NASA's Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission will be the first-ever global survey of the Earth's surface water. The space agency has just announced that the satellite it will use to carry out the measurements will be hitching a ride on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, set to launch in April 2021.
The SWOT mission is aimed at improving our understanding of the Earth's oceans, lakes, rivers and reservoirs, and how these bodies change over time. Slated to last three years, it will cover 90 percent of the globe and take measurements designed to improve ocean circulation models, climate and weather predictions along with informing future freshwater management strategies.
The launch joins nine other NASA missions on SpaceX's current manifest, though a degree of uncertainty still clouds the immediate future of its Falcon 9 rockets following the disastrous pre-launch explosion three months ago, which took a multi-million dollar Facebook satellite out with it. The company appears to have since zeroed in on the suspected cause for the failure, a ruptured cryogenic helium system, and even expressed hopes of returning to spaceflight by the time the year is out.
Such ambitions may hinge on wrapping up the investigation into the September 1 accident first. In any case, that incident doesn't appear to have hurt SpaceX's relationship with NASA too much, which has placed the estimated US$112 million SWOT mission in its capable hands.