LOS ANGELES — Launched this Friday morning, a French-American satellite, to which the Canadian Space Agency also contributed, will have the mission of mapping virtually all oceans, all lakes and all rivers on the planet.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket took off before dawn from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
Dubbed SWOT – the acronym for “Surface Water and Ocean Topography” – this satellite will play an important role as climate change worsens droughts, floods and coastal erosion, researchers say.
Screams and applause echoed from American and French control centers after the successful launch.
“We’re going to see Earth’s water like we’ve never seen it before,” said Nadya Vinogradova-Shiffer, NASA program manager.
The size of an SUV, the satellite will measure water levels on more than 90% of Earth’s surface, allowing researchers to track fluctuations and identify potentially threatened regions. It will also examine millions of lakes and over two million kilometers of rivers, from upstream to downstream.
The radar will send radar pulses to Earth. The bounce signals will be picked up by two antennas located at the ends of a ten meter mast.
The Canadian Space Agency provided the mission with extended interaction klystrons for NASA’s main radar. This element amplifies the radar signal, which will thus be able to measure the small details of the topography of the surface of the oceans and will make it possible to follow the evolution of water masses over time, he explained in a press release. 🇧🇷
“With data from the SWOT mission, Canadian researchers will address pressing climate issues such as the availability of freshwater resources and the evolution of oceans, coasts and inland waters,” said the CSA. These data will also be used in the following areas: maritime security, water management, environmental monitoring, fisheries, maritime transport and sustainable development in the North. SWOT mission data will be open.”
Data from the SWOT mission could help improve the delivery of many water-related services in Canada, such as navigation, weather forecasting and flood warning systems, according to the space agency.
Canadian researchers are also interested in water resources in northern communities, fresh water supply, estuaries, coastal zones, tides, hydroelectric power, and ocean currents and waves.
The satellite should be able to detect currents and rips less than 21 kilometers wide, as well as regions of the ocean where waters of different temperatures meet.
NASA’s current fleet of Earth observation satellites cannot detect such small features. And while these older satellites can map lakes and rivers, their measurements aren’t as detailed, said lead researcher Tamlin Pavelsky of the University of North Carolina.
But more than anything, the satellite will reveal the location and rate of sea level rise and changes in coastlines – two crucial pieces of information when it comes to protecting lives and property. It will cover the globe from the Arctic to Antarctica at least once every three weeks, orbiting at an altitude of nearly 900 kilometers. The mission is expected to last three years.
The $1.2 billion mission represents the culmination of twenty years of collaboration between NASA and France’s Center National d’Etudes Spatiales. The UK Space Agency also contributed.
Already recycled, the first stage of the launcher returned to Vandenberg eight minutes after takeoff and one day it will be reused.
When the double sonic boom sounded, “everyone jumped in the air, it was amazing. What a morning!” said Taryn Tomlinson, director of land programs for the CSA.