NASA plans to launch five new Earth study missions in 2014, to address major issues including ''climate change, sea level rise, decreasing availability of fresh water and extreme weather events.
The first of the missions, called the Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory, will study rainfall and snowfall around the world, NASA said in a release.
With five launches to the Earth orbit and the International Space Station, in one year, NASA is putting more eyes on the Earth in 2014 than it has done in more than a decade.
The new missions will study the Earth's systems in order to address major issues including ''climate change, sea level rise, decreasing availability of fresh water and extreme weather events,'' according to a NASA press release.
The three satellites and two new instruments for the ISS are designed to collect data on carbon dioxide, rainfall, snowfall, soil, winds and clouds, among other things.
''This really is shaping up to be the year of the Earth,'' NASA administrator Charles Bolden said in the release. ''And this focus on our home planet will make a significant difference in people's lives around the world.''
The launches are as follows:
- February 27: The Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory. Launched on a Japanese H-IIA rocket, GPM will study precipitation to understand the Earth's water cycle;
- June 6: The ISS-RapidScat mission. ISS-RapidScat is headed for the space station, where it will collect data on global ocean winds to improve climate research, weather forecasting and storm tracking;
- The Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO)-2. Originally scheduled for 2009 but scrapped after a launch failure, OCO-2 will study global levels of carbon dioxide to better understand the carbon cycle and both natural and human sources of the greenhouse gas - the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System will use lasers to study particles in the atmosphere called aerosols;
- Sept 12: The Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS), also headed for the ISS, will study small particles in the atmosphere, called aerosols, which affect cloud cover and the climate in ways that are crucial but not well understood. They're also dangerous for human health at ground level.
- November: The Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission aims at improving weather forecasts, agricultural productivity and flood and drought monitoring through studying the moisture in Earth's soil.
The two ISS missions will be launched on Falcon 9 rockets by private company SpaceX, which has a contract with NASA to deliver supplies to the space station.
In total, five Earth-observing instruments are set to be delivered to the space station through 2017.
''This is just the beginning of the space station becoming a part of the global Earth-observing network,'' ISS chief scientist Julie Robinson said in the release.