NASA Launches Satellite to Measure Global Climate
On Friday, Oct. 28, 2011, an arc of light illuminates the pre-dawn sky at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., as a Delta II rocket launches with the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) spacecraft payload. NPP carries five science instruments, including four new state-of-the-art sensors, which will provide critical data to help scientists understand the dynamics of long-term climate patterns and help meteorologists improve short-term weather forecasts. NASA

On Friday, NASA launched a new satellite that will improve our short-term weather forecasting accuracy, among other contributions.

The satellite is dubbed the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project, or NPP for short. Early Friday morning around 3 AM, the satellite launched from the Vandenberg Air Force base in Central California.

A small group of NASA's Twitter followers were invited to watch the launch. The skies were clear with little wind, which makes for ideal weather for a launch event.

Orbiting 512 miles above Earth, the climate satellite will add to over 30 existing datasets on our environment, helping us understand more about climate patterns and meteorological activities. According to NASA, existing datasets collecting information about environmental factors like the ozone layer will be improved by the new satellite's data. The NPP will be building on more than 40 years of existing datasets, NASA says.

The satellite will be joining a fleet of others already in orbit. On board, there are sensors that will be transmitting data to a Norwegian ground station back here on Earth. Every orbit will deliver data once. From Norway, the data is relayed to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, or NOAA, in Suitland, MD.

As the newest in orbit, the NPP satellite will replace and help many aging satellites out there. NASA intends for the NPP to act as a bridge for current and old generations. NASA believes the NPP's collected data will be critical to our deeper understanding of changing climates and processes occurring on Earth.

The project was originally planned to launch much earlier, but escalating costs unfortunately caused the White House to pull the plug. In 2006, when it was scheduled to blast off, problems with the satellite's instruments also pushed the project's agenda back.

In the future, more complete datasets can be taken and quantified to record larger-scale changes in global climates and environments.

Constructed by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, CO, NASA has plans for the NPP satellite to remain in orbit for the next five years.