SpaceX has launchedNASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) satellites as well as five Iridum NEXT communication satellites on May 22 using its Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Space Launch Complex in California.
The GRACE-FO satellites were deployed into orbit 11 minutes after the launch, while, the Iridium satellites were released one-by-one every 100 seconds after about 50 minutes of launch. SpaceX didn’t land and recover the first stage of the Falcon 9.
The two Earth-observing satellites, each the size of a car, are part of the GRACE-FO mission by NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences. The satellites will circle the Earth at a distance of 137 miles from each other. They will be replacing the original GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) mission, which ended operations in 2017, after staying for almost fifteen years in the orbit observing the movement of water around the planet.
The satellites have been designed to work in unison, using microwave signals to communicate in order to track the movement of water on Earth, study climate change and collect data that can help monitor changes in underground water stores, glaciers, ice sheets, oceans, rivers, and lakes. The $520m Grace-FO mission is expected to work for at least five years.
“Water is critical to every aspect of life on Earth — for health, for agriculture, for maintaining our way of living,” said Michael Watkins, who is the GRACE-FO science lead and director at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Watkins added that one cannot manage the water levels well until it is measured.
Scientists are hopeful that data collected by the twin NASA satellites will aid them in managing the Earth’s water resources efficiently.