Last weekend NASA launched a new satellite into orbit that is expected to improve drought monitoring and flood forecasting. The satellite will be capturing data about moisture in the soil during its three-year mission. NASA’s Delta II “workhorse rocket” took off Saturday morning without incident after two delays, and weather researchers are eagerly awaiting the first updates, which could be used to help farmers prepare for drought conditions and warn people about dangerous flash floods.

delta ii rocket launch

The 127-foot-tall rocket carried the Soil Moisture Active Passive, or SMAP, satellite that will track the amount of water trapped in the soil on Earth. Researchers will use the satellite data to help warn residents in low-lying areas about floods and prepare farmers for coming droughts.

Related: Scientists predict California may be headed for a 100-year megadrought

To date, the federal government has issued drought maps and flash flood warnings based on computer modeling. For the first time in U.S. history, scientists will be able to incorporate actual hard data into their forecast models. The European Space Agency launched a satellite several years that intended to gather information for drought monitoring, but the technology on this new satellite is more advanced. SMAP could essentially change the complete course of drought monitoring, which may translate into preserving crops, cutting costs, and potentially even saving lives.

Although the rocket launch was originally scheduled for last Thursday, two delays pushed it back to Saturday. The first launch attempt was stifled by high winds, causing a 24-hour delay. A second delay was issued to allow technicians time to repair insulation that had come loose during the Thursday launch attempt. The Delta II rocket took off early Saturday morning from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California without incident.

Via NBC Bay Area

Images via NASA