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Advanced Weather-Watching Satellite Blasts Into Orbit

A satellite designed to study the Earth’s weather and climate launched into space aboard a Delta II rocket early Friday morning. It lifted off from California’s Vandenberg Air Force through clear skies and ideal weather.

Watch video of the launch here:

The spacecraft is called NPP, short for the wordier National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project. A little bigger than a Jeep, the two-ton satellite will orbit 512 miles above Earth, joining a fleet of other climate-watching satellites like NASA’s Terra, Aqua and Aura, which have already aged beyond their expected lifetimes.

But NPP is more advanced than its brethren — equipped with five instruments to measure ozone, dust particles in the atmosphere, sea surface temperatures, atmospheric pressure and solar radiation, among other things. It will also monitor wildfires, ice movement and clouds and land changes on Earth. Four of the instruments are brand new, more capable of taking precise measurements than the satellites already in orbit.

“It will do quite a sweep of things,” said NASA spokesman Steve Cole. “It will be useful for research and real-world applications, like forest fires. So it has real, current, immediate applications, as well as ongoing information on the climate. We’re getting a two-fer on a lot of these measurements. It can do long-term science and be very useful day-to-day.”

And much of NPP’s value is that it’s not all that different than the other weather-forecasting and climate-modeling satellites, Cole added. It will add to data already being measured by older satellites.

“Data gets more valuable as it gets older,” he said. “As you have a longer and longer record, you can really understand better what’s going on.”

It was a long road to Friday’s liftoff. The satellite was originally scheduled to launch in 2006, but development of the instruments took longer than planned.

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