NASA prepares to launch Sentinel-6 satellite to study sea level rise

NASA is preparing for the launch of its newest spacecraft, the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite built in a joint mission with the European Space Agency (ESA). The Sentinel-6 will monitor changes in sea levels which are a key and potentially devastating indicator of climate change, a task which can be most efficiently accomplished from orbit.

The launch of the Sentinel-6 is scheduled for November 21, so the team is now putting in place final preparations at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The satellite has been enclosed in a protective nose cone and will be placed atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for the launch.

“We’re almost there,” said project manager Parag Vaze of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “Soon, we’ll be watching the satellite on its journey into Earth orbit 830 miles above our planet.”

The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite undergoes final preparations in a clean room at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for an early November launch.
The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite undergoes final preparations in a clean room at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for an early November launch. ESA/Bill Simpson

The satellite is named after Dr. Michael Freilich, the former director of NASA’s Earth Science Division and someone who helped pioneer the monitoring of oceans from space. The new satellite will have abilities that previous sea level monitoring missions did not, such as the ability to track smaller local sea level variations, particularly near coastlines. These can affect the navigation of ships and can give researchers a more complete view of the changing ocean. The satellite will be able to measure around 90% of the world’s oceans, down to a few centimeters.

The Sentinel-6 will be followed by a twin satellite launched in 2025, the Sentinel-6b, which will provide continuous measurements of sea level rise, a fact that NASA says reflects the reality that “climate change and rising seas are here to stay.”

Continuous measurements and more accurate readings are both important for the long-term study of this complex and evolving issue. “This continuous record of observations is essential for tracking sea level rise and understanding the factors that contribute to it,” said Karen St. Germain, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division. “With Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich, we ensure those measurements advance both in number and in precision. This mission honors an exceptional scientist and leader, and it will continue Mike’s legacy of advances in ocean studies.”

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