Control of NASA's Global Precipitation Measurement Core satellite (GPM) has been handed over to the team of engineers who will maintain operational control of the piece of equipment for the remainder of its life in space. The GPM mission, launched on February 27 atop a Japanese manufactured H-IIA rocket, will work in tandem with a constellation of other Earth-observing satellites with the objective of creating a unified measurement of rain and snow-fall on a global scale.
Since its launch, the satellite has been put through a series of check-ups designed to test its operational capabilities, during which time it carried out a series of burns designed to position the 4-ton satellite in a finely-tuned orbit. From this orbit the satellite can maximize the effectiveness of its Microwave Imager and Dual-frequency Precipitation Radar (DPR), which will be used to gain a hitherto unobtainable understanding of our planet's water and energy cycles.
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"We're doing really well," states Erich Stocker, deputy project scientist and project manager for the Precipitation Processing System at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Stocker continues, "GMI is the best calibrated radiometer out of the box that we've ever had. And DPR is well-calibrated for this stage."
Orbiting at a height of 253 miles (407 km), the drag created by Earth's atmosphere is only very slight. However given enough time, even a small amount of drag can cause a significant loss of speed, and this in turn leads to a loss in altitude. To maintain its orbit, the satellite would have required a weekly burn in order to counteract the effects of the drag. However, after fine-tuning the orientation of the GPM satellite's solar array, the team were able to reduce the amount of drag resulting in the burn only being required on a bi-weekly basis.
Now officially operational, the satellite can begin its work of creating global unified precipitation measurements. The resultant information will be put to work in many humanitarian spheres, from the prediction of extreme weather systems to an enhanced ability to monitor the effect of water cycles on agricultural output.