NASA successfully launches SMAP satellite
NASA has successfully launched its Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite atop a Delta 2 rocket. The orbiter is designed to take high resolution moisture maps on a global scale, mapping the entire planet in the space of two to three days. The maps will give us improved ability to forecast droughts, floods, and even aid agricultural workers in crop planning.
In order to take detailed moisture measurements of the entire world, SMAP will be placed in a near-polar sun-synchronous orbit, allowing the observatory to use Earth's natural spin to maximize the area that can be scanned by the satellite's instruments. The orbiter will use its L-band radar and L-band radiometer to scan the top 2 inches (5 cm) of our planet's soil with a resolution of around 31 miles (50 km). Two previous launch attempts had to be scrubbed, the first due to high wind speeds at a height of 34,000 ft (10,363 meters), with the second launch cancelled due to minor repair work being needed to rectify a minor debond to the booster insulation of the Delta 2 rocket.
Today's launch saw no such complications. The weather balloons deployed to keep an eye on high altitude weather conditions reported all green, with no technical issues being encountered on the ground. The Delta 2 lifted off from the Vandenburg Air Force Base, California, at 6:22 am Pacific time, its three solid fuel rockets and main engine combining to propel the rocket skywards with a force of 600,000 lbs of thrust. The solid fuel boosters burnt for a full minute, with booster separation taking place 90 seconds into flight.