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GPM satellite delivered to Japan after shutdown delay

Posted: December 1, 2013

An international satellite built to extend and expand precipitation measurements from space has arrived at its Japanese launch site after a trans-Pacific flight from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

Artist's concept of the Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory. Credit: NASA
After a delay of several weeks caused by a cessation of work during the U.S. federal government shutdown in October, NASA shipped the Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory to Japan last week inside a U.S. Air Force C-5M Galaxy transport plane.

Cocooned inside a white shipping container, the GPM Core satellite landed at Kitakyushu, Japan, on Nov. 24 and was placed on a barge for the final leg of the trip to Tanegashima Island, the site of Japan's primary spaceport.

"We have been building GPM hardware at Goddard for over four years," said Art Azarbarzin, GPM project manager, who traveled with the spacecraft on its flight to Japan. "We are excited now to get the spacecraft to Tanegashima and looking forward to the launch."

The spacecraft, which will weigh 8,500 pounds at the time of launch, arrived at the Tanegashima Space Center on Tuesday for several months of final assembly, testing, fueling and launch preparations.

Situated on the southern shore of Tanegashima Island, the picturesque space center is Japan's primary launch site.

The launch is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 28 aboard an H-2A rocket, a delay of two weeks from the launch date advertised by NASA earlier this year.

The U.S. Air Force C-5M cargo plane lands at Kitakyushu Airport in Japan with the GPM Core spacecraft. Credit: JAXA
The partial shutdown of the U.S. government in early October put NASA teams behind schedule in readying the satellite for the trip to Japan, according to Michael Freilich, head of NASA's Earth science division.

The GPM Core spacecraft was built at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. NASA's budget for the project is more than $900 million, which covers development of the satellite and one of the mission's two main instruments.

Japan is responsible for GPM Core's other sensor and the launch.

Freilich said NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, have set a preliminary launch date of Feb. 28. The date needs to be confirmed by Japanese launch officials.

The GPM Core mission follows the joint U.S.-Japanese Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission launched in 1997, but the new satellite will cover more of the planet from a high-inclination orbit 250 miles above Earth.

The spacecraft's microwave imager and dual-frequency radar will peer inside clouds to measure the type and intensity of precipitation, studying everything from winter storms to hurricanes.

Scientists are interested in tracking cyclones as they move from the tropics to higher latitudes to see how the storms evolve as they move through different climate zones.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.