SpaceX is scheduled this afternoon to launch a batch of satellites into space, including two twin satellites for NASA. This twin satellites will keep a watch on how water moves around our planet. This mission is called GRACE-FO, which replaces the two original GRACE satellites that were launched in 2002. These two satellites gave valuable information about melting ice sheets, sea level rise, and droughts to scientists, but went offline last year. So, mission GRACE-FO’s twin satellites will continue that work by providing researchers with a better understanding of how water behaves on our planet, especially during a change in the climate.
Predict of climate change in future.
According to Frank Webb, a GRACE-FO project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, water resources are vital to the life on the Earth and the way we operate civilization. So, he believes that it is necessary to understand changes in those resources. The two car-sized GRACE-FO satellites will be about 137 miles away from each other while in orbit, and will constantly follow each other. This set-up of satellites will help to measure water changes on the Earth. While the first GRACE-FO probe is passing over a big area of pass such as a huge underground aquifer, its gravity will pull at the satellite and the distance between the following spacecraft will change. So, measuring the distance between the two satellites constantly can help to create a gravity map of the Earth every month. This map will show changes in how water is distributed on the Earth.
Other things such as mountains have mass. But, the thing which is really moving is water. This method was earlier used with the first GRACE satellites. These satellites revealed that Greenland is losing mass. According to the measurements, the melting Greenland ice sheet is about three times the size of Texas. It is dumping nearly 281 gigatons of water every year into the ocean. These satellites also reveal that Antarctica is losing 120 gigatons of water every year into the ocean. Every year, the rise in the sea level includes 0.039 inches of these melting ice sheets.
These satellites also allow monitoring droughts. During dry periods, the general distribution of water in soil, rivers, lakes, and glaciers change. So, it also helps to monitor droughts. Water is one of the best indicators of climate change. It is very necessary to understand how our climate system is evolving. So, by studying changes of water distribution on Earth, we can predict the future. The new twin satellites will use the same method with some updates. This time, satellites will feature bigger batteries and have an additional camera. In October 2017, the old GRACE satellites stop functioning.
The new ones will start providing its first data after 90 days of its launch. This whole mission will last for at least five years, which has cost the US space agency $430 million and the GFZ 77 million euros. As the method for measurement depends on the distance between two satellites, they are not equip with thrusters to reposition their orbits. So, they won’t last longer than other satellites, and eventually, they will fall back on Earth. The twin GRACE-FO satellites will be launched with five Iridium NEXT communications satellites on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
The time for the launch of the rocket is scheduled at 3:57 PM ET from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The streaming will be live on NASA TV at 3:15 PM, so don’t forget to watch the launch.