A US-French satellite that will map nearly all the world’s oceans, lakes and rivers rocketed into orbit on Friday.
“This is an important moment, and I’m very excited about it,” said NASA program manager Nadia Vinokratova-Schiffer. “We’re going to see Earth’s water like never before.”
About the size of an SUV, the satellite will measure the height of water over 90% of Earth’s surface, allowing scientists to monitor flow and identify high-risk areas. It will survey millions of lakes and 1.3 million miles (2.1 million kilometers) of rivers, from headwaters to mouths.
The satellite fires radar pulses at Earth, and the signals are received back by a pair of antennas, one at each end of the 33-foot (10-meter) boom.
It can create currents and eddies up to 13 miles (21 kilometers) across, as well as regions of the ocean where water masses of different temperatures converge.
NASA’s current fleet of nearly 30 Earth-observing satellites cannot make such small features. While these older satellites can map the size of lakes and rivers, their measurements are not detailed, the university said. North CarolinaPart of the mission is Tomlin Pavelski.
Perhaps most importantly, the satellite will reveal the location and speed of sea-level rise and changing coastlines, key to saving lives and property. As it orbits at an altitude of more than 550 miles (890 kilometers), it covers the globe between the Arctic and Antarctica at least once every three weeks. The work is expected to last three years.
Larry Leshin, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, noted that while the agency is known for its Mars rovers and space telescopes, “this is the planet we care about the most.”
“We’ve got a lot of eyes on Earth,” he added, adding that more Earth exploration missions are planned over the next few years.
NASA and the French space agency collaborated on the $1.2 billion SWOT project — about 20 years in the making — with Britain and Canada.
Already recycled, the first stage booster returned to Vandenberg eight minutes after liftoff to fly again for another day. When the double sonic booms rang out, “everyone jumped out of their skins, it was exciting. What a morning,” said Taryn Tomlinson, director of geosciences at the Canadian Space Agency.
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