Science & Technology

Advanced New Spacecraft Will Monitor Sea Level Rise and Atmospheric Temperature With Extreme Precision

The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich spacecraft undergoes checks at its producer Airbus in Friedrichshafen, Germany, in 2019. The white GNSS-RO instrument could be seen connected to the higher left portion of the entrance of the spacecraft. Credit score: Airbus

To get the very best measurements of Earth’s ambiance, you typically have to go away it. This November, the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich spacecraft will just do that.

When a satellite tv for pc by the identify of Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich launches this November, its major focus can be to observe sea stage rise with excessive precision. However an instrument aboard the spacecraft may also present atmospheric knowledge that can enhance climate forecasts, monitor hurricanes, and bolster local weather fashions.

“Our elementary purpose with Sentinel-6 is to measure the oceans, however the extra worth we are able to add, the higher,” stated Josh Willis, the mission’s mission scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “It’s not day-after-day that we get to launch a satellite tv for pc, so amassing extra helpful knowledge about our oceans and ambiance is a bonus.”

A U.S.-European collaboration, Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich is definitely one among two satellites that compose the Copernicus Sentinel-6/Jason-CS (Continuity of Service) mission. The satellite tv for pc’s twin, Sentinel-6B, will launch in 2025 to take over for its predecessor. Collectively, the spacecraft will be a part of TOPEX/Poseidon and the Jason collection of satellites, which have been gathering exact sea stage measurements for practically three a long time. As soon as in orbit, every Sentinel-6 satellite tv for pc will gather sea stage measurements all the way down to the centimeter for 90% of the world’s oceans.

This illustration reveals the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich spacecraft in orbit above Earth with its deployable photo voltaic panels prolonged. The GNSS-RO instrument is positioned on the entrance and again of the spacecraft. Credit score: ESA

In the meantime, they’ll additionally peer deep into Earth’s ambiance with what’s referred to as International Navigation Satellite tv for pc System — Radio Occultation (GNSS-RO) to gather extremely correct international temperature and humidity data. Developed by JPL, the spacecraft’s GNSS-RO instrument tracks radio alerts from navigation satellites to measure the bodily properties of Earth’s ambiance. As a radio sign passes by the ambiance, it slows, its frequency modifications, and its path bends. Referred to as refraction, this impact can be utilized by scientists to measure minute modifications in atmospheric bodily properties, similar to density, temperature, and moisture content material.

The exact international atmospheric measurements made by Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will complement atmospheric observations by different GNSS-RO devices already in area. Particularly, the Nationwide Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Nationwide Climate Service meteorologists will use insights from Sentinel 6’s GNSS-RO to enhance climate forecasts. Additionally, the GNSS-RO data will present long-term knowledge that can be utilized each to observe how our ambiance is altering and to refine fashions used for making projections of future local weather. Information from this mission will assist monitor the formation of hurricanes and assist fashions to foretell the course storms might journey. The extra knowledge we collect about hurricane formation (and the place a storm would possibly make landfall), the higher by way of serving to native efforts to mitigate harm and assist evacuation plans.

Radio occultation was first utilized by NASA’s Mariner 4 mission in 1965 when the spacecraft flew previous Mars. Because it handed behind the Pink Planet from our perspective, scientists on Earth detected slight delays in its radio transmissions as they traveled by atmospheric gases. By measuring these radio sign delays, they have been capable of achieve the primary measurements of the Martian ambiance and uncover simply how skinny it was in comparison with Earth’s.

By the Nineteen Eighties, scientists had began to measure the slight delays in radio alerts from Earth-orbiting navigation satellites to raised perceive our planet’s ambiance. Since then, many radio occultation devices have been launched; Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will be a part of the six COSMIC-2 satellites as probably the most superior GNSS-RO devices amongst them.

“The Sentinel-6 instrument is basically the identical as COSMIC-2’s. In comparison with different radio occultation devices, they’ve larger measurement precision and larger atmospheric penetration depth,” stated Chi Ao, the instrument scientist for GNSS-RO at JPL.

The GNSS-RO instrument’s receivers monitor navigation satellite tv for pc radio alerts as they dip beneath, or rise from, the horizon. They will detect these alerts by the vertical extent of the ambiance — by thick clouds — from the very prime and nearly all the best way to the bottom. That is necessary, as a result of climate phenomena emerge from all layers of the ambiance, not simply from close to Earth’s floor the place we expertise their results.

“Tiny modifications within the radio sign could be measured by the instrument, which relate to the density of the ambiance,” added Ao. “We are able to then exactly decide the temperature, strain, and humidity by the layers of the ambiance, which give us unbelievable insights to our planet’s dynamic local weather and climate.”

With the assistance of JPL’s GNSS-RO principal investigator Chi Ao and NOAA’s Nationwide Climate Service meteorologist Mark Jackson, this video explains how the GNSS-RO instrument aboard Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich can be utilized by meteorologists to enhance climate forecasting predictions. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech

However there’s one more reason why probing the complete vertical profile of the ambiance from orbit is so necessary: accuracy. Meteorologists sometimes collect data from a wide range of sources — from climate balloons to devices aboard plane. However typically scientists must compensate for biases within the knowledge. For instance, air temperature readings from a thermometer on an airplane could be skewed by warmth radiating from elements of the plane.

GNSS-RO knowledge is completely different. The instrument collects navigation satellite tv for pc alerts on the prime of the ambiance, in what’s near a vacuum. Though there are sources of error in each scientific measurement, at that altitude, there’s no refraction of the sign, which suggests there’s an nearly bias-free baseline to which atmospheric measurements could be in contrast as a way to reduce noise in knowledge assortment.

And as some of the superior GNSS radio occultation devices in orbit, stated Ao, it would even be some of the correct atmospheric thermometers in area.

Copernicus Sentinel-6/Jason-CS is being collectively developed by the European Area Company (ESA), the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), NASA, and the Nationwide Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with funding assist from the European Fee and assist from France’s Nationwide Centre for Area Research (CNES).

The primary Sentinel-6/Jason-CS satellite tv for pc that can launch was named after the previous director of NASA’s Earth Science Division, Michael Freilich. It’ll observe the latest U.S.-European sea stage commentary satellite tv for pc, Jason-3, which launched in 2016 and is presently offering knowledge.

NASA’s contributions to the Sentinel-6/Jason-CS mission are three science devices for every of the 2 Sentinel-6 satellites: the Advanced Microwave Radiometer, the GNSS-RO, and the Laser Retroreflector Array. NASA can be contributing launch companies, floor techniques supporting operation of the NASA science devices, the science knowledge processors for 2 of those devices, and assist for the worldwide Ocean Floor Topography Science Workforce.

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