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NASA readying ocean surveying satellite for launch from Vandenberg AFB

June 9, 2011 |  4:00 pm

NASA is set to launch a satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base that aims to provide scientists with a space-based view of how salt on the ocean's surface relates to the Earth's climate.

The satellite, dubbed Aquarius, is slated to blast off aboard a 13-story Delta II rocket at 7:20 a.m. PDT on Friday from Space Launch Complex-2 at Vandenberg, which is north of Santa Barbara. Aquarius

Can’t make it out to the base to watch the blast-off? Well, you can follow the launch coverage on NASA's Launch Blog or rocket maker United Launch Alliance's website, which will begin at 5:30 a.m.

The Aquarius satellite is a collaboration between NASA and Argentina's space agency, Comision Nacional de Actividades Espaciales, or CONAE.

The spacecraft was built by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

The space agencies say that salinity, or saltiness, plays a crucial role in ocean circulation and is a key tracer for understanding the ocean's role in Earth's global water cycle.

“While satellites routinely provide information on sea surface temperature, sea level, ocean color and ocean winds, historically, no global view of ocean surface salinity had been available,” NASA said.

Aquarius is so accurate that it can measure one-eighth teaspoon of salt in a gallon of water, NASA said. The satellite will produce monthly maps of the surface salinity of the world’s oceans.

“This is a level of accuracy and stability that has never been achieved in space before," said Simon Yueh, a scientist at JPL, which will archive mission data.


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-- W.J. Hennigan

Photo: Inside the mobile service tower at Space Launch Complex-2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, workers prepare to install the Aquarius satellite into the United Launch Alliance Delta II payload fairing. Credit: NASA/Vandenberg AFB