Solar System Chatter

Losing the A in SMAP

Bad news for mud scientists. Just a few short months after the Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite (SMAP) started operations as the first Earth observer of its kind, one of its two instruments stopped transmitting data. The active radar, which took high-resolution but low-sensitivity moisture data, worked in concert with the passive radiometer, which provides high-sensitivity but low-resolution data, to make global maps of surface soil moisture every few days. The good news is they worked together briefly; that data will be released in late September. The bad news is that due to a malfunction with the high-power amplifier that boosts the radar signal, the instrument cannot be recovered. NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have convened two separate investigations to determine why the issue happened. SMAP will continue to operate with the remaining instrument; the mission team is looking into ways to boost the radiometer resolution.

Heather Goss is the Departments Editor at Air & Space.

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