NASA announced a new satellite launch on January 29. The SMAP satellite is designed to measure the whole planet’s soil moisture and report it back to scientists. NASA hopes the new satellite would be a valuable tool for farmers in fighting droughts.
The Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) is the satellite with the largest mesh antenna by far. SMAP mission’s team calls the rotating antenna a “spinning lasso.” The “lasso” is 19.7 feet wide and is attached to an arm with a crook in its elbow. The antenna is designed to perform 14 full rotations per minute. The antenna was designed by Northrop Grumman Astro Aerospace, while the engine that spins it was offered by Boeing Company.
Wendy Edelstein, instrument manager for SMAP mission, said that the antenna caused her team a lot of angst. The huge antenna is designed to enter a one foot by four feet container when SMAP would get launched. However, SMAP engineers do not know for certain if the antenna would successfully unfold in space.
“Making sure we don’t have snags, that the mesh doesn’t hang up on the supports and tear when it’s deploying — all of that requires very careful engineering. We test, and we test, and we test some more. We have a very stable and robust system now,”
Mrs Edelstein also said.
SMAP is designed to map the planet every three days or less by using microwave-based technology. The satellite will measure moisture within Earth’s soil in the top 2 inches giving scientists and farmers the most precise soil moisture maps. SMAP will also launch early warning signs when droughts are about to happen.
SMAP’s antenna would beam microwaves to Earth and record the signals that bounce back. The microwaves would penetrate about 2 inches into the soil. Scientists would measure the electrical changes within these beams when returning back to SMAP. The changes mark how moist the soil is. SMAP is very accurate providing images on a half a mile to a mile and a half resolution.
NASA hopes that by informing farmers beforehand on droughts crops would get saved in record time. If they know when a drought is coming, farmers can adjust the irrigation system to the drought’s magnitude, can delay planting other crops or employ other strategies to lower at a minimum the damages.
Until now, farmers knew when a drought was about to happen by their previous experience. However, SMAP is expected to give them more accurate and reliable information about soil moisture.
“SMAP can assist in predicting how dramatic drought will be, and then its data can help farmers plan their recovery from drought,”
said Narendra Das, researcher involved in the SMAP mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
Image Source: NASA.gov