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Japan Launches NASA's Most Advanced Satellite to Track Rain and Snow

Japan's space agency puts a NASA satellite into orbit to kick off an international mission to observe global rainfall and snowfall.
Image: GPM launch
A Japanese H-2 rocket rises from the Tanegashima Space Center on Friday (Japan time), sending the Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory into orbit.Bill Ingalls / NASA
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NASA's newest weather satellite soared into space on Thursday, kicking off a mission to observe rainfall and snowfall around the globe in unprecedented detail.

The Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory, a joint effort between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, blasted off aboard an H-2A rocket from Japan's Tanegashima Space Center at 1:37 p.m. ET (3:37 a.m. Friday local Japan time).

GPM will deliver near real-time observations of precipitation every three hours all over the world, greatly improving scientists' understanding of climate change and the global water cycle, mission officials said. [See Launch Photos for NASA's GPM Satellite Mission]

The 8,500-pound (3,850 kilograms) GPM Core spacecraft will orbit Earth at an altitude of 253 miles (407 kilometers), about as high up as the International Space Station. It will circle the planet once every 93 minutes, completing about 16 orbits per day.

The satellite will use two instruments — the GPM Microwave Imager and the Dual-frequency Precipitation Radar — to study rainfall and snowfall from the Arctic Circle in the north to the Antarctic Circle in the south, giving researchers great looks at clouds and storm systems.

"These instruments will allow scientists to see inside clouds," Steve Neeck, deputy associate director of flight programs for NASA's Earth science division, said during a January press conference.

The GPM Core satellite — whose cost to NASA is $933 million — will serve as the anchor of an international network of weather and climate satellites, some of which are already in orbit.

— Mike Wall,

This is a condensed version of a report from Read the full report. Follow Mike Wall on Twitter and Google+. Follow on Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Originally published on