Oct 28, 2011 (10:10 AM EDT)
NASA Launches Advanced Climate Satellite

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NASA launched a sophisticated new satellite Friday that will extend more than 30 long-term datasets of climate and meteorological activities on Earth and mark a transition to next-generation study of Earth's environment.

NASA's National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project (NPP) blasted off early Friday morning from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The satellite will eventually settle into orbit 512 miles above Earth.

Among the five science instruments onboard the craft are four state-of-the-art sensors that will collect data aimed at helping scientists understand long-term climate patterns, according to NASA.

The data also will help meteorologists improve short-term weather forecasts and extend NASA datasets that are collecting information about several of Earth's environmental factors, such as the ozone layer and land and ice cover of the Earth.

Sensors aboard NPP will transmit data to a ground station in Svalbard, Norway, once every time the satellite orbits Earth.

[Data transmitted from satellites may not be secure. Learn more: Chinese Military Blamed For Hacking U.S. Satellites.]

That data then will be sent to the United States via fiber optic cable to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) facility in Suitland, Md., that will operate the mission after its first three months. During this initial period, NASA will operate NPP to check out the satellite and its instruments.

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., is handling the overall management of the NPP mission for the Earth science division of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington.

"NPP is critical to our understanding of Earth's processes and changes," said NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver in a press statement. "Its impact will be global and builds on 40 years of work to understand our complex planet from space."

The project also serves as a segueway into the next-generation Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), a program by NOAA that also will collect weather and climate data. JPSS extends the work of NASA's Earth observing system (EOS) satellites.

NASA scientists will use NPP data to extend and improve EOS data records, which include significant information about the Earth's climate and weather systems, including data about clouds, oceans, vegetation, and atmosphere.

The next-generation satellites will take this work a step further and record information to detect and quantify global changes to the climate and environment, according to NASA.