By Jonathan Stroud
NASA has chosen SpaceX to launch the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite from the Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
The mission is currently targeted for April 2021 and will cost NASA approximately $112 million for launch services, spacecraft processing, payload integration, and data and telemetry support. The announcement comes a week after SpaceX filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requesting permission to launch 4,425 internet-providing satellites, which is more than there are currently orbiting Earth.
In a statement, President and Chief Operating Officer of SpaceX Gwynne Shotwell said, “We’re excited to carry this critical science payload into orbit for NASA, the nation, and the international community…We appreciate NASA’s partnership and confidence in SpaceX as a launch provider.”
SWOT will gather the first global high-resolution elevation surveys of Earth’s surface water by utilizing wide swath altimetry technology. The satellite will map most of the world’s saltwater and freshwater bodies, helping scientists measure how land-locked water bodies and oceans change over time.
Current radar technology measurements have limited spatial scales and SWOT will help to expand those capabilities, improving circulation models and overall climate predictions. While the satellite is being developed by an international group of hydrologists and oceanographers, the mission will be jointly managed by NASA, the Canadian Space Agency, and the French Space Agency (CNES).
Why Should I Care?
You should care because the crux of the privatization of the American space industry hinges on the successful delivery and execution of contracts from both private satellite companies and government agencies such as NASA.
Why Is This Cool?
This is cool because SWOT will add a new tools for scientists to collect accurate data that will help further their understanding of how climate change is affecting oceans around the world. It will also provide information about the potential impact that rising sea levels will have on land.
Check out a concept video of SWOT’s deployment below:
NASA’s contract serves as evidence of their confidence in the Hawthorne-based company who encountered an anomaly in September 2016 that caused SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket second stage to erupt into a fireball, destroying the vehicle and payload. SpaceX currently has nine future NASA contract missions on the company’s manifest, pending a return to flight. No date has been identified by the company yet, but CEO Elon Musk said in November that the company could resume as early as mid-December as the investigation into the cause of the explosion nears its end.
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