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NASA launches PACE satellite to observe Earth’s oceans and atmosphere

NASA has launched its latest Earth-monitoring mission, a satellite that studies the atmosphere and the oceans and their relationship to climate change. The Plankton, Aerosol, Climate, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission launched at 1:33 a.m. ET on Thursday, February 8, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

NASA’s Plankton, Aerosol, Climate, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) satellite launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 1:33 a.m. EST, Feb. 8, 2024, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. From its orbit hundreds of miles above Earth, PACE will study microscopic life in the oceans and microscopic particles in the atmosphere to investigate key mysteries of our planet’s interconnected systems.
NASA’s Plankton, Aerosol, Climate, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) satellite launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 1:33 a.m. ET, February 8, 2024, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. NASA

“Congratulations to the PACE team on a successful launch. With this new addition to NASA’s fleet of Earth-observing satellites, PACE will help us learn, like never before, how particles in our atmosphere and our oceans can identify key factors impacting global warming,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a statement. “Missions like this are supporting the Biden-Harris Administration’s climate agenda and helping us answer urgent questions about our changing climate.”

The mission has had a rocky history, as it was slated for cancellation by the Trump administration. But the mission was supported by groups like the American Geophysical Union, which argued that studying the Earth’s climate and weather was both scientifically important and fiscally responsible.

“Observations and scientific research from PACE will profoundly advance our knowledge of the ocean’s role in the climate cycle,” said Karen St. Germain, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division. “The value of PACE data skyrockets when we combine it with data and science from our Surface Water and Ocean Topography mission – ushering in a new era of ocean science. As an open-source science mission with early adopters ready to use its research and data, PACE will accelerate our understanding of the Earth system and help NASA deliver actionable science, data, and practical applications to help our coastal communities and industries address rapidly evolving challenges.”

NASA and SpaceX technicians safely encapsulate NASA’s PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem) spacecraft in SpaceX’s Falcon 9 payload fairings on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024, at the Astrotech Space Operations Facility near the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA and SpaceX technicians safely encapsulate NASA’s PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem) spacecraft in SpaceX’s Falcon 9 payload fairings on Tuesday, January 30, 2024, at the Astrotech Space Operations Facility near the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA Goddard/Denny Henry

The spacecraft’s primary instrument is the Ocean Color Instrument (OCI), which takes data from the oceans across the ultraviolet, visible light, and near-infrared wavelengths to look at the presence of phytoplankton, or microscopic organisms that live in the near-surface regions of oceans and other bodies of water. A key part of the marine ecosystem, these organisms remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provide a food source for many ocean creatures. The spacecraft also has two polarimeter instruments for studying how sunlight changes when it passes through the atmosphere.

The satellite will now go through a two-month commissioning period before beginning its scientific observations.

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Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
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