Observatory From Space Promises To Improve Quality Of Life On Earth

The Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory launched by NASA last month, on January 31, has completed another phase in its mission which is essential for the observatory to begin mapping the soil moisture of the earth’s land mass. Today, mission control from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory remotely activated the positioning of the observatory’s reflector antenna all the way from Pasadena, California.

Considering that the antenna’s width is 20 feet, this was no easy task. An onboard pyro had to be activated first for the observatory’s stored energy to partially deploy the antenna. Then, a motor and a cable had to continue the process for the antenna to reach its full circular setup. NASA reports that the operation was seemingly completed without a hitch and took only 33 minutes. Further downloading of data and telemetry should confirm if all systems are as they should be, which NASA said they should be able to verify by the end of the week. The antenna was built by NASA’s industrial partner, Astro Aerospace, which is a California company under the Northrop Grumman Corporation.

The SMAP observatory is meant to gather data on the earth’s soil moisture, determining if the soil is thawed or frozen. Once fully in operation, it is expected to get a complete global map of soil moisture every 2 to 3 days. The antenna is essential in this process in that it supports the radar and radiometer. All three instruments will collect measurements from the observatory’s position in space for the next three years.

Several experts have already expressed their enthusiasm in this project since it can make a significant contribution to society. Although the observatory only measures moisture, this piece of information will allow several hydrologists, meteorologists and climatologists to better understand the weather and more accurately predict it. Aside from weather predictions, the data SMAP will provide can also be used to determine water supply all over the globe, sea ice mapping for navigation, and even dust storm predictions in the drier parts of the world.

SMAP will also influence business when it comes to crop production. Since data about the world will be available to all, farmers can determine what the best crops to plant in their fields are and the bigger producers can also plan their business based on how the rest of the world is faring.

In the Eastern part of the world, where floods have been destroying crops, infrastructure and lives, SMAP will make it easier to understand and prepare for flash floods, whether in Asia or Africa.

To contrast that, SMAP will also be able to help understand droughts in more detail, providing a look at the more isolated land areas and at how quickly the land can dry out after rainfall. An even bigger impact would be to the African continent, which has always had problems with finding a reliable water source for its inhabitants. With SMAP, the process of determining areas where wells can be positioned will be better.

With these benefits that we are looking forward to, it seems SMAP truly will meet NASA’s description of the mission as having “both high science value and high applications value”.