A US-French satellite launched early on Friday aboard a SpaceX rocket, carrying out an unprecedented worldwide study of the Earth’s surface water.
The mission is anticipated to provide fresh light on the causes and effects of climate change.
At the Vandenberg US Space Force Base, roughly 160 miles (260 km) northwest of Los Angeles, the Falcon 9 booster owned and operated by Elon Musk’s commercial rocket business lit up the early-morning sky along California’s coast as it raced off its launch pad.
The NASA-directed liftoff was broadcast live online by the US space agency.
Within nine minutes, the satellite-carrying upper stage of the Falcon 9 had entered orbit.
Earlier, the rocket’s reusable lower stage had disengaged from it and flown back to Earth, causing sonic booms as it did so before descending to a peaceful landing at the base.
Less than an hour after launch, the Surface Water and Ocean Topography satellite, also known as SWOT, was released into its own beginning orbit, which was located around 530 miles (850 km) above the planet.
SWOT was captured floating away in video from a camera mounted on the rocket’s upper stage.
A half-hour later, SWOT’s systems were confirmed to be functional when CNES mission control in Toulouse, France, reported that it had recovered the first complete set of signals from the satellite.
The satellite’s main feature is a powerful microwave radar system that can measure seas, lakes, reservoirs, and rivers in high-definition over 90% of the planet.
According to experts, the information, which was gathered via radar sweeps at least twice every 21 days, will be used to improve ocean circulation models, support weather and climate predictions, and help manage freshwater supplies in drought-stricken areas.
The SUV-sized satellite’s main builders were CNES and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in the Los Angeles area.
SWOT was one of 15 missions that the National Research Council recommended NASA carry out in the upcoming ten years.
Its development spanned nearly 20 years and included assistance from colleagues in Canada and the United Kingdom.
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