On November 21, the satellite Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Its purpose is to monitor sea-level changes alongside other satellites, and today NASA received its first recordings.
The data that Sentinel-6 sent back to Earth includes sea surface height, wave height, and wind speed measurements. Sentinel-6 will not continue to make these types of measurements for us here on Earth for years to come, but only after it passes some necessary tests.
Sometime during the next couple of weeks, engineers will move Sentinel-6 into its operational orbit of 830 miles above Earth. From here, it will follow 30 seconds behind Jason-3, another sea-level measuring satellite. This tandem flight will allow NASA to cross-check the data captured by the two satellites to confirm Sentinel-6’s instruments are capturing accurate data. This period will last six to 12 months.
Karen Germain, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division, had this to say on Sentinel-6:
When we combine the data from instruments like the altimeter on Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich with data from other satellites like GRACE-FO and IceSat-2, we can tell how much of the sea level rise is due to melting ice and how much is due to expansion as the oceans warm. Understanding these underlying physical mechanisms is what allows NASA to improve projections of future sea-level rise.
If Sentinel-6 passes all the necessary tests, it will continue to carry out its mission of measuring sea levels and other relevant data for decades to come. So far, the first set of data sent back looks promising, according to NASA.