Successful liftoff for soil moisture mission

WASHINGTON, Feb. 3, 2015 – After two previous failed attempts, NASA successfully launched its first Earth satellite on Jan. 31 – designed to detect soil moisture, improve climate and weather forecasts, track yields and help scientists more accurately account for how much carbon plants are removing from Earth’s atmosphere each year.

The Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory, is on a three-year mission aiming to expand our understanding of a key component of the Earth system that links the water, energy and carbon cycles driving our living planet. SMAP’s combined radar and radiometer instruments will peer into the top 2 inches of soil, through clouds and moderate vegetation cover, day and night, to produce the highest-resolution, most accurate soil moisture maps ever obtained from space. The mission will map global soil moisture with about 5.6-mile (9-kilometer) resolution.

“SMAP will improve the daily lives of people around the world,” said Simon Yueh, SMAP project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California in a statement. “Soil moisture data from SMAP has the potential to significantly improve the accuracy of short-term weather forecasts and reduce the uncertainty of long-term projections of how climate change will impact Earth’s water cycle.”

The SMAP Applications Working Group is collaborating with 45 “early adopters” to test and integrate the mission’s data products into different applications. For example, since 2005, USDA’s Risk Management Agency’s Strategic Data Acquisition and Analysis (SDAA) team, has participated in the working group established by the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy in the area of agricultural land imaging as part of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission. The SDAA has been a participating member of the Landsat Science Team since 2012 for the purpose advising policy and championing the needs of USDA, crop insurance, and the agricultural community for the current and all future Landsat sensors.

The first release of SMAP soil moisture data products is expected within nine months. Fully validated science data are expected to be released within 15 months. For more information, see the SMAP website.