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SpaceX Rocket Sends First Global Water Survey Mission Into Orbit

Published: December 16, 2022
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches with the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) spacecraft onboard, on Dec. 16, 2022, from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Space Force Base in Lompoc, California. Jointly developed by NASA and Centre National D'Etudes Spatiales (CNES), with contributions from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and United Kingdom Space Agency, SWOT is the first satellite mission that will observe nearly all water on Earths surface, measuring the height of water in the planets lakes, rivers, reservoirs, and the ocean. (Image: Keegan Barber/NASA via Getty Images)

A SpaceX rocket blasted off early on Friday carrying a U.S.-French satellite designed to conduct an unprecedented global survey of Earth’s surface waters, a mission expected to shed new light on the mechanics and consequences of climate change.

The mission’s payload, the Surface Water and Ocean Topography satellite, or SWOT, has advanced microwave radar technology to collect high-definition measurements of oceans, lakes, reservoirs and rivers over 90% of the globe

The Falcon 9 booster owned and operated by Elon Musk’s commercial rocket company lit up the predawn sky along California’s coast as it roared off its launch pad at the Vandenberg U.S. Space Force Base, about 160 miles (260 km) northwest of Los Angeles.

The Falcon 9’s upper stage, carrying the satellite, reached orbit within nine minutes. Moments earlier, the reusable lower stage separated from the rocket and flew itself back to Earth, unleashing sonic booms before slowing to a gentle landing at the base.

One major thrust of the mission is to explore how oceans absorb atmospheric heat and carbon dioxide, in a process that naturally regulates global temperatures and has helped to minimize climate change.

Scanning the seas from orbit, SWOT will be able to measure fine differences in surface elevations around the smaller currents and eddies where much the oceans’ drawdown of heat and carbon is believed to occur.

Understanding that mechanism will help answer a pivotal question – what is the tipping point at which oceans start releasing, rather than absorbing, large amounts of heat back to the atmosphere, thus intensifying global warming instead of limiting it.

By Reuters (Production: Pavithra George)