A joint mission between the United States and Europe was recently launched to extend a nearly 30-year collaboration to monitor global sea levels. Boarding a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite departed from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The New Sentinel

Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich is a satellite about the size of a small pickup truck. It continues an ongoing partnership between the U.S and Europe to collect data on sea levels while enhancing weather forecasts.

The mission was launched to provide detailed information on large-scale ocean currents to help ship navigation near coastlines. The mission also aims to measure temperature and humidity in the troposphere.

The spacecraft arrived in orbit in good health after it separated from the rocket's second stage and unfolded its twin sets of solar rays.

The satellite is set to undergo a series of checks and calibrations before it starts collecting scientific data.

The ultimate operational orbit of Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich is 830 miles. However, its initial orbit is lower, at about 12.5 miles only. Commands to raise its orbit will be given in less than a month. It will trail another satellite, Jason-3, by 30 seconds.

To ensure the continuity of sea level measurements between the two satellites, mission scientists and engineers will spend about a year cross-calibrate collected data.

The satellite is named after NASA's Earth Science Division, Michael Freilich, who died on August 5.

Freilich spearheaded efforts to advance ocean observations from space. He was acknowledged for pushing for international collaborations to confront climate change challenges and the drastic rise in sea levels.

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The satellite is the latest addition to the series of space missions launched to collect measurements of sea levels.
(Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech) The satellite is the latest addition to the series of space missions launched to collect sea level measurements.

A Continuing Mission

As the Earth is constantly changing, it is also important for experts to understand how. NASA's Earth Science Division director Karen St. Germain said that the satellite would deepen the understanding of how the changing Earth processes affect sea levels worldwide.

Before Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich, the mission to record sea level from space started in 1992 with the TOPEX/Poseidon satellite. It continued with Jason-1 in 2001, OSTM/Jason-2 in 2008, and Jason-3, which has been observing the Earth's oceans since 2016.

Through these satellites, scientists were able to acquire precise sea level height measurements while tracking the rate at which the ocean is rising due to global warming.

Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich is set to take over as the primary sea level satellite, while Jason-3 takes the backseat and provides a supporting role until the end of its mission.

In 2025, the mission will be passed on to Sentinel-6B to extend the climate record for another 10 years.

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An Extensive Partnership

The decades-long mission is possible through strong collaboration among different international agencies, including the European Space Agency, the European Commission, the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), SpaceX, NASA, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Meanwhile, NASA's Launch Services Program managed the launch of Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich.

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