Wednesday, June 08, 2011

NASA salt-mapper poised for West Coast launch

A salt-mapping NASA science instrument housed on an Argentinian-built satellite is about 24 hours from launching from the California coast.

The $287-million Aquarius mission will map the concentration of salt, or salinity, on the surface of oceans around the world.

Data from the minimum three-year mission will improve understanding of how small changes in salinity influence the cycle of water between oceans and atmosphere, and how climate change affects the pace of that cycle.

The satellite known as SAC-D also includes seven other instruments from  four nations: Argentina, Canada, France and Italy.

It is scheduled to blast off from Vandenberg Air Force Base on a 128-foot-tall United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket at 10:20 a.m. EDT Thursday, the opening of a five-minute launch window. 

The Air Force's 30th Weather Squadron anticipates perfect conditions for launch.

You can watch the liftoff live here on NASA TV. Countdown coverage begins at 8:30 a.m.

Kennedy Space Center's Launch Services Program is managing the launch, NASA's first since the failed Glory mission launched in March from Vandenberg on an Orbital Sciences Corp. Taurus XL rocket.

About 60 KSC personnel are at Vandenberg supporting the launch, along with about 40 Cape Canaveral-based ULA employees.

The mission is a collaboration with Argentina's national space agency, Comision Nacional de Actividades Espaciales. Click here for more background.

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