A U.S.-European satellite designed to measure the global sea surface heights was launched into the Earth orbit from California.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the satellite blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base and arced southward over the Pacific Ocean. The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite was released from the second stage about an hour later. It then deployed its solar panels and made first contact with controllers.
Space-based sea level measurements have been uninterrupted since the 1992 launch of the U.S.-French satellite TOPEX-Poseidon, which was followed by a series of satellites including the current Jason-3. Sea surface heights are affected by heating and cooling of water, allowing scientist to use the altimeter data to detect such weather-influencing conditions as the warm El Nino and the cool La Nina.
“Our Earth is a system of intricately connected dynamics between land, ocean, ice, atmosphere and also of course our human communities, and that system is changing,” Karen St. Germain, NASA’s Earth Science Division director, said in a pre-launch briefing Friday. “Because 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is ocean, the oceans play an enormous role in how the whole system changes,” she said.