NASA’s latest Earth-observing satellite, Aqua, carrying the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory-managed Atmospheric Infrared Sounder instrument, successfully launched this morning at 2:55 a.m. Pacific Time. Aqua is dedicated to advancing our understanding of Earth’s water cycle and our environment. Launching the Aqua spacecraft marks a major milestone in support of NASA’s mission to help us better understand and protect our planet.
The Aqua spacecraft lifted off from the Western Test Range of Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., aboard a Delta II rocket.
Spacecraft separation occurred at 3:54 a.m. Pacific Time, inserting Aqua into a 705-kilometer (438-mile) orbit.
The primary goal of Aqua, as the name implies, is to gather information about water in Earth’s system. Equipped with six state-of-the-art instruments, Aqua will collect data on global precipitation, evaporation and the cycling of water. This information will help scientists all over the world to better understand Earth’s water cycle and determine if the water cycle is accelerating as a result of climate change.
JPL’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder will measure Earth’s atmosphere and surface, allowing scientists to improve weather prediction and observe changes in Earth’s climate.
Aqua is the latest in a series of Earth Observing System spacecraft, following the Terra satellite launched in December 1999. Aqua will cross the equator daily at 1:30 p.m. as it heads north. The early afternoon observation time contrasts with the Terra satellite, which crosses the equator between 10:30 and 10:45 a.m. daily. Aqua’s afternoon observations, combined with Terra’s morning observations, will provide important insights into the daily cycling of key scientific parameters such as precipitation and ocean circulation.
Aqua is a joint project among the United States, Japan and Brazil. The United States provided the spacecraft and four of the six scientific instruments. In addition to the JPL-provided
Atmospheric Infrared Sounder, the other U.S. instruments include the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer and the Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit, both provided by the Goddard centre, and the Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System, provided by NASA’s Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.
Japan’s National Space Development Agency provided the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer, while the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (the Brazilian Institute for Space Research) provided the Humidity Sounder for Brazil.