth’s water cycle – informing water resource management and weather forecasting.
In July, the space agency will launch the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO)-2, a mission designed to inform the understanding of carbon dioxide’s role in climate change. The OCO-2 is expected to make accurate, worldwide measurements of carbon dioxide levels. These observations are expected to improve the knowledge of natural and human-induced carbon emissions sources and how these emissions move through Earth’s oceans, terrain and air.
In November, NASA will launch its Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission, which is designed to track water on Earth as it interacts with and passes through the soil. SMAP will chart Earth’s soil moisture, and supply accurate measures of the soil’s freeze-thaw state. Detailed comprehensive maps of soil moisture generated from SMAP data are expected to support water resource management decisions on water accessibility around the Earth. SMAP data also will help forecast plant growth and farming productivity, weather and climate forecasts, and the tracking of natural disasters such as floods and droughts.
“On our home planet Earth, water is an essential requirement for life and for most human activities. We must understand the details of how water moves within and between the atmosphere, the oceans, and the land if we are to predict changes to our climate and the availability of water resources,” said Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division in Washington.
Two Earth science missions headed for the ISS this year will focus on tracking ocean winds, clouds, and aerosols. The projects will mark NASA’s first use of the ISS as a round-the-clock Earth-observing platform.
“With these two instruments launching to the space station, ISS will come into its own as an important platform for studying the Earth system and global change,” said Julie Robinson, space station chief scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “This is just the beginning of the space station becoming a part of the global Earth-observing network.”
The space agency is also sponsoring twelve flight campaigns that will examine the polar ice sheets, urban air pollution, hurricanes and ecosystem conditions over the United States, Central and South America, Antarctica, and the Arctic Circle.