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CSU scientists involved in NASA/NOAA satellite launch

October 31, 2011

Scientists at CSU's Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere (CIRA) are involved in an advanced weather-and-environmental monitoring satellite that launched Friday.

NPP satellite at the Ball Aerospace facility in Boulder (photo courtesy of Ball Aerospace)The satellite, a joint mission between NASA and NOAA, is called the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project, or NPP, and will carry five sophisticated instruments to an orbit 512 miles above the earth.

Satellite carries five science instruments

Once in orbit, five science instruments onboard NPP will begin taking observations relating to the Earth’s energy budget, mapping the Earth’s ozone layer, and measuring properties of the Earth’s atmosphere, clouds, oceans, and land surface properties. For a full description of the instruments and their purpose, go to to the NPP website.

CIRA scientists are involved in several key aspects of the NPP mission. Scientists Don Hillger and Stan Kidder are involved with calibration and validating the imagery from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite or VIIRS instrument, while Yoo-Jeong Noh, Dan Lindsey, and Steve Miller will validate measurements of cloud base heights.

Additionally, CIRA scientists Miller and John Knaff will use the new low-light abilities of NPP to take a new look at tropical storms using moonlight, while other scientists will use NPP data to look at oceanic phenomena, and arctic observations.

A center for NOAA, CSU collaboration

The NPP satellite (photo courtesy of Ball Aerospace in Boulder)CIRA, a center for international cooperation, was established in 1980 to increase the effectiveness of atmospheric research between Colorado State and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. CIRA's research products help scientists around the globe understand atmospheric changes that affect weather and climate.

CSU Distinguished Professor Tom Vonder Haar, who co-founded CIRA and has worked on NPP since 1997, has incorporated Ball’s construction of the satellite into his courses. 

“This mission continues a long collaboration between CIRA and the nation’s space agencies dating back to our founding director’s work on the Earth Radiation Budget Mission, and later collaboration on the CloudSat mission,” said current CIRA Director Christian Kummerow.

“This is the first of the new generation of weather and climate satellites,” said Vonder Haar of NPP.  “Our team has helped design the instruments and develop the algorithms that process the satellite data to get weather and climate information. We are part of a team of hundreds of scientists from around the country that has participated in the science and applications teams.”

The launch of the Delta II rocket carrying NPP occurred at 3:48 a.m. MST on Friday from Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc, Calif. The NPP spacecraft, which was built at Ball Aerospace in Boulder, weighs 4,600 pounds and will circle the earth from pole-to-pole about 14 times per day. The orbit is designed to give NPP at least one complete view per day of the Earth in daylight and nighttime conditions.

Contact: Emily Wilmsen
Phone: (970) 491-2336