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 Saturday morning at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Jolts were felt throughout Santa Barbara County when the satellite was launched at approximately 9:17 a.m. local time.
The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich is the first of two identical satellites to head into Earth orbit five years apart to continue sea level observations for at least the next decade.
Col. Anthony Mastalir, 30th Space Wing commander, was the space launch commander for this mission.
“The Western Range is excited to provide the opportunity for this unique launch,” Col. Mastalir said in a statement. “Working together with NASA and SpaceX to provide a successful launch takes planning and team work and I am proud of the work my 30th Space Wing members have done today.
“The technology from this satellite will provide critical data for scientific research and lay the framework for future generations to study the ocean.”
The 30th Space Wing’s primary responsibilities include maintaining and operating the Western range, providing mission assurance, safeguarding the public and ensuring minimal environmental impact so we can provide services, facilities and range safety control for the execution of DoD, civil and commercial launches.
About the size of a small pickup truck, Sentinel-6 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,” Karen St. Germain, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division, said in a statement. “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 will now undergo a series of exhaustive checks and calibrations before it starts collecting science data in a few months’ time.
Measuring and understanding changes in sea level allows scientists to assess the vulnerability of coastal cities and towns to flooding into the future. Precise sea level measurements can also be used to track ocean currents, which transport heat from one part of the planet to another, which in turn influence Earth’s energy budget and weather patterns, officials said.
An uninterrupted series of satellites has collected sea level measurements for nearly 30 years. And now, the joint U.S.-European effort will launch the next spacecraft to take on the mantle of monitoring sea surface height: The Sentinel-6 satellite will collect the most accurate global data yet on sea level and how it changes over time. The spacecraft will also collect precise data of atmospheric temperature and humidity that will help improve weather forecasts and climate models.
The spacecraft launched on Saturday is named for the former director of NASA’s Earth Science Division, Dr. Michael Freilich, who died Aug. 5.
He was considered a pioneer in oceanography from space and dedicated his career to better understanding the Earth, with the goal of improving the lives of those who call it 4 Introduction Earth’s oceans and atmosphere are inextricably connected.
“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,” European Space Agency Director of Earth Observation Programmes Josef Aschbacher said in a statement. “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.”
Added Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science at the agency’s headquarters, “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.
“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.