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NASA and SpaceX successfully launch Sentinel-6 ocean-monitoring satellite

NASA and SpaceX Launch U.S.-European Mission to Monitor World’s Ocean (Recap)

Update, Sunday, November 22: The launch went off without a hitch. Liftoff was at 12:17 p.m. ET (9:17 a.m. PT) on Saturday, November 21, and communications with the satellite were soon established. Now it will be checked and calibrated before beginning its work monitoring the oceans. You can watch a recap of the launch here.

We’ll soon learn more about ocean levels and how they are affected by climate change than ever before, thanks to the launch of the Sentinel-6 satellite. In a joint mission between the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA, the satellite is to be launched into orbit from where it will gather data on the oceans, including monitoring sea-level rise with a greater degree of accuracy than was previously possible.

The satellite will be carried into space on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which will be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in central California today, and we’ve got the details on how you can watch the launch live as it happens.

When is the Sentinel-6 launch?

This illustration shows the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket's nose cone, with the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite inside, shortly before launch.
This illustration shows the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket’s nose cone, with the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite inside, shortly before launch. Image used with permission by copyright holder

Liftoff of the launch is scheduled for 12:17 p.m. ET (9:17 a.m. PT) on Saturday, November 21, 2020. The weather there is forecast to be cool but clear, with a low chance of precipitation, so the odds are good that the launch will be able to go ahead as planned.

However, if there are any delays to the launch due to weather or other factors, there are two backup dates for the launch on Sunday and on Monday.

How to watch the Sentinel-6 launch

The launch will be shown on NASA TV, so you can watch via that channel. Or you can watch online, with a livestream available that you can watch either through NASA’s website or using the video player embedded at the top of this page.

The Sentinel-6 satellite will monitor ocean levels

This illustration shows the front of the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich spacecraft in orbit above Earth with its deployable solar panels extended. As the world's latest ocean-monitoring satellite, it is launching on Nov. 10, 2020, to collect the most accurate data yet on global sea level and how our oceans are rising in response to climate change.
This illustration shows the front of the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich spacecraft in orbit above Earth with its deployable solar panels extended. As the world’s latest ocean-monitoring satellite, it is launching on Nov. 10, 2020, to collect the most accurate data yet on global sea level and how our oceans are rising in response to climate change. NASA/JPL-Caltech

The spacecraft, fully named the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite, is the first of two twins that will monitor changes in sea level. It will be able to detect variations in smaller, local areas of the ocean, which is particularly important for monitoring and forecasting conditions near coastlines. In total, it will be able to monitor 90% of the world’s oceans, down to a depth of several centimeters. It will also monitor atmospheric temperature and humidity.

On the illustration above, you can see the satellite’s Poseidon-4 radar altimeter, the cone-shaped instrument on the bottom. You can also see the disk-shaped Advanced Microwave Radiometer (AMR-C) instrument at the front. The satellite also has a Radio Occultation instrument.

The satellite’s twin, the Sentinel-6b, is set for launch in 2025.

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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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