28 December 2013

NASA, JAXA announce launch date for new precipitation satellite

Image Caption: Artist concept of the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory satellite. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

On Thursday, NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced the date and window Feb. 27 from 1:07 pm to 3:07 pm EST for the launch of a new precipitation satellite. The Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory satellite is slated to be launched from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center.

GPM is designed to conduct observations of rain and snowfall several times a day around the world. NASA said it expects data from the satellite to increase the knowledge of the water and energy cycles that affect Earth’s climate. More specifically, the satellite will be used to calibrate precipitation recordings conducted by an international network of affiliated satellites.

“Launching this core observatory and establishing the Global Precipitation Measurement mission is vitally important for environmental research and weather forecasting,” said Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division in Washington. “Knowing rain and snow amounts accurately over the whole globe is critical to understanding how weather and climate impact agriculture, fresh water availability, and responses to natural disasters.”

The new satellite will join a global network that already includes the NASA-National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership mission, the NASA-JAXA Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) and several other satellites managed by various agencies in the US, Japan, Europe and India.

“We will use data from the GPM mission not only for Earth science research but to improve weather forecasting and respond to meteorological disasters,” said Shizuo Yamamoto, executive director of JAXA. “We would also like to aid other countries in the Asian region suffering from flood disasters by providing data for flood alert systems. Our dual-frequency precipitation radar, developed with unique Japanese technologies, plays a central role in the GPM mission.”

The new observatory expands on the sensor technology created for the TRMM mission with two new instruments. The GPM Microwave Imager will allow for precipitation observations on 13 different frequencies. The satellites’ Dual-frequency Precipitation Radar sends out radar pulses that are used to detect several kinds of precipitation and measure the characteristics of raindrops, snowflakes and atmospheric ice particles.

According to NASA, large gaps in ground-sourced precipitation data, such as rainfall or snow accumulation, cover 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, making the comprehensive tracking of the planet’s weather difficult. Satellites allow climate scientists to fill in these gaps. They enable climate scientists to follow changes in the precipitation structure of a storm, even if the storm passes over oceans and remote parcels of land. The space agency said its network of satellites allows it to see many details on the life cycle of a storm, such as the evolution of the eye of a hurricane and how a tropical storm intensifies over warm water.

On its official website, NASA said its Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission (TRMM) was “a revolution in terms of how it ‘saw’ tropical cyclones.

“It provides important information about the size and frequency of occurrence of rain storms in the tropics,” NASA said. “TRMM fills a significant gap in our observations and increases our knowledge about the water cycle and atmospheric circulation over the globe.”


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