A new Earth observation satellite that will monitor the planet’s oceans is slated for launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base next month.
The satellite, named Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite, was built in cooperation between the European Space Agency and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and will launch from Vandenberg on Nov. 10, one week early, according to Josef Aschbacher, director of Earth Observation Programmes with the European Space Agency.
The announcement came Friday during a live webcast between numerous NASA and EU officials.
The satellite is named after Michael Freilich, the former NASA director who advocated for advancing satellite measurements of the ocean.
“We live on a blue marble flying through space and it’s blue because of the 70% of the surface that’s covered by oceans,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate director for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA. “What we tend to forget, though, is that nearly 80% of the Earth’s population lives near the oceans.
“And 90% of all commerce internationally crosses the sea,” he said.
The new satellite will monitor ocean conditions and provide data, including sea level and temperature, to help better predict weather events and help understand climate change.
When in orbit, Sentinel-6 will measure the ocean’s level down to a few centimeters.
“Measuring the world’s vast oceans is a difficult problem,” said Parag Vaze, project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. “We have to cover a vast amount of space and do it very, very quickly and measure the world’s ocean very accurately.”
Sentinel-6 is the first of two satellites that will launch five years apart and will extend a nearly 30-year data set of ocean data. It will join a fleet of seven other Sentinel satellites that provide Earth observation data, including global air monitoring, sea level and air monitoring.
The seven satellites provide up to 250 terabytes of data used throughout the world on a daily basis, which Aschbacher calls the “tip of the iceberg.”
The European Space Agency has at least 15 satellites that provide data, with 13 in preparation for launch and an additional 40 more in development.
The satellite is a part of the Union’s Copernicus program and, in essence, will take the pulse of the planet, Aschbacher said.
According to data provided by a series of EU satellites, sea level has increased from a rate of 3.1 millimeters per year in 1993 to 4.8 millimeters per year in 2018.
“Scientists are expecting that by the end of the century, the sea level will have risen by about 1.3 to 1.5 meters, depending a bit on the models,” Aschbacher said, calling the data “alarming.”
The satellite advances the technology used to keep tabs on the Earth’s environment, but it’s also a symbol of cooperation between the U.S. and Europe, according to Pierre Delsaux, deputy director general for the Space European Commission.
“We need to understand why the climate is changing,” Delsaux said. “Nobody can deny it.”
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