SpaceX Launches Twin NASA Probes to Track Earth’s Water (and Satellites Hitch a Ride)

SpaceX Launches Twin NASA Probes to Track Earth’s Water (and Satellites Hitch a Ride)

SpaceX launched two new Earth science satellites for NASA and 5 Iridium Next communications satellites into orbit right this moment (May 22).

The ride-share mission lifted off on a pre-flown Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at three:47 p.m. EDT (12:47 p.m. PDT, 1947 GMT). “Liftoff for GRACE Follow-On, continuing the legacy of the GRACE mission of tracking the movement of water across our planet,” NASA TV’s launch commentator Gay Yee Hill introduced because the Falcon 9 rocket soared into the sky.

“That’s a beautiful launch,” replied her fellow commentator Sammy Kayali, director for the Office of Mission Safety and Success at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and former deputy supervisor for GRACE-FO.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches NASA's twin GRACE-FO satellites and five Iridium Next communications satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on May 22, 2018.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches NASA’s twin GRACE-FO satellites and 5 Iridium Next communications satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on May 22, 2018.

Credit: NASA TV

For right this moment’s launch, SpaceX used the identical Falcon 9 rocket booster that launched the classified Zuma mission for the U.S. Air Force in January. Zuma ended up crashing into the ocean as an alternative of reaching orbit, however investigators decided that the Falcon 9 rocket didn’t trigger the accident. After launching Zuma, the booster returned to Cape Canaveral to stick a vertical touchdown, and SpaceX refurbished it earlier than right this moment’s flight. SpaceX didn’t try to land the rocket this time, although.

However, SpaceX did try to get well the dear payload fairing, or nostril cone, that lined the GRACE-FO and Iridium satellites throughout launch. The clamshell-like fairing halves have been anticipated to glide back to Earth under a parafoil and be caught by Mr. Steven, a SpaceX restoration boat geared up with a enormous web suspended between big steel arms. But Mr. Steven did not succeed at catching the payload fairing right this moment. “We came very close. We’re going to keep working on that,” John Insprucker, a principal integration engineer at SpaceX, mentioned throughout a dwell webcast of right this moment’s mission. 

A view of SpaceX's Mr. Steven payload fairing recovery ship on the Pacific Ocean.

A view of SpaceX’s Mr. Steven payload fairing restoration ship on the Pacific Ocean.

Credit: SpaceX

About 12 minutes after liftoff, the rocket’s second stage deployed twin satellites for NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission into a near-polar orbit. The second stage then ignited its engines as soon as extra and headed to a larger orbit to drop off the 5 Iridium Next satellites. NASA confirmed contact with each GRACE-FO satellites shortly after launch through the McMurdo monitoring station in Antarctica. 

SpaceX confirmed that the 5 Iridium satellites additionally deployed efficiently about an hour after liftoff. These satellites will be a part of a constellation of 50 satellites owned by a firm referred to as Iridium Communications, bringing the full variety of Iridium satellites to 55. By the time Iridium Communications completes the constellation, there will probably be 75 satellites in orbit.

The different payload, GRACE-FO, is a follow-on to the original GRACE mission, which mapped Earth’s water and ice by measuring adjustments in Earth’s gravity area from 2002 to 2017. GRACE-FO will decide up the place GRACE left off to proceed finding out rising sea ranges, the melting of glaciers and polar ice caps and different adjustments within the distribution of water across the globe. 

NASA is spending $430 million on the GRACE-FO mission, which is a joint venture with the German Research Center for Geosciences (GFZ). The GFZ has invested one other 77 million Euros (practically $91 million) within the mission, mentioned Frank Flechtner, GRACE-FO’s venture supervisor at GFZ in Potsdam, Germany, at a information convention Monday (May 21). 

“GRACE was really a revolutionary mission for understanding the water cycle, how the climate behaves and the trends taking place over the last 10 or 15 years, and it did this in a very unique way by making measurements of how the mass gets redistributed on the surface of the earth,” mentioned Frank Webb, GRACE-FO venture scientist at JPL, on the information convention.

“We’re able to see how water has moved from different parts of the earth by actually measuring its mass, which is not something you see with your eyes. It’s something you have to feel with the satellite system,” Webb mentioned. 

To measure Earth’s gravity, the 2 spacecraft will orbit Earth collectively, with one trailing behind the opposite at a distance of 137 miles (220 kilometers). Because Earth is not a good sphere and has totally different options, like mountains and oceans, throughout its floor, the gravitational pull exerted on the spacecraft isn’t constant. When the gravity field adjustments, the separation between the 2 satellites adjustments barely. The measurement of that change in separation can reveal details about what sorts of options the spacecraft are flying over.  

The spacecraft measure that change with a microwave monitoring system, beaming indicators forwards and backwards between the 2. GRACE-FO’s devices are so delicate that they’ll detect adjustments “with a precision of about 1 micrometer. That is about one-tenth of a human hair over the distance between Los Angeles and San Diego,” Flechtner mentioned.

The twin satellites that launched right this moment are nearly equivalent to the 2 unique GRACE satellites, except one new software: the Laser Ranging Interferometer. This experimental system serves the identical objective because the microwave instrument, nevertheless it’s designed to take measurements up to 10 occasions as exact because the microwave instrument. If the brand new instrument works out, NASA plans to apply it to subsequent GRACE follow-on missions. GRACE-FO is predicted to spend the following 5 years mapping Earth’s water. 

Email Hanneke Weitering at [email protected] or comply with her @hannekescience. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on

Source link