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NASA announced SpaceX will launch the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex-4 at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on November 10. The Sentinel-6 satellite is named after retired NASA Earth scientist Michael Freilich, who retired last year from NASA after over a decade working as director of the agency’s Earth science mission.
Sentinel-6 is an ocean observatory designed to collect sea level data from space that will offer scientists insight about how Earth's warming climate is affecting weather phenomena, the ocean, and the rise of coastlines. “Decadal-level scale in regional and global sea level are perhaps the most robust evidence that Earth's climate is changing and that's why humanity - not one agency, not one country, not one continent, but humanity - has been monitoring global sea levels from space with exquisite accuracy for more than 28 years,” Freilich said during at NASA headquarters during a January presentation.
“Our fundamental goal with Sentinel-6 is to measure the oceans, but the more value we can add, the better,” said Josh Willis, the mission's project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “It's not every day that we get to launch a satellite, so collecting more useful data about our oceans and atmosphere is a bonus.”
“We're changing our climate, and the clearest signal of that is the rising oceans,” Willis stated, “More than 90% of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases is going into the ocean.” NASA explains that the heat causes the oceans’ water to expand, which causes sea-level to rise around the globe.
Launch Alert 🚀 We are targeting Nov. 10 for the launch of the newest ocean-observer, Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich, aboard a @SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California 🌊 Learn more: https://t.co/lTZAvqcbUt pic.twitter.com/dv5rh4Nnt9— NASA's Launch Services Program (@NASA_LSP) September 1, 2020
Sentinel-6 is an international project between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA). ESA is responsible for the satellite that was manufactured by Airbus Defence and Space. Both NASA and ESA designed and provided the satellites’ instruments. NASA is responsible for launch operations; it selected SpaceX Falcon 9 to deploy it into low Earth orbit at an altitude of around 1,336 kilometers.
Once in operation, the satellite will beam its data to weather agencies on Earth, primarily United States’ NOAA and Europe’s Eumetsat. “National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Weather Service meteorologists will use insights from Sentinel 6's GNSS-RO to improve weather forecasts. Also, the GNSS-RO information will provide long-term data that can be used both to monitor how our atmosphere is changing and to refine models used for making projections of future climate,” NASA wrote in a press release September 4. “Data from this mission will help track the formation of hurricanes and support models to predict the direction storms may travel. The more data we gather about hurricane formation (and where a storm might make landfall), the better in terms of helping local efforts to mitigate damage and support evacuation plans.”
The Sentinel-6 mission is programmed to gather data of 90% of Earth’s oceans for 5 years, but the golden house-shaped satellite could remain orbiting our planet for as long as 25 years. After the five-year period, the agencies plan to launch a second satellite called Sentinel-6B, that will operate similarly.
To prepare the Sentinel-6 satellite for launch, engineers in the United States and Europe have been conducting a variety of tests. NASA shared in a press release that the satellite went through a ‘vibration test’, in which the Sentinel-6 satellite was exposed “to the kinds of shaking it will experience while attached to a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasting into orbit.” Sentinel-6 was also tested in a vacuum chamber where it was subjected to “extreme temperatures that it will encounter in space, ranging from 149 to minus 292 degrees Fahrenheit.”