NASA launches satellite to monitor and mitigate climate change

The data collected from this mission will enhance scientists' ability to forecast changes in the planet's ice, oceans, and weather patterns in response to global warming.

NASA launches satellite aimed at collecting data on the heat emissions from the Arctic and Antarctica and their global climate impact. The first of two climate satellites for the PREFIRE mission was successfully launched into orbit on Saturday at 7:41 p.m. NZST (3:41 a.m. EDT) from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 in Māhia, New Zealand, riding aboard an Electron rocket.

NASA’s PREFIRE (Polar Radiant Energy in the Far-InfraRed Experiment) mission involves two small CubeSats, each about the size of a shoebox, designed to measure the heat radiated by Earth from its coldest and most isolated regions. The data collected from this mission will enhance scientists’ ability to forecast changes in the planet’s ice, oceans, and weather patterns in response to global warming.

NASA launches satellite mission to study Earth’s polar regions

Karen St. Germain, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division in Washington stated, “NASA’s innovative PREFIRE mission will fill a gap in our understanding of the Earth system — providing our scientists a detailed picture of how Earth’s polar regions influence how much energy our planet absorbs and releases”.

He further added, “This will improve prediction of sea ice loss, ice sheet melt, and sea level rise, creating a better understanding of how our planet’s system will change in the coming years — crucial information to farmers tracking changes in weather and water, fishing fleets working in changing seas, and coastal communities building resilience.”

Ground controllers successfully made contact with the CubeSat at 8:48 a.m. EDT. The second PREFIRE CubeSat is scheduled to launch from Launch Complex 1 on another Electron rocket in the coming days. After a 30-day checkout period to ensure both CubeSats are functioning correctly, the mission is anticipated to last for 10 months.

The core focus of the PREFIRE mission is Earth’s energy budget, which is the balance between the Sun’s incoming heat and the heat radiated back into space by the planet. This balance dictates Earth’s temperature and climate. Much of the heat from the Arctic and Antarctica is emitted as far-infrared radiation, yet there is currently no precise measurement of this energy.

The water vapor in the atmosphere, as well as the structure and composition of clouds, affects the amount of far-infrared radiation that escapes from Earth’s poles into space. Data from the PREFIRE mission will provide researchers with detailed information on the timing and locations of far-infrared energy radiation from the Arctic and Antarctic regions.

NASA launches satellite
Image Source: Wikipedia

Laurie Leshin, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California said, “The PREFIRE CubeSats may be small, but they’re going to close a big gap in our knowledge about Earth’s energy budget. Their observations will help us understand the fundamentals of Earth’s heat balance, allowing us to better predict how our ice, seas, and weather will change in the face of global warming.”

Each CubeSat in the mission is equipped with a thermal infrared spectrometer, which uses specially designed mirrors and sensors to measure infrared wavelengths. Adapting these instruments to fit on CubeSats required reducing the size of some parts while enlarging others.

NASA’s Launch Services Program, located at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is providing the launch service in collaboration with NASA’s Earth System Science Pathfinder Program. This effort is part of the agency’s Venture-class Acquisition of Dedicated and Rideshare (VADR) launch services contract.

The PREFIRE mission is a collaborative effort between NASA and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Managed by NASA’s JPL under the agency’s Science Mission Directorate, the mission includes spectrometers provided by JPL. Blue Canyon Technologies constructed the CubeSats, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison will handle the data processing from the instruments.

The launch services were provided by Rocket Lab USA Inc. based in Long Beach, California.

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