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A picture-perfect launch on a Delta II rocket from Vandeberg Air Force Base in California sent the newest satellite into orbit. The Aquarius/SAC-D spacecraft lifted off June 10, 2011 at 7:20 a.m. PDT (1420 UTC) to gather global measurements of ocean surface salinity, leading to a better understanding of ocean circulation, climate and Earth’s water cycle. NASA’s Aquarius instrument is part of the SAC-D spacecraft built by CONAE, Argentina’s space agency.
Once in orbit, the spacecraft will go through a checkout period before it begins its three-year mission. After checkout, Aquarius will map the entire open ocean every seven days for at least three years from 408 miles (657 kilometers) above Earth. Its measurements will produce monthly estimates of ocean surface salinity with a spatial resolution of 93 miles (150 kilometers). The data will reveal how salinity changes over time and from one part of the ocean to another.
Aquarius will measure salinity by sensing microwave emissions from the water’s surface with a radiometer instrument. These emissions can be used to indicate the saltiness of the surface water, after accounting for other environmental factors. Salinity levels in the open ocean vary by only about five parts per thousand, and small changes are important. Aquarius uses advanced technologies to detect changes in salinity as small as about two parts per 10,000, equivalent to a pinch (about one-eighth of a teaspoon) of salt in a gallon of water.
For more info on Aquarius, see the mission’s website.