Thursday, January 23, 2014

NASA to Launch Five New Earth Science Missions in 2014

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NASA is putting more eyes on the Earth in 2014 than it has in more than a decade, with five launches delivering Earth science missions to Earth orbit and the International Space Station over the course of this year.

The new missions will study the Earth's systems in the hopes of addressing major issues including "climate change, sea level rise, decreasing availability of fresh water and extreme weather underground events," according to a NASA press release. The three satellites and two new instruments for the ISS are designed to collect data on carbon dioxide, rainfall, snowfall, soil, winds and clouds, among other things. (MORE: 10 Amazing Things We Learned in 2013 About the Only Earth We'll Ever Have)

"This really is shaping up to be the year of the Earth," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in the release, "and this focus on our home planet will make a significant difference in people's lives around the world."

The launches are as follows:

1. February 27: The Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory. Launched on a Japanese H-IIA rocket, GPM will study precipitation to understand the Earth's water cycle.

2. June 6: The ISS-RapidScat mission. ISS-RapidScat is, as its name indicates, headed for the space station, where it will collect data on global ocean winds to improve climate research, weather forecasting and storm tracking.

3. July: The Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO)-2. Originally scheduled for 2009 but scrapped after a launch failure, OCO-2 will study global levels of carbon dioxide to better understand the carbon cycle and both natural and human sources of the greenhouse gas.

4. Sept 12: The Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS). CATS is also headed for the ISS and will study small particles in the atmosphere, called aerosols, which affect cloud cover and the climate in ways that are crucial but not well understood. They're also dangerous for human health at ground level.

5. November: The Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission. SMAP data is expected to improve weather forecasts, agricultural productivity and flood and drought monitoring through studying the moisture in Earth's soil.

The two ISS missions will be launched on Falcon 9 rockets by private company SpaceX, which has a contract with NASA to deliver supplies to the space station. In total, five Earth-observing instruments are set to be delivered to the space station through 2017.

"This is just the beginning of the space station becoming a part of the global Earth-observing network," ISS chief scientist Julie Robinson said in the release.

MORE: Beautiful Satellite Images of Earth From Space

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