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Latest CERES Instrument Launches On Earth-Observing Mission

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Liftoff of the NPP aboard a Delta II rocket at Space Launch Complex-2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Calif. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

CERES launch viewing at Langley.

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NASA Langley employees watch the launch of the Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) flight model five (FM5) on the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project (NPP) in the cafeteria's NACA room. Photo credit: NASA/Sean Smith

CERES launch viewing at Langley.

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Gary Gibson, deputy director of NASA Langley's Science Directorate, welcomes and thanks employees who attended a launch viewing breakfast in the cafeteria's NACA room to see the Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System (CERES) flight model five (FM5) lift off onboard the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project (NPP). Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

By: Michael Finneran

On Friday, Oct. 28, 2011, an arc of light illuminates the pre-dawn sky at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., as a Delta II rocket flawlessly launched on schedule with the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) spacecraft payload.

NPP carried five science instruments, including four new state-of-the-art sensors, which will provide critical data to help scientists understand the dynamics of long-term climate patterns and help meteorologists improve short-term weather forecasts.

The instrument is the latest in a series that has studied the Earth's climate for nearly 30 years. Previous CERES instruments have returned data about the solar energy reflected and absorbed by Earth, the heat the planet emits and the role of clouds in that process.

"I'm very pleased and relieved the launch went so smoothly," said Langley's Norman Loeb, CERES principal investigator. "NPP is born. May she and the instruments she carries live a long and healthy life, and continue the observations of Earth's radiation budget so critical to understanding our climate system. Go NPP! Go CERES FM5!"

NASA began measuring and keeping a record of changes in Earth's energy in 1984, with a satellite instrument known as ERBE (Earth Radiation Budget Experiment) and then its successor, CERES.

CERES is one of five instruments on NASA’s first next-generation Earth-observing satellite, which is called NPP (NPOESS Preparatory Project). NPP is a critical first step in preparing for the next-generation Joint Polar Satellite System that will collect data on long-term climate change and short-term weather conditions, monitoring changes in the atmosphere, oceans, vegetation, ice and solid Earth.

Data from NPP will enable the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to continue issuing accurate forecasts and provide advance warning of severe weather. NPP also will extend critical long-term data sets that advance Earth system science and applications supported by NASA, NOAA and other agencies.

Compiling a long record of data is important because CERES monitors minute changes in the Earth's energy budget - the balance between incoming and outgoing energy - that can lead to serious longer-term consequences, such as polar ice melting and rising sea levels, Loeb said.

Scientists study the planetary energy-balance that results from these interactions primarily because the Earth's atmosphere is influenced by the buildup of human-released carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

"As the Earth undergoes changes in its climate, cloud properties may change in ways that may amplify or offset climate change," said Loeb. "Understanding the influence of clouds on the energy budget is therefore a critical climate problem."

The previous CERES instruments are in orbit aboard NASA's Aqua and Terra satellites. The instruments use a radiometer to measure the power of electromagnetic radiation being transmitted in the atmosphere.

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center manages the NPP mission for the Earth Science Division of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington. NASA Langley manages the CERES mission. The TRW Space & Electronics Group in Redondo Beach, Calif., now owned by Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, built all of the CERES instruments.


In on online series, we've featured members of the CERES team, past and present, as we counted down to launch:


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