Successful GPM Launch Marks New Era in Earth Observation

A joint mission between NASA and Japan’s space agency, the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory, will for the first time provide near real-time information about rain and snow around the globe.

A Japanese H-IIA rocket carrying the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory lifts off from the Tanegashima Space Center on Feb. 27, 2014. Image Credit: NASA TV.

A Japanese H-IIA rocket carrying the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory lifts off from the Tanegashima Space Center on Feb. 27, 2014. Image Credit: NASA TV.

In a time when satellite launches have become routine, yesterday’s launch of the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory was something special.

The successful lift-off at 1:37 ET Thursday at the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan, marks what NASA calls “a new era of global weather observing and climate science.”

That’s because GPM, a joint effort by NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), is the basis for the first international network of satellites with the ability to provide global, near real-time coverage of information on rain and snow.

“The water-cycle, so familiar to all school-age young scientists, is one of the most interesting, dynamic, and important elements in our studies of the Earth’s weather and climate,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, in a statement released by NASA. “GPM will provide scientists and forecasters critical information to help us understand and cope with future extreme weather events and fresh water resources.”

Responding to questions in a live Q&A session on the social media platform Twitter on Feb. 25, GPM project manager Art Azarbarzin explained that the instruments on the GPM will, for the first time, provide information on falling snow, a capability, he said, that will allow for greater accuracy and a longer lead-time in snow forecasts.

“A lot is still unknown about snow,” said Azarbarzin, “especially about how it behaves when it is still in the atmosphere. It’s also difficult to measure from space because the ice particles are very small and look different to the satellite’s instruments than liquid raindrops. As a result, while scientists can say something about snow with ground radars, where those radars can’t see, such as over the ocean or in mountainous regions, they really don’t know how much or where the snow is falling.”

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