NASA and ESA launch new satellite to monitor next decade of rising seas
With the world continuing to warm and sea levels continuing to rise, NASA and ESA are eyeing the next decade of climate change and its consequences, launching a new satellite to observe the ocean from orbit. The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite was fired into space over the weekend, and will spend the coming years monitoring global sea levels in unprecedented detail.
The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite follows in the footsteps of the TOPEX/Poseidon and Jason satellites, which have gathered data on the oceans since 1992. These spacecraft have helped scientists track the rate of sea level rise as the planet has warmed, but now the agencies are pushing these capabilities into a new era.
Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich is around the size of a small pickup truck and is designed to gather the most accurate data yet on sea levels and how they are influenced by global warming. By sending electromagnetic signals down to the ocean and measuring how long they take to bounce back, the spacecraft will measure sea levels down to the centimeter, for 90 percent of the world's oceans.
It is also fitted with an Advanced Microwave Radiometer (AMR-C) and an altimeter, which will enable researchers to observe smaller and more complex ocean features along coastlines, along with smaller variations in sea levels closer to shore that can impact ship navigation and fishing operations. Additionally, data collected by Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich is expected to help improve weather forecasting.
"The data from this satellite, which is so critical for climate monitoring and weather forecasting, will be of unprecedented accuracy," says Director-General of the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, Alain Ratier. "These data, which can only be obtained by measurements from space, will bring a wide range of benefits to people around the globe, from safer ocean travel to more precise prediction of hurricane paths, from greater understanding of sea level rise to more accurate seasonal weather forecasts, and so much more."
Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich was launched into space on Saturday atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, and will spend its first few months undergoing tests and calibration. Once it reaches its operational orbit of 830 miles (1,336 km), it will trail the Jason-3 satellite by around 30 seconds, with researchers to spend a year cross-calibrating data from the two satellites to ensure a smooth handover and continuous observations of sea levels.
The mission will last for five and a half years, before an identical satellite, Sentinel-6B, will be launched to take over the duties up until the end of the decade.
The video below provides an overview of the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich mission.