GREENBELT, Md. (WJZ) — This winter has put weather front and center for most of us. Now it’s about to come into the sharpest focus ever from outer space.

Alex DeMetrick reports a satellite built in Maryland blasted off for orbit Thursday afternoon.

As a Japanese rocket lifted off with a payload built in Maryland, nerves go along for the ride–especially when you’ve put in the past decade working on it.

“It’s anxious, but it’s actually really exciting,” said Walt Petersen, Goddard Space Flight Center. “It’s really amazing to see something come to fruition like this.”

That something is the Global Precipitation Measurement Observatory, or GPM. Built at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, it has instruments so advanced it will see…

“How large the rain particles are and how fast it’s raining,” a researcher said.

GPM will also act as the nerve center for a constellation of other weather satellites already in orbit, giving forecasters on the ground a global picture of wet weather every three hours.

For the first time, it will follow rain across oceans–and snow.

“We’re also able to detect falling snow,” said Gail Skofranick-Jackson, Goddard Space Flight Center. “It’s the first time a satellite mission has been designed specifically to measure falling snow.”

That will help fine-tune forecasts for the kind of winter we’ve been having, and the kind they haven’t had out west.

“And that’s very important, especially in mid and high latitudes, where snowfall can make up a significant portion of fresh water resources that people need to live,” Petersen said.

Focusing on precipitation is a lot more than a dry scientific experiment.

“All seven billion of us on this planet need the fresh water that comes from precipitation to survive. All seven billion of us,” said Petersen.

While not an every day event, NASA has teamed with the Japanese Space Agency in the past to carry an American payload into orbit.

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