Two weeks have passed since my last posting from Cordoba, Argentina on August 25th. Since that time, there are a number of important events and results to tell you about.
The Aquarius instrument has been operating in normal science mode since August 25, with all radiometer and radar channels performing well. There was a brief ~1-hour data gap on August 25th during an engineering test, and otherwise the data have been continuous for two weeks: the data so far look excellent.
Meanwhile, during the past two weeks the CONAE/SAC-D instrument team has been bringing all the other instruments on line (see here
for a payload description). Preliminary results from the microwave radiometer (MWR) also look excellent. The other SAC-D instruments are still going through initial testing, and all have been powered-on successfully. At this time, the Aquarius calibration/validation (cal/val) working group has not detected any interference to Aquarius data related to the power-on of the SAC-D instruments, and this analysis is ongoing.
The final phase for the mission's post launch commissioning is a period of propulsion maneuvers, beginning next week, to refine the orbit to achieve the required exact-repeat 7-day cycle for the science operations (it is quite close to this already). The orbit adjustments will involve several different maneuvers spread out over the next four weeks. The Aquarius and MWR instruments will remain on during the propulsion maneuvers, although the satellite pointing will change and disrupt the normal measurements. Each maneuver will typically take less time than one orbit. Some maneuvers are expected to orient the sensors toward deep space and provide a serendipitous cold-sky calibration. We expect the orbit adjustment period to be finished in early October. At that time, all of the key on-orbit commissioning activities for the Aquarius/SAC-D mission will be done and we will be ready to enter the science phase of the mission.
Now, returning to the Aquarius data: The Aquarius cal/val working group has been meeting daily to review and analyze the data. Several algorithm changes, including new radiometer calibrations, are currently being implemented on the data processing system at Goddard Space Flight Center. When we verify the processing is correct, we plan to start releasing the data to the science team and broader community, likely during the week of September 19th. We plan for these data files to start at August 25, 2011, with first orbit on that day being orbit 1, cycle 1; each cycle will be 7 days and will contain 103 orbits. Note that the exact repeat will not be precisely set until the end of the orbit adjustments.
NASA Headquarters and JPL media relations personnel are also working with the project to issue a press release with a "first light" global salinity map during the week of September 19.
My intention now is to provide you a new update every week, typically on Fridays.
Until next time, best regards to all.