A 'golden house' is orbiting Earth! SpaceX launched the unique spacecraft to orbit this morning. It is the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich ocean observatory, named in honor of former Head of NASA's Earth Science Division who passed away of cancer in August. The satellite will soon beam the most accurate information of Earth's oceans which will help meterologists and scientists forecast weather events, like hurricanes, track climate change and rising sea levels. "At NASA, what we do is, we use the vantage point of space to get a global view of the Earth. And in this case, Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich is going to give us a global view of the sea surface height," Karen St. Germain Director of NASA's Earth Science Division stated. "The changing Earth processes are affecting sea level globally, but the impact on local communities varies widely. International collaboration is critical to both understanding these changes and informing coastal communities around the world," she said. Sentinel-6 is a joint project between NASA and the European Aerospace Agency (ESA).
The house-shaped satellite was deployed to orbit atop SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket that lifted off at 9:17 a.m. PST from Space Launch Complex 4E at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/wnkvwe09Lb— SpaceX (@SpaceX) November 21, 2020
"Falcon 9 launches Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich to orbit and the first stage rocket booster returns to Earth, completing SpaceX’s third West Coast land landing," SpaceX announced. Approximately nine minutes after liftoff, the Falcon 9 rocket's first-stage booster returned from space; It flawlessly landed on Landing Zone 4, marking SpaceX's 66th recovery of an orbital-class rocket booster. Now this booster can be flown on a future mission.
Falcon 9’s first stage has landed on Landing Zone 4 pic.twitter.com/eDrI5HSXaJ— SpaceX (@SpaceX) November 21, 2020
The $97 million golden-house satellite was released from Falcon 9's second-stage at around 53-minutes after liftoff. It was successfully deployed into low Earth orbit and unfolded its twin sets of solar arrays. "Ground controllers successfully acquired the satellite's signal, and initial telemetry reports showed the spacecraft in good health," the agency wrote in a press release, "Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will now undergo a series of exhaustive checks and calibrations before it starts collecting science data in a few months' time." The ocean observatory will collect data for the next 5 years for NASA and ESA researchers. Though, we could have a truck-sized house orbiting our planet for 25 years. After the 5 year period, the agencies plan to launch a twin satellite, Sentinel-6B, which will operate similarly. This project is important not only for the United States and Europe, Sentinel-6 will provide climate change data that will benefit all of humanity as a whole. "Congratulations to everyone that made today’s launch of the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite possible! A fitting tribute to an incredible trailblazer in Earth science," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine stated after SpaceX's successful satellite deployment.
Sentinel-6 will "help us do all sorts of improvements to forecasts, including using the atmospheric measurements to monitor hurricanes from their formation all the way through their whole life and dissipation," Eric Leuliette of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.
Deployment of Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich confirmed pic.twitter.com/1ZsiSOyeaj— SpaceX (@SpaceX) November 21, 2020
Dr. Micheal Freilich's children were present at the launch facility as SpaceX launched the golden-house satellite to orbit, "It was gorgeous. I haven't seen something that beautiful before," Freilich's son and daughter, Daniel and Sarah, shared their thoughts on watching the launch of the satellite named in honor of their father, video below.
"It was gorgeous. I haven't seen something that beautiful before." Dr. Michael Freilich's son and daughter, Daniel and Sarah, reflect on watching the launch of the Sentinel-6 satellite named in honor of their father. pic.twitter.com/WcEFg1Pnwf— NASA (@NASA) November 21, 2020
"Michael was a tireless force in Earth sciences. Climate change and sea level rise know no national borders, and he championed international collaboration to confront the challenge," said ESA Director of Earth Observation Programmes Josef Aschbacher. "It's fitting that a satellite in his name will continue the 'gold standard' of sea level measurements for the next half-decade. This European-U.S. cooperation is exemplary and will pave the way for more cooperation opportunities in Earth observation."
"Mike helped ensure NASA was a steadfast partner with scientists and space agencies worldwide, and his love of oceanography and Earth science helped us improve understanding of our beautiful planet," added Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science at the agency's headquarters. "This satellite so graciously named for him by our European partners will carry out the critical work Mike so believed in – adding to a legacy of crucial data about our oceans and paying it forward for the benefit of future generations," he said.
WATCH THE SENTINEL-6 MISSION!
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.