January 30, 2014

It will be a big year for NASA's Earth-observing missions, which focus on weather and climate science. The space agency plans to launch five such missions in 2014, with the first one -- involving a new science satellite -- scheduled for next month.

The NASA-built satellite, called Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory, is slated to take off from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan on February 27. NASA joined forces with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to form the first coordinated international satellite network, which will provide near real-time observations of rain and snow every three hours worldwide, the agency said.

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The GPM Core Observatory will fly 253 miles above Earth, watching precipitation from the Arctic Circle to the Antarctic Circle at different times of day and downlinking data through NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System. The Goddard Space Flight Center will process and distribute the data over the Internet. According to NASA, the observatory will link data from a group of current and planned satellites to yield next-generation global measurements of rainfall and snowfall from space.

Scientists will use the collected data to study climate change, floods, droughts, and hurricane formation. "GPM will provide scientists and forecasters critical information to help us understand and cope with future extreme weather events and fresh water resources," John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said in a written statement.

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