Today’s SpaceX launch will help NASA monitor climate change

Today’s SpaceX launch will help NASA monitor climate change

A pair of identical, sportscar-sized satellites are poised to zoom around the Earth and track changes in water and ice, offering new insights into global warming and sea level rise, NASA said Monday.

After the SpaceX rocket sent off its first payload, GRACE-FO, its second stage continued its climb in order to deploy a series of commercial communications satellites for the Virginia-based company, Iridium. SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket will tote two satellites that are part of NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission, as well as five more Iridium Next communications satellites, when it takes off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 3:47 p.m. EDT (1947 GMT).

For the first few days after launch, the lower, faster satellite will pull slowly ahead of the other until the two satellites are approximately 137 miles (220 kilometers) apart - the optimal separation distance for science operations. (That mission was lost, but SpaceX was not to blame for the mishap.) Although the rocket stuck a flawless landing on its last mission, SpaceX does not plan to attempt a landing for this flight.

The satellite valued at about $528 million would be launched on the latest version of the Falcon 9 rocket from Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

The GRACE-FO satellites are also joined by five Iridium satellites on the Falcon 9. Two of those included new Earth-observing satellites from NASA.

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He said SpaceX had tried but failed to catch the payload fairing, a nose cone used to protect the rocket, as it plunged into the ocean. All satellites deployed, making that a successful mission! The work has been ongoing for over a decade now, and these two new satellites are replacements for older ones that served a similar goal.

Iridium used the extra lift capacity to launch three more Iridium Next satellites than it would have using the Dnepr vehicle. SpaceX has signed up for a total of eight Iridium NEXT launches with the aim of putting 75 new satellites into orbit. It is an effort to observe the movement of water and other mass around the planet by precisely tracking the changing pull of gravity. An additional six spares will remain on the ground until needed.

"GRACE was really a revolutionary mission for us understanding the water cycle and how the climate behaves", said Frank Webb, GRACE-FO project scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, during a pre-launch briefing May 21.

Watch the live launch of GRACE-FO right here! They will use microwave tracking that can measure the distance between the two 1,300-pound satellites to within the diameter of a red blood cell.