NASA’s newest climate satellite went into orbit Thursday to study the planet’s oceans and atmosphere in never-before-seen detail.
SpaceX launched the Pace satellite on its US$948 million mission before dawn from Cape Canaveral, Florida, with the Falcon rocket heading south over the Atlantic Ocean to reach orbit rare polar.
The satellite will spend at least three years studying the oceans at an altitude of 676 kilometers, as well as the atmosphere. It will scan the globe daily with two of the scientific instruments. A third instrument will take monthly measurements.
“This will be an unprecedented view of our home planet,” said project scientist Jeremy Werdell.
What scientists hope the satellite will tell them
The observations will help scientists improve forecasts of hurricanes and other extreme weather, detail changes to Earth as temperatures rise, and better predict when harmful algal blooms will occur.
NASA already has more than two dozen Earth observation satellites and instruments in orbit. But Pace should provide a better idea of how atmospheric aerosols such as pollutants and volcanic ash and marine life like algae and plankton interact with each other.
“Pace will give us another dimension” to what other satellites observe, said Karen St. Germain, director of Earth sciences at NASA.
Pace – short for plankton, aerosol, cloud, ocean ecosystem – is the most advanced mission ever launched to study ocean biology.
Current Earth observation satellites can see in seven or eight colors, according to Werdell. Pace will see in 200 colors that will allow scientists to identify types of algae in the sea and types of particles in the air.
Scientists hope to start getting data in a month or two.
NASA is collaborating with India on another advanced Earth observation satellite scheduled for launch this year. Named Nisar, it will use radar to measure the effect of rising temperatures on glaciers and other icy surfaces that are melting.
NASA’s Pace project has persevered despite efforts by the Trump administration to cancel it.
“It’s been a long and strange journey, as they say,” Werdell said before the launch.