NASA Twin Satellites Will Launch in May to Study Water and Ice on Earth


Until 2017, NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ) have had two GRACE satellites in space to study water on Earth. They’ve done it for the past 15 years and have brought a lot of information during their mission, showing scientists how water moved around our planet. Now, it’s time for new twin satellites to do the job and they will get launched into space this month.

These new satellites are called GRACE-FO and will continue GRACE’s legacy. They will track ice sheets, glaciers, sea level and if the underground water storage goes through changes.

GRACE-FO, a Unique Way to Measure Water on Earth

Michael Watkins is the science lead of GRACE-FO and director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He explains their focus of the project:

“Water is critical to every aspect of life on Earth—for health, for agriculture, for maintaining our way of living. You can’t manage it well until you can measure it. GRACE-FO provides a unique way to measure water in many of its phases, allowing us to manage water resources more effectively.”

GRACE-FO comes from Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On and it will measure the movement of water by using the weight of it, even if it’s hidden under the surface of the Earth. Watkins knows that you can’t observe underground water from space, but calculating its mass, “GRACE-FO is almost the only way we have of observing it on large scales.”

Just like GRACE, GRACE-FO satellites will work at the same tines, at 140 miles apart and 300 miles distance from Earth. They will use microwave signals to keep the same distance between each other. In their five-year mission, they will send an updated measurement once every 30 days.

Not only will GRACE-FO satellites tell us about water cycle and water and ice distribution on Earth, but they will also send information on temperature and the water vapor contained in the atmosphere.

The twin satellites will hitch a ride on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, sharing it with five Iridium NEXT communications satellites.


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