An Earth-orbiting satellite called SMAP was launched at 7:22 A.M. MST Saturday morning from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The University of Montana in Missoula helped write the onboard software.

SMAP (Soil Moisture Active Passive) will use microwaves to measure the moisture in the top two inches of soil. The program that turns the information into usable data was mainly developed by UM. Professor John Kimball said he has been working on the NASA project for a decade.

The satellite is in a polar orbit, which allows it to cover the spinning globe every two days. Data is expected to help predict floods, droughts and crop health.

NASA and the Jet Propulsion Lab have more about the project, including videos of the launch and, in orbit, of the satellite beginning to unfurl its solar panels.