Saturday, October 29, 2011

Delta II Poised to Launch NPP

A technological trailblazer is poised to lift off from a California launch pad to take a place in space to show us what is happening on Earth. Known as the NPP, for National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project, the two-ton spacecraft is destined for an orbit 512 miles above the planet where it will be able to see every part of the Earth.

Because it is going into a polar orbit crossing both the north and south poles while the world spins beneath it, the NPP mission will launch from NASA's Space Launch Complex-2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

NPP has two goals, according to James Gleason, NPP project scientist.

"One is to get the data for the weather forecasts, environmental observations and take a whole suite of observations that continue our satellite data records which span from measuring aerosols, you know, dust particles in the atmosphere, how have they changed over the past decade?," Gleason said. "Is the ground greener or browner over time? Has the sea surface temperature changed? Has the ozone changed? These are all data sets that we have that we have multi-decades sets of data sets and we just want to keep adding to that so we can answer the question, is the climate changing?"

Members of NASA's Launch Services Program, based at Kennedy Space Center, have been working at Vandenberg to get the spacecraft ready to launch on a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket.

"We began build-up of the vehicle in July of this year, erecting first stage, the nine solid rocket motors, the second stage, putting the payload fairing into the mobile service tower," NASA Launch Director Tim Dunn said.

Once in orbit, the NPP spacecraft is to scan the world with five instruments that track their development through the sensors used on previous Earth-observation missions.

"NPP is a continuation of the earth orbiting satellite systems," Gleason said. "For weather forecasting and for climate predictions, you need to have continuous observations. So what NPP does is continue the data record started by the NASA EOS satellites and improves on the instruments that are used for numerical weather forecasting from the current series of NOAA satellites."

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