The NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP), NASA’s newest Earth-observing satellite, roared into space on October 28th on a mission to improve understanding of how Earth’s climate (and weather) works by extending a variety of environmental data records established by an earlier generation of satellites.
There’s been plenty of good coverage of the hubbub and the careful engineering that goes into every NASA launch but less that gets into the nitty-gritty of the new science data that the satellite will provide.
What exactly will the mission’s science team do once NPP starts to produce data? What sorts of science issues will NPP-funded researchers tackle?
The answers to such questions are tucked away in a hard-to-find document (pdf) in the science section of NPP’s website. Though technical and filled with acronyms and jargon, it’s well worth reading if you want to understand what the NPP science team will be focused on in the coming months.
My four sentence summary: Teams of researchers charged with using NPP to monitor a whole slew of environmental phenomena (think, for example, atmospheric ozone levels, sea surface temperatures, cloud properties, fire activity, vegetation cover, ocean color, land surface temperatures, aerosol particles, snow cover, the planet’s albedo, and air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide) will be doing everything they possibly can to make sure the data NPP’s instruments provide can be merged seamlessly with measurements taken by an earlier generation of satellites. Sounds easy enough, I know. It’s not. Lots and lots of careful calibration and validation work is required because four of NPP’s instruments are significantly different than the instruments that preceded them.
To the NPP scientists about to embark on the task: Bon Voyage!