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The Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity Satellite (SMOS)
Organization European Space Agency
Mission type Orbiter
Satellite of Earth
Launch date November 2, 2009
Launch vehicle SS-19 Rokot from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Russia
Mission duration 3 years
Home page SMOS satellite
Mass 658 kilograms (1,450 lb)
Power Solar arrays; up to 1065 W
Orbital elements
Apoapsis 758 km
Periapsis 758 km

The Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity Satellite (SMOS) is a part of ESA's Living Planet Programme intended to provide new insights into Earth's water cycle and climate. In addition, it will provide better weather forecasting and will also monitor snow and ice accumulation.[1][2][3]



The project was proposed in November 1998; in 2004 the project passed ESA-phase "C/D" and,[4] after several delays, it was launched on 2 November 2009 from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on a Rockot rocket.[5] The SMOS programme cost is about €315 million ($465 million; £280 million). It is led by ESA but with significant input from French and Spanish interests.[5]

The satellite is part of ESA's Earth Explorer programme – eight spacecraft that will do innovative science in obtaining data on issues of pressing environmental concern. The first is already in orbit – a mission called GOCE, which is mapping variations in the pull of gravity across the Earth's surface. SMOS is the second Explorer to launch; and a third spacecraft, known as CryoSat-2, is due to go into space in December 2009. CryoSat will assess the state of the world's ice cover.


Rockot, the SMOS's launcher

The satellite was launched on 2 November 2009 (04:50 (01:50 GMT)) to a nearly circular orbit of 763 km by a “Rockot”, a modified Russian Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) SS-19 launched from a decommissioned SS-19 launcher from Northern Russia's Plesetsk Cosmodrome.[2][6] The SMOS satellite was launched together with the Proba-2, a technology demonstration satellite.[7][8]


The goal of the SMOS mission is to monitor surface soil moisture with an accuracy of 4% (at 35–50 km spatial resolution).[4] This aspect is managed by the HYDROS project. Project Aquarius will attempt to monitor sea surface salinity with an accuracy of 0.1 psu (10–30 day average and a spatial resolution of 200 km x 200 km).[4][9]

Soil moisture is an important aspect of climate, and therefore forecasting. Plants transpire water from depths lower than 1 meter in many places and satellites like SMOS can only provide moisture content down to a few centimeters, but using repeated measurements in a day, the satellite can extrapolate soil moisture.[2][3] The SMOS team of ESA hope to work with farmers around the world, including the United States Department of Agriculture to use as ground-based calibration for models determining soil moisture, as it may help to better understand crop yields over wide regions.[10]

Information from SMOS is expected to help improve short and medium-term weather forecasts, and also have practical applications in areas such as agriculture and water resource management. In addition, climate models should benefit from having a more precise picture of the scale and speed of movement of water in the different components of the hydrological cycle.[5]



The SMOS satellite carries a new type of instrument called Microwave Imaging Radiometer with Aperture Synthesis (MIRAS).[5][9] Some eight metres across, it has the look of helicopter rotor blades; the instrument creates images of radiation emitted in the microwave L-band (1.4 GHz). MIRAS will measure changes in the wetness of the land and in the salinity of seawater by observing variations in the natural microwave emission coming up off the surface of the planet.

Operations and ground segment

The CNES Satellite Operations Ground Segment will operate the spacecraft with telecommunications from ESA's S-band facility located in Kiruna, Sweden. The Data Processing Ground Segment (CDTI, Villafranca, Spain) will process SMOS data through the X-band. Higher level processing of information will be done by scientists globally.[2]

See also


  1. ^ ESA's water mission SMOS European Space Agency
  2. ^ a b c d SMOS Project Team, The Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) Mission European Space Agency
  3. ^ a b SMOS Special Issue of ESA Bulletin ESA Bulletin Special Issue 137, February 2009
  4. ^ a b c The Living Planet Program Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (MIRAS on RAMSES) Mission SMOS at Centre d'Etudes Spatailes de la BIOsphere (CESBIO)
  5. ^ a b c d "European water mission lifts off". BBC News. 2 November 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-02.  
  6. ^ "Smos satellite unfurls instrument". BBC News. 3 November 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-06.  
  7. ^ Successful launch qualification test for PROBA2
  8. ^ ESA's SMOS Mission to be launched in July 2009 from Plesetsk The Rockot Missions. Eurolaunch Launch Service Provider
  9. ^ a b Mecklenburg S, Kerr Y, Font J and Hahne A. The Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) Mission - An overview. Geophysical Research Abstracts, Vol. 10, 2008,
  10. ^ How Dry We Are: European Space Agency To Test Earth's Soil Moisture Via Satellite-Science News, Science Daily

External links


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