NASA Successfully Launches NPP Earth-Observing Satellite

by Matt Ball on October 28, 2011

NASA successfully launched the NPOESS  (National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System) Preparatory Project (NPP) satellite early this morning from Vandenberg Air Force. The polar-orbiting satellite is a joint project between NASA and NOAA, with NASA using it as a research project and NOAA collecting weather details for forecasting and environmental monitoring. The satellite features five instruments that will collect detailed information about Earth’s atmosphere, land an oceans.

The five instruments are:

  • Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS) – a 22-channel passive microwave radiometer, to create global models of temperature and moisture profiles for weather forecasting.
  • Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS) built by ITT to monitor characteristics of the atmosphere, such as moisture and pressure, for both short-and-long term weather forecasting.
  • Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite (OMPS) built by Ball Aerospace to measure ozone, that incorporates an advanced nadir-viewing sensor and an innovative limb-viewing sensor.
  • Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) developed by Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems, has a 22-band radiometer similar to the MODIS instrument to collect visible and infrared views of Earth’s dynamic surface processes, such as wildfires, land changes, and ice movement. VIIRS will also measure atmospheric and oceanic properties, including clouds and sea surface temperature.
  • Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) 3-channel radiometer measuring reflected solar radiation, emitted terrestrial radiation, and total radiation, will monitor the natural and anthropogenic effects on the Earth’s total thermal radiation budget.


NPP will orbit Earth every 102 minutes, flying 512 miles above the surface. The mission continues the measurement missions of previous satellites, and is also the bridge that links NOAA’s current polar-orbiting satellites to the next generation of advanced spacecraft called the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), which is  set to launch in late 2016, pending funding.

The launch also put five small research payloads, or CubeSats, into orbit: two for the University of Michigan; and one each for Auburn University, Montana State University and Utah State University.

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