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Aquarius/SAC-D observatory in good health after launch

06-13-2011 08:42 BJT

LOS ANGELES, June 10 (Xinhua) -- The Aquarius/SAC-D observatory, NASA's first ever satellite to study the saltiness of Earth's oceans, is in excellent health after its launch early Friday, initial telemetry reports showed.

The international Aquarius/SAC-D mission is launched from NASA's Space Launch
Complex-2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in the U.S. state of California June 10,
2011. The rocket blasted off the base carrying a satellite that will collect
essential ocean surface salinity data needed to link the water cycle and ocean
circulation -- two major components of the climate system. (Xinhua/NASA)

The observatory rocketed into space from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California atop a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket at 7:20:13 a.m. PDT (10:20:13 a.m. EDT).

Less than 57 minutes later, the observatory separated from the rocket's second stage and began activation procedures, establishing communications with ground controllers and unfurling its solar arrays, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said.

During the next 25 days, the Aquarius/SAC-D service platform will be tested and maneuvered into its final operational, near-polar orbit 408 miles (657 kilometers) above Earth. Science operations will begin after the observatory's instruments are checked out. This commissioning phase may last up to 65 days, JPL said.

Aquarius will map the global open ocean once every seven days for at least three years with a resolution of 93 miles (150 kilometers). The maps will show how ocean surface salinity changes each month, season and year. Scientists expect to release preliminary salinity maps later this year.

"Aquarius is a critical component of our Earth sciences work, and part of the next generation of space-based instruments that will take our knowledge of our home planet to new heights," said NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver. "The innovative scientists and engineers who contributed to this mission are part of the talented team that will help America win the future and make a positive impact across the globe."

Aquarius will measure salinity by sensing thermal microwave emissions from the water's surface with three microwave instruments called radiometers. When other environmental factors are equal, these emissions indicate the saltiness of surface water. A microwave radar scatterometer instrument will measure ocean waves that affect the precision of the salinity measurement.

Because salinity levels in the open ocean vary by only about five parts per thousand, Aquarius will be able to detect changes as small as approximately two parts per 10,000, equivalent to about one-eighth of a teaspoon of salt in a gallon of water.

"Data from this mission will advance our understanding of the ocean and prediction of the global water cycle," said Michael Freilich, director of NASA's Earth Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate at agency headquarters in Washington. "This mission demonstrates the power of international collaboration and accurate spaceborne measurements for science and societal benefit. This would not be possible without the sustained cooperation of NASA, CONAE and our other partners."

The Aquarius/SAC-D (Satellite de Aplicaciones Cientificas) observatory is a collaboration between NASA and Argentina's space agency, Comision Nacional de Actividades Espaciales (CONAE).

Aquarius was built by NASA's JPL and the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. NASA's Launch Services Program at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida manages the launch.

JPL will manage Aquarius through its commissioning phase and archive mission data. Goddard will manage Aquarius mission operations and process science data. CONAE is providing the SAC-D spacecraft, optical camera, thermal camera with Canada, microwave radiometer, sensors from various Argentine institutions and the mission operations center. France and Italy also are contributing instruments.

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Editor:Yang Jie |Source: Xinhua

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