The Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite was placed into orbit today by the venerable Delta II rocket out of Cape Canaveral Air Station in Florida. It has opened its solar arrays and begun its commissioning phase. Once operational, the spacecraft will allow unprecedented monitoring of the moisture content of the soil, a critical tool for understanding water availability and planning for the future. The biggest challenge over the next few weeks will be deployment of the spacecraft’s enormous 19.7 foot gold mesh reflector for the primary instrument. Then, after it has adjusted itself into the precise desired orbit and checked out its instruments, it will spin itself up and be ready to start doing science in about a month and a half.
Entire launch sequence (45 minutes):
Animation of the main antenna reflector deployment: