WASHINGTON, Nov. 21, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- A joint
U.S.-European satellite built to monitor global sea levels lifted
off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 4E at
Vandenberg Air Force Base in California Saturday at 9:17 a.m. PST (12:17 p.m.
About the size of a small pickup truck, Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will extend a nearly 30-year
continuous dataset on sea level collected by an ongoing
collaboration of U.S. and European satellites while enhancing
weather forecasts and providing detailed information on large-scale
ocean currents to support ship navigation near coastlines.
"The Earth is changing, and this satellite will help deepen our
understanding of how," said Karen St.
Germain, director of NASA's Earth Science Division. "The
changing Earth processes are affecting sea level globally, but the
impact on local communities varies widely. International
collaboration is critical to both understanding these changes and
informing coastal communities around the world."
After arriving in orbit, the spacecraft separated from the
rocket's second stage and unfolded its twin sets of solar arrays.
Ground controllers successfully acquired the satellite's signal,
and initial telemetry reports showed the spacecraft in good health.
Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will now
undergo a series of exhaustive checks and calibrations before it
starts collecting science data in a few months' time.
Continuing the Legacy
The spacecraft is named in honor of Michael Freilich, the former director of NASA's
Earth Science Division, who was a leading figure in advancing ocean
observations from space. Freilich passed away Aug. 5, 2020. His close family and friends
attended the launch of the satellite that now carries his name.
"Michael was a tireless force in Earth sciences. Climate change
and sea level rise know no national borders, and he championed
international collaboration to confront the challenge," said ESA
(European Space Agency) Director of Earth Observation Programmes
Josef Aschbacher. "It's fitting that
a satellite in his name will continue the 'gold standard' of sea
level measurements for the next half-decade. This European-U.S.
cooperation is exemplary and will pave the way for more cooperation
opportunities in Earth observation."
"Mike helped ensure NASA was a steadfast partner with scientists
and space agencies worldwide, and his love of oceanography and
Earth science helped us improve understanding of our beautiful
planet," added Thomas Zurbuchen,
NASA associate administrator for science at the agency's
headquarters. "This satellite so graciously named for him by our
European partners will carry out the critical work Mike so believed
in – adding to a legacy of crucial data about our oceans and paying
it forward for the benefit of future generations."
Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will
continue the sea level record that began in 1992 with the
TOPEX/Poseidon satellite and continued with Jason-1 (2001),
OSTM/Jason-2 (2008), and eventually Jason-3, which has been
observing the oceans since 2016. Together, these satellites have
provided a nearly 30-year record of precise measurements of
sea level height while tracking the rate at which our oceans are
rising in response to our warming climate. Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will pass the baton to its
twin, Sentinel-6B, in 2025, extending the current climate record at
least another 10 years between the two satellites.
Global Science Impact
This latest mission marks the first international involvement in
Copernicus, the European Union's Earth Observation
Programme. Along with measuring sea levels for almost the
entire globe, Sentinel-6 Michael
Freilich's suite of scientific instruments will also make
atmospheric measurements that can be used to complement climate
models and help meteorologists make better weather forecasts.
"NASA is but one of several partners involved in Sentinel-6
Michael Freilich, but this satellite
speaks to the very core of our mission," said NASA Administrator
Jim Bridenstine. "Whether 800 miles
above Earth with this remarkable spacecraft or traveling to Mars to
look for signs of life, whether providing farmers with agricultural
data or aiding first responders with our Disasters program, we are
tirelessly committed not just to learning and exploring, but to
having an impact where it's needed."
The initial orbit of Sentinel-6 Michael
Freilich is about 12.5 miles (20.1 kilometers) lower than
its ultimate operational orbit of 830 miles (1,336 kilometers). In
less than a month, the satellite will receive commands to raise its
orbit, trailing Jason-3 by about 30 seconds. Mission scientists and
engineers will then spend about a year cross-calibrating data
collected by the two satellites to ensure the continuity of sea
level measurements from one satellite to the next. Sentinel-6
Michael Freilich will then take over
as the primary sea level satellite and Jason-3 will provide a
supporting role until the end of its mission.
"This mission is the very essence of partnership, precision, and
incredible long-term focus," said Michael
Watkins, director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in
Southern California, which manages
the mission. "Sentinel-6 Michael
Freilich not only provides a critical measurement, it
is essential for continuing this historic multi-decadal sea level
Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich and
Sentinel-6B compose the Sentinel-6/Jason-CS (Continuity of Service)
mission developed in partnership with ESA. ESA is developing the
new Sentinel family of missions to support the operational needs of
the Copernicus program, managed by the European Commission. Other
partners include the European Organisation for the Exploitation of
Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), and National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration, with funding support from the European
Commission and technical support from France's National Centre for Space
"The data from this satellite, which is so critical for climate
monitoring and weather forecasting, will be of unprecedented
accuracy," said EUMETSAT Director-General 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."
JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, is contributing three
science instruments to each Sentinel-6 satellite: the Advanced
Microwave Radiometer for Climate, the Global Navigation Satellite
System – Radio Occultation, and the Laser Retroreflector Array.
NASA is also contributing launch services, ground systems
supporting operation of the NASA science instruments, the science
data processors for two of these instruments, and support for the
U.S. component of the international Ocean Surface Topography
Science Team. The launch is managed by NASA's Launch Services
Program, based at the agency's Kennedy
Space Center in Florida.
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