A NASA Delta 2 rocket scheduled to launch on January 29 will carry two satellites with University of Michigan connections. One will measure soil moisture on the Earth’s surface as part of NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission, while the other will test optical equipment for an upcoming visual survey of the Earth. The rocket will launch from Vandenburg Air Force Base near Lompoc, California.
University of Michigan researchers will help NASA calibrate its SMAP satellite using a method developed by Kamal Sarabandi, the Rufus S. Teesdale Professor of Engineering and professor of electrical engineering and computer science. The team will gather and process data from a ground-based radar transmitter that’s believed to be the most powerful of its kind in the world. To be located near Ann Arbor, the calibration unit will be the first of three to be used with the SMAP mission.
“These ground units will receive data from the satellite, amplify it and send it back into space,” Sarabandi said. “We’ll compare the amplified data to the original data and use that to calibrate NASA’s satellite.”
The SMAP mission will measure soil moisture on the Earth’s surface over a three-year period. It will help scientists gain a better understanding of the planet’s water cycle, weather patterns and seasonal changes. The mission is expected to lead to more accurate prediction of weather and climate. Read more about Michigan Engineering’s role.
The other satellite scheduled to hitch a ride on the Delta 2 rocket is a small satellite that carries a high-speed camera developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. A U-M aerospace team is testing the equipment for an upcoming visual survey of the earth. Called the GRIFEX mission and developed by the U-M Michigan Exploration Laboratory, the project is headed by U-M Associate Professor of Aerospace Engineering James Cutler and funded by NASA’s Earth Science Technology Office.