Earth from space
Earth from Space

NASA's mission to understand and protect our home planet will mark a major milestone this spring with the launch of the Aqua satellite, carrying the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory- managed Atmospheric Infrared Sounder instrument. Aqua, due to bring us unprecedented insight into our world's global water cycle, is the latest sibling in a family of Earth Observing System satellites dedicated to studying Earth and expanding our knowledge of global climate change.

The primary role of Aqua, as the name implies, is to gather information about water in the Earth's system. Equipped with six state-of-the-art instruments, Aqua will collect data on global precipitation, evaporation and the cycling of water.

During its six-year mission, Aqua will gather information on changes in ocean circulation and study how clouds and surface water processes affect our climate. This information will help scientists better understand how global ecosystems are changing, and how they respond to and affect global environmental change.

JPL's Atmospheric Infrared Sounder will measure Earth's atmosphere and surface; this will allow scientists to improve weather prediction and to observe changes in Earth's climate.

"Aqua will provide unprecedented information on the global water cycle. The spacecraft will enable operational agencies to create more accurate weather forecasts in the future," said Dr. Ghassem Asrar, associate administrator for NASA's Earth Science Enterprise, NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

"Aqua will observe our Earth's oceans, atmosphere, land, ice and snow covers and vegetation," said Dr. Claire Parkinson, the Aqua project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "This comprehensive approach enables scientists to study the interactions among key elements of the Earth system so as to better understand our planet."

Aqua is expected to launch no earlier than May 2 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. on a Boeing Delta-7920-10L expendable launch vehicle. The 10-minute launch window opens at 2:55 a.m. Pacific Time (5:55 a.m. Eastern Time). Aqua will fly at an altitude of approximately 705 kilometers (438 miles) above Earth in a near polar and sun synchronous orbit.

Aqua is the sister satellite to NASA's Terra spacecraft, launched in December of 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. The two satellites, Aqua's afternoon observations and Terra's morning observations, will yield important insights into the "diurnal variability," or the daily cycling of key scientific parameters such as precipitation and ocean circulation.

Aqua is a joint project between the United States, Japan and Brazil. The United States provided the spacecraft and four of Aqua's six scientific instruments. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center provided the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer and the Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit. JPL provided the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder, and NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., provided the Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System instrument.

Japan's National Space Development Agency provided the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer. The Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (the Brazilian Institute for Space Research) provided the Humidity Sounder for Brazil.

Aqua is part of NASA's Earth Science Enterprise, a long-term research effort dedicated to understanding and protecting our home planet. Through the study of Earth, NASA will help to provide sound science to policy and economic decision makers so as to better life here, while developing the technologies needed to explore the universe and search for life beyond our home planet. More information about NASA's Earth Science Enterprise can be found at:

Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

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