Watch SpaceX deliver NASA’s gravity-sniffing GRACE satellites into orbit today

Watch SpaceX deliver NASA’s gravity-sniffing GRACE satellites into orbit today

These two satellites are created to work in unison, using microwave signals to communicate in order to monitor the Earth's water cycle, ice sheets, crust and atmosphere to take a close look at our changing climate - both through natural processes as well as human-made ones.

This first-stage booster has flown once before, a little more than four months ago when it launched the Zuma mission for the U.S. government-a satellite or spacecraft that was apparently lost in space after it failed to separate from the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket.

Hawthorne-based SpaceX successfully launched several communication and research satellites on a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc Tuesday. The two satellites, about the size of a sports vehicle, will fly in tandem 137 miles apart in a 305-mile orbit around Earth's poles.

The fairing recovery ship "came very close but not quite", he said on SpaceX's webcast.

The satellite valued at about $528 million would be launched on the latest version of the Falcon 9 rocket from Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

When water or ice fills an area - such as a coastline or river basin - the liquid slightly increases that area's mass. Objects with more mass have a stronger gravitational pull, so measuring these variations in gravity gives NASA data on phenomena like sea-level rise, glacial retreat, drought, and changes in the size of underground aquifers. All satellites deployed, making that a successful mission!

He said SpaceX had tried but failed to catch the payload fairing, a nose cone used to protect the rocket, as it plunged into the ocean.

The mission picks up from GRACE, a satellite pair that launched in 2002 and tracked, among other things, precisely how much ice was lost each year in Greenland and Antarctica until 2017.

The twin satellites of NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-on, or GRACE-FO, will track the movement of water around Earth.

After the GRACE-FO satellites are deployed, the Falcon 9 second stage will coast for half an orbit before reigniting its engine (SES2) to take the Iridium NEXT satellites to a higher orbit for deployment. The full constellation is to consist of 66 operational satellites, nine in-orbit spares and six ground spares.

GRACE-FO will spend the next five years mapping Earth's gravity to study the effects of climate change around the world. GRACE-Fo is a joint project between NASA and Germany's GFZ German Research Center for Geosciences.

The GRACE-FO spacecraft are equipped with laser retroreflectors that allow ground stations to accurately measure their orbits, further improving the accuracy of the data.

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