NASA mission controllers have successfully deployed the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory’s reflector antenna, in what is an important step along the road towards the satellite becoming fully operational.
The SMAP satellite is designed to aid scientists in furthering our understanding of how the Earth’s water, energy and carbon cycles are linked to one another, with the goal of producing more reliable climate and weather predictions. It will allow for more accurate predictions of natural events such as flooding and droughts.
The 20-foot (6-m)-wide reflector antenna is a key component of the system and is responsible for collecting the satellite’s radar and radiometer instrument measurements. To deploy it, mission controllers sent commands to the observatory, which first fired an onboard pyro to partially open the antenna. A motor was then activated, slowly winding a cable to pull the reflector open.
Initial feedback suggests that the operation, which took some 33 minutes, was completed successfully, and the team is now working to assess more detailed data and telemetry that will confirm the results.
The SMAP satellite was successfully placed in orbit on January 31, and is scheduled to become operational in around one month. Once it’s fully deployed, it’ll will be able to map the globe every two to three days.