November 2, 2009

ESA Launches Two New Satellites

The European Space Agency launched two new satellites on Monday in an effort to gather more data on global climate change.

The ESA on Monday launched the second satellite in its Earth Explorer series, known as the Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) mission.

Additionally, ESA launched the Proba-2 satellite along with SMOS in order to demonstrate technology for ESA's future space probes.

Both satellites were lifted into space from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia aboard a Rockot launch vehicle from Eurockot GmbH.

After about 70 minutes from launch, SMOS successfully separated from the Rockot vehicle. Proba-2 separated about three hours after liftoff. Both satellites will be orbiting the Earth on two separate paths.

"Proba-2 is planned to reach operational status in two months' time," said ESA. "The highly innovative payload onboard SMOS will take longer to check and calibrate, and the spacecraft will enter fully operational mode within six months."

"We are extremely pleased with this double 'lucky strike' that will provide Europe with new tools to better understand our planet and climate change, as well as new technology breakthroughs that will enhance the competitiveness of European industry on the world-wide market, thus contributing to the global economy," said Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA's Director General.

SMOS is the first ever satellite developed to map sea surface salinity and to monitor soil moisture globally, ESA said.

The satellite will use an interferometric radiometer that will allow it to survey the water cycle between oceans, the atmosphere and land.

SMS is built on the Proteur small satellite platform, which was designed by Thales Alenia Space. It carries the Microwave Imaging Radiometer using Aperture Synthesis (MIRAS), which was built by EADS CASA Espacio.

MIRAS works to measure the temperature of the reflection of the Earth's surface in the microwave frequency range.

"The data collected by SMOS will complement measurements already performed on the ground and at sea to monitor water exchanges on a global scale. Since these exchanges "“ most of which occur in remote areas "“ directly affect the weather, they are of paramount importance to meteorologists" said Volker Liebig, ESA's Director of Earth Observation Programs.

"Moreover, salinity is one of the drivers for the Thermohaline Circulation, the large network of currents that steers heat exchanges within the oceans on a global scale, and its survey has long been awaited by climatologists who try to predict the long-term effects of today's climate change."

SMOS follows after the Gravity and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE), which was launched in March 2009.


Image Caption: The SMOS and Proba-2 lift off, on November 2, 2009 at 02:50 CET (01:50 UT) from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia. Credits: ESA


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