The first International Launch Services Atlas booster to fly from Vandenberg AFB, California, is due to lift off on 16 December.

The Atlas IIAS will carry NASA's flagship Earth Observing System (EOS) satellite, Terra, into a 705km circular Sun-synchronous polar orbit. Terra, originally called EOS AM, is the first of 10 planned EOS spacecraft to study in detail the ecological system of the Earth.

The Lockheed Martin-built Terra will simultaneously study clouds, water vapour, aerosol particles, trace gases, terrestrial and ocean properties, the interaction between them and their effect on atmospheric radiation and climate.

The $1.3 billion 5,200kg (11,500lb) craft will collect data at a rate of 850gBytes/ day during a six-year mission. The data will be handled by the EOS distributive information system, which has already suffered costly delays, particularly in software development.

The Terra will be followed next year by the TRW-built EOSPM platform, which will carry six instruments to conduct meteorological measurements.

Source: Flight International