SMAP satellite set for NASA launch

Posted: January 30, 2015

ESL graduate student Jeff Ouellette, post-doc researcher Alexandra Bringer and graduate student Mustafa Aksoy.
Several Ohio State University Electrical and Computer Engineering graduate students have cause to celebrate this weekend. 
After years of planning, a satellite key to their work in remote sensing is scheduled to be launched into space by NASA Saturday at 9:20 a.m. - if weather permits. 

Watch the countdown and eventual take off via NASA TV. (Update: Launch successful! )

Once in orbit, the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite produces global maps of soil moisture, helping improve the understanding of Earth’s water and carbon cycles, as well as the ability to manage water resources. 
Electroscience Lab graduate students Jeff Ouellette, Mustafa Aksoy, as well as post-doctoral researcher Dr. Alexandra Bringer and ECE Chair and Professor Joel Johnson, said they are thrilled about the launch.
Ouellette put the project in perspective: SMAP allows scientists to map soil moisture hydrodynamics on a global scale.
 “Soil and moisture play an important part in the hydrologic cycle. A lot of the Earth’s clean water takes the form of groundwater. Also, it’s an important part of weather forecasting,” he said. “As groundwater evaporates, it goes back into the atmosphere and the cycle continues. It is also a large factor into the carbon process.”
The uses of the future SMAP data are numerous, Ouellette said.
“One major application is crop yield forecasting,” he said.
Aksoy said remote sensing is an important field of science. 
“It basically explains how our Earth system works. It’s a very important part of our life,” he said.
Aksoy said remote sensing is what drew him to the Ohio State University Department of Electrical and Engineering program, as well as studying under Prof. Johnson. 
“Here at Ohio State we have a good group,” he said, “and SMAP is one of the most exciting projects in the remote sensing field.” 
Bringer said she originally met Johnson as a graduate student in France and then decided Ohio State was the best choice to pursue her post-doctoral research.
Ouellette said he’s worked on the project for the past five years. 
“So, the SMAP launch is kind of exciting for us. We’re about to graduate and the satellite is about to launch. It’s a good ending point in our graduate careers,” he said.
Once in orbit, SMAP data is not immediately available.
“The first data will come in February or so,” Bringer said. “We are suppose to analyze it in real time.”
Of course, the entire SMAP mission lasts another three to five years. Ouellette and Aksoy will have graduated Ohio State before then. However, their experience with the project could mean a career opportunity for them at NASA, working on SMAP after graduation.
Aksoy said the launch was postponed twice already, because of adverse weather, so they are hoping for the best.
“Fingers crossed,” he said. “Hopefully, tomorrow will work.”


Category: Research