NASA wants SpaceX to help it survey the Earth's water surface

LightSail
Josh Spradling / The Planetary Society
SpaceX has won another mission — this time, to survey the world’s oceans. NASA announced last week that it had tapped SpaceX to launch a satellite that would “make the first-ever global survey of Earth’s surface water.” It is by no means the first time Elon Musk’s ambitious company has partnered with the space agency — in 2014, SpaceX was also tasked with providing launch services for the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission, whose goal “is to detect transiting exoplanets orbiting nearby bright stars.” And now, SpaceX’s latest project is the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission, with a targeted launch date of April 2021 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

SWOT is expected to set NASA back by around $112 million, making it one of the more expensive SpaceX missions to date. The satellite is charged with collecting “detailed measurements of how water bodies on Earth change over time.” It’s a comprehensive mission, covering “at least 90 percent of the globe” by focusing on all the planet’s water sources — everything from lakes to reservoirs to oceans. SpaceX’s spacecraft will make its observations “at least twice every 21 days, aid in freshwater management around the world, to improve ocean circulation models and weather and climate predictions.”

“We’re excited to carry this critical science payload into orbit for NASA, the nation, and the international community,” SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement. “We appreciate NASA’s partnership and confidence in SpaceX as a launch provider.”

The mission and spacecraft will be a collaborative management effort between NASA and the French space agency Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES).

NASA’s continuing support from SpaceX may just help Musk’s company achieve its goal of colonizing Mars all the more reasonable. So while the company may be starting with satellite missions, it may not be too long before it delves into deeper, more unexplored territory.

News

Drunk shoppers spend $48B per year while intoxicated, mostly on Amazon

Drunk shoppers spend more than $400 per year, according to the results of a survey carried out by The Hustle. The drunk shopping industry is apparently worth $48 billion, and Amazon is turning out to be the biggest beneficiary.
Emerging Tech

Trip to Neptune’s moon, Triton, could inform search for extraterrestrial life

NASA has proposed sending a craft to Neptune to study its largest moon, Triton. Studying Triton could offer clues to how liquid water is maintained on planets, which may indicate what to look for when searching for life beyond our planet.
Emerging Tech

Unexpected particle plumes discovered jetting out of asteroid Bennu

The OSIRIS-REx craft traveled to asteroid Bennu last year and won't return until 2023. But the mission is already throwing up unexpected findings, like plumes of particles which are being ejected from the surface of the asteroid.
Emerging Tech

Scientists use drone to map Icelandic cave in preparation for Mars exploration

Researchers from the SETI Institute and Astrobotic Technology have demonstrated a way that astronauts may be able to map Martian caves using a Lidar-equipped drone that can travel autonomously without GPS.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover passes its tests with flying colors

The Mars 2020 rover team has been undertaking a series of tests to see if the craft will be able to launch, navigate, and land on the Red Planet. Called Systems Test 1, or ST1, these tests represent the first test drive of the new rover.
Outdoors

Light up the night! Here are the five best headlamps money can buy

Headlamps make all the difference when camping or walking the dog at night, especially when you're in need of both hands. From Petzl to Tikkid, here are some of the best headlamps on the market.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Robotic companions and computer-aided karaoke

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it's fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

A hive of activity: Using honeybees to measure urban pollution

According to a new study from Vancouver, bees could help us understand urban pollution. Scientists have found an innovative way to measure the level of source of pollution in urban environments: by analyzing honey.
Emerging Tech

Spacewalk a success as astronauts upgrade batteries on the ISS

The International Space Station was treated to some new batteries on Friday, thanks to two NASA astronauts who took a spacewalk for nearly seven hours in order to complete the upgrades.
Emerging Tech

Asteroid Ryugu is porous, shaped like a spinning top, and is formed of rubble

The Japanese Space Agency has been exploring a distant asteroid named Ryugu with its probe, Hayabusa 2. Now the first results from study of the asteroid are in, with three new papers published.
Emerging Tech

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a super-speedy pulsar

A super-speedy pulsar has been spotted dashing across the sky, discovered using NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and the Very Large Array. The pulsar is traveling at a breathtaking 2.5 million miles an hour.
Emerging Tech

Chilean telescope uncovers one of the oldest star clusters in the galaxy

An ultra-high definition image captured by the Gemini South telescope in Chile has uncovered one of the oldest star clusters in the Milky Way. The cluster, called HP 1, could give clues to how our galaxy was formed billions of years ago.
Emerging Tech

Astronomers discover giant chimneys spewing energy from the center of the galaxy

Astronomers have discovered two exhaust channels which are funneling matter and energy away from the supermassive black hole at the heart of our galaxy and out towards the edges of the galaxy, dubbed galactic center chimneys.
Emerging Tech

A milestone in the history of particle physics: Why does matter exist?

If matter and antimatter were both produced in equal amounts by the Big Bang, why is there so much matter around us and so little antimatter? A new experiment from CERN may hold the answer to this decades-long puzzle.