Aqua Spacecraft Launched, Ready to Study Earth's Water Cycle

NASA’s latest Earth observing satellite, Aqua, successfully launched this morning at 2:55 a.m. PDT. Aqua is dedicated to advancing our understanding of Earth’s water cycle and our environment. Launching the Aqua spacecraft marks a major milestone in support of NASA’s mission to help us better understand and protect our planet.

The Aqua spacecraft lifted off from the Western Test Range of Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., aboard a Delta II rocket at 2:55 a.m. PDT. Spacecraft separation occurred at 3:54 a.m. PDT. inserting Aqua into a 438-mile (705-kilometer) orbit.

“The Aqua project has truly been a team effort and we are very excited this morning,” said Aqua Project Manager Phil Sabelhaus at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

The primary goal of Aqua, as the name implies, is to gather information about water in the Earth’s system. Equipped with six state-of-the-art instruments, Aqua will collect data on global precipitation, evaporation, and the cycling of water. This information will help scientists all over the world to better understand the Earth’s water cycle and determine if the water cycle is accelerating as a result of climate change.

Aqua is the latest in a series of the Earth Observing System spacecraft, following the Terra satellite launched in December 1999. Aqua will cross the equator daily at 1:30 p.m. as it heads north. The early afternoon observation time contrasts with the Terra satellite, which crosses the equator between 10:30 and 10:45 a.m. daily. Aqua’s afternoon observations combined with Terra’s morning observations will provide important insights into the daily cycling of key scientific parameters such as precipitation and ocean circulation.

Aqua is a joint project among the United States, Japan and Brazil. The United States provided the spacecraft and four of the six scientific instruments. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center provided the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer and the Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., provided the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder and NASA’s Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., provided the Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System instrument.

Japan’s National Space Development Agency provided the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer. The Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (the Brazilian Institute for Space Research) provided the Humidity Sounder for Brazil.

Aqua is part of NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise; a long-term research effort dedicated to understanding and protecting our home planet. Through the study of Earth, NASA will help to provide sound science to policy and economic decision makers so as to better life here, while developing the technologies needed to explore the universe and search for life beyond our home planet.

More information about the Aqua program is available at:

Information about NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise can be found at:


David E. Steitz
Headquarters, Washington, D.C.
(Phone: 202/358-1730)

Lynn Chandler
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
(Phone: 301/286-2806)

News Date: 
Saturday, May 4, 2002
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