Friday, June 10, 2011

Aquarius safely reaches orbit

A NASA science instrument that will map the concentration of salt in the oceans' surface was safely deployed in orbit less than an hour after blasting off from California this morning.

Aquarius is the primary instrument among eight housed on the SAC-D satellite built by Argentina's space agency.

The spacecraft is headed to a polar orbit 408 miles above Earth, where every week for at least three years it will provide a comprehensive map of ocean salinity.

The data will improve scientific understanding of how water cycles around the planet and through the atmosphere, and how climate change influences that cycle.

In addition to Aquarius, the satellite holds seven other Earth-observing instruments contributed by Argentina, Canada, France and Italy. Click here for more on the mission.

The spacecraft's separation from the upper stage of a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket began a 90-day commissioning phase to test spacecraft and instrument systems to make sure they are working properly.

The successful launch was the first for Kennedy Space Center's Launch Services Program since the failed March launch of NASA's Glory climate satellite on an Orbital Sciences Corp. Taurus XL rocket.

The Delta II launched at 10:20 a.m. EDT and the SAC-D spacecraft separated at 11:17 a.m., to applause by launch and mission managers.

"The team is jubilant from what I can see in the control room," said Omar Baez, the NASA launch manager.

The launch was ULA's sixth of the year and 149th by a Delta II. The company's next, of a GPS satellite from Cape Canaveral, is planned July 14.

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