If you ever wanted know if the plants in your house need water, finding it out is as easy as sticking your finger in the soil to find out the soil’s moisture content. But talking about finding the moisture content on a large scale such as the whole planet, a high-technology integration is called for.
NASA has planned and made just the thing. The SMAP or Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite is currently scheduled to launch at 9.20 am ET on 29th January from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
The satellite has the largest rotating mesh antenna ever deployed in space.
“We call it the spinning lasso,” said Wendy Edelstein, the SMAP instrument manager said in a NASA press release.
The antenna has a massive diameter of 6 meters. The NASA Jet Propulsion Lab’s engineers had to build so that it could be compressed into a 30 x 120 centimeters space during launch.
“The antenna caused us a lot of angst,” Edelstein said.
SMAP will use two microwave instruments to map the globe every couple of days, measuring moisture in the top 2 inches (5 centimeters) of the planet’s soil. It will give scientists and farmers the most detailed soil moisture maps yet — and give them an early warning about droughts.
If the farmers are aware of the coming drought, they will be able to vary the irrigation pattern, delay the time of sowing and try other strategies to cope up with the drought.
At the moment, farmers make predictions solely on the basis of their experience but hopefully, SMAP will give them an objective assessment of soil moisture, says NASA.
“SMAP can assist in predicting how dramatic drought will be, and then its data can help farmers plan their recovery from drought,” said Narendra Das, scientist on SMAP’s science team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.