By SPACE.com Staff, SPACE.com
Mon Jun 3, 8:27 AM ET
An important instrument on NASA (news - web sites)'s recently launched Aqua satellite is malfunctioning, a NASA spokesperson said. It is unclear whether the instrument has completely failed or whether it might be revived.
Aqua is designed to improve understanding of Earth's weather and climate and allow for more accurate medium- and long-range forecasts. It launched May 4.
The problematic device is called the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for EOS (AMSR-E). It has a five-foot dish and is designed to observe how water cycles from the surface to the atmosphere and back. These observations would help scientists would learn more about global weather patterns and long-term climate change.
The other five major instruments aboard the craft are in the process of being tested as they are gradually brought on line, and none have shown any problems, said David Steitz, a spokesperson at NASA Headquarters. Some of the instruments are similar to devices aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft. But the AMSR-E is unique and its data could not be duplicated by any other spacecraft, Steitz said.
Few spacecraft go into service without some glitches.
"When we launch, it's not uncommon to have anomalies when you first start up," Steitz told SPACE.com. "On most every spacecraft we launch, at the very beginning of missions we see things we didn't expect because you don't know until you're in the unique environment of space what might happen."
Ground controllers had targeted September for full operations for the spacecraft.
Early this week, data returning from the radiometer reportedly began to stutter, according to The New York Times, which first reported the problem. AMSR-E was designed by researchers in America, Europe and Japan and was built by Mitsubishi Electric. The operation of the instrument is overseen by the Japanese.
"We are working with Japanese to assist in any way we can to help fix this anomaly," Steitz said.
The AMSR-E would measure precipitation rates, water vapor in clouds and in the atmosphere in general, sea-surface winds, sea-surface temperature, ice, snow, and soil moisture.