Featured Image Source: NASA/GSFC
NASA awarded a launch services contract to SpaceX for an Earth science mission on Tuesday, February 4. The contract is to deploy NASA's PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem) spacecraft on a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, scheduled for December 2022. The PACE mission is an investment by NASA, to understand Earth's climate change, the spacecraft will give researchers insight to what is needed to protect our home planet. PACE will have the capability to provide worldwide data that includes: ocean color, cloud, and aerosol levels -all in an effort to get insights into oceanographic and atmospheric responses to Earth’s changing climate. NASA statement:
"PACE will help scientists investigate the diversity of organisms fueling marine food webs and the U.S. economy, and deliver advanced data products to reduce uncertainties in global climate models and improve our interdisciplinary understanding of the Earth system."
The total cost for NASA's PACE mission is approximately $80.4 million, which includes launch costs. SpaceX will launch the PACE spacecraft on a "flight-proven" Falcon 9, which means they aim to use a pre-flown Falcon 9 rocket first-stage booster. The President of SpaceX Gwynne Shotwell said in a company's statement:
"SpaceX is honored to continue supporting NASA’s critical scientific observational missions by launching PACE, which will help humanity better understand, protect and preserve our planet."
Once deployed, the 3,748 pound PACE spacecraft will operate in a sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of approximately 420 miles. PACE is equipped with an Ocean Color Imager, operating from ultraviolet to shortwave infrared that will allow studies of phytoplankton in the ocean, as well as two polarimeters to study properties of clouds, aerosols and the ocean. Since PACE will be in a sun-synchronous orbit, this will allow for consistent daylight conditions for imaging. PACE's data will help NASA scientists better understand how the atmosphere and ocean exchange carbon dioxide. The data will also reveal how aerosols might fuel phytoplankton growth in the ocean's surface. By measuring the distribution of phytoplankton, tiny plants and algae that sustain the marine food web it helps the assessment of advancing and maintaining ocean health. It will keep record of key atmospheric variables associated with air quality and Earth's climate as well over the course of 10 years. Spacecraft's data will help to track water resources, manage fisheries, forecast air quality, and monitor weather disasters. According to the agency, "novel uses of PACE data will benefit our economy and society."