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Vega Rocket Launches Earth-Watching PRISMA Satellite for Italy

A European Vega rocket carried a new Earth-observation satellite into orbit for the Italian Space Agency late Thursday (March 21), lighting up the nighttime sky over its French Guiana launch site.  

The PRISMA Earth observation satellite lifted off at 9:50 p.m. EDT (0150  March 22 GMT) from the South America's Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana.  The satellite will operate in a sun-synchronous orbit, meaning that it circles the Earth in such a way that the sun is always in the same position as the satellite takes pictures of the planet below.

PRISMA (an Italian acronym for Hyperspectral Precursor of the Application Mission) is designed to provide information about environmental monitoring, resources management, pollution and crop health. The satellite includes a medium resolution camera that can view across all visual wavelengths, as well as a hyperspectral imager that can capture a wider range of wavelengths between 400 and 2500 nanometers.

Related: Europe's Small Vega Rocket in Pictures

An Arianespace Vega rocket carrying the PRISMA Earth-observation satellite lifts off from Kourou, French Guiana, on March 21, 2019.

An Arianespace Vega rocket carrying the PRISMA Earth-observation satellite lifts off from Kourou, French Guiana, on March 21, 2019. (Image credit: Arianespace)

"The mission can provide a unique contribution to the observations of natural resources and in the study of key environmental processes, such as interaction between atmosphere, biosphere and hydrosphere, observation of global climate change and effects of human activities ecosystems," said the Italian Space Agency in a 2017 statement announcing the mission.

PRISMA was designed and manufactured by an Italian consortium led by OHB ITALIA SpA and LEONARDO SpA. This is the third Vega mission of 2019 and the 14th since the launcher began operations at Guiana in 2012, Arianespace said in a statement.

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Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is the author or co-author of several books on space exploration. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota in Space Studies, and an M.Sc. from the same department. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University in Canada, where she began her space-writing career in 2004. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level, and for government training schools. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @howellspace.