The latest in the series of Sentinel Earth-observing satellites is due to launch tomorrow, Saturday, November 21, from California at 9:17am local time. Known as the “Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich”, it and its twin satellite, the Sentinel-6B, make up the Sentinel-6/Jason-CS mission, which was developed by ESA (European Space Agency), the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), NASA, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with funding support from the European Commission and technical support from France’s National Centre for Space Studies (CNES). The Sentinel-6B is due to launch in 2025 or 2026.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a division of Caltech in Pasadena, built three key science instruments for each Sentinel-6 satellite: the Advanced Microwave Radiometer, the Global Navigation Satellite System – Radio Occultation, and the Laser Retroreflector Array. NASA is also contributing launch services, ground systems supporting operation of the NASA science instruments, the science data processors for two of these instruments, and support for the international Ocean Surface Topography Science Team. The launch is managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Named after former NASA Earth Science Division Director Michael Freilich, the U.S.-European satellite will be carried into space on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with liftoff set from Space Launch Complex 4 East at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in central California. It’s been a busy week for Space X; just days ago, they made history by launching 4 astronauts to the International Space Station on the first crewed commercial spaceflight after completing a successful demo flight earlier this year.
The Sentinel-6 mission satellites will help inform scientists on Earth of changes with the planet’s atmosphere and oceans. Instruments aboard the satellites will provide atmospheric data that will improve medium and long range weather forecasts, climate models, and hurricane tracking. The satellites will also help measure sea level height on a global scale, able to detect any changes that may be occurring as the planet evolves.
The Sentinel-6 mission, when fully deployed, will map 95% of the Earth’s ice-free ocean every 10 days. It’ll also collect valuable information on ocean currents, wind speed, and wave height.
Data collected by the satellites will be processed and shared by the European Copernicus program. Copernicus is the new name for the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security program, previously known as GMES. Headed by the European Commission in partnership with the European Space Agency, Copernicus provides free data to users worldwide.
Sentinel-6 data will join data from other Sentinel satellites to help inform Copernicus users of what’s what with the planet. Sentinel 1A and 1B launched in April of 2014 and April 2016 respectively, providing day and night weather RADAR imagery. Sentinel 2A, which launched in June of 2015, provides high-resolution optical images of land; it was joined by it’s twin, the 2B in March of 2017. The Sentinel 3A was launched in February of 2016 and provides ocean and land data for Copernicus; it’s twin, 3B was launched in April 2018. The Sentinel 5P was launched in October 2017 and monitors the atmosphere. Sentinel-4 hasn’t launched yet; it’s scheduled for 2023 and will provide data on atmospheric composition. Sentinel-5 will also provide data on atmospheric composition when it launches next year.
According to ESA, Copernicus “provides a unified system through which vast amounts of data are fed into a range of thematic information services designed to benefit the environment, the way we live, humanitarian needs and support effective policy-making for a more sustainable future.”