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Japan-U.S. Satellite to Gather Detailed Weather Data

Washington – Environmental research and weather forecasting will advance with the February 2014 launch of the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory.

NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), principal partners in the GPM launch, announced December 26 they plan to send the new instrument into space February 27, 2014. GPM’s mission will be to provide more advanced and frequent observations of precipitation worldwide. Greater accuracy in measurement of rain and snowfall will enhance scientific understanding of the water and energy cycles that influence planetary climate.

“Knowing rain and snow amounts accurately over the whole globe is critical to understanding how weather and climate impact agriculture, fresh water availability and responses to natural disasters,” said Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division, in a press release.

Even though the United States and Japan are taking the lead on GPM’s launch, the data it returns will be pooled with satellite data being collected by instruments supported by an array of international agencies, including the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, the Centre National D‘√Čtudes Spatiales of France and the Indian Space Research Organisation.

U.S. scientific agencies participating in the collaborative project include NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency and the Department of Defense.

“We will use data from the GPM mission not only for Earth science research but to improve weather forecasting and respond to meteorological disasters,” said Shizuo Yamamoto, executive director of JAXA. “We would also like to aid other countries in the Asian region suffering from flood disasters by providing data for flood alert systems. Our dual-frequency precipitation radar, developed with unique Japanese technologies, plays a central role in the GPM mission.”

GPM will build on the data from a previous mission, the Tropical Rainfall Monitoring Mission (TRMM), another NASA-JAXA collaboration launched in 1997. The mission showed the benefit of merging rainfall information from a number of different satellites, according to NASA. The mission also confirmed the merit of different data collection methods, which helped improve tropical storm tracking and estimation of rainfall volume and timing.

Tropical Rainfall had a limited mission to measure moderate to heavy rainfall in the tropics. GPM will be measuring precipitation globally, in the mid-latitudes, the tropics and the poles, with the additional capability to measure light precipitation particles.

GPM will also carry a specialized radar instrument that has never operated in space before and will provide three-dimensional measurements of storm fronts. Other instruments will be set to collect data that will provide further insight into how precipitation processes might be affected by human activities, according to a GPM mission concept statement.

GPM was assembled in the United States at NASA’s Goddard Space Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and shipped to the launch site at Tanegashima Space Center on Japan’s Tanegashima Island in November. In mid-December, engineers and technicians tested each of the craft’s systems to ensure that it is ready for launch.