FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: After a years-long delay, an Earth-observing satellite blasted into space early Friday from the central California coast on a dual mission to improve weather forecasts and monitor climate change.
A Delta II rocket carrying the NASA satellite lifted off shortly before 6 a.m. EDT from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The satellite was deployed into an orbit 500 miles above Earth about an hour after launch.
The satellite joins a fleet already circling the planet, collecting information about the atmosphere, oceans and land. The latest — about the size of a small SUV — is more advanced. It carries four new instruments capable of making more precise observations.
Tim Dunn, a launch director for NASA, said in streaming commentary on the agency's website that the flight "went terrific" and there "is a lot of celebration in control room right now."
Meteorologists will use the data to improve their forecasts of hurricanes and other extreme weather while climate researchers hope to gain a better understanding of long-term climate shifts.
Many satellites currently in orbit are aging and will need to be replaced. The newest satellite is intended to be a bridge between the current fleet and a new generation that NASA is developing for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The $1.5 billion mission's path to the launch pad has been rocky. It was originally scheduled to fly in 2006, but problems during development of several instruments led to a delay.
Engineers will spend some time checking out the satellite's instruments before science operations begin. Built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo., the satellite is expected to orbit the Earth for five years.
IMAGE: A Delta II rocket launches with the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) spacecraft payload from Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. on Friday, Oct. 28, 2011. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls